Frequently Asked Questions
Ko’olau Guitars & ‘Ukuleles
Q – Are Ko’olau guitars and ‘ukuleles hand made in Hawaii?
A – Yes, they are completely hand built in our facility in Wahiawa, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.
Q – Besides the cost of each Ko’olau model, what are the differences? Is the quality of each model different?
A – Model differences are primarily cosmetic. Basic construction for optimal tone, volume, and durability is the same for all models, from the Model 1 to the Collector’s Series.
‘Ukuleles in the past were thought of as simply a a cheap “throw away” toy. But today, some manufacturers are producing very high quality ‘ukuleles, and prices have risen dramatically.
Our ‘ukulele line is categorized into several different models, and reflective prices. We retain the same quality of craftsmanship for each model, however, the decorative additions and finishes are different as you move up to the next category.
Model 1 and Model 2 Series are the most basic, most “unadorned” ‘ukuleles in our line-up. Still pretty, but simple. Woods are high quality and as with all models, quartersawn (a costly method of cutting woods for greater strength and stability). Although wood grain will have good color and some figure, the Model 1 and 2 Series will not have the wavy or curly grain patterns of higher models. To lower costs on Model 1, 2, and 100 Series there is no binding (strips around the top and back of the body) or purfling (decorative strips next to the binding). Model 1 has no rosette around the soundhole, Model 2 has a simple rosette, and Model 100 has an abalone rosette.
Q – What is the difference between a Model 1, Model 2, and Model 100?
A – There is a slight upgrade in woods and a simple rosette from Model 1 to Model 2. . Otherwise they are very similar. But we receive requests for a Model 1 with a rosette. Also, an optional pin bridge is available on a Model 2. The next model up, the Model 100 has abalone shell inlaid for the rosette, and a significant upgrade of figured woods.
SPECIAL NOTE: BEGINNING JANUARY 2013 MODEL 1 AND 2 WILL BE DISCONTINUED.
KO’OLAU MODELS WILL INCLUDE:
- MODEL 100
FURTHER INFORMATION WILL BE PROVIDED AT THE END OF 2012.
Q – Why do you use mahogany for necks?
A – All necks, for all models are made of quartersawn Mahogany. Mahogany has been accepted in stringed instrument manufacturing as the most stable and lightweight wood, the least likely to warp or twist due to variations in weather and humidity. Although pretty to look at, Koa is not as stable for necks.
Some of our Authorized Ko’olau Dealers have in stock the three basic models, Model 1 , 2 and 100. However, all Ko’olau instruments are available on a custom order basis, whether direct, or through one of our dealers.
Other Models Include:
1. Delux Series. Both the top and the back of the Delux Series are bound with a choice of either Koa, Rosewood, Ebony, or Maple. Wood marquetry purfling is inlaid next to the binding and a center strip is inlaid down the center of the back, and abalone sound hole rosette. Body woods have more figured grain. And many other options are available, as can see by our Models and Prices page.
2. Premium Series. Similar to the Delux Series, with the addition of abalone shell inlay around the entire top, fingerboard binding to match body binding, and exceptionally beautiful, master grade body woods.
3. Collector’s Series. Our most exquisite model. Collector’s Series will for 2013 will be a modified Premium Series. Top and back can have abalone inlay, with the fingerboard tongue being bordered in shell inlay. The head faceplate and fingerboard can be beautifully inlaid with various cuts of shell to resemble the Hawaiian Maile vines and leaves, a common plant used for head and neck leis in the most formal of ceremonies and weddings in Hawaii. And of course, woods used for this instrument are the finest we have available.
The Collector’s Series (which for 2013 will be a customized Premium Series) can include inlay in the faceplate and/or fingerboard with either your designs or we can provide various suggestions. On our website you can see previous custom Collector’s Series instruments. Variations can be done, however to retain the unique authenticity and future value of each instrument, no two will ever be made the same.
Q – Explain the different sizes of an ‘ukulele?
