Kamaka Factory Repair/Restoration Reviews

UkeinPDX

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Hello there!

Just curious if anyone has any experience or reviews of Kamaka restorations at their factory. I sent in my wonderful baritone a few months back for a full restoration, as it had a bit of heel separation, and showed some other minor signs of aging. As I plan to keep it forever, and restoration was significantly cheaper than getting another uke (and MUCH cheaper than getting another Kamaka) I figured why not. As I anxiously await for it to return to me (I am in month 3 of the 9 month estimated repair time) I have been wondering how it will be when it comes back. Will it sound as good or better than a new Kamaka? Will it have the solid build of a new one but with the soulful tone of the 50 year aged Koa? How was the quality of their refinishing? Do they replace the vintage wooden nut and saddle with bone? Do they replace the older style solid framing on the inside of the body with more modern style framing? See picture below for the modern type I see in my Ponos:

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I did recently pick up a nice used 2016 Pono Acacia Bartione Deluxe on Craigslist to tide me over in the meantime and get me accustomed to the Baritone sounds as I wait... I've gotta say it's sounding pretty nice also and might stick around even when I get my Kamaka back...
 
Ebony nut / saddle is fine with me and I wouldn't want them to change this.

As for the "framing" (kerfing? bracing?), seems odd they would change it as this is major surgery, not a regular restoration.
 
I believe they are taking the whole thing apart, including front and back, fingerboard, etc and re-glueing the whole thing.

My main reason for starting this is the conversations I see on here from time to time regarding "old vs new Kamaka", where most folks seem to say that new Kamakas are better hands down. I'm hoping this restoration gives me the best of both worlds :D
 
Hello there!

Just curious if anyone has any experience or reviews of Kamaka restorations at their factory. I sent in my wonderful baritone a few months back for a full restoration, as it had a bit of heel separation, and showed some other minor signs of aging. As I plan to keep it forever, and restoration was significantly cheaper than getting another uke (and MUCH cheaper than getting another Kamaka) I figured why not. As I anxiously await for it to return to me (I am in month 3 of the 9 month estimated repair time) I have been wondering how it will be when it comes back. Will it sound as good or better than a new Kamaka? Will it have the solid build of a new one but with the soulful tone of the 50 year aged Koa? How was the quality of their refinishing? Do they replace the vintage wooden nut and saddle with bone? Do they replace the older style solid framing on the inside of the body with more modern style framing? See picture below for the modern type I see in my Ponos:

View attachment 150889

I did recently pick up a nice used 2016 Pono Acacia Bartione Deluxe on Craigslist to tide me over in the meantime and get me accustomed to the Baritone sounds as I wait... I've gotta say it's sounding pretty nice also and might stick around even when I get my Kamaka back...
Those are called linings and framing pretty well describes what they do. The little vertical lines that make the wood easier to bend are called kerfing. Thus they are kerfed linings. Brüko, for example, and a few others, do plain linings with no kerfing. Aside from the easier bending aspect, I’m not sure there’s much functional difference between the two. Martin made a soprano—can’t remember the model—with no linings at all. There were a lot of complaints about it, but I've since heard good things about it.

No idea what made me decide to blab on about all that when i should be getting actual work done. 🤷 Good luck with your restoration!
 
Per my initial email with Kamaka:

"...Taking all apart, fixing cracks, re-gluing top/back/fingerboard/bridge, refinishing & installing new strings"

But this begs the question, does the better sound from new Kamakas when compared to vintage come from the lack of excessive vibrations from loose glues and minor warping? Or newer styles of bracing and thicker/different materials? I am just hoping that this restoration brings my already wonderful baritone to new Kamaka levels of sound quality.
 
I would not count on the restoration appreciably changing the sound of your instrument. Other than fixing any buzzing or rattling from the loose top or braces.

The top and bracing, will essentially remain the same as it was previously. My understanding is that they restore the instrument to its previous configuration. IE: To how it was when it was new.

They replicate the original parts that need to be replaced. Imagine if someone had an heirloom bari that they recorded with and Kamaka restored it with newer style bracing, saddle, nut & bridge without first discussing it with the owner.

If you want newer bone nut & saddle, you will have to specifically ask for that. If they can do that with the old bridge and fingerboard/neck. It may be a simple drop in swap, or it may require some modifications to change.

Talk to them and ask what they are planning to do, and what they can do to modernize the specs. Don't assume anything will be altered.
 
I toured the factory in March; I uploaded the first part of the tour.

What stood out to me is that they have changed a number of things on these ukuleles with advancements in technology (which is happening with all the K Brands).

I don’t think we have ever seen a Stradivarius of ukuleles (if any company unlocks it, it will likely be the tinkerers at Kanile’a who are not afraid to try anything). Today, in blind tests, many trained musicians cannot tell the difference between a Stradivarius and a modern excellent instrument. And while this does say something about the better builds of today, it also shows that those 350 year old violins still hold their own against the best we make today. That in an of itself is amazing.

But do take a listen to any of the early ukuleles from Ukulele Friend. While amazing, the sound doesn’t come close to many entry level laminates today. I do wonder how Aaron Keim’s Kingdom Era ukulele will compare to his other work at Beansprout.

