A boutique super tenor with great volume and tone
BY MATT BLACKETT | FROM THE SUMMER 2020 ISSUE OF UKULELE
I lived in Hawaii as a kid, but in case my alabaster complexion didn’t give it away, I’m not an island native. My dad was in the Coast Guard, and one of the many cool things about moving to Honolulu was a closet full of Kamaka ukuleles at my elementary school that we would play as a class, strumming a variety of Hawaiian folk tunes. It took me 35 years to get my own uke, and when I did, I discovered that there was a veritable orchestra of music in that little 4-string instrument with a two-octave range. I learned that it was not only super fun to play (and the ultimate travel instrument), it was also a secret weapon in the recording studio, instantly finding its space in a track, while being able to sound like a classical guitar, a koto, a pizzicato violin, and, well, a ukulele. I own two ukuleles, and while I love them both, they are modest, mid-priced instruments. That’s why I was so psyched to check out the stunning museum piece that you see here. The Kanile’a 2020 Platinum is not for the faint of heart or the tight of wallet, but it’s awesome. Let’s talk about it, since it’s not every day that we get to do this.
The Platinum is a “super tenor” design, which is proprietary to Kanile’a, and that means a larger lower bout to the body plus an extended 19-inch scale length. Other construction elements include master grade koa for the top, back, and sides. As a super-green bonus, Kanile’a plants a new koa tree for every ukulele sold. Way to pay it forward, Kanile’a! The wood on this instrument is absolutely gorgeous, with a sweet grain that is made even sweeter with the scrumptious inlays that adorn the top and extend to the fretboard. The D-shaped soundhole lends an upscale touch, and the side port and beautifully beveled mini-cutaway scream boutique craftsmanship. The fretboard is made of ebony, as is the bridge and the headstock overlay, adding up to a striking visual presentation, with the olde English font of the Kanile’a logo being the cherry on top.
So that’s how the 2020 Platinum looks, but how does it sound? Before we get to that I should point out that it arrived in low-G tuning—so no octave string—which, despite my 40+ years of guitar playing, completely freaked me out at first. I tuned it up and started picking and I got used to it in about five seconds, mostly because the sound of this ukulele is so lovely. For starters, this is the loudest ukulele I’ve ever played. Volume doesn’t always equate to good tone, but in this case it does. It’s a huge, full, warm sound that quite honestly made my favorite uke sound a little bit like a toy by comparison. The treble strings have a snap and an authority to them that is very musical, and a sustain that makes vibrato sing-y and sexy. The side port is undeniably cool—like your own personal monitor—and to my ears it imparts a 3-D, surround-sound quality to the Platinum that is addictive. The extended scale length gives my fingers more space between frets for a very comfortable playing experience. And on the subject of comfort, the pretty armrest is a very nice touch. My only quibble with the Platinum would be some intonation anomalies, which, while not obvious on single-note lines, made chording in the upper register trickier.
Before we leave, we should talk about the astounding Music Area case that this instrument arrived in. It’s is one of the nicest, safest, and most elegant cases that I’ve ever seen. It features sturdy perimeter reinforcements, an amazingly plush interior, neck support (with a Velcro immobilization strap), and a headstock-docking cushion area that I’ve never seen before. I am confident I could throw this uke out of my two-story window onto the street below and it would be fine. (Note: Due to the lofty price tag on the Kanile’a, I did not do this, but I’m positive I could.)
I can absolutely say that I’ve never played a ukulele like the Kanile’a 2020 Platinum. The cosmetics, design elements, and sonic power are all one-of-a-kind. The price point selects for a fairly specific customer, but if you can run in those circles, this instrument is definitely worth a look.
About Those Distinctive Inlays…
Kanile’a is truly a family affair, begun 22 years ago by Joe Souza, whose family goes back five generations to Madeira, Portugal, but eventually settled in Hawaii. Kanile’a literally started in Joe’s Oahu garage in 1998. As Joe and his wife Kristen oversaw the growth of the company, their three sons—Kaimana, Iokepa, and Kahiau—eventually all joined in, and, as Kai Souza told us, “2020 marks the transition from first generation Souzas to the second. My brothers and I are taking over and starting to implement our philosophies, techniques, business practices, ideas, and designs. So we all had input into creating this 2020 Platinum. The soundboard inlay is my design, the retro logo was Iokepa’s design, and Kahiau helped Joe with the placement and implementation of the sound-hole.
“The inlay is modeled after a traditional Hawaiian design and each step represents not necessarily just the Souza family, but all families—paying respect to those who have taught and passed on knowledge throughout history. Seeing as Joe was trained to be a luthier by someone outside of our family, there is so much knowledge flowing through all families and all generations.” —Blair Jackson
BODY Super tenor-size, all master-grade koa body with ebony bridge
NECK 19″-scale, 17-fret (12 to body), with ebony fretboard and headstock facing
OTHER D-shaped soundhole with kolohala and sand rosette; oval side sound port with kolohala trim; kolohala armrest; kolohala bevel; Gotoh Stealth Cosmo black tuners with Kanie’a knobs; Music Area case
PRICE $4,995 street
MADE IN Hawaii