I only started playing the ukulele about 3 years ago. My first uke was an off the shelf Kala Tenor made of Acacia. I was having trouble with the tight action so I had a luthier lower the nut, but that unfortunately ruined the intonation. The Luthier hand carved a new saddle which helped, but it still wasn’t right. Dissatisfied with my Kala I started looking for another uke. I couldn’t find anything in the shops that was better than what I already had, which led me to the conclusion …. my next uke had to be a custom build.
But who should I entrust to build my future masterpiece?
So, my internet search began.
During my research I came across the Luthier for a cause project.
I stopped the video and wrote down the 6 renowned luthiers taking up the challenge. That’s how I came to know about John Kinnard.
Buying a custom ukulele without actually ever playing anything the artist had made was a bit daunting to me. What if the action was too tight? What if I didn’t like how it sounded? What do I even want from a new Ukulele?
That’s where Kevin Beddoe stepped in. He was my guide throughout this amazing journey. He asked the right questions, which helped me actually think about what I wanted from the instrument. I am indecisive at the best of times, which unfortunately for Kevin led to 100’s of emails.
The correspondence from Kevin was amazing. I couldn’t have gone thru this process without him. His patience and knowledge helped me create my perfect instrument.
We had to negotiate around the complicated CITES act which meant some wood species could not be imported out of America or into New Zealand.
Kevin sent sound samples of just about every wood combination I was considering. In the end I chose highly figured maple back and sides with a sinker red wood top, Koa bindings and ebony fret board and saddle.
The visual appearance of the instrument is stunning. The highly figured wood does all the talking. To quote Kevin, it is “playable Art”!
The build quality of this instrument is flawless. All the joins are tight and perfect. The uke is extremely light and well balanced and feels good in your hands. John Kinnard’s neck design and radius fret board makes this instrument play like butter. The action is perfect. The sound this instrument produces is rich and full bodied. It has a beautiful melodic tonality and voicing. Resonance and sustain are unbelievable, even up at the 15th fret. Intonation is spot on.
John Kinnard is truly a master craftsman. I feel privileged to own one of his masterpieces.
I am just an average player but aspire to improve and this Kinnard custom-built ukulele has taken my playing ability to another level.
If you are on the fence, just do it! You won’t be disappointed.
Laura Jackson, D.C.
Gisborne, New Zealand
Barry Ottmann- McFarland Wisconsin.
Walnut/Cedar Thin-line Tenor
Walnut/Torrified Sitka Baritone cut-away
After several years of playing ukulele I began to recognize the shortcomings of the production model instruments I had been playing and decided to have a ukulele custom built for me. In the process of investigating luthiers, I was immediately struck by the clean lines and fine craftsmanship of John S. Kinnard ukuleles. Initially, I admired the design of the fret-board and headstock, the sophisticated selection of beautiful woods, and the impeccable detailing apparent in all of his instruments. The more I came to know about his work, the more I was certain that this was the builder for me!
When I sent an initial inquiry I was surprised by the quick but careful response. Kevin Beddoe called me on the phone and we talked about music and ukuleles for the better part of an hour. He asked me to work on a wish list and we communicated fairly regularly for about 4 months. He was always quick to respond to my many questions and he regularly gave me updates on the schedule. He provided expert guidance on tone wood combinations, detailing, and custom appointments throughout the design and build process.
We settled on an African Blackwood and Western Red Cedar concert ukulele with a Tiger Maple neck and Luthier’s Reserve custom detailing. I could not be more pleased! It is a gorgeous instrument, but the real appeal of a John S. Kinnard ukulele is the sound – mine was delivered several weeks ago and it is just beginning to open up. I look forward to growing as a musician with its maturing rich and intricate voice.
The sound is as beautiful and complex as the elegant grain of the carefully selected woods; the tone, as clean and technically precise as the nearly invisible joint between the body and the neck; and the timbre of her voice is just as alluring as the heady scent of the Cedar soundboard that fills the room while I play.
To play a John S. Kinnard Ukulele is like cradling a beautiful jewel box in your arms that is filled with a lifetime of treasures.