A – There are four different ukulele sizes, and as the size increases, obviously the tone and volume increase. The Soprano (often named “standard” in Hawaii) is the smallest, and the original ‘ukulele. In the 1920’s the Concert size was developed, and designed to be an enhanced Soprano, being slightly larger and thus slightly louder and deeper in tone. And a few years later the Tenor was created, being much larger than both the Soprano and Concert, and thus more volume and deeper bass tone. The Tenor size often has one or two wound bass strings, producing even more deep resonance. The largest size ‘ukulele is the Baritone. With a 10” body width, and tuned DGBE (the same as a guitar), it could be considered a miniature 4-string guitar.
When one is new to ‘ukulele it may be difficult to choose which to purchase. If possible it would be best to try the four different sizes to see which feels best, and what type of sound is interesting. No one is best, just different. The Soprano and Concert are going to have a more traditional, light and bright tone. The Tenor and Baritone are larger and produce more of a “little” guitar sound. Aside from what’s traditional, the most popular sizes today are the Concert and Tenor. But we still have customers loyal to the Soprano and Baritone. In addition to the 4-string instruments above, multiple string ’ukuleles are available. The Concert size can be made with five strings, the top two in high unison. And the Tenor and Baritone ’ukulele are available with six and eight string combinations.
Q – What is the difference in your finishes? You list Satin, Semi-Gloss, High Gloss, and Varnish?
A – We now have three different finishes. The majority of our instruments are either a satin or gloss lacquer. A third option is a hand rubbed varnish, applied in a french polishing techique. models. Our satin and high gloss lacquers are a very high quality nitrocellulose formula, specifically designed for stringed instruments.
SATIN: a soft, matte appearance that, besides being less costly, some customers prefer for a more “natural” look. The labor of application is less, so a satin finished instrument is less expensive.
HIGH GLOSS: Our high gloss finish is like a “piano” finish, but much thinner. It has a beautiful, high sheen, mirror glow which greatly enhances the color and grain patterns of our woods. Again, labor and time is much longer, and thus higher priced than a satin finish.
A common question is which sounds the best. For many inexpensive guitars and ukuleles on the market this is a valid question, because a high gloss finish usually has too much lacquer built up to accomodate the necessary final wet sanding and buffing. But if applied professionally, namely very thin applications, then all finishes will produce excellent tone and volume. For a technical description of our final finish thickness, satin is .02 and high gloss is .04. This may not make much sense to most players, but be assured that there are very few instruments makers anywhere achieving this standard in finishing. The result is virtually no hinderance to tone and volume.
4. VARNISH: Handrubbed french polish. This is the oldest method of final finishing in the history of woodworking. Natural resins are combined with spirit solvents and hand applied and polished to produce an extremely thin and protective finish. A Varnish method of finishing, if applied properly allows the wood to freely vibrate, thus a producing the best acoustic tone and volume.
As a word of caution: Varnish is protective, however fragile, and more susceptible to wear compared to lacquers. And visually, a varnish finish is not as “perfect” in appearance. Pretty, but a more natural, hand rubbed finish, similar to violins for the past hundreds of years. A varnish finish is the most labor intensive of all of our finishes, and thus the most expensive. Besides a significant upcharge for a Varnish Finish, there is also an additional wait time of approximately one year.
Q – Is the Deluxe Model available with a wood inlaid rosette around the sound hole instead of abalone?
A – Yes, although most customers prefer abalone shell, the rosette may be wood or shell.
Q – What is the difference in a “tie” bridge and a “pin” bridge?
A – A “tie” type of bridge is similar to a classical guitar, where the strings are fed through a small hole, looped around and tied in a knot. The “pin” bridge is similar to most steel string guitars, holes drilled through the bridge, into the body, and a bridge “pin” is then inserted to hold the string.
The Model 1 Series is available with a tie type of bridge only. On all other models either a tie or pin type of bridge is available.
Q – Can I choose the color and grain of my woods, especially Koa?
A – We select and cut the highest grade lumber for all models. But obviously for our less expensive models we will use less figured woods. Still pretty with good color, but we reserve highly figured and curly woods for our more expensive models.
Koa is one of the most unusual of all instrument woods, with the widest variety of colors and grain patterns. The color of Koa can be light blonde, red, brown, and black, and a mixture of all of the above. And grain pattern is a simple straight select to magnificent premium curl. To answer the question, as regards Koa, for custom orders we will try to closely accommodate color requests, with no guarantee of exact matches, however at least close to “light, medium, or dark” requests.
