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Ohana ukuleles are some of the cheapest solid wood ukuleles around. A number of their instruments are solid mahogany yet priced at under $200. That's very rare.
Obviously, with the instruments being so cheap, they are not made in the US but China. As you can see from Ken Middleton's review below, this means that the finishing and set up aren't always perfect. But for such a low price tag, it might be a compromise you're happy to make.
Ohana produce two unusual instruments that are popular with ukulelists looking for something a little different. The SK-21 is a sopranino i.e. it is even smaller than a soprano. With an overall length of less than 20 inches, it makes for a great traveling uke. The other is the CKP-70. This is a replica of the Roy Smeck Vita-Uke. It has the distinctive teardrop shape and unusually shaped sound holes.
Ken Middleton's review of the Ohana TK-35G
Ohana CK-50G Concert Ukulele Review
The Ohana CK-50G is a concert ukulele in roughly the same price class as the Bushman Jenny and a little more expensive than the popular Fluke Uke. In Ohana's lineup, it falls between the less expensive mahogany CK-25 and the company's pricier solid koa models. Despite the name (ohana is Hawaiian for 'family'), this company's instruments are made in China.
This uke has a solid cedar top, rosewood sides and back, and a rosewood fretboard. The body has a high-gloss finish with purfling around the soundhole and on the outer edge of the top. It has a total of 19 frets. The neck joins the body at the 14th fret, allowing a little more room to navigate than on ukes with only 12 frets on the neck. There are mother-of-pearl position markers at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, and 12th frets. The uke has Gotoh nickel friction pegs with white plastic knobs and comes fitted with Aquila Nylgut strings (re-entrant tuning). The dimensions are as follows:
Scale length: 15 inches (38.1 cm)
Neck width at nut: 1 3/8 inches (3.49 cm)
Neck width at 14th fret: 1 11/16 inches (4.29 cm)
Lower bout width: 7 5/8 inches (19.4 cm)
Upper bout width: 5 3/4 inches (14.6 cm)
Overall length: 24 inches (61 cm)
Length of body alone: 10 3/4 inches (27.1 cm)
Maximum body depth: 2 5/8 inches (6.67 cm)
My CK-50G arrived about six weeks ago and has gotten a pretty good workout. I play it for at least an hour every day and have taken it on a couple of business trips.
Appearance and workmanship. In overall appearance this is an attractive instrument, and there are no visible flaws in workmanship. The edge of the fretboard is smooth and without snags, which is not always true of inexpensive instruments. In a few areas, such the join of the bridge to the top or the neck to the body, you can tell that it is not a top-of-the-line ukulele, but such comparisons are not really fair.
Tuning. I actually prefer friction pegs to geared tuning machines: They give the uke a more authentic, traditional look, and their lighter weight makes for a less top-heavy instrument. But I can understand why they might be a big negative for some prospective purchasers. The 1:1 turning ratio means that a small tweak of the knob can result in a major change in pitch, and these pegs definitely get out of tune more readily than geared tuners. Also, you have to remember to end the tuning process with a tightening (pitch-raising) motion rather than the opposite, in order to avoid slippage. All this takes some getting used to, but I don't think the CK-50G is any better or worse in this respect than other ukes with friction pegs that I have played. Slippage can be reduced by adjusting the set screw at the end of each peg. Unfortunately for those who would prefer a geared mechanism, Ohana does not seem to offer options in the type of tuning devices that are installed on its ukes, as some other makers do.
Action and intonation. The CK-50G was delivered with the action set pretty much as I like it, although I suppose this is fairly personal. It certainly couldn't have been set much lower without producing some buzzing. The intonation seemed just fine: Comparing the 12th fret harmonic of each string to its sound when stopped at that fret revealed no discernible differences in pitch. Similarly, octaves played up and down the fretboard were in tune.
Tone and balance. The overall volume of this instrument is about the same as that of my concert Fluke Uke, that is, plenty loud enough. The tone quality is probably a little richer (as should be expected from a solid as opposed to laminate top), and it has better sustain, despite a fairly percussive attack with a lot of "punch" (I haven't yet played it with other instruments, but I suspect it would be easy to hear over the crowd). I was a little put off by this percussive sound at first, but I have gotten used to it and now really like it.
My one major complaint about the sound (and about this uke in general) is the lack of balance in dynamics: Notes within a very narrow range (roughly between F# and G above middle C) are noticeably louder than all the rest. The imbalance doesn't really matter in strictly strumming styles, but it can be heard in styles where individual notes are more audible, like clawhammer (which often involves plucking the open G string). I have occasionally noticed a similar problem in moderately-priced classical guitars. I have no idea whether this is an idiosyncrasy of my particular instrument, or whether other CK-50Gs suffer from the same problem.
