Ko'olau are one of the highest quality ukulele makers around. Their ukuleles can be hugely expensive. Their Model 500 ukuleles sell for up to $9,000.
The Pono range is their more affordable range. Affordable being a relative term here - Ponos are not cheap by any means. There's not much corner cutting with these instruments. They are still solid wood and made with quality materials - they state on their website that they only use the top 20% of the wood they test.
To keep down the production costs, Pono ukuleles are made in Java, Indonesia and set up in Ko'olau's Hawaiian factory.
Like many high quality instruments. Ponos can be a little temperamental. There are a few stories on the net of problems with cracking (such as here) but Pono do accept this and have a sturdy warranty (the ukulele in that thread was replaced without fuss). Still, if you go with a Pono and you're in an at risk region, make sure you have a humidifier.
Ken Middleton's review of his Pono PKC1-E ukulele.
Pono PKT-2 Review
This was my first and (since I’m currently awaiting the arrival of a new Kanile’a) only high-end ukulele. It shipped with a gorgeous fitted hard case and was strung with Ko’olau Golds (low G) – for those who are unfamiliar with the Pono brand, Pono is the mass-produced line of ukuleles from the Ko’olua ukulele and guitar company. Ko’olau instruments are painfully beautiful instruments usually with painfully expensive price tags – but well worth the price. Based on the reputation of the Ko’olua name, I, without hesitation dumped out my piggy bank for the PKT-2 (an ukulele with and embellished binding, purfling and rosette almost at the top of their line of produced ukes).
When I received the uke all I could do was stare at it for awhile – it was that beautiful. I almost hesitated to play it because I didn’t want to defile the instrument with my hands. I quickly re-strung it with Worth Browns (high tension) on recommendation from other ukulele players – this Pono has a very mellow sound and the Worth’s would augment that sound nicely.
And then (after letting the strings settle for a little bit), I played it. It was beautiful. Rich and mellow, it was a wonderful instrument to play, listen to and sing to (reviews on my singing are on another forum – you’ll have to search for that yourself). I personally did not like the Ko’olau strings (but that’s just my opinion) and opted against my usual Aquilas to maintain the natural mellow sound of the Pono.
The neck is a little wider than than my other ukes but that was fine by me (almost the width of a Fluke, wider than Kala). This makes it great for picking. It is also heavier than my other ukuleles (also a nice, comfort-inducing feeling though). Overall, I was very, very pleased with the ukulele; initially at least.
Upon closer inspection there were a number (four to be precise) of small (almost insignificant) cosmetic flaws present. However small these flaws, I felt that for the price I paid for the uke, there should not have been so many. Maybe one or two but not four. In their defense, when contacted, the customer service at Pono was very quick to reply, professional and helpful. In fact, I was contacted by John Kitakis, owner of Ko’olua/Pono, himself. He suggested that I return the ukulele for either a refund or an exchange if I was not satisfied with the instrument. Note: I was eventually offered a refund because they felt my standards for cosmetic perfection were unrealistic. I was not offended at their decision and had they simply told me that they would not have been able to find a more perfect unit, I would have taken it back – yes, I loved the sound of it that much.
Overall, I would recommend Pono ukuleles to most anyone. They are a little more expensive when you start looking at the more embellished models but they sound wonderful. One recommendation: if you have very high superficial standards, view one before you purchase one if you can (I know most people have to buy online due to the very few ukulele retailers outside of Hawaii). You’ll love the sound; you might question their quality control.
Number of years played: 1.5
Price paid: $665 USD – with hard case and Ko’olau strings.
Other ukuleles owned: Kala KA-MTE-C, Kala KA-AFMT, Tenor Surf Fluke (and a handful of Mahalo soprano ukes)
Review by Roberto
Pono PKT Review
My uke is a Pono pkt, I've had it for 3 months a newbie to the uke world played a little guitar.
My uke changed my life brother, I'm for real. I always had problems reaching my fingers to get chords right on a regular guitar and was frustrated for years switching back and forth from steal string to nylon.
I was a frustrated I had no groove. but then i got my hands on my pono. It was love at first strum I think I sound great and my wife doesn't give me funny looks like she did when I would try to play guitar. when passing through the airport recently the local costoms officials were so impressed by the 'little banjo' next time through I have to play 'Oh island in the sun' for them they said.
The Koa is beatifull and smells sweet every time I take it out of the case it's like mama's cookin man. than with just a few strokes me and my new best friend are swingin it country style with a few chord changes it's a jump up Hawaiian boogie. what a way to get the stress out after a long day. forget the the kala pineapple man I don't to ruin a good thing a got with my pono.
Review by JRT from PR.