Five Below $5 Ukulele: It could have been a player

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My five year old son has a Christmas party coming up in the next weeks where he has to exchange a gift valued under $3. While we don’t want to be spend $20 on an exchange gift, you can buy very little for $3 these days that isn’t food (in some places, a bottle of soda costs more than $3). There is a new store at the Mall of America called Five Below (a rather clever name for a Northern store, although it existed other places long before it came here) where everything is $5 or less. It actually resides where the previous Dollar Tree existed.

We did find a gift for my son to give ($5, not $3) but my wife pointed out some toy ukuleles. The packaging was basic, but sufficient, and left the ukulele open for inspection. It appeared to be along the lines of a mini Waterman (by Kala) ukulele, with zero fret and plastic geared tuners…so I bought one (a wood pattern) for $5. The instrument is roughly 16″ tall, and 6″ wide, with a scale length of 10.5 inches. My wood pattern seems to be embedded in the plastic (it isn’t a sticker). The ukulele itself is smaller than my Caramel Sopranino.

When we arrived home (about a 45 minute trip), I opened the box and took out the ukulele, attempting to tune it. Three of the strings tune, but the C string will not tune as the gears slip. The plastic tuners seem modeled after metal tuners…so I thought I could remove them and replace them with some existing metal tuners. I should mention that there are not four strings, but two that are doubled under the bridge (see the photo), making G and C (4th and 3rd strings) the same diameter and E and A (2nd and 1st strings) the same diameter. This, too, could be remedied by new strings.

But then I tried playing the instrument, and it became clear that something was really wrong. The action was decent, but the first fret is significantly shorter than the next frets, fatally messing up the intonation of the instrument. Simply put, it makes it unable to be tuned on many chords (if you could get the C string to tune). That is sad, because had the original injection mold been correct, this instrument could be a player (add metal tuners which cannot be that much more expensive) for $5! That isn’t to be–as the frets are placed where they are placed, and it doesn’t look like you could remove the fretboard to replace it with another.

The box asked for comments and concerns, so I e-mailed and expressed these points, letting them know that the instrument could really have been a legitimate instrument–and I think all kinds of people would buy them–from ukulele players to parents wanting to buy a working but cheap ukulele for their children. No, it would never be a replacement for a “real” ukulele at a 10.5″ scale length–but it would have been a wonderful option. Perhaps they will fix the mold (the measurements can be obtained free of charge via a fret calculator on StewMac’s website) and add metal tuners. I would spend another $5 on that…and buy a few more.

I previously reviewed the toy Guitar Guitarre from the Dollar Store, a $1 unplayable ukulele. This Five Below Ukulele is SO much more than that–but the fret issue makes it unplayable. Maybe you want a toy ukulele around you home or office–if so, and there is a Five Below in your area, go get one of these ukuleles!

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Some play along video advice…

I have been making ukulele play along videos for a few months now, and while I won’t claim to be perfect, I’m pleased with how the videos have changed and developed over time.

I have some advice about those videos, so I’ll share them…

If you are going to use them in a class, download them ahead of time and embed them in a presentation. If you have an iOS device, send me an e-mail and I will let you know of a great solution for iOS devices. Otherwise, keepvid.com is your friend–but be careful which button you press. Keepvid has a number of buttons that look like download links, but really aren’t.

Also…get to know the video listings on this blog…they are free, and you can use them to plan a play along event or to organize a curriculum on your own terms (I will offer a curriculum plan later through my Patreon account as a reward).

Oh…and don’t forget that the desktop version of YouTube can slow down or speed up videos while maintaining pitch. There are some mobile solutions as well (I put some suggestions in every video these days).

If you are going to make your own videos…

  • YouTube allows you to attach a custom thumbnail. This is surprisingly important as the thumbnail also shows on a downloaded video! My iPad software (LumaFusion) allows me to make a screenshot, which I take of the title slide, and it is very easy to attach to my YouTube files. You can always go back and add these to an old video.
  • I have decided that it is best to let a play along video be a play along video. If your video needs instruction, make a separate video, and add the link to the instructions on the play along video itself. I want kids to be playing within 10 seconds of starting a song. That doesn’t mean that instructions aren’t good or useful…but you may not need to see them every time. Also, if you download a video and embed it in a Keynote on an iPad, you cannot fast forward the video in presentation mode!
  • Right now, the title lasts for 4 seconds, on a relevant picture for two seconds, and on the chords for 4 seconds. I figure that if people need more time with the chords, they can pause the video.
  • I have decided that the “highlight square” is the best method to use for play along videos, although I have no problems also adding an icon or image. I like to add the images as a related symbol and sometimes as a sense of humor in the video.
  • I am trying to use the KIDS Color String chord fonts when possible, and I am going to start using Color Chord “highlight squares” on songs that only have C, F, G, and Am.
  • I often find videos to make play alongs by accident, but I do ask my students for suggestions (I have a running Google Form) and I also look at the most popular searches on ukutabs.com

Those are my current thoughts…I will add more thoughts at another time if I have any other realizations about play along videos.


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Kala Color Chord Ukulele

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There are a number of teachers that use a color sticker method to teach the basic ukulele chords. In particular, a red sticker shows where to put “C,” green stickers show where to put “G,” yellow stickers show where to put “F,” and a blue sticker shows where to put “Am.” This isn’t a new system and Bernadette shows how it can be used in the following video:

Some of the ukulele videos (see the play along page on this website) are aligned with these colors, too. These chords give you a basic four chord sequence of I (C), IV (F), V (G), and Am (vi). That gets you playing a large quantity of songs in a single key. As ukulele is typically a unit instead of a full course, many music teachers are thrilled when their students can access these four chord shapes and play –mission achieved.

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Kala has seen the value in this approach and is releasing its Color Chord Ukulele, which is a black “Waterman” ukulele with color stickers for those chords. Kala has updated its tuning app (free) to include aspects of the Ukeoke app, and the app now includes over 100 songs aligned with these colors. There will be instructional videos by Emily Arrow, a wonderful musician who puts books to music with elementary students in mind. Emily literally radiates kindness, enthusiasm, and happiness. These resources should be a great help to many elementary music teachers that use color stickers.

We have soprano Waterman ukuleles, kindly donated by Kala, and the product has improved over the years (as it should), and we have some of the concert Waterman ukuleles (in black and sea green) and my students gravitate towards the black models. If your school buys these, kids will love them–but they are still plastic ukuleles–and I’m just not sure how long the stickers will hold up. The fret paint disappears over time, as do the side marker dots (perhaps this has been addressed with the new models). I guess I would like to see Color Chord ukuleles in the concert size (why not?) as well as in Makala Dolphin format (wood top, plastic body) and Makala laminate soprano/concert models. I really need to see how the color “arrows” hold up over time-otherwise you might as well buy Dolphins or MK-S models and add stickers yourself.

I get my middle school students far beyond C, F, G, and Am…and in fact, my own research shows to add G7 before Am in terms of practical harmonic function. But you aren’t going to add stickers for every chord…and if you really need that…buy a Populele (LED fretboard).

If you use color stickers…I totally understand what you are doing and why. In fact, as I make basic videos that only have C, F, G, and Am in the future, I will make sure that I color code those videos. I might even be able to go back and do so with some existing videos (e-mail if you are interested in a specific song). I am more invested in the Aquila KIDS strings as an educational tool, and I wish the Color Chord Ukulele came with those strings.

In summary, I wanted to let you know about this ukulele, about the resource of the app and Emily Arrow’s coming videos, Bernadette’s videos, and the idea of using KIDS strings as well. I have already stated that I would likely go the Dolphin route (there is a concert size of that, too), but I know what Kala is doing and I applaud them for making more educational resources. The Color Chord Ukulele has a retail price of $65 and a release today said that it will exclusively available through Amazon.

(Photos of the Kala Color Chord Ukulele from the Kala Blog linked in the post)


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Patreon

I have decided to start a Patreon account for my work that I do at techinmusiced.com and ukestuff.info.  You can access my Patreon account at patreon.com/cjrphd.  I have set up some reward levels and incredibly lofty goals–but in general, I would like to hear what suggestions you might have for additional content or resources you would like on this site as well as what specific reward levels might offer.  I will probably include a tag line in ever post about Patreon–but I don’t expect to post specifically about Patreon again…unless I do meet those lofty levels of support.

