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23 Sep 2017

Magic Fluke Firefly Tenor Banjo - REVIEW

It's many moons back in 2012 since I first looked at a Firefly Banjo Ukulele from Magic Fluke. And I really rather liked it too. I'm therefore thrilled to be looking at their latest re-vamped tenor version.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele

And whilst I liked that original soprano Firefly ukulele for many reasons, I recall a lot of people getting quite sniffy about it being essentially just a 'drum with a neck bolted on'. Aside from the fact all banjos are essentially just that anyway, I really liked the light as feather construction coupled with great tone and it just 'feeling' right in the hands. But yes, I guess it WAS very simple really and not super cheap either for what it was. It also wasn't adjustable either.  Fast forward to 2017 and we have a completely different proposition in the newest tenor model from the Massachusetts based brand.

So whilst this one is still a banjo uke, out goes the High Pressure Laminate pot with the drum head that was attached with a kind of edge stitching and in comes a maple ply pot which looks like, well, it looks more like a banjo really!

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele pot

Yet at the same time.... it also doesn't.. Where are the outer tensioners that you normally see on a banjo? How is that head being held in tension? Where is the tone ring? Well, always the clever innovators, Magic Fluke have kind of turned the banjo concept upside down. On the underside of that outer wooden rim and inside the banjo is the steel tone ring that is  bolted into the outer wood rim and adjustable using an allen key in one of the ten bolts visible on the front. Looks wise it reminds me a lot of the old Keech banjoleles and I think looks great, clean and simple. It also means that, unlike the smaller original Firefly ukuleles, this one has a head that is both easily replaceable and tunable too. Incidentally, that head is the same 8 inch diameter Remo as the others whilst the overall diameter is 9.75 inches. Nice.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele tone ring

Otherwise we have similar appointments to the other Firefly banjos too with a chrome tail piece and the same sort of three footed floating bridge you see on most banjos. Looking in the back we also have a similar designed pole piece running from the end of the neck and attaching to the pot with a kind of nifty locking wooden piece. It does also look like you can adjust the neck for action by removing or adding washers at the tail end. Neat. We also have the trademark Firefly embossed logo and the hand numbered makers label too.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele neck adjustment

That pole piece is made of hard maple as is the tenor neck, and is a thing of beauty. I am always a sucker for a maple neck, particularly one with a pale fingerboard like this.  It's not quite the same sort of technique as employed by Deering on their Goodtime uke banjo where those frets are set directly into the neck, but I still think this looks great. And unlike some other Fluke instruments, the plastic fingerboard is not an option on this one - just wood. What type of wood it is, I am not totally sure, but I think it's a slightly darker maple.

In fact all of the wood on this is finished very nicely in a smooth satin that just feels of good quality.

And like other Fluke necks this has a chunky profile that some people raise and eyebrow to, but I personally think is really very comfortable. It's actually rounder on the back than their more squared off earlier necks though, but still chunky. Nut wise we have a width of 36mm which is great for comfort. We have 18 nickel silver frets on this 17" body which is very nice for upper neck options, and as is usual with Magic Fluke, they are fitted and dressed very well. We also have black dot position markers at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th but sadly no markers on the side.  (ARGGHH!!)

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele neck

I am not sure what the nut is made of, ebony perhaps,  but like on other Fluke necks we have a zero fret meaning the nut action and intonation are controlled very well by this instead leaving the nut for setting the string spacing only.

Beyond this we have the ubiquitous Fluke headstock shape that people either love or hate (I love it incidentally). In standard spec these come with entry level Grovers that Fluke use widely on other instruments. They are not the best in the world, but not the worst either. Magic Fluke do offer these with a Pegheds option for another $75. Personally I would save your money and if you find that you don't get on with these Grover pegs, spend half the cost of Pegheds on a set of Grover 6's as they should be a straight swap. Don't get me wrong, I do like Pegheds, but just find them over priced.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele headstock

Other options on offer include a shaped soft gig bag for $59 (that I really think should come as standard) and a pickup system for $89 (for those sadists who want to make a banjo even louder...). In vanilla spec though it comes like this with a set of D'Addario Nyltech (Aquila) strings and comes in at $389 or £349 which may make the people who still think all ukes should cost $50 gasp. It is however far cheaper than the RRP on the 17" Tenor Deering Banjo Uke that will cost you best part of $200 more. It's also comparatively priced to the, now in production, Duke 10 Banjo Uke which is terrific. It's also completely made (and parts sourced) in the USA as close to Massachusetts as possible. So there is no Chinese factory involved here either.

And as well as being cheaper than the Deering it's also much lighter - more comparable to the Duke at about 2lb in weight. So maybe it's the Duke 10 that this is going head to head with more than the Deering? It's much heavier than the original Firefly banjos of course, but that stands to reason with that extra body rim. Build quality, as I have hinted at is truly excellent. It really always is with Magic Fluke stuff and I knew it would be too before it arrived.

It just feels right in the hands. The light weight, the smooth as silk satin all comes together for a nice feeling instrument. And its really helped by the fact that they are not using standard tension hooks so there is nothing to dig into your strumming arm. Just smooth maple. It really is very comfortable. In fact I can't think how a banjo could be any more comfortable.

