So I’ve been saving up for a tenor ukulele (the generally accepted types are soprano (what I have now), concert (slightly larger/louder than the soprano), tenor (more volume and bass but, more importantly, longer fretboard, the whole instrument is about 4″ longer than a soprano) and baritone (a mini guitar, 50% loner than a soprano and often with different tuning).
The reason for the tenor: More space on the fretboard. Being 6’5″, and those who suffered through the YouTube videos (come on, if you don’t know I’m self-deprecating to the point of annoyance by now, you really don’t know me), it looks like I’m toying with a martini olive on a toothpick.
I paid decent coin on my second and current ukulele, the lovely Kiwaya KTS-4. I adore it. It’s so light, the action (distance between fretboard and strings) is so nice, not much pressure at all is needed, I love its tone.
I’ve no plan to get rid of it. I just know that I’ll be able to do more with a slightly larger instrument. Yes, yes, carpenter blaming his tools. Don’t forget, my little finger is the size of most people’s index.
So the hunt has been on. If I’m to get another, it has to be quality. I really want to learn and improve. So I turned my eyes first on T’s guitars. Shinji Takahashi makes Kiwayas, you see. So the thought would be to get a tenor version of my soprano. Looking at the price, I then thought, let’s get something different. Let’s take a look at the Hawai’ian brands. The three Ks, Kamaka (oldest ukulele brand), Kanile’a and KoAloha.
The Kamaka is the least expensive of the three. There’s no chance I can get to try any of these “three Ks” unless I travel to the US. Which blows.
I really like the Kamaka because it’s classic. Simple. Unpretentious. The price isn’t too crazy (comparing the options). Then there’s the KoAloha. This brand gets incredible reviews around the internet.
Apparently its sound is preferred by many over the other two “Ks” however… aesthetically it doesn’t speak to me. The sound hole is “carefully engineered” but I find it visually discordant. The headstock… simply tries too hard. Yes, playing music is about the sound, but to the person playing it, enjoying holding it and touching it – and looking at it – are equally important. It may not be a rational response, but for the price, it’s a factor.
Then there’s the Kanile’a. I really like this one. The aesthetics, the engineering behind it, the way the company presents itself. It’s been a front-runner since I started looking at the tenors. Plus its UV coating is supposed to be rather tough, and still being a beginner that’s a plus.
The K-2 model (K-1 being the least expensive, the K-4 being most ornate and expensive) has a few added details that I really like. The K-1 looks a lot like the Kamaka. I like its well thought-out details, from headstock to the bridge pins which hide the strings’ knots. The price is at a premium though. However, you do get what you pay for. Few companies survive by offering an inflated price without justification.
Then, last week, I found something out that threw all of this out the window. Someone here in Toronto makes ukuleles. Luis Feu de Mesquita. He’s a luthier who makes high-end guitars in the Spanish tradition. Classical, Flamenco, Jazz. For some reason, he started making ukuleles as well. His ukes are exactly twice the price of the Kamakas, and just a tiny, teeny little more than the Kanile’a. At first, I wasn’t sure about it aesthetically. It’s quite a departure. But the more I looked at the pictures, the more it spoke to me. I fell in love with the headstock from the first moment, though I’m hoping it’s available with silver tuners. If I’m willing to wait 4-6 months, perhaps I can order my own. Made for me. Perhaps. I’m sure he has a backlog of orders for guitars and ukuleles aren’t at the top of his list… but that’s just an assumption.
He only makes the tenor size. Plus I’ve the chance to try one if I’m willing to drive 45 minutes. And it’s made locally. The base specs doesn’t use Koa, an acacia wood native to Hawai’i, the classic ukulele wood. However I’ve a feeling that he knows what he’s doing.
At first I was really torn between the Kanile’a and the LFdM. So I performed a Decision Analysis. Oh, work, how you have warped me. A DA is where you list all contenders. Then the criteria that matter. You then weigh the criteria. For example, if you’re hiring someone, that they are bilingual may be more important than, say, that they’ve worked in the exact same role elsewhere before. So that the language thing is more important has to be represented in the DA. Then you go through each criteria, and the contender that comes on top for that criteria must be a 10. All others are scored in comparison to your 10. Using the job example, someone who’s worked in bilingual roles and has a translation degree would be a 10, while someone who has taken a “French for tourists” course gets a 2 in relation. Plus I removed the prelim must/want column. Blahblah. So here’s the DA for the uke. And YES, I’m sure this is very contentious, but based on the information I’ve collected, it is what it is.
And there I have it. Before you ask about “sound”… I can’t try them! And a YouTube clip hardly does anything justice.
Even if I edge towards the Kanile’a in terms of classic aesthetics, the LFdM still wins. And that’s with it having no real reputation to speak of in the ukulele world.
Aaaaand I’ve once again demonstrated why I’m single. Dammit. I’m off to strum on the Kiwaya a little more. Feel free to insert your dirty jokes below.
After e-mailing Mr. Mesquita regarding the availability of his ukuleles, he surprised me with these pictures!
Must… Have… One… ghsdfkjghf
Sources for pictures: