GOT A UKULELE - Ukulele reviews and beginners tips

23 Apr 2017

Kremona UK-1 Ukulele Pickup - REVIEW

Here's something a bit different for you. A passive ukulele pickup that requires no drilling, no gluing, no taping to the body. It's the UK-1 Pickup from Kremona.

Kremona UK-1 Ukulele pickup

Kremona are a east European company who you may have heard of for their instruments, including their ukuleles (including this one I reviewed a while ago), who also have a range of instrument accessories. This one is designed to give a pickup solution to those people who don't want to start drilling holes in their ukuleles or gluing / sticking / taping spot transducers to the soundboard. A totally removeable system that used a piezo electric strip to amplify in much the same way any other piezo pickup does - through amplifying vibrations.

The clever part of this is that the pickup is designed to slip under your strings and stay in place through the string tension in the knots at the bridge. Want to remove it? Simply loosen the strings and slide it out. And here we meet the first issue that is hugely relevant to any ukulele player. This system will ONLY work if you have a standard tie bar bridge on your ukulele? Have a slotted bridge or a bridge with pins? Nope, this won't work. The whole concept behind it is that it uses the tie bar knots to hold it in place. Now that we have ruled out huge numbers of ukuleles, let's look at it a bit closer...

The pickup strip element in this is housed in a sandwich of extremely thin wood with a fatter part at one end that houses a female 3.5mm jack socket. Apart from the socket and the piezo strip itself, it's all made of wood and is unbelievably light weight. In fact it's so delicate I was convinced I was going to break it simply installing it. I still think it's going to break eventually, but I will come on to that later. It's made in the EU (if such things matter to you) and can be picked up (geddit!) for between about £40 and £50 or about $70. That's not a bad price for a pickup and I usually spend a bit more than that for an under saddle variety that I need to drill holes to install.

Kremona UK-1 Ukulele pickup side view

So I loosened the strings and carefully slotted it under the loops then tightened them back up. I can confirm that when up to pitch the UK-1 is indeed held securely in place and will not drop out or move. What I don't quite understand though is why the raised jack socket end doesnt face down instead of up. On most tie bar bridges, if it was reversed, this would keep it facing down towards the top of the ukulele, but instead this is sitting up and proud with free space underneath it. For that reason I am extremely concerned that too much pressure on the top of the pickup from an arm or case lid pressing on to the socket area is going to simply snap it off the rest of the strip. Getting the attached cable caught and pulling it may do the same thing. In fact I may even see if it works installed upside down, but every photo I have seen of it has it this way around with the logo facing up.

Kremona UK-1 Ukulele pickup fitted

Anyway, we now have it installed. The UK-1 comes with a jack to jack instrument lead with a 3.5mm jack on one end (for the pickup) and a regular mono ¼ inch jack on the other end for the amp or desk. The whole cable is about 8 foot long. I have a number of gripes with the cable. Firstly, it's not the best quality cable and rather thin, but mainly because that length is just too short for regular use. I suppose it's fine if you are plugging in to something right by you but for stage use having only 8 feet of cable is incredibly limiting and you are probably going to need to extend it. So if you are going to extend it anyway, why actually make the cable 8 foot long? A far better option would have been to have a short cable with a female ¼ inch jack socket about a foot long that you could tape to the ukulele or tuck into your strap - and then allow players to use a regular jack to jack guitar cable of their choice to connect this to their amp or desk. As it is, you get 8 feet of unnecessary cabling. Ho hum. (Poor choice of words, with a pickup the last thing you want is 'hum'..).

Oddly - the packaging proudly states that the pickup comes with a one year warranty, but that the cable only has a 30 day warranty. One can only ponder what they think is going to happen to the cable in the space of one month...

Kremona UK-1 Ukulele pickup cable

So pickup fitted, and cable connected, we are good to go. How does it sound? Well, first things first, this is a passive pickup so will certainly benefit from being run through some form of pre-amp pedal or box to give it a bit more power and tone shaping before something like a mixing desk. That's not a gripe in itself though and I mainly use passive pickups as I find they sound more natural without all the unncessary electronics and battery packs inside the ukulele. I also (personally) tend to prefer under saddle pickups myself as they cut out much of the unwanted body noise created from arms rubbing on the top of the instrument that I get with soundboard transducers. That's partly due to my playing style, but there you go. Plenty of other people go with under saddle pickups for the same reason. With this one being so exposed, we shall have to see how that issue goes.

I plugged this in to a Roland AC-33 acoustic amp for testing - so that essentially becomes the pre amp and I used no other tone shaping or boxes inbetween. It's a very nice clear amp that provides decent EQ if I need it, but is otherwise excellent in vanilla for acoustic instruments, and will also expose any flaws in the sound like hum and muddiness. Sound wise, I will deal with the positives first. The pickup works well. I had half an idea they would work like those hideous ones that you clip on the headstock, but this actually works, and really well too. The sound is very clear, very natural - almost like a microphonic sound and certainly on a par with good soundboard spot transducers I have used like those from K and K. It's essentially the difference between spot transducer pickups and under saddle strips - the latter have a knack of sounding 'quacky' and articficial (whilst removing body noise), whilst spot types tend to have a more open and natural / woody sound (but can pickup all sorts of movement sounds). This is definitely at the more open end of the scale and really rather nice. Under saddle pickups they can take a bit of work on the amplifer EQ section in cutting unwanted mids to remove that quack in a way I don't tend to experience as much with spot transducers. This one too needed little adjustment at the EQ and that's a nice thing. It was probably slightly bassy, but that's easy enough to roll back on an amp. I was also surprised at how little drive it needed so it also runs rather 'hot' in its output already. I still think it would need some sort of pre-amp to run it to a desk as opposed to an amplifier, but into an amp it sounds just fine as it is.

The negative though is connected to how and where it is positioned and just how sensitive it is to the noise you don't want. You see the pickup is not the only thing doing the work on this. The body of the pickup jack mounting (the square section at the right hand end), the jack itself and in fact a good foot or so of the cable act like a pickup too. So basically anything that rubs against those creates a massive unwanted scratching and rumbling sound through your amp. And even if you avoid touching it with your arm, even the action of the cable slightly moving against the body comes through loud and clear. It's really odd. I get more reaction from the pickup when tapping the jack socket or cable with my fingernail than I do tapping the bit under the strings. It's almost like the whole thing is picking up which is really not what you want.  It's not body noise in the normal sense that you get with a transducer spot - rubbing the ukulele body doesn't pick up too badly - it's just touching the darn cable! The only solution to that it seems to me is to then firmly tape a good length of the cable to the body of the ukulele to keep it out of the way and stop it moving completely. But then if you are going down the route of taping things to your ukulele then it kind of defeats the object of this - just buy a better quality spot transducer and tape that to the top instead? Even with those you have to avoid touching the cable. Which leave me wondering what the USP of this one actually is?

