These ukes are fairly new models and they are my top choices for a tenor in this price range. You can sometimes find local builders in this price range but these are a notch above what I have seen. Heck, next floor up from some I have seen. When you lay down over 500 bucks you want a super musical instrument. These were modeled after $2000-$3000 dollar ukes but made where things can be made more affordably (still on planet earth) with human skill and devotion. Our setup takes them up to potential and you have an instrument not far below the best out there.
So let’s dive right in for a closer look. This is the best sounding Kala model in my opinion. All solid and a lively spruce top but with more warmth and body when compared to their more affordable spruce models. It is the only uke of these four equipped with a pickup though we can install one in any of them. However, we don’t cut into the side of a uke for onboard EQ and digital tuner like this one has. The Kala ASAC-T-C-SP-MM, or Marcy Marxer, is braced lightly with a mini X brace Kala has been working with recently. They never talk about it but it’s a different soundboard support and voicing from any other uke maker I have seen. With a case you’ll be just over $500. So way more expensive than other Kalas but still a great value. Learn more about it here- Kala -Marcy Marxer – Spruce/ Acacia Tenor Electric
New this year from Pono is the ATDC-C in gloss. I put Aquilas on it to match the other ukes but it is really made for higher tension strings. I don’t think Aquilas really “activate” it or drive the top but it still had a clear voice with singing sustain. Also noteworthy, the other three are spruce topped while this one has cedar. Articulate in the mid range but still sweet and definitely the most meticulous in finish and fretwork. Ponos are more close to setup when we get them than any other factory brand. But the other three here are a lighter build. Especially this next one…
The new Pepe Romero designed 30 series from Cordoba is a flamenco style featherweight 12 fret to body tenor. This uke booms with volume like no other in this price range. As much as it lacks perfection cosmetically it has a beautiful character and vibrance. This is to a Pepe Romero what Pono is to Koolau. The affordable version. This is new and just starting to show up on the market but it definitely fills a niche for this style. 12 fret to body with the spanish heel to body design, in this price range, it had the most volume! But is a light build and should not get high tension strings. Aquila or the Nyltech, Labella and a few others. You can inquire on specifics. Limited to store stock presently on this model.
And the fourth of the featured is a very new arrival. Some were a bit surprised to see Islander pushing 7 bills. My outlook is different. I don’t know of any jig that makes side bevels assembly line work. This is a lot of hand work and it’s not a useless feature. Many times after playing I can can see and feel the effects on my forearm. It’s a very practical feature but it’s just not practical in production and that’s why you rarely see it. The slotted headstock, cutaway body, and unique abalone fretboard inlays are nice too but in the end this one makes the cut based on tone. Plenty of bass and a Kanile’a type presence. Check it out at our site here- Islander FMARM 4-T.
So sound is one aspect and this is one reference in time. 4 mics. Telefunken in the center. Stereo SDC’s are Earthworks/Josephson and a Nuemann gives the room ambiance. I’ve been getting help from the good people at PureSound. They don’t just sell. They educate, specialize and they practice the art. That’s our goal as well at TheUkuleleSite. Thanks for all your support.
Corey Fujimoto gives us an enjoyable listening experience as usual. Really excited for his album still being shaped up. Cellist coming etc…, Share thoughts and opinions below. I’m curious as to what you guys hear.