NUD - KoAloha Red Label

rhiggie

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Many of you may have noticed I've been on a hunt for a Spruce top KoAloha, a few of you have sent me tips to check out but one member here actually had way more than I was looking for. UU member "Steedy" reached out with not just a Spruce top KoAloha, but one with a Red Label inside! And yes, more expensive than I was looking for, but owning a KoAloha Red Label has been on my ukulele "bucket list" for several years so I figured why not check off 2 boxes with one uke! First let me say that Steedy was great to work with, lots of great conversations here and finally a Zoom call so I could see and hear the Red Label "in person" (kind-a). Everything I needed to feel comfortable buying a high end uke. He's your typical UU member, good player, good all-around person, with too many ukuleles (and he obviously takes great care of his ukes)! I wouldn't be surprised to see some more of his ukes listing here in the future. So yes, the transaction went without a hitch, and I'd buy from him again any day.

Now back to the uke, the back story is I'm a huge KoAloha and Pops UkeSA fan. They make up the largest brand ukes in my uke family, mostly Koa and recently Pop's WOW ukes. In a past hunt for just one Kamaka I could bond with, a UU member got to chatting with me about a Spruce top Kamaka and told me if I liked KoAloha's, I would like this Kamaka (gotta love dealing with players who can give you realistic comparisons and honest information). He was right, and this Kamaka gets regular play-time. But ever since then I wondered if a Spruce top Kamaka has such a preferred voice over the all Koa version (to my ears at least), what would a Spruce top KoAloha sound like? And the next hunt was on! A hunt that has been on-going a couple years! You just don't see them come up for sale often. That's when I decided to post the "WANTED" listing.

So thanks to Steedy reaching out, I just received my Red Label Spruce top KoAloha. But now for this NUD, I have a dilemma. It's an absolutely wonderful sounding uke but I can't tell you if it's wonderful because of the Spruce top, or the Red Label build. So this NUD is more of a comparison so maybe you will get a feel for the uke. For me, my purchases are always about finding that different voice. Sure I love seeing beautiful woods, beautiful designs, but I when I change ukes I want something that sounds different. This uke has a sound of it's own and I'll give you some comparisons (because when I get a new uke, I go into my uke room, shut the door and haul out several ukes to play side by side). The new uke has Living Waters low G strings on it, so good strings. But this means when comparing voices, sometimes I only have 3 strings to work with. My 1st comparison was with my KoAloha 25th Anniversary, also low G, which is one of my favs. The Red Label has a similar warm sound, similar volume but with added clarity from the higher stings, very clean sound by comparison. This is one of those ukes you can feel vibrate against your chest. So yes, it's got a different voice. Next I tried comparing with my Pop's WOW tenor and about the only thing those 2 shared was the body shape and headstock. The WOW has more volume and such a different voice, I can't begin to compare them, kind of like comparing a high end tenor and a high end soprano, their voices can both be great, but they aren't in the same category. So again, different voice, way way different! Oh and I had to compare the Red Label to my Kamaka Spruce top. The Kamaka has a "harder" sound, very strong, the KoAloha is much warmer, sweeter but with the added sparkle from the high strings. The Kamaka has Uke Logic hard tension strings, so that is probably part of it's voice difference, but again, different voice (and I'm feeling really happy at this point). Finally I get out out my Chuck Moore Pearl-n-Curl, a basic model by Chucks standards, and my main player at home. The Moore Bettah is clearly still a step up from the new Red Label, but not a huge step. Enough so that I would never mistake them if I couldn't see them. What they share is that hand-built feel from experience top classed luthiers.

Bottom line, the Red Label does have the different voice I had hoped for and it's a really nice voice to my ears. It's super high quality and just a pleasure to to play. I love the look of the bear claw spruce, and the fancy logo on the headstock, the Koa is very nice and I LOVE the Hip-Shot tuners, maybe the smoothest and lightest weight tuners I've experienced. And just like when I got my Chuck Moore, it will replace a couple others that are kind of similar, so watch for "ukes for sale". BUT... with all that said, the voice, is it the Spruce top or is it the Red Label? I may never know...

Including side by side pics with the Kamaka that started it all.IMG_1120.jpgIMG_1121.jpgIMG_1122.jpgIMG_1123.jpgIMG_1124.jpgIMG_1125.jpgIMG_1126.jpgIMG_1127.jpg
 
Great NUD and "comparison" info! Beautiful ukulele too! Enjoy! :cool: (y) (y) (y)
 
Hey rhiggie, thanks for the kind words. I really enjoyed getting acquainted through this awesome ukulele transaction. Great photos, too! What a beauty. I'll surely miss that KoAloha Red Label Tenor, but I'm glad it went to a good home. And yes, I have other ukuleles (too many others), and now I'm looking at my KoAloha 25th Anniversary Silver Tenor that I might be willing to part with, so stay tuned!
 
Great NUD!

I suspect that both the wood and the model adds to the quality you are experiencing. Their Red Labels have a different bracing design along with attention to details during production (one luthier per red label). I have a mango RL concert and, like you, found them a distinct step up from their standard models, which I subsequently sold.

Enjoy!
 
Great NUD!

I suspect that both the wood and the model adds to the quality you are experiencing. Their Red Labels have a different bracing design along with attention to details during production (one luthier per red label). I have a mango RL concert and, like you, found them a distinct step up from their standard models, which I subsequently sold.

Enjoy!
is the difference, in your opinion, mostly fit and finish, or is there a noticeable difference in tone also?
 
is the difference, in your opinion, mostly fit and finish, or is there a noticeable difference in tone also?
It is not just fit and finish. There are playability and sound quality differences that make it a joy to play. I find it worth the cost to upgrade.
 
Congrats on the NUD. Nice bear claw spruce. Have you ever tried those Opios with Spruce tops? Got me wondering how much different they would sound. I got to test a friend‘s black label all Koa model back to back with my silver tenor a few months back. Very similiar sound with a tad more clarity and brightness on the black label. Both had brand new stock strings and had similiar wood. I haven’t experimented with a brighter set of strings on the silver to see if the sound would get closer to the black label or not. It’s always fun to have a new uke!
 
Many congrats! I have a Special Issue with no unibrace and with solid lining. I'm guessing the same with a Red Label?

Mine has transverse braces either side of the sound hole, a bridge patch, and then wide but thin center strips - and that's it! Similar?
 
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Congratulations, it's beautiful, as is the duo!
 
Is that a special order Kamaka HF-3 I see? 👀
 
Excellent NUD, and exquisite new ukulele. Even without hearing it, the pictures took my breath away. I have always wondered about the sound of a spruce top KoAloha, and if it would be similar to Pops's pine and spruce ukuleles. I am not surprised by your description, because my own experience is that the Pops ukes in soprano, concert, tenor sound more like one another than they do like other instruments in the same scale. They definitely have a unique tonal signature.

As for you question about RL vs. spruce top, I think that the materials used may change some of the possibilities or constraints on the the luthier, but it is what the luthier does with them that gives a custom instrument its unique voice and playability.
 
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Congrats on your new baby! These are awesome sounding ukuleles.
 
Congrats on your latest uke, rhiggie! I have to say that I was tempted by this model a couple years ago, especially while someone had one on Hawaii Craigslist for months and months. Yours has way prettier koa.

I'm also a fan of Kamakas and that particular uke certainly has my attention. What a great pairing!
 
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