New Uke Day (NUD) NUD Pops KoAloha Wow Concert

Show and tell for your brand new ukes! Even if they're used!

ailevin

UU VIP
UU VIP
Joined
Oct 19, 2022
Messages
617
Reaction score
2,915
Location
Redondo Beach, CA
My new Wow Concert that was scheduled for tomorrow, Monday June 19, arrived Friday. This is the latest chapter in a continuing story of my relationship with KoAloha, Alvin "Pops" Okami the founder of KoAloha, and Ed Fiscella, here known as @efiscella . Rather than repeat the whole story, I am going to do a brief overview with links to other threads that have the details of the previous chapters.

It began with my Christmas Miracle Ukulele, a KoAloha KTM00 described in a KTM NUD. It is like an O'Henry story where my amazing wife, using a crazy set of criteria including a couple confusions about the different Hawaiian makers, manages to surprise me with the perfect instrument. This introduced me to KoAloha, the Okami family, and Pops Okami. When I learned that Pops was experimenting with designs and making custom essentially to order ukuleles on his own, I ordered a Wow Soprano from him which resulted in this Wow Soprano NUD. That little soprano had a transformative impact on me and on my ukulele playing--it was love at first strum. My Wow Soprano changed the way I look at high/low G instruments, and the role of different ukulele sizes for me. About eight weeks ago, I asked an off-hand question of @efiscella, who is a principal in UKESA, a company that is bascially Ed, Pops and Moms Okami. Has Pops ever made a concert sized Wow? Ed told me that Pops had been thinking about a concert scale Wow as a next project, but he needed an interested buy to order one. After a little thought and concurrence from SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed), I told Ed I'd be honored to order the first Concert Wow. Pops and Ed agreed to let me share details of design and construction of the new instrument and I posted that in the thread Impressions of Ordering a Custom Ukulele. In that thread there are pictures of the ukulele from early prototype stage to the final finished product in the shop on Oahu.

Back to this NUD, the Concert Wow arrived in a archtop hard case well packed in a box with a smaller empty hardcase I requested for my soprano. The first picture shows the Concert Wow in the case.
PopsConcertNUDinCase252580.jpg
The top is Englemann Spruce; the sides and back are select pine; the neck is sapelle; the bridge, fretboard, soundhole trim, and cap on the neck are ebony; the headstock is a triple laminate sapelle, ebony, and then maple; the logo on the headstock and the fret markers are abalone.
PopsConcertNUDBody252580.jpg
The body close up shows the pretty straight grain of the top, the beauty of the abalone inlays, and the label which reads
1st Concert Wow​
Custom made for​
Alan Levin​
Pops KoAloha.​
I was very touched that Pops did that--I feel like a bit player, but also like I'm part of ukulele history.
PopsConcertNUDBack252580.jpg
It's hard to tell from the picture, but the back is slightly arched. It is fitted with Gotoh tuners.
PopsConcertNUDSide252580.jpg
It has a side sound port and binding top and bottom with a three layer ebony/koa/ebony inlay, just like my soprano.
PopsConcertNUDHead252580.jpg
When I opened the concert case, the ukulele looked so much like my soprano that it didn't look concert size. When I took it out to start tuning, the first thing that struck me was that it was more than the soprano in several respects--heavier, more string tension, more volume. As I got it in tune and played a few chords, I was immediately struck with the depth of the voice as much as the volume and sustain. I took out the soprano and spent most of the next hour comparing them. Below is a picture of the Soprano Wow and Concert Wow side by side. They both use the same materials, and they do look like brothers.
PopsConcertNUDBrothers252580.jpg
Before I continue this quick compare and contrast, I want to get something out of the way. I did not have the same love at first strum reaction to the concert that I had with the soprano. And by the way, I did not have that with my KoAloha tenor either, though it has become beloved, and I think of it as my best and most capable ukulele. While I want to accurately report this initial response, I don't want it to be either a criticism or a conclusion about the Wow Concert. It is a statement about a very unique and special response to the Wow Soprano based on where I was in my ukulele journey when I first played it.

