Cocobolo Ukulele Review

I have been watching the development of this line very closely over the last year or so, and I must say, they are building some striking instruments.  I’ve probably played 10 or 12 of these wonderful ukes, and at this point I think I can say they are a consistent and high quality product!  Great looks, excellent quality tone woods, original design, and rich, balanced tone are all part of the Cocobolo Ukulele formula.  They are a solid company that stands behind the products they sell and have a genuine dedication to making the best instrument possible.

This uke line has evolved leaps and bounds over the last year and produces a unique looking and wonderful sounding concert sized uke.  Their newest model sports a solid cocobolo top, back, sides, fingerboard, bridge, and peghead veneer.  I will be reviewing that model very soon (as soon as I get another one in the shop).

Here is a link to the Cocobolo Ukuleles Site for more info.  Here are some specs for those interested in such things.

  • Solid Nicaraguan cocobolo back, sides, fingerboard, bridge and headstock overlay
  • Solid Honduran mahogany soundboard, neck, heel and bracings
  • Radiused fingerboard, nut and saddle
  • Aquila Nylgut ukulele strings
  • Grover Sta-Tite ukulele tuning pegs
  • Abalone shell side markers
  • Solid bone nut and saddle
  • Steel ukulele fretwire
  • Standard tuning: G-C-E-A

Overall, I find the Cocobolo Ukes to be well balanced, rich and warm with ample projection.  They are all handmade with locally sourced, properly dried tonewoods.  They also look really nice as well.

Cocobolo Ukuleles Nica Tiki

Some Cocobolo Ukulele backs

Cocobolo Ukulele back


Honduran Mahogany ukulele top

Honduran Mahogany top





Lanikai Tuna Uke bridge set-up: How to lower the string action

I’ve received quite a few questions in the last few months regarding the new “Tuna Uke” bridge system from Lanikai Ukuleles.  For those not familiar with this recent innovation, it incorporates forward/backward adjustable bridge saddles into standard ukulele design, which provides a huge improvement in the instruments “intonation”, or ability to play in tune at all points on the fretboard.  The movable bridge saddles can be nudged forward to shorten the string length or shifted back to lengthen it, which allows for correction of some of the common pitfalls that most ukes suffer from, especially in the under $100 price range.

Have you ever noticed that when you tune your ukulele up and play one chord it sound great, but then another chord will sound sour and out of tune?  Have you found that different octaves of the same note played in different places on the fingerboard sound slightly “off”?  Traditionally this has been something that you just have to accept, but now there is a solution: the Tuna Uke bridge from Lanikai!

Although it does take some experience to make these simple adjustments, it requires no tools other than a chromatic clip on tuner and a small “poking device” such as a screwdriver, pen, or drill bit.  Here is a video I did on how you can easily make these compensations from the comfort of your own home!

Now back to the point of this article: How to lower the TunaUke string action.  All Tuna Uke equipped ukes come with an extra set of slightly taller saddle inserts that allow you to easily raise the action on the instrument if you would like the string height to be a little higher, but many people have asked “that’s great, but how do you lower the existing saddles if you want lower string action?”.  This can absolutely be done, and with nothing more than a small screwdriver and a piece of sandpaper.  Here is a video I recently shot on this lowering the TunaUke saddles:

Here is a list of helpful things to remember as you go through this process.

1) Snap a Picture of the bridge BEFORE you begin working.  I always try to have a reference picture to look at if I forget small details about a project I’m working on.  Although this process is very straight forward, this is a good habit to develop. If you forget how something was, just check the picture! This will also help you get the saddle positions for correct intonation back with less effort.

2) Go slowly!  Don’t rush, that is how mistakes happen.  Definitely lower the saddles in small increments so you don’t go to far and end up with a buzzy mess when you go back to playing.  Between each adjustment tune up that particular string and check the entire length of the fretboard for the buzzes or red flag behavior!

