New Kamaka vs Vintage sound

GeoffHW

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Hi everyone.

I am curious if anyone has compared a 1970s HF-1 and modern HF-1. have a local shop that is carrying a $2000 HF-1 and $3000 HF-1. I am driving two hours to look at a 1970 white label HF-1 for around $250 this weekend.

I guess I am just wondering if the price difference is really heard between the two. My reason for going vintage is having a genuine Koa instrument for under $300. Although I have heard that the early HF-1s were sort of a tourists model that were sold all over Hawaii for a small price. Does this mean they were less like instruments and more like toys? Another reason I want it is because Kamaka is such a foundational and significant company in the ukuleles history. I'm sort of a history fiend and love an instrument with a story.

I know $250 is a deal. But could $250 be better spent on a modern instrument? Will I be disappointed with the sound of a vintage Kamaka compared to a new instrument? Maybe not specifically Kamaka as I cannot afford to spend $1000+ on a ukulele as a beginner haha. But when compared to comparable companies of modern instruments like Flight, Kala, Ohana, etc.
 
From what I've seen, the newer Kamakas are much better made than the older base model Kamakas, giving you a louder and crisper sound. Still an older Kamaka in good condition (no warps or cracks) should sound better than a $250 Kala or Ohana. I have never played an older custom or deluxe Kamaka, so cannot comment on those.
 
From what I've seen, the newer Kamakas are much better made, giving you a louder and crisper sound. Still an older Kamaka in good condition (no warps or cracks) should sound better than a $250 Kala or Ohana.
One of my concerns now, due to the idea that these 70s instruments were tourist pieces (I have no evidence), is that potential fret problems, neck warping, bridge problems, or unevenness present some larger issues.

Also curious on what strings would be best for something vintage. I've heard the tops are quite thin and might necessitate some lighter than typical soprano strings.
 
One of my concerns now, due to the idea that these 70s instruments were tourist pieces (I have no evidence), is that potential fret problems, neck warping, bridge problems, or unevenness present some larger issues.

Also curious on what strings would be best for something vintage. I've heard the tops are quite thin and might necessitate some lighter than typical soprano strings.
I expect that the majority of 1970s Kamakas were sold to local Hawaii residents, though many went to school children since ukulele was taught in public elementary schools and made-in-China ukuleles were not imported to the USA back then. These instruments are 50 years old now, so if they were not well cared for over the years, then warping, cracking, fret sprout, bridge looseness, etc are potential problems, but you should be able to identify those problems if you can inspect the instrument before buying. This is especially a problem with instruments that were either heavily played or were taken out of Hawaii many years ago to climates that have much lower humidity than Hawaii.
 
I expect that the majority of 1970s Kamakas were sold to local Hawaii residents, though many went to school children since ukulele was taught in public elementary schools and made-in-China ukuleles were not imported to the USA back then. These instruments are 50 years old now, so if they were not well cared for over the years, then warping, cracking, fret sprout, bridge looseness, etc are potential problems, but you should be able to identify those problems if you can inspect the instrument before buying. This is especially a problem with instruments that were either heavily played or were taken out of Hawaii many years ago to climates that have much lower humidity than Hawaii.
I have a white label sop Kamaka in really fine condition. I love the way it plays and sounds: easy buttery and basically a marvelous little uke.
I can't compare it to a modern kamaka because I don't have one; I honestly consider some vintage ukes more as a collectible than a daily player.
 
$250? Really? I’d have a lot of questions.
Will be my first solid wood ukulele. Found it on a Facebook marketplace a few hours away. I talked them down from $300 after they dropped from $400. Provided nothing is wrong with it, I am hoping it's worth the $250.

Planning on just cleaning it up. Hopefully keeping it if I enjoy it. Trying to look into everything regarding finishes, cleaning products to use or not use, strings that work best, etc.

Going by my local music shop in about an hour to pickup supplies if anyone there can direct me. They deal in modern Kamakas so Id hope they can give advice on vintage as well.