Sound wise this is a joy. It's far brighter, louder and sharper than the earlier soprano version, and more, well, more like a banjo really. Being an 8 inch head it's not up there with the massive punch of something like the Deering, but it's really no slouch at all. In fact it's extremely lound and punchy and with more guts than some other 8 inch head banjos I have played. It's just so precise and snappy.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele tailpiece

Intonation is really good once you have set the saddle (thank you zero fret) and the comfortable neck means it's easy to play and move around on the neck.

But what has really impressed me is how controlled it seems to be with those hollow echoey sounds that banjos can create. The Deering did it, the Duke 10 did it, and people say 'oh you just put a cloth inside'. And yes, yes you do, and that works, but this Firefly doesn't seem to have that problem in the first place. There is no echo. No ghost notes. Just really clear notes whether you pick it or strum it. It's remarkable really, and has left me wishing this didn't have to go back. Yes people may still raise an eyebrow at the pricing, but as I say, this is right on the money with the competition, and in fact cheaper than some notable others.

Magic Fluke have done it again methinks and this would now be my go to choice for a tenor ukulele banjo, no question.  Highly recommended.

Many thanks to them and to the UK distributor of Magic Fluke, Mark Pugh of Stones Music for setting me up with this for review.

http://www.magicfluke.com

http://www.stones-music.co.uk

UKULELE PROS

It just looks great!
Superb build quality in every department
Head is now more easily replaceable and tunable
Great intonation
Great volume with no echo - clear as a bell
Price is actually fair in view of competition

UKULELE CONS

No side markers
They really should throw the bag in for the price
Some will want to change the standard tuners

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.1 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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19 Sep 2017

Ukulele Books from Al Wood of Uke Hunt

I'm pleased to be able to partner up with Al Wood of Ukulele Hunt to help him bring his fantastic ukulele ebooks to the attention of Got A Ukulele readers.


ukulele books


If you don't know Al, then you really should - he's the writer of the Ukulele site that got me into blogging - with his is awesome site. He also wrote things like the Ukulele For Dummies books too! This is a guy who's stuff you should take a look at. There are a couple of ads for his books in the side bar, but you will also see all his offerings on this page. Link below. Highly recommended!

Ukulele Books by Al Wood of Uke Hunt



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15 Sep 2017

Barnes and Mullins 'Bowley' Soprano - REVIEW

A return for the Barnes and Mullins brand to the Got A Ukulele reviews pages with a look at their first (in 'recent' vintages) ukulele... the 'Bowley' Soprano.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele

I say 'recent vintage' as Barnes and Mullins are actually a very old brand name going back to the late 1800's in London, formed by Albert Mullins and Mr S 'Bowley' Barnes (who's nickname is used in the name of this ukulele). Back then they made a banjo ukulele called the Trumelo, which was technically their first uke not this one. The company then went through various changes to the business it is today as more of a UK distributor of various instrument brands (including the likes of Peavey, Faith Guitars and Hofner amongst others) based in Shropshire. As part of that business though they also have a line of banjos, mandolins and ukuleles that keep the Barnes and Mullins name alive. In fact I had reviewed their Calthorpe ukulele model quite favourably back in 2013. The Bowley was a uke I first saw all the way back in 2010 and since then I have wanted to feature it on the site. Seven years later, and here we are... Sometimes things take a bit of time!!

First up, the Bowley is clearly an attractive instrument with bags of old time charm about it. It's a traditionally shaped double bout soprano with a very curvy base which I always find attractive on a ukulele. It's made from all solid spruce wood, but you probably wouldn't know that when looking at it with a first glance. And that's because it's been finished in a hand rubbed 'antique' stain that gives it a deep mahogany colour all over. In fact people are often confused by what these are actually made from and I've seen several online references to them being mahogany. They are NOT mahogany.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele top

The top and back are made of single pieces and the sides are made of a pair. Through that thin staining though you can see that this indeed spruce as it has the telltale dead straight lined grain of that wood on show. A more detailed word about the finish here. It's actually designed to look 'old' and to be a bit unfinished or worn. Some areas are a bit darker and some are lighter. It's a technique that is, 'on the whole', effective, but I know a few people who will look at these and think it looks a little scruffy. I will let you make your own minds up on that, but I take the point. One thing I will say for the finish is that it isn't particularly durable either. And with spruce being a soft wood that tends to show finger nail scratches easily,  I can see this looking even more worn quite soon. And as the spruce is very pale compared to the finish, that's going to mean light patches showing through. In fact low durability finishes are not something new for B and M as my review of the Calthorpe mentioned above explains. Anyway, I still think it works ok. It's perhaps a little over done in places, but it does look aged and certainly looks very different to other instruments on the market. Putting that finish in perspective, I put a sneak peek image of this up on the Got A Ukulele Facebook page the other day and somebody commented that it looked like it needed a clean. I can't disagree with them!

We have no other decoration save for a very subtle black edge binding strip where the sides meet the top and the back which works well with the dark colour.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele back

The bridge is a rosewood tie bar style that looks very standard and into this is set a dark wooden saddle. It's painfully pale though and in desperate need of an application of oil.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele bridge

A look inside and we don't have the tidiest build in the world. The bracing looks ok, but the kerfing linings are made from straight un-notched wood and on the bends on the waist they are starting to split and crack on both sides. That's not a long term structural issue, but it is messy, not right and annoys me.  The over-use of glue and the lack of finish on the edge of the sound hole is also messy! Not very nice really.

