IMUA iSG-C Curly Koa Soprano Ukulele Review by Phil Doleman

Every now and again we send Phil Doleman a Ukulele to review. To be honest – we just like to hear him play them but his kind word and critique is always welcome!

IMUA Koa Soprano Review

For many people, the soprano uke is THE uke, the classic design, the historic instrument. The Hawaiian koa instrument is also often seen as the pinnacle, so to be presented with a Hawaiian koa soprano is a bit of a treat. This uke comes from IMUA, a name that may not be familiar to that many players who might be more likely to focus on the ‘K’ brands (KoAloha, Kanielea, Kamaka) when seeking out a Hawaiian uke. IMUA are based in Honolulu, and the company is a collaboration between luthier Shinji Takahashi and specialist koa wood dealer Jorma Winkler.

Here’s the spec on the uke; it has an all-solid koa body (2 piece top and back) which has a slight arch to the back, a one-piece mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard and bridge, bone nut and saddle and quality (that look very much like Grovers to me) friction pegs. Upon opening the case, the first thing that struck me was the beautiful ‘glow’ of the koa. It really is beautiful, with an amber sheen and plenty of interest and curl as the grain catches the light. This uke has the model designation iS-C on the label, and I believe the ‘C’ indicates ‘curly koa’. I may be wrong to assume that, but this koa certainly has curl! Many players covet a one piece top and back (as on many vintage ukes), though of course wood availability and conservation make the 2 piece option much more common nowadays, and when it’s book-matched nicely, as it is here, I personally think it looks great. The gloss finish may not be to everyone’s taste, but I think it works really well with the wood in this case (though IMUA do offer 3 different finishes). Inside, the body is very neatly finshed. There’s no binding, rosette, or other decoration. Personally, I think this is totally in keeping with the look, and the wood is so interesting to look at that any detailing might get lost or ‘argue’ with the wood grain. The bridge is of the tie-bar design, but doesn’t suffer from the ‘chunkyness’ that some of these do, having rounded edges and a nice, sculptural design. The saddle is bone.

On to the neck, which is made of one piece of mahogany, also finished in gloss, with a rosewood fingerboard with 18 frets, 14 clear of the body. The dot markers are abalone and there are also side markers. The headstock is faced in koa, with the simple inlaid ‘i’ logo. The neck has a pleasing, slim profile, though there are some that might find the gloss finish a little ‘grippy’. The extended fingerboard gives the uke a balanced look, though I’ve never been that convinced of the usefulness of those higher frets, and they can sometimes get in the way of the right hand fingers when strumming. I’m sure some players would not be without them, though. Talking of frets, these are very nicely finished with no sharp edges, and the lack of fingerboard binding really shows how accurately the slots are cut, depth-wise.

It plays very easily, with a nice action (not too high, but very importantly not too low, which can kill the sound) and a well-cut nut. No adjustment needed here. Sound-wise, it has that nice koa ‘pop’ to the sound but is certainly slightly mellower when compared to my koa KoAloha soprano.

If I had to find anything to criticise (and I would be nit picking), the bone saddle is really nicely curved at the ends, but doesn’t quite match the curve of the bridge. Of course, if that really bothered you, it’s not a difficult change to make!

In conclusion, this uke sits very happily among the big name Hawaiian ukes. The design is simple, classic, and really lets the wood speak for itself, and it’s well worth adding to your shopping list if you were considering the ‘K’ brands.

All the best,

What Uke does the manager of a Ukulele shop use?

We all have our own stories… A customer asked me today how I can be so confident recommending a particular Uke, I have been around the block a few times and I figure a rainy September evening is the perfect time to tell you all what Ukes I use and have used.

Forgive the self indulgence but just recently, more and more customers I speak to on the phone or in the shop ask me what I play, which Ukuleles I have chosen myself in the past and what equipment I use when I am out and about playing the Ukulele.
Those that know me or have read some of the earlier blogs we have done here at SUS ( know that I get quite carried away with my equipment. Before my son was born I was constantly chopping and changing what I performed or recorded with so my own experiences may not relate fully to everybody. For example; I play a lot of restaurants and weddings as a solo performer so I never have to worry about other Ukuleles in a large group overshadowing me. Handling hundreds of different Ukuleles every year at work has also improved my knowledge to the point that I can accept that there isn’t really one instrument that does everything but there is definitely instruments that fit certain requirements perfectly.

I am a little ashamed to admit that being left handed, on several occasions I have purchased Ukuleles or Guitars largely to help me get better at my job only to end up selling them 3-6 months down the line because they aren’t getting used as much as I would like. I fell in love with a second hand Kamaka last year – I came to work early for days just to play it – but ego has a funny way of placing a little devil on your shoulder and the reason I eventually chose to buy it was so that when a customer asked me what Ukes I have had I could give an honest opinion and say that I have had KoAloha’s, Kanile’a and Kamaka ukes and I know what worked best for me in certain situations.

So what have I played?

So, I use Ukuleles plugged in to an amp and accompany myself vocally 95% of the time. I tend to play low G so that I have a nice deeper note to root my voice with and find Concerts to be the most comfortable but for some reason have owned more Tenor’s. I think on the whole, the Tenor is a better soloist instrument because a good fingerpicked Tenor through a decent amp can sound as thick as a classical Guitar whereas the Concert is at its best when you strum it but can sometimes feel a little bit underpowered when you have to finger pick one on stage.

Cursley Tenor Vodka-lele

My first Ukulele was a Darryl Cursley Solid English Yew Tenor Uke. I loved how it looked and sounded but after breaking strings on it every other gig I decided to part with it. The problem wasn’t string breaks as such but the Uke had a slotted headstock and that can be quite fiddly when you are trying to change strings in a mad panic whilst your audience waits or even worse begin to lose interest watching you scramble around tightening a machine head 1000 times!

Why was the Ukulele called the Vodka-lele? This Uke was made at the same time as Darryl’s first Ukulele for Paul (Luap Rekcut of Mother Ukers) and my Uke would be experimented on before he attempted things on its nicer sister Uke the next day when he was sober.

Beltona Songster Tenor Resonator

I went in a different direction with the next Ukulele. Having met Steve Evans at Cheltenham (UFOGB), I got swept up in the idea of a resonator and within a week of our interaction I purchased the most gorgeous Sonic Blue Reso. For a time this Ukulele completely reinvigorated my love of the Ukulele and I experimented with different techniques and alternate tunings, genre styles and several different pickup choices but couldn’t find anything that didn’t sound shrill through my amps and PA’s. If you play in a group and need to be heard or perhaps you play in front of a microphone at folk clubs then I think the Beltona is just the ultimate resonator. National Resophonic have the history for sure but are more than twice the price of a Beltona, quieter and twice as heavy. Equally, cheaper resonators can give the instrument a bad rep because they don’t ring out or project at all. If you are buying a resonator then get one of these!

Why did I sell it? I fell madly in love with a Kanile’a Guitalele. For me, the Guitalele felt like the perfect final solution as I also gig the majority of the time with a Guitar and this would enable me to bring just one instrument with me to the gig. The Beltona was traded back and quickly purchased by a longtime customer that I assume must secretly hope owning my old instrument will make him as handsome as me (Kidding, hes a handsome devil).

Kanile GL6 Guitalele

The Kanile’a I fell in love with wasn’t the instrument I ended up with. After handing over my Beltona and a hefty deposit; somebody rang up the shop and enquired about this wonderful instrument they had seen on the website.. Can you imagine how I felt? I just didn’t have it in me to be that selfish so I let it go and waited nearly 6 months for another GL6 to be delivered by Kanile’a. It was a great instrument but never felt quite the same as the first one I’d tried in hindsight.

I spent months trying different strings that would acheieve E to E tuning and seemingly struck a nerve as the blog I wrote about it has been read 8000 times. Who knew that so many people needed advice on Guitalele strings?!?

The highlight of my time with the Guitalele was recording a live album with my old band where I used it for a large chunk of the gig. I wasn’t in a great financial position at the time and had some weddings coming up where I had been booked specifically to play Uke so I traded in my GL6 and made a logical sideways step to a K-1T.

Kanile’a K-1T Tenor Gloss

Now on-to a Uke I had for a couple of years. A Kanile’a K-1 is everything you would expect it to be – I loved how it looked, I loved how it felt and I loved how it sounded. I had a Fishman pickup in it originally which was good but felt a little bit limiting through my AER. The lessons I learnt with this Ukulele is just how much of a difference different types of strings and high quality pickups can make. When I switched the Aquilas on this instrument for some Martins and a Fremont Low G, it felt miles ahead of all other Kanile’a Ukes I had tried. When I think back, my favourite part of owning this Ukulele was keeping it by my desk at the shop to play amp demos or pedal demos for customers with. It really had some instant appeal when I got it out the case that had nothing to do with fancy binding or ornate appointments.

My advice for anybody looking for a high end Uke is to consider how the Uke will mature. The Kanile’a Ukes that customers have owned and traded back and my own have opened up immensley after about a year of regular playing. The general consesus is that modern plastic gloss finishes tend to stifle the sound a tiny bit at first. Once you play them in, they really do open up and you have the added protection that modern finishes offer. This Uke stayed with me for a long time. I should have kept it but for reasons that have nothing to do with my indulgent instrument buying hobby and everything to do with a lack of space by my desk and in my cupboard at home – I recently sold it to a lovely chap in Sweden.

KoAloha KCM-10 Pikake Satin Concert

After playing the Kanile’a for about a year on stage, I found that the U shaped neck would rub against the bone on my thumb when I changed between Guitar and Ukulele on stage. The Kanile’a wider nut never bothered me but increasingly, I favoured Concert instruments instore because I could play the more fiddly chords without contorting at funny angles. In my old band Fearne my Kanile’a always sounded a bit boomy and muddy next to my bandmates guitar and the slightly brighter sound of the Concert began to feel like the right move for me. I had always loved KoAloha and I remember the first delivery of them arriving from Hawaii 9-10 years ago vividly because the waxy gloss finish and crown headstock to me just looked a cut above any other instruments I have ever seen. I still feel that way about them a decade on.

The KoAlohas are loud, bright, bubbly, boistrous and generally bad-ass. This was the first Ukulele I had owned that I played more for fun than because I needed it for work. I took it with me on my honeymoon and for a while I kept it in my guitar gigbag and played it in the car when I had long waits between set up and the gig. I never liked the friction tuners and despite feeling like it ruined the tradional look I switched them out for some Grover geared tuners.

KoAloha KTM-00 Tenor Koa Ukulele

I loved my Concert KoAloha so much that when the opportunity to buy a well looked after used KoAloha tenor with a pickup came up it seemed like a no brainer. I had a funny love hate relationship with this Uke – I am a bit of a tart and like instruments that have pretty wood and this older KoAloha (serial 2009) had almost a faded tan leather brown colour like Mahogany by the time it found its way into my hands which looked nice and vintage but aesthetically did nothing for me. I like the much rounder C neck on this Uke and it did eventually replace my Kanile’a on-stage for a time. The last time I used it in a restaurant in Bournemouth I ended up chasing down a tourist that tried to steal it from me!

I should have let him have it as eventually, I moved back to the KoAloha concert as I was strumming a lot more and needed to free up some funds and space for my next purchase.

Kamaka HF-2 Concert Ukulele

Kamaka’s have the history and the ultimate brand association. It also has a very particular kind of sleepy sound that is often immitated by other companies but never bettered. I spent several months with this Ukulele and found plenty I loved about it but its mellow nature and the slippery gloss body seemed to do my playing and confidence on stage no favours at all.

I think I have come to the conclusion that a Kamaka is best enjoyed at home in a relaxed atmosphere. They sound stunning unplugged and don’t distort or sound muffled plugged in but the KoAloha’s and Kanile’as I have owned had just a bit more punch when I played them and when you are playing largely in front of people eating dinner or listening intently; this particular Ukulele just didn’t suit me. I sold this Ukulele to a lovely German guy that already had several Kamaka’s and he had no problems making it sing.. Some instruments just don’t fit the performer I guess? Jake Shimabukuro seems to be doing alright with his..

The things that stuck out as overwhelming positives to me about the Kamaka was its flawless build quality, the machine heads were the best I have ever used, it never needed tuning and the hard case they come with is built like a tank.

Other Ukes I have dabbled with extensively –

Gibson 1950’s Soprano
I purchased this Uke on holiday in California, it wasn’t a particularly valuable Ukulele having had a bridge taken off and re glued at some point. Sounded great but I just didn’t feel comfortable putting a pickup in a 65 year old instrument.

Martin 1950’s Soprano
I had this Uke for a short while when going through a stage of listening to Herb Ohta. It was nice but its terrible condition didn’t suit being restrung left handed so I moved it on after a few weeks.

Mele Cedar/Koa Soprano
This Ukulele had been repaired in every which way you could imagine. I like the Mele’s but always preferred the Tenor and Baritone sizes. I dontated this Uke to a school my friend works at in the days before the Ukulele Kids Club existed.

Collings Dog Hair Concert Ukulele
A customer purchased this Uke from us and asked me to play it in for them as they would be out of the UK for quite a long time and we had quite an ongoing friendly raport. I spent approximately two months with this Uke and by the time I said goodbye to it, I really felt like it was my own. I can highly recommend Collings
if money is no object, the Uke to me justified its 2000GBP+ price tag even if I couldn’t ever afford it myself.

The other equipment I perform with has remained largely unchanged for several years. I use a Headway EDB-2 Preamp which has two channels so I could independantly run my Guitar and Ukulele from my mic stand without having to mess around with my settings mid gig unnecessarily.
Amp wise – I use an AER compact 60 which is hands down the best Acoustic guitar amp money can buy. It weighs nothing, its loud but crystal clear and I use it in every band I work in. For those on a budget I recommend the Roland AC33 which I had for a couple of years before I got my AER. My main instrument has always been Acoustic Guitar, I won’t go into my guitar collection in a Ukulele blog but if anybody ever needs that kind of advice – feel free to contact me instore on 01202 430820.

What am I going to buy next?

Recently, I have been most impressed by the KoAloha Opio range with Spruce tops. I think they are every bit as good as the Hawaiian made KoAloha equivilant but just that bit cheaper. I love Kiwaya and Takumi Ukuleles and have lost count of the times I have nearly chosen a Kiwaya KTS7 or a Takumi TS-3K over a Hawaiian K brand. The love for Hawaiian Ukes is so strong in me I just can’t help but get a bit caught up in the romance of it all when we get a new delivery. I imagine my next purchase will be an Imua Concert but with a 1 year old little boy at home hell bent on destruction, that won’t be for a while. If any Ukulele companies out there want to send me something for an independent review please do get in touch…

UPDATE: I recently purchased an Imua Concert Spruce top/Koa back and sides Uke. After I have roadtested it a few months I will let you know my thoughts.

I hope that my experiences can go some way towards helping you with your next Ukulele purchase. Every player comes to different conclusions but I feel like my time with my old Ukuleles really shaped me as a player. I feel like Kanile’a make the best Tenors, KoAloha make the best Concerts and Kiwaya make the best Sopranos. Although, that opinion could be easily swayed when the right Uke comes along!

Until next time
Alex Beds (Man of the people)

Romero Creations Tiny Tenor Koa Ukulele Review by Phil Doleman

Every month we ask Phil Doleman to try out a Ukulele and give us his thoughts. This month he is looking at the Romero Creations Tiny Tenor Ukulele.

This is an intriguing uke, and one that traditionalist might immediately dismiss; they’d be making a mistake, though! Luthier Pepe Romero worked with Daniel Ho to design this uke, and the idea was to make a tenor that was as small as a concert (so easier to tour around with) but with the playability and sound that Daniel Ho demands for his performances. Romero then had the instrument (and it’s Koa cousin) mass produced in Vietnam, making it readily available and more affordable.

The shape is quite unusual, almost like a pineapple uke, more triangular, but still elegantly curved. This is apparently a result of trying to get the soundboard are to be as large as possible, combined with making the bottom end nice and wide so that it’s easy to hold. The headstock is very small, again to help with the overall size, which is just under 24” long and 8 ½” at the widest point of the body (almost exactly the same as a couple of concert ukes I have here). This, combined with the full tenor scale of 17” means they certainly managed their target of getting a tenor uke into a concert package!

So now we’ve talked about what makes it unusual, let’s look at the more traditional aspects. It’s made of rather nice, gloss-finished, stripy mahogany, with a one-piece mahogany neck (no stacked heel or scarf-jointed headstock). There’s a rosewood fingerboard with 16 frets and mother of pearl dot markers, which are echoed on the side. The bridge is also rosewood and is of the ‘string through’ variety, and it carries smoothly compensated saddle. I like this design, it’s elegant, simple, and also ensures that the strain of the strings is taken by the top, not just the bridge. The headstock is faced in rosewood too, with a mother of pearl ‘D Ho’ logo. There’s an abalone sound hole rosette, but no other adornments, giving the uke a simple, classic look despite it’s unusual design.

The ‘made in Vietnam’ tag might make some potential buyers back off given that this uke is well over the £500 mark, but really it shouldn’t; the build quality is excellent. I’ve gone over this uke with a fine-tooth comb and have not found a single finish flaw, glue drop, rough edge or indeed anything imperfect at all. The inlay, rosette and dot markers are all fitted perfectly, the nut is nicely rounded on the corners, on the inside the bracing and kerfing is all very neatly done and even the makers label is printed onto a piece of wood rather than paper! I’m genuinely very impressed with the way the instrument has been put together and finished. The small details also scream ‘quality’; the rosewood heel cap, the very subtle, narrow end graft on the bottom of the instrument where the two sides join. Neither of these things are necessary but their presence just demonstrates that care and thought has gone into the design and construction.

Finally, the very unusual headstock carries a set of unbranded, black metal geared machine heads. Despite the lack of a makers name on them, they still feel like high quality units, and the tiny buttons are in fact ebony (but so smoothly finished it took me a while to realise!).

So how does it play and sound? It’s really pleasant to hold, that wide bottom bout helps it sit either under the arm when holding without a strap, or to sit nicely under your arm when resting on your lap. Very small-bodied ukes can be difficult to ‘control’, but this shape works very well in that respect, and yes, it does feel like a concert! The neck is slim, but not too slim and retains a nice rounded profile and depth right up to the 11th fret where it curves into the heel (some ukes taper more slowly, meaning as you go up the neck it gets to be more of a handful). This does make it very comfortable to play even high up the neck. The gloss finish doesn’t suffer from the ‘stickiness’ that you sometimes find, and the frets are very smooth and well-dressed. Let’s not forget the fingerboard too, it’s really smooth and tight grained and finished to a lovely smooth playing surface. It’s set up very well, the action is just where it should be, and the intonation is absolutely spot on according to my electronic tuner.

The Tiny Tenor has a very clear, precise voice. There’s bags of projection but it’s not at all brash, as the sound is ‘supported’ by a nice full midrange, and there’s plenty of sustain for those slow fingerpicked ballads. This one came with a low G string fitted (unsurprising, as Daniel Ho uses a low 4th) which I first though might be a bit of a let down on such a small body. Actually, the design helps to give the bottom end a nice, tight responsiveness whilst at the same time keeping the G from booming out and drowning out the other strings when strumming. It’s a nicely balanced, clear, loud sound that suits chord melody really well.

The Tiny Tenor compares incredibly favourably with Hawaiian K-brands and Japanese high end ukes both in it’s sound and build quality, and I was genuinely impressed. The style may divide people, but there’s no denying that the design works really well. A beautifully well-thought out, characterful, high-grade instrument, well worth considering alongside other, possibly more expensive, brands.

All the best,

Beltona Tenor #1 Resonator Uke Review

Beltona instruments are made by luthier Steve Evans a few miles from Leeds, UK. He’s been making them since 1990, and you’ll have seen them played by Tiny Tim, James Hill, Dead Man’s Uke, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and yours truly. Since 2002 he has focussed on making his instruments from resin: That’s where it gets interesting!

First of all, let’s have a quick look over the instrument. It’s a fairly standard tenor size and shape (this being the #1 model, the #2 model is a more asymmetric shape) with a mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard. It’s a resonator instrument, which, if you don’t know, means that the sound is produced by a very thin metal ‘speaker’ cone inside the body that the bridge rests on. This is a mechanical amplification method that originated before the advent of the electric guitar, and makes these instruments considerably louder than wooden ones. The cover plate (the round bit on the front that protects the cone) is light-weight aluminium, and the body is the aforementioned resin. First of all, put out of your mind any idea that this is comparable to any plastic ukes you may have come across. These bodies are made by hand from a material that you could happily build a boat from! It’s stiff, sturdy, and a really excellent vehicle for the cone.  The thing about resonator instruments is that it’s really not that crucial what the body is made of; wood, metal, resin, the important thing is that is forms a rigid place for the cone to sit, so the cone does the vibrating, not the body. Yes, the material will affect the sound, but to a much less degree than you might think. The resin body also means they are really quite light and easy to handle (especially if you compare it to a metal-bodied resonator).

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the one I have here. The mahogany neck is one-piece, rather than glued together at the headstock and/or heel and has a really nice profile; not too slim, not to fat, and with a ‘smoothed over’ vintage V-shape. The headstock carries the very classy Beltona logo and the tuners are Grover friction pegs, which work really smoothly and hold the tuning really well.

The rosewood fingerboard is really well finished and the frets are an example as to how they should be dressed! No sharp edges, rough patches or high frets to be found, a really nice playing surface. There are 19 frets, 12 of them clear of the body.

The sturdy resin body is finished in a beautiful glossy red burst finish, which Steve describes as ‘automotive’, and it is indeed very much like the shiny, hard-wearing finish you’d expect to find on a car.  There are two stylised ‘f’ holes which suit the look very well. As with all resonator instruments, the coverplate includes a hand rest over the bridge to stop the cone being damaged, and under there is a wooden saddle attached to the ‘biscuit’ (a wooden disc that sits atop the cone), all of which is neatly cut and fitted, and has been set to give a very good action. The strings terminate in a neat wooden string holder and there is a strap button on the base of the instrument. This actually screws into a ‘pole’ which is an extension of the neck, making the whole construction very solid and helping to direct those vibrations straight to the cone. Beltona make their cones in-house, which isn’t the case with many other manufacturers who use generic cones. As this is such a big part of the tone it’s nice to know that it was made to suit this instrument.

The playability is excellent; the comfortable neck and the high quality fretwork make it a really easy-playing instrument, and the light weight makes the prospect of playing a resonator uke much less daunting (there’s no issue with playing this one standing up without a strap). Sound-wise, I found that I could coax quite a wide range of tones from the Beltona. Yes, it can quite happily do the dirty, bluesy stuff, but it can also sound very clean and pretty, deliver a crisp rhythm sound, and when strummed with the thumb, it has a mellow tone almost like that of a wooden uke. The tone seems to occupy a space somewhere between metal and wooden bodied resonators, whilst retaining it’s own unique character. The volume is quite startling, and you could easily be heard whilst fingerpicking along with a group strum, and of course that’s exactly what resonator instruments are for; being heard!

It’s great to see a UK luthier making such a well thought out, unique instrument, that holds it’s own against US made resonator instruments in both sound and playability, and doing with such style.


All the best,

August Happenings at the Southern Ukulele Store

So here we are again; about to dive head first into August and all that comes with the 8th month of the year. July has been a great month for us at SUS as we finally had long awaited deliveries from Pono, Risa, Goldtone, Anuenue and Kala. The CITES restrictions on Rosewood pretty much dragged our industry to a halt for six months so when everything seemingly landed at once, all of the staff here spent days quality checking and tuning up Ukuleles. I for one have the open GCEA notes of the Ukulele firmly implanted in my brain and keep finding myself startled by the sound in the middle of the night! If you are after a Banjo Ukulele or some Preloved bargains then it looks like August is your month.

