Pono F.A.Q.

“Ko’olau” and “Pono” are registered trademarks of the Ko’olau Guitar and ‘Ukulele Company

Q – Where are Pono Guitars and Ukuleles made?  

A – Throughout the past 10 years most Pono Guitars and Ukuleles have been made on the island of Java in Indonesia.  A few years ago we found a very experienced group of classical guitar makers in a northern province of China, and thus some models were made in that factory.  They were beautiful and sounded good. Yes, China has the longest history of the arts and high quality craftsmanship. But somewhere along the line, after being commissioned to make cheap stuff, they acquired the reputation for only making inferior quality goods.
But our main issue was the location, being remote and rural, it was difficult for the transport of supplies and export of our instruments.  It also became difficulty for us to actually be in the factory (which is mandatory for on site quality control). And so, we discontinued production in China.  So to answer the question, for the most part we have been in Indonesia, and will continue there in the future.  

Q – There are Pono ukuleles now being made with a Made in China label.  Are they authentic?

A – No.  Sadly someone in China is copying Pono ukuleles with our registered logo and trademark.  Which is ironic, being named “Pono” which in Hawaiian is defined as “right, correct, moral, proper, and true.” We should have been more cautious as to copyrights infringement, as many other famous brands of guitars and ukuleles are now being illegally copied and sold.
As in the US and Hawaii, we have now legally trademarked our Pono brand in parts of Asia.  Any of these counterfeit and fake instruments are most likely going to remain in China, because the US and Europe governments will not allow importation.
So any Pono ukuleles in the US or Europe are authentic, as there is no reason to believe that China would export Pono instruments out of the country. And again, the US would not allow them to be imported. Also, if a Pono ukulele reads “Made in China” most models also read “Final Set-Up on Oahu Hawaii.” Also, on the neck block it will have the serial number indicating the year of manufacturer and the sequence made in that particular year. As a point of consolation, authorized Pono instruments that were made in China were very high quality.

It should be noted that anyone now attempting to illegally manufacturer Ko’olau or Pono guitars and ukuleles will be prosecuted.

Q – On some Ko’olau and Pono guitar and ‘ukulele models you use Rosewood.  What Rosewoods do you use?  And what are the differences?

A – There are many different species of Rosewood that have been used throughout history for furniture and stringed instruments.  For our guitars and ‘ukuleles we have been using the most common, Brazilian and Indian, and variations of both.  Brazilian Rosewood has a botanical name of Dalbergia Nigra, but is no longer legally available.  The only wood we have remaining is from legally salvaged lumber purchased before laws were changed.  It is now rare and retained for our higher end custom Ko’olau models.  Another species is Dalbergia Latifolia, or more commonly called Indian Rosewood.  But both Nigra and Latifolia seeds were planted in many different lands throughout the past 500 years.  

As botanists sailed in the 1700′s to 1800′s they carried different Dalbergia seeds, distributing and planting them in many different continents and islands.  The name Dalbergia is derived from Carl Dalberg, a botanist who did much research on the Rosewood.  When tree seeds are transplanted to other climates they “mutated” in characteristics.  Grain patterns, color, density, and weight changed due to soil PH, temperature, and the amount of moisture in its new environment. 

Dalbergia Latifolia is the most classic example of migration.  But the changes have been beneficial and add to the artistic beauty of the art and craft industry.

One Rosewood that we now commonly use on Ko’olau and Pono models is a slight variation of Indian Rosewood.  This Rosewood is named Java Rosewood, or Indonesian Rosewood.  Although the same species, Dalbergia Latifolia, characteristics changed when Dutch botanists planted the same seeds on the next continent over, in Java Indonesia.  Colors changed from reddish purple to reddish brown and orange.  And tonal changes also were modified.  Both have great tone and projection, but different. 

And some speculate, although now impossible to document, that Dalbergia Nigra seeds (Brazilian Rosewood) were also brought by the Dutch and planted in Indonesia in the 1700′s.  So there could possibly have been more of an “interbreeding” of both Rosewoods. But it should be noted that although they are the same species of tree, wood characteristics are different. A similar “mutation” has occurred with the many Acacia trees, now over 1300 different species.  Acacia Preta and Acacia Melanoxylin were planted throughout Indonesia and Northern Australia, and the two have crossed paths.  These are the Acacia’s we use for Pono guitars and ‘ukuleles.  The appearance is similar but different than another species named Acacia Koa, growing in the Hawaiian Islands. 