The neck is made from spruce which I thought an odd choice for a neck material (being a softer wood), but there you go. I can't tell if there is a joint at the heel as the finish is too dark, but I am guessing there is. There is clearly a joint at the headstock though and the whole thing is finished in the same antique coating. Whilst it looks scruffy on the body, I think it's particularly effective here as it gives the instrument a look of it having been played for decades and picked up grime and oils from the hands.  And because it's satin it doesn't feel sticky or grippy either. The profile though is overly round for ultra traditionalists, and the nut is narrow at 34mm.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele fingerboard

Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard that is nice and even in colour and has some attractive shaping at the end above the soundhole. It is however a little rough on the finish with some obvious gouges and scratches where some of the frets are set. Set into this are a pretty standard 12 nickel silver frets that are all dressed nicely and have their ends hidden by black edging. We have pearloid dot position markers at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces and these are repeated on the side. They are however toned down a bit too much by the finish coating over the top of them, making them hard to distinguish.

Past the wooden nut and we have a really attractive, 'old timey' shaped headstock with a rounded top. It reminds me of very old banjos and I absolutely love it. It's also set off by the Barnes and Mullins logo transfer in black that looks really classy in itself. I think it looks wonderful myself.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele headstock

But then, to my horror I see that they fitted it with open geared tuners with black buttons. I mean, come on... when you are trying to create an instrument that looks vintage / antique / classy, why would you then ruin it by giving it modern sticking out ears. I think it totally ruins the whole look of it. OK, the buttons are not the largest, and the gears are actually decent quality ones, but still... Worse, they use two mounting screws each so if you were to replace them with pegs you have eight drill holes in total to fill and hide. Just awful. I know some people will say 'oh get over it Barry, that's not such a big deal'.. but come on look at this ukulele and look at those ears!! The one thing I will say for them is this. They are pretty decent quality and work well enough. And there were gritted teeth typing that..

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele tuners

Completing the package is a set of Aquila strings and these are on streets for about £125 ish in the UK, occasionally cheaper if you shop around. I had heard that the Bowley had been discontinued, but it's still readily available and still listed on the Barnes and Mullins website. So back to the positives, for an all solid wood instrument that is an extremely attractive price, no question about it.

And despite the tuners, there is much to like about the design and the build. It's also really nice to touch with the hands. Not grippy or tacky like some finishes, but it kind of feels old too. And then there's the weight. Spruce isn't a particularly dense wood, and that coupled with the thin tone wood sheets used in construction means this is a super light soprano. It's really very light and that's a great thing. It's also nicely balanced and that adds up to an instrument that is very comfortable to play.

I can't get away from some of the scruffy finishing though, and if such things bother you... well, they will continue to bother you! I think it's one of those ukuleles that looks great at a distance, but less so when you get up close to it! And being a soft tonewood that finish bothers me in other ways too. There is a reason most spruce ukuleles and guitars are finished in a hard gloss. This wood marks really easily with fingernails. This WILL scuff up easily.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele sound hole

Set up was reasonably ok. Fine at the nut, but I would personally want to take the saddle down a touch myself. It doesn't seem to be massively affecting intonation though so my desire to take it down is more about playability on the strumming side. It's not beyond normal ranges, just very much on the high side.

But what really surprises for such an inexpensive instrument is the great tone, bark and projection. Being made from all spruce, means it's really bright, sharp and snappy, and on a soprano, I think that is a very good thing. It's that mix of staccato snappiness whilst also having sustain that I really like in a decent sounding soprano. All of a sudden, finishing looks aside you start to see the sense in the build. Super light spruce, very thin woods, very thin resonant body - bright and snappy!

This is not a ukulele you will be worried about volume with. It's huge fun to strum and we have nice clarity across the notes too. Clear and purposeful in it's voice you could say. And that is whether strummed or picked. What I am getting from it, is that as well as having very traditional looks, it has a very traditional old timey sound too. I don't quite know what that is I am describing, but its the sort of ukulele where you dont feel right wearing a pair of jeans and a t shirt to play it. It's a sound that demands you are in a three piece suit, with an undone bow tie and a pair of brogues...

I'd say it's more of a fast strummers instrument than anything, but honestly, the sustain does make fingerpicking enjoyable even if the 12 fret total will limit melody playing on some stuff.

Ultimately though, I like this one quite a lot. It certainly has a great sound and excellent projection and as a musical instrument works pleasingly well. I love the old time looks of most of it, but they are slightly let down by the scruffy finishing and mostly by the plain ugly tuners that do nothing at all for it. But, you know, perhaps I am making too much of those tuners that annoy me. They work ok and others won't be bothered with them.  And £125 for an all solid wood instrument with this sort of volume and tone? Bit of a no-brainer perhaps? I would.

http://www.bandm.co.uk

UKULELE PROS

Very classy old time looks
Light as a feather
Generally good construction (on the outside)
Nice fret finishing
Good punchy clear sound
Great price

UKULELE CONS

Old fashioned finish that is in places downright scruffy
Some rough finishing on fingerboard and inside the body
Impossible to see side dots
Those friction tuners on something so old fashioned? WHY OH WHY???

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 8.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.4 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



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9 Sep 2017

Muke MS-10 Soprano - REVIEW

Another mahogany soprano ukulele on Got A Ukulele today and another new brand to me. The Muke MS-10 Soprano.

