Kiwaya KPC-1M Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

16 Jan 2022

Kiwaya KPC-1M Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

I can't spend all my weekends looking at laughable quality ukuleles, so to keep me sane I really do need to look at some killer brands. This week it's a welcome return to Kiwaya with the KPC-1M Concert.

Kiwaya KPC-1M Ukulele review



I freely admit, that's a heck of an opening for a blog that prides itself on impartiality - but then the fact remains that I have seen a lot of Kiwaya ukuleles in my time at all price points and I have never seen a bad one. Not one. In fact I consider them to be one of the very finest factory built brands on the planet. Of course, I will still be giving this one the same crack of the whip as all other instruments, but... I mean.. Just look at it!

Kiwaya KPC-1M Concert Ukulele

Kiwaya's today fall into three main 'series' categories and two main 'build styles'. The styles are either the sympathetic Martin replica's or like this one which is very much styled more like more modern Hawaiian instruments. The series lines include the Eco series (laminate instruments made in either Japan, or China in the Student series), the Artist Series (solid wood, Japanese Martin replicas like this KTS-7) and this, the 'Strummer Series'. I must say, I don't like that  name at all and think it lends a degree of the 'not serious' to the brand. All Kiwaya's are incredibly serious and I think that name dumbs it down. Oh well, it's just a series name, not life and death. This one also sits in the kind of 'upper middle ground' in the full range of Kiwaya ukuleles and is an all solid wood instrument made in Japan. And that demanding Japanese attention to detail and high precision is really a big part of why I like their ukuleles so much as I think you will see below.

The KPC-1M is made from all solid mahogany woods and is available in soprano through tenor. They also make a koa version and an even higher end 'Master Grade koa' version, but with mahogany being a favoured wood of mine in ukulele, this suits me just fine. The body shape is quite different to the very traditional Martin replica's and has a much more rounded, modern swoop to the shape which I absolutely love.  It's made with two pieces on the top, back and sides and the grain is anything but boring mahogany yet without being ostentatious. This is deep and milk chocolatey in colour with attractive darker flecks all over the faces. It's classy and really understated.

Kiwaya KPC-1M Concert Ukulele body


The bridge is a small tie bar design made of rosewood (I believe the tenor gets ebony) and that Japanese precision is all over it - it's anything but rough or an afterthought, rather clean, precise and very neat. Sitting in that is a straight topped bone saddle. Spacing here is 42mm.

Kiwaya KPC-1M Concert Ukulele bridge


Decoration is minimal with nothing more than a black and white inlaid sound-hole rosette. That's just how I like my ukuleles with nothing to detract from the wood. The top and back edges are really nicely chamfered off meaning there is nothing jarring or sharp to hold on the arm. The whole body is finished in a high gloss which is like a mirror but without any areas looking over-done or gloopy. Think Kanile'a level of gloss work (the best in the business for gloss in my book) and you get the picture.

Kiwaya KPC-1M Concert Ukulele finish


Inside is as tidy as the outside without a hint of mess anywhere. The kerfing linings are notched and the braces are not overly heavy. Like many other Kiwaya ukuleles the soundboard top is also nice and thin.

Kiwaya KPC-1M Concert Ukulele inside


The neck is made from mahogany in three pieces with joints at the heel and headstock. That surprised me for a higher end ukulele, but do bear in mind I only mention that to point out if the joints are obvious as there is no technical reason I can think of that a single piece neck is 'better'. Whilst the headstock joint is hard to find I think the heel joint is very ugly. I love the shallow feel of both the heel though and the profile at the nut. As always - your own mileage will vary here, but this slim backed profile coupled with the 37mm nut (28mm) is JUST how I would specify a ukulele neck. Supremely comfortable.

Kiwaya KPC-1M Concert Ukulele neck


Topping that is a rosewood fingerboard which is in superb well fed condition and also rolled down the edges for comfort. In what I suppose is a nod to their traditional Martin-esque ukuleles that finishes with 'reverse moustache' / pentaloque end shaping.  It's fitted with 18 frets joined at the 14th and they are dressed impeccably. It's not edge bound so you do see the fret ends, but there is a staining going on meaning that they don't stand out. Out goes the Martin-esque tiny dot markers and in comes more quirky and modern offset dots inlaid at the 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th and 15th. Nice. Naturally they are repeated down the side.