Kremona UK-1 Ukulele pickup  box

So all in all, a nice idea, with a good sound, but somewhat let down by the cabling design that actually puts it nowehere above the obvious alternatives that I can see. It's also massively delicate and I just dont see this surviving more than a few gigs before something snaps. That's not something that I ever have an issue with using spot transducers. I guess these make sense if you have a vintage or borrowed instrument you don't want to mark with tape or drill into (assuming it has a tie bar bridge of course), but it's then let down by the unwanted noise that even the slightest movement of cable creates if you don't tape it down. So it kind of falls between being neither one thing or the other for me.

I've done a short video piece on it you will find below using a simpler amplifier (a Roland Mobile Cube) - bear in mind this is the sound out of an amp and in to another condenser microphone, but you will immediately get the idea with the body noise issue. The point is not to demonstrate the tone, more to demonstrate the noise. Perhaps others have come up with a solution for resolving the noise - and if so, I would be glad to hear it. My other gripes remain though and I am just not convinced this would last long if you were regularly gigging.

http://www.kremonausa.com/en/pickups/guitar-/-ukulele





PROS

Nice open, natural sound
Good price
Light weight
Very easy to install
Pickup part is indeed removeable which will suit delicate, borrowed or old instruments

CONS

Too much noise from cable unless taped (negating the non removeable element)
Included cable is not great quality and a shorter link cable would make more sense
Incredibly delicate and likely easy to break
Unusable on slotted or pin bridges

VIDEO REVIEW



22 Apr 2017

Caramel CC102A Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

Here's a new brand to Got A Ukulele and one that has been creating quite a buzz on social media. The CC102A Zebrawood Concert Ukulele from Caramel.

Caramel CC101A Zebrawood Ukulele

I've said many times recently that I am staggered at the sheer volume of new ukulele brands emanating from China these days. And the Caramel brand seems to be one that has a lot of people talking very positively. Whether that is because they are genuinely good ukuleles or because they are ludicrously cheap I am not sure. Either way, I thought it would be good to see what the fuss was all about.

This is one of the cheaper Caramel models out there in their large range of instruments, coming in at £30 or $38, which, it must be said, is ridiculously cheap. These are also principally only available from the likes of Amazon and Ebay, so I immediately sneer a little as that means they will arrive straight from the factory with no setup. In short, they have not been through the hands of a dealer. To make matters worse, they are not actually warehoused by Amazon, so ordering one means waiting for one to arrive from China, which in my case was a wait of four weeks. My concern that the are mainly supplied through Amazon is also marked by the fact that this brand seems to have nothing but 5 star 'reviews' for their various products. I always raise an eyebrow when I see that, especially when you consider that instruments like the Stagg US10 ukulele was one of the highest rated ukuleles on Amazon UK - a view I very much did NOT share. I'm not saying there are no objective reviews on such sites, but the majority seem to be from people who have no other experience of ukuleles (and as such, saying it sounds 'brilliant' is a bit of a hollow statement) and people who give five stars for things like 'it holds tuning'. Any ukulele will hold tuning if it's set up correctly...

Still it arrived safely in a Caramel branded cardboard box, complete with the 'oh so sickly' strap line of 'Caramel melts in your heart' written down the side. I thought it melted in your mouth to be honest, but there you go.

The CC102A is a standard shaped and scaled acoustic concert ukulele made from laminate zebrawood. The brand don't go to any great lengths to point out that it is made of laminate, but if the price hadn't convinced you that this isn't solid wood, let me confirm it. It's definitely laminate. As I always say, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but I still think they should make it clear. And a word here about zebrawood laminates. Personally, I don't actually like it much. Sure, it's pretty enough I suppose, but I think it has become totally over-used by Chinese brands in their ukuleles.  It's certainly not the first zebrawood ukulele I have looked at, and a quick search of ukuleles on Amazon.com showed extremely similar models from Donner, Hola, Kulana, Elvis, Zimo, Amoon, Kmise, ADM, Kingster, Facilla, Snail, Aosdin, Aklot, Tycoon, Makanu, Amahi... and.... and then I got bored scrolling, because there were many more. You get the picture. It's absolutely clear to me that these originate from a small number of factories (perhaps just a handful) who are knocking them out in large batches, changing the makers label to suit. Nothing wrong with that per se and it's understandable considering how many come from that country. But do we REALLY need quite so many zebrawood bodied ukuleles? What happened to originality? I suppose the counter-point to that is that there was a time when most ukuleles were made of mahogany, so maybe this is just a non-point. For me though, this wood is SO striking that seeing so much of it get's extremely samey.

Caramel CC101A Zebrawood Ukulele body

Anyway, zebrawood it is, and striking because of that which is precisely the reason they use it. Looks, and not much else. This one is put together well enough, and is also complimented by some off white edge binding where the top and back meet the two piece sides. That's nicely applied and compliments the zebrawood I think. Also decorating the top is an engraved sun motif. Seriously, is everyone putting sun motifs on ukuleles now? It's also nice enough I guess, but originality now seems to have gone out of the window! The top and back are bookmatched pieces and a glance at the edge of the sound hole shows it to be rather thick laminate too. The back, incidentally, is slightly arched.

Caramel CC101A Zebrawood Ukulele back

Looking inside and we have notched kerfing linings and overly chunky braces. It's also quite messy with a fair bit of glue and wood shavings on show.  In the bracket of 'small things that irritate me but are not life and death' - the makers label... it's photocopied so badly that you can't actually read the text in the middle. You had ONE job... The whole body is finished in a satin coat. This has not been applied brilliantly and there are some large irritating rough patches on the back of the body together with some noticeable scuffs and chips on the top. Again, not fatal issues, but they are enough to irritate me.

Caramel CC101A Zebrawood Ukulele finsh flaws

For the bridge we have a rosewood tie bar bridge plate, screwed in place and fitted with a straight buffalo bone saddle. Very generic as you would expect for this price and no complaints other than the fact that the wood looks to be screaming for some conditioning oil. It's extremely pale and dry. The action at the 12th is reasonably good, but on closer inspection of the end of the fingerboard I noticed something more worrying. Rather than the end of the fretboard being dead flat, it kind of dips down into the body just above the sound hole. This is a serious build error that suggests that either the top is sinking or was just built incorrectly at this point. Either way, I would reject and instrument showing signs of this and go no further.

Caramel CC101A Zebrawood Ukulele bridge

Up to the neck and Caramel don't specify what it's made of. It is most likely mahogany or a similar looking hard wood, and is also very pale in colour and made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and headstock. Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard of reasonable condition. It's quite pale and looks like it could do with being conditioned. The edges are stained brown to partially hide the fret ends and we have outward facing pearloid position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces, the 12th being a double spot. Sadly we have no side facing markers. Frets wise, these are nickel silver with 18 in total and 14 to the body. Sadly they are dressed very poorly with sharp edges on most of them as you run your hand up and down. These need work. Incidentally, at the nut the width is an equally generic 35mm.