Although many species of Rosewood can be found in the wild throughout the earth, many are now planted, cared for, and strictly regulated on plantations. And considering how we have mismanaged our forests, this is a good practice, ensuring the health and longevity of the species.  Although it is perceived as more “exotic” and supposedly higher quality using native wild lumber for guitar building, tonal differences are debatable.  What is more important is not depeting our forests throughout the world. 

 

Q – What are your current Pono ukulele models? 

- Mahogany Series, rosewood fingerboard and bridge, open gear tuner, satin finish:
– MS Soprano
– MC Concert
– MT Tenor
- MT-2 Tenor Cedar top, Radiused Fingerboard
- MT 8 Tenor 8 String
- MB Baritone

- Mahogany Delux Series, ebony fingerboard and bridge, closed gear tuner, gloss finish:
– MSD Soprano
– MCD Concert
– MTDX Tenor
- MTDX8 Tenor 8 String
- MBD Baritone

- Acacia Series, rosewood fingerboard and bridge, open gear tuner, satin finish:
– AS Soprano
– AC Concert
– AT Tenor
- AT-2 Tenor Cedar Top, Radiused Fingerboard
- AB Baritone

- Acacia Delux Series, ebony fingerboard and bridge, closed gear tuner, gloss finish:
– ASD Soprano
– ACD Concert
– ATD Tenor
– ATDC Tenor Cutaway
- ATDC-C Tenor Cutaway with Cedar top
- ABD Baritone

- Mango Series, rosewood fingerboard and bridge, open gear tuners, satin finish
- MGS Soprano
- MGC Concert
- MGCP Concert Pineapple
- MGT Tenor
- MGTP Tenor Pineapple
- MGT-8 Tenor 8-String
- MGB Baritone

- Mango Delux Series, ebony fingerboard and bridge, closed gear tuners, gloss finish

- MGSD Soprano
- MGCD Concert
- MGTD Tenort
- MGBD Baritone

 

- TE  Thinbody Electric:  Tenor and Baritone size, thin body with a passive saddle pickup. Active amplification optional.    Acacia body, and top woods are either Acacia, Cedar, or Spruce.  Patterned after our Ko’olau CE Thinbody Electric series.  All Thinbody models include a custom hardshell case. 

TE Thinbody Tenor, satin finish 
TE-C Thinbody Tenor with Cedar top, satin finish
TE Delux Thinbody Tenor, gloss finish
TE-C Delux Thinbody Tenor with cedar top, gloss finish
TE-SB Delux Thinbody Tenor, gloss BLACK finish
TE-MD Delux Thinbody Tenor with figured mango top, gloss finish
BE Thinbody Baritone, satin finish
BE-C Thinbody Baritone with Cedar top, satin finish
BE Delux Thinbody Baritone, gloss finish
BE-C Delux Thinbody Baritone with Cedar top, gloss finish

 

- Thinbody Tahitian, pineapple shape thinbody, back soundhole, satin finish
- TT-4 Thinbody Tenor 4-String
- TT-8 Thinbody Tenor 8-String 

 

Pro-Classic Series:  This is our custom premium line of Pono ‘ukuleles. They are crafted with master grade woods, top and back Hawaiian Koa wood binding, abalone rosette, and Model 5 have abalone top purfling. Available with either a solid or slotted headstock. Five different wood combinations.  All include a custom hardshell case.

1. Ebony back and sides, spruce or cedar top 
Solid headstock:
ET-PC Tenor 
ETC-PC Tenor Cutaway 
ET-5-PC Tenor 
EB-PC Baritone 
EBC-PC Baritone Cutaway 

Slotted headstock:
ETSH-PC Tenor 
ETSHC-PC Tenor Cutaway 
ETSH-5-PC Tenor 
EBSH-PC Baritone 
EBSHC-PC Baritone Cutaway 

2. Rosewood back and sides,  spruce or cedar top
Solid headstock:
RC-PC Concert

RT-PC Tenor 
RTC-PC Tenor Cutaway 
RT-5-PC Tenor 
RB-PC Baritone 
RBC-PC Baritone Cutaway 

Slotted headstock:
RTSH-PC Tenor 
RTSHC-PC Tenor Cutaway 
RTSH-5-PC Tenor 
RBSH-PC Baritone 
RBSHC-PC Baritone Cutaway 

3. Acacia top, back, sides, cutaway models have a Cedar top
Solid headstock:
AT-PC Tenor 
ATC-PC Tenor Cutaway Cedar top 
AT-5-PC Tenor 
AB-PC Baritone 
ABC-PC Baritone Cutaway Cedar top 

Slotted headstock:
ATSH-PC Tenor 
ATSHC-PC Tenor Cutaway Cedar top 
ATSH-5-PC Tenor 
ABSH-PC Baritone 
ABSHC-PC Baritone Cutaway Cedar top 

