4/30/2011

c.1920 Hawaiian Niu Kani Coconut Ukulele






This uke was made in Hawaii, around c.1920, and is made from high-grade koa... and... half a coconut! I see these Niu Kani brand (TikiKings says this translates roughly to "coconut sound" though I've seen it used interchangeably to mean half-shell coconut on the web) from time to time, but never in really great shape. This one took a lot of work (neck set, new bridge, additional light brace to the top, fret dress, new tuners, new nut, etc.) but also happens to be in generally good shape.

The koa top is extremely thin and extremely lightly braced, which means that over time it has acquired a little sink in front of the bridge (though now it's reinforced a little and stable), and had a loose neck when I got it. The neck was actually attached to the coconut/neck block with nails... bad idea... so even though it was built with a beautifully-crafted neck joint, it was loose. To remedy this problem I thought up a bunch of ideas but went with a bolt-through heel/block solution for a good solid fit and durability, and also installed a strap button at the heel at the same time to hang this "mandolin" style over the shoulder, which makes its round-body shape easier to deal with while upright.


I also had to install a new bridge (this one is mahogany) as the original was missing and because the original bridge foot was so tiny, I decided to go with a pin-style setup to remove extra sideways pull tension off of the bridge. It has a '20s style fret saddle.


Frets are bar-stock brass and needed dressing. Check out that gorgeous flamed koa on the neck!


New bone nut, nice flamed koa... and the Niu Kani logo (Diamond Head + palm trees + ocean).


Really pretty koa on this uke.


...and there's the coconut! Sweet!


New tuners and "Made in Hawaii" stamp. For once, this is true!



The flame on the neck is surreal...


Bridge pins are vintage ebony ones with pearl dots.

Overall -- this is an incredibly nice uke, easily with as good a tone and projection as old Kamakas, Kumalaes, etc. Darn loud, too! The scale length is on the weird side at 12 1/2" though I don't notice the short length too much as the neck is nice and wide. I imagine they shortened the scale for two reasons: puts the bridge in the right place for the length of the neck -- and it also lessens tension on such a thin and fragile top when tuned to the (much more favored back then) ADF#B tuning.

UPDATE: Just found the above image on the net on a French forum. Very cool little historical blurb! But 50,000 a year -- nope! Never made in those numbers!

2 comments:

UKULELE.TAHITI said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
UKULELE.TAHITI said...

"Just found the above image on the net on a French forum. "

Thank you for your visit on Ukulele Club de France

http://www.ukulele.fr/forum/index.php?topic=9180.0

8cordes aka Philippe G.