11/03/2013

c.1920 Kumalae Koa Soprano Ukulele


What a pretty thing, huh?

This Hawaiian-made Kumalae was in the shop from a customer and the work included a bridge cut and reglue, fret level/dress, crack and seam repair, and setup. Due to a bad neck angle (which is frustrating and cost-ineffective to fix considering the Spanish heel design) I had to cut the bridge down quite a bit and convert the stringing style to a "through top" style, but after everything was done this uke turned out well. Its voice is especially suited to old ADF#B tuning (a step above the modern common GCEA) which makes use of the chimey, sweet, and strum-friendly sound of this uke.

Compared to most Kumalaes one sees, this is a little fancier with rope binding around the top edge and rope purfling around the soundhole and upgraded, figured "pumpkin orange" koa used throughout.




In addition to the bad original neck angle, the top near the bridge had also deformed a little bit. To help reinforce that area I added a cedar bridge plate which is lightweight, resonant, and helps with stiffness. The tops on many of these old Hawaiian ukes are paper thin which makes them sound great but often times the original bracing is a tad insufficient.

This way, the volume and sweet tone survives but the instrument will, too.


Everything on the uke is original, including these wood violin-style pegs. The owner and I might do some trading or purchasing (or not) involving this uke, so these might be swapped out with modern friction pegs (or not). I think that would be perhaps a small shame, as these pegs work just fine now that I've applied a bit of peg dope to get them turning smoothly.


The frets are brass bar stock. Intonation gets a few cents sharp after the 7th fret but it's not obvious when you're playing. I think that the scale on this guy wasn't set perfectly to begin with. This is somewhat common on Hawaiian ukes of all stripes from the period this was made -- but considering most ukes are chorded-on under the 7th fret, it doesn't matter too much to 99% of players, does it?


I love the color of the koa on this guy. The finish is also in nice shape, too.


After cutting down and regluing the bridge I drilled holes for the strings to load through (and be tied off in knots internally) rather than attempting to use the old slots. Because it's the original bridge top, it looks period, but works functionally like a "pin" bridge. This is an easy trick to make functional instruments out of old Hawaiian ukes that would otherwise need a very time-consuming, tricky, and costly Spanish heel neck reset to play well at all.

Action is currently on the dot at 1/16" at the 12th fret.




The neck is wide (side to side) but thin (front to back) which is a trait shared by many Hawaiian ukes. For me, this is the ideal soprano neck as there's plenty of room to plant one's fingers for complicated chord shapes.


Yeap, it's a beaut.





It looks like pine was used for the endstrip -- curious!


Cute label!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is that ever a nice looking uke!
Tammy