Pono Guitar Frequently Asked Questions
About Pono Guitars
Q - With the new CITES regulations, will you be making any changes in woods ?
A - CITES is short for "Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora."
The United States joined CITES in 1974, and Indonesia joined in 1978.
This trade agreement was designed to control the acquiring and selling of many different plants, animals, and sealife throughout the world. Many countries endorse and enforce such laws, and in many ways this is good. Throughout history, mankind has had little respect for our natural resources. So animals are indiscriminately slaughtered for body parts, and forests are clear cut and left to become wastelands.
Our primary and current issue is with Rosewood. There are many different species of Rosewood growing just above and below the equator. When harvested properly, the remainder of the forest thrives. However in most cases, professionally managed harvesting is rare . Some woodcutters from various countries around the world are now taking massive amounts of exotic woods, such as Rosewood. Most of this is for furniture and architectural uses, and a very small amount is for musical instruments. So although stringed instrument builders use relatively small amounts Rosewood, we too must bare the burden of additional fees and regulations.
We are attempting to comply with all USDA, US Fish and Game, and CITES regulations by acquiring licensing and permits for import and export of Rosewood and shell inlay. Our Rosewood for Pono guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles is what is commonly known as Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia Latifolia), growing in the forests of Java. It has different grain patterns and color, but still is the same species (planted many hundreds of years ago by botanists from lands west of Java).
Regardless of the species, all Rosewoods have been added to the CITES list of endangered woods. This was considered by some a radical ammendment, to include all Rosewood species. But again, this apparently was the only way to stop or curtail the removal of any Rosewood trees.
Currently our Pono woods include Mahogany, Rosewood, Ebony, Mango, Tamarind, and Acacia. We could utilize our CITES permits to continue the use and transport of Rosewoods, but instead have decided, at least for now, to simply discontinue the use of Rosewood for our Pono instruments. Again, we have the necessary applications and documents for both import and export of Rosewood. However the cost and time is becoming prohibitive. And for each shipment, an additional fee is required. Regardless of CITES regulations, due to overcutting and sales to other countries, it's becoming more and more difficult to find high quality Rosewood near our factory on Java.
The good news is that we are being forced to find and use sustainable alternatives. There are other woods that we have been using, and they are excellent for stringed instruments. Mahogany has been popular and accepted for as long as guitars have been made. Ebony may be on the list some day, but for now we will continue to use it, especially for fingerboards, bridges, bridge pins, and for backs and sides on select small body instruments. Acacia is a species growing throughout most of the world. There are approximately 1300 different species of Acacia (Koa is one of them in Hawaii). Color is beautiful, grain has pretty figure, and tone is excellent. Mango has similar tonal properties of Mahogany, and many love the color and wild figured grain. Tamarind in Hawaii is known as Wi'awa awa. It's a light golden colored wood, and so we use it for binding on a few models. And we may be introducing new instrument woods in the future.
For now we still have a supply of guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles with either Rosewood body parts, or fingerboards and bridges made of Rosewood. It's legal for us to send any to a US domestic address. However we are not sending any to international customers.
Q - Is shell inlay on the endangered list?
A - The pearl and abalone that we use is not endangered, however now the US Fish and Wildlife has decided to completely regulate and document all uses of shell products. So each instrument with pearl dots or abalone rosettes and purfling now requires export documents and special fees. We debated whether to continue the use of shell inlay, fill out all necessary documents, and pay large fees for each shipment out of Hawaii. There are separate provisions that allow for domestic deliveries without documents and fees, but our decision is to delete the use of all shell products. Initially we felt this deviated from a long tradition of instrument building, but now we have decided to simply "roll" with it. All shell previously used for our logo, fingerboard dots, rosettes, and purflings will now be contrasting wood, and stone inlay. All of this will be different, but our main focus is still on making a guitar that sounds good. It will still be pretty, but lack the sparkle and bling commonly associated with guitar decoration.
Q - Pono mandolins?
A - Yes, Pono Mandolins. Many years ago we started with mandolins and guitars. Guitars because everybody loves guitars. Mandolins because of our Greek heritage, and ukuleles because of where we live and work. And the desire to make all three that are professionally made. It's interesting that in doing some historical research we find that in the early 1900's mandolin was more popular than ukuleles in Hawaii. And this because the Hawaiian Ali'i (kings and queens) were more knowledgeable of the violin family of instruments, rather than guitar. And mandolin and violin share the same scale patterns.
Instead of the traditional mandolin shape, like the ukulele, they look like small guitars. This changes both tone, volume, and the ability to hold them in your arms or on your leg. A traditional mandolin can also be played resting between both legs. But usually held with a strap. Our Pono mandolins can and will most likely be played with straps also, but when sitting this is not necessary. But more important is the deep and resonant tone of a Pono Mandolin. Without broadcasting this on any "mandolin" forums, we think they sound better than traditional mandolins.
We decided to begin with Octave Mandolins. Our partner in design, Kilin Reece, who worked for us for many years now has his own shop. For several years he has been saying we should modify our large ukuleles and small guitars to accomodate eight steel strings. And so finally we have a mandola and Octave Mandolin.
And the decision was to make two different Octave Mandolin sizes. One is large (13 5/8"), and similar to a traditional Octave Mandolin, or Irish and Greek Bouzouki. The other has a small body (11 1/4'). When asked why the small one, we say "because we like it" (which is true of most of what we do).
Our mandolin bodies are "guitar" shaped. This is not simply because we are guitarmakers, but the tone is different, and thus far many satisfied customers agree. Several years went into our designs, not simply taking an ukulele or guitar body and putting 8 strings on it. Except for the shape, everything else is modified. They are flat top mandolins, guitar shaped bodies, with pin bridges and internal X bracing. And with some minor string gauge changes, they can become a Tenor 8-String Guitar.
Small Body: 11 1/4" wide, 21.5" scale
Large Body: 13 3/4" wide, 23" scale
Body woods have been Rosewood or Mahogany, and top wood is Spruce. However as explained above, we will be discontinuing Rosewood, and replacing it with Ebony. Binding is Ebony on mahogany models, and maple on Ebony and sunburst models. Nuts and saddles are bone, and all have a pin bridge with ebony pins. Finishes are satin or gloss.
And, a hardshell case is included with each instrument.
Q - And you are now making a Tenor 8-String Guitar also?
A - Yes, they are actually the same instrument as our Octave Mandolin, set up for a guitar or ukulele player. The modification is string gauges and tuning (DGBE instead of GDAE, and the bottom four are in octaves).
This is actually a take off of what almost became popular in the mid '60's. History reveals that Nick Reynolds of the Kingston Trio wanted his 4 string Tenor to be an 8 string. And so as the story goes, he modified his 4 string, and then convinced the Martin Company to make a few 8 string models, that were named O-18T8, but only five were made from 1969 to 1970.
So we are proud to now introduce the new Pono Tenor 8-String Guitar (in the original large body version, and also a smaller body).
String gauges are different from our Octave Mandolin, in order to accomodate the different tension tuned to DGBE. Our string set as a Tenor Guitar is similar to a 12 string guitar. After many months of experimentation with what strings and what gauges of strings, we decided on "octaves" for the Tenor Guitar, instead of "unisons" for the Octave Mandolin. As a Mandolin, #4 pair and #3 pair are plain unison string gauges. As a Tenor Guitar, #4 pair and #3 pair are in octave.
