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Thread: Pono UL4-20 Steel String Baritone

  1. #1
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    Default Pono UL4-20 Steel String Baritone

    Hello, I'm new here and relatively new to the ukulele, having taken my first lesson just over a year ago. I love playing my tenor and baritone ukes, but have also been drawn to the acoustic guitar. After playing around with one, I decided that it's more than I want to tackle at age 61.

    HOWEVER, this steel string baritone has really captured my attention. Gives me a bit of the guitar sound that I seek, but with 4 strings and some of the uke warmth. I am seriously considering buying this steel string baritone as a retirement gift to myself. As a fairly serious cello player and having some experience with fine instruments, I know that I'll have to invest a bit to get the nice sounding wood that I want, so even though it's probably early to be making the jump to this nice an instrument, I'm ready to do it.

    So, my question to you more experienced uke/guitar players is: is there anything that I should consider first to avoid regretting buying this instrument? Other models I should consider? Any comments/advice? Of course my fear is that it's so early in the game for me that I really don't even know what I don't know...

  2. #2
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    I was fortunate to buy one of the Ebony Ul4's. It was a wonderful instrument but showed me I missed the bottom end sound of a guitar. It got me back playing lead for a bluegrass group and lead in a uke group.

    I don't think it's too early fro you to buy a UL4. With your experience as a cello player, you know the value of a good instrument. THe UL4's are great instruments and if you end up not feeling it's right for you, they swell pretty quick. I eventually sold the Pono and had a custom made "contra baritone" made. Shown below next to a Chennell archtop baritone. It's a 23" scale with tenor guitar sized body.

    The steelstrung UL4 is basically a tenor guitar with steel strings and wider neck. 1 3/8ths vs 1 1/4"for tenor guitars. If you don't mind a narower neck, yo could look at tenor guitars as an alternative.
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    Last edited by Patrick Madsen; 11-11-2020 at 11:37 AM.

  3. #3
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    Thank you! I’m not sure at this point in my journey what neck size would work best for me. Seems like the narrower neck would better facilitate chord playing, and the wider neck better for finger picking?

    What is a contra baritone? It looks like (only) 4 strings, so is it tuned differently to address you missing the lower guitar strings?

  4. #4
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    I owned a Pono UL4-20 and a BlueRidge BR-40T (tenor guitar) at the same time. The smaller body and shorter scale length of the Pono did not give me the low end and warmth like the slighter bigger BlueRidge did. The Pono was a well made and good sounding instrument just not my cup of tea and I sold it after one year.

    You are correct when you say you don’t know what you don’t know. But none of us do and and the only way to know is to make a buying decision as best you can. Own it, play and you will find out if you love it or not. You are attracted to the steel string sound so Pono or BlueRidge or another tenor guitar will scratch that itch for you.
    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

  5. #5
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    Jon Dale of Jupiter Ukes makes a fine steel string too. THe director of the uke group I play with wanted me use an amp. At first, I didn't want to amp up so thought a larger bodied baritone would do the trick. I had recently had a custom guitar made by a local luthier who specializes in ergonomic shaped instruments, George Thomas of Thomas Guitars.

    We came up with the larger body tenor guitar sized instrument for a much bigger sound. Basically it's a tenor guitar with nylon strings and 1 3/8ths neck. I called it a contra baritone because of it's much bigger sound and larger size. He makes wonderful instruments one at a time. His necks are shaped asymmetrical so as a person moves up the neck they don't have to change wrist positions. Great for those with shoulder or hand challenges. I play from a wheelchair so made a cutout wedge on the bottom waist for better positioning on how I hold the instrument.

    Still ended up amping up though lol.

    Dave was the one who suggested Pono make the UL4. It's pretty easy to find out if a tenor guitar would work for you by stoppig by a music store that has one in stock.
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    Last edited by Patrick Madsen; 11-12-2020 at 07:28 AM.

  6. #6
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    Best retirement gift to yourself ever! I'm absolutely positive you will never regret it. I have gifted one to myself and it's among myself and it is still among my most favorite instruments. A perfect blend between a uke and a guitar, just as you describe it. I think your post shows that you are well prepared to buy one. Of course, as others have stated, it is an instrument of its own and not quite as full as a guitar. But to me, it has a lovely and unique voice.

    As for wood options: I'm sure the basic all Acacia or all Mahogany models will sound just as good as any of the more expensive wood options. But the one I have is Rosewood/Spruce and I just love that combination, both the contrasting colors and the sound it provides.

    Hope that helps, let us know what you decide.
    Enjoying instruments by - Beau Hannam - Jay Lichty - Jerry Hoffmann - Luis Feu de Mesquita - Kala - Kamaka - Kanile'a - KoAloha - Ko'olau - Moore Bettah - Pono - Romero Creations - and others

  7. #7
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    Thank you all so much! What good fortune to have found this forum with a literal gold mine of experience, expertise, passion, and willingness to share! I will keep you posted on my decision. Thanks again!!
    Last edited by cellotouke; 11-13-2020 at 03:00 AM.

  8. #8
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    I’m waiting to connect with someone at The Ukulele Site to discuss some of my questions before I (likely) order a Pono Ul4-4 steel string baritone!

    I do have another question on this topic for you... As a relatively new player, I do rely on a strap and have struggled trying to play without one. However, my previous experience with the cello world causes me to cringe at the thought of putting holes in a wooden instrument for the strap connections. It didn’t bother me on my entry level tenor, but I’m wary of doing it on the Pono.

    Does poking holes in the body of the uke effect the sound? I’ve read a bit about Jake K’s shoulder strap. Any comments on that? Does it effect the sound to insert the connector in the sound hole? Or do I just try to learn to play strapless? As a 61 yo female who already struggles with neck and shoulder tension, I’m a bit concerned about aggravating that.

    Your thoughts?

  9. #9
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    Won't be a problem as the hole will be plugged up by the strap button. There are also sb's that screw into the wood. Have the Uke Site install the buttons if you buy. I sit when I play and never use a strap; I just lay it on my thigh.

    Jake plays a tenor; much smaller than the UL4. I just hold a tenor body under my arm when playing.

  10. #10
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    Had the Pono steel string. Liked it but I appreciate the sound that comes from the larger body tenor guitar. I also like the slimmer neck and closer string spacing of my ‘36 Kalamazoo. I do, however, find the larger scale challenging in fifths tuning. If your playing in dgbe though, it’s nice.

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