Where to get it. Ohana does not sell directly to consumers, or at least so it seems from their website (http://www.ohana-music.com/). I bought my CK-50G from musicguymic, who is one of the bigger uke vendors on eBay. I have nothing but praise for musicguymic: The instrument arrived sooner than promised and was in pristine condition. His price ($250) for the uke and foam case was less than some other sellers charge for the instrument alone. Plus, his shipping costs were realistic, not inflated as they are for many online vendors.
Conclusion. Despite some misgivings, I thought the Ohana CK-50G was well worth the money, and I would probably buy another if I lost this one. Although musicguymic has a three-day cash return policy, I did not consider the dynamic balance problem mentioned above serious enough to warrant returning the uke. However, you might not be as tolerant I am, so it would be nice to be able to try the instrument out before buying, if you can find a brick-and-mortar retailer who has Ohanas in stock (I didn't find any in my area).
Review by Bill Weigel
Ohana CK-70rb Ukulele Review
Length of time owned: 1 month
Overall rating: 8/10
Amount paid: $132.95 from musicguymic on Ebay.
Listen to clip (mp3)
A few weeks ago I upgraded from the ukulele I had previously used for almost two years, an Oscar Schmidt OU-2. I considered purchasing a completely hardwood ukulele, I was concerned about spending that much on a new ukulele while in college. I also would prefer to try an instrument out in person first if spending that much, and found very few options in a roughly 150 mile area. I found that Musicguymic was having a sale on the Ohana CK-70rb at the time which basically equated to free shipping from the original price. It was almost $70.00 cheaper than the Ohana CK-25 and I decided to go ahead and try it. At the time of my writing this (July 2008) there is almost no information relating to this ukulele online, even Ohana does not currently list this model on their website.
This particular model is a round backed ukulele with a molded plastic back and sides, similar to an Applause/Ovation or a Fluke/Flea. Unlike the Fluke/Flea it does not have a flat bottom so that you can set it down easily. The shape of the body is very similar to the Applause UA10. I have unfortunately have not been able to play the Applause UA10 to compare (they are similar in style), but have played the UA20. This ukulele is definitely louder than the UA20 was, however this may in part be due to the difference in styles of sound holes and size (the UA20 is a soprano sized ukulele while the CK-70rb is concert sized). It is also significantly louder than my OU-2 was.
The ukulele is an import as most ukuleles in this price range are. That being said, this ukulele seems fairly well built. I have dropped it once (into a gravel parking lot when it was not in the case) and short of a few very light scratches on the plastic there do not appear to be any problems. The ukulele is finished in a matte finish. There is white binding along the edges and two small black lines border the top portion of the soundboard. This pattern also encircles the sound hole. There are no blemishes to speak of in the wood, and the ukulele seems to have a more subtle appearance than some of the other ukuleles in this price range I looked at seemed to have. I would be less likely to carry this ukulele around in my messenger bag as I did with my previous uke.
The ukulele came set up nicely from musicguymic, and from what I've read online it included the 'standard free case' he provides with many of the ukuleles he sells. I did notice that a little after a week or so I needed to tighten the tuning pegs on the ukulele. Since this is my first friction-peg ukulele, I do not know how common this is but thought it was worth mentioning. It is of course not hard to do, and the ukulele has had not had any peg slipping since doing so.
Overall, I would likely rate this ukulele an 8/10. The tone and intonation are good on my ukulele. As I move down the fretboard and play chords, the chords are in tune as picked up by my computers built in microphone and judged by Garageband and my ears. In comparison to my previous ukulele it is a night and day difference. This ukulele is loud. I have seriously been considering taking it to karaoke night at one of the local bars to see the reactions I get. For someone looking for an additional ukulele, or for someone looking for a first ukulele and is looking for a concert scale, I would definitely recommend the Ohana CK-70rb.
Ohana CK-70rb Specifications from Musicguymic on ebay:
23-3/4" overall length
5-1/2" upper bout
7-7/8" lower bout
Molded black one piece back and sides
SOLID Spruce top
Rosewood fingerboard and bridge
Bone nut and saddle
14 frets to body 19 overall
1-3/8" at nut
MOP fret markers
Review by Nick Wilson
SK-25 Ohana Soprano Ukulele Video Review
Review by LStrachey.
Ohana CK-35G Ukulele Video Review
Review by Paulina Sinaga.
Ohana CK-50G Ukulele Review
Review by Ken Middleton.