Kumu TM74A Hawaiian Koa Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

10 Jan 2021

Kumu TM74A Hawaiian Koa Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Back to an actual ukulele on the reviews page this week, and visit to a parent brand I reviewed fairly recently. This is the Kumu 4 string tenor, a sub line of ukes put out by Leolani.


Kumu 4 string tenor ukulele

I looked at my first instrument from this Hawaiian based brand, the Leolani Cedar Topped Tenor in early December and found myself pretty impressed. It was actually their sub line of 'Kumu' brand ukuleles though that readers had asked me to look at and led me to get in touch with them. I'm pleased to say that having now looked at the main Leolani brand, they have also loaned me a Kumu model.

The Kumu series all share the same core construction, and that is laminate Hawaiian Koa bodies. They come in long neck soprano, concert and tenor scales and are further sub divided by a choice of full gloss, satin finish (called Tuxedo) and some thin body variants. This one is the standard body tenor in the tuxedo satin finish, and at a first look is an instrument I find extremely attractive and classy to look at.

This is a standard double bout shaped tenor with a pretty rounded based and sloping top shoulders that gives it a slightly more modern look. And yes, it is 'just' laminate wood, but still it's very nice looking wood with a deep orange glow and, (on the top at least) some interesting grain stripes. The top back and sides are made from two pieces each. The back is barely arched, and whilst not as stripy as the top, does have a nice dark middle section which is interesting enough. It looks pretty, it looks serious and nobody would have a clue if it was solid or laminate looking at you play it.

Kumu 4 string tenor ukulele body

The bridge is similar to the Leolani bridge, a tie bar bade of reconstituted (eco) rosewood with tapered ends and finished extremely tidily. That holds a bone straight topped saddle which is tapered on the ends to match the bridge. String spacing here is 39mm.

Kumu 4 string tenor ukulele bridge

Decor on the Kumu is not over done in my opinion and works very with the koa without taking over. It's a case of simple dark bindings made from more reconstituted rosewood on the top, back and tail stripe and they work nicely to set it off 'just enough' without unnecessary bling. The soundhole rosette will though, I suspect, divide some people though I actually really like it. It's a dark rosewood ring inlaid with concentric abalone rings that don't quite meet at the lower end. I think it will be very 'Marmite', but I think it's different enough without being over the top myself.

Kumu 4 string tenor ukulele decor

The finish on this one is what Leolani call their 'tuxedo satin' or TUX, the same as I saw on their cedar topped model and done extremely well all over with no pooling, flaws or bare patches. It is open pored though like the ebony back of the cedar topped model and they are extremely noticeable. This is very much a personal preference thing and some people like that natural look. For me personally, I would prefer it grain filled and smoother all over. Perhaps the full gloss would give me that, so at least you get a choice. A minor personal gripe.

Inside is very tidy with standard bracing and notched linings. The top is also pleasingly thin for a laminate ukulele 

kumu 4 string tenor ukulele inside

The neck is made of mahogany and finished in satin too. There are joints at the heel and headstock, though both (particularly the heel) are VERY well hidden. The nut profile is a little rounded, but slightly squashed which I find comfortable and that is aided by the roomy 38mm nut with 30mm between G and A. Nice.

That is topped with more reconstituted rosewood for the fingerboard with the lamination in the rosewood giving a nice stripe effect to the colour. It's nicely conditioned too with no tooling marks and very smooth. The edges are bound with a mid brown coloured wood hiding the fret ends and leaving no sharp edges. We have 19 of those with 14 to the body. Position dots are inlaid in abalone at the 5th, 7th, 10th, a double 12th and the 15th. Thankfully these are repeated on the side with small white dots.

Kumu 4 string tenor ukulele neck

Beyond the bone nut is the same shaped headstock as on the regular Leolani's, and a shape I pointed out that I really liked. It's a kind of exaggerated, swoopy three pointed crown shape that I think looks great. It's faced in a veneer of (plain looking) koa and holds the 'K' element of the Kumu logo in abalone. I think this looks good too.

Kumu 4 string tenor ukulele headstock

Tuners are unbranded sealed chrome gear with small black buttons. Like on the Leonlani, the work just fine though are otherwise unremarkable.

Kumu 4 string tenor ukulele tuners


Finishing it off are a set of Aquila strings and nothing else, and are currently listed on the Leolani site at $270. That's a bit of money and MORE in cost than their solid cedar top tenor.  I am not against laminate ukuleles being more expensive than you would imagine IF they are made well (and this certainly seems to be). Solid wood, or solid tops are not always 'better', and models thrown together with solid wood for the sake of it are often a letdown. Take something like the Shima Longneck made from laminate koa... that is the same sort of price as this one, and whilst that was also impeccably made, has a lot less decoration than the Kumu series. But... there is no getting away from the price still being high compared to many other laminates Some people will have a natural block to that and no amount of me saying that I think that's the wrong way to approach it will change that. Still, I felt the need to crank down the value for money score of this review for this reason. I can't avoid it.

Kumu 4 string tenor ukulele back


As I say, the build here is very good and in fact I cannot spot a problem anywhere. I love the looks too. It's not a heavyweight at 580g and is nicely balanced at the 12th. It's also set up very well with no adjustments I would make

The volume and sustain present no issue with me at all - both are very good and will cause you no issues.

The tone here is also very pleasing. Whilst I very much liked the cedar top Leolani on sound, it was very bright and made me feel more like I was playing a tenor. There is a good bright attack to the sound here also, but there is a warmth in the background than mellows it out a little.  It's close to the cedar top overall, but just a touch mellower. It's probably still brighter than many full koa ukuleles I have played, and doesn't have a woody note to it, but remember that his is a laminate bodied instrument. Most importantly though, it doesn't have the typical laminate signature that can plague some instruments of sounding echoey or boxy. It sounds in control and rounded to my ears. 

That brightness in the attack is particularly welcomed when fingerpicking which is chimey and very pretty. The extremely comfortable neck really helps here too making this a joy to play in that style and one I have spent quite a bit of time with this week.

All in all I am struggling to find much wrong here bar the price (and even THAT is relative).  As I say though, I am not against higher priced laminates if they are made well (and this IS made well), but with so much choice out there I wonder whether the price will hinder them. That's a shame, particularly if people are throwing similar money into 'solid wood for the sake of it' and not getting as well made an instrument.  

I genuinely think a blindfold test would fox most people as to what this is made of. And after all - sound has to come first eh? 

So it's recommended by me - but leave your pre-conceptions on construction at the door.




UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Name: Kumu 4 String (TM74A)
Scale: Tenor
Body: Laminate Hawaiian Koa
Bridge: Reconstituted rosewood
Saddle: Bone
Sadlle Spacing: 39mm
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Reconstituted rosewood
Frets: 19, 14 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 38mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded sealed gears
Strings: Aquila
Country of Origin: Far East
Weight: 580g
Price: $270

UKULELE PROS

Extremely good build and finish
Classy look
Very nice neck
Great volume and sustain
Well set up
Rounded tone with some brightness in attack and warmer background


UKULELE CONS

Priced is a little salty
Would prefer grain filled finish

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 8 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE -  8.9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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