Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

4 Oct 2020

Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Back in 2011 I bought my first truly serious ukulele - the Kanile'a K-1 Tenor. It was flawless, I still own it and adore it. It's been a long time coming to get to feature the brand again, but it finally happened. This is the SUS-T Tenor from Kanile'a.

Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele

That K-1 ukulele that I own was supplied by the UK based Southern Ukulele Store, dealers of Kanile'a and it just so happens that we have the same connection with this one that they kindly lent me. In fact this Kanile'a model is exclusive to the store which nicely closes the circle. For those not in the know, Kanile'a are one of the true 'K brands' (Hawaiian makers) based in Kāne'ohe on O'ahu, Hawaii. They have been building since 1998 and remain to be a family business, originally set up by Joe and Kristen Souza and since joined by their three sons. It's a nice story and they've remained a brand renowned to be making some of the best ukuleles on the planet.

Being Kanile'a dealers, the idea of a SUS exclusive was something the store had wanted to do for some time and the discussions to bring this one about go back to about 2016.  What they developed is something quite a bit different to the usual 'All Koa' of Hawaiian instruments, but is still clearly very much 'Kanile'a'.

The SUS-T is a traditionally shaped double bout tenor made from all solid tone-woods. It's the usual Kanile'a shape with a distinctive flat base. But there isn't a drop of Koa to be seen here though. Instead, the top is made from two pieces of Alaskan Rainbow Cedar. It's a beautiful wood and whilst it has more grain width variability than regular western cedar I love the hints of hue difference that give it the 'rainbow' name tag. That's not to say it's a multicoloured ukulele, but rather it has subtle colour variations in with the traditional cedar brown. It's beautiful.

Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele body

The back and sides are solid wood too, this time from a pale orange South American mahogany made from two pieces on each. The back is very slightly curved. I shared a picture of the back of this one in my cheeky sneak peek comparison with the flamed mahogany Harley Benton and most people thought it was a cheap uke. It's certainly a more simplistic looking piece of wood and, dare I say it, not quite contrasting enough on colour against the cedar for my tastes, but still.. You can't really argue with mahogany as a wood choice on a ukulele can you?

The bridge here is the typical Kanile'a pin style that they have used for many years. It's made from ebony wood with black pins and is fitted with a NuBone compensated saddle piece. Like very other Kanile'a I have ever seen it's extremely tidy and the small size does not dominate the top. String spacing here is approx 44mm G to A.

Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele bridge

There is no other decoration on this model other than the finish. This goes with the UV cured gloss finish that Kanile'a are famed for as it creates a perfect mirror. It's grain filled, sanded with multiple coats and hardened in a UV 'oven'. It's flawless in every area and really tactile. Helping the 'feel' are chamfered top and back edges which leave nothing sharp on the hands or forearm.

Inside is also typically Kanile'a and very tidy. It uses their trademarked TRU-R bracing system and the linings are notched (though don't look it as the notching is applied facing out to the sides not into the uke). People often think the Kanile'a TRU-R is just about them putting holes in the bridge (triangular cut throughs these days, whereas they used to just drill circular holes), but that is only part of it. The creation of holes in the braces removes mass whilst allowing them to stay stiff, but the TRU- R system is more about how the braces are stuck to the inside of the top on three 'feet' with gaps in-between. The concept here is that because the braces are not attached all the way across, they can still provide tension to the top whilst allowing more of it to move in-between the attachment points. Clever.

Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele inside

Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele TRU-R  bracing

The neck is made from mahogany in a single piece and is pleasingly finished in satin. It's also typically Kanile'a with a nice shallow profile at the nut and a comfortable 38mm nut width with 29mm from G to A. I do enjoy playing Kanile'a tenor necks. So comfortable.

Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele neck

Topping that is more jet black ebony for the fingerboard which is in great condition.  We have 19 chunky but low frets with 14 to the body and absolutely no sharp edges. The outward facing position dots are made from sand taken from the Kāne'ohe bay in a resin which is a very nice touch. They are positioned at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th and are repeated in the same material on the side.

Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the NuBone nut is the usual Kanile'a shaped headstock, glossed on the front and faced in a darker wood veneer of ebony. The Kanile'a K logo is inlaid with more of the sand material and looks great.

Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners are chrome open gears with small black buttons. Whilst Kanile'a used to use Grover tuners (and these look indistinguishable from Grover), they are branded 'Kanile'a'. Whether they are made for them by Grover I don't know, but they are clearly great quality. 

Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off are a set of strings which, despite the specs and string tag suggesting Aquila, don't look like it to me (maybe SUS swapped them out?). You also get one of the nicest quality padded gig bags I think I have yet seen with great handles and a sumptuous crushed velour interior. And your asking price is £1,079. Sure that's a serious amount of money, but in Kanile'a territory that's actually a good price and cheaper than their standard K1T tenor and well below their more exotic models.

Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele bag

As I expected from Kanile'a, it's put together flawlessly. It's also pretty light at 610g and wonderfully balanced. This together with the non sticky UV gloss, softened edges and comfortable neck makes for an instrument that is a delight to hold and play.

Volume here is excellent as is the long shimmery sustain which will make for expressive picking play in particular. No complaints.

Having never played rainbow cedar before I was not sure what to expect on tone. Cedar can sound quite woody to my ears but still have a richness, and there is certainly some of that coming through, but it's the full range of tone here that really pleased me. When strummed there is a tight clarity to the notes leaving you with no muddiness yet still harmonising with itself giving it a shimmer. It's the sort of breadth of tone that many reach for Koa to achieve. I can only think that the pairing of cedar and the meatier sound of mahogany here is working in partnership to great effect. It has a bit of everything most ears will like I think.

For me I always think Kanile'a tenors are best showed off as fingerpicking instruments, not least because of the really comfortable necks, and this one is no different. Picking allows some of the chimey highs to really cut through whilst the richer earthier tones are still there. It's a beautifully balanced sound. All in all an instrument that put a big smile on my face to play it.

Kanile'a SUS-T Tenor Ukulele back

I am very much aware that this review could write itself and was always going to be glowing. Kanile'a are established as one of the greatest uke brands on the planet for good reason and it would have been a real surprise if they didn't get this one right. Aside from my personal view on the look of the wood contrasts, there is nothing else wrong here for me. The build is flawless, it almost plays itself and sounds superb. Sure, we are at the high end money, but with rising prices for USA made instruments, this is about your best value route to a Kanile'a so I think it's fairly priced.  Highly recommended and for me it demonstrates that K brands don't NEED to be Koa.


Name: Kanile'a SUS-T 
Scale: Tenor
Body: Solid Alaskan Rainbow Cedar top, Solid Mahogany back and sides
Bridge: Ebony pin bridge
Saddle: NuBone
Spacing at Bridge: 44mm
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Mahogany, satin
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 19, 14 to body
Nut: NuBone
Nut Width: 38mm, 29mm G to A
Tuners: Kanile'a brand open gears
Strings: Not sure!
Weight: 610g
Extras: Deluxe Gig bag
Country of origin: USA
Price: £1,079


Exemplary build and finish
Great comfort neck
Excellent volume
Great shimmery sustain
Really good breadth of tone with a bit of everything
The gig bag is just TOO lovely!


Just personal opinion, but would like more contrast on the back colour


Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9.5 out of 10
Sound - 9.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10






  1. Hey, Baz! Have you had a chance to play the Oha from Kanilea (solid koa top, solid mahogany back and sides)? If so, how does it compare?

    1. Afraid not- rarely see them over here. Maybe one day!

  2. Your reviews make buying almost impossible to resist. : )


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