Can I talk about straps for a minute?

Early on in my ukulele playing, it became clear that while I could play ukulele without a strap, a strap made it more convenient to play. The strap helped when playing barre chords, and it made it easier to play standing up–which I how I prefer to play most of the time.

I initially didn’t want to install strap buttons on my instruments, so I used a few other products that could wrap around the ukulele. Two of those products were the Uke Leash and the Hug Strap. I endorse both of these products–and I will say to this day that the material used on my black Hug strap is still the most comfortable ukulele strap I have played with. Here is a link to a review of both of those products from August 2016.

However, over time, I lost my fear of installing strap buttons on my instruments (I finished my own basement–I should be able to install a ukulele strap button), and moved to traditional straps. I like straps as a very mild way of customizing my instruments…which reflects my interests or the season of the year.

As an example, I have Dr. Who and Star Wars straps (although they don’t define my life as they once did–I still enjoy both), and I have straps with musical motifs (I do hold a PhD in music education) and straps that reflect seasons of the year (Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July). I would love to see more ukulele themed straps.

Some straps find a home with a specific instrument (the Fourth of July strap stays with my USA Ukadelic ukulele), and others swap from instrument to instrument depending on what I am playing or how I am feeling.

My general preference is for 1” straps–they seem to be the best balance of comfort and function for the ukulele. I do have a number of other straps…some 1.5” and others that are 2”. I have over 20 straps in the house…more than I have ukuleles (well…maybe…I purposely don’t have a current count).

To date, I have straps from four sources.

  • My favorite strap (I’ll explain why in a moment) are straps from Straps for Chords, a small business in the United Kingdom. She makes a variety of straps in both entertaining and “serious” patterns–and on occasion has been able to make a special strap for me (e.g. Dr. Who and Halloween). These straps end up being a little more expensive with shipping and currency exchange, but I really like the strap ends that the owner uses on these straps–they appear to be a soft leather in an interesting shape that simply slip on to your ukulele. A rubber “stopper” (washer) might be a good idea. The only negative is the shipping time from the United Kingdom to the United States–so if you want a novelty strap for a season, order early. See the photo below for what I am talking about with the strap ends. You can see the difference.
  • A new strap maker is Uke Straps, a person who I found on Facebook. I just received two straps…a Thanksgiving and Christmas strap and I’m pleased. They are currently about $23 each, shipped. The quality is good–and the strap ends mirror other ukulele straps that I have seen–and they work. The only challenge is that if you don’t have Facebook, you may have a challenge seeing which straps you want to order…but perhaps if you e-mail her, she can send photos. Stfamous-ukestraps@yahoo.com
  • Shelley Mai, of Bonanza Ukuleles, makes straps as well, which also sell for about $25. These straps are also good quality, and the selections depends on what materials Shelley has available and what time she has to make them. So I would definitely recommend these straps as well. Shelley originally made straps with metal on them, and has changed to plastic like most of the other straps.
  • I have ordered very cheap 1.5” straps off of eBay, which work–but I do prefer the 1” width. Expect to wait for these to arrive from China…it can take a while. These only cost $2 to $5 each, so if you were going to put straps on school instruments–you probably aren’t going to spend $20 or more per strap.
  • You can also find straps by Levy’s and others by Sarah Maisel (the ukulele playing and singing performer who is also married to another ukulele player). I have not used any of those straps, but people that have like them. I have to admit…I would love a Maisel strap…think about it…you have a handmade strap from one of the elite ukulele players and ukulele teachers on the planet…

Straps in order from left to right: Enya 1.5” strap (available on eBay…as are other inexpensive 1.5” straps), Thanksgiving by Uke Straps, Christmas by Uke Straps, Dr. Who by Straps for Chords, Black with Gold Notes by Straps for Chords, Halloween by Straps for Chords, St. Patrick’s by Straps for Chords, Christmas by Straps for Chords, Star Wars by Bonanza Ukulele, Stars and Stripes by Bonanza Ukulele (Shelley no longer uses the metal in her straps).

