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 – Models currently available are 100, Delux, CS, and Premium. The differences are primarily cosmetic. Basic construction for optimal tone, volume, and durability is the same for all models, from the Model 100 to the Premium.
‘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 100 is the most basic, most “unadorned” ‘ukuleles in our line-up. Still beautiful, but simple. We recently discontinued the Model 1 and now the least adorned and most affordable is the Model 100.
Woods for all models are high quality, rough cut and then quartersawn (a costly method of cutting woods for greater strength and stability). Although wood grain will have good color and some figure, the Model 100 will not have the wavy or curly grain patterns of higher models. To lower costs on a Model 100 there is no binding (strips around the top and back of the body) or purfling (decorative strips next to the binding). Model 100 has an abalone rosette.
Q – What is the difference between a Model 100, Delux, CS, and Premium?
A – Model 100: AA Grade body woods, abalone rosette, satin finish. Options available are top binding, radiused fingerboard, slotted headstock, cutaway body, and a gloss finish.
Delux: AAA Grade body woods, abalone rosette, choice of various woods as top and back binding, top purfling, satin finish. Options available are radiused fingerboard, slotted headstock, cutaway body, and a gloss finish.
CS: Similar appointments to Delux with a different body shape and includes a radiused fingerboard. Options available are a slotted headstock, cutaway body, and a gloss finish.
Premium: 4A Grade body woods, abalone rosette and abalone top purfling. Various choices of top and back binding, gloss finish. Options available are radiused fingerboard and slotted headstock, cutaway body, and special custom body and neck inlay.
CE Thinbody Electric: Tenor and Baritone size thinbody cutaway ukulele. Semi hollow body. Mahogany body wood with various choices of top wood. L.R.Baggs Element Active Amplification. Satin or Gloss Finish.
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.
.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?
A – We now have two different finishes. Either Satin or Gloss. They are both a high quality nitrocellulose lacquer, specially designed for stringed instruments.
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.
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.
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.
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. But as a custom option the Ko’olau logo can be on the fretboard instead of the faceplate. All fingerboards have pearl position dots.
But again, as a custom option some prefer no fingerboard dots, and others want custom inlay designs on the fingerboard, including names, initials, flowers, fish, and hula dancers. And inlay materials can be shell, stone, and various colored woods.
Q – Do you have Ko’olau models readily available, or are they custom ordered?
A – All Ko’olau guitars and ukuleles are custom ordered. We have a few select music store dealers who sell our Ko’olau models, however they too individually custom order each instrument.
Q – How long is the usual production time?
A – Construction time depends on the level of adornment. The average time is 8 to 12 months to completion.
Q – What is the procedure for ordering a Ko’olau guitar or ukulele?
A – Call or email and we will discuss options and pricing.
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, any model can be made with a cutaway body.
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.
We also install an Active Pickup system, made by L.R.Baggs. This active system has a tiny volume control wheel mounted for easy access just inside the soundhole. Another L.R.Baggs system has volume/tone controls mounted on the side of the instrument.
Q – What strings do you use?
A – 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 quality. We curently have two different types of ‘ukulele strings. Neither are better, just different.
1. Ko’olau Mahana: clear nylon strings. Warm and mellow tone.
3. Ko’olau ‘Alohi: slightly different than nylon, our ‘Alohi strings are a monofilamen material. Harder and more dense than nylon. Tone is brighter with stronger projection.
Q – What means of shipping do you use?
A – Fed Ex. Most shipments are 2 day Express.
401 N.Cane St. A-10
Wahiawa, HI 96786
For all inquires, orders, and customer service, please call 808-622-1064