Kiwaya KPC-1M Concert Ukulele fingerboard


Beyond the bone nut is another departure for Kiwaya and a more modern headstock shape that is very much not 'just a three pointed crown'. I like it a lot. It comes with the usual Kiwaya logo in a gold screen print. It's a uke logo I've always liked the look of.

Kiwaya KPC-1M Concert Ukulele headstock


Tuners here are an utter delight too in the form of Gotoh UK700's with small black buttons. Not only are these impeccably made high end Gotoh tuners but they have adjustable tuning post heights for you to change the break angle from the nut for optimal setup. You know what I said about that attention to detail with the Japanese? These are sublime and highly accurate. (Yes, yes, I know - if pushed, I'd still prefer rear facing pegs on a concert, but there is no getting away from the quality of these).

Kiwaya KPC-1M Concert Ukulele tuners


It comes with nothing else bar the strings and a tail strap button and, if you buy from World of Ukes at least, those are a set of Worth Brown strings. The asking price is a serious, yet not totally eye watering £799. And I can see where every penny of that is spent as I can find little wrong here. It's upper end Pono level and considerably cheaper than a uke from Hawaii, but still an investment. OK, some people may want more decoration for the money, and if I was fully pushed I'd prefer the rear facing tuners.. but I'm really splitting hairs. It's a marvellous build.

So it comes as no surprise (to me) that I am seriously impressed with this one so far. It shows the typical exacting standards of Japanese made Kiwaya ukuleles with nothing really for me to pick apart. It's light at 510g and, naturally, balances well too. The feel of the whole instrument in the hands is re-assuring too. But is the tone worth the £799?

Kiwaya KPC-1M Concert Ukulele back


OK - basics first. This feels great in the hands and as I said above the neck profile is just perfect for my preferences. The setup too (unsurprisingly for both the brand and the store) is flawless. The volume is incredibly punchy and the sustain goes on and on. This all bodes well - it's very lively!

First strum and.. hang on.. how many ukuleles are playing in this room? This has a really complex sound with a ton of harmonics going on when chords are strummed. I couldn't quite get over the richness considering this is a mahogany bodied uke. Hey, I love mahogany ukes as I say, but they are described by some as a bit more one dimensional than (say) koa, mango or acacia. This sounds to me like mahogany on steroids and like there is an orchestra of ukes in my vicinity. The individual notes hear are clear, but play them together with a strum and you get a real shimmer that makes the uke sound bigger than it is. Just lovely.

Fingerpicking is divine. It's crisp and clear all over the neck and the projection and sustain means you can have fun with more nuanced play and touches of tremolo. Chimey, pretty, lovely - and very comfortable to play that way.

This one has been an absolute joy to look at and ticks most of my boxes. The build is impeccable and precise, the finish is wonderful and the sound really does make you double take and check your own ears. A very grown up sound with bags of character. Price wise, ok it's not bargain basement, but I personally think it is punching well above the asking price. I'd happily have one of these in the collection and it comes very highly recommended!

Thanks so much to Matt at World of Ukes for trusting me with this one!


UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Kiwaya KPC-1M
Scale: Concert
Body: All solid mahogany
Bridge: Rosewood tie bar
Saddle: Bone
Spacing at saddle: 42mm
Finish: High gloss
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 37mm, 28mm G to A
Tuners: Gotoh UK700 gears
Strings: Worth Brown
Extras: Tail strap button
Weight: 510g
Country of origin: Japan
Price: £799

UKULELE PROS

Wonderfully classy looks
Terrific build and finish
Delightful neck profile and feel
Superb tuners
Great volume and sustain
Rich harmonic tone
Fair price

UKULELE CONS

Would still prefer rear tuners
Visible neck joint

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.3 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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2 comments :

  1. Japanese Kiwayas are *all* top shelf. My brother has a family of 'Martin' Japanese Master Grade Koa Kiwayas, and they are sublime. That one you reviewed is beautiful, great looks and sound. Agreed re: heel of the neck and tuners - for that money they could stretch to a one-piece neck and Pegheds or similar, imo. Oh, and before you return it I should tell you that Matt Warnes has recently moved - would you like his new address? :O) :O) :O)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi! I LOVE your reviews- and this site. Can you share the chord progression you always start out your playing reviews with please & thank you???

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