New Uke Day (NUD) NUD (or maybe NJD :-) - There's a new and very different animal in the ukulele jungle, Pops UKESA 8-string Juke-A-Lele can roar!

rhiggie

UU VIP
UU VIP
Joined
Jan 30, 2013
Messages
994
Reaction score
1,827
Location
Durham, NC
This review needs a little background. A while back I heard through the (Ed Fiscella) grapevine that Pops was back in his "designer role" at UKESA and was reworking his famous Juke-a-lele, turning it into his 1st ever 8-string uke. I was immediately intrigued. I have to admit, of the 3 specially designed Pops ukes, Pineapple Sunday, Sceptre, and Juke-a-lele, the Juke-a-lele wouldn't have been my first choice. As for uniqueness, I would give it top prize, and I'd bet that it would surely turn people's heads when you took it out of the case (and I really like that part) but it just didn't seem like a comfortable instrument to play, and what kind of sound could such a non-traditional body offer up? At this point, an 8-string Juke didn't exist so there was no way to answer that last part, but my interest was tweaked as I know from experience Pops is all about the "voice" of his ukes, if the sound isn't great, he isn't a happy camper, and it's back to the design phase.

After a pretty long period of time, Ed told me Pops had finished his prototype 8-string and even he was amazed at its sound. So much so that he wanted to talk to me about it. I was excited to be able to talk with one of my all-time favorite luthiers. What I heard convinced me that this was something I needed to have. What did I hear? Pops played the Juke for me over my cell phone and it sounded like, well, about as tinny as you would expect from a cell phone mic on one end and a cell phone speaker on the other! But the excitement in Pops' voice as he described the Juke's voice told me this was something special. The fact that with his experience and all the ukes he's played, HE was truly excited by the sound of this uke. I've built a couple of ukes (and a guitar), and the work that goes into it for a rookie like me seemed overwhelming. You focus on each step and eventually the instrument comes together. And as happy as you are with your design, your wood selections, the fit, and the finish, there's always that question in your head, "yeah but will it sound great, or will it sound ordinary?" And you don't get the answer until the strings go on and you get those first few strums. That's what I heard in Pops' excitement talking about his new and wonderfulful "baby"!

But I was still hesitant. It was an 8-string and I had an awesome Kamaka 8-string. And even as nice as my Kamaka is, an 8-string just doesn't get as much play time as its 4-stringed brothers on my shelf. I mean some songs sound great on an 8-string, but not all songs. Then Ed received the Juke prototype that Pops had built, (and he and I share similar tastes in our ukuleles and their sounds), I gave him a few days with it and asked for his honest review. Ed has always been completely honest with me, good or bad. And "somewhat" because of his opinions, but mostly because of Pops' excitement over the Juke, I decided I had to try it myself. I got on "the build list".

Enough background, this past week my Juke-a-lele arrived in a beautiful clear-plexiglass-topped hard case that framed the Juke like a fine piece of art. Just looking at it in its case, I was so impressed with its uniqueness. I quickly tuned it up (as quickly as an 8-string with new strings can be tuned) and got my 1st strums. I have had a total of 3 different 8-strings ending with my Kamaka so I had in my mind the voice that a nice 8-string uke has. But even with that, I was taken aback. This was WAY different than any 8-string I'd played or even heard played. So different that it took me hours of playing to identify the unique voice it has. It's got a chime to its ring, very focused, very resonant, and VERY LOUD! I finally identified what the voice sounded like to me - a harpsichord, bold, chime-y, very clear, and crazy loud when you want it to be. If you enjoy playing the ukulele and are fortunate enough to have some good ones, maybe you are like me, always on the lookout for a different look and more importantly "different voice". The Juke obviously has a different look, but its voice is what I love most. One last thing about sound, will I put my Kamaka 8-string up for sale because of my Juke? Definitely not! If they were similar I would be keeping only one, but the Kamaka is warm and round, and the Juke is bold, clean, and loud, completely different.