We also said goodbye to our longtime colleague Adam this month. After several years on the workbench fixing and improving Ukuleles – he has decided as we all do that now is the right time to go and live in the woods in France. Adam will be missed but his rendition of the Jurassic Park theme on our Youtube channel will live on.

(Adam playing his extended scale 6 string Baritone Electric Ukulele made famous by Fender before everybody switched to smaller Ukes with 4 strings.)

Fans of Adam can keep up to date with his travel blog here.

Big Phils great Ukulele adventure

You have all heard of Pete Howlett I’m sure? Ukulele builder extraordanaire, teacher, mentor and a man who still enjoys trying to innovate with his new builds whilst charging to his 1000 Ukulele finish line. Some of you would also probably agree that he is Facebook Live’s most frequent user!

He invited our resident repairman Phil upto Wales for a week to build his very own Ukulele and judging by the wonderful instrument he returned with; it couldn’t have gone better. Phil made a solid Makore Tenor step by step with Pete, Tommy and some other students starting with just the bent sides in a brace. We highly recommend attending one of these workshops with Pete if spots become available next year because the feeling of making your own instrument for some people has to be right up there on the bucket list. Phil has been demonstrating his elation with his peacock walk around the shop all week and we can’t put the Ukulele he made down.

Of course if you prefer to play your instruments, we have a couple of Howlett’s in stock at the moment that don’t require any assembling or carving and with the greatest of respects to BIGPHIL#1 – Pete Howlett has been through this more than 800 times. With the benefit of experience on his side and some of the finest woods in the world at his disposal, they are worth every penny.

What do you think of Phils Uke?

More Banjo Ukuleles than ever before

Getting a decent selection of Banjo Ukuleles in the shop at the same time has been a near impossible task. Not nearly enough suppliers offer a Banjo Ukulele and the ones that do are often waiting months for stock or in a far off corner of the world. For the first time that I can remember, we have various options from Barnes and Mullins, Deering, Gold Tone and Magic Fluke instore ready to try. If you haven’t had chance to play one yet – the new Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele is fantastic. I am so excited to finally have these here after trying the prototype at NAMM at the start of the year.

Check out our stock now!

USED Bargain again…

(Alex’s note: It is incredibly hard to write about the wood Holly without writing Holly wood which makes people think of Hollywood.)

The very rare and special Martin 3K we had in stock sold within an hour of the newsletter dropping your mailboxes. I still get excited after all these years when something unique turns up. This month, we have a very unique Phil Davidson Soprano Ukulele.

We have here a solid top, back and sides Holly Soprano Ukulele made in 2003/2004 by Gloucestershire based luthier Phil Davidson when he was still based in his old Bristol workshop.


This Ukulele has some really lovely intricate aesthetic touches that make it extra special including a holly tree inlay on the headstock, a matching holly neck and the light colour of the top, is offset wonderfully by the light stain mahogany binding. It sounds fantastically sweet like the Maton Tasmanian Blackwoods and is reminiscent of some high end Cherry instruments we have seen in the past. We just treated it to a new set of Fremont Blackline strings and it has just the most gorgeous complex sound to it. The instruments that manage to look understated but have some flair in the build are our favourite kind!

This Ukulele has been well looked after and having spoken to Phil Davidson before listing it for sale; he remembered everything about it straight away and we can trace the Ukes 14 year journey to the shop right back to the original owner and day one in Bristol. For a teenage instrument, it looks in excellent condition – sure the hard case shows some wear and tear (don’t we all) but I was still shocked to see the date in the soundhole the first time such is the lovely condition it has been kept in.

Something a bit different

Here at SUS we have been privilaged to work at times fairly closely with some members of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Although I never personally spoke with Kitty Lux before her retirement from live performance, we were still incredibly sad to learn that she had passed away a week or so ago after quite long battles with ill health. Kitty was a founder member of the band along with George and had a lovely voice that jumped across genres every bit as dynamically as the music the UOofGB produce.

So, in tribute to Kitty I have included a link to quite a random video I found earlier this week. Rather than showcase her wonderful voice or playing; I figured it would be more appropriate to show her having a bit of fun with the rest of the band way back in 1989.

Flat Foot Floogie – 1989 – Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Until next month

SUS in July 2017..

Happenings in July

In the 22nd July it’s Uke Fest Essex. This is a free event (though workshops are £15),
featuring Ben Rouse, Opera-lele, Phillipa Leigh, The D’Ukes, and me and Ian 

Shameless plug!

I’ll be playing with Ian Emmerson in London and Shrewsbury in July. Fri 21st July: 
Chat’s Palace, Hackney Sun 23rd July: Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury

Around the World

In July you’ll also find; July 7th 9th: Rocky Mountain Uke Fest, Colorado, with Kevin Carroll.

July 14th 16th Uke U, Bend Oregon, with Lil’ Rev, Jim D’Ville, Aaron and Nicole Keim, 
Danielle Ate The Sandwich and lots more.

July 16th The 47th Annual Ukulele Festival Hawaii, with Ohta San, Herb Ohta Jr. and 
lots more, including Roy Sakuma’s 700 piece Ukulele Band!


July’s playing tip

Be aware. This might sound obvious, but it’s very easy when you’re reading a sheet, 
trying to remember the next chord or are just generally bogged down in the 
technicalities of operating your instrument to forget to listen to the music you and 
those you are playing with are making. Ask yourself; am I feeling the  beat? 
Am I ‘in sync’ with everyone else? Am I aware of where I am in the song? When is the 
ending coming, and how am I going to finish? We’ve all been in a session where 
someone is playing very loud and out of time, or is late with every chord change, 
or where someone carries on after the final chord has been hit. 
Don’t let it be you!


Chord of the month

A nice easy easy one to play this month, but one that’s very effective. C augmented 
crops up in the chorus of The Beatles’ “All My Loving”, in between an Am and a C, 
creating lovely descending line. It’s a pattern the Fab Four were very fond of. 
You can use it as an ascending pattern too, which happens in John Lennon’s 
“Just Like Starting Over” (if youplay it in C!) and even in Food, Glorious Food 
from Oliver (on the ‘Is it worth the waiting for, if we live ’til eighty four?’ line)! 
Given the oft-mentioned Beatles influence on the band Oasis, 
it’s hardly surprising then that we find this chord in their songs, too. 
“Let There Be Love” uses a C to Caug change several timesat the very beginning.  