Muke MS-10 Soprano Ukulele

In fact Muke are a Chinese brand not only new to this site, but a brand I have seen very little if anything written about elsewhere either. As I have pointed out before, there are a huge number new Chinese brands coming to the market, creating lots of choice for the buyer, both good and bad. We shall see how this one stands up against some of those poorer choices.

The MS-10 is a regularly scaled and shaped double bout soprano with an attractive look that immediately caught my eye when I opened the packaging. It's made afrom all laminate mahogany, and whilst it's that paler grade of mahogany that is not my cup of tea (I prefer the much deeper brown finish), it's far from an unattractive ukulele. The top and back are single sheets of laminate, the back is slightly arched and the sides are in a pair.

Muke MS-10 Soprano Ukulele body


Looking at the edge of the soundhole also tells me that this is relatively thin laminate. A good indicator that things may not be so bad for starters.

We also have some very attractive decoration, and consistent decoration at that. We have totoiseshell edge bindings to the top and back, with the top edge complimented by some white inlaid purfling strips. The same brown tortoiseshell inlay is also used around the sound hole and I think all of it compliments the wood very nicely. Not too flashy, but interesting enough to lift the instrument above the 'plain'. Finishing off the body is a satin coat which is a little too clinical and factory in its finish for my liking, but there are no flaws on it that I can find whatsoever.

The bridge is also nicely shaped and very Taylor-esque in its swoopy lines. It's also a pin bridge which I always have a soft spot for, with four plastic pins with pearly dot markers. Nice. Saddle wise this is uncompensated and appears to by plastic or possibly NuBone.

Muke MS-10 Soprano Ukulele bridge


Inside the instrument is really tidy too. No glue, no mess, notched linings though bracing on the chunky side. Like so many of these from China, the makers label is etched into a thin label made of wood.

Moving on, this on has a neck made of Okoume which is jointed at the heel and the headstock. The heel is also nicely capped with something dark (though what it is I am not sure!). It's a D shaped profile so on the chunkier side in terms of depth, but sadly like so many Chinese sopranos it has a nut width of only 34mm.

Topping the neck is a rosewood fingerboard which looks dry and needs an oiling. We have 15 nickel silver frets in total with 12 to the body. They are just on the edge of going towards sharp edges, but a minimal dressing will fix that. I have seen worse on higher end ukuleles to be honest. The edges of the board are also edge bound in more tortoiseshell. Position markers are fitted pearloid dots on the face of the fingerboard at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces and thankfully these are repeated on the side.

Muke MS-10 Soprano Ukulele fingerboard


The nut neems a bit messily dressed with some tooling marks gouging the top, but it's purely cosmetic. Beyond this we have a nicely shaped headstock with the Muke logo screen printed on under the satin. Each time I look at the stylised Muke logo I am convinced it reads Moke but there you are.

Muke MS-10 Soprano Ukulele headstock


Tuning wise we have unbranded chrome gears withe the Muke logo printed on the cover caps. Yes, being a soprano I would want friction pegs, but these work ok. They are however fitted slightly out of line with each other which always sets off my OCD alarm..

Muke MS-10 Soprano Ukulele tuners


And as part of the package you get a set of Aquila strings, a couple of strap buttons and a reasonable branded canvas gig bag.  But what is really going to appeal to people the most is that these can be picked up on Amazon now (Amazon being the ONLY place I know of them) at about $45 or £50. That's a killer price once again from a Chinese brand, but as I say - all will depend on whether it fits in the good or bad box. Sadly there are many on the bad box out there.

Muke MS-10 Soprano Ukulele back


You will have gauged from the description above that I rather like the looks and decoration on this one, and I rather like the build too. It's very tidily put together, with thin woods and no gaps or issues that are concerning me.  It's also light in the hands and nicely balanced. Still no complaints so far!

Setup is also pretty good with nothing I would change at the saddle and possibly, though the nut is too high on the G and C strings which is affecting intonation at the lower position notes. It's easily fixable, but noticeable in the review video. There are no other fatal build flaws that worry me here though.

And that thin body wood and good build thankfully translates into a pleasant sounding instrument. It's got volume, and whilst it's not the biggest bark I have heard on a soprano, it has it where it counts and you wont be lost with friends at a club.

It's also got a typically bright and snappy mahogany soprano voice that is really quite nice. No, it's not complex, it's not jangly and it's not hugely characterful either, but what it is is very passable and going to please 99% of beginners which is surely where it is aimed. At the end of the day, its the sort of Chinese instrument so many of us ukulele players who picked up our first 10-15 years ago could only dream of getting at this price.

So whilst I am not suggesting it's a killer ukulele and up there with Martins and the like (which would be silly) for me it certainly goes in that box of 'new Chinese ukulele brands that dont make me weep'. And thankfully that box is getting fuller.

Recommended if you are looking at getting someone into ukulele. Hey, even if you are an old timer, one of these may make a great travel or holiday uke. Putting it another way, I'd buy one. Just keep an eye on the setup.





UKULELE PROS

Nice quality build
Thin laminates
Nice consistent decoration
Great bridge
Good volume
Balanced and light
Great price

UKULELE CONS

Dry looking fingerboard
Paler mahogany that I like
Some tooling marks
Wonky tuners
'Slightly' sharp frets
Setup needs some work
Would prefer friction pegs

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.3 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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4 Sep 2017

PLEASE Be Careful With Your Airline Ukulele Travel Advice

I hoped to not have to write this ukulele rant, but the endless discussion doesn't seem to be going away, and people are STILL unwisely advising others on what to do if flying with ukes.

