Pono Master Series AT C MS Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

18 Sept 2022

Pono Master Series AT C MS Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

It's been a while since I looked at a Pono ukulele, a brand I have always admired, and we go straight to the top of the pile with this one. This is the new Pono Master Series AT C MS Tenor ukulele, exclusive to the Ukulele Site in Haleiwa.


Pono Master Series AT C MS Tenor Ukulele


I had quite the gulp when Andrew Kitakis at The Ukulele Site got in touch and told me he wanted me to take a look at one of their new exclusives. It's often hard getting stuff over to the UK from abroad for obvious reasons, but Andrew thought this was worth shouting about and very kindly sent it all the way from Hawaii! The Ukulele Site are also probably one of the most admired ukulele specialists on the planet so it's an honour to be in touch with them. This forms part of a series of 'Master Series' ukuleles that The Ukulele Site team asked Pono to create exclusively for them. It came about with them seeing a lattice braced model made by Ko'olau luthier Ryan Condon that they absolutely loved. In fact, loved it so much they commissioned blueprints and asked Pono to make a series with the same bracing. (More on that a little later). So what we have is a series of 'Master Series' instruments in both tenor and baritone that use that bracing and sit at the top of the Pono lineup.

The wood combos in the various options differ, but they are all solid wood instruments (naturally). With this example we have a pairing of solid western red cedar for the top and solid acacia for the back and sides.  I do love the use of cedar on soundboards for both looks and woody clear tone, and it's certainly nice wood here with tight straight grain that looks to be top quality. The solid acacia is no slouch here either with lots of nice stripy colour variation and naturally all faces are well book matched. It's a very pretty and classy pairing.

Pono Master Series AT C MS Tenor Ukulele body


The bridge is a tie bar in the usually nicely carved Pono style and made of ebony. Sitting in that is a straight topped bone saddle. Spacing here is 45mm.

Pono Master Series AT C MS Tenor Ukulele bridge


Decoration is nicely done, but not ostentatious. Around the top and back are dark wood edge bindings complemented by some delicate purfling strips. There's a dark wood tail stripe too. Around the soundhole is an inlaid rope marquetry rosette. All of these are done exceptionally well as is the gloss finish on the body that I can find no issues with. The decor hangs together well for me and isn't one where one part steals focus over another. It's simply classy.

Pono Master Series AT C MS Tenor Ukulele decor


Inside is where the real interest is in these. Aside from the neat notched linings and regular, very thin back and upper braces the underside of the soundboard uses a lattice brace as I mention above. I'm no expert in how bracing patterns affect tone, but they certainly can change and shape it. Andrew was impressed enough to request a whole set using this layout (as pictured with courtesy of The Ukulele Site), but you will have to revert to my video review to see what I thought of it.

Pono Master Series Lattice Bracing
Credit - The Ukulele Site


The neck wood is not specified on the listing but I suspect is mahogany. It's jointed at the heel and headstock but you would be pressed to notice them. It is also finished with a dark wood heel cap to match the binding. On another positive they've finished this in satin not gloss so it's very smooth to play. The profile and nut width element to this one I KNEW I would need to raise in this review because I knew it would be typically Pono. That is to say it's quite rounded at the nut and an average 35mm (27mm G to A) wide. I do regularly say I prefer more width or shallower necks and I stand by that. However, I recall that I played a Pono quite happily on stage in a band for over a year with no problems at all. I suspect where they really challenge my taste is more on sopranos than tenors as I actually find this very comfortable. As an additional feature, like on many Pono instruments, the neck here comes with a two way truss rod to adjust relief. I've never really seen the need for one on a ukulele as they tend to be the preserve of guitars with much higher tension, but I don't object to it being here. Just please don't assume they are needed to adjust action - that's a myth!

Topping the neck is more ebony for the fingerboard which has a delicate, almost zebra stripe, grain running down it. It looks great and is in wonderful condition. It's also a radius neck (so a slight curve on the top, guitar style) which may also account for this being more comfortable for my hands than I would expect for that nut width. I do love a radius. It's fitted with 20 frets and joined at the 14th. It's edge bound too meaning hidden fret ends and as far as dressing goes, these are some of the tidiest frets I think I have ever seen. Position dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th and are repeated on the side.