All the best,

High D Baritone Tuning and Baritone GCEA – What keeps me awake at night?

Perhaps the title is a bit dramatic? I am celebrating 8 years of working at a Ukulele shop this month and it amazes me the amount of solutions and gaps in the market that have been filled either by us or other people looking to find their place in the Ukulele world..
For example, it used to be impossible to find a Spruce top Ukulele, Kala were the only people making a Ukulele bass and they only did the one type, getting a new Hawaiian/Japanese/Mainland USA made Ukulele was unheard of without getting on a plane and if children learnt an instrument in school it would have still been a recorder and most kids wouldn’t know what a Ukulele is.


(Pictured above – A Spruce top Baritone with a cool sunburst by Pono. Unthinkable here in the UK 10 years ago)
So I guess things progress as the general publics influence and interests increase and as retailers and musicians we also adapt to survive and thankfully as lovers of the Ukulele we thrive as we learn to meet those interests. A couple of years back, I would get several emails a week from customers that had purchased Baritone Ukuleles but were really keen to have them strung up GCEA with a Low G. Now I am not a Baritone player but this seems to me like a logical choice.. Make use of the extra depth of sound from your Baritone’s larger body by fitting a string that explores the lower octave. And yet! – Nobody manufactured this set of strings and seemingly still don’t. I contacted our reps for Aquila, Martin and more recently D’Addario who all politely indicated that it was a bit too niche to make manufacturing costs make sense.

So what we did was play around with several gauges of single strings until we found what we felt was the best fit and bundled that string in with the standard set of High G GCEA strings manufactured by Aquila. In two years we have sold more 200 sets and I regularly sell out of the single strings before I even notice we are running out. (Perhaps that says more about my poor stock management skills than it does about the sets popularity? Maybe, Maybe not?).


(Pictured above – Alex always lost count when stocktaking because the Ukuleles often blended in too well with his cardigan)

So I was thinking – right problem solved lets move on. Until I began receiving more emails and phone calls from customers asking for a set of High D Baritone Tuning strings. This too seems like a logical choice to me and one that should be more readily available. Using a High D is going to completely differentiate the sound of the Baritone Ukulele from the Guitar yet Somehow, the manufacturing trend is and always has been to produce sets in Low D tuning for Baritone Ukuleles.
I have come across dozens of players in the shop over the years that play around with single classical guitar strings to acheive High D tuning and even more people that are crazy enough to buy two sets of strings each time they restring a Ukulele so that they can pinch the .028 gauge E string to use as a D. A couple of manufacturers were bringing Ukuleles in accidentally strung High D from the factory which interested me until I tuned one of these Ukuleles up and realised that the strings on the Uke were the Baritone GCEA Aquila strings I mentioned earlier and they practically hung off of the fretboard when tuned down to DGBE.

Over the past few weeks I have experimented with several different gauges of string to try and find the most balanced tension. Eventually I settled on a High tension .028 D’addario Titanium Classical Guitar string which is just a little bit tighter on the neck than the E string at the opposite end of the fretboard and honestly – we are all delighted to finally have a solution for all of our customers.

I got Adam to film a little video for you of him trying these strings out on a Pono.

I hope you like it? If it sounds like a fix for your Ukulele then you can order them here.

During these experiments with different strings I grew to appreciate the Baritone Ukulele a lot more. Ukulelemag published a great article worth a read!

Great Ukes: The Birth of The Baritone

So the question is – What next? Is the next trend going to be for Baritone Ukuleles that have four wound strings or ones that can be tuned ADF#B? I hope not..

Until next time
Alex Beds

Whats new in June/July and the UFOGB

The original post can be viewed here with more photos relating to Cheltenham.


How did you enjoy that mini heatwave? It was crazy down in Bournemouth with holiday makers and day trippers really getting a taste of Bournemouth at its best. We have met some wonderful people that planned whole holidays around coming to the store and the instore events continue to be an absolute blast. Also, after months of CITES related holdups at the start of the year; Ukulele favourites like KoAloha, Pono, Kala etc are beginning to trickle back into stock in bigger numbers and long may this continue as we dive head first into Summer and beyond.

Anyway, this is what we are excited about in June/July.


Upcoming Free Workshops and Instore Gigs

This year has been just fantastic for quality and quantity of instore workshops and performances. The 2017 list of instores reads like a Ukulele Hall of Fame class with James Hill, Del Ray & Adam Franklin, Manitoba Hal and Andy Eastwood all leading the charge in the first six months of this year and we aren’t done yet! As summer comes to a close we will be hosting workshops with Stephen Sproat on the 23rd of September and Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel on the 21st of October. As usual these workshops will be absolutely free but spaces are limited… If you think you would like to come then please do get in touch with either Rob or I (Alex) in the shop on 01202 430820 to book a place.

james hill

Stephens workshop will cover Strumming patterns including The Triplet, Rock Strum, Hawaiian Strum, Choppy Strum and Fingerpicking patterns.
Also how to Add colour to one’s Playing (Accents and attitude!)
and Inversions – up the fretboard versions of common chords (C, C7, D7, E7 etc).

Craig and Sarah’s workshop is a fantastic social experience. They are both so happy and enthusiastic that we are quite happy to let them teach and show us whatever they like. Some details will be available closer to the time.

Super Duper Salt And Pepper Ukuleles

One of the most exciting things we had the pleasure of seeing in Cheltenham last week was Kala’s new USA made Doghair Mahogany Tenors. The Salt and Pepper Ukulele in particular blew me away.


It sounds lovely and rumbly and soulful. The looks are to die for but even putting that to one side, this Tenor feels big and deep and has a lovely little boom to it when you fingerpick it.

If you like the idea of a slightly chunkier neck then this Ukulele is for you! The sound of this Ukulele reminds me of a Pro Classic Pono and its easy to forget when you look at it that it is made of some very fine Honduran Mahogany.

I think we can all agree…. 


