Kanile'a - Southern Ukulele Store Manakō-T Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

22 Nov 2020

Kanile'a - Southern Ukulele Store Manakō-T Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Back to the higher end of the ukulele market this week and, in what is becoming a trend, another 'store's own' model. This is the Kanile'a Manakō-T Tenor, exclusive to Southern Ukulele Store in the UK.

Kanile'a Manako-T Tenor Ukulele

Regular readers will know what I think of Kanile'a ukuleles and that they are arguably my favourite builder (I own one, and have never played a bad one!). Earlier this year I looked at the Alaskan Rainbow Cedar model that was developed with SUS as their first 'house brand Kanile'a' and it reviewed extremely well. I guess it was somewhat unusual, being a Kanile'a that was NOT made from Hawaiian Koa, but that certainly didn't hamper it. Following up on that, Alex at the store worked with the Souza family to develop another model range, also using an alternative wood to koa and the Manako was born. It's available in concert, tenor and baritone and this one is the tenor example.

For those without a grasp of Hawaiian, 'Manakō' is the Hawaiian word for Mango, and thats what we have here. All solid mango tonewoods for the body build. Curly mango to be precise. I've said before that I am wary about buying mango wood ukuleles blind, not for the sound (which has a balance with richness that I really like) but because the nature of the wood imparts a kind of inky black look to parts of the grain. I've seen some mango examples where this has not been even and the bookmatching gives the instrument an off balance look (dark on one side but not the other, smudge looks on the sides). But remember, we are dealing with Kanile'a in this review, a brand renowned for their looks - there is no such concern here. It's typically mango and book matched very nicely indeed meaning the looks are balanced and pretty. It's really highly interesting mango too with some really swirly patches, particularly on the sides (Check out the video!). If all mango ukuleles looked like this I would be a happy man - I think it's stunning.

Kanile'a Manako-T Tenor Ukulele body

It's the usual double bout Kanile'a shape with a wide lower bout with flattened base which I like. Also a first for me with Kanile'a is an arm rest on the upper edge of the lower bout. You may not even notice it in the pictures because it's made of mango too, but it's really subtly done and works really well. I've seen some armrests that are in such contrast to the top they can look like a bad repair job on a ukulele that has taken a spill. Not here, it blends into the body wonderfully. 

The bridge is the usual Kanile'a style pin bridge made from ebony and fitted with a compensated NuBone saddle. As is usual with Kanile'a, it's extremely tidy and looks great. String spacing here is 44mm.

Kanile'a Manako-T Tenor Ukulele bridge

The body is coated in the famous Kanile'a cured UV finish that creates one of the best mirror finishes you will see on a ukulele. It's flawless.  There is no other body decoration such as bindings or a rosette, but honestly - look at the wood - it doesn't need it.

Inside is very tidy and uses the same TRU-R bracing system of other modern Kanile'a ukuleles which attaches the upper, honeycombed braces on 'feet' allowing the top to move more freely than with regular braces whilst still providing stability. The lower bout braces are scalloped and run vertically. The kerfing is notched but reversed. 

Kanile'a Manako-T Tenor Ukulele inside

The neck is made from South American mahogany and has the same tactile neck heel and satin finish and is made from a single piece. Being a Hawaiian instrument we don't have a far-eastern style broom handle, rather a shallower nut profile and a comfortable 38mm width with 29mm G to A. Very comfortable like all Kanile'a necks are.

Kanile'a Manako-T Tenor Ukulele neck

Topping that is an ebony fingerboard in great condition and this is where the design elements ramp up to set this one apart from their stock instruments. Firstly you get position markers made from mango wood at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 12th and 15th, with the 12th being elongated to differentiate it. These are offset to one side giving the ukulele a 'different' look and something I like. These are complemented by side dots in mango wood too. You also get the word 'Manakō' in a script font made from resin at around the 12th. This is my first point where I have the uncomfortable job of telling the store who worked on the design that I'm not a complete fan. That's purely a subjective thing and should in no way detract from the quality of the instrument, but I just get a bit weird about logos in odd places. Just a foible of my own, it's no biggie. Frets total 19 with 14 to the body and are the usual chunky but low Kanile'a choice. It will come as no surprise that they are dressed very nicely.

Kanile'a Manako-T Tenor Ukulele decor

Beyond the NuBone nut is exactly my kind of tenor headstock. It's a slot head with a flat top, faced in glossy ebony with the K logo inlaid in mango wood. It looks terrific I think. Incidentally, the Manakō concert scale version also has a slot head, but is topped with the usual Kanile'a shaping at the top. I personally prefer this look.