The Concert Wow sounds, feels, and plays like something from KoAlohaland. While the soprano and concert already look like siblings, your hands and ears know immediately that the KoAloha KTM00, and the two Wows come from the same family, both figuratively and literally. They all have the signature bell-like tone, are very articulate, and have good balance across the strings. The voice of the concert is more related to the soprano than the tenor, but it is quite distinct. The Concert Wow has considerably more volume and greater sustain, but what's really striking is the full throated, tonally rich voice. The concert sound is a grown up, more adult version of the soprano's child-like voice. It is a bit more guitar-like while the soprano sounds more ukuleleish--probably the treble emphasis. I'm not a spectrum analyzer, but I think the tonal similarity is like having the same mix of harmonics, but the difference in voice is due to enhancement of the mid-range. The difference in volume between the concert and soprano is more significant than the difference in sustain. Again, my nerdy analytical self sees that as more energy in those mid-range harmonics that the concert body amplifies and projects better. I also notice more variation in tonal quality when I play at different volumes. In particular, the attack changes depending on how I play the concert, so it is easier to highlight a particular line when playing chord/melody. In this respect, the Concert Wow may be superior to the KoAloha KTM00. The concert maintains its volume and full tone better than the soprano as I move up the fretboard.

While the look and sound signature of the concert is more related to the soprano, the feel is closer to playing the KoAloha Tenor. The string tension and playability are much more tenor-like. It is still a relatively light instrument at 451g, but it just feels more substantial in hand than the soprano at 354g. The action feels much more like the tenor as well, and it is easier to avoid unintentionally bending notes on the concert compared to the soprano. I like the slightly longer transition from the neck to the headstock compared with the soprano. It very comfortable, and there is a bit more room for chords where I angle my wrist upward like Fm or F#dim. Playing the concert, I feel like I am playing a tenor with larger hands vs. playing a soprano with smaller hands if that makes any sense. You can tell that a Wow Concert would not "grow up" to sound like a KoAloha tenor. I would expect the Wow Tenor to have the edge in volume and articulation but without the tonal complexity and woody tone of the KoAloha tenor. This morning while we practiced, my wife played the KoAloha tenor and I played the Concert Wow. I was surprised by how well the Concert Wow kept up with the tenor in volume, though there was no mistaking the difference in tone.

I did a quick comparison between the Concert Wow and my Anuenue C4 Concert (solid cedar top with laminate sides and back in high G). I think the C4 is great sounding for a concert in the $200-$300 (new) price range. It felt klunky (weight and action) and sounded muted compared with the Concert Wow. In fact, the Wow Soprano caught or surpassed the C4 in volume.

This Concert Wow is everything I hoped for and more.
 
Nicely written review, you choice of descriptive words really help someone who's never played a Wow Concert to get a feeling for what it would be like. As a Wow Soprano owner and also the owner of Pop's first ever Wow Tenor, I get how the voices and feel change as the size increases. And as a player of both KoAloha Soprano's / Tenors and Pop's UKESA Wow Sopranos / Tenors I fully agree with your description of how they share a common background benefitting from development though the years of the Okami family. Also that the voices of the KoAloha and Wow ukes have almost nothing in common. Partly I'm sure because of the different woods but also because of how the woods are used in the Wow line. I think that in general, the Wow's will "stand out" when playing in a group of quality Koa ukes. Not being a luthier I'm not sure what part of that is the wood's difference or the build difference. Probably a combination of both.

But I know as a player, having ukes with difference "voices" is more important than having ukes with different logos on the headstock, which is why I enjoy BOTH my KoAloha Koa's and my UKESA spruce/pine Wows (and by the way, Pop's makes some awesome custom Koa ukes as well!). That said, when I'm leading a class or a Uke Jam, I'll be playing my Wow's so I can be heard! And maybe it's just me, but when I'm playing, some songs just seem to beg for a unique voiced uke. Or maybe that's just my way of justifying my UAS!

Congrats on your new WOW!
 
My new Wow Concert that was scheduled for tomorrow, Monday June 19, arrived Friday. This is the latest chapter in a continuing story of my relationship with KoAloha, Alvin "Pops" Okami the founder of KoAloha, and Ed Fiscella, here known as @efiscella . Rather than repeat the whole story, I am going to do a brief overview with links to other threads that have the details of the previous chapters.