4. Mahogany back, and sides, Mahogany or Spruce top 
Solid headstock:
MS-PC Soprano  (4:1 geared friction style tuners)
MC-PC Concert  (4:1 geared friction style tuners)
MT-PC Tenor
MTC-PC Tenor Cutaway
MT8-PC Tenor 8-String

MB-PC Baritone 
MBC-PC Baritone Cutaway

Slotted headstock:
MTSH-PC Tenor 
MTSHC-PC Tenor Cutaway
MBSH-PC Baritone
MBSHC-PC Baritone Cutaway
5. Wi’awa awa  (pronounced wee-ava-ava), Spruce top.    Wi’awa awa is a wood grown throughout all tropical lands and islands, including Hawaii. Sometimes called Tamarind, and well known for it’s fruit which are long sticky pods hanging from the tree that are used as a flavoring in the cuisines of Mexico, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.  
The Wi’awa awa tree was a favorite of Queen Liliuokalani, which she actually planted at her home in Honolulu in the late 1800′s, and the tree is still surviving on the property.  Wi’awa awa wood is a beautiful light colored blonde, and sometimes with red brown streaks. We combine it with Spruce as a top wood, and an added touch of beauty with Hawaiian Koa top and back binding.
Wi’awa awa is a heavy and dense wood, and produces a deep resonant tone. Weight is 53 lbs/ft and Specific Gravity is .85.  This is the exact same specs as most Rosewoods.  

Solid headstock:
WT-PC Tenor 
WTC-PC Tenor Cutaway 

Slotted headstock:
WTSH-PC Tenor 
WTSHC-PC Tenor Cutaway

 

Q – Is Mahogany becoming endangered?  Will there be a problem getting Mahogany?

A – Genuine Mahogany (Swietenia Mahogani and Swietenia Macrophylla) has been used extensively in construction, both architectural trim and the boating industry. Neither are now commercially available from their original natural habitat, namely Central and South America. And so now Mahogany has become endangered and expensive. The highest quality, Swietenia Mahogani (Cuban or Caribbean Mahogany, and sometimes called small leaf mahogany)  is now available only where cultivated. On Oahu we have this species thanks to botanists in the 1800′s. But it’s rare, very expensive, and used only for our Ko’olau models. This is a heavy and dense variety of Mahogany, at a weight of 40lb/ft and a
Specific Gravity of .64. 

The other species from the Caribbean is Swietenia Macrophylla (sometimes called Honduras Mahogany or big leaf mahogany).  This is the species most people are familiar with, both for body woods, and nearly every guitar neck ever made. The weight and density of this Mahogany is lighter than “mahogani” with a weight of 34.lb/ft and a Specific Gravity of .54.
But this species too is no longer available in it’s original environment. Swietenia Macrophylla is now cultivated plantation style in other countries, and used for furniture, ship building, architecture, and musical instruments.
What’s confusing is that there are many other woods that somewhat look like, and named “Mahogany” but technically not the original Mahogany (mahogani and macrophylla). Some of them are Khaya from Africa and Toon from Asia and Australia.

For Pono production we use both species, Swietenia macrophylla (big leaf mahogany) and Swietenia mahogani (small leaf mahogany).  The story goes that the Dutch planted both mahogany species in Indonesia over 200 years ago (which was also done in Hawaii) . Mahogany an excellent body tone wood, and still the perfect wood for necks. But back to the question, yes mahogany is becoming more expensive than most other woods. Many of our customers still prefer the natural beauty, sweet tone, and excellent projection of Mahogany, for back and sides, and even used as a top wood for a mellow warm tone.  And of course, it can be combined with a spruce or cedar as a top soundboard. 

 

Q – Why do you use Acacia wood?

A – For the same reason we use Hawaiian Koa.  It’s pretty and it sounds good. Our Acacia wood is the same species as Hawaiian Koa (Acacia Koa). But the Acacia that we use for Pono ‘ukuleles and guitars is Acacia Preta (and possibly a crossover of Acacia Melanoxylon in Australia) is more plentiful and not endangered, at least not yet. There are over 1300 different species of Acacia throughout the world. In fact there are so many different “acacia” trees that many arborists have a difficult time distinguishing them. But they all have similar characteristics. The actual trees look somewhat alike, and the wood grain is similar and beautiful. Our new Acacia model is our solution to the limited supply of Hawaiian Koa.

 

 

Q – What’s the difference between Mahogany and Acacia as an instrument wood?