I think straps are useful and fun–to the point that EVERY one of my ukulele has strap buttons installed…and many of my latest purchases come with strap buttons. As a word of advice, you CAN install buttons yourself, but remember to order strap buttons in advance (I usually use eBay), use masking tape to keep wood from cracking as you drill, and remember to drill a pilot hole that is smaller than the diameter of the screw of the strap button.

What Chords Should You Learn?

I just wrapped up a mini-project that will continue…tracking the repertoire available for ukulele in the Dr. Jill Reese style of ukulele play along videos. I just re-worked the list to reflect the actual videos that are available, as well as to show an abbreviated listing of the chords needed in each arrangement.

At the time of writing, 304 songs are available…some are duplicates or in alternative keys. A summary of the chords used demonstrates which chords are most frequently used in these arrangements (many that are made for use in classrooms), and this information should impact pedagogical approaches. I ignored chords with less than 10 uses in the 304 songs.

The most popular chords?

  • C: 227
  • G: 182
  • F: 174
  • Am: 105
  • D: 96
  • G7: 78
  • Em: 73
  • Hawaiian D7: 62
  • Dm: 62
  • C7: 47
  • E7: 40
  • A: 39
  • A7: 38
  • Bb: 30
  • Am7: 14
  • Bm: 14
  • Bm7: 14
  • B7: 11

What is of interest to me is comparing this data with a summary of chords used at Ukulele Hunt. My data is in blue, the Ukulele Hunt data is in orange. Note the differences between “educational” videos and chord charts for ukulele players at Ukulele Hunt:

(This image from Ukulele Hunt)

I know that there are a number of teachers who teach one finger chords first, and obviously, C is a good thing to teach. That said, there is a case to be made to teach G and F before Am (or C7, or A7) simply on the argument of actual application. My current sequence is: C, F (2 fingers), G (3 fingers), G7 (3 fingers and harmonic sequences) and Am (followed by D, Em, D7, and Dm). I don’t think I would teach G before F. I want to teach to some level of developing complexity, and 174 (F) to 182 (G) instances isn’t that statistically significant.

I also find it interesting that Bb occurs so early on the Ukulele Hunt chord list–as well as E appearing on that list!

It is important to note–again–than many of the ukulele play along videos are created with beginners in mind, and transposed to keys that work with those beginner chords–even more reason, I would propose, to teach to the most frequently used chords first!

You can check out the video lists on the video play along page of this website. I will be providing the lists as viewable Google Sheets documents in the very near future.

What Do You Do With a Popu!e!e? (Populele Review)

Some time ago, I read about a high-tech ukulele, the Populele, which was a Kickstarter.  I saw articles on The Verge (link) and even from John Atkins, “The Ukulele Teacher” (YouTube link).  It was originally sold via a very successful Indiegogo campaign, and is now for sale directly on the Popband website.  While the instrument had some coverage, I didn’t see any reviews from other ukulele players, or from any music technology experts…so I contacted the company.  And then I contacted them some more.  In time, I think the company realized that I wasn’t just a person looking to scam the company–but someone with a genuine interest in blogging about the instrument in the field of technology in music education.

The Populele is a concert sized (15 inch length from nut to saddle) laminate ukulele with a traditional double bout.  It has two oval shaped sound holes, a brown “bottom” (the Ukulele Teacher says that it looks like a white and black cookie), and a 72 LED fretboard that is controlled by your phone (iOS or Android) via an app.  The Populele has a 35mm nut with spacing of 8.5mm at the 1st fret, which is about average for many ukuleles.  The saddle is removable and is not compensated.

I received the “package” version of the Populele, which sells for $229; they also sell a non-packaged version for $179.  The package includes a very cute bag (that looks like the Populele), a capo, a micro USB cable, and a pick.  I have to be a little critical here and say that the $50 extra charge over the non-packaged version of the Populele may not be worth it…you can buy a hard case (which the ukulele does not require) for as little as $24 shipped via eBay, and a capo for less than $10 shipped via eBay.   I would like to see the package version as a $25 premium; or simply one price where everyone gets the accessories.

