January 4, 2011 by Tim
A panda walks into a diner, sits down, and orders a sandwich. He eats the sandwich, pulls out a gun, and shoots the waiter dead. As the panda stands up to go, the manager shouts, “Hey! Where are you going? You just shot my waiter, and you didn’t even pay for your sandwich!”
“Hey, man, I’m a PANDA!” the panda shouts back. “Look it up!”
The manager googled panda and reads: “Panda: a tree-dwelling mammal of Asian origin, characterized by distinct black and white coloring. Eats shoots and leaves.”
Sorry, best bamboo joke I found, but since we are thinking about bamboo now, let’s talk about the newest oldest material used for ukuleles!
If you have been watching the trends in the instrument world you may have noticed that many companies are trying to go “green”. For example Martin is now making a cherry ukulele because it is a plentiful wood that is fast growing. The other material is bamboo. Bamboo has been used for thousands of years for food, building materials, and musical instrument (Mostly wind, and some acoustic). Talk about fast growing! Some bamboo can grow 12-48 inches a day and is so prevalent that the only place you don’t find it is Europe (and do you blame it, who wants to grow in Europe! I kid, I kid)
Using bamboo makes a ton of sense being that it is a hardy grass, yes a grass, it is super strong, looks awesome, and it is pretty moisture resistant. On the tough side I have seen pictures of a guy (G Randal Wright) doing a handstand on a custom Bamboo uke (I would have tried it but 1. Not my uke. 2. I can’t do a handstand)
So here is where I am confused…Is it a laminate? A bamboo shoot would not be big enough to make a ukulele so they glue them together, but side by side. So does that mean it is a solid top, sides, and back? Really most ukuleles are 2 pieces that are book matched and they are considered solid top and back. When you use bamboo it is just several pieces joined side-to-side. For arguments sake I will say these ukes are solid bamboo, and I mean almost all bamboo. The top, sides, back neck, fret board, bridge, and lining are all bamboo. The only things that are not are the nut, saddle, tuning machines, and the bracing (I think they both have maple bracing which is a good choice)
What we have here for review is a Paulele not made by but distributed by Kiwaya. Kiwaya is known for their ukes and they only deal in high quality instruments that they know they can stand behind. I am not sure where it is made but my guess is china. Read to get the full story.
Remember all scores are out of 5.
Paulele KBUS (P for scores below)
Soprano : 12 Fret
Tuners: Open Geared
Bone nut & saddle
Neck: Bamboo and Bamboo fretboard
String attachment: Tie
Case: Padded gig bag
First look: (4) Although it will stand out in a crowd with the unique bamboo grain I find it kind of boring. It has no zing, zip, pizzazz, and other words like that. My friend Alex nailed it when he said “it should have more contrast. A rosewood or dark stained fret board and bridge would have made it a lot more interesting to look at”. I agree with Alex and I would have like to see a little bling like a rosette around the sound hole. for $200 I would think it might have some decoration.
Fit and Finish: (5) It is sporting a nice matte finish and tight seems, Another thing that sets it apart is how the back bracing is done. A normal ukulele has a slightly curved back that goes from the butt to the heel and has bracing. The Paulele has no bracing and is an arched back or a violin back, and that is so awesome. An arched back is a really cool thing to have that you see in violins and some guitars that have laminate back. The arched back adds to sound and not having bracing just lets it sing and adds depth to the sound.
Sound Type: The Paulele is a punchy and forward sound that seems to jump out of it as you play. It almost throws the sound in front of the sound hole.
Intonation: (3) The Paulele received a 3 because when playing chords that involve the first to the third frets the notes can go sharp if you press all the way down to the fret board. I think this is due in part to the nut being a little high, something that can be addressed by a good music shop. Beside that it is spot on with intonation all the way up. I have to say that for a $200 ukulele this should not happen.
Volume: (5) The Paulele is a screamer and may actually be too loud for some people. A crazy thing to say about a soprano, but it is really loud.
Sustain: (5) Long and nice. I think the bamboo might actually have an advantage over wood in this aspect. It just seems to ring longer than my other ukes.Feel:
String Height: (Medium) The Paulele is medium, just a regular height which I think hurts it since the nut is high and messes with playing.
Frets: (4) This is my “What the Hell” moment. If I am going to pay $200 for a ukulele I expect the fret s to not be felt on the sides of the fret board. That is the only issue I see. The frets are well done beside sometimes getting caught while strumming with the frets sticking out where the fret board is in the body. Maybe I am too critical.
Tuning: (5) Same exact tuners on both and they work great, I wish they were friction tuners but really it is what sells to the masses. they tune easily and stay in tune, what else could you ask for.
Comfort: (4) The Paulele has a heavy head that throws the balance off. I think bamboo is lighter than regular wood so the tuning machines over light friction tuners seem to make it feel head heavy.
Sound Hole Smell: The sweet smell of a glue stick that you use to have in your desk in like 3rd grade.
This is one of those instruments that I am not sure if it is the fact that is says Kiwaya on the label so it feels well-built or it is just really well-built. I think in the end I would get the Paulele and get it setup, but really that is because I don’t have a loud plucky uke in my collection. Having a Bamboo uke would also be kind of fun an novel to show off. “Look what weird thing that I have!!”
All Rating on a scale of 1-5
Click here for an explanation of reviews
|Fit and Finish||5|
|Sound Type||Punchy and forward|
|Neck Radius Depth||1/2″|
|Sound Hole Smell||Glue stick|
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