KoAloha KCM-00 Review

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KoAloha ukuleles are one of the most popular Hawaiian made instruments on the market. When I was shopping for my first uke, I kept reading good comments about them, but their looks kept me from actually purchasing one. The pictures that I saw on the web made them look a little boring as they didn’t have any contrasting binding, inlays, etc. Having said that, I don’t really like overly fancy instruments, but I do like my ukuleles to have just a little bit of style. I ended up buying a Ko’olua Pono uke, but kept the KoAloha in the back of my mind because of all the good comments that I had read about them as far as their sound.


It didn’t take long for me to come down with an incurable case of UAS (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome), so my second uke purchase was a KoAloha KCM-00. Let’s see if I can add even more good comments about these ukuleles.

The KCM-00 is a concert sized ukulele made of all Hawaiian Koa except for the neck, which is made of Sapele. Sapele, from what I’ve learned is a type of Mahogany, that comes from Africa.

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There are two things that immediately grab your attention upon first seeing a KoAloha ukulele. The first thing is the unique sound hole shape, which might remind you of a teardrop or a guitar pick. Then there is the headstock…

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It has a very distinctive design with five points and the KoAloha logo branded into the wood.

Like I mentioned above, I didn’t really care for the look of the KoAloha ukes when I saw them on their site and for sale on Ukulele4u’s ebay shop (where I purchased this instrument). But sound is way more important than looks right? When the instrument arrived, I was really surprised at how much nicer it looked in person.

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The Koa body has a very nice grain and color. Not Orange like some web images seem to portray them.

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The back of my instrument is very pretty. I guess you would say it’s curly. The finish is glossy and even. It’s not as thick of a finish as my Pono though. If you hold the instrument at an angle to the light, you can see shallow pits in the finish, where the pores in the wood are still evident. This doesn’t effect the sound quality, but some people may consider it a defect in workmanship. It’s not overly noticeable or bothersome to me, but I felt it necessary to point it out. I tried to get a good picture of the issue, but wasn’t successful.

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I like the small bridge that is used, along with the slot design for the strings. KoAloha uses TUSQ material for both the saddle and the nut. This man-made ivory substance is supposed to increase volume and sustain.

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In addition to the Koa body, the fretboard is also made of Koa, which gives the whole instrument a very uniform look. There is even a thin strip of lighter colored Koa binding for the fretboard. I like this feature as it makes the neck very smooth. You can’t feel any sharp edges from the fret ends when you are moving your hand up and down the neck while playing.

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The KCM-00 is 23.75 inches long from end to the tip of the headstock, 8.125 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep at the lower bout. A side view of the KCM-00 shows an interesting angle to the neck heel.

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Not an overly exciting feature, but something to point out nonetheless.

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KoAloha’s come with Hilo strings installed. Not my favorites, but they sound decent, so I’ve not switched them out yet. The action is low, making playing easy and comfortable. That said, between the KoAloha and my Pono PKC 1-E, I would give a slight nod to the Pono as the one that for me, is easier to play.

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Since purchasing my KCM-00 a few months ago, KoAloha is now using different tuners than what you see pictured here. Mine came with the old type Schaller style friction tuners that I found to be nicer than some friction tuners that I’ve seen, due to the large adjustment slot screw head. I’m sure you’ve seen the small Phillips screws used in other tuners. I like these a lot better as there is less fear of stripping them out. That said, I still prefer geared tuners over friction tuners. To each his / her own though…

Overall workmanship on my KoAloha KCM-00 is very good. The only things that I can really be picky about are the pitted finish and the fact that I can feel the seam where the sides meet at the bottom center of the ukulele. Neither of these things would cause me to change my mind about buying this instrument though.

How does the KCM-00 sound? I think it sounds significantly more Hawaiian than my Pono. It has a bright, happy, trebly voice with great sustain and projection. It’s actually almost a little too loud for me at times. My KCM-00 was built in November of 2007, so I can only imagine that the sound will get even better as I play it and time goes by. As it is, I’m happy with the way it sounds. It doesn’t have a mellow sound like the Pono, which is good… I wouldn’t want to own two ukes that have the exact same sound.

Here’s a link to a short sound bite to give you an idea of what this instrument sounds like:

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Would I buy this instrument again given what I have learned about it? Yes, if I were in the market for a well made traditional Hawaiian sounding ukulele, I would definitely recommend KoAloha.

The KoAloha KCM-00 lists for $610.00, but can be found for a bit less through various online retailers. I purchased mine from ukulele4u.

18 Responses to “KoAloha KCM-00 Review”

  1. Nice review of the KoAloha concert. I would like to point out that the pitted surface finish really should not be considered a defect. You can see the pits in the wood grain because KoAloha does not grain-fill before applying the final coats of their finish. G-String ukulele does the same thing (I own one) and I believe Kamaka also. This is done on purpose. Whether it’s to save on costs or because it doesn’t impede the sound as much as a glass-smooth surface, I do not know.

  2. Thanks for clearing up that issue. I had read on another forum where people were complaining about the pitted surface, so I wanted to make sure I at least talked about it. My Koa Pili Koko has the same issue. I don’t find it to be a problem at all…

  3. Seeing the pores in the wood means they’ve put a light finish on it. This is a good thing as it doesn’t stiffen the top up like the heavier finishes. The top movement is what produces the sound and volume.

    I have a Glyph ukulele and Dave Means french polishes his ukes. You can see the pores in mine as well.