The ukulele takes a little while to charge when it arrives…and that’s okay.  You need to download the app and create an account.  There was a little chatter on the Internet when the Populele started shipping, as the Android version required all kinds of permissions that seemed over-reaching.  Since that time, the company has fixed that problem.  However, when I showed the Populele to a local ukulele player, his first question was about the privacy settings of the app–so the chatter definitely stuck in the minds of the ukulele community.

When you turn on the ukulele (hold down the button until the lights go on), the ukulele boots up, and the app discovers the ukulele (no “pairing” necessary), and you start playing the game.  I would have loved the option to jump ahead without completing each stage–but I did not find a setting that would allow me to do so.  You can follow the app’s set progress, go to a song library, or use some tools.  The tools are limited…there is a tuner, a very small chord library, “dazzle” settings for the fretboard (it shows waves or linear patterns as you play), and the ability to turn on custom lights on your Populele.  These things all work well–but a headstock tuner was much more accurate, and the library of chords drastically needs expansion.  I would love to be able to set “presets” for the custom lights, and perhaps have the ability to do a scrolling message!  In the another part of the app, there is a nice collection of songs, but the printed lyrics are often mismatched to the chords.  The chords (usually simplified) are in the right place–but the words are not.  If you don’t know the song, you are in trouble.  I would love to see the song library “cleaned up” in this regard.

I would like to see an advanced player option, where the app would teach 2nd, 3rd, and 4th position chords, as well as the notes of the fretboard in a game format.  That feature alone might make the ukulele worth $179.

As for the ukulele itself, it is a nice laminate ukulele.  It sounds nice, although I swapped the Aquila Super Nylgut strings for Martin M600 strings, and I personally think it sounds better with the Martin strings (see the end of the long video to hear for yourself).  The ukulele has a nice clean build with notched kerfing inside and no visible glue stains.  The head stock is unique with yet another oval hole, which serves no function as the headstock isn’t a slotted headstock.  The tuners are very nice closed gear tuners (with a bit of a futuristic flair), and the strings are held in place by a pin bridge.  Upon changing the strings, some of the strings were held in with beads, others with knots.  I just used knots on all of them when I restrung the ukulele.  The action was initially very high…higher than my string action ruler could measure.  I lowered the action to about 2.75mm, and now there is a light buzz on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd frets of the C string…but it is a minor buzz, and with the LED fretboard, I can’t really sand the frets to try to get rid of the buzz.  I can live with it, and I doubt it will be an issue on all Populeles.

The Populele also comes with two strap buttons, but with no strap.  I’d love to see an accessory store where owners could buy Populele t-shirts, straps, and stickers/pins.  If I were to own a ukulele company…PR and apparel would be a priority!

The LED fretboard works, and is visible in any light.  My students wondered if it could light up in other colors, and the answer is: no, at least not this version.  I can absolutely see the value in colors for educational purposes, much like Bernadette’s stickers (YouTube link). I can also see the wonderful potential marriage of the Populele with KIDS ukulele strings by Aquila (you can order them in bulk for a great discount directly from Aquila).  As an advanced player, the LED lights don’t help much–I can’t see them when my fingers are already there or on the previous chord, but I can see the power of learning with the lights.  I can also see the potential for a classroom set of Populeles, where a teacher could press a button and the correct lights would show up on all of the ukuleles in a class!  This is not a feature at the moment–but you can see where it can go, either for learners with special needs, or for an entire class.  Populele does have a director for education, and they are aware that money is an option in schools, and that $179 ukuleles may not be a reality for a classroom set of ukuleles.

Speaking of the future, I would also love to see a tuner embedded in the electronics, as well as a pick-up, at the $179 price point.  I would also love to have a system embedded in the ukulele where you could run the lights (wave, linear, or custom) without a phone.  I would also like to see some front markers on the fretboard (even if just LED lights of another color), although side markers are already provided.

And in the far future, I would love to see a marriage between the JamStik by Zivix and the Populele. The JamStik isn’t a “real guitar” and makes nearly no noise when strummed–it requires a device to run the JamStik programs, but then it also acts as a full MIDI device.  It would be great to have a full acoustic instrument (the Populele) with its LED features, plus an IR keyboard and the features of the JamStik apps and Populele apps.  I have bothered the nice people at Zivix about a ukulele for a long time…maybe I can encourage them to work together?

