Ohana Resonators: Ukulele Window Shopping

I went to Belper Uke Gathering last week. I wasn’t there long, but while I was I got a chance to try out Ohana’s new resonator ukuleles. They’re very nice ukes. Well made, top quality parts, sound great. I don’t understand why they did that.

The problem is, they’re in the same price range as Nationals. The tenor will be almost exactly the same price as a triolian (although the triolian is a concert). Even if the Ohana is better than the National, I’ll still want the National because they have the story. They’re THE resonator maker. Their instruments were used by the great bluesmen and Hawaiian players of the 20s and 30s. Buy a National, you buy the story free and you get to play at Son Houses.

Ohana have a great story too. They slap together ukuleles in China so you can have a nice sounding, solid wood uke that won’t give you any problems at a decent price. That’s the reason I play my Ohana more than any other ukulele. But it also stops me spending a fat wad of cash on one of their ukes.

Compare Ohana to Kala. They’re in a similar area and have both been rapidly expanding the number of models. But Kala have stuck more closely to the idea of making ukes that are like expensive ones but more affordable. So they make the Acacia tenor for people who want to have a uke like Jake’s and the uBass for people who can’t afford a Road Toad.

Ohana don’t seem to have the same focus. If Ian Ohana had asked me what I thought, I would have gone with a cheaper, mass produced cones rather than the top, handmade ones they have. (All this is just what goes through my head – any resemblance to good business practice is purely coincidental).

On the subject of resonators, there’s this unusual ‘Resonator Fiddle Baritone’ on eBay.

Photos: Dour women sit on a car, ukulele woman.

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8 Comments

  1. Herman April 16th, 2010 8:05 pm

    I think you’r right about the resonator ukes only it is not my cup of thee! The woman on the pics that’s an other story!

  2. Woodshed April 17th, 2010 4:21 pm

    Herman: I should have known that’s what would have caught your attention.

  3. dnewton2 April 19th, 2010 3:09 pm

    I have not heard the prices on the Ohana Reso until this. I think you are right to go ahead with the National. At the very least if not that I think I would have Mya-Moe buil dme a custom for that price if I was not going for the National.

    I have heard they prices were supposed to be competitive, but I did not know it was competitive with National.

  4. Ken Middleton April 19th, 2010 5:04 pm

    I think I need to clear up a few things.

    First of all, the resonators that Ohana are going to be marketing are not manufactured just by us, but in collaboration with Delta Resonator Cones, a company owned by Colin Oldham. Ohana provide the basic instrument (most made specially for the purpose) and Colin installs his hand-built resonator components. Everything about the resonator part of this instrument is made by hand to the very highest specifications.

    Most of the other companies that market resonators produce factory-made instruments. This includes National Resonphonic, who, by the way, no-one seriously believes is the same company as National.

    Our resonators will be assembled in the UK and exported to selected dealers from here. Even when an existing instrument is used (like the Vita), it is partly dismantled and re-braced before the resonator mechanism is fitted.

    The rest of our catalogue of instruments remain very traditional and represent extremely good value for money. For instance, at Frankfurt this year we introduced 3 new sopranos, all solid wood, but not in any way over-priced. This includes an interpretation of a Martin M2, which should be available later in the year. Our mahogany 5 string will be sensibly priced too and should cost just a little more than a regular solid mahogany tenor.

    One other thing, most people that have played our 3 different resonators agree that they sound amazing. This fact seems to be being missed. Surely this is the important thing, not that the basic wooden components were made in China.

  5. Colin April 19th, 2010 10:19 pm

    Hi there.
    I thought I should pass comment on your posting.
    I am Colin from Delta Resonator Cones, I build and fit the resonator side of the range of Ohana Ukuleles.
    Firstly I too was at Belper, and I am surprised you didn’t seek me out to quiz me as to why Ohana and I think we can come up with a resonator that is world class.

    Your references’ to “National”. National have not made Ukuleles since the 1940s.
    NRP set up in 1989. The Hawaiians along with the legendary blues men all played Nationals. I look at this the same as when BMW’s launched the Mini, if you owned a real Mini the new one is an imposter.
    I have come across this situation many times before; some people can only see brand names others will look with their ears.
    Incidentally, I use Beltona as my bench mark, they along with other makers are better and more expensive than National.

    The Ohana bodies which are manufactured to the highest standard (not slapped together) will be purpose built for the resonators.
    I manufacture every part of the resonator myself they are not imported. In fact I design, weld, polish, role, press, shot blast, spot-weld, tap, and fit it all in the UK.

    So the combination of an excellent body and hand made resonator makes it way out of the league of just another Chinese Uke.

    The Cones.
    I hand spin the cones. I put the swirls in by hand not a press, but they are still cheaper than the competition.
    Cheep cones are pressed, they are like plates, dead no resonance, false economy.

    Delta resonator, Ohana body, World class, ask Bob Brozman (who wrote the book) or Don from N R P they have played and liked (it is on You Tube).

    It is only my opinion but there people who cannot afford more than £20.00 to spend on a Uke, there are those who are happy to pay £150.00 for one, and there are the serious players who will pay what they have to, to get what they want, they look with their ears not at a brand name. You get what you pay for.

  6. Woodshed April 19th, 2010 11:25 pm

    dnewton2: If I had the money, I’d be going for a Mya-Moe as well.

    Ken: Please don’t take this as an attack on Ohana. I love Ohana which is the reason I wrote it. If I didn’t give a shit, I wouldn’t have bothered.

    And I agree that they sound great – as I mentioned right at the start of the post.

    But I’d ask you this: what makes an Ohana ukulele an Ohana ukulele?

    Colin: I agree with pretty much everything you say (the exception: my Ohana is definitely slapped together). Cheep cones do sound dead compared to the real thing, you do get what you pay for, they’re way out of the league of just another Chinese uke.

    But I don’t see any of those as a reason for Ohana to be making this uke. There’s a huge gap between the cheap as chips Recorder King/Johnson resonator and the four figure ($ wise) resonators. That’s where I would have expected to see Ohana. Even if it does mean compromising quality.

  7. Oliver July 30th, 2010 9:58 am

    I tryed the Ohana resonator ukeleles and asked for the price. As far as I remember, the price tag seemed too high for an instrument that at the end is some sort of Frankestein. Let me explain, they make ukuleles at a china factory and the try to put a cone in them. The looks and the sound of the ukes I tryed did not convince me.
    My advice, look for something that is mass produced (johnson and similar) for price/performance; and for quality go to a custom designed and made like Mya Moe, Beltona and so on.

  8. Woodshed August 3rd, 2010 5:19 pm

    Oliver: At the low end of the scale, I’ve heard good things about the Republic Resonator. Not got my hands on one though.

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