Sound aside, I'd like to talk about the Juke's playability. Back in my guitar days, when I had real callouses on my fingers, even then I could only play my 12-string for just short periods. With the amount of finger pressure required and the extra neck width, you had to really love the 12-string sound for specific songs to put up with that. 8-string ukes aren't that bad. The strings are kinder on the fingers even though you still need more pressure for good clean chords (except maybe the "C"). My Kamaka plays pretty well, but still, it takes its toll after playing it for a while. Pops has really designed a great playing 8-string. I dare say as easy to play as any 4-string. The string spacing feels natural, and the action is off the charts (not uncommon for a UKESA build). I played it for about 3 hours, and my fingers weren't complaining. What more can you ask for out of any double-stringed instrument? Another pleasant surprise was the way the body "fits" when playing it. The inverted "swoop" at the bottom is just where your forearm goes and it's a perfect match-up!

Finally, "the looks". This uke is really out there for being unique. One might say it's an "acquired taste", and surely is not for everyone! As expected it really got noticed at Uke Jam along with comments on how loud it was in a group of 25 people all strumming. When my fellow ukulele band members saw and played it, they also commented on its loud and jangly voice, and how easy it was to play. To look at it closely, it's like a piece of fine furniture, very elegant. The wood combinations are striking, and I'm sure it's spruce top plays into it's big voice. And Pops picked out a really special piece of Koa for the back. Oh, and at my request, he added the slotted side sound port like on my tenor WOW. But to be honest, the sound hole on the Juke is so much more open. I think it would be loud even without the sound port.

Even at 79 years old, Pops is always looking for feedback. How cool is that, a guy who's built literally thousands of ukes still wants suggestions on how he can make a better instrument? I offered a couple: the shape of the body where the neck attaches (which is just a looks thing) and the use of a "bridge through" design for less bridge stress, for a cleaner look, and WAY improved string changing. This was his reply: "I’ve never tried this method because I did not want the customer to try and pass the strings through the holes in the bridge, pull each one out of the sound hole, make a knot at the end and finally pull the string until the knot is tight and pulling on the inside portion of the bridge. I totally agree that in the case of the 8-string Juke, it is a great method of insuring that the bridge will not be subject by itself to uphold the tremendous lift pressure that the strings will present." And then he thanked me for providing feedback!

I've done some side-by-side sound comparisons on my WOWs in hopes of giving everyone a true feel of Pops' uniquely voiced ukes. I will do one of my two 8-strings in the near future so you can see how really different these ukes are. In case you haven't noticed, I like "different"! For now, here a few pics to enjoy starting with the site that greeted my eyes when I open the UKESA box.
IMG_4222.jpg
 

Attachments

  • IMG_4205.jpg
    IMG_4205.jpg
    296.9 KB · Views: 65
  • IMG_4206.jpg
    IMG_4206.jpg
    420.6 KB · Views: 60
  • IMG_4208.jpg
    IMG_4208.jpg
    980.6 KB · Views: 58
  • IMG_4215.jpg
    IMG_4215.jpg
    368.6 KB · Views: 51
  • IMG_4207.jpg
    IMG_4207.jpg
    392.1 KB · Views: 50
  • IMG_4221.jpg
    IMG_4221.jpg
    347.9 KB · Views: 55
WoW!!!!

What a great, great looking ukulele! Pops does a tremendous job when you challenge him with a new build. And his enthusiasm is infectious. Makes me almost wish (whew, NOT!) that I played 8 strings too.

Am looking forward to your sound sample.
 
Congrats! I remember there was an original Juke-lele on Reverb for a long time and I was always draw to the uniqueness of it.

For anyone convinced by this post that they need one, I saw that Ukulele Puapua has one for sale.
 
It’s really nice looking. Years ago a couple of us off a cruise ship,took,a shop tour with him in the old factory. At the end of it he handed me his Juke uke to play. I wasn’t very good, still in the total early beginner stage and was terrified I’d damage it. I was so impressed.,it was very, very loud and didn’t really need amplifiers. I’m,a soft player and the sound shocked me. I can just imagine what 8 strings sound like! 😀🎶
 
Ohta San holds a cool similar one on the cover of ‘Ukulele Legacy. It’s a koaloha 4 string
 
I read the long post before I got to the pictures and have to admit that I was shocked at the unique design. But as I looked at the pictures a bit longer I am getting to appreciate the design and it sure is very unique. But I can't tell the size at all...is this actually a tenor scale or smaller?
 
I read the long post before I got to the pictures and have to admit that I was shocked at the unique design. But as I looked at the pictures a bit longer I am getting to appreciate the design and it sure is very unique. But I can't tell the size at all...is this actually a tenor scale or smaller?
It's a tenor scale.
 