Caramel CC101A Zebrawood Ukulele fingerboard


Beyond the bone nut, we have a headstock with a shape very reminiscent of Kanile'a, with the Caramel logo engraved into the zebrawood veneer facing. Nice that it's not a three pointed crown I suppose, but it's still hardly original.

Caramel CC101A Zebrawood Ukulele headstock


For the tuners, the Caramel product description confused me. They state that they are "frosted tuning pegs - not plastic". I have NO idea what 'frosted' means in this case, but the buttons certainly look like plastic to me. Rubberised, but black plastic all the same. And the buttons are attached to cheap generic chrome open gears that are nothing special. They really are only reasonable quality and have that telltale sign of some being stiffer to turn than others that you often get with cheap geared pegs.

Caramel CC101A Zebrawood Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off is a set of Aquila Nylgut strings but no other extras that some of their rival ukuleles tend to offer. Then again, at a price this low, that would seem impossible to make stack up, and as I have said before that I don't like the brands that 'pile em high' with added extras, perhaps I should be giving Caramel some credit here for not doing that.

So in general summary, we have a very generic ukulele which at first glance is built 'ok', but on closer inspection has some more serious issues going on. It's light enough in the hands, but is also clearly very body heavy. This is far better than it being neck heavy, but it's still not right. I'm assuming this is on account of the thick laminates and overly thick braces used in the construction.

Caramel CC101A Zebrawood Ukulele action

As for the sound, whilst I was reasonably happy with the volume this projects, I was less taken with the lack of sustain. Yes, I know ukuleles are not known for screaming sustain, but I've found far more sustain with other instruments at this price, leaving this one very 'plinky plonky' (technical term!). It just doesn't have any presence or dynamic range - very one dimensional.

Set up wise the nut is a little high, throwing some notes sharp when fretted at the first position and whilst, as I say, the saddle doesn't seem to be massively high, I am still finding poor intonation issues higher up the neck, particularly on the C string. Whether it's that dipping top throwing things out of whack or whether it just needs a damn good setup I am not sure. Possibly a bit of both. Some of the notes really are all over the place though. An interesting comment on this point following a recent comment on one of my videos on the YouTube channel in which I mentioned poor setup. This chap replied saying 'yeah, but you get that done after you bought it'.. Of course, you CAN do that (and believe me, this needs it), but it missed the important point that you also CAN get setups done by dealers before they are shipped. Which comes back to the issue of buying direct from Amazon - they won't be. So yes, this can probably be setup better, but that £30 ukulele is now costing you more for the extra service.

Back to the sound and trying to put the intonation issues out of my mind, it's pleasant I guess, could really do with more sustain, but not offensive. It is, however, for me a sound that is as generic as it's looks are. Bear in mind, whilst there are clearly setup issues on this one that can be reversed (to a point), the underlying tone is still pretty poor and simple. It can only be improved so much. I really wanted to like this one more, but it's doing nothing for me.

Which leaves me a little confused as to why people are raving about these in such great numbers. It can surely only be down to the price point, which is indeed hard to argue with. And yes, I realise that others may have received examples that are better set up or don't have the build issues I noted here (and believe me, those people WILL point that out to me... at length..), but to me, that speaks volumes about quality control with Caramel. The question is - do you want to play roulette on an instrument that is going to take four weeks to arrive? For me, I would be spending a touch more and getting a ukulele that you know will be setup properly and have more sustain. And that's the thing - there are plenty of better alternatives. I've played them. Even the Donner ukulele I reviewed last week (and was not totally thrilled with) is leagues better than this.  This one is not for me and Caramel would do well to have these go through dealers who give them a final once over before sale. There's just too much wrong with this one as it is though.





UKULELE PROS

Price

UKULELE CONS

Terrible setup
Sharp fret ends
No side fret markers
Body heavy
Lacking sustain
Possible fatal build error in dipping top
Poor quality tuners
Rough finish issues

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 7 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6 out of 10
Sound - 6.5 out of 10
Value for money - 7 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 6.6 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW

14 Apr 2017

Martin S1 Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

It surprises me a little that with a name so very well known in ukulele history, I've only reviewed one ukulele from C. F. Martin before on this site. Time to change that with a look at their S1 Soprano ukulele.

Martin S1 Soprano Ukulele


The first Martin I reviewed received a high score from me, in the form of the T1K Tenor ukulele. Like the S1 we are looking at today, that was a 'modern' Martin, made in their Mexico factory and not in Pennsylvania, USA. I mention that at the outset as I should probably repeat what I said in that tenor review. You see Martin guitars have an incredibly rich heritage in making ukuleles, with their vintage instruments fetching some incredible prices for such small and very old things. The community of officionados of vintage Martin ukuleles is also an extremely strong one, and it would be fair to say that some in that community tend to prefer their vintages and don't tend to get too excited or even interested in the new lines. If fact, some people plain HATE them. I totally understand that, but you should bear in mind that this is a review site 'mainly' for people looking to buy new instruments from the usual channels. Sure, I 'could' review a vintage Martin (and heck, I know enough people who have them to arrange such a review if I wanted to), but that would simply be a review of that one particular vintage example. It's not like readers could then easily go out and buy the exact same one, of the same age, with the same patina, wood aging and history. So a review of a vintage would be next to pointless for the purposes of what this site tries to do. Trust me, I've played a few of the old ones and they can be staggeringly, seriously good, but for this site, it makes more sense to look at the current retail line-up that people can actually go out and buy. Yes, you may be right, your vintage may sound better, but that doesn't stop the new ones being instruments capable of being reviewed in their own right. So, with that over with, let's take a look!

The S1 Soprano from Martin has actually been about for a few years and in fact surfaced about the same time as that T1K tenor. It isn't the first 'new' ukulele from Martin though, as before this one came their S0 Soprano. By common consensus people were not totally enamoured with those to be honest and they felt like a bit of a rush job for Martin getting back into ukuleles. The S0 was their first in a while and basically they missed a few marks in the construction... Yet this S1 is still one of the cheapest Martin ukuleles on the market, and aims to improve on the S0 in many areas, and it's actually been doing quite well.  And I say 'one of the cheapest' because below this one in price is the range of OX Martin models which are made from HPL (high pressure laminate) including those very weird bamboo veneer ones that hit the market recently. I would therefore be more correct to say is that, at the date of writing, this IS the cheapest solid wood new Martin soprano on the market.

