New Uke Day (NUD) NUD: KoAloha KTM-00 Koa Tenor

ailevin

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I experienced a Christmas miracle yesterday. My wife and I exchanged gifts early before our kids and grandchildren arrived. The protocol here is that the kids open stockings, then we have the Christmas meal, and then the true present opening frenzy begins. Four of five sons were here, each with a partner plus five grandchildren so there were 13 piles of gifts to open. It was loud and at times a bit wild, with epic destruction of wrapping paper. I was mostly occupied with releasing toys bound to their cartons with an uncountable number of zip ties.

In the midst of this chaos I noticed that a large wrapped box had appeared on my right with a tag that said, "To Gramps From Kimo." As I torn off the paper and saw it was a shipping box from TUS I was thinking, "Did she really do this?" She did! I pried a well packed hard case out of the shipping material and found a brand new KoAloha KTM-00 Koa Tenor strung in low G. The paperwork in the box showed that it had been ordered Nov 9, long before my first post here.

Anyway, after everyone had gone home, my wife and I had a chance to play both the new KTM and our much loved Pono ATD. I have had a chance to play the new ukulele during several practice sessions today. The KTM had been sitting for many weeks packed away at low string tension, and it is a brand new solid wood instrument. I understand that it may take a while for the strings to settle, and for the instrument to open up and develop its full potential. Perhaps it is just the power of suggestion, but the differences between the ATD and the KTM seem more distinct today than they did last night.

Physically the KTM is smaller in several respects. It is a bit lighter in weight, the body dimensions are only slightly smaller than the ATD, except for the depth. The KTM body is noticeably thinner. The ATD neck is fuller and more rounded than the KTM. The KTM balance is also different, so that the neck feels much lighter than the ATD when held in playing position. The action on the KTM is very nice. Either the stock strings are higher tension or the action is set slightly higher on the KTM compare to the ATD. So far, I don't see any of these differences as significant advantages or disadvantages as far a playability is concerned. I am much more used to the ATD, so it will take some time to see what I think about the physical differences. So far, I mostly notice the thinner body which may be slightly more comfortable, and the difference in balance which makes the entire ukulele feel lighter when I am holding it in playing position.

While the physical dimensions of the KoAloha are generally smaller than the Pono, the sound is generally bigger. It has more volume, more sustain, and a richer tone. I've noticed that higher end ukuleles that I've tried have a surprisingly good balance of volume and tone on all four strings. On the KTM, every note just sings on every string up and down the fretboard. I think much of this is due to differences in design and execution though perhaps better materials play a role as well. When played loud, the ukulele maintains its mellow sound, when played soft it maintains its rich tone. This gives me a wider range of available dynamics without pushing as hard at either end. I guess I'd call that responsiveness. l would describe the sound signature as very integrated or very smooth with a bell-like quality to the tone. The Pono ATD has a similar bell-like tone profile, and it is a beautiful sounding instrument, but the KTM just does most everything a bit better. It has a more sonorous and slightly more woody tone.

Enough of comparative details. The new KoAloha ukulele is gorgeous and a joy to play. I am still can't quite believe it: that I could be caught so totally by surprise, that she would choose that particular ukulele without any consultation, and that it is now sitting in my living room waiting for us to play it whenever we like. Miraculous.
 
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Such a beautiful story, and a very well written description of the differences in comparing the two instruments. Congratulations on your great uke(s) and loving wife!
 
Congratulations, such a beautiful gift. We would love to see pics! Enjoy!
 
The photos don't do justice to the instrument, but then again neither do I as a ukulele player. I also just learned that glossy things are hard to photograph with all the reflections, so kudos to the ukulele site (TUS) for the job they do.

The first photo is the Christmas shot, and some more clinical photos of the instrument follow. The last two are closeups of the classic KoAloha headstock and sound hole with the very cool laser etched label visible but not quite in focus. Looking inside I can see the KoAloha frame bracing that forms a thin rectangular frame just below the sound hole. In fact, the part of that bracing that goes along the back is visible just below the label in the sound hole closeup. Also visible inside the body if you look at the right angle is the neck block with what I assume is the date of manufacture, October 2022.
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Thanks to everyone for the good wishes and kind comments.

badhabits: My wife had our son order the ukulele from the The Ukulele Site (TUS) in Haleiwa, HI and he had it delivered to his house. The amazing part to me was how she selected that particular ukulele. She wanted to buy it from TUS since we had visited there, made other purchases, and generally like the feeling of family that they exude. She wanted to buy me a Hawiian made Koa instrument, and she had an idea of what she was willing to pay, knowing that I would not spend that much. She knew that the owner of TUS, Andrew, had a father and brother were one of the "K" Hawaiian ukulele makers, and she thought it was KoAloha (it is actually Ko'olau). She wanted a low G tenor because we were and are hypnotized by Kimo Hussey. And last but not least, she looked at the pictures on their website and liked the wood on that particular instrument. Certainly not the selection path I would have chosen, yet I can't imagine a more perfect choice, and I would be in analysis paralysis for months to years before making such a purchase.

Jan D: I guess de facto, I am a tenor player with two lovely tenor instruments. But I do still feel like I am exploring the different sizes and sound signatures.
 
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What a great holiday surprise! (I knew I should have chosen "nice" and not "naughty" this past year...)

You discovered what others have... something like your new KoAloha is just slightly better in many ways and this adds up to a better ukulele experience. This even can carry over to pride of ownership (and the memory of your story bringing a smile to you repeatedly), visual pleasure, and the slightly better feel and sound every time you pick it up. Forget any silly arguments on whether it is twice as good if it is twice the price... it brings pleasure and joy.

I recently found out that Andrew is related to Ko'olau. This makes sense because TUS shares their Wahiawa site with Pono, a Ko'olau line made in Asia. I believe lighter and better balanced is a plus, though not a negative for some if not so. And the KoAloha sound is wonderful as you are discovering.

Thanks for sharing!
 
The photos don't do justice to the instrument, but then again neither do I as a ukulele player. I also just learned that glossy things are hard to photograph with all the reflections, so kudos to the ukulele site (TUS) for the job they do.

The first photo is the Christmas shot, and some more clinical photos of the instrument follow. The last two are closeups of the classic KoAloha headstock and sound hole with the very cool laser etched label visible but not quite in focus. Looking inside I can see the KoAloha frame bracing that forms a thin rectangular frame just below the sound hole. In fact, the part of that bracing that goes along the back is visible just below the label in the sound hole closeup. Also visible inside the body if you look at the right angle is the neck block with what I assume is the date of manufacture, October 2022.
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It's beautiful! Thanks for letting us drool over your new uke!
 
That's a pretty one, and Koa with that long straight grain is said to sound extra good! 🤙
 
Congrats! i can't imagine a better Xmas present.

Well, except maybe World Peace.
 
What a wonderful surprise gift. KTM-00s are great all-around tenors.

Kudos to your wife. The wood is beautiful. Very striking striping without being garish.

Congrats! May you two continue to make beautiful music together
 
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