That's what the side sound port slots are for ;)
1's, 5s, 10s, 20,s? No offense intended as that is an incredible ukulele. I'd prolly pay $20 just to get close to it. I'd dare not touch it as every uke I own has developed a ding within a few weeks' playing.
 

Attachments

  • wurlitzer_750_1941.png
    wurlitzer_750_1941.png
    740.4 KB · Views: 8
This review needs a little background. A while back I heard through the (Ed Fiscella) grapevine that Pops was back in his "designer role" at UKESA and was reworking his famous Juke-a-lele, turning it into his 1st ever 8-string uke. I was immediately intrigued. I have to admit, of the 3 specially designed Pops ukes, Pineapple Sunday, Sceptre, and Juke-a-lele, the Juke-a-lele wouldn't have been my first choice. As for uniqueness, I would give it top prize, and I'd bet that it would surely turn people's heads when you took it out of the case (and I really like that part) but it just didn't seem like a comfortable instrument to play, and what kind of sound could such a non-traditional body offer up? At this point, an 8-string Juke didn't exist so there was no way to answer that last part, but my interest was tweaked as I know from experience Pops is all about the "voice" of his ukes, if the sound isn't great, he isn't a happy camper, and it's back to the design phase.

After a pretty long period of time, Ed told me Pops had finished his prototype 8-string and even he was amazed at its sound. So much so that he wanted to talk to me about it. I was excited to be able to talk with one of my all-time favorite luthiers. What I heard convinced me that this was something I needed to have. What did I hear? Pops played the Juke for me over my cell phone and it sounded like, well, about as tinny as you would expect from a cell phone mic on one end and a cell phone speaker on the other! But the excitement in Pops' voice as he described the Juke's voice told me this was something special. The fact that with his experience and all the ukes he's played, HE was truly excited by the sound of this uke. I've built a couple of ukes (and a guitar), and the work that goes into it for a rookie like me seemed overwhelming. You focus on each step and eventually the instrument comes together. And as happy as you are with your design, your wood selections, the fit, and the finish, there's always that question in your head, "yeah but will it sound great, or will it sound ordinary?" And you don't get the answer until the strings go on and you get those first few strums. That's what I heard in Pops' excitement talking about his new and wonderfulful "baby"!

But I was still hesitant. It was an 8-string and I had an awesome Kamaka 8-string. And even as nice as my Kamaka is, an 8-string just doesn't get as much play time as its 4-stringed brothers on my shelf. I mean some songs sound great on an 8-string, but not all songs. Then Ed received the Juke prototype that Pops had built, (and he and I share similar tastes in our ukuleles and their sounds), I gave him a few days with it and asked for his honest review. Ed has always been completely honest with me, good or bad. And "somewhat" because of his opinions, but mostly because of Pops' excitement over the Juke, I decided I had to try it myself. I got on "the build list".

Enough background, this past week my Juke-a-lele arrived in a beautiful clear-plexiglass-topped hard case that framed the Juke like a fine piece of art. Just looking at it in its case, I was so impressed with its uniqueness. I quickly tuned it up (as quickly as an 8-string with new strings can be tuned) and got my 1st strums. I have had a total of 3 different 8-strings ending with my Kamaka so I had in my mind the voice that a nice 8-string uke has. But even with that, I was taken aback. This was WAY different than any 8-string I'd played or even heard played. So different that it took me hours of playing to identify the unique voice it has. It's got a chime to its ring, very focused, very resonant, and VERY LOUD! I finally identified what the voice sounded like to me - a harpsichord, bold, chime-y, very clear, and crazy loud when you want it to be. If you enjoy playing the ukulele and are fortunate enough to have some good ones, maybe you are like me, always on the lookout for a different look and more importantly "different voice". The Juke obviously has a different look, but its voice is what I love most. One last thing about sound, will I put my Kamaka 8-string up for sale because of my Juke? Definitely not! If they were similar I would be keeping only one, but the Kamaka is warm and round, and the Juke is bold, clean, and loud, completely different.