Either way the tone is beautiful.
Q - What strings and gauges are you using as an Octave Mandolin and as a Tenor 8-String Guitar?
A - There is probably a variety of different plain and wound strings and gauges that will work. We have done a lot of experimenting and come up with what we like, and how we set up each instrument. Also we are packaging these two sets.
#8 - G - .046 Phos Brz Wound
#7 - G - .046 Phos Brz Wound
#6 - D - .032 Phos Brz Wound
#5 - D - .032 Phos Brz Wound
#4 - A - .022 Phos Brz Wound
#3 - A - .022 Phos Brz Wound
#2 - E - .012 Plain Steel
#1 - E - .012 Plain Steel
Tenor 8-String Guitar:
#8 - D - .012 Plain Steel
#7 - D - .032 Phos Brz Wound
#6 - G - .009 Plain Steel
#5 - G - .024 Phos Brz Wound
#4 - B - .015 Plain Steel
#3 - B - .015 Plain Steel
#2 - E - .011 Plain Steel
#1 - E - .011 Plain Steel
Q - Where can I buy a Pono Octave Mandolin?
A - We only have a few select dealers carrying our instruments:
- Music is Life/Southern Ukulele, UK
- The Acoustic Music Company, UK
- The Mandolin Store in Surprise, Arizona, USA
- Fiddlers Green Music in Austin, Texas USA
- Hawaii Music Supply (theukulelesite) Hawaii
- KR String (Hawaii)
- Dusty Strings in Seattle, Washington USA
Q - What changes are you making in 2017 ?
A - Our Pono Guitars, Mandolins, and 'Ukuleles have become exactly what we intended them to be many years ago. High quality, all solid woods, and affordable prices. To clear up any confusion and misunderstanding, we will continue production of Pono Guitars, Mandolins, and Ukuleles.
As for Pono Guitars, our new production, marketing, and sales plan was to only accept and make custom ordered models. While our intentions were good, at the current pricing it has become unprofitable. So we have decided to go back to our original limited production of Pono Guitars. Some will always be in stock and available.
Please call or email us for current availability. In other words, if it's not in stock, it's not available. Since we have very few music store dealers, we will operate more like a music store.
Also, on the Acoustic Guitar Forum, under the listing of "Stock Instruments" you will find what we currently have in stock and available.
We understand that this will cause inconvenience, however to continue a high quality guitar, at an affordable price, this is the only practical solution.
Custom options are still available through our Ko'olau custom shop.
And as mentioned above, another big change, due to governmental regulations and restrictions is the elimination of the use of Rosewood. For a while we still have several models in stock and available, but eventually there will be no Pono guitars, mandolins, or ukuleles made of Rosewood.
Also please note that any current models in our stock made with Rosewood will not be sent out internationally. Only US domestic shipments.
Q - How do I know what instruments you currently have in stock?
A - We have a network of dealers throughout the world who sell our Pono 'ukuleles and now mandolins. To inquire about available Pono guitars, pleaseb call us at 808-622-1064 or you can email us at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
And again, please check out the AGF listing "Stock Instruments"
Q - Can I order directly from your website?
A - No. Since our instruments are high quality, and not inexpensive, most of our customers perfer personal one-on-one discussion via phone or email. So please call or email.
Q - When did you begin making guitars?
A- In 1981 we started a business of both building and repair, and restoration, which included all stringed instruments. Due to demand, it ended up becoming more repair, and then in between we made a few guitars, ukuleles, and mandolins. Then in the mid 1990's the decision was made to phase out of general repairs and warranty service for major manufacturers, and concentrate on building Ko'olau Guitars and Ukuleles. So now our time is spent exclusively on the production of both Ko'olau and Pono Guitars, Mandolins, and 'Ukuleles.
Q - Is the Pono brand different from Ko'olau?
A - Yes, they are different. Our original line of instruments was Ko'olau. But several years ago the demand for Ko'olau instruments made it necessary to either expand production of Ko'olau instruments, or retain Ko'olau as a small and separate custom shop, with made to order guitars and ukuleles only, and then produce another line of guitars and ukuleles.
So began our Pono line, with the ability to make a higher volume of instruments. Quality is similar because Pono models utilize the same years of experience, with the same designs, molds, and high quality materials, including all solid wood construction.
Our Pono factory is on the island of Java in Indonesia, where we divide our time supervising manufacturing and quality control of our Ko'olau custom shop.
We endorse and practice "fair trade" manufacturing. This is a term describing the use of high quality materials, but fair and equatable treatment of employees and the environment.
Pono is a very dignified Hawaiian word used in the past and today. It is defined as "right and correct" so we thought that applied perfectly to our Pono line of guitars and ukuleles. The Hawaiian language is somewhat simple, which is good. It's interesting that in the Hawaiian language the letter "n" in the word pono can be replaced with "h" and it becomes the opposite definition. Poho is the wrong way.
Our goal is to do it "pono" ..... the "right" way.
Q - How do I buy a Pono Guitar? Are they available in music stores?
A - We are a small production guitar shop. Making Pono Ukuleles has been the focus of our production for many years, but our original passion, over 35 years ago was guitars and mandolins. But several years ago we decided to make a line of Pono Guitars. High quality craftsmanship in small quantities.
We take pride in working with each customer and making sure they get exactly what they want. And yes, we understand the difficulty and anxiety on the part of our customers, buying a guitar sight unseen. We jokingly say "just stop by and try them out" and of course, you are more than welcome to come to our showroom. But we understand the reality of making a special trip to Hawaii to buy a guitar. So we appreciate your trust and confidence in Pono Guitars. And we strive to make it worth your while.
With videos and photos on our website, a significant amount of favorable reviews on the internet, and a final price tag that is affordable, all of this adds to the security of buying without seeing and playing first. For further consolation, if for any reason you are not satisfied, you can return your guitar for a full refund.
Please call or email for sales, requests, or general inquiries.
Q - Did you change the design of the O-10 all Acacia, O-15 all Mango, and O-20 all Mahogany?
A - yes, these three O size parlor guitars were orignally designed to be our unadorned and affordable parlor guitar. Specs in the past included a solid headstock, satin matte finish, no binding, and a simple rope rosette. Our O Series now includes top and back binding, an abalone rosette, and a gloss finish (on occasion we have a satin matte finished model in stock).
Headstock will still be solid. Current stock have 12 fret necks, but future production will be 14 frets to the body.
For 2017 options available for these three models are a slotted headstock, a cutaway body, and a satin or gloss finish
O-10 Acacia top, back, and sides, Tamarind top and back binding.
O-15 Mango top, back, and sides, Ebony top and back binding.
O-20 Mahogany top, back, and sides, Ebony top and back binding.
Q - What is Tamarind wood, and why do you use it on Acacia models?
A - Tamarind is a tree with fruit pods used in many culinary dishes. The wood ranges from a pale yellow to a red heartwood. In Hawaii the tree is known as Wi'awa awa, and was prized for bowls and furniture. We decided that it makes a pretty contrast with Acacia. And as our customers have noticed, we like to do unusual designs.
Q - Are all of your bindings wood?
A - Yes. Although almost all major guitar manufacturers for the past 100 years have been using plastic, and no one has really complained, we decided a long time ago that wood on wood looks more natural, and lasts longer. Some will argue that plastic is more durable, but there is no proof to justify this to be true. And we know from experience having repaired guitars for 35 years, dealing with issues such as shrinkage, cracking, and delaminatiion of plastic binding. We liken it to building a fine piece of furniture, out of beautiful exotic wood, and then laminating plastic strips along the edges.