In conclusion, the Populele is a very nice laminate ukulele with a huge selling point…the LED fretboard and accompanying app (and included songs).  As you consider the price point, which will be significantly higher than other laminate ukuleles–you are paying for the fretboard and the app.  On the positive side, a laminate ukulele means nearly no maintenance, and the sound is good for a laminate ukulele.  You won’t be getting the sound of a solid top ukulele or a solid wood ukulele–but again, you are buying the fretboard and app.  I can see how this ukulele could be used in educational settings, as both an incentive for students to practice on their own, or, with future offerings, the ability to trigger the lights on a number of Populeles in the same class.  I can also see how you could link play along videos to the ukulele, as the app registers sound anyway.  I would love to see the app updated with a far more extensive chord library, “favorites” in the custom light generator, and advanced player modes/games for additional chord positions and notes of the fretboard.

At the same time, I can see opportunities for versions two and three of this ukulele (tuner, pick-up, fretboard markers, multiple color LEDs)…and I would love to see an alliance with Zivix for a future version of the product.

I should mention that I am not being paid to write this review–but I was sent a Populele to review (I would have bought a used on from eBay had that not occurred).

Would I recommend the Populele?  Absolutely.  It is a high quality laminate ukulele with an incredible instructional tool (even though you will eventually move not to using them) and when the batteries die or the novelty of the LED lights wear off, you will still have a decent acoustic instrument to play–and it is cute!

Pros:

  • LED 72 light Fretboard
  • The Populele App
  • Quality instrument with closed geared tuners, strap buttons, and side markers
  • Laminate ukulele and LED fretboard should require very little care

Concerns/Wishes:

  • A bit expensive for a laminate ukulele–although you have to keep in mind that you are paying for the LED technology and the app
  • The app needs more features such as additional chords and some tools for advanced players
  • While there are no promises, the Populele Version 2 has the chance to incorporate even more technology
  • To use the lights, you need to use your phone, too

And the rather long video review:

 

 

 

Kmise Concert Ukulele

I purchased the Kmise 23 Inch Concert Ukulele for my wife, as she might be interested in learning some more ukulele with me.  It is an inexpensive ukulele and might be a good starter ukulele for some players.

The Kmise is a standard double bout ukulele with a traditional string length of 15”, and the overall length is actually 24”.  What strikes you about the ukulele is the pattern that is laser engraved on it, with flowers and fairies, and a flower (hibiscus?) sound hole.  As someone else mentioned in an Amazon review, one of the fairies is trapped under the bridge!  The Amazon listing for the ukulele says that it is a solid spruce top—and I am not sure that it is.  When I look in the sound hole, the top appears to have layers like a laminate ukulele.  So I am inclined to think it may be made of laminate spruce.  The sides and back are made of laminate mahogany, and there is a very slight arch to the back of the ukulele.  The entire ukulele is finished in a satin finish—including the neck.  There is an ABS binding around the sides and purfling (alternating black and white lines) around the binding.  On my ukulele, there was one very small flaw in the purfling…but that’s being super picky about a $50 ukulele.  Functionally, my biggest gripe about the ukulele is the ABS binding, which has a very hard edge.  After playing Kmise’s other model line, the Aklot AKC23, this is hard to deal with.  The AKC23 has a rolled edge around the top of the instrument which really does make the instrument more comfortable to play.

The inside of the ukulele is generally clean, with no interior label.  There is evidence inside the ukulele that the back is glued together of two pieces, with a evident joint with some glue visible (you have to look pretty hard through the sound hole to see it).  Otherwise, the build is nice with clean notched kerfing.

The headstock is very basic with sealed geared tuners and a “crown” headstock, although the points of the crown are very mild.  While I am not personally crazy about the laser design on the front of the ukulele (I am not the intended buyer), the worst aesthetic element of the ukulele is the Kmise logo, which is stuck on the headstock as a decal.  It can be removed (which I may do).  I would prefer to see the logo painted on or applied under the finish, or laser etched.  The nut and saddle are made of bone, and the bridge (very traditional and screwed into the soundboard) and fretboard are made of rosewood.  The frets are nicely finished, but I would not be surprised to see them “pop” in dry weather.  Overall, the rosewood looks as if it could use some oil.

