New Uke Day (NUD) Pops Okami Tenor Wow


Oct 19, 2022
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Redondo Beach, CA
Let's start with a new family portrait:

The family resemblance is pretty clear. Englemann spruce top, pine back and sides, ebony fretboard and saddle, abalone fret markers, Gotoh tuners on triple laminate headstock, triple slotted side port. The most obvious tenor differences, besides the scale, are the musubi shaped sound hole, the more exhuberant bridge, and the wood inlay in place of abalone on bridge and headstock. Also, the tenor has ebony binding rather than the triple inlay Koa in ebony binding on the soprano and concert.

In my NUD for the Wow Concert I recapped my path from my KoAloha Christmas Miracle ukulele, to having Pops build me a soprano, and then asking him to build me a concert. I speculated about how a Wow Tenor might sound while comparing the sound of the Wow Concert with our KoAloha KTM00 tenor. @efiscella (Ed) and @rhiggie (Rick) jumped in and posted a short comparison sound sample that @rhiggie had done.

A little more than a week ago, I started a conversation with Ed via email about how his retirement was going, and how my love affair with the Concert Wow was going. I innocently asked how many tenors Pops had made and whether they were all made at the same time. Ed said that it was similar to the story with my concert. While Ed had wanted Pops to build a tenor for many years, the actual build only came about at the request of a former customer (Rick) and it required a great deal of collaboration, experimentation and prototyping including building all new jigs and forms. Four were built at the same time in the summer and fall of 2022. When Ed told me that one of the four was still available, my head started to spin a bit, and I began rehearsing different ways to introduce the possibility to my wife. She has been so supportive and she is a tenor player, so that helps; but there has to be a limit and we have been reducing the number of ukuleles. Also, as you might notice in the background of some of the later photos, we are in the midst of a remodel (if you think ukuleles are expensive, try remodeling). I don't remember quite how I bumbled my way into the conversation, but we pretty quickly came to the same conclusion. It is completely crazy, but how could I not do it given how much I love the concert and soprano.

The ukulele arrived today. It is strung high G, and it feels a bit foreign to me. I don't know that I have ever played a high G tenor, and I intend to switch to low G in the next day or so. I won't do a real sound comparison until I make the swap, but my initial impression is that it makes my KoAloha KTM00 sound muted, and that ukulele makes everything else we own sound muted. In his NUD, @rhiggie said that the step from a KoAloha to the Wow tenor was similar to the step from a decent laminate to the KoAloha. That was not hyperbole. The volume and sustain are quite literally in a different league from anything I have played, even if you are not digging in. In fact, I think I really have to be careful getting the balance right when playing chord/melody because the range of volume seems so great. I can't wait to get the low G on it (apologies to all the reentrant players who think I'm crazy).

More pics:


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Congrats on your big brother WOW! Even though Pops made 4 of these together, there are some subtle difference them that give each it's own personality. I love the rosette around your sound hole, really sets off that top! Looks aside (and that's a big "aside"), the sound is the bigger deal. These larger than life WOWs have a voice that outshines their looks. I have a hard time talking about mine without sounding like I'm actually selling them. Whether it's here on UU, local Uke Jam, or leading a class, I still come across as a proud new father when someone asks me about it. You can spend a lot more money on a nice uke (and I have) but voice to voice, it's hard find something that will outshine these WOWs! (Honest, Pops isn't paying me a commission for these WOWs :ROFLMAO: ;):D). Rick
@rhiggie: I am in a similar boat. I am more than just a KoAloha fanboy (not that there is anything wrong with that), I believe that Pops Okami is an historically important ukulele maker because of his innovations. When he first built what became the Wow series, he was really just looking for a more affordable quality instrument made with more renewable materials. He did not choose pine initially for its tonal qualities. But in the process of working out and modifying his earlier KoAloha design using spruce and pine, he kind of stumbled into what I have heard him call "his Stradivarius." Of course that sounded way over hyped when I first heard it, but now that I have his design in three different scales, it doesn't seem so crazy anymore. Strictly in terms of sound signature, it is hard to compare these ukuleles to anything else I have played except but other Wows.