Again, most major manufacturers are convincing when they explain the durability of plastic binding. Besides not being true, the fact is that wood binding and purflings are more expensive, and more difficult to apply.
Pono Guitars are patterned after our Ko'olau Guitars. In Hawaiian the word Pono is defined as "right." Or in other words, do it the right way.
Q - Is a gloss or satin matte finish an option?
A - Most models are a gloss finish, but some are satin. Please inquire as to what is currently in stock.
Q - You make a Grand Concert OOO size guitar, but do you make what is known as the OM model?
A - We have received several requests for an OM style guitar. Since it was one of the most popular designs in guitar making history, we probably should have included it long ago. Before about 1929 what is known as a OOO 15" body guitar had a short scale, and 12 frets to the neck.
The introduction of what is commonly known as OM, or Orchestral Model was designed to have more tension, and thus more volume and projection. Our Pono C-OM-30 OM dimensions and design is similar.
We currently have a few of our OM 30 models, made of Rosewood. However, future production will be Acacia and Mahogany back and sides (C-OM-10 Acacia and C-OM-20 Mahogany).
Our OM has a long scale (25.4), 14 fret neck, solid headstock, wood binding, and top purfling is Herringbone (to keep things authentic and pretty). So the only deviation (besides the loving attention given to each instrument and the price)... is the binding. As mentioned above, we prefer wood ..... like they did in the real old days. And we think it's prettier than plastic anyway.
Q - Do you make a Tenor Guitar?
A - Yes, we make a nylon and steel 4 string Tenor Guitar. The nylon string version is the larger one, at 13 5/8" wide. Models are BN-1 all acacia, BN-2 all mahogany, BN-10 all acacia, and BN-20 mahogany with spruce or cedar top.
Our steel string model is only 11 1/4" wide. Models are UL4-10 all acacia, UL4-20 mahogany with spruce or cedar, and UL4-40 Ebony with Spruce or Cedar.
Q - What is the tuning suggested for UL4 Steel String Tenor Guitar.
A - Tuning can be the traditional Tenor Guitar CGDA, or it can be the same as standard guitar tuning DGBE. Or, it can be tuned up three steps to F, A#, D, G.
Many years ago, when the Tenor Guitar was introduced, strings were (and still are) very light (.032, .022, .014, .010). We felt that this tone was a little too thin and "dulcimer" sounding. We prefer a heavier gauge than what was originally used. Depending on whether it's tuned standard DGBE or tuned up higher, we use both light and medium gauge strings. The body size and scale is similar to what what was known in the past as a "terz" guitar, but this one only has four strings. Terz is defined as third, so in the old days it was usually tuned up three steps, which produces a beautiful "chimey" tone.
For terz tuning (three steps up), due to the additional tension, we find that light gauge strings work best (.032, .024, .016, .012).
For standard DGBE tuning either light or medium gauge strings will work. But with less tension tuned down, we like medium gauge (.035, .026, .017, .013), however light gauge can be used also.
We are continually trying to experiment with new designs. Sometimes simply because we like to, and sometimes because we receive unusual requests. The new UL 4 string is one that falls into both catagories. But to be honest, string gauge and tuning combos are still optional. Regardless of tuning and strings, we are pleased with our new UL designs, and appreciate any suggestions on playing style.
Q - Is the neck on the UL4 steel string similar to Tenor Guitars of the past?
A - No. For most of our instruments we make what we like to play, and not always what was traditional and acceptable in the past. Tenor Guitars from the 1950's and 60's had a narrow neck, and thin strings. But we decided we preferred a larger neck. So after many years of design we decided to do our own style of a steel string Tenor (including the BN nylon string Tenor Guitar). And this includes a wider neck and heavier strings. The neck width of our Tenor Guitar, both nylon and steel string, is 1 3/8" at the nut (instead of 1 1/4")
Q - Is there a 6 string version of the UL?
A - Yes, UL-10 Acacia, UL-20 Mahogany, and UL-40 Ebony. Tuning is the same, with the addition of the bottom two bass strings.
Q - Do any models have additional shell inlay?
A - some current stock has shell inlay, however future production will not include the use of shell.
Construction, Design, and Materials
Q - What is the difference in your Parlor size guitars?
A - Parlor guitars are small body guitars. We make three different models. See above for more detailed specifications.
1. Uku Li'i: 11 1/4" wide. Solid Headstock. Long ago it was named a model 5 or Terz, and often tuned up three steps, and usually tuned to G C F Bb D G.
2. Li'i: 12 1/4" wide. Slotted headstock. In the past this was labeled a Model 2.
3. O and OP: 13 1/2" wide, this is the most common "parlor" size guitar.
O models (O-10 all Acacia, O-15 all Mango, and O-20 all Mahogany) Abalone or rope rosette, top and back wood binding, solid or slotted headstock, and a gloss or satin finish.
OP models have a slotted headstock, spruce and cedar tops, abalone rosette, cutaway body, and a gloss or satin finish.
Q - Why are these small size guitars called Parlor guitars?
A - In the old days the living room of a house was called the "parlor." Back then the living room was not a so called "family" room, meaning it was not a room with a TV and toys and clutter. It was a clean and quiet room where extended family and guests entertained (and probably children were not allowed). In addition to the quietness of this room, there was an acoustic serenity. Usually these rooms had beautiful wood floors with thick area rugs, and what is now considered "antique" sofas and chairs ..... and of course, crackling wood in the fireplace. A cozy place to listen to a small solo guitar.
Actually in the 1800's and early 1900's, except for larger concert and orchestra models, most guitars were small. The big body Grand Auditorium and Dreadnaughts had not yet been designed or produced. Body width of these small guitars was between 11" to 13" ... or so. The smallest ones were introduced as a guitar designed for women, but eventually men began to enjoy them too. A guitar this size has a sweet sparkle to it, with a natural reverb and sustain. An enchanting guitar ...... in the "parlor."
And now days, with the "invention" of electronic amplification, a guitar this size can be used in any concert setting.
Q - What are the next sizes up from your O and OP Parlor?
A - Concert OO - 14 1/2" wide
Grand Concert, sometimes called OOO - 15" wide
Nylon Hybrid MIni Small Body - 11 1/4" wide
Nylon Hybrid 15" wide
Tenor 4 String Guitar (Steel String 11 1/4" wide, Nylon String 13 5/8" wide)
Dreadnaught - 15 5/8" wide
Grand Auditorium OOOO - 16" wide
Q - I notice you are now making a OO size guitar. It appears to be a different style than the O or OOO?
A - The OO Pono model design is somewhat patterned after the great blues fingerstyle guitars of the past. It was also popular back in the folk era of the 1960's. Back and sides are Acacia, Mahogany or Rosewood and our tops are Engelmann Spruce. One model, OO-10 has an Acacia top, back, and sides. We began making our OO model 12 fret, which sound great, but there was more demand for 14 fret bodies.
One exception is our new OO-V with either Acacia or Mahogany back and sides and a spruce top. Top and back binding is wood, and top purfling is herringbone. Body meets at the neck at the 12th fret, and the fingerboard spacing at the nut is 1 7/8" and string spacing at the saddle is 2 5/16"
Another exception to fret placement in relation to the body is our OO 12 string models. The OO12-20 12 string neck meets the body at the 12 fret neck.