The instrument is styled on the original Martins of old and has a totally traditional look to it. It's a very 'old-time' double bout shape with a nice curved base and generous upper bout proportions. Not quite a full figure of eight, but it's getting there. I like that a lot. Body wise this is made from all solid mahogany and finished in satin. To my eyes the mahogany is gorgeously rich and reddish brown. It's not particularly stripy or even all that interesting to look at but the deep coloured wood, coupled with the satin finish gives it a very traditional look that I like. The grain that there is isn't straight up and down the body, rather a little more swirly, but looking at photos of others, they can be variable like that. Nothing is lined up here or bookmatched. Rememeber, Martin will be saving the select woods for their higher end models that cost considerably more than this one (and I mean considerably...). Incidentally that satin coat is hand rubbed and I immediately was struck with a vintage vibe when I opened the case. All of that said, it is a very simple and plain look. I like ukuleles like that, but undertand that if you covered the Martin logo, people may assume it was a generic Chinese ukulele. Possibly, but that is just a first glance thing. There's quite a bit more to this one. As you can probably tell, I'm not falling over myself about the looks on this one. It's far from ugly, but equally it doesn't make you go wow when you open the case either. Functional and traditional I guess.

Martin S1 Soprano Ukulele top


The top and back of the instrument are single pieces of wood and the sides are in two pieces - nothing remarkable with that for a soprano. The back incidentally is very slightly arched too. Other than a black and white (and very simple) sound hole rosette, there is no other body decoration, and no edge binding. Plain, plain, plain. I tried to work out if the rosette is a trasfer or an inlay, but I couldn't get a definitive answer. My money is on transfer, which, if true, is slightly disappointing for the money these cost. That said, I think the original simple black rosettes on early vintage Martins were decals too.. It's interesting really - for a ukulele that is clearly a higher price than many would want to spend, one should remember that Martin guitars and ukuleles actually used to be the instruments of the people at one time. Of course that was back in the days when there wasn't much else about and things like the internet and mail order didn't exist of course! What I would say though is that I find the rosette to look a little stark against the mahogany, and would probably look better if it was just a black ring without the bright white.

Bridge wise we have a typical plain Martin slotted bridge made of rosewood, and in to this is set a TUSQ compensated saddle. I suppose it's nice to see saddle compensation on a soprano scale instrument or smaller as intonation is even more critical on short strings I find. In fact I never quite see the point of fancy compensated saddles on tenor instruments quite so much.  This is just another little detail that I suppose goes towards the price and Martin 'quality'.

Martin S1 Soprano Ukulele bridge


Looking inside and we see one of the tidiest ukulele builds I have ever seen, hands down. Really.. EVER.  The kerfing linings are notched and angled into the top and back joints, the braces are delicate and there is absolutely no mess at all. We have a makers label with a hand numbered serial code. In fact as well as this ukulele having a tidy build it really is a very precise and decent build on the outside too. There are no gaps in the body joints dressed with filler, and it all looks incredibly well put together. And yes, I did sniff it... It has 'that' soundhole smell that seems to be another Martin trademark - a mix of woodshavings and tru-oil. Yum.

Fitted into the body by way of a dovetail joint (another Martin trademark making for a more secure connection at this point - necks are normally / glued / bolted) is a single piece mahogany neck, once again finished in hand rubbed satin. I absolutely adore both the look and feel of this neck. It's a traditionally shallow profile, but the look of the wood is just fantastic. It's a very deep brown, almost moving to black in places that makes it look old and well played. It's not the finish doing that, it's the wood itself. It's satin coated, but as it's so thin, you really feel the wood. In fact I'll stick my neck out and say it's one of the nicest feeling ukulele necks i've come across for quite some time. I just think it would be nice if the body, and in particular the top, followed that look a bit more.

Martin S1 Soprano Ukulele neck


Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard that is deep and dark with no unwanted stripe. I believe they previously may have used morado for the fingerboards on the S0, but this is definitely rosewood. We have a generous 17 nickel silver frets with 12 to the body and they are really delicate. This is another change from the S0, as that came with 12 frets in total. Whilst I normally prefer fatter frets, I admit that thin frets look better on something as delicate as a soprano. They look and work great here. The edges of the fingerboard are unbound so you do see the fret edges, but they are dressed reasonably well. I say 'reasonably', as whilst there are no sharp fret edges but I can feel the edges from frets 13 to 17. I can't see why I would feel them in practice here as they are over the body and not in a place that you will be gripping around the neck, but I thought I would mention it. They are certainly set close to the unbound fingerboard edge, so I guess something as common as a slight humidity change could have called what guitar techs refer to as 'fret sprout'. That's not a great observation to be honest for an instrument of this price.

Martin S1 Soprano Ukulele fingerboard


You may recall in my review of the T1K tenor that I didn't care much for the really tiny outward facing position markers made from small cream plastic dots. We have the same markers on this soprano, but actually, I totally see how they suit the smaller ukulele scale.  In fact, when they are small like this on a soprano, you see how bigger dots can stand out too much. The outward facing dots are in the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces with the 7th space being a double dot. We also have position markers on the side and interestingly we have more side markers than we do outward facing markers. I've never seen that before, but I welcome it. It's the side markers that I will actually use! Side markers feature at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th. In terms of width the nut is on the wider side for a soprano at about 36mm, putting it on par with something like a Flea. This is a good thing for playability, particularly for those people who believe the myth that if you have big hands you can't play a soprano. Even 1mm more at the nut is really noticeable on space for the fingers. This is where space matters more!

Beyond the Tusq nut we have a traditional Martin crown headstock. I normally have a small dig at other makers that use a Martin three pointed crown headstock style as I think it's just lazy copying and would rather see some imagination in headstock design. So much so I did a ukulele rant on this very subject! But hey,  this one IS a Martin, so you'd expect to see it here. (Side note - yes, I know, Martin probably orignally copied original Hawaiian ukulele crown headstocks themselves, but regardless - this style has become the 'de facto' Martin headstock for ukes).. So they get a pass. Unlike most of the copy headstocks though, the crown is really exaggerated with the headstock getting wider toward the top. I think it looks wonderful myself. Sadly, like the tenor, we have the same 'Christmas greeting card sticker' style Martin logo applied on this. I really don't like these and think they look cheap as can be, but know that they come on so many Martins these days - guitars included.  Logo aside, one other thing I like about the headstock on this one is how those darker parts of the wood I mentioned in the neck show through. The headstock is not faced with a veneer, so that is the actual neck wood, but on this one it creates a darker path directly between the tuners. I think it looks wonderful.

Martin S1 Soprano Ukulele headstock

Moving on to the tuners, and we have Grover friction pegs. I think they are 2's or 4's which are perfectly acceptable and better than most you will get as stock. I'd rather a slightly better peg myself for smoother turning though. Don't get me wrong - these are not bad friction pegs, far from it, but you can get better and I'd like to have seen that on a more expensive ukulele. Once again though, looking backwards to the vintage models, many of those used the most basic friction pegs around, so perhaps nothing has really changed! They work well, but you need to be a little more precise with the tension you set them at. Once set right they are just fine. That said i'm actually going to swap these ones out.