Edit: To clarify, the owner inherited it from a late uncle who was a hobbiest. She doesn't play instruments and seems to be a regular seller on Facebook marketplace with good reviews. The items she sells seem to match that story as well as it's mostly power tools and things you'd expect your uncle to have. I'll be meeting her Saturday morning.
 
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Just for reference. Images I was sent. Looks to be in decent condition but won't know until I get it in hand. I'll update everyone in a separate post of the before and after cleaning shots.
 

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Comparing my 70s HF-1D to my 2023 HP-1…..I’m surprised how it sounded after it came back from the factory. Pretty close in sound quality to be honest….

I don’t think all white labels sound as good as modern instruments, but mine does in particular. Maybe because it got full restoration work at Kamaka, and specs were tried to be mirrored to todays action specs, etc.
 
How much was the restoration and how long did it take . What did they do ?
 
How much was the restoration and how long did it take . What did they do ?
$400, they refinished it, reset the neck, leveled frets, new strings, and set the action.
They received it on 1/29, and finished work on it on 2/9. So less than 2 weeks. I don’t know how long their standard turnaround time is, but since Chris Kamaka did it himself, I think it kind of got moved to the front of the line. (Because it was a rare deluxe model)
 
$400, they refinished it, reset the neck, leveled frets, new strings, and set the action.
They received it on 1/29, and finished work on it on 2/9. So less than 2 weeks. I don’t know how long their standard turnaround time is, but since Chris Kamaka did it himself, I think it kind of got moved to the front of the line. (Because it was a rare deluxe model)
What's the difference with the deluxe model? Did that one have binding?
 
$400, they refinished it, reset the neck, leveled frets, new strings, and set the action.
They received it on 1/29, and finished work on it on 2/9. So less than 2 weeks. I don’t know how long their standard turnaround time is, but since Chris Kamaka did it himself, I think it kind of got moved to the front of the line. (Because it was a rare deluxe model)
A restoration with a pedigree, how cool!
 
How much was the restoration and how long did it take . What did they do ?
The only way to get an accurate answer is to phone them and ask. For example, when I was there prepandemic, the repair time was nine to eighteen months. They had no dedicated repair people and their production line was priority. Then someone eventually got around to it. So maybe, two weeks to two years? Call them and find out.

And don't forget the cost of shipping, which can be significant.
 
The only way to get an accurate answer is to phone them and ask. For example, when I was there prepandemic, the repair time was nine to eighteen months. They had no dedicated repair people and their production line was priority. Then someone eventually got around to it. So maybe, two weeks to two years? Call them and find out.

And don't forget the cost of shipping, which can be significant.
Yes, shipping was about $120 for both ways. $40 there, $80 back.
 
A little while back I had a Kamaka pineapple white label which was made between 1969 and 1974. It was a terrific instrument with no real issues other than a couple of hairline cracks. It had a loud resonant sound and was a pleasure to play. It did not have the look of a mass produced instrument of today, but it was still very nicely made.
 
The only way to get an accurate answer is to phone them and ask. For example, when I was there prepandemic, the repair time was nine to eighteen months. They had no dedicated repair people and their production line was priority. Then someone eventually got around to it. So maybe, two weeks to two years? Call them and find out.

And don't forget the cost of shipping, which can be significant.
If the price is right, I’m considering sending my newly acquired HB-2D to Kamaka for the same treatment.
 
If the price is right, I’m considering sending my newly acquired HB-2D to Kamaka for the same treatment.
I was at factory tour a couple of weeks ago and had opportunity to talk with the employee who is dedicated to repairs and restorations. He takes the ukes apart and then rebuilds them with new parts where necessary. Very diligent. You will end up with a basically new uke.
 
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New Kamakas sounds amazing, but I far prefer the classic sound of the old white and gold labels. If this uke is in good condition, even with some hairline cracking, it is well worth it.
 
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