Laura Jackson, Gisborn New Zealand
Comments and Reviews
It is always great to hear back from our KinnardUkes family members! If you would like to provide a review or have comments on your Kinnard ukulele, send to Kevin@KinnardUkes.com and we'll be glad to post them up-cheers!
April 29, 2015
Kinnard Mahogany Baritone Uke Review from Don Hall of Seattle Washington
Hi Kevin and John,
I’ve had my Kinnard baritone ukulele for a month now and have not missed one day of playing it. It’s a wonderful instrument! Easy to play, great sounding, and beautifully made.
For your prospective customers, my Kinnard baritione is a Series One model with two upgrades: inlayed MOP logo on the head stock, and a side sound port. It is all Honduran Mahogany including the neck. The headplate, fretboard, fretboard binding, bridge, and tail strip are made of East Indian Rosewood. It has a radiused fretboard, bone nut and saddle, and Gotoh UPT tuners. It also has a beautiful satin finish.
The real custom work on my ukulele was to make it a 19” scale like traditional baritones instead of John’s modern 19 7/8” scale. The shorter size feels more comfortable to me after previously owning both 19” and 20” baritone ukes in the past. My Kinnard has 13 frets to the body.
This ukulele looks very plain at first glance. But when you look closer, you really appreciate the sophistication of the build. For example, the Rosewood binding on the fretboard is nearly invisible. So is the seam between the two-piece neck. The joins are all perfect, and the rosewood heel cap is just another wonderful touch. I also think John’s bridge design is brilliant and my favorite way to string a ukulele.
The Honduran Mahogany on my instrument was an upgrade and just a beautiful set of wood. I’m sure the top and back are book matched, but again, it looks like one piece. The Gotoh UPT tuners are my favorites and they work wonderfully. The shape of the headstock is classic Martin guitar – simple, sharp lines and I love it.
How does it sound? Like a guitar! It’s deep, full, and resonant right out of the box! I can’t wait to hear how this will sound in a year. I play mostly jazz standards and chord melody so I don’t need sustain when I’m changing chords every two beats. However, my daily warm-up is Bach’s Prelude for Cello (a three-minute dexterity exercise) and these single notes ring beautifully and there is plenty of sustain when you want it.
I like baritones because they are comfortable to play, sound great, and have lots of tuning options. My Kinnard is currently tuned to Bb (F-Bb-D-G) which is a great key for jazz standards. I just put Aquila Nylguts on it and it feels much better but sounds just as good as the previous fluorocarbon strings. The set-up on my uke was also top-notch with perfect action and intonation.
I’ll close with a heartfelt thank you for the blessing to own this exquisite instrument. I’m thrilled with my Kinnard baritone and feel like I got tremendous value for what I paid.
Kevin, you made the ordering process very easy. You had me at hello when you called to follow-up on my online inquiry. Customer service is difficult to deliver in this industry because builders need to build and not talk on the phone. I appreciated all the pictures you sent of the build progress, and also our great conversations. But the highlight of the process was getting a video of Kimo Hussey himself demonstrating my Kinnard baritone! Yes folks, Kevin and John have that power.
Have fun at the Reno Uke Fest this weekend and I look forward to meeting you and John in person in the near future.
Nov 3, 2014
Kinnard Tenor Review-
Kevin Smith of Roseville California on his Cocobola/Cedar tenor
Thank you so much for taking such good care of me with my custom Kinnard uke build. I know that you do this every day, but the great communication and attention to detail made it a great experience for me. Now that I have had a chance to play my new uke, I wanted to forward over my review of it (all positive). In the business I am in, customer feedback is a critical piece, so I thought you might enjoy my perspective.
. Ordering and options available
o I was at the point in my uke journey where I wanted to buy a custom uke and be able to define my instrument. I think the 3 price points you offer and the options that you have are exactly right. I was able to define exactly what I wanted.
o You input was critical. I know a lot about uke’s, but moving up to this level is a whole different ball game. Your expertise and insights were invaluable to me. Picking the tone woods was the hardest part, and you really helped to simplify it for me. Coco and cedar… perfect.
o I think the most helpful factor for me was the communication from beginning to end. You took the time to answer all of my questions, guided me when I needed your help, and encouraged me to define the best instrument possible.