Q - The OO size guitar is between the O and OOO. Is the OO model good for fingerstyle or strumming?
A - We are often asked this question, because this model has caused some confusion. We love this guitar size and design, but sometimes it's perceived as a "big" guitar, due to the additional one inch added to the O size. In some historical discussions the OO is still a "parlor" size guitar. We don't know if it matters whether it's called a "parlor" or not, but it should be understood what it can and cannot do.
Natural to the design of each size guitar, the larger the body ...... the bigger the tone and volume. So naturally, an O size guitar will not hold up to hard strumming as well as an OOO or Dreadnaught. This seems natural, but on occasion a customer is surprised that the little size will not do what the big one can do. This is why studies have proven that opera singers are usually not skinny.
Although only 1/2" less in the lower bout (14 1/2") than the OOO (15"), the 1/2" does make a difference, and also the waist is a little more narrow. Which also makes a difference.
We are sometimes asked if the OO is a strumming guitar. One simple answer is that all sizes of guitars can be good for strumming. But again, a larger body guitar is designed for a more aggressive finger pick (plectrum) attach. The OO size sounds best with fingerstyle (finger picking) and light strumming. If you want a guitar that's better for strumming rhythm chords, and especially strummed hard, then we suggest bumping up to OOO (C models), OOOO (GA models), or Dreadnaughts.
Q - You are making a small steel string guitar. Are these similar to what was made in the late 1800's and early 1900's ?
A - Yes, these little "parlor" size guitars were popular long ago. In fact, before big guitars. The UL and L Series are fun and enchanting. Brilliant resonance with a clear and bell like chime. The UL can be tuned either to standard tuning with medium gauge strings, or up three steps to G with light gauge strings. But on occasion we have customers who are surprised that our little UL model sounds light, bright, and almost like a mandolin. That's because it's supposed to. At 11 1/4" wide, this guitar is not much larger than a baritone ukulele. So although it's small and convenient, it will not replicate larger guitars.
The next size up, the L Series, at 12 1/4" has more resonant depth, but still not meant to complete with large guitars. For those wanting a "parlor" small size guitar, but still have warm bass tone, and not as brilliant treble tone, our suggestion is to bump up to the O or OO.
But as mentioned above, even the OO size will not produce the warm depth resonance one might be expecting or has experienced with an OOO or larger. There is no such thing as a little guitar that sounds big. Guitars can be made small and still sound, but are not designed to sound the same.
In the violin world it might be like trying to make a violin sound like a viola or cello. It's not possible. And it's not suppose to. Most of our customers understand this, but we want to make sure everyone understands.
Q - What woods are used for the construction of Pono Guitars?
A - Mahogany, Ebony, Mango, and Tamarind. All solid woods. For top soundboards we import Spruce and Cedar from British Columbia Canada.
We have discontinued the use of Rosewood.
Q - What wood is used for your necks?
A - Mahogany. Almost every guitar ever made throughout history has a Mahogany neck. It has proven to be stable and light weight.
Q - Why do you not have one piece Mahogany necks?
A - We make our necks using multiple pieces of Mahogany. Granted, this does not look as pretty as one solid piece of wood. It's not ugly, but some don't like it. And of course, some believe that a one piece neck is better, more durable, and more stable. But it's not.
A multi piece neck is much more economical, and much more sustainable of mahogany. Although we never thought it would come to this, Mahogany is now close to being included on CITES endanged list.
In order to make a guitar neck out of one solid piece it requires a massive chunk of wood approximately 24" x 5" x 4" and then if carefully selected it will make two necks, but in most cases the excess wood is trashed. In other words, much of what you see, from the back of the headstock, down the neck to the heel is all cut out and removed and discarded. Since braces, fingerboards and bridges are not made of Mahogany, the remainder becomes sawdust.
We understand that a solid piece neck is both pretty and perceived as more stable. We don't like the scarf lines either (where the pieces are glued together). But again, when someone says that a one piece neck is more professional and stable, we don't agree. It just looks better. Stability is not a factor since a neck can remain straight and useful if properly cut to begin with, namely as quartersawn as possible. This includes a high quality, properly cut fingerboard.
As for the economics, our original goal for Pono Guitars was to enter the guitar market with what we believe to be the highest quality guitar in it's price range. Actually we think we have surpassed others who charge much more (but this discussion is on neck construction and not advertising).
So to keep the price down, there is not much we can do to shave off expenses. Our mahogany, ebony, rosewood, and acacia is truly the best available. Binding and purfling is all wood (not plastic). Tuners and fretwire are the same as used on the finest guitars anywhere. So if we make the neck out of one piece, we need to increase the price. Which we would do, if we thought it was necessary. But the multi piece neck works just as good, and saves money and wood.
Q – What wood is used for fingerboards and bridges?
A – Ebony.
Due to new governmental laws and regulations, we have now discontinued the use of Rosewood for our fingerboards and bridges.
Q – Is Ebony better for fingerboards than Rosewood?
A – They are both excellent hard woods. However we have discontinued the use of Rosewood, so for now there is no other choice. We will use Ebony for all fingerboards and bridges.
Q – What kind of Mahogany do you use?
A – On the island of Java we have the the most popular species often called Honduras Mahogany (Swietenia Macrophylla) which somehow migrated here through the past hundreds of years. The beauty of our Mahogany appears to be due to a cross mutation with what is called Cuban or West Indian Mahogany (Swietenia Mahogani), but little is actually known about the forestation of southeastern pacific and asian islands during the seafaring trade by Portugese, Spanish, and Dutch sailing ships hundreds of years ago.
What we do know is that our Mahogany is “true” mahogany. It’s stable, looks good, and produces an excellent tone. And the forests on Java are being managed in a strict and sustainable manner by the Forestry Service.
Q – For topwood you have Spruce and Cedar. What kind of spruce and cedar do you use?
A – One Spruce we use is Engelmann (Picea Engelmannii). This particular species of spruce is similar to European Spruce, a creamy white color, and produces the clarity typical of spruce, but slightly warmer in tone than Sitka Spruce. Englemann Spruce grows along the Rocky Mountains of the US and Canada. Ours comes from the interior of British Columbia, Canada.
For our Dreadnaught guitars we use Sitka Spruce (Picea Sitchensis) from both Alaska and Canada. With a density of 27 lbs per foot and Specific Gravity of .43 this spruce provides excellent volume and projection.
Our Cedar is Western Red Cedar (Thuya Plicata), from Vancouver Island, Canada. Cedar as a topwood gives warmth and age. Like good wine before it's time.
Although spruce will always have more brilliance and tonal projection, after many years it will "mellow" somewhat like cedar. But still retain it's pretty sparkle.
Both our Cedar and Spruce are AAA to 4A grade.
Q - Why do you use Sitka Spruce on one style of guitar, and Engelmann Spruce on the others?
A - We use Cedar, Sitka Spruce, and Engelmann Spruce for most of our guitars. Some models have the same top wood as the back and sides. But as for Sitka Spruce compared to Engelmann Spruce, we use Sitka (from the coastal areas of British Columbia and Alaska) on our Dreadnaught models because of it's strong elasticity. On a density chart, in weight per foot Sitka is 27, and it Specific Gravity is .43. These numbers may not mean much, but in comparison to other woods it makes sense. Most Rosewoods have a density of 53 and .85 Specific Gravity.