Why am I going down this road? I just wanted to address the statement that said something to the effect of “People say new Kamakas sound better than old ones.”

And while I should mention that it’s all subjective to the listener or player, it would make perfect sense with changes to the body (e.g. a curved back) and other changes for current Kamakas to sound better than vintage models. If they can bring any of those improvements to your restored ukulele, it should result in an overall better ukulele—though they will be limited in what they can do.
 
I would wager they will do a nice job. Vintage or older vs New - they are different. I do not own a Kamaka but do own several KoAloha's .
I have one that is a bit older and it is indeed different from the new ones. They are just going to be different as the makers make improvements to the instruments. I would think this is true of all the K brands and some other quality makes.

I think Kamaka will do a nice job rebuilding your uke. If you have questions as to what exactly they will do communicate with them. Maybe the process can vary as they rebuild it. Each "rebuild" might differ? Don't know. Give them a call. Talk to who supervises that process or the tech that does it if that is possible.
 
I have one that is a bit older and it is indeed different from the new ones. They are just going to be different as the makers make improvements to the instruments. I would think this is true of all the K brands and some other quality makes.
I don't necessarily disagree with this statement, but would tend to say "as the makers make changes to the instruments"

It seems to be an endless point of discussion whether the changes are improvements or not. It is probably all about a person's taste and wishes.
 
Great points everyone. Thank you!

Even if it sounds just like it did before, but had the heel separation fixed, surface refinished and a good setup, I’ll be happy, as it was already pretty great :)
 
Great points everyone. Thank you!

Even if it sounds just like it did before, but had the heel separation fixed, surface refinished and a good setup, I’ll be happy, as it was already pretty great :)
Have you received your instrument back? I recently had my HF-1D completely redone by them, and they just received my HB-2D for the same yesterday.
 
I did! It doesn't look quite "factory perfect"... I feel like they rushed the finishing a bit, and I am very happy I picked it up in person so I could point out that the fret wire was still protruding quite a bit, and that the saddle was still so low that the A string was still snapping against the fretboard. They fixed those on-site and it was then pretty good. But had I had it shipped to me I think I would've been a bit disappointed to be honest, just in their lack of repairing things I specifically mentioned. The heel looks great though! And it plays very well now.
 
I did! It doesn't look quite "factory perfect"... I feel like they rushed the finishing a bit, and I am very happy I picked it up in person so I could point out that the fret wire was still protruding quite a bit, and that the saddle was still so low that the A string was still snapping against the fretboard. They fixed those on-site and it was then pretty good. But had I had it shipped to me I think I would've been a bit disappointed to be honest, just in their lack of repairing things I specifically mentioned. The heel looks great though! And it plays very well now.
This is so frustrating. I had a local luthier (I won’t name) who has a great reputation reset the neck on a cherished Martin guitar. When I arrived to pick it up, the strings were rattling against the fretboard. He had to keep the guitar another week to fix it. But it was completely unacceptable that his shop had called me to pick it up without checking the playability. To his credit, he fixed it.

Kamaka has a legendary reputation and they make beautiful ukuleles. Someone there really dropped the ball by asking you to come pick up a repair/restoration that really sounds incomplete. I’m glad that they too honored your request to go back and finish it properly. In the end, that’s what matters.

Enjoy your instrument!
 
That is very frustrating! I'm glad your Martin is good now!

I don't want to say anything too harsh... but the luthier who fixed my baritone told me that it was fine.. he then proceeded to pick it up and play it, very well, mind you, but I could hear the snapping of that one string the entire time! I mentioned to him what was happening and he reluctantly got a new saddle in there. It fixed the problem, and did not have any intonation issues. Not sure why they aren't more thorough. I gladly would have spent more to have them FULLY restore the thing. I want it looking and playing like brand new!
 
Thanks for the update. I also was on factory tour about a month ago and had opportunity to talk with the dedicated repair employee. I was very impressed with their complete rebuild approach, but sure disappointing that they can miss details. As for sound performance of older vs newer I haven't done direct comparison, but I have a white label Lili'u that has evidence of many repairs and it is light weight but has a huge voice that gets a lot of praise. When I play new Lili'u in their office or in stores I find they feel more sturdy and may sound a bit more brash, which I am not sure is a good thing. For other brands Martin comes to my mind, where I think that there is consensus that modern Martin ukes are nowhere near in sound quality to the surviving vintage examples.
 
Thanks for the update. I also was on factory tour about a month ago and had opportunity to talk with the dedicated repair employee. I was very impressed with their complete rebuild approach, but sure disappointing that they can miss details. As for sound performance of older vs newer I haven't done direct comparison, but I have a white label Lili'u that has evidence of many repairs and it is light weight but has a huge voice that gets a lot of praise. When I play new Lili'u in their office or in stores I find they feel more sturdy and may sound a bit more brash, which I am not sure is a good thing. For other brands Martin comes to my mind, where I think that there is consensus that modern Martin ukes are nowhere near in sound quality to the surviving vintage examples.
Interesting.

I’m more guitarist. I know people love vintage, but I think the Nazareth, PA Martin line is as good or better than ever. I own three wonderful USA Martin guitars made in the last 20 years, and I have no interest in paying a premium for vintage.

But I have no experience with their ukes.
 
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