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Thread: Have any ukuleles surprised you?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2014

    Default Have any ukuleles surprised you?

    There can be both good and bad surprises with ukuleles, especially since many/most of us are buying without the option to try first.

    I think I've been fortunate that I haven't had any unpleasant surprises, where I really didn't like a ukulele that I bought. Some haven't been right for me, as I've moved along this journey, but there were no unpleasant surprises.

    The one that did surprise me is the Kamaka HF-2. I had the opportunity to try a Kamaka, back when I was first starting, and was totally unimpressed. Looking back at that experience, I think the Kamaka had the stock strings, which probably hadn't been changed in years. And I didn't know what I was doing anyway. LOL.

    For some reason, I really, really wanted to try a HF-2, though, and got one. I still hate the stock strings, but after changing strings, I really am surprised at how much I like this ukulele. So comfortable to play, it really sings, intonation is good, good sustain, and it's hard to stop playing it. So enjoyable.

    I want to win a big lottery, and then follow George Harrison's example of driving around with a car full of ukuleles, and hand them out to people. And have a Kamaka in every room. (Good thing I have a small house, but if I won that big lottery, I guess that wouldn't matter.)

    Hopefully, the infatuation won't wear off, but I don't expect that it will.

    It's been a very wonderful surprise, anyway, since I wasn't sure if I'd really like it.

    Have any ukuleles surprised anyone else? Good or bad?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2016


    I was unpleasantly surprised by a uke by Emil Bader at S&J Crafts. I bought it on the recommendation of a UU user, and he did warn me that it would not be the neatest uke. As expected, there were imperfections in the finish and a bit of a flat spot where he had an accident with the sandpaper. The action was massively high as well but that's fairly easily fixable. What surprised me was the bad wolf note on the G, one of the nut slots being too low, and the frets not being anywhere near level. I took it to one luthier who refused to even touch it because he said that the build quality was too poor and he didn't want his reputation tarnished by having anything to do with it. Thankfully a guitar tech helped out and leveled of the frets and partially filled the nut slot, and I managed to mitigate the wolf tone with different strings, but it cost me a LOT of money. Anyway, I still have the uke, and after all that work I quite like it, but I would never put myself through that again.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2013


    I was disappointed by the Blackbird Farallon that I had. Craftsmanship was a little shoddy (marks on the top, globs of glue inside), it felt distinctly plastic-y to me, and the sound was underwhelming (compared to the two other tenors I had, both cheaper). It didn't sound nearly as good as I expected and as the price tag implied. I returned it to the vendor after a few days of trying very hard to like it. I may have had unrealistic expectations, but this was my biggest ukulele letdown.

    A positive surprise was my Pono baritone, the old spruce/rosewood model. I had not been overly interested in either the baritone size nor Pono (some people here had said they were heavy and quiet, though many had also and correctly made opposite statements), but I bought it anyway when it was offered to me at a discount (the person for whom it had been imported had changed their mind). I was wrong on both accounts: not only did the size fit me like a tailored glove, the Pono design (feel, finish, craftsmanship) was superb, and it was loud with a wonderful, remarkable sound. I later sold it so I could get a Kanila'e GL6, and then bought it back almost two years later because it was such a good instrument.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2017


    I've had several ukuleles that I haven't warmed to .....Waterman concert (just flat out didn't like it), Bonanza HPL concert (fun sound, but very soft & a heavy uke to carry in my kayak), and a Famous Longneck soprano (didn't like neck shape).

    I won a gorgeous Islander tenor at a uke festival that I finally parted ways with. I absolutely loved the sound, but couldn't get used to the tenor scale with my short chubby fingers. I sold it to a friend for her husband. He wanted to play guitar really bad, but gave up in frustration. He loved the tenor & now plays baritone as well.

    When I started looking for my first "good" ukulele, I was sure that I wanted a Kanilea versus a KoAloha. I had the opportunity to choose between the two, since a friend (aka the ukulele pimp) had both for sale. I sat in his kitchen and played them both for about an hour. The KoAloha really surprised me. I thought I wanted the more mellow sound of the Kanilea, but I totally fell for the bright sound of the KoAloha. It's still my favorite of the 5 ukuleles I own.
    Last edited by RafterGirl; 06-29-2018 at 01:45 PM.
    My ukulele family.....
    KoAloha Koa concert - circa 2006 (Living Waters)
    aNueNue Moon Bird concert - Spruce & Rosewood - 2018 (Blackwater)
    Blackbird Clara - 2019 (Oasis Bright)
    Cocobolo concert - 2019 (Worth Brown)