But Sitka Spruce, compared to Engelmann Spruce is harder, heavier and more dense. Engelmann Spruce is only 24 lbs per foot, and .41 Specific Gravity. This additional density produces more crisp projection and volume, both for strumming and finger picking.
Engelmann Spruce is similar to German Spruce. It has a creamy appearance, with a warm, rich, and aged tone.
Q - Why is Cedar used for guitars?
A - Cedar is somewhat similar to Engelmann Spruce, with it's warmth and aged tone, but lacks the ability to be driven hard. Not that hard driving is necessary, but for other guitars it may be important for high volume and strong projection. For a warm and sweet sound, Cedar is a good choice.
The weight of Cedar is only 23 lbs per foot, and .32 Specific Gravity. So it's much lighter and much less dense than Spruce.
Q – Most Mahogany is dark red brown in color. Why is the Mahogany you use so light in color? Is it really Mahogany?
A – Yes, it's really Mahogany. In fact, the highest grade of True Mahogany. Mahogany is naturally a light reddish brown, but not dark in color. Most people rarely see natural mahogany, because most guitar makers throughout history have stained it dark. So everyone thinks that Mahogany is dark brown.
Most manufacturers continue this procedure, again because that's what their customers accustomed to seeing. When we first introduced natural Mahogany in our guitars and 'ukuleles we had many inquiries as to what type of wood we were using. It was tempting to follow suit and stain, but we decided it was time to introduce Mahogany in it's naturally beautiful state.
What's interesting is an amazing phenomena that occurs with Mahogany. It will naturally darken in time. Most other woods remain the same through the years of use. Spruce will darken somewhat. But Mahogany, after a few years will not even be recognizable as the same cut of wood. Within six months to one year you will notice a transformation in the appearance of your guitar, eventually becoming a rich, red brown color.
We could stain it, but if stained it loses the natural clarity of grain. We like the look of aged Mahogany. And as we have noticed, stained Mahogany has a "muddy" colored appearance. Just give it about a year or so and it will naturally darken. And look much prettier than if stained.
Q – What kind of binding do you use?
A – Wood. No plastics. We use Ebony, Tamarind, Koa, Mahogany, and Maple. The most common binding for most guitars is a form of plastic, either black, white, ivoroid, or tortoise shell looking. They are all very inexpensive compared to buying and cutting wood, and for many years a plastic binding works good. Having performed repair work for many years we have found that after many years plastic binding tends to shrink, crack, and come loose. So all old guitars with plastic binding at some time in their lifetime need to have binding reglued. And in some cases, where it shrinks, pieces of binding need to be spliced in.
But aside from those structural issues, we like the design that includes as much wood as possible. It's more costly, but looks and feels more natural.
Q – What woods do you use for binding?
A – We have tried various species of wood for binding. Sometimes simply playing around with color combinations. We explain to our customers that binding on a guitar is like a picture frame. Some frames are dark color, and some are light. And some are a busy combination of light and dark. The following is what we have come up with for our current production:
- Acacia body: Tamarind binding (in Hawaii the tree is called Wi'awa awa). The Tamarind tree grows throughout the Hawaiian Islands, and throughout all tropical lands and islands. It's mostly prized for is edible seed pods used in cooking. It also produces lumber with a beautiful creamy pale yellow color. In Hawaii the Wi'awa awa was one of the most prized trees planted by the last queen of Hawaii, Liliuokalani. And they are still growing at her palace in Honolulu.
- Mahogany body: Ebony
- Ebony body: Maple (the striking contrast of almost white and figured maple combines beautifully with dark colored body woods.
Most manufacturers use an ivoroid plastic binding on dark wood guitars. It's been accepted as pretty, but for a light color contrast, we prefer to use real maple.
Q – What do you use for bridge pins?
A – Ebony. Not plastic.
Q – What material do you use for nuts and saddles?
A – Bone. We could save money by using synthetic materials. Other manufacturers claim that their "imitation bone" is better, but the fact is, it's cheaper. Sometimes they inform customers that bone is porus, and thus not consistant in the transmission of vibration. This is possibly true, especially with the use of poor quality bone material. We prefer to stick with tradition and use high density bone.
Q - Pono guitars come with Light Gauge strings. Which models can I use Medium Gauge?
A - Any of our guitars are designed and built to accomodate Light or Medium gauge strings. Just let us know if you prefer Medium gauge strings, as there will be a slight change in set up. But if decide later you want to change back to Light Gauge, a minor truss rod adjustment will be necessary.
Our smallest steel string guitars, model UL-20, UL-30SP, and UL-40SP were originally designed to have light gauge strings (.012 to .052) and tuned three steps up, to G.
However we usually leave them in standard tuning, and use medium gauge strings (.013 to .056).
Q – What strings do you use?
A – D’Addario EXP. We have had a relationship with D'Addario for many years. So to lower cost we install this light gauge string on all guitars. We understand that this will not satisfy all customers. Regardless of which strings are used, we feel you will love our guitars. And strings are easy to change to whatever brand is preferred.
When ordering a guitar, let us know if you prefer light or medium gauge strings.
Q – What is the scale length of your guitars?
- Uku Li'i Series: 21.4"
- Li'i Series: 24.6"
- O and OP Series: 24.75"
- OO Series: 24.75"
- Grand Concert Series OOO: 24.75"
- OM (OOO size): 25.4"
- Dreadnaught and Grand Auditorium
- Nylon Hybrid: 25.4"
- Tenor Guitar, Nylon String: 23"
Q - What is the design of the Dreadnaught guitar?
A - We make four different Dreadnaught guitars. Two different designs, with either all Mahogany or all Acacia. Or either can have a Sitka Spruce top.
DS Models: Slotted headstock and body meets at the 12th fret, similar to the original Dreadnaught design. This design puts the bridge slightly farther away from the soundhole and X brace, more in the center of the top, and thus producing a full, rich, airy sweet tone.
D Models: Solid headstock and body meets at the 14th fret. This design puts the bridge closer to the soundhole, producing more volume and projection. This became the most common Dreadnaught guitar design.
Both our DS and D dreadnaught models have a graceful and vintage style slope shoulder upper bout. And both have a 25.4" long scale, 15 5/8" wide body, 1 3/4" nut spacing, and both are available in either a satin, gloss or sunburst finish.
Q – What is the Nylon Hybrid guitar?
A – It’s called “hybrid” because it combines characteristics of classical nylon style and steel string. The body is a Concert OOO 15” (381mm) size. Internal bracing is a traditional classical fan brace system. Bridge is a nylon string tie bridge. Headstock is slotted. Unconventional styling includes a cutaway body to accommodate ease of playability and the fingerboard with a 16 inch radius. Body meets at the 12th fret, and scale length is 25.4"
Our design is to satisfy the steel string player who wants the soft feel and beautiful tone of nylon strings, the Nylon Hybrid is fun and easy to play.
- N-20DC Mahogany back and sides, Spruce or Cedar top, Cutaway body, slotted headstock
Q - Do you make a smaller size nylon string guitar?
A - Yes, we now have the 'Uku Li'i Small Body Nylon Hybrid (ULN). Body width is the same as our UL steel string models with an 11 1/4" wide body. There are many 1/2 and 3/4 size nylon string guitars on the market today. Most of them are inexpensive and poorly made, designed for young children to learn guitar.