Pono Master Series AT C MS Tenor Ukulele fingerboard


Beyond the bone nut is the usual Pono headstock faced in Macassar ebony which looks sublime. It holds the Pono logo in a wooden inlay but also a wooden inlay of a girl playing a ukulele from the back. If it looks familiar it's the logo of the parent company Ko'olau. I think that is a really nice touch to bring what is a very serious Pono instrument closer to the Hawaiian side of the company. Lovely.

Pono Master Series AT C MS Tenor Ukulele headstock


Tuners are open gears by Grover with an 18:1 ratio and finished in gold. They are clearly of the higher end variety from Grover judging by the quality of the gearing and turn like butter.

Pono Master Series AT C MS Tenor Ukulele tuners


Finishing things off are a stock set of Ko'olau Aho fluoro strings (though Andrew sent this over strung with Uke Logic low tension strings - a line developed by Joel at The Ukulele Site), and also one of their Oahu hard cases (which is superb too). They tell me that whilst the RRP here should be more like fifteen hundred dollars, because the store have them all and as exclusives, they can pass on a bit of saving. As such this is $1,099. That's certainly higher end than many Pono instruments though in line with a number of other 'high end' instruments made in the far east from brands like aNueNue, Rebel, Maestro and TkiTki. Put simply, Pono are damn good instruments and if people want to move to the top of their line I don't think this stands out as being priced wrong. In fact it's good value considering the build.

Pono Master Series AT C MS Tenor Ukulele case


As you can see it's all positives for me here. I adore the classy looks of this instrument and build and finishing are impeccable. It's not too heavy at 745g and, naturally, balances nicely in the hands. It feels great to hold too and whilst I suppose my own personal tastes would like a slightly wider nut, this is remarkably comfortable to fret helped, I think, by the radius.

But the sound is what matters and the bit I am most intrigued about in view of the bracing. Please bear with me on the video as I dread doing demos of the higher end stuff as my playing doesn't do them justice! To make things tougher here, it will be viewed alongside the wonderfully filmed videos that The Ukulele Site make and their classy players. A Corey or a Kalei I am not!!

First up with the volume. I sometimes comment on the words of either my wife or daughter when I first take a new uke out and play it, and in this case my wife's words were, 'Blimey, that's loud!'. And it is indeed! The projection here is absolutely stellar and the instrument feels alive in the hands. The response is huge with very little effort. Remarkably lively. Sustain is long and shimmery too with a really nice harmonic wavering in the sound which adds bags of character.

Pono Master Series AT C MS Tenor Ukulele back


The tone is both woody from the cedar but also has a rich shimmery zing from the acacia and you can sense them both in the mix. Strummed those harmonics really come through creating a shimmery quivering sound that is extremely pretty now matter how you strum it. Fingerpicking is sublime too with really crisp notes firing out no matter where you play on the neck. There is real balance to the tone no matter which style you go with offering a voicing right across the dynamic range and never sounding muddy. In fact the clarity to the sound is a great strength with this one. This really put a smile on my face to play it. It's a cracker.

I now fully understand what Andrew meant when he had these commissioned. There is something very nice going on with the construction here that leads to an extremely pretty tone, and certainly the nicest sounding Pono I have come across. As I say in the review it's a very grown up instrument looks wise and something that you just sense is 'special' just on opening the case. Hats off to The Ukulele Site for commissioning this and huge thanks for letting me play it.

VERY highly recommended!


UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Pono Master Series AT C MS 
Scale: Tenor
Body: Solid Western Red Cedar top, solid Acacia back and sides
Bridge: Ebony tie bar
Saddle: Bone
Spacing at saddle: 45mm
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Unspecified (mahogany?)
Fingerboard: Ebony with radius
Frets: 20, 14 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 35mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Grover open gears (18:1)
Strings: Uke logic soft tension (stock instrument comes with Ko'olau Aho fluorocarbon)
Extras: Oahu hard case
Weight: 745g
Country of origin: Indonesia
Price: $1,099

UKULELE PROS

Classy, understated looks
Superb build and finish
Wonderful fingerboard
Great tuners
Lovely case
Superb volume and shimmery sustain
Hugely responsive to play
Balanced, clear, characterful tone

UKULELE CONS

Not a lot!

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.4 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW







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4 comments :

  1. Excellent. Every ukulele player should own a Pono

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lovely. The red cedar is pale compared my Mainland. I wonder where it is made.

    ReplyDelete

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