· The build
Keeping me updated as we moved along was greatly appreciated. I never felt out of touch or anxious about getting the project done. The pictures along the way were fantastic. I felt like I was part of the team building my instrument. I was able to share the pictures with a lot of friends as the build progressed.
o I had moved up to a Mike Pereira uke last year due to its easy playability. My uke instructor found that I was getting limited by the instrument I was playing (Kanlilea Tenor), as it was hard for me to shift chords and finger pick. After Buying the MP uke, my playing improved dramatically (moving from a beginner to a solid intermediate). I didn’t think that the MP uke could be improved upon. Boy was I wrong. I wish I knew all of the details that go into it, but the playability of my Kinnard is unmatched. Barring chords, strumming, and finger picking are like “butter”. So easy to play that I am hitting the tougher chords much easier and with a lot less strain on my fingers (and especially my thumb). I don’t buzz frets nearly as often, and my chords and finger picking have a depth and chime to them that I could not do before. And, this is after only 4 days of playing.
o I am certainly no expert, but I have played with over 100 ukes and I have never played an instrument that is so easy to use. I’m not sure if it is the radiused fret board, the perfect action, or the string selection (or a combination of all three) but the ease of play is simply awesome.
o I love the string selection. I am not a huge fan of wound low-G strings, but the one you selected works really well. Are these Worth Clears?
o We selected the perfect woods for this uke (for me at least). The high notes have a chime and sparkle that I have not heard on other ukes. The low G resonates through the whole instrument without dominating the other strings. Wow.
o The sustain on this uke is insane. It goes on, and on, and on. I have already modified the way I play – I am holding the chords longer before moving to the next chord because of the long sustain.
o The sound hole makes a big difference for me. It really helps me to appreciate the tonal quality as I can hear every note clearly
o The note separation is tremendous. Each string can be heard. There are no muddled tones.
o You can play this uke whisper quiet, or pound on it for volume. It never disappears in quiet playing and never “booms” when punched hard.
o Most ukes seem to favor either strumming or finger picking. This uke is the best at both of any uke I have ever played.
o Simply stunning tone. I can’t seem to stop playing this uke. The notes are crisper, and the chords are more balanced. The quality of my playing, because of the quality of the uke alone, has improved.
o There were so many choices to make: woods, back stripe, binding, purfling etc., that I was a little intimidated when we started out. As we talked through it and I looked at the examples you sent me, it didn’t take long to dial it in. I must admit that I did second guess myself a little as the build went along (should I have gone with a back stripe?), but in the end, I would not change a single detail. Seriously… not a single detail. You nailed the design for me.
o The attention to detail is simply unmatched. The first thing I did was to go over the uke with magnification as John does when he builds it. The seams and joints are incredible. Holy cow.
o The cocobolo and cedar were perfect choices not only for tonality, but for the aesthetics as well. A perfect combination. The cocobolo is an amazing wood. The figure and “depth” are just beautiful. Perfectly book matched. I can’t stop looking at it. And let’s face it, who looks at the back of a uke??? Me, I guess, lol. The cedar adds a warmth to the top and does not overwhelm the instrument. I agree with you that Spruce provides too much contrast between light and dark colors. But that honey gold of the cedar with the coco is stunning. A friend of mine looked at it and just couldn’t put it down – just looking at the physical beauty. The koa binding was also a perfect choice. It goes so well with the other woods. I couldn’t be more pleased with it
o John added a very nice touch with the neck cap piece. A tiny detail, but the “knot” of wood in the end cap is beautiful. I had to laugh when I saw it. I was thinking that John probably looked around for the perfect piece of wood to use and probably figured no one would notice it. I just love it. Again, just amazing attention to detail.
The sound hole rosette perfectly complements the other woods. The coco rosette was the perfect choice.