Our ULN-10 is Acacia and ULN-20 Mahogany are professional nylon string guitars. Some might consider it a "traveling" guitar, however the tone and volume is still good, and for most musicians amplification will be added.
Fingerboard width at the nut is the same 1 7/8 inches as our full size nylon hybrid. Model ULN-10 is Acacia with Spruce or Cedar, and ULN-20 is Mahogany with Spruce or Cedar. Both meet at the 12th fret. Scale length is 23"
Q - You make a Tenor Guitar with nylon strings. Tenor guitars throughout history were steel string. What's different?
A - We redesigned a traditional 4 string Tenor Guitar to accomodate nylon strings. The steel string version is good, but through the years we had old Hawaiians, most of whom have since passed away, come in with their steel string tenor guitars, strung up with nylon strings. The internal bracing and fingerboard width was designed for steel strings, but they made do with what was available. We liked the idea also, so eventually we changed the design and have now been making a nylon string Tenor Guitar. The Pono BN (Baritone Nui) Tenor Guitars are not only easier to play than with steel strings, but also have a beautiful warm tone. So rather than a traditional Tenor Guitar, the BN model is essentially a large Baritone Ukulele.
Body width is 13 3/4" or 348mm. Scale length is 23" with a radiused fingerboard.
- BN-1 Acacia top, back, and sides. Solid headstock, no binding, rope rosette, satin finish
- BN-2 Mahogany top, back, and sides. Solid headstock, no binding, rope rosette, satin finish
- BN-10D Acacia top, back, and sides, top and back binding, slotted headstock, gloss finish
- BN-20D Mahogany back and sides, Rosewood binding, slotted headstock, gloss finish
Q – What is the radius of your fingerboards?
A – 16 inch
Q – What is your logo and fingerboard markers made of?
A – wood
Q – Are your woods kiln dried?
A – Yes, we have strictly monitored kiln rooms, drying woods to exactly 6% moisture. And all construction is performed in climate controlled rooms maintained at 43% to 45% humidity.
To begin with, after cutting and milling of our woods, we store all cut pieces in a manner called "stickering" which is stacking all pieces with spacers between each pieces and then allowed to air dry for 6 months to one year. Then all pieces are moved to what is called a climate controlled "kiln" room. Humidity levels in this room are strictly monitored to remain reduce moisture in each piece of wood to 6%. Woods remain in this closely controlled room for approximtely another 6 months to one year. At this point adequately dried woods are selected for guitar construction. All areas of our factory are maintained at 43% to 45% humidity throughout the construction process.
Below, under "Maintenance and Care" you will see a discussion on how to maintain the same moisture levels that were used during the construction of your guitar. This will prevent cracking, separation, and playability issues.
Q – What type of truss rod do you use?
A – Two way adjustable. See below under "Maintenance and Care" for instructions on adjustment.
Q - What brand of tuners do you use?
A - Grover. For most Pono guitars we use a vintage style 97-18. Quality is excellent. And they have a lifetime warranty. For our 12 string models we use "Golden Age" vintage style from Stewart MacDonald supply.
Q - Do you offer a Sunburst Finish?
A - Yes. Any model can have a Sunburst top
Q – What type of finish do you use?
A – Urethane. We could use Nitrocellulose, and we know that most people have the perception, usually from what they have been told, that Nitrocellulose a “better” finish. But we prefer Polyurethane. This may seem odd, but there is a reason. We do like Nitrocellulose lacquer but urethane is durable. It does not dent as easy as nitrocellulose, and is not as easily affected by contact with liquids. It’s thought of as a cheap, low quality finish because usually it's not applied correctly. When applied unprofessionally, it ends up too thick. And this is why it has a bad reputation. So..... it's not the material, but instead the method of application that matters.
Here’s what happens? Nitrocellulose lacquer is 25% solids and 75% solvents, which means that during application, since solvents are light and turn into vapor, most of what is being sprayed goes into the air (which is not good for the environment, but for this discussion, this is not the primary reason).
Polyurethane on the other hand is the opposite, 75% solids and 25% solvents. So most of what is sprayed stays on the instrument, not evaporizing. But due to the large percentage of solids in the mix, it often ends up too thick.
When applying Urethanes, most cheap production instruments end up with simply too much finish. If applied thick, it then must be heavily sanded and buffed out without cutting through to the wood. But it often ends up looking like it the whole instrument was dipped in a bucket of honey. A properly and professionally finished instrument should have a final thickness of approximately .004 to .005. Those numbers may not make a lot of sense, but that’s very thin. This is the thickness we strive to achieve on all of our instruments. A thin coating will allow the wood to vibrate and increase good bass and treble tone.
Q - Is a left hand option available?
A - Yes
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Q – What should I use on my finish to keep it clean and polished?
A – Any good quality guitar polish, available at most music stores. For our satin finishes, you do not really need to use anything. And especially not polishes. If you rub an area, and especially with a polishing compound, it will develop a higher sheen in that area. So it's better to not rub out a satin finish.
For satin finishes simply wipe it down with a soft cotton cloth, and if necessary use a small amount of warm water and then wipe dry. But again, not aggressively rubbed or the abrasion will produce a higher sheen.
Q – What is the string action height that you set up on your guitars? Can I change it, or have it adjusted?
A – Yes. We try to find an ideal string height. But it varies with all players. Some play hard, some play soft. So if we set it up too low, for some players strings will buzz. If we set up too high, then for a light finger style the action will be high and hard to play.
Although some prefer very low (electric guitar) action, true, it will be easy to play, but there is a trade off, you will lose good tone and volume. When strings are very low, they tend to bang against the frets and mute a clean tone.
Also, we set our necks to allow for enough saddle to lower the action if necessary. However if saddle height is too high, then there is excessive stress on both the saddle and strings.
String action measurements are taken at the 12 fret, from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string. It should be no more than 7/64 (3.5mm) at the low E and 3/32 (2.5mm) at the high E.
For the amount of saddle height, or the amount of saddle protruding above the top of the bridge, measuring the center of the saddle, we prefer 3/16" (5mm) to a maximum of 1/4" (6mm).
Q - A common question is regarding action height, either too high or too low. Will adjusting the truss rod correct the problem?
A - The adjustment of the truss rod is the first and easiest way to adjust the action. As you sight down the neck, usually from the headststock towards the bridge, you will notice the level of the fingerboard. It should appear almost straight or flat. A slight hump or back bow is not good, as this will cause fret buzzing. Even dead flat is not the preferred. There needs to be a slight amount of what's called "relief" in the neck. This means that, as you sight down the neck, you should see a very small amount of dip or bow in the neck. Sometimes called warp.
A second method of checking neck action or relief is to press down on the low E string at the first fret, and then fret the same E string at the 12th fret. Then using another available finger tap the same E string somewhere in between the 1st and 12th fret. If the string is laying on all frets in between, with no gap between the top of the fret and string, then the neck is too straight (back bowed).
Usually this is the case because the weather is too dry. In addition to body woods shrinking, the neck shrinks too, and tends to bow back, causing the action to be very low, and thus causing fret buzzing.
At other times the neck has a dip or bow and the action is too high. In either case, a rod adjustment will probably solve the problem. There may be other issues, but for now let's discuss the truss rod.