  4. Personally I don’t like them one bit. I don’t like the build, the look of them, and I can’t stand the sound. This does sound like I am a grumpy person but I’m not really like that – honest. Its just that for the life of me I can’t understand how these could be popular when there is so many other good brands out there.
    For anyone who wishes to get one of these, I really would suggest they try one out first before ordering by mail. Don’t get me wrong here, you may well love them to bits, but personally I don’t.

  5. […] one model from each major Hawaiian luthier. My first review towards that lofty ambition was the KoAloha KCM-00 and the next one is the C1 Sun Concert from the GString Ukulele […]

  6. I think these are some of the best ukuleles I’ve ever heard that were not vintage. It even sounds brand new as good as some good quality vintage instruments do.

  7. Hey i was looking at getting either the pono soprano pineapple of the Ko’aloha standard soprano..your thoughts?

  8. Yeah, I have some thoughts…

    I just returned from Hawaii, where I spent a lot of time playing ukuleles from all over the Big Island. The Pono is a fine instrument but The KoAloha has the edge in sound. In my opinion, its more than a slight edge. The KoAloha soprano is clearly better sounding!

  9. Great review, I am heading to the Islands in the fall and i plan on buying the same uke. I liked the sound clip you added. How does the uke play and feel in your hands?

  10. It was (I no longer have it) comfortable to hold and play. :)

  11. How come you no longer have this uke?

  12. I became obsessed with custom ukes and stopped playing this one, so I sold it.

  13. I own one of these, and I love both the sound and feel of it. I like its sound better than any other uke I have. For differences in sound and feel, I also own a Kanilea Soundmonster soprano, an Applause soprano, a Hamano soprano that sounds very much like a vintage Martin, a soprano Ohana with an extended tenor-length neck, a concert Flea with the rosewood fingerboard, a Fluke, a Kala Mango tenor, and a Lanikai baritone. They all have unique qualities, but I believe the KoAloha is superior.

  14. Did you ever get a custom Koaloha?
    If you didn’t what is a good brand to get a custom uke from?

  15. While on the Big Island in 1999 I asked lots of locals what uke they preferred, as I was in the market for one. I was surprised when every response from 5 uke players was “a Martin!”
    Hugh? Yep, every response. I own 2 Martin guitars. They’re great, but since I was born on Oahu I wanted a HAWAIIAN uke, not one from Nasareth, Penn. I found a Koaloha (made in 1999) in a music store there. This Koaloha has an arched back! It has a sweet, clear, high-pitched sound without being over trebly. Finish is flawless, no pitting anywhere.
    I’m a guitar player, but I find playing the Koaloha effortless, except for those “two missing strings!” LOL
    Mine is very much like the one pictured here. It sold for $400 in 1999 with a thick chipboard case. I love mine and display in on my music studio wall.

  16. Rubbah Slippahs on October 10th, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    There’s a reason that the previous poster (Mike) encountered preference for Martin’s in Hawaii . . . its because most classic Hawaiian uke tunes were done using Martin soprano and tenor instruments including Somewhere Over The Rainbow and almost everything else that Hawaii’s revered native son Bruddah Iz ever recorded! Martin’s are and were the bomb, period!

    And as far as Koaloha goes, I own a KoAloha (received it as a gift), and yes, its nice in terms of tone, but frankly, in my opinion, its nothing “exceptional”. More importantly, their Customer Service is TERRIBLE (!), and I don’t say that based on one or two experiences.

    Over the past ten years, I’ve called KoAloha more times than I can count (all hours of the day), to ask a simple question or to just order something minor and I don’t think ANYONE has EVER answered the phone there directly, save once perhaps!
    Similarly, you can leave voice mail messages and e-mail messages – they simply don’t even respond!

    That’s amazing given the competition they’re facing there from Kamaka and Kanile’a and a legion of other Hawaii-based luthiers. You’d think they’d straighten out their act, but nope, its been going on this way now for over ten years!!!!

    KoAloha? Nah!! Bruddah-wise-up!

  17. The Man of Tomorrow on December 1st, 2011 at 2:35 am

    Have to agree with the customer service comment of Slippahs. Why bother posting contact information if you’re not going to respond?

    I like their uke a lot, but I wouldn’t have bought it from them if I knew they couldn’t be bothered to spend 1 minute responding to a simple query about how to deal with a flaw in the finish of the instrument I bought from them.

    This is a recent experience, but I won’t bother with continued efforts trying to contact them given what I have read here. Hopefully the negativity doesn’t spill over to the uke.

  18. I’m sorry to hear you guys had such a bad experience with KoAloha. I see these posts were in 2011 so they must have upped their game a lot since then. I read such glowing reports from the Ukulele Underground forum that I was inspired to email them about purchasing a factory second uke. I went on to experience possibly the best customer service I have ever known!

    Admittedly, they did take a while to reply and I was about to buy elsewhere. However, they wrote me a lovely reply, gave me a super deal on a soprano standard and even paid for the shipping to the UK! It is simply the most beautiful sounding uke I have ever played and I love it more than my Pono concert and Kala Tenor put together.

    KoAloha is a family run business and every Uke they make has hand crafted finishing touches. They offer a lifetime guarantee with their ukes and have been known to honour this even if the Ukulele has been bought second hand.

    They are very nice but busy people as their ukes are in high demand. If they are slow in replying, follow up with a phone call and remember they are on ‘Island time’. If you think you have received bad customer service from them,write/email them a complaint and I can assure you they will do everything in their power to make it right.

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