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Thread: Question -Is it possible for a Uke to be “overbuilt” resulting in reduced volume?

  1. #21


    When I was looking for my first solid Uke, I tried a Pono tenor and hated it. The neck felt heavy and unbalanced and the whole thing seemed to be built like an acoustic guitar, compared to other ukes that I tested in the shop. Years later, I tried a Pono baritone and quite liked it. Didn't notice the weight, even though it's a bigger instrument. (Still not a huge fan of the round neck though).

    The volume of both of them seemed fine. My Kala solid mahogany baritone is quieter, but the sound is sweet and suits it perfectly. It's not all about loudness.

  2. #22
    Join Date
    Jan 2017
    FL, USA


    My first 2 ukes were/are Ponos, and mine are the only ukes I've ever laid hands on. I come from a viola, and later, mandola background. As soon as the first uke, a deluxe baritone in mahogany, arrived, I was shocked at how an instrument that size could weigh so little. I have some much smaller mandolas that are heavier. I loved it, and bonding was instantaneous. The second was a cedar and mahogany deluxe tenor. Even though I string all my ukes for fifths tuning, which makes them lower pitched on the bottom end than traditional tuning, I found the tenor much tenser, tighter and hard to play in the beginning. There was also the radiused fretboard, which had me constantly "missing" the notes on 1st string when I plucked tunes, due to the curvature. That one took longer to bond with, but it has such a nice sound that I determined to, and have.

    I subsequently acquired a Kala spruce and ovangkol tenor and a Romero all-mahogany Tiny Tenor. All my tenors are so different from one another, and I like certain aspects about each one. it is hard to say anything about loud/quiet differences, though, because I play for myself and seldom play at full volume, so I've never thought about it. They are each very vibrant and responsive instruments. When I recall the "overbuilt" instruments of various sorts that I've tried to play over the years, the thing they had in common was they did not vibrate in my hands much if at all, and sounded nasal and "constipated", if you will.

    Yes, the Pono is the heaviest of my tenors. But I do find the Pono neck shape the most comfortable to play for long periods of time. I know that's different from the norm, as I'm a woman with average sized hands, but I like something to hold onto. I like that the Kala has a satin neck, though. The Tiny Tenor is so light, but after all, it's tiny. It has a lovely sound, but not as much bass response as the others for that reason, either. And it has a difficult neck to me, as it's very shallow. Shallow necks are something I only associate with bowed string instruments which are of course held horizontally. The TT Took some getting used to, but I like it. I like all of them.

    A bunch of stringed instruments tuned in fifths. And a bunch of cats!

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  3. #23
    Join Date
    Dec 2010


    In my experience heavy is quiet. My Martin soprano is as light as a feather and it is the loudest Uke I own.

  4. #24
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Mission Viejo, CA


    If you think about how production ukuleles are made, it is certainly possible to get one that is on the “overbuilt” side. I would think that the same bracing is used for the same size ukulele regardless of soundboard material. To compensate for koa vs. spruce vs. cedar strength/stiffness the soundboard thickness is changed. Since wood properties are not consistent even within the same species, the result is an average, with some instruments sounding stellar, when every thing matches up, and some not stellar but still good enough when things don’t line up. There is no way to efficiently produce instruments by using tap-tone knowledge and making adjustments that a luthier would do making custom ukuleles.

    I look at the bulge behind the saddle. Every good sounding guitar or ukulele has a slight amount; even my KLOS is not perfectly flat. Too much belly and dishing that results in a significantly tilted bridge is not good, especially for longevity, but none at all might indicate being overbuilt. Custom builders can tread that fine line, where production builders need the instrument to last, and hopefully sound good.

    If you don’t care for how your cedar top Pono sounds, chances are there won’t be a miraculous opening up in a few years. My understanding is that cedar opens up quickly so what you have is probably what you’ll get.


  5. #25
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Boulder, CO!


    This is an interesting thread....I, too, once had a heavier-than-expected Pono tenor. I had (I think it was) the PKT-1E, solid Koa with a passive pickup, and no matter which strings I put on it I was always trying to push more volume and range out of it. Compared with the soprano KoAloha I traded for it, it was neither as loud nor as "expressive" -- it sounded much tighter, if that makes sense, than the little warm Koaloha soprano.

    I traded that Koa one for a newer Pono MTD, and only held onto the MTD for a couple of weeks before selling that off too. Again, while the instrument was lighter, I was having trouble extracting the tone I wanted from it and I figured the brand just didn't suit me.

    I've played a few Pono's I like but I think overall I've just decided something about the way sound comes out of their instruments doesn't quite resonate with me. For the money I've found some pretty fantastic Ohana's and Mainland's and Kala's that have a lighter build and a more expressive sound than I've found in the Pono's I've come across.