So, overall, it was an amazing experience from end to end. I know I chose the right luthier to build the uke I will play the rest of my life. Playability, tone, and aesthetics all were better than I could have hoped for, and I had very high expectations! Your communication throughout the process, helpful suggestions (13 frets to the instrument etc.) and expert knowledge was the perfect complement to John’s ability to craft an extraordinary uke. If I could go back to the beginning, I honestly would not change a thing. I cannot thank you and John enough for making my dream uke come true. I know that I will be playing it for the next 20 years. How fun will that be?
All the best,
Nov 30, 2014
On our recent trip to Hawaii we had the opportunity to drop off a couple of Kinnards to Andrew Kitakis of Hawaii Music Supply and wanted to share his write up...
May 20, 2021
As a Boomer accelerating towards my ‘sell by’ date, (I’ll be 68 this summer) it was time to reorder some personal priorities. Rationality was not one of them. Having dispensed with that constraint, ordering a Thin-Line Tenor & a companion Baritone from KinnardUkes seemed prudent. For me, the process to get to that first phone call to Kevin took about three years. Yes, I would make that call again. Here’s why – the collaborative design process, the excellent communication, & ultimately, the remarkable John S Kinnard sound -- the Thin-Line Tenor is truly ‘sweet’ & the Baritone is full & lush.
If you’re still reading this, you are either VERY bored, trying to cure your insomnia, or seriously looking at commissioning a custom instrument. The selection of a luthier to craft your personal masterpiece is a complex mix of what sounds ‘good’ to you, cost, time, and luck. The ‘luck’ part for me was that Kevin returned my call.
I knew just enough to know that I did not know much about what was truly necessary, versus what was hype in the custom uke universe. YouTube doesn’t always make you smarter. Videos of John’s creations sounded fantastic, they looked great, and the comments were very positive – but I couldn’t go to Guitar Center & hold one in my own two hands. And given Covid, it wasn’t possible to drive the 1500 miles to SoCal and meet John & Kevin (remember, rationality was not a constraint). What made this project doable, is the unique partnership between John & Kevin that is KinnardUkes.
That partnership between John & Kevin is unique among the luthiers that I considered. John is a talented artisan who expresses that skill as world class luthier. As the say, “no brag -- just fact”. Kevin is….well, Kevin: a.k.a. ‘Professor Beddoe – the fount of uke knowledge’; guitarist in residence; uke build documentarian; answerer of calls, texts, & emails; shipping and receiving; and new instrument tester. Kevin deals with your needs in an intelligent and helpful manner while John does his music magic. Kevin helped me select tonewoods, tops, and accents that best fit what I was trying to achieve. In a later group discussion between John, Kevin, & myself, John refined those choices leading to an incredible pair of elegant ukuleles. The skill sets of both men made the overall process very enjoyable for me & produced two superb instruments that I hope to use for many years before they are passed on to my two sons.
Working with John & Kevin allowed me to be a comember of the team – while keeping the guardrails in place so that I couldn’t mess it up! If you’re exploring the set of luthiers who make this class of instruments, be sure to reach out to KinnardUkes. For me it has been a very satisfying and educational experience – highly recommended.
Gabriele's Kinnard Maple with Torrified Sitka Tenor Cutaway
Thank you Kevin and John at Kinnard's Ukes...
The very best Ukulele decision I have made is to buy a custom Uke from you at Kinnard's - Seriously, not only is it eye candy it has the most amazing voice, better than I could ever have hoped for, I am in love! You helped me from my first email inquiry right up until after it had been delivered here in Australia. You guided me all of the way but still allowed my personal stamp on my Ukulele - A series 3 Maple/Torrified Sitka Tenor Cutaway -
I have only had it for about a month, it is awesome. I really think it is making me a better player and joyfully handles all styles of music on the one Ukulele. Thank you gentleman for your amazing perfect build, right from showing me the original piece of wood, right up to the sound sample just before sending. The attention to detail is mind-blowing!! To say it was worth the wait is an understatement -
Thank you, Gabriele O:-)
Eric Peterson- Kinnard African Blackwood/Cedar Custom Concert