Martin S1 Soprano Ukulele tuners


Completeing the deal are Martin clear fluorocarbon strings (what else) and a padded embroidered Martin gig bag in an attractive pale blue. I find the gig bag a slightly odd addition in the way that I did for the tenor. This is not a cheap ukulele and being all thin solid wood it will need some protection from knocks if it's going to survive. I can't see many buyers really using this bag for long and will more likely opt for a full hard case (I know I did!).  It's nice for what it is, but suspect I will only use it to carry around a cheaper soprano when I don't want a rigid case in tow. I suppose there is no harm including it, but if they are creating a ukulele to a fixed budget, I'd rather they ditch the bag and upgrade something else - like the tuners, or the headstock logo. That should be possible without affecting the retail price.

And as for that price, this always seems to be the thing that people get so vocal about when it comes to Martin ukuleles of any variety. I picked this one up for about £400 in the UK and shopping around you will either find it at a little under that price or up to about £425. I will come on to my views on the price a little later on though. It's fair to say though, this is not an entry level price for a soprano, but equally it's not the highest you will find either.

Martin S1 Soprano Ukulele back


As I say, the build quality is exemplary thoughout. It feels incredibly solid, yet is still incredibly light. That satin finish feels wonderful in the hands and it has a certain something about it that makes you know it's not a cheap Chinese model and makes it feel older than it actuall is. It's also really nicely balanced in the hands and 'feels' like a soprano (duh!). Setup wise this was absolutely perfect at the nut, in fact one of the best nut setups I have ever seen on a review model. At first glance I was sure the saddle could go down a little for personal preference, but I think it was actually an optical illusion. Out with the string gauge ruler and it's a hair above 2mm at the 12th fret. It staggers me that a ukulele can arrive like this, (and not from a store that does setups) and still be bang on. It's also not a fluke - this is Martin quality control.

So, a comfortable, light, attractive ukulele, and one that is incredibly resonant too. You can tell that just by rapping on the top a little or even shouting into the sound hole (yes, I did do that..). You get the feeling that this one will be lively.

For me a soprano needs to do a few things over and above just playing in tune. They should be bright,  snappy, punchy and almost have a bark to them. You see traditionally, the soprano is more of a rhythmical instrument and they need a punch to carry that off. For me personally if you want a noodling melodic mellow instrument, go for a tenor. A soprano should be in your face like a slap!

So volume wise? Check! In spades.... I mean, seriously, this can bark. It's a powerful little thing and one of the most powerful sopranos I have played for quite some time. With a strong strum you will almost wake the dead (or scare the dog). It really does project that well. But as is usual with Martin there is much more to the tone. As well as delivering on that snappy, punchy sound that I want with a soprano, it also has bags of sustain if you want it and a  really complex, characterful tone. Some would say it's a signature of Martins, a kind of 'jangly' sound that comes across like you are strumming more than 4 strings. And this certainly has it. Even a simple down strum with one nail projects a rich jangle that is really rather lovely. I've just not ever found that with cheaper Chinese sopranos.

Strummed this just leaves me with a smile on my face too. And despite that volume and jangly sound, every string is still absolutely clear in the mix. Nothing is lost here, nothing is confused and it's certainly not muddy. Lots of dynamic range but lots of harmonies, is what I am hearing. It's outstanding.

Fingerpicking was slightly less satisfying I guess, which is a shame as it's what I am mainly playing at the moment. Saying that, I am talking about pure melody lines here, which can sound a little too thin for my tastes on this one.  Maybe it's because it's a very bright strident instrument, maybe it's the strings, maybe it's just because it's a soprano. Played clawhammer with some 'dum / ching' pick and strum it's an absolute hoot to play though. And as I said - it's VERY lively. You can get a great tone from this picking with minimal finger effort. With many cheaper ukuleles, when you pick them lightly they can sound very one dimensional and require some digging in to get a real tone from them. This seems to be lively with very little work. Of course, you can dig in on this too (and then wake the dog once more), but what I mean is, even light plucking with the fleshy part of the fingers produces really nice tones and volume.

And as for that brightness. Well, I admit I was concerned about the Martin strings as I always find them too bright for my personal tastes. This is certainly bright and still a bit more bright than I would like, but there is some warmth in there too, presumably on account of the warm mahogany tone. I may well experiment with something a bit warmer still, like Fremont Blacklines (the string choice of Kiwaya), but this is not a huge critisism. It is thinner on tone though against comparably priced traditional sopranos I can think of.

All in all though, I think it's a great instrument. There are one or two things I would change, but they are realtively minor ones I suppose. And as I said earlier, many will raise and eyebrow at the price point. I have been thinking about this though and keep coming back to the same view. It simply isn't all that expensive in the bigger scheme of things. Sure, it's expensive if you compare it to a Chinese entry level instrument, but it's not a Chinese entry level instrument so the comparison is a bit flawed. Equally though, to be fair to such a comparison, it's also cheap compared to a K Brand from Hawaii or something exotic from aNueNue or similar. I therefore genuinely think it's kind of mid priced for a very good soprano. Perhaps at the top end of 'mid-priced', but mid-priced all the same. And yes, whilst you may be able to get a similar spec (as in woods) for less money from China, I really don't think you will get this level of build quality and certainly won't get this quality of tone with a generic brand far eastern model. Or at least, I've not yet heard it.  Better than the vintage Martins? As I say, that's not really the point of this review. Probably not, but it's not (yet) a vintage Martin. At the end of the day, whilst you can get a great solid wood cheap soprano from the likes of Ohana for a fraction of the price, that doesn't make all other more expensive ukuleles invalid. If that was the case, they wouldn't exist.

Martin S1 Soprano Ukulele sound hole


I do genuinely like the sound of this one, but recognise that all is not quite perfect. And that's the reason why the score doesn't quite tip into the heady heights of the 9 out of 10's on this website. It's very VERY close though.

Are you paying for the Martin name? Possibly, a little, but is that really so bad if it gets you something well made with a decent tone? As I say, I don't actually think it's over priced at all myself. I know that budget is a huge part of everybody's decision making process, but I do think it can be unhelpful when it comes to the 'which is better' debates. And at the end of the day, if you want to spend this sort of money, that's your choice, nobody elses. And if you do choose this one I think you can be assured that it is is a very decent ukulele.

For that reason, despite one or two gripes, it still comes with a 'highly recommended' from Got A Ukulele.

