Once upon a time, I stumbled upon some Sumi Ukuleles that looked like Gibson Hummingbird guitars and I squawked with excitement at the prospect of bringing them home to the Southern Ukulele Store. I had no idea just how inspiring I would find the Sumi Kobo Ukes and both the custom Eucalyptus Concert I brought home last year and a Hummingbird Tenor that arrived in October sold before I could catch my breath after arriving at their temporary accomodation (the shop) here in the UK. My mission in the years that followed was to get more! We have acheived this seemingly randomly without much notice and the gem of the Sumi Ukulele collection has to be his AAAAA Koa Tenor. Originally a one off, Sumi has grown fond of the design and to date; we have had four of the five he has made at the Southern Ukulele Store.
This very special Ukulele is a AAAAA (5 A!) grade Koa Tenor Uke ordered back in Jan 2019 at the NAMM show. We were told up until about 6-8 weeks ago that there wouldn't be any more but luckily, Sumi changed his mind and this special model stands before us right now available to buy! To describe it requires so much more than just the wood it's made out of; every detail is a deluxe appointment, perhaps too many details as it starts to sound a bit over the top listing them all in my head before putting them down to paper for you all. VIDEO
The headstock features three tiers of maple with black and white purfling and this extends down the length of the fingerboard and is echoed in the outer binding of the Ukulele and in the maple on the bridge. The Soundhole rosette is Abalone to match the outher binding and back design of the Ukulele and it compliments the other aesthetic features wonderfully.
The fingerboard and bridge are made of Ebony and feature a unique Abalone custom Sakura 'falling petal' inlay that depicts an in bloom Japanese Anemone flower in the headstock. The petals that have fallen from the flower scatter in sequence down the length of the fingerboard before settling on a matching flower down at the twelfth fret with further petals scattering beyond. Much like the famous tree of life Guitar designs, this instrument tells a beautiful story before it plays a note. Is that the kind of detail that warrants a musical instrument being treated like an art piece? (Update - I have had the privelage of photographing several of these and each fingerboard inlay is different).
The sound of the Ukulele is sweet and has plenty of volume without the natural compression you often find with gloss Koa instruments. The Nitrocellulose gloss lends itself to a few very minor imperfections in the finish. This particular 5A Koa Sumi does have a polishing scratch on the back under the final finish however, the way in which these light finishes allow the wood to breath and mature much quicker than modern polyester and UV finishes more than make up for this. We actually couldn't be sure that these marks were not features in the very striking wood grain. The Sumi's are all just so unique and wonderful; anything made completely by hand without modern precise tools is going to be subject to a bit of Wabi-Sabi (Japanese term meaning the imperfections of an instrument are just as important to the overall aesthetic beauty).
Some may view this instrument as expensive, which is true, but Sumi uses only traditional hand tools in the building process and the cosmetic detail alone is countless hours of work and decades of experience. When this instrument finally leaves our store for its forever home - I am 100% sure the owner of this Ukulele will admire and enjoy it every time they take it out of the case.
Let's take a moment to enjoy this Ukulele as the beautiful piece of experience, creativity and art that it is.
AAAAA Flamed Koa top, back and sides
Ebony fingerboard and bridge Unique Abalone inlays Gotoh UPT Planetary geared tuners Gold with Cream plastic button Maple appointments Clear Fluorocarbon strings Comes with black vintage style woodshell hard case Bone Nut and Saddle Nut Width: 35mm Overall Length: 67.7cm
Made in Japan by Eiichi Sumi
Video of actual instrument below