February, 2015 – For those who aren’t familiar with the semi-solidbody ukulele concept that Ko’olau pioneered, it’s an ukulele that has a low-profile chambered body that is highly resistant to feedback. Pono came along recently to recreate the Ko’olau concept in a more entry-level package. The BE-DC is a baritone version of the highly popular tenor model that sells for $745.
The BE-DC’s acoustic properties aren’t fantastically impressive, but it’s not built to be anything but plugged in. Without an amp, the Pono sounds bright and has a cutting, snappy tone. It lacks the fullness of a normal ukulele, but I guess that’s to be expected since the body chamber is so small. Though they are often referred to as part of the quiet “practice uke” family, I’ve found the BE-DC is LOUD unplugged – at least as loud as my spruce top Moore Bettah tenor, if not seemingly more so due to the tone.
Plug the Pono into an amp or PA and it becomes a completely different beast. The plugged-in sound is super clean and smooth for a passive pickup (or any ukulele pickup for that matter). There’s not much more you could ask for in the tone department.
Of course, you get one of these ukuleles in your hands and it won’t be long until you’ve got the distortion cranked up and you are pulling out your rock riffs. It certainly didn’t take me long. A piezo will never be able to out-compete a magnetic pickup in this aspect, but the BE-DC handles gain very well – it doesn’t hum and make a bunch of feedback noise like other ukuleles. The sustain is pretty good and doesn’t drop off suddenly as is common. I haven’t spent a lot of time turning knobs on my pedals, but there is huge potential if you configure the gain stages just right.
After spending some time onstage with the BE-DC, I found that I wasn’t very happy with the stock pickup. No matter what I did, the bass and treble strings were unbalanced (I tried new strings, made sure the saddle was flat on the bottom, compression). It was just wimpy-sounding – even through my $300 Venue preamp.
So last month I installed a MISI Acoustic Trio Uke pickup with the LR Baggs Five-0 UST element. WOW! What a night-and-day difference. Now the tone is balanced, warm, and much more present without any extra signal processing. The new pickup required a new saddle so I ended up raising the action a tad. This helps the ukulele breathe a little more and probably also affected the plugged in sound.
The stock sound was never “bad.” But the MISI is better. Like how you might not notice a dirty window, but once it’s clean you can really see the difference.
The DC designation stands for deluxe cedar. As far as I can tell, the only difference between deluxe and standard model Pono solidbodies is a satin and gloss finish. The gloss cedar (Western Red) looks nice, but the top is soft and dings very easily so it’s not going to stay pristine for long. That said, the simple look is perfectly suited for a simple ukulele that has the purpose of taking a beating that other ukes couldn’t. Who cares if it gets banged up? Isn’t that the point? It’s rock and roll, man!
The chambered back is carved from acacia. It’s a nice look, but I’ve never been able to get excited about the back of an ukulele. Call me whatever you want, but you never see that side!
Macassar ebony decks out the bridge and fretboard – it probably also is the facing on the headstock, but under a gloss finish. Something this ukulele brings to the table that most don’t is an adjustable truss rod. This is covered with an apparently plastic plate held in with 3 screws. Very subtle, but different.
Everything about the BE-DC looks clean. All the components and parts are perfectly finished and appear well thought out.
It’s a baritone ukulele so the 20″ scale length allows for much more finger room. Because of this it’s a dream to play. The neck has a satin finish that is wicked fast. The frets are smooth and intonate well. Hawaii Music Supply set up the action with sort of a medium feel like I requested and it’s just right.
With a strap attached, the BE-DC balances better than any other ukulele I’ve played. It’s almost like an electric guitar in this aspect! You’d be silly not to use a strap with it because of the weight (the Pono is heavier than most ukes) and body profile.
My only gripe with the BE-DC are the tuners. They work fine, but the knobs are so small that they can be hard to grip when turning them. I’ll probably upgrade to something more substantial at some point to ease the tuning process.
A single knob controls the volume of the passive Pono pickup. It feels very smooth to turn, but the volume ramps up really fast. I’d like a smoother taper. Again, it can probably be replaced to suit my preferences.
- Bulletproof ukulele with tons of volume before feedback
- Great quality and attention to details
- Fantastic pickup sound
- Tuners are small enough that they are hard to turn
- Soft top dings easily
- Volume pot has limited swell range
I’ve been looking for something different in an ukulele. The combo baritone tuning and solidbody sound is exactly what I needed. Pono has created a fantastically quality instrument for the price and I foresee myself using the BE-DC onstage for years to come. I might even have to get a second one…
If you want to get your own Pono BE-DC, I highly recommend ordering through Hawai’i Music Supply (aka The Ukulele Site). Their customer service is impeccable and they ship all their ukuleles with a free setup included. Ask anybody – HMS is the best in the business. Plus, they ship the Pono with a Ko’olau custom case (maybe everybody does this, but still, it’s a super nice case and a great value)!
Thanks to Andrew for providing pictures.