UKULELE PROS

Great old time looks, if a little plain in the body
Superb build quality
Gorgeous neck
Amazing bark and projection
Wonderful jangly 'Martin' sound
Wide nut

UKULELE CONS

Cheaper tuners than I would like
Bag is an unnecessary addition
Horrid headstock logo
Rosette looks a bit cheap too
Some may find the tone a little too bright or thin

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9 out of 10
Sound - 9.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



8 Apr 2017

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

Another new brand for Got A Ukulele with an instrument from Chinese brand Donner and their DUC-3 Concert ukulele.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele

It dazzles me these days just how many new brands are coming out of China, and I must say, whilst there are some gems hidden in all the noise, the majority are either pretty much all the same thing and one or two are rather dreadful. We shall see how the Donner stacks up! The brand itself is one of those that put their name to a bewildering array of musical instruments and accessories, so it's fair to say they are not ukulele specialists..

This is a standard concert scale instrument with a traditional double bout shape. Topping the instrument is laminate spruce, which looks ok to me, but, being spruce, is nothing dazzling. The back and sides are made from two pieces each and present me with my first gripe about the instrument, and that is one of misleading product descriptions. You see Donner bill this as having a body made from 'grade AAA Mahogany'. Not only is this mahogany laminate (ie plywood), there is absolutely nothing to my eyes that suggests there is anything whatsoever grade AAA about this wood. For me, that would involve some shimmer, some rich browns and oranges, not what this actually is, which is a very dull and very pale mahogany that is... boring. Ho hum. Why do they do that? Well, they do it to try to make a plain instrument sound more special than it actually is. The back is, incidentally, also very slightly arched and the whole body is finished in a thin satin coat. But I repeat, grade AAA this is not.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele top


Decoration wise we have a dark brown edge binding around the top and back which is nice enough and works well to contrast the pale top. Around the soundhole we have a sun motif in laser etching. I'm not averse to this sort of decoration, and we saw it last week on the Baton Rouge I reviewed, but the motif on this one looks both far too large, and also has too much contrast against the pale top. I don't like it actually. You may beg to differ.

The bridge is made of rosewood and is a slotted style. It's also a nice shape, and I always find it pleasing when brands go a little different with the bridge plate rather than just using a generic 'parts bin' bridge. Set into this is a compensated saddle made from bone.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele bridge


Looking inside and we have a reasonably tidy build with no glue drips present. There are a few wood shavings though. The bracing looks a little on the heavy side and the kerfed linings are notched.

Also fitted to the body is a strap button at the base which is nice to see when you consider that these days so many people want to fit them and are worried about doing it.

Up to the neck, this is also made from mahogany and is in 3 pieces with the usual joint at the heel and headstock. It's a nice enough profile, but generically Chinese at the nut, meaning a narrow width compared to many higher end instrument. The heel holds the second strap button, which if you like the presence of the first one makes sense. Personally I tend to only fit one and tie the strap to the headstock, but I am certainly not complaining. Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which seems to be in good condition and is evenly dark. Inlaid into this is a wooden cloud pattern design which means that outward facing fret markers wouldn't work (so you don't get any). Some will like the design, but it's not really to my tastes. I do however like the wavy curve to the end of the fingerboard. I will come back to this design later though for reasons you might not expect.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele fingerboard

The edges of the fingerboard are bound in black, hiding the fret ends and also holding the side position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th in small white dots. Annoyingly, the marker for the 7th on this one is not set centrally and the OCD in me would be mighty annoyed by this! File this complaint in the 'how hard can it actually be?' box.

Frets wise, these are nickel silver, fairly chunky but with no sharp fret ends. There are 18 in total with 14 to the body.

Beyond the bone nut we have an attactive shaped headstock in the same pale mahogany. The Donner logo is inlaid into this in pearl. No complaints here.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele headstock


Flipping it over and we have something I have never seen before. Unbranded generic geared tuners in chrome, but the back plates (which are normally chrome too) are clear plastic, meaning you can see the gear. I don't know why, but I really like the look of them. Of course it makes no difference to how they work and thankfully these work great anyway. Often at this sort of level of ukulele you get gears that grind or are all at different tensions to each other, but these are extremely smooth. The buttons are not overly large and are made of orange plastic, looking like faux amber.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele tuners


It comes strung with Donner's own brand clear fluorocarbon strings (which I would put good money on are fishing line) and a host of bundled extras. You get a reasonable quality padded bag with shoulder straps and front pocket, a spare set of strings, a strap and a clip on tuner. I'm seeing this 'bundling' happening more and more from China and usually I am usually of the opinion that it puts the instrument into a 'too good to be true' category, often where the instrument itself is useless, but your head is turned by the 'amazing bundle'. We shall see how the Donner fairs when I play it... For all of that you will pay around £50 in the UK and $69 in the USA at the time of writing. That's a pretty cheap ukulele.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele extras

So, all in all, we have an instrument that presents a mix of things I do rather like and some things I don't. On the whole though the construction is good with no issues or marks I can see. It's light enough too, but sadly very slightly neck heavy meaning if you play without a strap, you can feel it trying to dive bomb a little.

Setup was mixed too. The nut, thankfully, is very well cut and would need no adjustment I think, but the saddle height is far too high. That is relatively easy to change, but it means that out of the box, this one has poor intonation at the 12th with every string reading consistently high.

On a more positive note the volume and sustain on this one really surprised me. It's got a bright bark typical of spruce, but a nice jangle to it as well. And it sustains far longer than most cheap laminates I have played. Very nice actually.

Fingerpicked it's nice and clear and very enjoyable, but it's the strumming that I liked the most. It's not the most complex tone in the world, but it was never going to be, but there is 'something' about it that made me feel it was punching above it's weight. Quite an enjoyable instrument to sit and play in the sunshine - as I did most of the day today!

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele back

One odd observation though - those markinsg on the fretboard I found to be really off putting during play. They are not position markers, but I found my eye being drawn to them as if they were and was playing some picked runs and fretting in the wrong spaces. Maybe that's just me, but I found it increasingly irritating.

So a mixed bag this one I think and perhaps it was a little 'too good to be true' but not totally. It's got a good build quality, a very pleasant tone, good sustain, but it's let down by some odd design choices and poor setup. And on that setup, considering I think you can ONLY purchase these via Amazon, that means you will need to get it sorted yourself.. at extra cost or hassle. With that done though, I guess it's not a bad ukulele for a very attractive price.

https://www.donnerdeal.com/collections/ukulele





UKULELE PROS

Generally good construction
Great price
Funky tuners
Clear strident voice with good sustain
Pre-installed strap buttons

UKULELE CONS

Poor bridge setup
Dislike the decorations, particularly the fingerboard
Misleading product descriptions
Very plain woods and certainly not AAA grade

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 7 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 - 7.9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW


1 Apr 2017

Baton Rouge V2 T5 Sun Tenor 5 string - REVIEW

Back again with a brand which is quickly becoming one of my 'go to' recommendations for people asking me to recommend a value level ukulele. That brand is Baton Rouge, and today I am taking a look at another ukulele from their V2 Sun series, this time the V2 T5 Sun 5 string tenor uke.