3) When removing the saddles for adjustment just push them out with a pen or screwdriver.  They are a little bit tight, but don’t require much pressure.  Don’t push so hard that you lose control and scrape the uke!

4) Be sure to keep a FLAT angle when filing the saddles and only remove material from the TOP of the piece!  If you file from the bottom the saddle will become too loose in the bridge to work and you will have to start over with a new one.  Don’t stress though, Lanikai can provide you with extras!

5) Don’t lose the string slot in the saddle.  As you file the insert, you will naturally be removing material and grinding through the slot that guides the string.  No big deal, just use a small needle file ($5 at Lowes) or the corner edge of a larger file to cut the slot deeper as you go.  This can also be done with a razor blade, but be very careful, you will need your fingers to play once the uke is set up.

I guess that will just about do it!  If you have any questions about the process, or the Lanikai TunaUke system in general feel free to give me a call (John Gonzalez) at Fan Guitar and Ukulele (804) 254-4600.

The Lanikai TunaUke bridge system provides a simple yet affordable solution to the age old problem of ukulele intonation.  It is truly an innovation that will be heard around the world, quite literally!



Some pictures from Summer NAMM 2013.

The Nashville NAMM show was fun, I went with my dad which made it even better. Some standouts were Moku Ukuleles, the Martin Iz Tenor model, some new Ohana prototypes, and the Kanilea Islander series. Cordoba’s 30 series ukes were sounding mighty good as well. Kala had some way cool banjo uke models that are coming out soon too, and the Magic Fluke Company Firefly Concert was nice too.

Islander uke

My dad Mario busting a move on an Islander tenor!

Islander ukuleles

Islander by Kanilea booth.

Moku ukuleles

The Moku ukulele booth. These ukes are way beyond the quality of most comparable instruments.

Moku ukuleles

Moku Zircote custom tenor, and a few select series ukes.

Kanilea ukuleles

Some Kanile’a models, sexy Koa as per usual.

Kanilea ukes

A few more Hawaiian made Kanile’a ukes.

Martin Iz tenor ukulele.

Martin Iz model tenor uke.

Martin Iz uke

Martin Iz headstock.

Ohana vintage ukulele.

Ohana vintage style uke! I like this one.

Ohana vita uke

The new Vita uke prototype was loud and in charge!

Ohana Tiple prototype

Ohana Tiple prototype with slotted headstock.

Ohana uke


Vox electric ukulele

Funky fox electric ukes with a speaker built in! Weird, but interesting.

Kala banjo ukulele

Kala banjo ukes, I like the soprano, it felt good.

Kala ukuleles at NAMM

Linda from Kala is an excellent hand model.

Oscar Schmidt Willy K

Oscar Schmidt Willy K models, one is a 5 string with a high and low G.

Willie K 5 string Oscar Schmidt ukulele

Willie K 5 string signature model.

Kanile’a Ukuleles….what makes them so special?

What is it about the 100% Hawaiian made goodness encapsulated in a Kanile’a ukulele that makes it so incredibly cool and unique? Lets take a look at a K-1 Tenor Premium Ebony model and see what all the hype is about.

Kanile’a ukuleles are well known for their detailed perfection, amazing looking koa and refined and resonant sound. Kanile’a has become famous for their progressive construction techniques coupled with traditional wood choices and “classic meets modern” sonic combinations.

Part of the expense of these instruments is the result of the sheer cost of quality Hawaiian Koa. This wood is highly sought after for both its tonal character as well as the cool 3D look of Premium grade curly Koa. Not only is the wood expensive to come by, it must be properly dried, expertly milled and bookmatched in order to be made usable for the the building process.

This model has some very unique custom features, such as an ebony fretboard, headstock cap, and bridge, as well as “Hawaiian sand” inlaid logo and fret markers. Yes, thats right, there is sand inlaid into the fretboard and headstock!

The Premium Tenor also sports and abalone rosette and grover closed capsule geared tuners. The whole thing is framed handsomely by the black body binding.

