A Big Got A Ukulele Thank You!

9 Oct 2019

A Big Got A Ukulele Thank You!

A slight diversion from the ukulele reviews for this post, but there is something I want to shout about! Good things in the ukulele world!

fixed kanile'a ukulele

Quite a while ago now I posted on the Got A Ukulele Facebook Page about a heartwrenching encounter with my much loved (and much played) Kanile'a K1 Tenor Ukulele. It's a ukulele I utterly adore, one I have had for years and it encountered a stomach churning problem. It popped a brace inside.

A popping brace means a transverse brace piece comes loose from the body, and you can tell it has happened because you can hear it vibrating inside.  The braces keep the tension in the body and makes the uke work (and stops it imploding on itself). Worse still, it was a top brace, which means I immediately had to take the strings off to loosen the tension to the top. Had I not done that there was a real risk the top would split under the tension of the strings. A uke that I cannot play.

Now, it must be said, a popped brace is not that unusual. It can happen and many very old instruments have probably had it happen more than once.. Thankfully, it's a straightforward fix for a luthier / tech in most cases. They can, and do happen with age.. just one of those things. So I don't write this as a dig at Kanile'a - I have known this happen to friends ukes of all sorts of vintages and brands. But... here's the thing. This klutz who writes ukulele reviews only went and made it worse..

You see, I have what they call in the trade, 'fists of ham' when it comes to fixing things. Ask my wife about my shelf and picture hanging skills around the house. If there is a stud, cable or problem to be found when drilling then I will find it. If there is an easy job to screw up when it come to DIY, then I will... oh you get the picture. Let's just say that when it comes to tools and fixing stuff - you want me as FAR AWAY as possible from your life - trust me. So... ham fisted me figured he could just re-attach it - it only came away at one end after all - just a bit of Titebond glue (Luthiers favourite) and a clamp and all would be well. And it was. For a while at least...

You see, 'Mr Pork Hands' didn't really clean the joint up as he should have done, and in time, the brace popped again. If you are going to re-attach wooden parts on a ukulele it's essential you have a clean joint.  OK no panic, and no bother me thinks... just do the same fix again, but maybe I should also try to remove the excess glue. (You know, what I should have done FIRST TIME..). Yeah, that would be sensible.. But it's only sensible if you are anyone OTHER THAN 'Mr Pig Fingers'. In the process of trying to tidy the glue residue I pushed too far and snapped the popped brace. That is to say, I left a sliver of the brace inside and the rest snapped off rattling loose inside the sound chamber. OK this is now massively more difficult.  To further complicate things, Kanile'a use a Tru Brace system joined at three points that straddle some other thinner strips to allow the top to move in more directions. So just getting a stock brace piece fashioned wasn't going to be easy here either. Oh heck. Help!

Here's the broken brace... You can see that it's not all intact by the fact it has lost it's symmetry. The bit missing is still glued inside the ukulele!! It was the brace just south of the sound hole.

kanile'a ukulele broken brace

So, now I have a Kanile'a with a popped brace, worse still a broken brace, and even worse still again, a 'non standard' broken brace... I weep...

I take to Social Media and the uke community.

First of all, top marks to Joe Souza owner of Kanile'a in Hawaii. He offers to either take it in and fix it at the factory. A generous offer indeed, but I am in the UK so the shipping to and from Hawaii would be eye wateringly expensive and I'd probably have issues with CITES as there is rosewood on this instrument. I looked into it that that was a non starter, but... nice to know that it is an option. Good customer care that.  He had another suggestion though. The star that he is, he offered to send me another brace. More importantly,  he points out that my 2011 vintage Kanile'a uses a brace design that has since changed on current models. In a mark of what a professional outfit Kanile'a are, he explains that he keeps designs for all of their models stored on their system and he can re-fashion a 'new' old style brace. that will match the broken one.  That is to say he will re-make a whole new specialist brace that he knows will fit. How cool is that? Sure enough, a new brace (actually a pair of them - I hadn't specified which one popped.. Sorry Joe!) arrived, freshly cut, all the way from Hawaii.. Now there's a unique parcel delivery!

But... I still had a problem.. You remember my fists of ham? Did I mention those? I think I did.. (Oink, Oink...)  What was I gonna do with  a new brace? I'd only make it worse.. I'd fudge this one and at best it would pop again or I would break it.... Nope.

But, once again, the ukulele community to the rescue. A UK luthier who I have featured a couple of times before got in touch. That chap is Dave Morgan of DJ Morgan Ukuleles in the West Midlands in the UK.   I totally ADORE his instruments and you will find them on my ukulele review page. This is a guy who doesn't shout and scream about his work, but is played by some professional ukulele performers over here who's opinions are very highly regarded. They really are very good ukuleles. Anyway, he said he would 'take a look'. He wasn't promising anything and was a bit worried about potentially having to take the back off and face subsequent issues with re-finishing the whole body... but still, he would take a look. That was worth a go as far as I was concerned. I've seen his craftsmanship first hand. Nothing ventured and all that.

And sure enough, he DID work some magic.  Approaching it through the soundhole he removed the old remanants and re-fitted the 'new' non-standard brace. He even then sent me a short video of him playing it to let me know it was done.  I can't tell you how pleased I am!

DJ Morgan Ukuleles with Kanile'a
Credit - Dave Morgan - not a video - don't click the play button - it's a screen shot!!

For various reasons I have already been clear on, Dave is a bit of star in the ukulele world over here. Not only does he make utterly great instruments that I have seen first hand (and own), but also I know he has done other  kind things like donating instruments for charity funds such as one for the Motor Neurone Disesase fundraiser being managed by Lesley Fowkes (a uke player known to many of us who was very sadly diagnosed with this condition fairly recently). And then he offers, out of the blue, to help me out. Well - my hat's off to that man. I'm eternally grateful.

Please DO check out his work. Trust me, his ukuleles are genuinely superb, and I was saying that LONG BEFORE this issue happened - so this is just a bonus! Alternatively, if you see him at a festival, buy the man a beer!

Thank you Dave! And, once again, thanks also to Joe at Kanile'a for getting the right part over to us!

And for those who like moving pictures - here's the video thank you!






  1. Good news. And yes, I would love to pay him back by buying one of his ukes. Just got to work out where I can get £200 for one of his mini-pineapples.

  2. That's great news Barry - really pleased to see you reunited with your love child. And I can only echo your sentiments regarding Dave Morgan. Having bought more than one of his instruments I totally agree that his workmanship is second to none.

  3. A great advert for all parties involved. All's well that ends well.

  4. Good to hear your uke recovered when from the ham-bashing.

    Not sure if you have heard that the CITIES law on Rosewood will be relaxed for finished instruments at the end of November. I think it is set for about the 26th. So this means you will be able to once again send your instruments with Rosewood and the makers will be be able to export finished instruments. Brazilian Rosewood is still restricted though.

  5. Hi Barry

    I enjoyed reading this immensely. It's good to know the uke community are so friendly (big up to Joe Souza, but especially Dave Morgan!). Thank you for the laughs, and by that I mean the general vibe, not your broken brace! Having just looked at his website and your reviews, I'm going to save some pennies and get myself a DJ Morgan uke. They look lovely


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