Baton Rouge V2 T5 Sun Ukulele

The V2 sun series ukuleles from Baton Rouge all share pretty much the same DNA, and it's no different here. We have a traditional double bout shaped tenor ukulele made from all laminate mahogany. It's extremely similar to the V2 T8 8 string ukulele I reviewed from Baton Rouge recently, and that's not bad thing. It's no bad thing because what is common amongst the V2's I have looked at is that they are all made very well, using thin laminate, with excellent construction throughout. So on this one we have fairly regular looking mahogany outer veneer, no edge binding, but it is clearly not your thick cheap laminate that plagues the lower end of the ukulele market.

Decoration wise we have the same sun pyrographic / etching around the sound hole which I like for giving the instrument a little 'something' without being too gaudy or flash. And again the body is finished in a satin coat which is thick enough to look like an actual coat, but thin enough to show off the wood pores. I do like that as if there is one thing I don't like, it's an overly thick coat that makes the ukulele feel kind of artificial (and I could name some very well known brands here that do that).

Baton Rouge V2 T5 Sun Ukulele body


Bridge wise we have a rosewood tie bar like the 8 string, holding an uncompensated bone looking saddle. Of course, this is where you see the 5th string and a word here for those who may not kno what a 5 string is. This is not set up with 5 distinct courses of strings, it's still in GCEA, but that 4th, G string is doubled up in a pair designed to be played together as one. Why would you want two G strings? Well, this is strung to have a normal, re-entrant or 'high' G string together with a low G string. So it kind of gives you the best of both worlds on that G string tone. Another way of looking at it I guess is it's a ukulele for people who can't make their mind up about the G string! Either way, it gives a tone that has both the traditional high re-entrant G, together with the bass of a low G at the same time. A little idiosyncratic perhaps, and maybe that's why you don't see anywhere near as many 5 strings as 8 strings. Saying that I know some very high end luthiers that make them, so there is clearly a demand.

Baton Rouge V2 T5 Sun Ukulele bridge


Moving on, we have two piece sides and the back of this one has a really pleasing and pronounced arch to it. Looking inside all looks neat and tidy and again it's all black like other V2 ukuleles from this brand. I recently discovered that it isn't actually painted rather the inner veneer of wood on these is actually black itself!

Baton Rouge V2 T5 Sun Ukulele back


To the neck, this is made of mahogany in three pieces, showing a joint at the heel and a fairly well hidden one at the headstock. This too is covered in satin coat meaning it's not sticky or grippy.

Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard that is really dark and even in colour. Like the 8 string it's also wider than average at the nut at 38mm, helping accomodate that extra string. The edges are bound in black, hiding the fret ends, of which we have 18 in total with 14 to the body. The edges are not sharp, but I would have preferred them dressed back a little more. Let's just say you can feel them. Also like the 8 string we have no fretboard position markers facing out, but have side dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th spaces. They actually look like they are applied with a brush dot of white gloss paint and are not the nicest feature on the ukulele. I kind of understood why there were no outward markers on the 8 string as they would be lost in the mass of strings facing out, but on this one I think the fingerboard looks a bit lost without them.

Baton Rouge V2 T5 Sun Ukulele fingerboard


Beyond the bone nut we have the rather attractice Baton Rouge shaped headstock and it's a slotted design. The BR logo is embossed in the top and the whole front is faced with a darker mahogany than the back of the neck, giving it a pleasing warmer reddish brown edge that is particularly noticeable on the slots.

Baton Rouge V2 T5 Sun Ukulele headstock


Unlike some other V2 series instruments I looked at that use unbranded geared tuners, it's really nice to see that the five pegs on this are open geared Grover brand tuners with vintage style buttons. Really nice.

Baton Rouge V2 T5 Sun Ukulele tuners


Completing the package are Aquila strings with a regular Aquila high G string and an Aquila Red Series low G. Some people will moan at that, as those reds really are strings that divide opinion, but as you should know I don't mark reviews up or down based on strings as I figure most people will swap them out at some point to try something different. And the price is typically Baton Rouge too. I've seen these available now for anywhere between about £110 and £120, which really is an incredibly tempting price for an instrument like this I think. So a little less than the 8 string and a little more than the regular 4 string, which figures I guess.

Like other Baton Rouge ukuleles I have reviewed, this one is light, nicely balanced and tactile to hold. It 'feels' well made in the hands and the quality belies it's price. The setup on this one was also just about right for me.

Sound wise, I actually found this something of a difficult one to write. You see, for me, I have never really found the sound of a 5 string to be that appealling or even something I quite understand the need for. If I want something more jangly, I'd go with an 8 string, if I want something cleaner, a 4 string. And if I can't make my mind up between high or low G, I tend to keep a couple of similar ukuleles in different tunings for when the urge takes me. Put simply I don't really 'get' the need for both low and high G on the same instrument. All of that said, that is purely my personal opinion and as I say above, I know plenty of people who like them, so I must be objective for this review.

So this to me comes across very much like other Baton Rouge ukuleles in that it has a tone and projection that punches far above it's weight when you consider the price you are paying. It has a chime too it, good sustain and clear projection too. Intonation was also good all over the neck.

The low and high G's do come through together distinctly as they are intended to, and that's whether you are strumming or picking. What I did found was a kind of shimmering between the two G strings that I don't think should be there. At first I thought it was down to the tuning of one of them being slightly off. You see, when two strings are at the same note, but very slightly out they kind of pulse and warble with each other. But it wasn't actually that as I triple checked with both my ear and an accurate strobe tuner - they were bang on to each other. What I actually think it was though was more my own poor technique as I was making the two G string vibrate into each other. If I played more considered and was more careful with attack angle and plucking position it would go away. You may notice it in the video, but as I say, I don't think it's a fault of the instrument at all, more this player! I'm mentioning it here as an explanation more than anything else. Maybe that's more a thing you get with 5 strings, I'm not sure as I simply haven't played enough of them.

All of that said, it is a likeable sound and a very likeable price. I suspect I would grow to like it more if I had it with me for longer, but I still think I am happy enough with the instruments I have tuned in a variety of options. If on the other hand you are curious or have already played a 5 string and enjoyed it, at this sort of price and build quality, I'd have to suggest you take a serious look at these. It's another great one from Baton Rouge that I can happily recommend.

STOP PRESS - the UK distributor for these, Stones music has clarified in comments below that the nut and saddle on these are bone and not NuBuone - happy to correct the wording. Also see his comment regarding the strings they come with - you might not get an Aquila Red on the low G, you might..