Kanile'a Manako-T Tenor Ukulele headstock

Then on to the tuners. Oh boy oh boy.. the tuners. Firstly, you will notice that the headstock here is very thin for a slot head. Regular slot head stocks need to be a certain thickness to hold regular side mounted tuners. These tuners are side mounted too but are Gotoh ST31 Stealth tuners - meaning the gear casings are really sleek.  Inside the slimmed down casing is a micro worm gear at 18:1 ratio. The finish on these is a gun metal black called 'cosmo' and they have cute tulip shaped buttons. In fact the mechanisms are so small, some luthiers use these on regular headstocks and countersink them into the wood! They look absolutely brilliant here. More important than looks though is the feel. These are incredibly direct and accurate with absolutely no 'play' or looseness. 

Kanile'a Manako-T Tenor Ukulele tuners

Finishing this off are a set of SUS fluorocarbon strings with a low G (actually Seaguar line on strings 1-3 that they are going to start selling as their own string packs next year) and the same really nice branded gig bag with plush interior I saw with the SUS-T ukulele. This is a more upmarket affair than the SUS-T though (mango is not a cheap wood) so that means a price uplift putting this one more towards the upper levels of Kanile'a pricing at £1,999. A very serious price, but a serious instrument. Still, if you are in the market for this level of ukulele, buyers do pay this much and understand why. (Oh, and for those readers stateside who gripe about UK sourced instruments - at this price, SUS will ship for free to the USA and Canada).

Like every other Kanile'a ukulele I have played, the build and finish is flawless. Really flawless. It's also well balanced and a touch lighter than the SUS-T, perhaps on account of those tuners, at 605g.

I will point out from the off here that I wouldn't have this with the low G string myself, as it's not to my taste personally, but I know many people love that sound. I will try to ignore that! What is absolutely clear  though is that the volume and sustain here are both extremely good.

Kanile'a Manako-T Tenor Ukulele back

Ukuleles that sound like this I find really hard to review, because there is so much going on that it's hard to put it into words. There is a huge breadth of tone with this instrument when you play it. It's a warmer and less woody tone than the slightly crispier SUS-T, and whilst that may, in part, be down to the low G, it's also reminiscent of tones from other mango instruments I have played. There is a rich, wide ranging sound from these woods that is certainly a match for koa in my ears. Strummed, there is definite clarity to the sound, but with a full 'body oomph' to the tones across the range which sing together to create a really interesting mix that is ever changing. As I say - a lot going on here, lows, lots in the middle and still with some ringing high edges from the 1st string. It's a really complex beast that made me really 'listen' to it when playing if that doesn't sound too odd. I say that because with each play I am hearing new sounds, mixtures and harmonies. 

Fingerpicking is just sublime with an extremely clear sound right up the neck with great projection.  The same complexity and richness in the sound comes through too, and being a Kanile'a neck, it's a joy to play that way. Superbly accurate too right up the neck. 

Ukuleles like this review themselves... Another Kanile'a that has knocked me for six, and I have seen a LOT of great ukuleles this year.  Certainly has a place at the very top table on sound and playability, and flawless in the build with wonderful looks. Yes, the price will put this out of reach for many, but if you are in the market at this price point I can't see how you could overlook this. Very highly recommended.

And thanks as ever to the team at Southern Ukulele Store for entrusting me in such a prestige level instrument.


Model: Kanile'a Manakō-T
Scale: Tenor
Body: Solid curly mango
Finish: UV Gloss
Bridge: Ebony, pin style
Saddle: NuBone
Spacing at saddle: 44mm
Neck: South Amercican mahogany
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 19, 14 to body
Nut: NuBone
Nut Width: 38mm (29mm G to A)
Tuners: Gotoh ST31 Stealth
Strings: SUS selected fluorocarbon with wound low G
Extras: Branded Gig bag
Country of origin: USA
Weight: 605g
Price: £1,999


Superb build and finish
Great volume and sustain
Sound with lots of body and resonance
Clear notes in the mix
Very complex middle sound that is hugely interesting
Sublime tuners


I'd take a high G!
The neck logo is not for me personally


Looks - 9.5 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. Wow! Didn’t think I would ever need to go above $1,400 until now. Beautiful

  2. Wow! Up til now I didn’t think I’d ever want to spend more than .$1500.00. Beautiful

  3. Oh my! I don't have the words to express how beautiful the tone is. I, too, would prefer a high G as, in my opinion only, it sounds almost guitar like, and I feel like a high G would bring out the "ukulele" sound more. But the beauty in the tone is evident whether high or low G.


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