Ukulele on holiday

I suppose it started coming to head again recently when I shared pictures of the two Enya ukuleles broken down with their necks off to fit into cabin baggage. I will come on to why I did that and why it was my ONLY option below. It might have also been todays review of a travel uke which was met with people responding saying 'just get a soprano'.. What irritated me was it led to endless discussions about what you should do if you are flying. And the common answer from people is basically 'I flew with a tenor ukulele in the cabin and it was no problem, so therefore YOU should do the same'.... The issue I have with that kind of 'advice' is how generalised it is and how much bother you could get someone into if their airline carrier has a different policy to yours. And they all DO have different policies, trust me. They really do.

I also didn't want to write this as their cabin allowances change all the time so what is allowed by some today, may not tomorrow and vice versa. That will date this post quickly. But the point is this. I speak from the UK perspective because that is where I live! And in the UK, many, not all, but many airline carriers have cabin baggage limits that mean that even a standard soprano will not meet the measurements when inside a case in the cabin. That is just a simple fact, and it is completely irrelevant if you once flew to Bombay with a Bassoon in the cabin or took a whole brass band to Mombassa. You may have even sweet talked even the most restrictive carriers at the gate and had no trouble. Congratulations. I'm pleased for you. But that is going to be of no relevance at all when some poor sap is at the gate with a ukulele and the crew are refusing it to go into the cabin on policy grounds.

"But this chap on Facebook  said he did it... "

Sorry sir....

"but but but..."

Sorry sir...

What do they then do? Argue? Hold up the flight? Yeah - good luck with that. Good luck with the reaction of fellow passengers wanting to leave, good luck with not getting kicked off the flight. Enjoy your massively stressful start to your trip.

So what do you then do? Put your ukulele in the hold? Good luck with that also if you want it to survive.

No - when we are travelling we want stress free experiences at airports. We are tending to go on relaxing holidays perhaps with family, and as I did with a young child, and don't need hassles or arguments at the gate. We want to meet the rules and know things should be ok. Going armed with 'but this bloke on the internet said it would be ok' is just crazy.

And THIS is why I took the Enya ukes apart as they are designed to.  I recently flew Ryanair and they have a cabin baggage limit currently of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm. A regular soprano without a case would fit in that 'just' because they tend to be about 50cm long. But that means taking NO OTHER cabin baggage, not even an iPad or handbag. Cabin baggage is made specifically for these sort of dimensions but trust me - a regular soprano will NOT fit in one, not even on an angle. Thats because the exterior of the case fits the dimensions, but not the interior.  A concert certainly won't fit regardless of bag and a tenor or baritone - no chance. I wanted to take two sopranos and the just didn't fit the bag. So I took them apart..

ukulele dismantled

And here they are at the other end put back together - they were both in this case with towels, beach wear, shoes etc. This was the ONLY way to get them to meet the cabin baggage limit. In two pieces.

ukuleles in suitcase

Easyjet are a bit more forgiving and will allow larger instruments up to about 100cm long in the cabin, but only if you sacrifice any other cabin baggage also - again no good if you want to take other stuff - the instrument IS your cabin bag. Jet 2 are as restrictive as Ryanair. Many others are too.  Some are better, particularly on long haul - but that's the issue - it VARIES considerably. And even if you DO meet the dimensions they set, the airlines STILL have the power to force your bag into the hold if they are out of space. So either way it's just not as simple as saying you know better... you will not win.

It's really unhelpful and frankly also a bit dangerous to tell people who ask that 'you will be fine' just because you were fine, and without knowing what their carriers rules are. Are you going to take responsibility for an issue they then have at the airport? The ONLY answer to this sort of question  is 'CHECK WITH YOUR OWN CARRIER'. That's it. That's the ONLY correct advice.. If you have a forgiving carrier - great (but do check every leg of your journey and read the small print too) but enjoy your trip... If the rules are clear that they dont fit or are vague in any way - BEWARE.

And if you dont have a uke you can dismantle? Get a smaller uke - get a sopranino. Heck some people I know have even sawn the headstocks of sopranos down to get them to fit.

Rant over.. And remember - this is a UK PERSPECTIVE. You may have different rules and laws where you are. At the time of writing we don't. And me mindful of that when advising others.



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Ashbury Lonely Player Travel Ukulele - REVIEW

It's not often that a ukulele comes along that is drastically different than most of what is on the market. But that happened recently with this one. It's one I couldn't resist taking a closer look at the moment I saw it. The Ashbury Lonely Player Travel Ukulele.

Ashbury Lonely Player Ukulele

And it's certainly an interesting looking thing with looks reminiscent of one or two other unusual shaped ukuleles. So this is not the first backwards strung ukulele I have seen (remember the Risa Sticks with it's tuners at the base) but still, you have to agree this is radically different from the vast majority of ukuleles out there. It's marketed by Ashbury, the house brand of the Hobgoblin music stores in the UK, but is actually made for them in Vietnam. And, it's billed as a 'travel' ukulele on account of its small size. There's been quite a bit of talk over 'travel' size ukes lately, in particular the innovation that Enya brought to the market with detachable necks but this one truly is small enough to go in a small bag.