    Man I really didn't mean for this to become a Pono bashing post....I really do think their ukes are well-built, and the finish is clearly high-quality without glue all over the insides and nicely carved bracing and everything. Idk why all of that doesn't come together to make a uke I really enjoy, but I guess I haven't found it yet from Pono.

    KoAloha Pineapple Sunday 6 String
    Kamaka HF-3 Tenor
    1928 Harmony Johnny Marvin
    Ohana TK-39
    c. 1970's Hikare Baritone
    Gretsch G9100
    Outdoor Ukulele Soprano #43


  6. #26
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Tampa Bay, FL


    This is an interesting comparison.
    A friend of mine bought a Pono a few years ago.
    She tried and tried to fall in love with it.
    Then she bought a Mainland.
    Both ukes are concert scale.
    She bonded with the Mainland right away.
    It was lighter, louder, and more cheerful sounding.
    She sold the Pono.
    Different strokes for different folks....
    "Those who bring sunshine and laughter to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves".

    Music washes from the soul, the dust of everyday living.

  7. #27
    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Gloucester, UK


    Thought I'd chip in again - I also owned a Pono ULN4 larger than usual baritone and I regret selling that so much I'm considering buying one again. It was phenomenal. There's also a Pono MS in The Uke Room at the moment which is extremely loud and responsive - the sopranos don't seem to get a lot of love so I was amazed at how good it sounded. Don't think I'd go for a Pono tenor again in a hurry but a Pono soprano or baritone is likely in my medium term future.

  8. #28
    Join Date
    May 2019
    Rutland UK


    As the originator of this thread I would like to say a big thank you to all who have contributed so far.
    In ALL cases I have found your comments to be of value and in many cases also extremely informative.

    Please let me state that by asking the question about weight versus volume it was never my intention to create a Pono bashing exercise, in fact quite the opposite as I like it so much I fully intend keeping my Pono Uke - for a while anyway
    Maybe it will open up and improve in time or maybe it won’t , who can say for sure ? Yes, it may be the heaviest of all my Uke’s but that doesn’t bother me - I have plenty of straps ! and yes it may be a little on the quiet side but that doesn’t bother me too much either as sometimes I like to play quietly.

    My sole reason for asking the question in the first place was to elicit a response from some of you who perhaps have more knowledge and experience than I or who maybe have a different way of looking at things. Please bear in mind that I have only been a part of this fascinating world of Ukuleles for less than a year so I am still very much a “newbie “ with plenty of learning to do.

    As regards the original question my own opinion is yes, it is possible to “overbuild” a Uke and it’s also possible that this may affect its subjective volume so maybe there is some correlation between weight and volume - but does that really concern me ? Not in the slightest , I just find the subject interesting that’s all.

    Finally, I’ll just say thanks again for all your contributions, I really appreciate all of them.

    Thought I would include 3 pics. of the little varmint that prompted me to start this thread:

  9. #29
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    West Midlands GB


    I was at a uke club and the man sitting next to me complained that my Ohana SK-300G was very loud. I didn't think I was bashing away, insensitively, so I offered to swap ukes for the next number. His eyes opened wide when he played mine, and his (a cheap plywood thing) was barely audible. I think he was probably shopping for a new uke the next day!

    Provided a uke produces enough volume to be pleasing, and to hold its own in the company of other ukes, then I'd regard it as a characteristic, not a problem.

    John Colter.

  10. #30
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Sumter County, FL


    "Overbuilt" is an interesting term. "Built" must consider the materials (especially type of wood) to be used, factory environment (heat, humidity, etc.), storage environment, shipping considerations, durability level desired and a bunch of other factors (mainly involving target market). "Overbuilt" to me means an item which is intended for use in almost any environment by a user of limited skill. It reminds me of the military requirements to have equipment capable of working properly despite excessive user-induced "shake, rattle and roll" and operating temperatures from -40C to +70C.

    When I look at the instruments I have, it becomes obvious (to me, anyway) that my choices are local-environment driven. A major environmental change would have a comparable impact on my inventory. There have been some instruments - darned good ones - which came and went only because they were not suited to my storage/operating environment. In every case the builder did a fine job. The fact that a particular customer's situation does not need a particular instrument with that builder's design features does not make the instrument improperly designed or built. Instruments are indeed not one-size-fits-all.

    Ukuleles: Oscar Schmidt OU28T (T8), Lanikai LU-6 (T6), RISA Solid (C), Effin UkeStart (C), Flea (S)**
    Banjo-Ukes: Duke 10 (T)*, Lanikai LB6-S (S)*
    Tenor Guitars: Martin TEN515, Blueridge BR-40T
    Tenor Banjo: Deering Goodtime 17-Fret
    Mandolin: Burgess (#7)***

    * CGDA reentrant, **DAEB, ***GDAE, The rest are CGDA

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