Anyway, back to the new ukulele. I couldn't wait for tomorrow, so I skipped dinner, put a low G on the Tenor Wow and started playing it. It is definitely a big brother to the concert and soprano. In all three of these instruments, the volume and sustain are exceptional compared to other instruments of the same scale, but I find the articulation to be even more striking. This adds to the projection and gives you a sense of the Wows singing out above the crowd. Our KoAloha Tenor has been my standard of comparison, but this new tenor is something altogether different. I think of the KoAloha sound as bell-like, articulate, and a little more in your face than the other K brands. But compared to the Wow, my KTM00 sounds laid back and mellow. I love the woody Koa sound signature of our KoAloha, but frankly it sounds a bit muddy played side by side with the Wow tenor. When I play the same short passage on one and then the other, trying to keep my touch as similar as possible, the KTM sounds a little muted. I keep coming back to that word articulation. I feel like I have more ability to control what I am playing. I certainly don't do it justice, but I am more able to adjust the volume and tone of each note within a chord or a melodic passage.

The sound signature of the Tenor Wow is much more like a pumped up Concert Wow than like the KTM00. BTW, I can imagine that this sound signature might not appeal to everyone, but to me it is a slightly more classical sound that suits my tastes. I have been so addicted to the Concert Wow for the past several months, that I've become very comfortable playing it. I'll have no doubt that the tenor version is a more capable ukulele, but the question is whether I have more capability playing the concert or the tenor. I am also very curious to see how my wife likes the Wow vs. the KoAloha tenor. But that is going to be tomorrow's adventure.
I couldn't wait for tomorrow, so I skipped dinner, put a low G on the Tenor Wow and started playing it.
Congrats on the new uke! I hope you went back and grabbed some sustenance at some point!!! I do love your enthusiasm and detailed write-ups of your experience.

But I mean... we're all pushers here, right? Anyone else thinking Pops might want to make a bariton WOW?!?! 😉 I'm totally joking!! It hasn't even been a day.
Congrats on the new WOW. I played one of this at ukulelepuapua (Sheraton hotel) the other day. They still have one for sale. I didn’t know that only 4 were made. It does still have that signature Koaloha sound.
I forgot to mention that this ukulele weighs next to nothing for a tenor. I haven't weighed it, but the KoAloha KTM00 is noticeably lighter than our Kamaka or Pono tenors, and this one is clearly lighter than the KTM. I assume that pine is less dense than Koa, but it could also be an intentionally lighter build.

@Contrails: That accounts for all four: Ed's, Rick's, mine, and one at the Sheraton in Waikiki.

@hands_on_lanzon: I finally realized I needed to eat something around 9:30 PM. I have been on a bit of a string changing binge on multiple instruments. I went to Fremont Black in high G on the soprano, then switched out to a Soloist low G, and just recently switched out the Fremonts for Anuenue Clears on A, E, C. The KoAloha KTM00 also has a new set of UkeSA strings that are only about two weeks old.
Congratulations! I love that family portrait!

Being relatively new to the KoAloha world with an 11 year old soprano I got used this spring, and being blown away by its sound and feel compared to what I’d played before; I’m very curious to hear a Pops Wow instrument for myself. If it’s a level above the KoAloha…well, I can’t even fathom how awesome that would be.
I just love this post. Having had the pleasure to meet Pops this past March, any Pops-related discussion is of interest to me.

My head has a hard time grasping the legitimacy of pine as a ukulele wood, but what works, works.

Owning a Opio Tenor (Sapele) and having played many KoAloha tenors (including the models for sale at the factory) it is hard to imagine that the Wow would sound like a step from laminate to solid wood over the Koa/Mango models. It’s not that I don’t believe you, but that I just can’t comprehend it.

At any rate, these are all special and worthy of playing AND collecting. I’ll probably lurk and buy one used some years from now; sadly the economy has turned for the worse and my paycheck as a teacher has not increased—and I feel blessed to have the instruments I own.

Congrats on your new ukulele!
Owning a Opio Tenor (Sapele) and having played many KoAloha tenors (including the models for sale at the factory) it is hard to imagine that the Wow would sound like a step from laminate to solid wood over the Koa/Mango models. It’s not that I don’t believe you, but that I just can’t comprehend it.
I want to make sure that in my enthusiasm I don't give the wrong impression. I believe @rhiggie's comment about comparing a good laminate to a premium solid wood ukulele was primarily a statement about volume and sustain, at least that is how I took it. While I love the purity of tone of the Wow sound signature, there is no free lunch. With the Wow you get the step up in volume, sustain, and articulation, but you give up some of the more complex, woody and mellow tone quality of a fine Koa (or Mango, but I have little experience here) instrument. The KoAloha tenor sounds more Hawiian to me, and the Kamaka tenor sounds more Hawiian than that. I've said before that each instrument is kind of a Blue Plate Special, you more or less get what you get with no substitutions, and then figure out what works best for you. At a premium level they all sound good, but there is still plenty of room for personal preference.
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