By Nicolas Grizzle
It was 95 degrees with 100 percent humidity in mid-July this year, but it was 72 and breezy in the cool confines of the Summer NAMM convention center downtown. And that’s where we tried to spend most of our time, playing the latest and greatest four-string mood enhancers the ukulele world had to offer. Without further delay, here are a few ukulele standouts from Summer NAMM 2019.
Kala always has something new and this summer it was a ukulele with solid pau ferro back and sides, solid cedar top, and mahogany binding. The immediately eye-catching feature is the asymmetrical rosette of maple and pau ferro. It’s an uncomplicated design that feels elegant and minimalist, but those contrasting light and dark colors really stand out against the tan cedar top. It has an ebony fingerboard and comes with D’Addario strings. Available in concert and tenor sizes.
Kala also brought some models from the USA Elite series with a new ebony fingerboard. Especially charming was mellow sound of the Port Orford cedar top model with koa back and sides. All Elite series models now come with Worth strings.
And we’ve got to give some love to the big boys. The Elite USA Super Tenors have a big sound and playability especially suited for converted guitarists with their tenor body and 19-inch scale neck. In addition to the spruce top models with ziricote back and sides, Kala brought the top-of-the-line torrefied spruce top and ebony body model with padauk binding and brown fluorocarbon Worth strings.
Cordoba had several popular models on display, but the company was highlighting its new 28 series of soprano, concert, and tenor ukes. The tenor size has a slotted headstock. Other features include a pau ferro fingerboard, bone nut and saddle, and breathable matte finish. They’re all made of koa wood grown in Hawaii and will be available in the $200–$300 price range—not bad for a koa uke.
Amahi’s new designs included a mermaid-style design on the DDUK series, and other new looks painted by an Indiana artist. Also new at SNAMM was a new, higher-quality wood for the popular colored flame-maple series (the rainbow model was especially striking). And not new, but still cool, was the 130 series with elephants laser-engraved near the sound hole.
Oregon-based Breedlove brought myrtle cutaway ukes. This wood is native to their state, harvested within a 90-mile stretch of the Oregon coast. The pale colored instruments have a subtle figuring that adds to their visual appeal. The models on display had electronics with a pickup and tuner, and volume and tone controls. Breedlove introduced a new tenor size version of these ukes at the show.
Gator cases introduced ukulele sizes for its popular Transit series of instrument cases at Summer NAMM 2019. They are available in three colors: light grey, charcoal black, and light tan. The cases have thick padding, a neck cradle support, front and top pockets, and backpack straps. Look for a review soon.
A newcomer to NAMM this year was Bamboo Ukuleles. This Argentinian brand brought instruments with eye-catching artwork designed by Argentinian artists. Their reps say the company is trying to break into the U.S. market. It’s about more than sales for Bamboo, though—for each ukulele they sell, one is donated to a school in Argentina.