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NAMM 2016 ‘Ukulele Highlights

The third week in January is the time of winter that musicians, gear heads, and UAS sufferers everywhere get their first peek at the years newest products. Held at the Anaheim Convention Center in California, the NAMM show runs from the 21st to the 24th of January. It’s HUGE (and loud)! Everyone who is anybody goes and either sells, performs, or provides news coverage.

It’s late in the last day of the show and I’ve compiled my NAMM favorites here for you. After keeping an eye mainly on Ukulele Underground’s Youtube coverage and scrolling through Harmony Central’s forums, these are my favorite new products to debut at this year’s NAMM. Looks like it was a good haul!

kamakaheadThis year marks the 100th anniversary of Kamaka ‘Ukulele. To celebrate they are changing their headstock logo design to feature a ribbon showing “1916-2016.”


KoAloha is also making some changes to their headstock and claiming a much smaller anniversary: 20 years in the business. The logo that was once laser-etched will now be inlayed with abalone. I’m not convinced it’s a better look, but some will like it. Looks like they’ve also got a model with a cool burned-looking rosette.

koalohalineup


Cordoba rolled out a new Guitalele along with some run-of-the mill models in all standard sizes. It features steel strings, a cutaway, and a pickup.


A custom shop tenor from Martin looks really nice. I’ve never been drawn to their standard models (except, of course, the old Martins!), but this looks like a great world-class instrument.


Everyone seems excited about the Bugsgear bluetooth uke. Link up with your iPod or music device and play a backing track from a speaker out of the soundhole! Listed for $90 on their website.

Best in show!

One of my favorite innovations in ‘ukuleles this year was from Mike Miltimore and Riversong. His new ‘ukulele line breaks a lot of molds. It has a neck-through design with a truss rod, which, supposedly makes the instrument louder and more even. Head scratchers include: a way to elongate (or shrink) the neck to adjust the scale and intonation, along with (my favorite) a way to change the neck angle and action via a shiftable strap button! What?!

I’m a big sustainability nut. When I was in my teenage discovering-my-path stage I wanted to be a hippie. Remnants of the phase remain on UU forums (“Hippie Guy” is yours truly!).

So, naturally, I was really intrigued by Kanile’a‘s new Maoli No ‘ukulele. It’s built with Hawai’i’s native woods. The production process has been carbon-offset for this ‘ukulele and the wood harvesting is sustainably managed. I love the ohi’a binding (that stuff is HARD!).

(Their platinum model is beautiful too!)


Opal ‘Ukuleles might or might not be new for 2016, but I haven’t heard a whole lot about them so I’ll shine some light on what they are up to. Their ukes are machined out of a solid piece of aluminum – some open-framed, some with wood tops and backs. Even the tuning machines are made in-house. The strength of these ‘ukuleles is in their plugin abilities. Right on the top of even the deep-bodied model are volume and tone knobs to control the sound coming out of the pickup.


Fusion makes a super high quality gig bag that is probably one of the safest versions of that type of case you can find. The new models are highly targeted at the traveling musician with options like a two-uke case, detachable storage pods, and a baritone option – I haven’t seen a bari gig bag like this yet. Each has backpack straps and a raincover. Looking at $200 list.

Best in show!

Last up, but my favorite for the most potential is MISI‘s new Air ‘Ukulele pickup. It features MISI’s battery-free active technology but instead of running a UST pickup it has a special kind of microphone mounted on the endpin! This allows for a (hopefully) more natural sound and super easy installation. They claim that this mic doesn’t feedback like other internal mics might, but I’m withholding judgement until I can hear how it works. Also coming down the pipes is a blended model that will feature the UST element and the mic technology. That’s the one I’m looking forward to trying.

Other News:

Outside of ‘ukuleles-specific gear, there are a few releases that still might be relevant to us uke players:

alixFirst is a new preamp/Di/boostpedal from Grace Design called the ALiX. It’s a studio quality pedal with a simple, but powerful EQ section. It has high, low, and a super-detailed mids section (boost/cut, frequency, AND Q – the width of the filter), along with a high-pass filter which can also function as a notch for killing feedback. Something that could be super-useful for ‘ukulele players is a 3 position impedance switch for different types of pickups. Price is TBA. We’ll see if it can make a dent in the LR Baggs Venue DI’s popularity…

A reverb from MXR finally puts them in the ambiance game. The M300 is a single-size compact pedal with 6 different reverb types. Three knobs make for a simple interface. Should be a cool companion to the MXR Carbon Copy delay.

Mahalo to Aldrine guys at Ukulele Underground for their great coverage of the show! Was thinking about maybe trying to go in person next year. Hmm…

Meet The Author:

Brad Bordessa

Brad plays 'ukulele on the Big Island of Hawai'i. He writes original music, performs, and hunts unicorns - all with only an 'ukulele.

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