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2016
    Portland OR


    Quote Originally Posted by Mivo View Post
    I was disappointed by the Blackbird Farallon that I had. Craftsmanship was a little shoddy (marks on the top, globs of glue inside), it felt distinctly plastic-y to me, and the sound was underwhelming (compared to the two other tenors I had, both cheaper). It didn't sound nearly as good as I expected and as the price tag implied. I returned it to the vendor after a few days of trying very hard to like it. I may have had unrealistic expectations, but this was my biggest ukulele letdown.
    I too was initially underwhelmed by the Farallon and in fact had contacted Andrew at HMS about returning. I funny thing happened then, I started turning the pegs and found at least two unique tunings, in particular GCDF (with a low G), and continue to find more. Somehow this unlocked the Farallon for me. It tolerated being severely detuned and still sounded musical, intonation still good. It's now an essential Uke and sounds amazing unplugged or plugged in. But I never play it in standard tuning. So I had two surprises, one that I didn't dig the Farallon at first and the other that alt tuning would be a complete game changer.
    Last edited by etudes; 06-29-2018 at 01:54 PM.
    "Everyone I know who is into the Ukulele is 'crackers' so get yourself a few and enjoy yourselves" - George Harrison

    I'm still trying to determine how many George meant when he said "few"..

    Pono RTSH-C-PC Cedar/Rosewood tenor
    Blackbird Farallon
    2008 Kiwaya KTC-02 Mahogany concert
    aNueNue UC200E Moonbird
    2012 Koaloha D-VI Guitalele
    2000 Larrivée U-01 Koa soprano

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2017
    Northen California


    I have two that surprised me.

    Kamaka Tenor - Even better than I hoped (after a string change). Amazing playability and great sound.

    Magic Fluke Tenor - Surprising but not in a good way. No matter what strings I put on it I still dislike the sound. And the neck profile is an abomination.

  7. #7


    Good as my Pepe Romero (not creations, original)and my Series 3 Kinnard (yes, $3500)...

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Los Angeles, near the Beverly Center.


    To keep this post short by not delving into the sixteen ukes I bought in my first year (five years ago) that I sold, of the four I kept, I was pleasantly surprised recently by the custom gypsy jazz tenor made to my specs by Bruce Wei in Vietnam over 4 years ago. When I first got it, I found that it had a "soft voice" in that the projection and sustain was not loud to my liking, but it had very good tone. I hadn't played it that often so it sat in my humidified cabinet most of the time. But in the last few weeks I've been playing it and found the projection and sustain to be much better. I guess there is something to a uke "opening up."

    What actually prompted me to cull the herd was when I bought my Kala KAATP-CTG-CE 2 cedar/acacia koa cutaway. The surprise was when I compared it side by side to a couple of the K brands and found it was so close that I had no reason to consider one.

    8 tenor cutaway ukes, 3 acoustic bass ukes, 8 solid body bass ukes, 7 mini electric bass guitars

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    Last edited by kohanmike; 06-30-2018 at 06:11 AM.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Pickering, ON, Canada


    My positive suprise were Kimo Ukuleles. I purchased a used tenor with a curly koa top and curly maple back and sides. Full disclosure prompts me to state I bought it on looks alone. I was not familiar with this builder, Hank Johnson and even the guys I asked on here didn't know much about him. It had a radius fretboard and side sound port so I bought it hoping it sounded okay. It is right up there with the very best sounding ukes I own. I was so impressed I commisioned a super concert with sinker redwood and walnut, this is a sonic winner as well.

    The negative suprise was the Farallon. I ordered it with the radius, sound port and string through bridge. It is loud, resonant, well made well balanced and plays effortlessly. I listened to every sound sample and really liked what I heard. But sometimes what we hear in person is not the same. It is very articulate so much so it seems sterile in its tone to me. I came to the conclusion after one year it wasn't for me. Brenda loved it and really wanted to buy it after babysitting it for one week. She owns it now and is very happy...........nothing WRONG with the sound just not my cup of tea.
    Currently enjoying these ukuleles : *LdfM tenor, *LfdM 19" super tenor. *LfdM baritone, *I'iwi tenor , *Koolau tenor, *Webber tenor, *Kimo tenor, *Kimo super concert, *Mya Moe baritone, *Kamaka baritone, *Gianinni baritone, *Fred Shields walnut pineapple super soprano, *Kala super soprano, *Loprinzi super soprano, *Black bear ULO concert , *Enya X1 concert, *Enya X1 pineapple soprano, *Enya Nova *Gretsch tenor, *Korala plastic concert

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2015
    Catskill Mountains, NY


    I've been pleasantly surprised by the good sound and volume of some ukuleles I've gotten. No disappointments, though.
    Too many ukes, but I can't stop buying!

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