Review: Fender Koa Nohea Ukulele
A ukulele is increasingly becoming a must-own item in a musical quiver, but making sure you get a decent one is very important. The Fender Koa Nohea ukulele is a well built, good looking and great sounding uke at a pretty affordable price, and you can’t argue with that. It has very much become a well used instrument in my house – very enticing to just pick up and muck around on. If you haven’t got one yet, I strongly advise you take the plunge!
Item: Fender Koa Nohea Ukulele
Inspiration: I got this maybe 4 years ago – probably around the time when ukes were becoming more and more popular and I just figured it was a good time to jump on the bandwagon. I had a credit at a music store, and as there wasn’t anything else I was after, this was picked up for a bit of fun.
Image: I love the koa finish – it’s just such a beautiful timber, and as a bit of a Fender fanboy I have to admit the look of the telecaster headstock was appealing.
Investment: At around $300 it’s a reasonably higher end uke, but I was determined not to just grab a cheap one seeing as I wanted something truly playable and one that didn’t suffer from the standard issues that “toy” ukes suffer from. I would say that getting cheap ukes is the biggest barrier to people actually enjoying playing them.
Intrinsic Qualities: As above, a quality uke presents a much more enjoyable playing experience. The build quality on my Koa Nohea was excellent and the stock Aquila Nylgut strings work a treat. The setup – action and intonation – from the factory was excellent and needed no tweaking at all. It has a very mellow sound but still very sweet. Now obviously any mass-produced instrument is a little hit or miss – there will be good ones and not so good ones that come from the factory, and I do think I got a good one. About the only complaint I have is the lack of a pickup and at some point I may try to retrofit one.
You should also be aware that it’s not a solid koa uke – a veneer is glued on a solid mahogany board for the back, sides, and top – so it as a laminated model. Some may find this a turn-off, but when you look at the combination of sound, looks, and cost it is very hard to beat.
Intangibles: The standard line that it is impossible to play a song that sounds sad on a uke is so true. And of course a “happy” sound makes for good times when playing it! I’ve thought about trying some different strings – especially switching to a low G – but it will be more because I like fiddling than for any other reason.
If not this then…: These days there are so many different options that I’m not really sure what I would get – probably the main thing is that I would always look at spending more than $300 to ensure a higher end uke. Friends who are experienced uke players have commented very kindly on the Koa Nohea when they have tried it, so I feel like I have made a good decision that I may repeat if I had to.
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The format for doing a brief reviews of the various bits of gear that I use is called the “I” Test: 7 categories that are a bit different from the standard review that reads like it’s lifted from a guitar magazine. My “I Test” takes into account not just the performance characteristics (as normal reviews do) but also addresses the real reason we buy stuff: the 7 “I”s – what’s the Item, Inspiration (why did I get it), Image (what’s it look like), Investment (bargain or just lust), Intrinsic qualities (what does it do), Intangibles (sometimes the reason you got it doesn’t fall into any other category!), and If not this then… (did I look at alternatives).
Just read your review of the Fender Nohea Koa, which I’ve had my sights on for some time. My issue is also that it doesn’t have a pickup on board. Did you ever have one retrofitted and if so what did you spring for? I’m interested in the Fishman Presys Plus with the control panel. My only concern is having someone cut into my brand new $300 uke… I’m in my infancy of playing and this will be an upgrade or me from the Kala Soprano. I’m a lengthy woman. 6ft wing span and I know that a tenor will be much more comfortable for me. Cosmetically, the Nohea Koa definitely has me sold on the looks. I’m just on the fence because I’m fearful of having anything ugly happen if I elect to have a pickup and preamp installed. Anyway, hopefully this message finds you and I get a response! I’m interested to hear if you ever followed through on retrofitting. Cheers!
Hi Jillian – the lack of a pickup was a reservation for me too! I have thought about retro fitting one but haven’t bothered yet. I would probably go with something like the LR Baggs Five.O as you don’t have to cut into the uke – the jack is just a replacement endpin and you access the volume control through the soundhole. I’m sure there are others similar to this (and maybe not quite as expensive). Your question has got me thinking about it again so if I do get anything installed I’ll make sure I put a note on the post.