A - As for tonal comparisons to Mahogany, the Acacia family (including Acacia Koa) is different in weight and density. Most Acacia wood, including Acacia Koa has a density of about 40lb/ft and a  Specific Gravity of .55.  Mahogany is lighter (35 to 40lb/ft) but approximately the same Specific Gravity (which is weight compared to the same amount of water), producing a warm tone, and a unique tonal clarity.   And what’s really interesting is that in time Mahogany changes in color and tone more than any other wood we have experienced. For those who own vintage mahogany guitars and ‘ukuleles, the aged tone is unsurpassable.

Acacia is heavier and more dense than Mahogany, and thus has it’s own unique tonal projection. And of course a beauty all it’s own. Most people are familiar with the sound of Acacia woods, having owned or played instruments made of Hawaiian Koa. All Acacia woods are similar.  The Acacia that we use for our Pono instruments is similar in appearance to what was known to old timers in Hawaii as “black Koa.”

For lack of a better description, Acacia wood produces what could be called a deep woody tone. And some models we use Cedar for top wood for a wider tonal range. 

Acacia Preta does lack the rich red color tones of Acacia Koa, but still has beautiful black and brown figured grain patterns. We have been reluctant to use Acacia woods in the past due to the confusion of this species. Our Hawaii ecosystem is fragile, and it cannot afford to supply the entire earth with its resources, so we make it very clear that our Acacia wood for Pono ‘ukuleles is not made of Koa from Hawaii.

Q – Most Mahogany guitars and ‘ukuleles are dark in color. Why is your Mahogany so light in color?

A – Because most people have come to associate mahogany with a dark brown red color. Actually what you are seeing is stained wood.  And this has been going on for so long that most people have never seen a guitar or ukulele with the natural color of mahogany.
We do not stain or dye our mahogany.  What you are see on Ko’olau and Pono instruments is the natural color of mahogany. The general perception is that the darker the better.  We prefer it natural.
True mahogany in it’s natural state is a beautiful light red brown.  

Another reason mahogany has been stained in guitar and ukulele production is that it’s often remnant and poor quality pieces used on guitars and ukuleles, and so manufacturers use a dark stain to hide blemishes.  The wood still produces a good tone, but usually has cosmetic blemishes that would be unacceptable if not stained.
We have to admit though that we too have stained mahogany in the past.  Not very many, but we thought we needed to please the common perception of the acceptable color of mahogany.
After a short time though we decided to just leave it natural and allow the wood to naturally age.  We still get calls and emails wondering if our mahogany is real.
It should be noted too that staining has a tendency to “muddy” the clarity of grain. Unstained Mahogany has beautiful distinct and feather like grain lines, and a natural light to medium brown red color.
And as mentioned above, the most interesting phenomena is that mahogany will naturally darken when exposed to light. So in only a few months you will notice your mahogany instrument darken in color, naturally.  

 

Q – What’s the difference in the Mahogany and Acacia Series compared to the Mahogany Delux and Acacia Delux Series?

A –  Mahogany or Acacia Series is a satin finish, rosewood fingerboard and bridge, and open gear tuners.
       Delux Series has a high gloss finish, ebony fingerboard and bridge, and a fancier closed gear tuner.

 

Q – What is the different sound of all of the woods you use?

A – That’s not an easy question, but here is a simple answer (and it’s important to remember that one wood is not better than another, just different):

- Mahogany top, back, and sides: warm and mellow tone. Very even note equalization. The most traditional combination of woods for an ‘ukulele have been either all Koa or all Mahogany.

- Mahogany back and sides with Spruce or Cedar top: with the addition of Spruce or Cedar to the top of a guitar or ukulele the overall tonal range is increased. In other words, because Spruce or Cedar are technically “soft” woods, with more tensile flexibility, they can vibrate more freely and thus create clearer and pronounced treble and bass notes. Again, not better, just different.

- Acacia Koa top, back, and sides (available on Ko’olau models only): somewhat similar to Mahogany, but due to it’s density and weight (41lb/ft and .55sg, compared to Mahogany at 34lb/ft and .54sg), Koa produces a brighter, more projecting tone.

- Acacia Preta – similar to Acacia Koa, similar density, lighter weight. Warm tone.

- Acacia (Koa or Preta) with a cedar or spruce top. As mentioned above, cedar and spruce are soft woods and flex and vibrate more freely than hardwoods. Thus more projection and a wider tonal range.

