Back again with a ukulele brand that I have featured numerous times before on Got A Ukulele reviews. And they have always been a pleasure to talk about as they've never disappointed. This week I am looking at the Pono ACD Concert Ukulele.
Pono, for those who have been living under a massive rock, are the the far eastern line of instruments made under the careful watch of the highly respected Hawaiian ukulele brand Ko'olau. For me they offer about the best 'bang for buck' ukuleles out there that blend the line between price and quality with great results. In every Pono example I have reviewed I have always been highly impressed. They are not the cheapest ukes on the market, but far from the highest prices either. Not quite Hawaiian and hand made in quality, but leagues above the other big brand name far eastern offerings. What is not to like?
This concert model is the smaller brother to the Pono ATD Tenor ukulele model I reviewed before, and that naming convention tells you all you need to know. The A stands for Acacia which the body of the ukulele is made from - all solid woods of course. The C stands for concert, and the D for 'Deluxe', which in Pono speak means that it is finished in gloss, unlike the AC model which is finished in satin. If you want more bling than just gloss on a Pono you need to move up to things like their 'Pro-Classic' series. This is a standard double bout affair with minimal decoration, quite simply because the Acacia is so striking. Acacia is essentially the very same wood as Koa, but only Acacia grown in Hawaii gets the name Koa. This tonewood will have been grown in the far east, not on the Big Island, but it's no less pretty because of it. It has a two piece bookmatched top and flat back and two piece sides and the stripe in the wood is really sublime. In fact this is a more attractive example than the tenor version linked above to my eyes. Deep chocolate browns that are rich contrasting against the paler sections. Really setting it off is the gloss finish which makes the colours and grain really pop and stand out. Some say glosses make the sound of ukuleles crisper and more 'chimey', but I think it's a rather subjective point all round. For me though, you tend to choose gloss or satin based on aesthetics. What it is though is the typically high quality finish I have come to expect from Pono with absolutely no flaws and a real mirror coating. Gorgeous.
The bridge is made from ebony, replacing the previous rosewood that was caught by CITES and is a tie bar style. It holds a straight topped bone saddle and is extremely tidy. No complaints.
That minimal decoration I mention above amounts to some subtle rope style inlaid marquetry around the sound hole which I think is 'just enough' and blends well with the look of the ukulele. Classy.
Inside is typically tidy for a Pono with nicely cut and applied kerfed linings, thin braces and no mess anywhere at all. You also get the Pono stamp and serial number embossed into the neck block alongside the makers label in the usual place.
The neck is made of mahogany and from three pieces with fairly well hidden joints at the heel and headstock, also finished in gloss. I see a lot of people complaining about Pono necks and I have never really understood why. Sure they are a little chunkier than I would like on the profile, but the nut is just wide enough for me at 36mm and about 27mm from G to A. I'd like it a touch wider and flatter if totally honest, but I certainly find it playable, even with my shovel like hands. Unlike the tenor Pono's this doesn't come with an adjustable truss rod, but that's just fine with me too as I honestly don't see the point of them on ukes. They are there to set relief on guitars (not the action - a common and massive misconception!) as a result of string tension. Ukes just don't have anywhere near that level of tension! Anyway, I like this neck well enough, but do prefer the tenor scale version. You also get a bit of detailing on the heel cap in the form of a facing of darker wood, which I assume is paler ebony.
The fingerboard is made of ebony, and is in very good condition. It's also nicely shaped at the end as you can see. It comes with an extremely generous 20 frets, joined at the 14th, and naturally they are very tidily dressed. Pearl dots are provided in the fingerboard face at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th and you also get dots on the side. The edges are also stained / bound black to hide the fret ends. All in all this is a very tidy neck indeed.
Beyond the bone nut we have the usual Pono shaped headstock with a curvy top, faced again in a darker wood (paler ebony?). This also displays Pono logo in inlaid pearl. There is always something extremely classy about Pono headstocks to me, even their plainest ones. Very nice indeed.
Tuning is provided by sealed chrome gears with small black buttons, branded with the Pono logo. They are decent quality tuners that I can't really fault but I still have a couple of gripes here whichever way you want to slice it. First, you won't be surprised to hear that I would prefer friction pegs on a concert scale ukulele. They just look better. If that is not to be, then I'd really prefer the excellent open gear Grover tuners they put on the tenor version of this exact same series ukulele. As it is, i'm getting something I don't really want either way. Shame. That is a purely subjective view though as there is nothing wrong with them otherwise.
The package completes with Ko'olau strings (sorry - never met a set of Ko'olau strings I liked and will be changing them), and no, you don't get the case in the photos (that was to protect it on a wet surface for the pictures. These come in at about £430, but are regularly well discounted if you shop around. It's not a huge price in the fuller world of ukuleles, but still a more serious sum to the players of more common factory brands who might be looking to take the next step. Thankfully, when it comes to Pono I usually find they ARE worth taking that step. And there lies the point.
Build quality is, as expected, extremely good. Every coating of gloss, every joint, every seam is neat, tidy and precise. These really are well put together instruments and a brand who know what quality control actually means, and that it doesn't amount to just sticking an 'inspected' sticker on the back of the headstock. It's a nice weight for a concert too, and naturally it's nicely balanced in the hands.
Of the trinity of tone, volume and sustain this model excels at two of them. Sustain is extremely pleasing whether picked or strummed and really rings out allowing you to ensure notes flow into each other. The tone is very typically Acacia with a bright rich jangle and shimmer that works really well and shows the individual notes harmonising to great effect. Volume is not as loud as I have heard on some concerts, but that is not to say it is shabby or strangled. I just found I have to 'dig in' a little more than some other concerts I have played to make it bark. Still, like I say, perfectly passable and will be an easy match for most concerts in the prices below it. I've just been spoilt with some others! I'd also point out that in time the wood on this will open up and that response will no doubt improve.
It's a ukulele that works for me just as well strummed (generating some very pleasing rhythmical sounds and chimes) as it does picked (for which it is incredibly sweet sounding, pretty and relaxing). In fact it's doing EXACTLY what a concert scale ukulele should do. It creates a nice blend between the more rhythmical soprano sound and the more resonant tenor sound and gives you the best of both worlds. So often concerts are neither one thing nor the other, or the blend doesn't work and I find that incredibly frustrating. Not here.
Once again, an instrument that is a joy to play and write about and nothing here has caused me to change my views on Pono as a clear recommendation. If concert scale is your bag, this one comes very highly recommended indeed.
Gorgeous looks and finish
Rich jangly tone with great harmony in notes
Keen enough price
Good blend between soprano and tenor characters
Would prefer wider, flatter neck
Gimme Grover tuners or pegs!
Whilst not quiet, requires a bit of digging in to get the best volume.
Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.1 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz
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