Time for another long term test of a ukulele, one that is quite dear to me. I felt it would be helpful to not only review ukuleles as I received them, but for those I own to let you know how they have stood up to a life of being played.
The Kanile'a K1 Tenor was my first step into the upper end of ukuleles, and I originally reviewed it very favourably back in August 2011. It has therefore had some 17 months of play since then (and I can assure you this one has had a lot of playing!)
When this one arrived I was immediately impressed by the build, the looks and the killer tone that it projects. It really is a first class ukulele, crafted from fine solid Koa in Hawaii.
The tone really is to die for, but I suppose when you are at this high end you do find yourself perhaps getting a little over critical on things - looking for issues that may not be there. The sound of the Kanile'a is definitely earthy and woody. Nothing wrong with that, but after a few months playing I decided that I wanted to try to get a richer harmonic chime out of it and set about going through countless string brands to try to get the tone I wanted. Nothing was working, and I think I tried pretty much every brand available on it. Don't get me wrong - with each string brand the tone is still superb, but still a little too woody for my liking (just a personal thing). That was until I put a set of Ken Middleton's Living Water Strings on it, and that changed everything. They really brought out a rich singing chime to the strings, whilst retaining the naturally woody tone that for my ears, makes this without a doubt the nicest sounding ukulele I own. I now don't use any other strings but those on this.
Has the sound changed? (Bring on the whole 'wood opening up debate') - Well, as I always say in those discussions, how can you tell? I can't remember exactly what it sounded like when it arrived, and even though I have early recordings, my style and competence has changed also, so it can only ever be subjective. All I can say is that it sounds as warm, rich and accurate as it ever did!
As with most high end products, the K1 went through a period of being cossetted by me on account of it's price, but it was just too good to leave in a case and it gets played daily. I have gigged with it acoustically many times, recorded it and it is the usual uke I take to weekly band jams. It's just so playable and tactile to hold.
All of that playing has taken it's toll though, and one thing that does not seem to be the greatest on the Kanile'a is that hand rubbed finish. It doesn't stand up to dings or scratches from strumming all that well and pretty soon I started to develop quite an amount of wear on the top where I strum. That really doesn't bother me, as I prefer a uke to look 'played', but it's something to be aware of. The finish generally can also go quite dull and dry looking after a while, but I try to keep it spruced up with a very light application of Axe lube which gives it a nice sheen. The way to avoid that on a Kanile'a is to get their highly acclaimed gloss finish on the same model, but I just don't really go in for gloss all that much. In fact one of the reasons I bought this was the simple understated looks.
|Wear on the solid Koa top|
To assist with gigging I also fitted a strap button which was pretty painless and on the first photograph you will see that I didn't go down the route of adding a button to the heel of the neck, and attach my strap to a Martin strap adapter looped on to the headstock. That's not to say it's difficult to hold without a strap - it isn't, but on extended gigs it's just easier to have your hands free between songs to grab a beer!
All other fittings on the uke are doing just great, and those open Grover tuners are just sublime. This thing holds it's tuning like no other ukulele I own. It needed no nut or saddle adjustment and intonation and tuning have been bang on since it arrived suggesting nothing in the build is (yet) starting to move.
I still love the look of the bridge pins which really set this apart from many ukuleles, but the downside of overly fiddly string changes remains - just an extra layer of faffing that I don't really like. Oh well.
So do I still recommend it? Well, as I say, it gets played daily and I would need to be facing a catastrophe to consider selling it. It probably just about sits as being my favourite instrument. If you get the opportunity to obtain one, don't hesitate.