Our truss rods are a commonly used two way rod. They create tension when turned either way, clockwise or counter clockwise. If the rod nut (with the hex wrench) is turned clockwise then you are tightening the rod and causing it to bend back (and thus causing the neck to bend or bow back). If you turn it counter clockwise, then it loosens the rod, and causes the rod or bar to bend forward, and thus pulling the neck forward, and causing a bow or dip in the fingerboard.
A sometimes complicated issue with a two way rod is that there is a point between turning it clockwise and counter clockwise where the nut feels like it's doing nothing, the nut feels sloppy, and sometimes feels like it's broken or we hear "maxed out"
This in fact is simply a point at the truss rod threads where there is no "threading" going on. What needs to be done is to continue turning in the direction you were going, and after about one or two turns you will again feel tension and the rod nut will again feel difficult to turn. Keep turning. And after it's difficult again, turn about 1/4 turn and check the neck. If you do not notice any difference, turn another 1/4 turn. Continue to do this, check the fingerboard relief (either bowing or reverse bowing), until you have the slight amount of relief required to prevent fret buzzing.
Q - I have adjusted the truss rod and the action is still not right?
After truss rod adjustments are completed, and the action is still too high, then there may be other problems. The saddle can slightly lowered. But there should still be enough saddle height so that the downward angle of the strings toward the bridge pin holes is still steep enough for proper tension. It should be about a 30 to 40 degree angle from the top of the saddle to the pin hole.
If the saddle is low (or will end up too low), and assuming the neck is adjusted correctly, then the only other option is the neck needs to be reset to the correct angle. We recommend that anyone who owns one of our guitars not attempt to reset the neck angle. Not only will this void your warranty, but it can permanently damage your guitar. Any professional guitar repair person should be able to reset the neck. But again, this is the last resort to solving action height. If your guitar is now out of warranty, you can still return your guitar to us for any necessary adjustments and repairs. Or you can have your favorite repair shop contact us for any helpful information.
Warranty and Claims
Q – What is your warranty and return policy?
A – We have a warranty that legally binds our guarantee. A guarantee is a goodwill statement of satisfaction. So, we guarantee that you will be satisfied.
But a guarantee doesn't do much for you if you have a problem, because it's not a “warranty.”
So as a legal contract between us (the manufacturer) and you (the buyer) we provide a "warranty" as insurance that you will have some recourse if there is anything faulty in the craftsmanship that went into making your guitar. We offer a one year warranty to the original buyer. This warranty covers any faultly craftsmanship on our part. Our experience has proven that within the first year, if there are any issues due to faulty craftsmanship they will show up. We believe a Pono Guitar will last many years, in fact many generations. And again, if there is a serious problem in construction, it will be obvious within a few months. If you feel there is a problem with your guitar please contact us immediately.
Q - What should I do if there is a problem?
A - The first thing you can do if you is to call or email us. If for any reason you are not satisfied, you have 24 hours after receipt of your guitar to contact us. During that time examine it, play it, but please be careful and not cause any damage. We have gone to great extremes to make sure your guitar left our factory with no dents or scratches. So if you have created dents, scratches, or any other visual cosmetic flaw, you will then need to keep the guitar, or sell it as a used guitar.
But again, the first thing to do if there is an issue, or you are confused about something is to contact us. Sometimes string buzz is the result of climate changes, and neck relief, which can be easily resolved. But if you are truly not satisfied with your guitar, for any reason, then we want you to return it for a full refund (you are responsible for return shipping costs).
Inportant Note: Our Pono Guitar warranty covers any problem that is due to our faulty craftsmanship. Our warranty does not include negligence or misuse.
If after our discussion it is determined that the guitar is to be returned for a refund, the stipulation is that the guitar must be in original mint condition. As stated above, your guitar has gone through several checkpoints to make sure it was sent to you in perfect condition, so to receive a full refund, we would like it returned as such. If upon receipt of your returned guitar we find any signs of misuse, including dents or scratches we will immediately contact you. We will then return your guitar to you and you will be responsible for the return shipping.
These issues rarely occur, but we feel it necessary to discuss them now so there is no misunderstanding.
Please call us or send an email explaining the reason for the return. Then box it up, preferably in the same box you received it, and after we receive it we will immediately contact you.
Of course, we hope this will never occur.
Q - What amplification do you offer?
A - We install L.R.Baggs Element pickups. This is an "active" system which requires a battery mounted inside. This pickup includes a mini volume control wheel, mounted just inside the soundhole.
Upcharge is $300 for the pickup and installation.
Note: Guitars with added amplification are not refundable.
Q - Where do you make Pono Guitars?
A - We have a factory on the island of Java in Indonesia. We actually spend much of our time in our Pono factory, while trying to maintain our facility on Oahu. Some of the supervisory luthiers at our Pono factory have a family history of building guitars for well over 50 years. And so combined with our Ko'olau supervision, designs, and the same high quality standards, Pono Guitars are now considered amongst the highest quality available. Currently our pricing is cost effective because we are selling our guitars direct to the retail public. All Pono Guitars are now "made to order" on a custom basis.
Of course one way of keeping our cost down is not building Pono guitars on Oahu in Hawaii. The perception is that if it's made in Hawaii (or anywhere in the US) then it must be better. Sometimes this is true, but not always.
Our cost of operations in Hawaii is very expensive, so we have set up a shop in Java Indonesia. It's not cheap, but more affordable.
Because of setting up shop in another country, we have received inquiries as to environmental and working conditions at our factory. And we appreciate these sincere inquiries. Because we too have personally seen and heard the horrible stories of deplorable third world industries, including unsafe workplace safety, child abuse, poisonous health issues, polluted air and waterways, low employee pay, long hours, no health care, no vacations, and certainly no retirement benefits.
And for most "imported" guitars (or anything from autos to computers to handbags), this is often true.
But not so with Pono. One of the reasons we manufacture Pono guitars and ukuleles in Indonesia is simply because they are good at it. And they have an abundance of highly skilled craftsman. Some say this "off shore" manufacturing deprives Americans from jobs. Our experience has shown that most young Americans don't have the same work ethics that their parents had. They often want easier jobs with higher pay. This is not true in other places, where skilled craftsman and woodworkers are appreciate having a good job, and diligently work at it.
Here is how we do business, whether here in Hawaii or in Java Indonesia:
We practice what is called FAIR TRADE MANUFACTURING. The word Fair Trade in the world of manufacturing denotes that materials used are sourced in an environmentally concientious and sustainable manner. And then the acquisition and manufacture of such materials is performed in a legal, honest, and non-hazardous manner to the community and employees.
We often hear and see on chat forums information about "imports" and of course issues with quality, but even more importantly, the abuse to workers and the environment. Although our Pono manufacturing is on the island of Java in Indonesia, our guitars and ukuleles are not technically "imports" since we are personally involved in the process of making them. So it's important to note that Pono Guitar and Ukulele manufacturing is not exploiting poor, unskilled peasants in "sweat" shops.
All Pono Guitar and Ukulele employees are paid well, work in a clean, well maintained, air conditioned, and climate controlled factory. They work 8 hour days, five days per week (we want them to spend time with their families). They have one whole hour for lunch and two 15 minute breaks in the morning and then two in the afternoon. In addition to this, each employee has complete medical insurance, paid sick leave, and two weeks paid vacation per year. And, if that's not enough, they can retire at age 62 with a pension plan.
We have the same standards of operation mandated by the state of Hawaii. Many states do not have such industrial requirements. And we doubt that many US or European manufacturers match such credentials !