Sound aside, I'd like to talk about the Juke's playability. Back in my guitar days, when I had real callouses on my fingers, even then I could only play my 12-string for just short periods. With the amount of finger pressure required and the extra neck width, you had to really love the 12-string sound for specific songs to put up with that. 8-string ukes aren't that bad. The strings are kinder on the fingers even though you still need more pressure for good clean chords (except maybe the "C"). My Kamaka plays pretty well, but still, it takes its toll after playing it for a while. Pops has really designed a great playing 8-string. I dare say as easy to play as any 4-string. The string spacing feels natural, and the action is off the charts (not uncommon for a UKESA build). I played it for about 3 hours, and my fingers weren't complaining. What more can you ask for out of any double-stringed instrument? Another pleasant surprise was the way the body "fits" when playing it. The inverted "swoop" at the bottom is just where your forearm goes and it's a perfect match-up!

Finally, "the looks". This uke is really out there for being unique. One might say it's an "acquired taste", and surely is not for everyone! As expected it really got noticed at Uke Jam along with comments on how loud it was in a group of 25 people all strumming. When my fellow ukulele band members saw and played it, they also commented on its loud and jangly voice, and how easy it was to play. To look at it closely, it's like a piece of fine furniture, very elegant. The wood combinations are striking, and I'm sure it's spruce top plays into it's big voice. And Pops picked out a really special piece of Koa for the back. Oh, and at my request, he added the slotted side sound port like on my tenor WOW. But to be honest, the sound hole on the Juke is so much more open. I think it would be loud even without the sound port.

Even at 79 years old, Pops is always looking for feedback. How cool is that, a guy who's built literally thousands of ukes still wants suggestions on how he can make a better instrument? I offered a couple: the shape of the body where the neck attaches (which is just a looks thing) and the use of a "bridge through" design for less bridge stress, for a cleaner look, and WAY improved string changing. This was his reply: "I’ve never tried this method because I did not want the customer to try and pass the strings through the holes in the bridge, pull each one out of the sound hole, make a knot at the end and finally pull the string until the knot is tight and pulling on the inside portion of the bridge. I totally agree that in the case of the 8-string Juke, it is a great method of insuring that the bridge will not be subject by itself to uphold the tremendous lift pressure that the strings will present." And then he thanked me for providing feedback!

I've done some side-by-side sound comparisons on my WOWs in hopes of giving everyone a true feel of Pops' uniquely voiced ukes. I will do one of my two 8-strings in the near future so you can see how really different these ukes are. In case you haven't noticed, I like "different"! For now, here a few pics to enjoy starting with the site that greeted my eyes when I open the UKESA box.
View attachment 146932
Incredibly cool. What vision that man has!
 
This is so cool! You'll never guess what I saw during my KoAloha tour in December! Okay... maybe you can guess. Here's a peek behind the curtain of the mad genius workbench. They let me glue on the bridge! (Just kidding).

20221219_131305.jpg
20221219_131331.jpg
This was my first time seeing a Juke-a-lele and I was geeeeeeking out!! I wish I got to run into Pops and chat about it, but he wasn't around when I visited. So bummed.

I did learn that the writing across the bottom is the Hawaii state motto! The words Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono which mean "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."

After seeing this one, I also came across the one at Ukulele Puapua and got to give it a play. You're completely right... I've never played anything like it! I'm not an 8 string player, but it definitely has an amazing unique sound of its own.

Congrats and enjoy!!
 
This is so cool! You'll never guess what I saw during my KoAloha tour in December! Okay... maybe you can guess. Here's a peek behind the curtain of the mad genius workbench. They let me glue on the bridge! (Just kidding).

View attachment 148259
View attachment 148260
This was my first time seeing a Juke-a-lele and I was geeeeeeking out!! I wish I got to run into Pops and chat about it, but he wasn't around when I visited. So bummed.

I did learn that the writing across the bottom is the Hawaii state motto! The words Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono which mean "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."

After seeing this one, I also came across the one at Ukulele Puapua and got to give it a play. You're completely right... I've never played anything like it! I'm not an 8 string player, but it definitely has an amazing unique sound of its own.

Congrats and enjoy!!
Wow, how cool is that! I knew Pop's was working on a couple 8-string Juke-a-lele's at the same time. This one could even be mine! One of the "sister" ukes was the one you played and Ukulele Puapua. I'm so glad you got to try it out. It's so hard to describe a uke voice that is so different from most others people can relate to. I think my take on "harpsichord-like" is as close as I can get to describing it's unique voice (not that I'm an authority on harpsichords). Sounds like you had a great time on Oahu! Thanks for sharing... Rick
 
Top Bottom