January, 2013 – Electric ‘ukuleles have been around for a while, but I hadn’t found one that really caught my attention until the Kamoa E3 Evolve came out. After seeing a couple of demos I decided I wanted one, so I got in touch with Sam at the Kamoa shop and he hooked me up.
What is is/How it looks:
The E3 Evolve is a steel string electric ‘ukulele with a 16″ (concert) scale length and semi-hollow arch-top style body. It has two humbucker pickups with volume and tone controls for each. 22 frets give access (if a bit cramped) to normally unheard-of high notes and adjustable bridge pieces keep each string in tune all the way up the neck. The beautiful gloss finish gives the instrument a high quality appearance.
There are currently two versions of the E3 in production:
- The fancy one (Kamoa Evolve) – which is handmade with nice figured wood: MSRP $1,100
- The normal one (Kamoa E3 Evolve) – The one I got. Same build specs, just constructed with plain woods: MSRP $600
Acoustically the E3 is nothing to be excited about. It sounds like any other unplugged electric guitar, except it’s a bit louder due to the semi-hollow body. But once you plug it in the thing rages.
All of my experimenting to date has been through a Boss ME-70 multi-effects pedal and a ’65 Fender Super Reverb tube amp.
Plugged in, the E3 sounds sort of like an archtop jazz guitar. It has a smooth clear sound with plenty of snap and midrange. Changing between pickups alters your tone significantly. The neck pickup is my favorite and has the most full, round tone. The bridge pickup is much more bright and harsh. Together (middle position) they are summed into a light, nasally sound that is suited to songs like John Mayer’s “Gravity”.
Clean: With no distortion on the E3 it sounds clear as a bell with an absolutely pure tone. Adding a little reverb is great for opening up the sound. Kicking on delay and chorus gets you to Eric Johnson land where open voiced chords and all of your notes sound larger than life. This is I think the E3 shines the most – when playing jazz songs like Breezin’ or Bella that have amazing clean sounds.
Dirty: Adding some “balls” to the E3’s sound is where the benefits of a steel string electric really start to pop out. Single notes start to get gritty and power chords really start to distort, letting you achive sounds ranging from AC/DC to “Samba Pa Ti,” depending on how you set the ‘ukulele’s controls.
Lead: The young art of winding ‘ukulele pickups becomes apparent when you load lots of gain onto the E3. There just isn’t as wide a range of tonal colors available from different settings as you might get on an electric guitar. But with that said, it is still heads and tails above trying to get a good overdriven sound out of a piezo pickup. Singing gain really adds sustain time to the E3 and lets you play lines you otherwise might feel self-conscious about. This is the most “fun” area for me since I love the sound of smooth overdrive and can’t normally get it on an ‘ukulele. The only drawback to using lots of gain is that the semi hollow body lends itself to screaming high-pitched feedback when you turn up the volume. This could be a major issue when you get up to stage volume, but I haven’t tried it out yet so I don’t know.
The E3 Evolve plays fairly well. Once you adjust intonation with the tune-o-matic bridge for your set of strings, playing up the neck is easy. The action is pretty low and could probably drop down even more, but the Bridge is bottomed out against the body. The frets are fairly well finished and the spacing of them up past the 15th fret really surprised me – notes are really in tune for how tiny the fret spacing is up there.
Tuning is the biggest setback for the Kamoa. The tuners are nice, but keeping the strings in tune is the hardest part of playing the E3. It takes some getting used to so you can sort of “expect” where the tuning is going to be in a few songs and tune to that. It feels almost as though the neck and body shift around creating unstable tuning.
- As far as I know, it’s the first mass-produced arch-top electric ‘ukulele.
- Clean finish and professional look/feel.
- The custom case is killer.
- It’s easy to reach Kamoa customer support. Just call the shop and most of the time Sam himself answers the phone and can help you with your questions.
- The E3 ships with only one strap button on the butt-end of the ‘ukulele. This means you’ve either got to use a strap that attaches to the headstock (which might not be a big deal for everybody) or get a strap button installed on the heel of the neck. Adding a neck-supported strap on top of tuning issues I imagine would make life difficult
- The electronics in my ‘ukulele were buzzing as if it wasn’t grounded. I fixed this easily with a little external wire, but without cutting the instrument in half with a ban-saw I don’t know how you’d fix the loose solder. I talked to Sam and he said that all the E3 Evolves are grounded and he didn’t hear a buzz when he tested my ‘ukulele. So it must have gotten dislodged during shipping.
- The 16″ scale is going to be a put off for tenor ‘ukulele players who will always lust after that extra inch of string space.
The E3 is a step forward in the electric ‘ukulele genre. It’s come a long ways, but still has some miles left to go in an ever evolving field. I hope Kamoa will continue to improve on the details of the E3 like making the body and neck more rigid and hopefully produce some new electric models to give buyers more options.