It began with my Christmas Miracle Ukulele, a KoAloha KTM00 described in a KTM NUD. It is like an O'Henry story where my amazing wife, using a crazy set of criteria including a couple confusions about the different Hawaiian makers, manages to surprise me with the perfect instrument. This introduced me to KoAloha, the Okami family, and Pops Okami. When I learned that Pops was experimenting with designs and making custom essentially to order ukuleles on his own, I ordered a Wow Soprano from him which resulted in this Wow Soprano NUD. That little soprano had a transformative impact on me and on my ukulele playing--it was love at first strum. My Wow Soprano changed the way I look at high/low G instruments, and the role of different ukulele sizes for me. About eight weeks ago, I asked an off-hand question of @efiscella, who is a principal in UKESA, a company that is bascially Ed, Pops and Moms Okami. Has Pops ever made a concert sized Wow? Ed told me that Pops had been thinking about a concert scale Wow as a next project, but he needed an interested buy to order one. After a little thought and concurrence from SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed), I told Ed I'd be honored to order the first Concert Wow. Pops and Ed agreed to let me share details of design and construction of the new instrument and I posted that in the thread Impressions of Ordering a Custom Ukulele. In that thread there are pictures of the ukulele from early prototype stage to the final finished product in the shop on Oahu.

Back to this NUD, the Concert Wow arrived in a archtop hard case well packed in a box with a smaller empty hardcase I requested for my soprano. The first picture shows the Concert Wow in the case.
View attachment 153798
The top is Englemann Spruce; the sides and back are select pine; the neck is sapelle; the bridge, fretboard, soundhole trim, and cap on the neck are ebony; the headstock is a triple laminate sapelle, ebony, and then maple; the logo on the headstock and the fret markers are abalone.
View attachment 153799
The body close up shows the pretty straight grain of the top, the beauty of the abalone inlays, and the label which reads
1st Concert Wow​
Custom made for​
Alan Levin​
Pops KoAloha.​
I was very touched that Pops did that--I feel like a bit player, but also like I'm part of ukulele history.
View attachment 153801
It's hard to tell from the picture, but the back is slightly arched. It is fitted with Gotoh tuners.
View attachment 153812
It has a side sound port and binding top and bottom with a three layer ebony/koa/ebony inlay, just like my soprano.
View attachment 153803
When I opened the concert case, the ukulele looked so much like my soprano that it didn't look concert size. When I took it out to start tuning, the first thing that struck me was that it was more than the soprano in several respects--heavier, more string tension, more volume. As I got it in tune and played a few chords, I was immediately struck with the depth of the voice as much as the volume and sustain. I took out the soprano and spent most of the next hour comparing them. Below is a picture of the Soprano Wow and Concert Wow side by side. They both use the same materials, and they do look like brothers.
View attachment 153804
Before I continue this quick compare and contrast, I want to get something out of the way. I did not have the same love at first strum reaction to the concert that I had with the soprano. And by the way, I did not have that with my KoAloha tenor either, though it has become beloved, and I think of it as my best and most capable ukulele. While I want to accurately report this initial response, I don't want it to be either a criticism or a conclusion about the Wow Concert. It is a statement about a very unique and special response to the Wow Soprano based on where I was in my ukulele journey when I first played it.

The Concert Wow sounds, feels, and plays like something from KoAlohaland. While the soprano and concert already look like siblings, your hands and ears know immediately that the KoAloha KTM00, and the two Wows come from the same family, both figuratively and literally. They all have the signature bell-like tone, are very articulate, and have good balance across the strings. The voice of the concert is more related to the soprano than the tenor, but it is quite distinct. The Concert Wow has considerably more volume and greater sustain, but what's really striking is the full throated, tonally rich voice. The concert sound is a grown up, more adult version of the soprano's child-like voice. It is a bit more guitar-like while the soprano sounds more ukuleleish--probably the treble emphasis. I'm not a spectrum analyzer, but I think the tonal similarity is like having the same mix of harmonics, but the difference in voice is due to enhancement of the mid-range. The difference in volume between the concert and soprano is more significant than the difference in sustain. Again, my nerdy analytical self sees that as more energy in those mid-range harmonics that the concert body amplifies and projects better. I also notice more variation in tonal quality when I play at different volumes. In particular, the attack changes depending on how I play the concert, so it is easier to highlight a particular line when playing chord/melody. In this respect, the Concert Wow may be superior to the KoAloha KTM00. The concert maintains its volume and full tone better than the soprano as I move up the fretboard.