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

https://www.batonrougeguitars.com/home.html

UKULELE PROS

Great price
Great construction and understated looks
Grover tuners
Really nice arched back

UKULELE CONS

Not sure a 5 string is for me
Would like outward position markers
Side dots are a bit scrappy

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 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 - 8.6 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



25 Mar 2017

World Of Ukes Pioneer T1 Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

What better way to mark the opening of your ukulele store than to spec a ukulele just for YOUR store. That's what Matt Warnes of World Of Ukes did late last year with the Pioneer T1 Tenor.

World Of Ukes Pioneer T1 Tenor Ukulele

This is not the first ukulele store 'own brand' instrument i've come across and in fact it's not the first one that Matt himself has specced. You see, prior to opening World Of Ukes, Matt was at Omega Music in the UK and was behind the design of the Zedro and Klasiko ukuleles. He subsequently opened a dedicated ukulele store in Carlisle called World Of Ukes (the brand also behind a host of ukulele events and the marvellous UKE Magazine) and decided to do another uke. I previously reviewed the Zedro uke on this site and thought it was a great instrument. The question therefore is, has he done it again?

I say 'specced' by Matt, that is to say that he came up with the design choices rather than sitting in a workshop at the back of his shop with a pile of wood and some tools.. And because of that, this is made in China, but Matt explains that he chose a very small hand-made workshop for the build rather than going for a re-badge of something else (like so many brands do). This is not a generic instrument from a large factory line.

The Pioneer is an all solid wood instrument made from acacia wood. And it's very beautiful acacia at that. This has some great stripe and colour variations on the top back and sides that range from paler sandy colours through to chocolate and coffee stripes. I think it's beautiful. Yes I know that acacia is naturally like this, but still - it's a good choice I think. Both the top and back are in two backmatched pieces and we have two piece sides as well. The bookmatching on the back is particularly effective as it shows off the paler heart wood down the centre, but that isn't to say the top is a slouch! I think the photos show what I am getting at better than words!

World Of Ukes Pioneer T1 Tenor Ukulele body


Decorating the top is an abalone inlaid purfling ring around the sound hole and some mahogany edge purfling against the black / white / black ebony (I think) edge binding.  I would have liked the decoration choices to match here, by either having abalone round the edge or making the sound hole ring from the same edging mahogany so the design cues tie up, but it's a minor gripe. They are still inlaid really well and set it off nicely.

The back is dead flat, but also benefits from some more of the black edge binding. The sides are actually smaller front to back than many tenors giving a shallower bodied instrument than some. That makes for a very nice instrument to hold, but we shall see if it has affected the volume and projection.

World Of Ukes Pioneer T1 Tenor Ukulele back


Bridge wise, this is a tie bar style with a white detail trim, fitted with a compensated bone nut. No complaints here.

And the whole body is finished in gloss which really makes the acacia colours pop and shimmer. Matt explains that because these are made in a small workshop, one can expect imperfections in the finish, but really, I think he is doing these a disservice. Sure, there are one or two wrinkles if you inspect it closely in the light (and only like many other mid level gloss instruments I see), but on the whole it's a great mirror finish. There are no runs or pooling on this review model and in fact seems to me to be one of the better gloss finishes at this price I have seen.

And of course, I have to come on to the butt of things... This is perhaps the thing that most people will notice first about this. Matt specced this to have an assymetrical base with a kind of offset, and to use that offset to hold the strap button. I think it's really effective and certainly a talking point. Does it affect the tone and playability - no, of course not. But so what? It looks brilliant! I like little touches like these that make instruments just slightly different. A talking point if you will.

World Of Ukes Pioneer T1 Tenor Ukulele tail


A look inside shows a very tidy build too. We have notched kerfing linings and delicate braces with absolutely no glue drops or wood shavings.

Up to the neck and this is made of mahogany in four pieces. If that sounds excessive there's a good reason, as you will see. Whilst we have a joint at the headstock and heel like on most Chinese instruments, the neck is also made from a sandwich along it's length, housing an inner strip of darker wood giving it a skunk stripe. I love these and have seen some very high end luthiers employing this technique. It works for me and provides another nice visual touch that's just a little different. Incidentally, the back of the neck is in more of a satin finish which will please those who don't like the feel of overly glossy necks.

World Of Ukes Pioneer T1 Tenor Ukulele neck


Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which is nicely and evenly dark. It's fitted with a generous 20 nickel silver frets in total with 14 to the body joint and they are all dressed very nicely. The edges are bound in black which hides the fret ends nicely. We have pearloid dot position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces, with the 12th marker being a double. Thankfully these are repeated on the side too.

World Of Ukes Pioneer T1 Tenor Ukulele fingerboard

Past the bone nut we have a nice shaped heastock - no three pointed crowns here! This is faced in glossed rosewood and the World Of Ukes marque is inlaid in pearloid. It looks classy. It's a simple shape but with enough 'design' about it to make it interesting.

World Of Ukes Pioneer T1 Tenor Ukulele headstock


Flipping it over and we have unbranded open geared tuners with small black buttons. They are not the most high end tuners in the world, but are not ultra cheap either and work well so again, no complaints. There are one or two tooling marks on the back of the neck if you go looking for them and some polish marks too, but again, I suppose this goes back to the small workshop source of the instrument. They don't bother me.

World Of Ukes Pioneer T1 Tenor Ukulele tuners


Completing the package are Worth Brown strings and this comes in at £279 in the tenor scale. Matt also offers it with a MiSi Pickup for a bit extra. I think that price is pretty decent really for a solid instrument of this build quality and looks.

So an excellent build quality throughout, and a nice light and balanced instrument too. It feels good in the hands on account of the slighter body depth and the glosses feel nice and not sticky. Setup is good too and I wouldn't find myself adjusting the nut or saddle on this one from where it is.

And the good news is that the body depth hasnt't affected the volume or projection either. Both are good and the ukulele sings proudly in a typically acacia voice. It's a jangly sound that is a signature of that wood that has mixtures of bright and bassier notes working together. In fact I would say this sounds more like the Pono acacia tenors than it does of the Kala acacia tenors which I find are a bit muddier or muted.

This really shines through when strummed and gives you a bit of that 'have I got more than four strings here?' feeling. It's about the harmonics of the strings combining to give a rich sound. Yet it's still not muddled and every string has it's place in the mix. Really enjoyable and full of character.

And fingerpicked it's no slouch either, with great sustain and a bell like sound that really makes you want to keep playing it. A really rather a nice instrument I would say.

These are also available in soprano and concert scales too, and Matt advises that they will be in a limited run like the Zedro and Klasiko were. So not only is this one highly recommended by Got A Ukulele, but if you are mulling over another instrument and want one with striking looks and a great tone, i'd be seriously thinking of heading over to the website to grab one.

A great ukulele!

http://worldofukes.co.uk

UKULELE PROS

Stunning looks and beautiful wood
Assymetric body works great
Excellent construction
Jangly rich sound with great sustain
Good price

UKULELE CONS

Some small tooling marks, if such things bother you
Would prefer consistency in purfling inlay materials

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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