Friday, November 06, 2009

Kepasa Ukuleles

This is the first installment in what I hope will become a monthly feature on Ukulelia. Each month I will discuss a maker of custom ukuleles; how they look, how they sound, why you should get one. This is more or less subjective on my part, although I have bought and sold string instruments all my life (Is this self-serving? Probably, but it's the way I'm going to approach it.). I won’t discuss any instrument in this series that I haven’t actually played.

Before I get into a specific builder, I guess there is the question of “why?”. Why buy a custom ukulele when there are so many good production ones out there now?

For me, the answer to that is easy. I like to think that the music I make is unique and personal. I think all musicians consider their sound unique and personal. One step in achieving that is having an instrument that was designed specifically for you. To produce a sound that is specific to you.

The other reason is to have a dependable instrument to play that, no matter how much you play it, you never discover all the sounds it can make. Sometimes when I look at a ukulele I just want to play it so I can hear it make “that sound”.

To start off, I’m going to take a look at Kepasa Ukulele in Burlington, Vermont. The luthier is Kevin Crossett.

Kevin’s building philosophy is outlined on his website:

Build light, build loud, build often! Kepasa Ukuleles are designed to have a full and warm tone. I prefer this sound for fingerstyle ukulele and chord/melody style ukulele.

I enjoy studying the art of tap-tuning the top and back. Part of this is done by paying attention to wood thicknesses and strengths for each wood type, and shaping the braces to get the sound that is the most optimal from each particular ukulele. I start with a certain plan for each ukulele and I adjust accordingly along the way by communicating with the ukulele in progress. Sometimes the wood whispers to me...”

(above: left; a mahogany Josephine and right; a Koa model)

The two Kepasas I own are based on the Stewart “LeDomino” from the Twenties. They have a 14” scale, which is between a soprano and a concert, and are strung with concert gauge strings. This gives them a punchy, loud sound with a lot of depth. Although the top of a ukulele is important to the production of sound, the “body sound” what defines and broadens the sound. Kevin’s ukuleles have a warm sound. The mahogany ones are darker with more sustain and the koa ones have a surprising amount of bottom end.

The necks are fast and smooth and the ones with a 14” scale give just a bit more room. The saddle is compensated. I’m not one who ‘scopes the intonation, but I can hear if it’s off. I still feel conflicted about “strings through the body” method of anchoring the strings; it makes them harder to change, but I never worry about the bridge flying off. (I have had that happen occasionally with older ukuleles). Kevin makes a number of "standard" styles, these are just one of them.

This is a video of me playing a Kepasa “Josephine” in mahogany; (I'm not a great believer in "audio samples". The recording process always adds something to the sound; so this is how it sounds when I record it. Your results may vary...)

Right now Kevin’s prices are extremely reasonable, but the demand for his instruments is going up. Kevin, himself, is a great, easygoing guy and a joy to work with. Cheerful and self-effacing, he will give you a due date and stick to it. (This is a good thing in the world of luthiers). He has a music store in Burlington (Guitar Sams) and has a great ear for the sound of a good instrument.

Rather than make these articles too long and unreadable, I have opted for hitting the high points. If you want more info, contact Kevin; he's an easy guy to talk to.

Kepasa Ukulele Website


Anonymous said...

I have one of Kevin's instruments that I like a lot. It is a real pleasure to play. I agree that Kevin is a pleasure to work with. His instruments don't have the bling that some have (I think that is a good thing), but are fine players and in a variety of interesting styles. BTW-For anyone interested, there is one on the FMM marketplace right now at a killer price!

Gary said...

So how does one string them, then? Do you have to run the new strings through the bridge and then snake them out of the soundhole to knot them?

Craig said...

Right, Gary; that's how you string them. A lot of luthiers right now are using that method. The advantages are great.

Craig said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SRC said...

I have a Kepasa Madeira. It's my main player out of my extensive collection. It's small, cute and sounds fab!

Anonymous said...

i also have a madiera and i adore it!
it is my favorite uke out of my collection. the only thing that comes close to volume and tone (although the tone is different) is my 20's martin. it's a joy to play. and kevin is an extremely standup guy.
i would recommend a kepasa with a big double thumbs up.

Anonymous said...

One of the reasons I had a Josephine made was because I knew Craig had two of them. I love mine of Koa and you can see pictures of it at . It fits my hands wonderfully. I'm waiting for a price on another one made of Spruce and Rosewood. As far as the re-stringing through the sound hole... it's not difficult and visually it has a wonderful clean look. Ukester Brown

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