- Rosewood back and sides: Rosewood is a relatively heavy and dense wood that produces deep warm tone. Although the top, back, and sides can be rosewood, the most common choice is either Spruce or Cedar. We use Cedar and Spruce with Rosewood for our current Pono production. Binding is Hawaiian Koa. Cedar on guitars or ukuleles produces a warmer, more aged tone (like having the wisdom of a 90 year old, with the body of a twenty year old). Spruce has slightly more brilliant projection and mid to high tonal range than Cedar. Both are good, just different. Pono Pro-Classic Rosewood with Cedar or Spruce models resemble miniature classical guitars.

- Wi’awa awa is also heavy and dense, but less than Rosewood. Our Wi’awa awa is combined with Spruce, and results in an excellent and well balanced tone and volume. Both Wi’awa awa and spruce being very light blonde colored woods, along with the neck also being made of Wi’awa awa produces an overall blonde colored instrument, and great sustain. Future models will have a mahogany neck for less weight.  

- Ebony: the ebony we use is a rare species of ebony. The most common ebony used throughout the centuries has been from Africa, usually called Madagascar Ebony. And traditionally has been all black (though much of it is stained black because the accepted perception of ebony wood is black).

But the species we use is a higher and more expensive grade of ebony called Macassar, because it comes from an island in the Indonesian archipelago that was once named Macassar. We use this species of ebony for both our Ko’olau and Pono models. But due to the expense and difficulty in acquiring this wood, production is very limited.

On the scale of weight and density, Macassar Ebony is among the heaviest and most dense. However when machined properly the weight is not overbearing. Wood properties are likened to the various species of Rosewood, but with a different cell structure. And thus a different tone. Deep like Rosewood, but with more clarity. For Pono models we have chosen to combine the ebony back and sides with western cedar.

Q – What’s the difference between Spruce and Cedar?

A – Both are considered “soft” woods, from evergreen trees.  Both have a tensile flexibility that’s different from “hard” woods, such as Mahogany, Koa, Rosewood, Maple, and Ebony.  Due to their flexible or “bendable” nature they are excellent as top soundboard woods.  Simply stated, when strings are played the top vibrates, which causes a “pumping” action, and thus projecting tone out the soundhole.  Although Spruce and Cedar both great top woods, due to their density and specific gravity (weight) the tone is different.  Spruce is slightly harder than cedar, and it’s cell structure is different, and so tone and volume is bright, clear, and projecting.  Cedar is softer and thus produces a  warmer tone, somewhat like an aged spruce.  Our Spruce is Englemann Spruce from British Columbia Canada.  And our Cedar is Western Red Cedar from Vancouver Island Canada. 

 

Q – Are all Pono ukuleles still available with a hardshell case?

A – No, only the Pro-Classic Series and TE Thinbody Series come with a hardshell case. Other models may be ordered with a case for an upcharge.

 

Q – Why do you no longer offer Hawaiian Koa wood for Pono instruments?

A – Due to limited availability, and the environmental endangerment of Koa, we will no longer use Hawaiian Koa for Pono guitars and ‘ukuleles. We are now using a related species called Acacia Preta. Traditionally, Mahogany and Koa have both been used for stringed instruments, and both have their own distinctive sound. They are both good, but again, Koa is becoming rare and difficult to acquire quantities of high grade lumber. A similar wood that we use, and actually has been prized by guitar and ‘ukulele makers for many centuries is Mahogany. Pono mahogany ’ukuleles are very similar to the classic Martin and Gibson mahogany ‘ukulele. Sweet and mellow, with good volume and projection.

Q – Are gloss or satin finishes available on all models?

A – Mahogany, Mango, Acacia Series and TE Thinbody Electric models are available in both gloss and satin finish.  Pro Classic Series is gloss only. 

Q – Are Pono Guitars and ‘Ukuleles made by the Ko’olau Guitar and ‘Ukulele Company? What’s the difference?

A – Yes, Ko’olau makes Pono, but not in Wahiawa. We actually spend much of the year working in our Java Indonesia factory. We personally manage and oversee all of our Pono manufacturing.  All designs and styles are patterned after our Ko’olau instruments, and manufacturing techniques are supervised on a daily basis by our staff in Hawaii.

Ko’olau models have become our “custom” line of instruments. They are only available on special order, and normally take several months to complete. So several years ago we decided to retain our very limited production of Ko’olau instruments, but to accomodate a larger customer base with a duplicate line of guitars and ukuleles named Pono.
Of course with any manufactured product that is “mass” produced, there will be more problems. As much as we enforce strict quality control measures our Pono models will still have more issues than Ko’olau. But for an all solid wood instrument, very closely duplicating Ko’olau (we use our same molds, tooling, and dimensions), most of our customers feel they have a well constructed, professional, and asthetically beautiful instrument at a very affordable price.