Other modern features unique to Kanile’a are the UV cured finish (3 layers of finish as opposed to 14 layers on a non-UV Nitro gloss), drilled out bracing (less mass=more reactive), and TRU brace system which enables horizontal and vertical running bracing to cross without touching, allowing the top to vibrate freely yet remain properly supported. Kanile’a ukuleles also have a slightly rounded arch to the back of the instrument (also made possible by the revolutionary bracing), which also contributes to their sonorous tone and remarkable stability. The “pin style” bridge is another feature, and it allows more of the string vibration to transfer to the top, resulting in a more vibrant and brilliant tone.

All this work is done by the small family based company in Kaneohe, Hawaii. The resulting perfection of the instruments created is a testament to their unwavering dedication to flawless craftsmanship coupled with the relentless innovation that Kanile’a ukuleles stand for.

The Kanile’a fit and finish, playability, aesthetic, and tone are uncompromising

and raise a high bar for those aspiring to compete in the fertile grounds of the custom ukulele market. I have to say, Kanile’a are here to stay!


Pin style bridge

Kanilea Pin Style bridge.

Kanilea Sand Logo Inlay!

Check out the Sand Logo inlay!

Kanilea K-1 Tenor Premium Ebony Premium Curly Koa Kanilea K-1 Tenor Premium Ebony Kanilea K-1 Tenor Premium Ebony Kanilea K-1 Tenor Premium Ebony Kanilea K-1 Tenor Premium Ebony

kanilea Sand fret markers

Sand Fret Markers

Kanilea K-1 Tenor Premium Ebony Kanilea K-1 Tenor Premium Ebony kanilea TRU bracing

What is a six string ukulele?…….Ohana TK-70-6 Six String Ukulele Sound Sample

This is an introduction to the 6-string ukulele for those who are not familiar with that style of uke, as well as a quick sound sample of the Ohana TK-70-6 model that has recently gone through some upgrades. The Ohana 6 six string now comes with a solid spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides, as well as a slotted headstock (which I think is very cool).

It’s a very good sounding six string, an very competitively priced ($260) when compared to other similar ukulele models. It’s a little more mellow sounding than what you would normally expect from a spruce top, but that may have something to do with the strings it comes with being a little richer and less bright than an Aquila brand string.

The six string ukulele is not like a guilele (small guitar like uke).  It still retains the tuning characteristics of a four string uke (G C E A), but has courses of strings (sets of 2) for the C and A string. The C has a standard C string and another that is an octave higher, and the A has the standard A with an octave lower wound steel (with nylon core) string. The dual strings are positioned close enough to eachother that they can both be fretted with one finger, similar to a 12 string guitar.

These courses of strings give the six string ukulele a very robust and full sound when strumming chords, but also provide a fuller and richer tone when finger picked or played melodically. Definitely worth checking out if you are looking for a different sounding uke to add to your collection, or are in search of a little more volume and fuller tone.

 Ohana TK-70-6 six string ukulele

Solid Spruce Top!


Ohana TK-70-6 six string ukulele

Dual C and A strings.


Ohana TK-70-6 six string ukulele

New slotted headstock.


Ohana TK-70-6 six string ukulele

Solid Mahogany back and sides.


Ohana TK-70-6 six string ukulele

Wound lower octave A string.





Ukulele “D” tuning and chord chart scans

D tuning (a-d-f#-b) was very common in the 1920’s and is often seen in older ukulele method and song publications.  It is still sometimes used, mostly on soprano sizes, to give a sweeter tone and tighter feel to the instrument.

The more modern g-c-e-a tuning is much more common, but I scanned a few chord sheets out of an old ukulele instructional book from 1952 in case anyone is looking for a D tuning chord diagram. Enjoy!

D tuning ukulele chords

D tuning ukulele chords

D tuning ukulele chords

D tuning ukulele chords

Vintage 1960’s Gibson UKE1 Soprano Ukulele w/ paperwork

This Gibson Soprano Ukulele came in to Fan Guitar and Ukulele  for a little bit of love this week.  It is in good condition and had the original hardshell alligator case, as well as the original Gibson paperwork!