In Hawaii we have a word for this. It's called our "kuleana" or our responsibility. And the word PONO is translated as doing things the right way. Rather than buying something cheap, at the expense of others health and well being.
There was a time when we tried setting up a more affordable line of guitars and ukuleles in Hawaii. But besides the fact that there are very few qualified luthiers in Hawaii that can build to our high standards, the overhead for a larger production in Hawaii makes it prohibitive. We could solicit skilled craftsman from the mainland US, but at $1500 to $2000 per month for a one to two bedroom apartment in Hawaii, it's not feasible to move here.
At our Java factory, we have many highly skilled and experienced craftsman, ones who have building guitars for many years. Setting up shop in Indonesia in a responsible manner was not cheap. And all of this is makes it more expensive than most industrial standards common today, whether in the US, South America, or Asia.
So due to these higher espenses of running our business the "right" way, and only using solid woods and high quality hardware, our Pono Guitars and 'Ukuleles are higher priced than most guitars.
But this is the way we want to do business.
The subject of "imports" is common, especially for those living in the US. Everyone seems sensitive to the issue these days. The term often implies that a product is inferior to something made domestically (domestic meaning the US) . And then it's perceived as poor quality, and thus the price should be less.
But is a manufactured product, say a guitar truly inferior in quality to a one made in the continental US? possibly, but it's not necessarily where something is made, but who made it. As in the auto world, is a car made in the US is better? Some may think so, so do not. So, rather than get into politics, again it really doesn't matter where something is made..... it's "who made it"
We learned this after having performed warranty repairs for most major guitar manufacturers for many years ago. Back in the days of repair and restoration we worked on a lot of poorly made "junk" that was made by reputable US manufacturers. It seems that they lost the pride and integrity they were taught by their original immigrant parents from Germany, Portugal, Italy, and Scandanavia. It's interesting to note that they were "immigrants" ..... history shows that the first generation "immigrants" who set up shop in the US for clothing or musical instruments took extreme pride in what they produced. They had to in order to eat. And, that was the right thing to do.
We listen to some who are loyal to products made in their particular country of residence, claiming that whatever is made in their country is best. When they are reminded that most of what they own and use is not made in the country they reside in, they quickly change the subject (especially if the discussion comes up after shopping at Walmart or other common department stores where most goods are made somewhere other than the US or Europe).
It's interesting that the Ford Motor Company has set up shop in China. Would anyone loyal to their trusted Ford ever question the quality and integrity of their Ford because it was made in China? .....probably not. They see the Ford logo, and to them it's a trusted name.
Are Fords made in China cheaper in price or quality than those made in Detroit? The production supervisors practically live at the factory in China, so in a sense, Ford is still making the car, so quality should be equal. Of course production cost is cheaper, that's why they went there to set up shop.
To claim that some of their models are still made in the US, most Ford, GM, Chrysler (and even Japan manufacturers) have moved down to the southern US states where they can pay lower wages than in Michigan. They simply figured out how to make more profit. Which is not a bad thing, provided that the same high quality is maintained, and safe industry standards are met for workers and the environment. They should strive for what is called "fair trade" standards.
Another good example is Volkswagen. Often, European manufactuing is perceived as better than the US (this is not always true, but those who drive a BMW, Volvo, or Mercedes think so)
VW's are made in about 20 different countries other than Germany. Many are made in Puebla, Mexico, a city just south of Mexico City. Also VW's are made in Brazil, Poland, Spain, China, Russia and Indonesia. Are Volkswagens made in these other countries considered inferior in quality? No. VW supervisors are still in command. Are they cheaper for us to buy? No. VW simply figured out how to make more profit. In many cases the cost of operations was too high in their homeland, and/or qualified workers were either not available, or not willing to work for low wages.
A complete reversal example is BMW setting up operations in South Carolina USA. So technically, BMW is an "import" .... so should it be considered cheap quality?
Since this BMW "import" is now made in Greenville South Carolina, it should be lower priced, right? .....you wish. It's simply more profitable to manufacture in South Carolina. Land is cheaper, manufacturing regulations and laws are more lax, and people need a job and are willing to work for less pay.
Toyota makes their autos and trucks in the southern US and Mexico. A friend of mine didn't even know this until he was told to look on the door tag which read "Manufactured in Mexico" With all of the political discussions these days about Mexico, it's amazing how many Toyota's are on US highways!
But in reality, people talk and complain, but they really don't care. They simply want good quality at a fair price. This is what is called FAIR TRADE. Which includes respect for the land, the environment, the water, air, and the health of the workers.
Sadly it's different with musical instruments. There seems to be a completely different attitude. Is it possible that we created this problem?
Many US and European guitar manufacturers have set up shop in other countries many years ago, but as with the clothing garment industry, they are rarely involved in production. They simply commission someone to make cheap duplicates with their logo. And rarely are the products made by FAIR TRADE practices, but instead by poorly skilled and low paid workers, working in deplorable conditions, polluting the environment, and so the price very cheap.
And again, we created this, because we like things cheap. And it's good to be frugal and not wasteful. When we see videos or movies about how things are made, and the "true" cost to the people and environment, we usually ignore such social warnings as "oh well" we do what we gotta do, and buy at the bests prices possible. Most of us live this way, it has become our way of life.
As for guitars and other musical instruments, this has been going on for well over 60 years and the price is so affordable that no one complains. Who is willing to voluntarily pay a higher price to save the people and the land? This is a difficult dilemma, and probably not fixable.
Manufacturers in foreign countries will reproduce just about anything you want. Cheap labor, cheap materials, sometimes ok quality. So again, whether we like it or not, we created this whole "import" mess, and now we complain about it every day.
That's not say that it's wrong for a reputable manufacturer to set up shop in another country. There are a few guitar designers and manufacturers who produce their instruments in other countries, and their instruments are good. Why? Because they are doing it the right way. And they treat the environment and the people good.
But it's more expensive. Also, they are a "hands on" involved operation. That means the company owner and luthier technicians are actually in the factory completely supervising operations. This raises the price.
Also they use high quality materials, including all solid woods that results in a guitar that is as good or better than most that are made in Canada, US, and Europe. They work with the local Department of Forestry to insure that all methods of cultivation and harvesting is sustainable.
And, work place conditions are as good or better than in their "western" home facility. In other words, they treat the people with respect and honor.
So the question is whether these guitars, being made in another country, supervised by experienced and reputable US or European designers and manufacturers, are really "imports" ??
Or, should they be considered a product made by "so and so" maker. Regardless of where the factory is located? And should they be viewed as lower in value, poorer in quality, and then should they be cheaper in price?
No. If something is not made right it should not matter where it's made. It's just not good.
Sadly, attitudes change slowly. In all fairness, it is true, there is a lot of "junk" coming out of other countries, and the environmental destruction they cause in the process is horrible. And this makes it difficult for high quality manufacturers to be seen in the proper light. It's not the local people who live there that are at fault, but instead it's greedy commercial enterprises who cash in and then move on to another profitable opportunity. And simply put, they have no love or respect for their "progeny" .... their children or grandchildren.
This discussion will probably not change anything or anybody. For us, the only solution is having satisfied customers convinced that Pono Guitars are among the highest quality ..... anywhere.
Q – How do you ship guitars?
A – UPS for US domestic and DHL for International. In most cases you will receive your guitar in two to three days.
US Domestic shipping is free. International shipping is usually $80 to $150