SUPER RARE USED Martin 3K Koa Soprano Ukulele​

Editor Note: I am going to be gutted if this Ukulele sells before I press publish on this article

The Martin 3K Professional Ukulele is to many players the holy grail of Ukuleles. First introduced in this Koa incarnation back in 1920; typically this model was known as one of the first truly premium Ukuleles. As happens with many more unusual instruments in the catalogue – Martin discontinued the Koa model in 1941 before bringing it back for a brief spell from 2012-2016/17. These Ukuleles were special order only and do not appear to be available now to order from Martin.

The one we have for sale is in super duper tip top condition. The original owner never even took the swing tags off. Check out our listing for it below if you like drooling over historic gorgeous Ukuleles.



CHELTENHAM – Ukulele Festival of GB
The final Ukulele Festival of Great Britain at Cheltenham Town Hall was in no way a somber affair. Every year, we spend months planning what Ukuleles to have in stock and love seeing people react to our display as they walk around the room. Aside from that, we enjoy catching up with our friends from the trade like Sutherland, Pete Howlett our friend Mat from World of Ukes. I only hope that this festivals finds a way to continue in some form next year…

Cordoba seems to have grown in the UK this year. Nearly every store that sold a variety of instruments had a Cordoba or two on the stand. We’ve been really impressed with them but it was a surprise to see everybody else has found big love for them too. If you plan on visiting us this year then try one out.

The new Kala 8 string baritone model is pretty impressive. Everybody in attendance seemed to queue up to have a go including us. We were chuffed to have a couple in stock this week for all of 6 hours before they were snapped up. Excited to get more in time for Christmas…

Pete Howlett had some wonderful Ukuleles on display as well. Rob, our Phil and every Bass player in the land spent the day trading Pete’s new bass around and smile to themselves. A truly exceptional Bass that hopefully Pete will make more of in the future. Pete had some lovely Ukes with him and I know a couple were still for sale at the end of the day. Check out Petes site or contact him on facebook for details. Alternatively our website has some fantastic Howlett’s in stock. If I had to choose a favourite??!? I would say the one in the link below is it.


DJ Morgan and Wunderkammer had people flocking to try their instruments. Liam from Wunderkammer especially blew us away with his mini Weissenborns that seemed to turn up at every jam including Pete Howletts impromptu blues jam in the afternoon.

Check out Liam’s Ukes now at
Check out DJ Morgans Ukes now at

For our store – the star of the day was KoAloha. We sold every KoAloha we took up to the show with us. I only wish KoAloha would hurry up and finish the factory move they have been powering through for a while so that they can build us more fantastic Ukuleles.

The Opio’s continue to be in a league of their own especially the Spruce models and the Hawaiian made KoAloha’s we are getting are crisp, clinical and continue to show signs of progression which is what you would expect when a company brings out such a great intermediate range like the Opio’s.


Something a bit different to end…

You could spend days on Youtube searching for Ukulele covers and I bet most of us already have.. I thought I would share one of my favourites with you.

Geraint Morgan is the product manager in the UK for Kala and Pono and quite an understated Ukulele player himself. We have always liked his rendition of the Family guy theme.

Ukulele happenings in May and June

Happenings in May

We’re well into festival season now, and they’re coming thick and fast. I’ll be at Winchester Ukulele Festival on June 3rd along with Del Rey, Andy Eastwood, Operalele, The Mother Ukers and more.

The following weekend (9th-11th) I’ll be at the Ukulele Festival of Scotland with a whole host of performers including Sarah Maisiel & Craig Chee, Gracie Terzian, Gerald Ross, Mike Hind and Jim D’Ville.

On the 16th– 18th, it’s the 8th and final Ukulele Festival of Great Britain. I had the pleasure of playing at the very first (and second, and third, in fact the first five!) and I’m really happy that I can be at the final one, though I’m sad it’s the last one.

The boys from SUS will be there too with some new, weird and wonderful Ukuleles for sale as long supporters of the festival.

This festival will always have a special place in my heart, and was my first (and for a while only) exposure to overseas acts, some of whom have become firm friends. It was through the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain that I got to meet James Hill, Gerald Ross, Sarah Maisel, Craig Chee, Ukulele Bartt, Paul Moore and The Winin’ Boys to name but a few.

The Ukulele Festival of Wales takes place on 23rd– 25th, with The Ukulele Uff trio, Peter Moss, Chonkinfeckle, Percy Copley, Matt Hicks and plenty of others.

Around the World

In June you’ll also find; 

The Ukulele World Congress in Indiana on the 2nd– 3rd

Ukulele Festival Dortmund in Germany on the 3rd– 4th

Ukestock Festival Groningen, Netherlands on 23rd– 24th

Reporting back from The West Coast Ukulele Retreat


I recently returned from my second visit to The West Coast Ukulele Retreat in California, where again I had a wonderful time. It is such a pleasure to teach and play alongside Gerald Ross, Jim D’Ville (and I’ll be seeing both of them again in a few days in Scotland), Dave Egan, Kevin Carroll (why hasn’t a UK festival grabbed Kevin yet? He’s a wonderful teacher and player), Rhan Wilson, Rick Zeek, Craig McClelland (my Blues Brother) and the utterly charming Dennis Lake.

For me, at least, it’s a completely unique experience, where instructors and attendees spend all day and evening together, and teaching can be spread over several sessions, allowing for much more in-depth workshops. The attendees all work so hard, and play hard too in the evening events! I’ve made some great friends thanks to the West Coast Retreat, and I hope I get to return!

My Uke Story

I’m often asked “how did you get into the uke?”, or “why the uke?”, so here’s how I fell into the world of the ukulele. I’ve been a bassist and guitarist since the 80s, and often dabbled in other instruments.

When my first daughter was born, in 2003, I bought a uke because I thought it would be a nice, quiet instrument to play nursery rhymes to her with, easy to grab and not too loud or threatening.

I quickly discovered that I could fit a uke under the pushchair, too! I didn’t really do much with it until I stumbled across an online forum (The 4th Peg, no longer around), and through that I discovered great players such as Cliff Edwards and Roy Smeck.