While the look and sound signature of the concert is more related to the soprano, the feel is closer to playing the KoAloha Tenor. The string tension and playability are much more tenor-like. It is still a relatively light instrument at 451g, but it just feels more substantial in hand than the soprano at 354g. The action feels much more like the tenor as well, and it is easier to avoid unintentionally bending notes on the concert compared to the soprano. I like the slightly longer transition from the neck to the headstock compared with the soprano. It very comfortable, and there is a bit more room for chords where I angle my wrist upward like Fm or F#dim. Playing the concert, I feel like I am playing a tenor with larger hands vs. playing a soprano with smaller hands if that makes any sense. You can tell that a Wow Concert would not "grow up" to sound like a KoAloha tenor. I would expect the Wow Tenor to have the edge in volume and articulation but without the tonal complexity and woody tone of the KoAloha tenor. This morning while we practiced, my wife played the KoAloha tenor and I played the Concert Wow. I was surprised by how well the Concert Wow kept up with the tenor in volume, though there was no mistaking the difference in tone.

I did a quick comparison between the Concert Wow and my Anuenue C4 Concert (solid cedar top with laminate sides and back in high G). I think the C4 is great sounding for a concert in the $200-$300 (new) price range. It felt klunky (weight and action) and sounded muted compared with the Concert Wow. In fact, the Wow Soprano caught or surpassed the C4 in volume.

This Concert Wow is everything I hoped for and more.
Wow!
 
Great review, Alan. Now, I am going to have to get a concert Wow for myself-;). @rhiggie got the first Wow Tenor and made some comparison videos that are here on UU that players might want to check out. They not only support your assumptions but also show how the voice of the Tenor Wow is unique and clear, and oh-so-loud. it seems that the concert Wow fills that gap between the Soprano and tenor, as it should. I too love my koa tenors. I love the warmth that Koa provides. I have commissioned an all-Koa Ukesa from Pops that he is currently making for me, but I also love my tenor Wow because they have different voices, and like @rhiggie, I believe some songs call for different voices.

I would like to clarify one point that you made only because each time I read it, I believe it needs some clarification. When I told you that Pops would probably make a concert "If he got an order," it was not because he wanted a sale or I was trying to get you to purchase. I have seen Pops work on new designs and I have learned that when he does, his total focus is on the new uke. Everything else in the shop stops. He will be making multiple prototypes (8 in this case), and he will work it, and work it, and work it until he is satisfied. Hs mind is filled with not only design but how to fix problems that he encounters and exploring new ways. Everything else will go on hold until completed and it would take at least a month, if not more. @rainbow21 waited several months for what eventually turned into the "AO." For Pops to put everything aside while he worked on one project, the idea of it being an "order" justifies his total commitment to the project and he is less likely to put the project aside when other orders come into play. I had been asking Pops for three years to make a Tenor Wow and he could never find the time, but when @rhiggie placed an order, Pops spent two months solely on creating the tenor Wow. The same thing happened with the 8-string Juke-a-lele. For Pops, new designs and sizes are really like starting from scratch.

Thank you, Alan, for bringing this Concert Wow into existence and making it happen. You certainly are part of Ukulele history.

 
Great review, Alan. Now, I am going to have to get a concert Wow for myself-;). @rhiggie got the first Wow Tenor and made some comparison videos that are here on UU that players might want to check out. They not only support your assumptions but also show how the voice of the Tenor Wow is unique and clear, and oh-so-loud. it seems that the concert Wow fills that gap between the Soprano and tenor, as it should. I too love my koa tenors. I love the warmth that Koa provides. I have commissioned an all-Koa Ukesa from Pops that he is currently making for me, but I also love my tenor Wow because they have different voices, and like @rhiggie, I believe some songs call for different voices.

