Monday, March 26, 2012

Oahu, again...

It's been a couple of years since I've visited Hawaii.  This year is again my family's turn to go, so off we went last week.  During my last visit, I brought my William King concert with me.  It is always great to be able to play the ukulele while looking over the ocean, so naturally I brought a uke with me on the trip.  This time, I took the Glyph mezzo-soprano.  This uke had already caught some Jake Shimabukuro mojo earlier this month, so I wanted to also give it a little Hawaiian mana (or whatever).  The koa is from the state of Hawaii, so I guess it's kind of a homecoming for this ukulele.

As far as ukulele related happenings go, I knew there wasn't going to be much time for me to look at them since we went with some friends who have never been to Hawaii and between us there there 5 kids (sadly there was no time for the kids to go to any ukulele lessons).  But I still managed to check out a couple of shops and caught a cool little live music performance that included a guy playing lead-ukulele while eating at Pier 38.

The first shop I was able to stop by was a ukulele kiosk at the Polynesian Cultural Center.  I've been there like 3 times already, and I knew they sold some tourist level ukes there at what's called a "Mission Settlement" building.  I was actually looking forward to this because I had seen on the Kanile'a Islander website that they carry Islander ukes.  These ukes have a great reputation as being perhaps the best entry level laminate ukes around, and I wanted to see for myself.  They indeed had Islanders there and after trying a couple of them, I was not disappointed.  In fact, I thought they are pretty awesome.  For a street price of $100~150, depending on size, there are probably the nicest laminate ukes I've ever played.  These would make a great beginner/intermediate instrument or beach beater.  I mean, a set of Gilbert or Waverly tuners cost more than one of these bad boys!  These would definitely be my default recommended beginner/beater ukes from now on, and maybe I just might grab one to keep at say my parents' house or something.

The second shop I managed to get to was Ukulele Pua Pua.  They have two shops along the Waikiki shopping area, one in the Sheraton and the other at the Moana Surfrider, and I went into both to play some ukes.  At the Sheraton shop, I played a few ukes they have hanging around the shop before asking to check out some ukes that were behind the cashier's desk.  There were some ukes there of interest, including a Martin C1K and style 2 concert.  The C1K is the uke I ended up buying during this trip, so I will make a separate post about it.  The style 2 was decent but didn't especially impress me.  Maybe its $1200 price tag raised my expectations too much, but I didn't think it was better than a Collings UC-1.  There was a KoAloha long-neck pineapple soprano there that sounded outstanding.  I was really impressed with it as one of the best ukes I played on the trip.  Another great one was a Ko'olau series 100 tenor.  I thought it was one of the best sounding Ko'olau's I've had a chance to play.

The Moana Surfrider shop had a few more interesting ukes.  They had a KoAloha Jukalele there and I got to play it.  A couple of years ago I wrote a post saying what a stupid idea the Jukalele was.  Well, now that I've played one, I must eat my words.  This ukulele is incredible.  It sounded really great and is very loud.  I can't even imagine how Papa KoAloha got this kind of sound out of such a small soundboard.  I still can't say I want one, but only because I can't swing $3999 for a ukulele.  I'd get one if I had that type of cash sitting around.  Another uke I got to try was a Blackbird carbon fiber tenor.  It was strung in low-G and to be honest, I was kind of underwhelmed.  I don't think it's the low-G that underwhelmed me, because the other 3 strings didn't produce a particularly memorable sound.  Considering the price of these things, I think I'll cross it off my imaginary want list.  I think I tried a couple of other ukes there, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The final shop I visited on the trip was Hawaii Music Supply.  They used to be located in Wahiawa, where I've visited twice before.  They have since moved to the historic town of Haleiwa.  Shortly after I went into the shop, I saw the famous Musicguymic (a.k.a. MGM) walk in the door.  I chatted with him a little bit and told him I've bought like 6~7 ukes from him during his ebay days.  He noted that he had better health back then, but he seemed to be doing pretty good now as far as I could tell.  He told me they moved to Haleiwa because most tourists do not stop by Wahiawa, but do visit Haleiwa, so they moved to capture more business.  They had a lot of ukes there but actually nothing I was particularly interested in.  I was a little disapointed to see no Ko'olau ukes there.  When they were in Wahiawa, they had a lot of Ko'olaus and it was cool to play them.  Nonetheless, I tried out a bunch of ukes there, including a pretty good looking Kamaka concert HF-2 that had some decently curly koa on the soundboard.  MGM offered me a pretty decent deal on the Kamaka that had me temporarily tempted.  But I remembered a couple of years ago I got a HF-3 for basically the same price (Kamaka had a big price hike in the last year), so I was able to resist.  In the end, I bought 4 packs of strings and a Kala "Stand Out" uke stand from the shop.  No ukes, but it was pretty cool to finally meet MGM and to check out the new shop.

So that was basically it as far as ukuleles went on this most recent trip to Oahu.  I did go back to Ukulele Pua Pua on the last day to pickup the Martin C1K.  While I was there to buy the uke, they were just about to start one of their free ukulele lessons for anyone who wanted to learn.  I decided to stick around to take the lesson as I could probably teach my kids in the same way if they ever wanted to learn the ukulele.  The small shop was packed and the people there seemed to enjoy the half hour lesson.  After the lesson, the guy who was teaching it, Paul, asked me if I was the guy on Youtube that played a Jay Chou cover.  I thought he looked familiar and realized that it was his video I learned the song from.  It was pretty cool to meet someone you've seen only on Youtube before.  It turns out we sort of inspired each other a little in our ukulele playing, but of course he's much more talented than me. (he can play Third Stream!)

Anyway, it's always good to be back to the home of the ukulele.  I hope there are many more trips to the various islands of Hawaii in my future and of course, more ukuleles!

Some random pics from the trip:

Glyph overlooking the beach.

Chilling on the balcony with my boy.

In front of the "Pineapple Express" station at the Dole plantation.  This is where I first encountered the ukulele and became interested in it.

At the Dole plantation.

My son doesn't seem to be enjoying this...


Coolkayaker1 said...

Love your post about uke hunting Oahu. Fun! And the ironic thing is, you traveled all the way to HI, only to buy. US mainland manufactured uke! I know, it's a vintage Martin, so you're excused. Lol. Cheers

GX9901 said...

Actually, it's a new Martin made in Mexico! So am I no longer excused??? LOL!

Anonymous said...

Nice post George. I've seen the Jukealele played from a distance and it sounded good to me too, but as you say, I have no interest in owning one.
If you want to meet a lot of people you see on YouTube, come down to UWC. I went last year and it is one big open mic party with a lot of YouTubers. It was fun and I plan on being there this year too.
I recently bought a pre-1926 Martin soprano and it is at Willies getting a few small repairs done. She is a gem and can't wait to get her home. :)
Take care- David aka Ukester Brown

EasyUkuleleSongs said...

Im not ready to swing $3999 for a ukulele either, but I'm sure its worth the value.

Which uke should I bring on my next trip to Oahu???

What's the maximum you'd spend on a ukulele case for your best uke?

If you could steal one of my ukes, which one would it be???

How curly do you like your koa? (preferably on a uke)

What's the maximum number of ukes a perfectly sane person should have???

Poll: How often do you play the ukulele???

Poll: Which guitar company's approach to ukes do you prefer???

Poll: What's your favorite type of headstock???

Poll: The new basic Collings concert uke (UC-1) sells for about $1k, your reaction is: