GOT A UKULELE - Ukulele reviews and beginners tips

22 Jul 2017

Hamano H-100 Soprano - REVIEW

Occasionally the ukulele world can give me a much needed whack around the head. Writing so much about the ukulele as I do (and for so long), it's sometimes easy to find yourself in a bubble of thinking you've seen everything, when you clearly haven't. It's a horrible realisation, but something I think is borne out of being so immersed. Anyway, as I say, that happened to me recently as I freely admit I knew nothing of this particular instrument - the Hamano H-100 Soprano.

Hamano H-100 Ukulele

It came to my attention in a discussion on a Facebook ukulele group I set up in which people were discussing ukuleles they were particularly fond of. There was mention of the H-100 and I realised I'd never heard of it, or even knew very much of the brand. What I did know is that Hamano make those brightly coloured cheap as chips sopranos, so can assume I passed them by for that reason and looked no further. Only in the discussion it was clear that people held the H-100 in high regard. I'd missed something.

A bit of Googling, showed me they were really not widely available, and that there was also very little written about them. As such, I really don't know all that much about them myself for this review, or even whether they are now discontinued and what is for sale is just old stock being run down. That's a great start to a review huh? "And here we have a ukulele I don't know much about or even if you will be able to get hold of one..."

Anyway, there were enough positive comments here and there and the fact that I see that Elderly used to stock these, as did the late great Music Guy Mike helped spark my interest. I grabbed one.

Hamano are a Chinese brand and created the H-100 to deliver a ukulele that was based on dimensions and build features of classic soprano ukuleles from the 1920's. And as such it has a look of a Martin Style 0 about it or a Ditson from Boston (made for them by Martin). It's a double bout soprano but with a very narrow width side to side across the upper and lower bouts. Very old fashioned, but a shape I really like.

Hamano H-100 Ukulele body

It's made from all solid mahogany (what else?) and we have a two piece top and flat two piece back, with two piece sides.  The grains are also clear and in line with the body direction and also bookmatched. It's also quite a narrow body depth top to back as well, leaving you with a very diminutive soprano.

Decoration wise we have a bit of black top edge binding and a wooden inlaid soundhole rosette. The top edge binding also has a very thin inlay edge of pale wood which is quite subtle, but nice. The mahogany has been stained darker than mahogany is giving it a vintage feel and this is then covered in a satin coat. For some reason all the shop pictures show this as looking almost black in colour, which as you can see, it really isn't. Dark, but not black at all. The satin though is really rather horrible and I think may not have been buffed back enough in the production. It means that it has a grippy, claggy feel, and is almost cloudy to look at. It's proved hard to photograph, but trust me - the feel is sticky and not nice.  In fact if you rub it hard you find some of the finish kind of balls up into bits on your thumb. Ugh. Now that 'may' actually be a relatively easy fix as rubbing the whole thing back with some micro mesh pads to give it 'something' of a shine. I may try that and report back. For now though, like all instruments on here, this gets reviewed 'as is' for now.

Hamano H-100 Ukulele finish

Bridge wise we have a rosewood slotted style bridge which is carved really neatly and fitted with a dead straight bone saddle. The saddle though has annoying 90 degree edges on the ends which are sharp and dig into my hand. Oh what a difference a tiny touch of sanding would make!

Inside is a bit of a mixed bag. It's neat and tidy with a serial number stamped on the neck block and has very delicate bracing. The kerfing is not notched though looks ok (ish) and there is no glue seepage. What I really don't like is the gaudy makers label which is massively colourful and seems totally out of sync with the vintage vibe of the instrument. Putting a palm tree on the label also seems odd for an instrument designed to mimic a ukulele from the places like Boston, Chicago or Pennsylvania too.  I'd whip that out I think.. It looks completley out of place and spoils it.

Up to the neck, and this is made of one piece of mahogany. Somewhat surprising that for a Chinese instrument. It's also a very typically Martin profile. Nice and shallow and a generous 36mm wide at the nut. Sadly it has the same 'grippy' satin coat which doesn't feel too nice, although it is slightly better than on the body.


Hamano H-100 Ukulele neck

Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which has some fairly rough tooling marks in places, but still is very nicely shaped at the end. It's also nice and thin so we dont have a think chunk of wood over the soundboard. It's fitted with a standard 12 nickel silver skinny frets, all of which are dressed very well with no edges I can feel.  Like a Martin we have tiny position marker dots at the 5th, 7th and 9th (9th??) with no side dots.  I'm really rather liking the neck apart from the poor satin finish on the back. The fingerboard looks really traditional. (STOP PRESS - I have since been reliably informed by luthier Andy Miles that the 9th fret marker WAS traditional on early Martin ukuleles. So it seems faithful, but I remain of the view that I seen no point to one at 9!)

Hamano H-100 Ukulele fingerboard

We have a bone nut then a crown shaped headstock. This has the Hamano logo screen printed on and I think it looks quite tacky and also out of place. It's better news when you flip it over to find Gotoh standard friction pegs with black buttons. Not the best pegs in the world, but certainly not the worst, and are the sort of pegs that will come on an Ohana SK-35 or a Kiwaya KS5. Not bad.

Hamano H-100 Ukulele headstock

I am not certain what the strings are, but I suspect straight up black nylon. I really don't like them, but they are not the worst nylons in the world.  And as for the price, well as I say, I suspect these are old stock now, so the prices are quite varied. They seem to have an RRP of £329, but I wouldn't trust that. In many stores they are available for £275, but I actually picked this up for just under £200.

Hamano H-100 Ukulele tuners

In the hands, when you ignore the sticky finish, it's really rather nice. Small, comfortable and extremely light to hold.  A look at the sound hole edge shows you why - it's extremely thin, and for that reason it's also drum like in resonance. Balance is spot on and set up wise this is one of the best out of the box setups I have seen for quite some time. The nut slots are absolutely perfect in depth and action at the 12th is a hair under 2.25mm. Nothing to change here for me.

I mentioned that there were favourable comments about these online, but one common negative was that they were not very loud. Actually I am not really seeing (or hearing!) that. I think this has very good projection and volume. Sure I think it could be improved with better strings (and I will be swapping the strings on this to Fluorocarbon), but it's really not all that bad at all and very, erm, 'vintage' sounding.  Seriously. You'd think this was a much older instrument than it really is. We've also got some good sustain and with a powerful strum a gloriously typical soprano bark. It even has some of that Martin jangle when strummed, caused by harmonic chiming of strings in unison. Nice. Picked it's a hoot to play too, particularly for more old-timey numbers as it really sings.

I really do believe that fitting this with strings like Fremont blacklines, Martins or heck, ANY fluorocarbon strings would give it even more punch than it has. But that quality of tone is clearly there regardless of strings. I'll stick my neck out here and say I think it's on a par with if not actually a bit richer than the Martin S1 soprano.

Hamano H-100 Ukulele back

You can tell I am liking this one can't you? I really do. I really wish that finish was better though as it really is truly awful.  It may be that this is a bad example, but bear in mind that I did see a number of reports of people mentioning the overly thick sticky finish too. As I say, I'd change the strings too. But that's really it for the major gripes. But the core stuff on this - the light build, the tone, the voice, the volume are all top notch. Really.  This is a great little ukulele. If you can find one for the sort of money I paid, then I'd grab one right away! Less so at £329 RRP though!

(Right, now pass me the sanding pads and a packet of new strings...) (and now - see the Stop Press after the video below with sound samples!)



UKULELE PROS

Vintage shape and styling
Thin light tonewoods
Great fingerboard and tidy frets
Good tuners
Great voice, sustain and volume
Great setup

UKULELE CONS

Awful sticky finish
No side dots
Horrible headstock logo and interior label
I'd change the strings.

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.4 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



STOP PRESS!

After putting this review up I spent an afternoon with some Micro Mesh brand buffing pads from 1500 grit to 12,000 grit. Thanks to Rob Collins for the guidance but they really really worked. It's not a professional mirror finish (I didn't want a mirror and I am not a professional) but all stickyness and milky looking clag has gone. Feels lovely to hold now. Plus as an added bonus I removed that awful Hamano logo on the headstock!

Also changed strings to Martin Fluorocarbon stings and now it TRULY sings. Great ukulele! Pictures follow!

Below the pictures are two audio recordings - first is the Hamano with Martin strings recorded with an iRig microphone. Second is a Martin S1 (almost twice the price) same strings, same microphone. You tell me?