In the past, stringed instruments made in Asian countries were thought of as cheap and of poor quality. But times have changed. Actually, much of the problem was due to European and American contractors (large production guitar manufacturers) who commissioned Asian manufacturers to make cheap guitars, ukuleles, and violins. So they accomodated our needs. But things have changed. You can still buy inexpensive products from China, Korea, Mexico, Indonesia, and Vietnam (actually about everything we own). But those countries are also capable of manufacturing some of the finest quality stringed instruments in the world. Most high end instruments remain in their own country, bought and played by their own middle and upper class musicians.

Although we proudly hate to admit it, Asian craftsmanship sometimes surpasses the quality of our own domestic products. Not always … but what used to be the slogan “if it’s made in America, it’s the best” is not always true these days. Yes, some fine quality workmanship is still available in the US, but various factors such as costs of operation and pride in craftsmanship (or a lack of it) have caused a shift of manufacturing to other countries.

But aside from where our Pono instruments are made, we are personally involved in each phase of production, spending considerable time overseeing operations. In fact we daily monitor manufacturing, and then conduct a thorough inspection of every Pono instrument first at our overseas factories, and then again perform a similar inspection and set-up at our factory in Hawaii. So, with that being said, yes, Ko’olau makes Pono.

 

Q – The fret ends on my Pono ukulele are sharp, and I read that other customers have experienced the same problem. Why is this a problem on an instrument that’s considered high quality?

A – On occasion we hear a customer question how a flaw or defect could have passed through so many levels of quality control. No matter where anything is made there will be problems, and defects slip by. But what’s important is that a manufacturer stand behind what they make. Whenever there are defects due to faulty craftsmanship we will repair or replace the instrument. Our record of quality customer service speaks for itself.

As for sharp fret ends, be assured that Pono ukuleles NEVER leave our factory (or follow-up inspection stations) with sharp fret ends. In fact, all final end fret work must pass what we call the “baby butt” inspection. Frets are meticulously filed, sanded, and buffed until they are as smooth as a babies little behind, or as we say in Hawaii “okole.”

Regardless, we believe you when you say your fret ends are sharp. But again, they were not sharp when they left our factory. The reason they became sharp is that your instrument is now in a new climate. And it’s not that you necessarily did anything wrong in the care of your instrument. Your fretboard is made of wood, and your frets are metal, and and wood and metal expand and contract differently.

Actually, since the fret is metal it does not really expand or contract, because it does not transpire moisture (no sponge effect). Metal frets do not change in size. But woods change, and in this case, they shrink when they get dry. We build all Ko’olau and Pono guitars and ukuleles in a controlled atmosphere of 40% to 50% humidity. Luthiers have to find a balanced environment to build, knowing their instruments will be going to either dry or moist environments.

Regardless of the weather outside, our factories are controlled, always at the same 40% to 50% humidity level. If your instrument remains in Hawaii, or goes anywhere on the earth where humidity levels are higher than 50% then the fingerboard wood will expand. This is not as bad as when your humidity levels are far below 40% which will cause shrinkage. Taking in moisture and expanding is ok, but shrinking is not.

As for the fretboard, and sharp fret ends, if there is too much humidity the frets can possibly become dislodged from the slot, thus needing to be reset. And due to the fingerboard becoming wider (expanding), there will be a slight gap between the end of the fret and the edge of the fingerboard. This looks bad and may need a little adjustment, but not a big problem.

However when humidity is low, woods shrink. And this can cause severe problems. Complaints come in, and we hear of negative chat line discussions about sharp fret ends. This occurs, not because the instrument left our shop with sharp ends, but instead because the fretboard has shrunk. Remember, the fret does not shrink, but instead it protrudes off the edge and feels sharp.

Most of our customers say “but I take good care of my instrument, I even have dehumidifiers in my case.” And that’s good, but when your humidity is naturally 20% to 40% or less (such as in most of the western US states), or becomes low due to heating and air conditioning (which is the rest of the country), then regardless of how many humidifiers you have your instrument woods will shrink. The good news is that eventually your instrument will acclimate to your environment, but in the meantime it will expand and contract. Back to the fingerboard, whether it’s a $200 guitar or ukulele, or $4000, fret ends will protrude and be sharp if the fingerboard has shrunk.

To illustrate and readily show the above explanation, you could turn on your bathroom shower (hot water). Leave it on for as long as you feel comfortable wasting hot water. Set your guitar or ukulele in the bathroom and close the door (not in the shower, but somewhere in the bathroom). After turning off the water in about 10 or 15 minutes, continue to leave the instrument in the bathroom for an hour or so to fully absorb any left over moisture. In most cases you will immediately feel your frets less sharp because your fingerboard has now expanded.