I became more interested in what the uke could do, and fell more in love with the instrument, so when I finally met another local uke player (Ian Emmerson) in the flesh in 2007, it was inevitable we would form a band!

Back then not too many people played so we had to stick with a duo. That duo, called The Re-entrants, ended up touring all over the UK for 5 years, playing all the major uke festivals and lots of other music festivals too. In fact, here we are performing in Southern Ukulele Store!


Of course, all good things must come to an end, and in 2012 we decided we needed a break, but happily we’re playing together again as Ian joins me on guitar at many gigs.

May’s playing tip

Mistakes! We all make them, so it’s worth remembering that, from an audience’s perspective’ a mistake happens and then it’s gone.

They won’t remember that stray chord or buzzy note by the end of the song let alone the gig, so you need to let go of them too. Dwelling on them will only distract you and then you’ll mess up even more.

Bear in mind that the audience are on your side. They want you to be good, to succeed, because they want to have a good time! They will happily let the odd fluff pass by.

When you make a mistake you can choose whether to ignore it, keep smiling, and pretend it never happened, or you can laugh at yourself, make a comment, and turn it into a joke- just remember to keep playing, whatever happens!

Chord of the month

The chord for June is actually lots of chords, because 1. it’s a moveable shape and 2. it has two names!


You could call the chord above Fmin7 or you could call it Ab6 (remember how we can call the chord made by playing the open strings of the uke Am7, or we can call it C6? The same principle applies here, every m7 chord has a 6 chord that’s made up of the same notes. Which is the right name depends on context, and what the bass player is playing!)
However, because there are no open strings, we can slide this shape about. At the third fret it’s a Gm7 or a Bb6, at the fifth fret it’s an Am7 or C6 (same as that open strings chord!). You can work out the rest!

When you’re playing jazzier tunes, it’s common to avoid straight major or minor chords and ‘dress them up’ a little. An easy way to do this is to play m7 chords instead of minor, and 6 chords instead of major, so it’s no surprise that this chord shape crops up a lot in jazz.


All the best,

Uke happenings in May

As mentioned last month, May kicks off with the 5th Grand Northern Ukulele Festival on the 5th -7th, but you’ll also find The New Forest Ukulele Festival in New Milton, Hampshire on the 20th and Uke Power at Drax Social Club, Selby, North Yorkshire on the 26th-28th.


Uke happenings around the world

In Europe


The Paris Ukulele Festival takes place on the 11th -13th, and features Rita and Martin, Uff & Zaza and The Hot Potato Syncopators.

On the 27th-29th The Freiburg Ukulele Festival takes place down in South West Germany.

On the 12th to the 14th there’s the first  Austrian Ukulele Festival in Graz, featuring UK acts Dead Man’s Uke and The League of Ukulele Gentlemen as well as acts from Hawaii and all over Europe.

In the US

The Denver Uke Fest is on the 11th-13th with Jake Shimabukuro, Aldrine GuerreroThe Quiet American.

Mighty Uke Day is in Lansing, Michigan on 12th-14th ( with Heidi Swedberg and Daniel Ward.

Spring Into Uke is on the 13th in Voorheesville, New York with Jim and Liz Beloff.

Las Cruces Ukulele Festival takes place on the 19th-23rd and features Jim and Liz Beloff, Daniel Ward, Heidi Swedberg and Danielle Ate The Sandwich.

Ashokan Uke Fest runs from the 26th to the 29th in Olivebridge, New York, with James Hill & Anne Janelle, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, Gerald Ross and Jim D’Ville.

In Australia

Dandenong Ranges Ukulele Festival takes place on the 20th and 21st.

Reporting back from Sore Fingers Bluegrass Week

In last month’s blog I mentioned that I would be teaching uke, alongside Percy Copley, at Sore Fingers Bluegrass camp. I’m happy to report that I had a wonderful time, teaching alongside some of the top names in bluegrass and old-time music, and the students were all amazing (especially the uke students!)

I’m happy to report that I’ve been asked to return as uke teacher for the October weekend (dates to be announced soon), and even if you think bluegrass isn’t your thing, I’m positive you’d have an amazing time. Come and join me!


Uke Class at Sore Fingers

Who’s around?

Right now, Manitoba Hal and Victoria Vox are to be found wandering the UK, popping up at various venues (Hal has just visited SUS!), so keep an eye on their gig lists to see if they are anywhere near you.

Quite soon, they’ll be joined by Del Rey who’s making her way through Europe in May before hitting our shores in early June, where she’ll not only be playing in my home town, with me and Ian Emmerson supporting, grab your tickets here.

She’ll also be at Southern Ukulele Store on June 10th  from 2-4pm, leading a workshop and performing with Adam Franklin.


Del Rey

Cool stuff

Despite being an old-school kind of guy with a pretty simple stage setup (point a mic at it and go) I do like to keep an eye out for any cool gadgets, instrument innovation and new toys to try out.

This month, the D’Addario Cinch Fit strap attachment caught my eye. For years I performed on plugged in electric ukes with straps, and end pin jacks were always a bit of a nuisance. Straps had to be stretched over them or even cut to make the hole bigger, ruining them for use on regular strap buttons. This is a really neat solution!


D’Addario Cinch Fit

May’s playing tip

Step out of your comfort zone! It’s really easy, in the confines of your home or when surrounded by your fellow uke club members, to play music that you’ve played many times before.

The best way to move on as a player is to put yourself in situations where you feel a little out of your depth. Try hanging around with players that are better than you, players of other instruments, or players of a style of music that you don’t normally play.

Try attending a folk session or a blues jam. If you’ve never performed in public before, find a safe, friendly place and set yourself a deadline. It’s amazing how knowing you’re going to play in front of people in a week’s time can focus the mind!

Chord of the month

Another favourite of mine, this is a nice inversion of an F9 chord (or you could call it a Cm6). Try is on bluesy songs with a regular C chord, and last months G7 alternative. Notice how when you put those those three chords together, the G string remains open all the time.

This is really effective in blues and old-time music, as the drone is reminiscent of either the thumping bottom string of a blues  guitar (especially if you have a low G), or the ringing high 5th string on a 5 string banjo.

image2 (1)


All the best,