I would like to clarify one point that you made only because each time I read it, I believe it needs some clarification. When I told you that Pops would probably make a concert "If he got an order," it was not because he wanted a sale or I was trying to get you to purchase. I have seen Pops work on new designs and I have learned that when he does, his total focus is on the new uke. Everything else in the shop stops. He will be making multiple prototypes (8 in this case), and he will work it, and work it, and work it until he is satisfied. Hs mind is filled with not only design but how to fix problems that he encounters and exploring new ways. Everything else will go on hold until completed and it would take at least a month, if not more. @rainbow21 waited several months for what eventually turned into the "AO." For Pops to put everything aside while he worked on one project, the idea of it being an "order" justifies his total commitment to the project and he is less likely to put the project aside when other orders come into play. I had been asking Pops for three years to make a Tenor Wow and he could never find the time, but when @rhiggie placed an order, Pops spent two months solely on creating the tenor Wow. The same thing happened with the 8-string Juke-a-lele. For Pops, new designs and sizes are really like starting from scratch.

Thank you, Alan, for bringing this Concert Wow into existence and making it happen. You certainly are part of Ukulele history.

Hi Ed, do you remember which thread rhiggie posted those comparison videos in? I tried doing a search and can't seem to find them :/
 
Hi Ed, do you remember which thread rhiggie posted those comparison videos in? I tried doing a search and can't seem to find them :/
You can see two of them here: https://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/threads/nusd-new-uke-sound-day.155592/

I think these compared with Pops' video shows how all three Wow's have a natural progression. the Tenor is not up on website yet (my bad) but checkout ukesahawaii.com because you will see Wow (blonde) versions of the Pineapple Sunday as well as the Sceptre. Pops is going all out on the Wow (called Blonde in his Masterpiece collection).
 
Hi Ed, do you remember which thread rhiggie posted those comparison videos in? I tried doing a search and can't seem to find them :/
Found it!

 
Here is a video of Pops playing Alan's soprano Wow (strung low-G):

Here is a video of Pops playing Alan Concert Wow (the recording is a little better on the soprano video. This one was recorded by Moms with her iphone- her very first recording, ever):

And Here is @rhiggie comparing the Wow Tenor to the KoAloha Tenor:


I think Alan is right on with his assessments. As suggested, headphone work best
 
Here is a video of Pops playing Alan's soprano Wow:

Here is a video of Pops playing Alan Concert Wow (the recording is a little better on the soprano video. This one was recorded by Moms with her iphone- her very first recording, ever):

And Here is @rhiggie comparing the Wow Tenor to the KoAloha Tenor:


I think Alan is right on with his assessments. As suggested, headphone work best

Thanks Ed!!!!!
 
Here is a video of Pops playing Alan's soprano Wow (strung low-G):

Here is a video of Pops playing Alan Concert Wow (the recording is a little better on the soprano video. This one was recorded by Moms with her iphone- her very first recording, ever):

And Here is @rhiggie comparing the Wow Tenor to the KoAloha Tenor:


I think Alan is right on with his assessments. As suggested, headphone work best

In addition to being a creative genius, Pops has a beautiful singing voice.
 
Here is a video of Pops playing Alan's soprano Wow (strung low-G):

Here is a video of Pops playing Alan Concert Wow (the recording is a little better on the soprano video. This one was recorded by Moms with her iphone- her very first recording, ever):

And Here is @rhiggie comparing the Wow Tenor to the KoAloha Tenor:


I think Alan is right on with his assessments. As suggested, headphone work best
Hi Ed,

I think you inadvertently posted the low G Soprano Wow video twice and posted Pops auditioning the Concert Wow in place of the @rhiggie Tenor Wow video. Several @rhiggie comparison videos have already been linked here, so that really isn't a problem.

BTW, for whatever reason, I had never seen that video with Pops singing Once Upon a Time on my Soprano Wow. For anyone interested in hearing more of Pops, he has a 2014 album of original songs titled Beautiful Days. Pops was kind enough to send me an autographed copy with the Wow Concert. The album is available on Spotify. I haven't checked other sources.