Obviously this is not the solution to maintaining your instrument every day. But this will allow you to see what happens when your fingerboard has now expanded due to humidity.

After your instrument is again back in its natural environment, and after a few days the fret ends are sharp again you will need to have your frets “dressed” as they say. A qualified luthier repairperson will not only level and crown the top of the frets, but more importantly trim the edges to match the new width of your fingerboard. This may be necessary a few times over the next couple of years, but eventually the fingerboard will settle in and stop what is termed transpiration, or the release of moisture and resins.

 

Q – The bridge came off of my instrument. I bought my ukulele three years ago and the bridge came off. I thought this was a high quality instrument?

A – This may sound like a dumb excuse, but the bridge is supposed to come off, especially under adverse conditions. If you noticed, it’s glued on, not screwed on. We could screw them down, but believe it or not, we want the bridge to come off when the instrument has experienced traumatic impact or drastic temperature changes. 

Your instrument is under a lot of stress, many pounds of tension (35 lbs to 55 lbs depending on size of ukulele, and a guitar up to 100 lbs) when all strings are tuned up. Because of that tension, when your guitar or ukulele is subjected to some sort of damage (being dropped, thrown, banged against the wall, left in hot or cold weather, left in a hot car or trunk, and a multitude of other adverse circumstances) … something has to give. If your bridge is screwed down, either the neck will crack or come loose, or the top will pull up and not only crack but also break loose all internal bracing. So, a bridge is designed to come off. You might call it the “pressure” valve. Rather than the whole thing blowing up, only the bridge comes off. As long as you are not in it’s path when it comes off, everything will be ok ….. it can easily be repaired.

When this happens, be assured it happens to guitars and ukuleles worth many thousands of dollars. Again, it’s ok, it can be fixed. But it should be repaired by a qualified luthier repair person. Although it’s a relatively simple repair, it still must be done right or the instrument can be ruined.

 

Q – Pono instruments are made in Asia.

A – This is not really a question, but a comment we sometimes hear or see on chat forums. And it deserves clarification.

Ko’olau and Pono luthiers have many years of experience in the construction of very high end classical and steel string guitars. Pono instruments are not simply a cheap “import” but instead, made with the same pride and integrity as our Ko’olau models. Times have changed, and so has the quality of production throughout the world. So as mentioned above, it’s not so much an issue as to where something is made, but instead, who made it. To answer the question, our current manufacturing of Pono is on the island of Java in Indonesia, just to the west of Polynesia and just north of Australia.  Our staff include luthiers who have been building high end guitars for over 50 years. And again, we work closely to achieve the same high quality standards of Ko’olau.

The popularity and success of our Pono instruments is not simply a clever marketing ploy, but instead due to our many years of experience at building Ko’olau instruments and working to maintain our high standards of excellence. We do not just buy instruments from someone and put our name on it. They are OUR instruments. All Pono guitars and ukuleles are patterned after our Ko’olau models. Our Hawaii operations provide engineering design and on site supervisory liaison assistance to accomplish the manufacture of high quality musical instruments.

And our Pono workers have the same meticulous and conscientious attitude that we have in Hawaii. We consider our Pono and Ko’olau ukuleles similar to the duo level auto makers such as Toyota/Lexus, Nissan/Infinity, and Honda/Acura. Both are made by the same manufacturer, but made in various locations around the world, and both are very high quality.

Here is an interesting quote that we read recently. “I have a dream ….. that one day ‘ukulele players will not judge an ‘ukulele by the location of its fabrication, but they will judge the ‘ukulele by the content of its voice”

So, whether it’s a Ko’olau or a Pono, the goal remains the same ……. high quality.

 

Q – Do you make “Pono” guitars?

A – Yes, we now have a completely new line of Pono guitars.
Steel string models include a small 12 14″ parlor, then the popular 13 1/2″ O parlor size.
The next size up is a 15″ OOO Concert size.  Dreadaught and a OOOO Grand Auditorium are our large body guitars.  

In the nylon string catagory we make a modified Tenor 4-String guitar, and a 6-String Hybrid.  It’s called a “hybrid” or “crossover” due to a combination of steel and nylon guitar designs.  Fingerboard is radiused, body is cutaway, and the nut width is 1 7/8, all similar to steel string guitars.  So it’s a steel string guitar design, with nylon strings. Easy to play and a beautiful sweet tone.

