Ryan Condon Carves a New Sound in Ukulele

This gorgeous creation comes to us courtesy of Ryan Condon, 2nd half of Ko’olau’s custom shop led by Noa Bonk. Ryan has built some arch top guitars and a few years ago started hand carving Ko’olau tenors. He makes a few each year, all of which are seemingly flawless in build quality and quite the treat to look at. However, the most noteworthy aspect is an extremely unique dynamic attack and throw. I say extremely unique because this is a very different sound from any flat top ukulele. Ryan uses arching height calculations, tap tuning, and other traditional luthier techniques to carve these two big blocks of wood into their maximum musical potential. This oval hole sunburst tenor one can be heard from across the room with a bell like clarity. Up and down the neck it’s like no other ukulele you will find.

If you’ve been around acoustic stringed instruments, you likely know that a hand carved arch top instrument is much more expensive than it’s flat top counter part. This is especially true with the top notch custom makers. The fanciest Collings ukulele comes in around 4 grand while the mandolins top off well over 10 grand. Why is this? First of all, Ryan starts with a block of European spruce and master grade koa thick enough to make 4 regular flat top tenors.

I just like the process of carving, taking a block of wood and removing everything except what is supposed to be there

He book-matches the set at about 18mm and at finish it is between 2-3mm, carving away all but the beautiful curving woods that you see. Not only do you need 4 times the top and back wood but the process takes about 3 times as long as a flat top. What an amazing thing you get though when done just right. Great for “chompy” jazz chords or finger-style work like Corey demonstrates.

Just in case you’re wondering, this is nothing like the Kala archtop. I say that with all due respect. The pricing is drastically different to say the least. This is hand carved by one of the finest builders in the world and it’s acoustics are a whole different experience. For someone that truly loves the ukulele and has a passion for the finest craftsmanship, this has something different from any other ukulele you will find. And it’s not just unique, but a uniquely beautiful sound.

This tone would shine even more in a “lively” room where it had room to bounce around with sustain and harmonics. But this is for “raw” sound sampling so use good speakers or headphones to truly hear this remarkable hand carved archtop tenor ukulele from Ko’olau, soon to be at The Ukulele Site

Aloha friends. A hui ho!

Comments 7

  1. Nice archtop Ryan….
    stiil the best kept secret in the uke World…. Ko’olau Ukulele…..

    Noa and Ryan at the top of their game right now…wow!!
    and the finish that Ryan puts on all the Ko’olau uke and guitars… are one of best I have seen

    thanks Andrew and Corey for the sample

  2. No re-entrant sample? Can’t help but frown a little on the inside.. don’t get me wrong it sounds exquisite! It’s just hard to note the unique tonal qualities of such an ‘uke compared to the re-entrant tuned “flat top” Ko’olau/Pono’s we’ve all played. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel when you take the low G out of the occasion, absolute ukulele tonal discernment enters =P. Southcoast Heavy-Medium non wound re-entrant strings could possibly be a game changer for its sound… oooooohhh it makes me wonderrrrr. /aloha

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      I don’t fully agree. The tonality would be the same. Minus the 5 lower notes in range it would sound the same. Thanks for the comment though. We will perhaps find the time to do that.

  3. I would love to hear this compared to one of the Collins archtops… Any chance of that?? Maybe someone has a Collins laying around…

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