The neck is made of okoume wood, and has a comfortable design—and is finished in satin.  Overall, there are three pieces to the neck.  There are side markers on the fretboard, and the ukulele does not come with strap buttons (I added some).  The nut is 35mm with 8.7mm between each string at the 1st fret; and action is very good with a string height at the 12th fret of less than 2.75mm.

Wrapping up the package are strings that appear to be Aquila SuperNylgut strings, but there was no indication of these being Aquila strings in the packaging (which is usually included in a ukulele).

The sound of the ukuleke is nice.  It obviously will not compete with the tonal qualities of a solid wood ukulele that is ten times this ukulele, but it sounds quite a bit better than the Caramel Ukuleles that I have purchased for our school program.  I would like to try the Kmise with fluorocarbon strings, as I personally feel that fluorocarbon strings also brought out a clearer tone on my Aklot AKC23, which also is made by the same company that makes Kmise.

In summary, you get a lot of ukulele for very little money with the Kmise 23 Inch Concert Ukulele.  It sounds good, plays well, and has all the features that you need in a ukulele.  You will either love the laser engraving or you won’t—and that is to be expected.  There are a few other ukuleles in a similar price range that might be worth examining—but if you like the design, you can’t go wrong with this ukulele.  Keep in mind that you will want to buy a gig bag and you will also want to have a tuner…and eventually you might want to try fluorocarbon strings, too.

Positives:

  • Excellent price point
  • Very playable out of the box—good set up
  • Pleasant tone (may want to try fluorocarbon strings)
  • Nice satin finish; very pretty laminate mahogany pattern
  • Side marker dots

Concerns:

  • Sharp corner on ABS binding
  • Decal logo might need to come off
  • No strap buttons (install them yourself)
  • Love it or Leave it Soundboard Design
  • Might not be a solid spruce top

 

Former Ukuleles: Pono RTSH (C) PC

I bought my Pono in 2016 from a ukulele company that was going out of business.  The owners were a married couple, and the husband was very sick, so they decided to sell their business.  They decided to sell of their remaining ukuleles at slightly higher than cost…and I did the foolish thing and asked about what they had.  The owner suggested a Tenor Pono, which was new but not the newest model, with pretty much all of Pono’s bells and whistles: slotted Head, cedar top, rosewood back and sides, abalone rosette radius fretboard, and low action.  It also came with an awesome O’ahu case.

I should back up and mention that Pono is the overseas production of Ko’olau, one of the major “K” Hawaiian brands.  Pono is built to their standards but not on Hawaii, so when you buy a Pono, you are truly buying one of the best instruments available.

I loved everything about the instrument, but when I reached for an instrument, I was reaching for my KoAloha Opio Tenor or my Outdoor Ukulele.  When I needed to record, I grabbed my Lanikai UkeSB.  So while I loved the instrument, I wasn’t playing it as much as I should—for my most expensive ukulele.  I played it…and used it in choir concerts. While it was a beautiful sound, it wasn’t as loud as my KoAloha, and volume is a nice thing when playing with a choir.

In September, a member of the Ukulele Underground Forums listed a KoAloha Opio Concert—a size that I enjoy playing a lot—for sale at a great price.  For a like new ukulele from a reputable source (eBay is not necessarily so), I decided to buy it—and didn’t want to finance the purchase.  It made sense to list the Pono and pay for the Opio (and have some money to spend).  So I did.  It was sold to a ukulele player in Maine…and made the trip safely.  I know that player will enjoy the ukulele, and I hope that I won’t regret selling it…but I know that I will naturally play the Opio Concert more than I would play the Pono.

I list the pictures that I took before the sale…just out of interest and as a way to remember the ukulele.  This is only the second ukulele I have parted with…the other was  a Córdoba 15CM that went to a family member in Georgia.  I would be well served to part with a few more of my ukulele (all in good time).

Happy trails to my Pono!  It was a great ukulele and it will continue to make someone else happy!