The Delux Model begins a different “custom” catagory and will have significantly more figured grain, and then Premium and Collector’s Series have the highest master grade wood available. For further reassurance, through the years, and after several hundreds of instruments, we have honestly have never had a customer state that they were disappointed with our selection of woods for their instrument. As you can see from the “testimonials” on our “endorsements” page, when customers finally see their long awaited instrument they are awe struck with the stunning beauty of their new guitar or ’ukulele.
Q – I notice inlays on your photos, are these standard on some instruments, or custom ordered? What can be inlaid? What materials are used to inlay?
A – Some inlays are standard on certain models, and others are custom ordered. All instruments have the Ko’olau logo inlay on the headstock faceplate, with the exception of the standard Collector’s Series, which has the logo inlaid at the 12th fret on the fingerboard. Again, except for the Collector’s Series, all fingerboards have pearl position dots. The standard Collector’s Series has a leaf and vine inlay in the faceplate and fingerboard. The pearl and abalone inlay is made to resemble the “maile” lei, commonly used in Hawaii for fancy ceremonies and weddings. As noted above, the Collector’s Series may be ordered with a variety of different inlay options throughout the faceplate and fingerboard. Flowers, animals, fish, names, hula, initials, just about anything can be inlayed using various shell materials, stones, and woods. Some prices are on our website under “Options/Inlay” and others prices can be quoted upon request.
Q – What cases are available for Ko’olau guitars and ‘ukuleles?
A – Ko’olau guitars and ’ukuleles are sold with a custom made Ko’olau hardshell case, included in the cost of the instrument.
Ko’olau Cases are very high quality, made of an arched top wood with the common black, leather like cover material, and a velvet velour interior, with nickel hinges and latches. Nickel is used because gold just looks good for a while, but tarnishes quickly. In addition to our standard hardshell case we also offer for an upcharge our Ameritage Ko’olau climate control cases.
Q – Do you make cutaway models?
A – Yes
Q – Are electronic pickups available?
A – Yes, we have various amplification systems that can be installed in your instrument. The least expensive is the passive system, no preamp inside the instrument. Pickup systems are also available “active” or in other words, with a preamp boost, “activated” by a 9 volt battery. This active system can be controlled at the amp, or the most expensive pickup has on-board controls mounted on the side of the instrument.
Q – What strings do you use?
A – For many years we have worked closely with the flaminco guitar string makers in Argentina. As with guitar strings, there many options, and many opinions as what is best. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of a different tone and volume, not necessarily a different quality. We have three different types of ‘ukulele strings. Each are different.
1. Ko’olau Gold: these are our original nylon strings. Whether played as all plain nylon, or combined with wound 3rds and 4ths, Gold nylon produces a deep, warm, yet strong projecting tone.
2. Ko’olau Mahana: nylon strings are clear. Similar to Gold nylon, but slightly warmer in tone.
3. Ko’olau ‘Alohi: technically not a nylon material, but instead a monofilament. Being slightly harder and more dense than nylon tone is brighter with stronger projection.
Q – Are you strings really packaged in agricultural waste, tree-free paper?
A – Yes. Rather than cutting down trees, the paper industry has now devised a method of using vegetable waste to make paper. The problem is that the cost is over 4 times more than tree paper. But with the rapid depletion of woods, especially from the paper industry, we have decided to do our small part in using non forest related paper products. Several plant fibers are now used in paper making, namely Coffee, Sugar Cane, Banana, Citrus, and Mango. We have chosen Mango, Banana, and Coffee. Our papers are actually made from the fruit waste that remains from cut mangos, bananas, and hulls and pulp from coffee bean production. With the use of one ton of our new paper we save an average of 17 trees. And 3% of all proceeds are donated to orphaned children in disadvantaged areas.
Q – What means of shipping do you use?
A – UPS, USPS, and DHL
401 N.Cane St. A-10
Wahiawa, HI 96786
For all inquires, orders, and repairs, please call 808-622-1064