Now I don't normally 'get' the 'travel ukulele' tag that gets put on certain instruments. It usually refers to their bodies being thin, but I don't find that the thickness of a body is so much of an issue when travelling, at least, not as much as overall size does. And overall this one is pretty small, with an overall length of 45cm meaning that it will fit in the smallest spaces. Yet despite that small size, the scale length is about 13.5 inches, and identical to most sopranos... And they can do that because of the radically different design. I am not sure what makes it 'lonely' though and in fact I find that name quite melancholic and perhaps a bit creepy... just me?

First up we have a body which can only be described as a 'wooden box'.  Yes, I know most ukuleles are technically wooden boxes, but this takes boxy to the extreme. It's boxy, square and very simple. Saying that though it is rather nicely put together with smoothed off edges on all the corners and solid looking joints. That top and back are made from  solid spruce, and the sides are sapele. Whilst they don't list the sides as 'solid' looking at the tiny side sound hole you can see the cross section. What it is though is very thick wood. Incidentally, their website says the back is made of sapele too, but this is definitely another piece of spruce. The spruce incidentally is far from grade A with rather wavy grain patterns as opposed to being dead straight.

Ashbury Lonely Player Ukulele back and sides


And that tiny side sound port is the only sound port you notice, with nothing on the top facing out. But that actually isn't the only one as when you look at the base there is another open end - so we have a base facing sound hole too. I told you this one was different.

Ashbury Lonely Player Ukulele top


The whole of the body is finished in a rubbed satin which is nice on the hands, and the Ashbury logo is screen printed on the top. Well, as you will see, there was nowhere else to put it!

Also at the base of the ukulele is the, erm... 'headstock', or rather the tailstock. This is an extended piece of sapele that holds the tuners and is nicely and cleverly attached. At the absolute tail end there is kind of a raised lip that looks like it is protecting something, but I am not sure what.

Ashbury Lonely Player Ukulele tail


The tuners appear to be the same Ashbury branded gears as I saw on their AU50 Concert Ukulele, and they are good quality with small buttons. No major complaints, and I am not totally convinced that friction pegs would work well with this peg head arrangement.

Ashbury Lonely Player Ukulele tuners

Bridge wise, the Lonely Player uses a floating bridge that looks like it is made of plastic in a small wooden holder. It works like a banjo bridge in that it is moveable and you need to set it yourself to the correct position (such that the crown of the 12th fret is exactly half way between nut and saddle). Some people find that concept fiddly and confusing, but it really isn't so hard. The saddle also appears to have grooves cut into the top like a banjo ukulele to keep the strings spaced correctly. Without those they would kind of pinch together.

Ashbury Lonely Player Ukulele bridge


Looking inside and things look neat and tidy here too. Clearly this is not a normal build, so the normal things I mention in reviews don't apply. What we do have though is an interesting bracing idea. Underneath the bridge area is a thin half moon strip of wood that is keeping the top and back apart where the bridge is applying downwards pressure under the strings. The strip is thin and drilled with holes to presumably keep weight down. Clever idea. Otherwise though, inside is very simple indeed. Like I say, it's a box!

Ashbury Lonely Player Ukulele bracing


Up to the neck and whilst they don't specify what wood this is, I am guessing it's more sapele. It's bolted on with a fairly clunky looking joint, but a nice enough profile and a generous 38mm wide at the nut. There is no fingerboard as such, or rather, there is no 'applied' fingerboard. The frets on this, like on the Risa Sticks are set directly into the neck wood. We have 12 of them in total, with the final one being right on the body joint. Eagle eyed readers will spot 13, but that first one is actually a zero fret that acts as the nut point. That should make for good action and intonation accuracy. Sadly there are no position markers at all, either on the face of the fingerboard or the side of the neck.

Ashbury Lonely Player Ukulele fingerboard


And up to the... hang on, no, there is no heastock. Like the Risa Stick, the strings terminate here into four holes drilled into the top. There is some flared shaping at the absolute end of the neck though where the wood fans out which is kind of attractive.

Ashbury Lonely Player Ukulele headstock


Completing the deal are a set of strings that they don't specify. They actually look like they have a pinkish hue and I wondered whether they are D'Addario Titaniums, but think that would be extremely unlikely for the price of these instruments of only £45. I'm guessing unbranded nylons or possibly another type of fishing line.

So on the whole, extremely cheap, but not something that has been thrown together without thought. The build all over it looks considered with several areas where they have recognised that they need to think a bit more to ensure this doesn't fail or fall apart. A simple box with a neck glued on this is not. I like the smoothed off edges, and I like the feel of the finish too. In fact I am quite taken with the look of quite a lot of it.

In the hands it's also extremely light,  as you'd hope for a travel instrument! It is however terribly unbalanced and much heavier in the body than the neck. Perhaps that was inevitable due to the way it is made. I also found it quite hard to play comfortably in a couple of obvious areas. Firstly to play this standing, I don't see how or where you would attach a strap as the obvious place to put one is taken up by the tuners. I am sure it can be done, but it looks a hassle to me. It's good that it's not heavy I suppose, but you are still going to need to cradle this yourself, and now I see what that lip on the tailstock is for. It kind of keeps your forearm off the tuners. Yet it's still not particularly comfortable and really digs into your arm when playing. Not very nice.

The other area I struggled with is at the opposite end. When fretting first position chords, particularly certain chords like G7 and Fm, I find that flared head really gets in the way of my fretting hand. This is where the Risa Stick with no shaping makes more sense as there is literally nothing to bump into. With those you tend to adjust your fretting and kind of go around the headstock top on first position stuff. That's not possible on this one and became quite annoying. That flaring actually digs into the hand to the point of hurting.