Pono Guitars are a very limited production.  Currently, except for distribution in Australia, we are selling our guitars direct.  Please click on the tab “Instruments” and then “Pono Guitars”.
We have another website, www.ponoguitar.com that is up and running, but not complete.

Q – Other than body woods of Acacia, Mahogany, Rosewood, and Ebony, what top woods do you do use?

A – Spruce and Cedar.  Unless custom ordered we usually combine Rosewood with Spruce, and Acacia and Ebony with Cedar.   Mahogany models are either all mahogany, or with spruce or cedar tops. 

Our Cedar (Western Red Cedar) is from Vancouver Island, British Columbia Canada.  And our Spruce is Englemann Spruce from the interior of British Columbia Canada (the Revelstoke area).  All Cedar and Spruce used for Pono Guitars and Ukuleles is 3A to 4A mastergrade wood.  


Q – What amplification do you offer for guitars and ukuleles?

A – All Pono ‘ukuleles are available with our “Pono” brand undersaddle transducer passive pickup. We have them custom made for us. A “passive” pickups is designed for direct conductance of tone and vibration, and thus has no internal pre-amp or battery. This decision was not only to keep costs down, but our passive system is actually the finest quality “stand alone“ pickup we have tested (stand alone meaning without a preamp). However in certain settings of high levels of amplification an external outboard preamp can be used to convert the system to active. Any variety of outboard Pre-Amps are available at music stores.

A new option we are offering is a variation of our L.R.Baggs Element pickup called MiSi.  The pickup itself is the same, but the preamp is made by MiSi.  Batteries are not required, and a recharging of the active system is accomplished by plugging the end jack into an AC outlet for 30 seconds. 

Q – Do Pono instruments have a warranty?

A – Yes, warranty is extended to the original retail purchaser for one year from the date of purchase. Warranty covers defects in materials and/or workmanship. Upon initial receipt of your new instrument, if you are not satisfied you may return it within three days, in original condition to the Authorized Dealer you purchased it from, for a full refund, no questions asked. Afterward, our limited warranty is valid for one year from the date of purchase. A “limited” warranty is designed to cover manufacturer defects. Warranty does not include shipping costs, neglect (including improper climate control and humidity regulation), abuse, strings, finishes, fret wear, or machine head tuners. Pickups and all electronic components have a one year warranty. Proof of original purchase will be necessary for any claims. All return shipping costs will be the responsibility of owner.

Q – What should I do if there is a problem with my instrument?

A – We suggest that you retain your original sales receipt, and also make a copy. This must be included when returning your instrument for a repair covered under warranty.

If you experience a problem with your instrument it is best to contact the Authorized Dealer where you bought the instrument. They may be able to resolve the problem without the need to return your instrument to our factory, which will save you the expense of return shipping. However, you may contact us personally anytime with any questions about your instrument.

If it is determined that your instrument should be returned to our factory here on Oahu we will issue you a Return Authorization file number. This number must be legibly written on the box. Please include a short note of explanation of what you feel is the problem. Also include your contact information, including name, address, phone number, and email address. Again, please include a copy of your original sales receipt.

Please note: You, the purchaser are responsible for shipping costs. Upon receipt we will examine your instrument, and determine if the problems you have noted are due to faulty craftsmanship on our part, or possibly due to environmental factors such as humidity or lack of it, or other possible issues of misuse. If it is determined that problems are due to faulty craftsmanship, we will repair your instrument (usually within 30 days) and return it to you, and we will cover the cost of repairs and return shipping (if covered under warranty).

Note: If upon examination of your instrument we determine that issues are NOT related to faulty craftsmanship on our part, but instead due to either misuse or adverse environmental climate control of your instrument, we will notify you immediately of the cost of repairs and the cost of return shipping. Upon receipt of payment for repairs and return shipping costs, we will proceed with repairs, and return your repaired instrument to you within 30 days.

If you choose not to have your instrument repaired, upon receipt of return shipping costs we will have your instrument shipped back to you.

 

Q – Where are Pono Guitars and ‘Ukuleles Available?

A – We have a network of domestic and foreign dealers throughout North America, Australia, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Singapore. Please see our website under “Authorized Dealers” for each listing. They offer all Pono ‘Ukulele models.
We are currently revising our network of dealers to include only a select few in each geographic area of the world.  If you are unable to locate a dealer, please contact us and we assist in any way possible.

For further questions and inquiries:

Ko’olau Guitar & ‘Ukulele, Inc.
Pono Guitar & ‘Ukulele
401 North Cane St. A-10
Wahiawa, Hawaii 96786
(808) 622-1064 • Fax: (808) 622-1646
e-mail: sales@koolauukulele.com