The tag in the case said that it was purchased for $45, and the case was $10.  This would make it a fairly expensive model for the time.  The owner said it was purchased in the mid 1960’s, but I have not tried to date it exactly.

Here is a link to some info regarding the history of Gibson ukuleles.

If you read some of the text on the Gibson tag, they recommend changing strings at least once a month!  Perhaps string technology has come a long way since then, or maybe they just hoped to sell more string sets.

Here is a link to an vintage Martin string price sheet that I photographed a little while back!

Such a cool vintage soprano uke!  I guess I felt like I should share it.  Enjoy!

Also here is a quick demo video filmed after a few repairs and a new set of strings.

Vintage Gibson UKE-1 Soprano Ukulele

The real deal!

Vintage Gibson UKE-1 Soprano Ukulele

Awe yeah! Original friction tuners.

Vintage Gibson UKE-1 Soprano Ukulele

Serial numba.

Vintage Gibson UKE-1 Soprano Ukulele

Gibson logo.

Vintage Gibson UKE-1 Soprano Ukulele

You love it.

Original Gibson Ukulele Tag!

Supa cool!

Gibson UKE-1 Soprano Ukulele sale tag!

I call that a deal, that is if you ignore inflation.

12 11 10 9 8 7

Vintage Roy Smeck (Harmony) Concert Ukulele

This cool little ukulele came in for a little set up work and ended up playing pretty nicely.  I didn’t have time to shoot a video, but I snapped a few pictures for fun.

This model seems to have been manufactured between 1955 and the late 1960’s, but I didn’t attempt to date it exactly.  The Roy Smeck Ukulele model was made by Harmony and was a very good selling student model instrument throughout the 60’s.

Here is a link to an interesting write up about Smeck and this ukulele model. Apparently Hendrix and Chuck Berry may have “borrowed” a few of Roy Smeck’s signature ukulele moves!

This page link has a short synopsis of the history of Harmony Ukuleles.

For anyone interested, here is what Wikipedia has to say about Roy Smeck.

Anyway, thanks for looking!

Roy Smeck Concert Ukulele

With the original box!

Roy Smeck Concert Ukulele

Not bad condition!

Roy Smeck Concert Ukulele

Headstock closeup

Roy Smeck Concert Ukulele

Scruffy just had to check this out.

1920’s Vintage Banjo Ukulele – “Rolando Model” (Southern California Music Co.)

This was a repair that came in from our friend Katie. It needed a new head and a full set-up. It came around nicely and sounded pretty dang cool so I figured I would document it a little.

The banjo uke was made (probably in the 1920’s) by the Southern California Music Company

and as far as I can tell this model was called the “Rolando”. It has a fairly thick rim, but resonates well! The ukulele came out much louder than I expected it to be.

I put a set of Aquila gut style strings and they seem to work well.

The head was tricky to put on because there were a few missing pieces but with a little improvisation, all ended well.

The video cuts out a little early at the end because my battery died, but its at least good enough to here some sound samples.

Rolando Vintage Banjo Ukulele

Side view of Banjo Uke.

Vintage Banjo Ukulele

Banjo Uke in Case.

Vintage Banjo Ukulele

Cool little F-holes.

Vintage Banjo Ukulele

I be lookin good!

Vintage Martin Ukulele string chart from 1950!

These were in the case of a 1950’s Martin Soprano ukulele and I just thought they were cool, so I scanned them.

Ukulele String prices just ain’t what they used to be! I love cool stuff like this.

Its interesting that the strings were apparently commonly sold by the dozen.

It also seems that the Tiple was a popular instrument of the time.  It seems both ukulele and guitar like, but I have never played one.

Vintage Martin String Chart

This is effective 1950.

Vintage Martin String Chart

Purdy Cool!