Setup though was extremely good. I have no issues with the nut action, and in fact the saddle action is also nice and low, measuring about 2.25mm at the 12th. Intonation.. well, of course you set this yourself, so if you are finding it out of tune as you move up the fretboard you need to adjust the position of your bridge. Once set though I can confirm that this one has an accurate neck and fret placement. No issues for me.

OK, now for tuning up and... oh. Where do I put the tuner? On the Risa Stick there is just enough room to hold your clip on tuner at the top, but I found on this that a tuner struggled to stay on without firing off across the room under spring tension. My solution was to put the tuner clipped to the back down at the lower sound hole which makes for a very odd tuning experience. In fact like the Risa sticks, the whole tuning process is a bit backwards and annoying. Ho hum.

Sound wise, well, unsurprisingly it does sound like a small wooden box. Very boxy as I say. But it is actually a bit louder than I expected. It takes a bit of experimenting to find the right sweet spot, with some strum areas overly bright, but you can find some nicer areas. Don't get me wrong, this doesn't have a huge bark and tons of projection and in most strums it can sound really quiet, all I mean is it is louder than I expected. I kind of expected nothing at all though, so anything is an improvement from that! Interestingly it seems the sound is mainly coming from the base and I don't detect that the side sound port is doing very much at all.

Strangely, it's in strumming where I find the tone sounds the most boxy, but I found that picking can be  rather nice. It's got a sweet voice in places, reasonably good sustain and you can dig in and really get some better volume out if you need it. It just takes a bit of finding. It has left me perplexed really. It kind of sounds like a loud electro only ukulele that hasn't been plugged in...

But you know, I am still trying to find positives here as it's still made me smile a bit. But generally speaking it's a very thin tone, think rubber bands on a margarine tub, but just occasionally impressing a little more. I guess one thing it would be good for is quiet practice for not a lot of money.

No.. It's not a high end sound, clearly, but I think that is missing the point of what this actually is. Though I suppose that's another area that confuses me. You see for a travel instrument, this is actually no smaller than something like an Ohana O'Nino, which actually does sound great and like a soprano. So why not just get that? The same could be said for a range of sopraninos. So what is it trying to be?

There is still 'something' I like about this. I think it will suit those who like something different, those that do want to play quiet (and you really can play this quiet..), someone that likes a talking point. There's no issue with the build or the setup, the price is terrific, and you know what? If I could figure out how, I'd LOVE to put a pickup in this! I'm also wondering what fitting a set of Aquila strings to it would do!

Worth a look at the very low price I'd say. Just don't expect miracles. Or volume...

http://www.ashburyguitars.com




UKULELE PROS

Innovative looks
Solid woods
Great neck
Well dressed frets
Decent tuners
Good setup
Louder than you would expect
Price

UKULELE CONS

Uncomfortable to hold at both ends
Difficult to fit strap buttons
Hard to use a clip tuner
No fret markers
Generally thin uninspriring tone
There are far better 'travel' sized ukes out there

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8 out of 10
Sound - 5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.5 out of 10

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26 Aug 2017

Enya EUS-X1 HPL Soprano - REVIEW

You will no doubt remember the  buzz around social media when I reviewed the last HPL ukulele from Enya. Frankly it went completely crazy, with some places selling out of stock. So i've since been looking forward to featuring one of their more standard shaped insturments to compliment that review. Step right up the EUS-X1 Soprano.

Enya EUS-X1 Ukulele


That first Enya review was of their camp style round EUR-X1 made from all HPL laminate (the non-wood, paper and resin composite used for kitchen counter tops and identical to the stuff used by Martin in their 0X series. I REALLY liked the EUR model, as it was extremely well made and had a quite wonderful neck. But it had one thing letting it down and that was it's very low volume. The tone was nice, but it just didn't have a punch. People questioned whether the low tension strings were the issue, but a change to Martin Fluoro strings, whilst increasing the tension, did nothing for the volume. My theory was that because the bridge was so far down the body it just wasn't sat on the most resonant part of the top and this was limiting the vibration transfer. Ho hum.

So with the EUS-X1 we have a more regular proportioned soprano ukulele with a bridge where you would expect it - slap bang in the middle of the sweet spot. That's why this one has been interesting me.

Enya EUS-X1 Ukulele body


The construction here is up there with the construction of the EUR model and that means, equally, it's also up there with something like the Martin 0X ukuleles, which is really saying something considering it's one third of the price! It's really well put together.  It's quite a curvy soprano body which I find to be rather attractive, and is similarly finished with an outer Koa graphic and the same edges of the HPL showing on the joints giving a binding effect. Top back and sides are all single pieces, with the back being dead flat. It's essentially identical to the EUR model, just in a more traditional soprano shape.

As I reported in my review of the EUR, Enya are moving to a non-rosewood bridge material to avoid CITES issues on shipping, so this one is still a through bridge, but the plate is made from richlite composite. That's a paper pulp and resin material as also used by Blackbird in their eKoa instruments (and Gibson guitars for that matter). It's jet black in colour, a different shape than that on the EUR-X1 and ultra hard making it perfect for a bridge plate. Amusingly, Enya call this material 'technology ebony' which makes me giggle, though I am not sure why. Names aside, it's nice to see the use of another non-wood material in a time of increasing pressure on natural resources so there are no complaints from me here. Fitted into this is a compensated saddle made of bone and similar to the EUR model. One other thing I would say about the bridge is that I think it looks overly large on a small body like a soprano..