Thanks,
Alan
 
Hi Ed,

I think you inadvertently posted the low G Soprano Wow video twice and posted Pops auditioning the Concert Wow in place of the @rhiggie Tenor Wow video. Several @rhiggie comparison videos have already been linked here, so that really isn't a problem.

BTW, for whatever reason, I had never seen that video with Pops singing Once Upon a Time on my Soprano Wow. For anyone interested in hearing more of Pops, he has a 2014 album of original songs titled Beautiful Days. Pops was kind enough to send me an autographed copy with the Wow Concert. The album is available on Spotify. I haven't checked other sources.

Thanks,
Alan
Even I have a hard time finding the right videos- lol

thanks for letting everyone know about the Album that Pops made. There are actually three albums. they are available to listen on Apple and Spotify but Pops does not get any royalties from them so if you like it and would like to purchase, we have them at Ukesahawaii.com, and the money spent there will go directly to Pops. Pops is not a computer guy and was surprised to find that his CD's were online, even Amazon. He has never received a penny from any of them and he did not put them up there.
 
Last edited:
Even I have a hard time finding the right videos- lol

thanks for letting everyone know about the Album that Pops made. There are actually three albums. they are available to listen on Apple and Spotify but Pops does not get any royalties from them so if you like it and would like to purchase, we have them at Ukesahawaii.com, and the money spent there will go directly to Pops. Pops is not a computer guy and was surprised to find that his CD's were online, even Amazon. He has never received a penny from any of them and he did not put them up there.
I just listened a little more carefully to the Pops Once Upon A Time video with the Soprano Wow in low G. It really makes me want to try the Low G on my Concert Wow. And once again it reminds me how much I love the sweet little voice of that soprano. That is not an easy piece for either ukulele or voice and Pops does a very nice job.
 
I had a strap button put on the Concert Wow yesterday, so I can play with a strap. I find that more comfortable, even when sitting. I moved my 1" strap from the tenor and got a new 1.5" strap for it. I also picked up a concert sized gig bag. BTW, if you happen to live in Southern California, or are visiting, I want to give a shout out to Island Bazaar in Huntington Beach. They are a really dedicated ukulele shop, with terrific folks. They have a good selection of instruments, accessories, music, cases, etc. They also teach classes and sponsor concert events. While I was there I picked up tickets to a concert featuring Craig Chee and Sarah Maisal, Bryan Tolentino, and Herb Ohta Jr.

As I play the Concert Wow more, I've realized that Pops was right, it is a cannon. It does not have the full tonal range of a quality tenor, but played side by side with the KoAloha KTM00, Kamaka HF3, or Pono ATD, the volume and sustain surpass the Pono, are on a par with the Kamaka, and are just a little less than the KoAloha. It is really a bit surprising when doing a direct comparison of a concert with what I consider to be first rate tenors.

The strings seem to be settling and holding their pitch fairly well now. I find the concert easier to tune and to keep in tune than the soprano--string tension? I still find the soprano somehow the easiest to play, especially in the lower frets. My hands are still getting acquainted with the concert. The concert is very comfortable, but I think it is a matter of lots of small adjustments of finger position and just general feel in both right and left hands. I still feel more at home on either my soprano or my tenor, but I want to have all three instruments in my regular practice and playing rotation.

I've enjoyed the discussion here about different ukulele voices; I like the metaphor. My wife and I are spoiled by regularly playing a collection of wonderful instruments. We are simply not capable of demonstrating and recognizing their full capabilities. But even at our level, it is clear that every ukulele is a Blue Plate Special. While you can work with different strings and different setups, at a more fundamental level, like the Blue Plate Special, there are no substitutions--it is what it is. It will be more capable in some areas or some things that will be easier to do, and there will be areas where things are more difficult. Without entering the debate about how instruments do or don't break in, the person playing the instrument, will adjust their playing style and technique to get the best they can from it as they get more familiar with it. In my experience it takes significant time to really work out my relationship with an instrument, assuming I don't have an early break up. Here I am thinking months and years, not days and weeks.
 
Top Bottom