Enya EUS-X1 Ukulele richlite bridge


Looking inside and we have another tidy build with notched wooden kerfing and delicate braces. Again, the Enya logo and model number are pyrographically etched on the back strip and it looks every classy. What you will also spy looking inside this one are a set of controls for the integral pickup. It's the sort where the battery compartment (cell batteries) and tone and volume controls are located on the inside of the sound hole edge. I am not a fan of active pickup systems, but I do admit that if I was going to go for one, I prefer the controls here and not in a huge box cut into the side of the instrument. Bear in mind though - this pickup system is just an option. You can get these without electrics too. Naturally the base strap button doubles as the jack socket. I think given the choice I would pass on it, but I know many people who like their ukes to come ready to roll as it were.  Incidentally, that pickup is an under saddle strip and testing it out the sound is not muddy and the volume across the strings is equal, so no complaints here.

Neck wise this is the same as the EUR with that clever removable neck to allow changes / relief adjustment by way of the adjustment bolt in the heel that doubles as a strap button. It's also made of mahogay in three pieces and has the same pleasing nut width of 36mm.

Enya EUS-X1 Ukulele removeable neck


Topping this one is the same radiused fingerboard with rolled edges as on the EUR that is supremely comfortable, only this one replaces the rosewood with more richlite. It works very well as a fingerboard material - as well it should considering Blackbird use it! We have the same 36mm nut width, the same 16 nickel silver frets with 12 to the body and wooden postion inlays at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th. Sadly these are not repeated with side dots on this one. It's otherwise identical to the neck on the EUR-X1 and considering the necks are interchangeable, that is hardly surprising.  And as you may recall I was extremely positive about that EUR neck and felt that it was more than a match for the neck on the Martin sopranos in quality and comfort. Good going.

Enya EUS-X1 Ukulele fingerboard


It continues to be identical beyond the bone nut too, with the same crown headstock, the same logo and the same geared pegs. Yes I'd still want friction pegs myself.

Enya EUS-X1 Ukulele headstock


And also included again is the same attractive box packaging, another good quality padded bag and another array of accessories including cloth, strings, pics, capo, tuner, strap and rhythm ring. The strings sadly are also the same so that same low tension I didn't like and I quickly swapped out on the EUR. I will be doing the same here.

Enya EUS-X1 Ukulele tuners


And the initial special offer on the EUR aside, the price of this one is also the same. RRP on the EUR-X1 was actually $96, and on this one we are looking at the same, or up to $126 in this flavour with the pickup fitted. Interestingly I believe these ones are only currently available in the US, so my UK readers will have to do without for now at least. I believe the concert version may be available in the UK though.

Enya EUS-X1 Ukulele accessory pack


So let's put it through it's paces... Firstly, as I say, the construction is superb on this on like the EUR-X1. No joint or finish issues anywhere I can see. It also has the same supremely comfortable neck. It's balanced too, but this one is noticeably heavier than the EUR model, but bear in mind it does have a pickup system and controls inside it. I am sure it would be lighter without it.

Action and setup, like the EUR are excellent - in fact the saddle action is actually on the low side and I may shim it up a touch as I have done with the EUR as it can assist with volume. It's not often you see that in a ukulele!!

But the big question everyone will want answering is - is it louder than the EUR-X1. The short answer is, yes it is, and by quite a margin too. The EUR was indeed very quiet but it still had a pleasant character to the tone. The EUS has the same sort of character but is clearly more pronounced in it's projection. It's really pleasing actually. Sustain is good too, as is playability. Those stock strings remain to feel horrible though and I did change them. Strummed, it's typically soprano staccato fun, but it has a roundness to the tone that is surprising for a sop. Picked it's really nice too, on account of that character and the sustain.

Enya EUS-X1 Ukulele back


How much louder is hard to quantify in words so I put some Martin strings on it to make a comparison fair to something like the Martin 0X. These are two instruments that are made from the same material and are also the same shape and dimensions (double bout sopranos). Tested side by side The EUS is nowhere near as loud as the Martin 0X but is much louder than the EUR model. It's kind of a halfway house between the two of them and that surprises me as the construction is so similar. But it's still passable, certainly more usuable than the EUR and still has a great build, neck and enjoyable voice. When you consider that the Martin is three times the price, that means that the Enya for me is no bad thing.  If I have one gripe, it's a function of geography. I am in Britain and I don't believe these are available to buy in the UK at the time of writing.. I hope that changes. I am also advised by Enya that early stocks of these may sell out, but that they are in the process of re-stocking too.

 Still recommended thoughand I think for those of you put off by the lower volume of the EUS model, that this could perhaps be the one for you. And as for that detachable neck? Well this one recently travlled 3000km with me in two pieces inside a small item of cabin baggage and went back together perfectly after the journey. Brilliant!
http://www.enyamusical.com






UKULELE PROS

Great build
Great price
Lots of added extras (great gig bag)
Wonderful neck comfort
Use of sustainable Richlite and HPL
Rich characterful tone
Improved volume over the EUR model

UKULELE CONS

No side fret markers
Feels slightly heavy with pickup added
No friction pegs!
Horrid stock strings
Bridge plate looks overly large

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 8.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.8 out of 10

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