Hamano ukulele polished back


Hamano ukulele polished back top

Hamano ukulele polished headstock

Hamano ukulele polished with micro mesh




15 Jul 2017

VTAB MV-TS2401 Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

As you can probably imagine, I get an awful lot of new ukulele brands sent over for review. It's become quite dizzying how many new models are coming out of China, and this is another new brand for me, a concert scale ukulele from VTAB.

VTAB Concert Ukulele

Now, it must also be said, that whilst 'on the whole' the quality levels coming from China have improved, I still find they can be somewhat hit and miss. In fact, when I am advised there is one coming over, I tend to assume I will be underwhelmed rather than massively impressed. I know that's pre-judgemental, but there you are. They are not as dreadful as they once were but they rarely wow me. But I was actually pleasantly surprised opening the packaging on this one as you will see.

This MV-TS2401 (seriously guys, work on that model name, please!...) is in concert scale, and in a traditional double bout shape. And it's really quite striking to look at.  It's what they call their 24 series, which refers to the fact that the whole thing is 24 inches long. I'm noticing this naming convention more and more from China and personally find it both irrelevant and a little confusing. I don't actually care how long the overall instrument is, but I DO want to know what scale it is from the traditional scale categories. So a measurement of 15" from saddle to nut tells me this is a concert ukulele. So why not put the word 'concert' in the name? It's what most people understand.

We have an all solid Engleman spruce top, made from two pieces, with a really nice warm colour to it and supremely straight grain. It really is very nice, and also appears to be pretty thin too. This sits on top of a body and sides made from laminate mahogany again with a pleasant warm colour and grain. The back is slightly arched and made from two pieces, and we have two piece sides. It's all put together accurately too and feels secure and solid.

VTAB Concert Ukulele body

We have some edge decoration in the form of maple bindings to the top and back, with some black / white / black detailing on the top edge. Note that is actual maple, not cheap plastic and that is always nice to see. We also have an inlaid abalone rosette around the sound hole. Both elements of this decoration are nicely done.

VTAB Concert Ukulele top

Bridge wise we have a pin style bridge (something that I always like), made from rosewood and fitted with a compensated bone saddle. It's a nice design, with touches of Taylor guitars in it, but I'm not as keen on the overly glossy finish on the wood. I much prefer bridges to look natural. Still, it's neat and tidy and applied well. People often get confused by pin bridges, but they really couldn't be simpler. Putting on new strings is as simple as tying a large enough knot in one end, removing the pin, putting the string in to wedge the knot inside the hole and putting the pin back in to secure it. Those pins incidentally seem to be plastic.

Talking of gloss, the whole instrument is finished in a gloss that is actually pretty wonderful. One or two very minor bubbles and a tiny bit of pooling near the end of  the fingerboard, but on the whole a really high gloss. In fact, I will stick my head out here and say that apart from the significantly more expensive aNueNue models, this is one of the nicest gloss finishes I have ever seen on an instrument from China. It's up there with some of the great glosses on some upper end Chinese Kalas and the like. Seriously. I hope this isn't a one off as it really is very good.

Inside and things are also pretty neat, delicate bracing, notched kerfing and no mess. The makers logo, like several I have seen from China is a wooden sheet with the logo applied in pyrography.

Up to the neck, this is made of mahogany, from three pieces and also finished in gloss. It's a fairly generic profile and is kind of a medium 35mm at the nut.

VTAB Concert Ukulele neck

Topping it is a rosewood fingerboard that looks a little dry, but at least is nice and dark and even in colour. We have 18 nickel silver frets, with 14 to the body and they are dressed very well. This is helped by more maple edge binding on the edges which gives it a very classy look. Nice appointments all round on this one I think.

We have plastic pearly position dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces, with the 12th being a double spot. These are repeated on the side too. Nice.

Past the bone nut and we have a really REALLY attractive headstock. It's faced in rosewood and glossed too and looks  very high end to me.  Oh, and of course, it's a slotted headstock which always make me weak at the knees! I suppose my only gripe is the VTAB logo which is in plastic abalone, seems a bit lost and too dark against the dark facing. Would like it to stand out a bit more. There is a bit of polish unbuffed out of the slots, but that is easily tidied up with a cloth.

VTAB Concert Ukulele headtock

Tuning is provided by unbranded,  chrome rear facing pegs with vintage shaped buttons. Very nice. Very similar to those on the Kala ASAC slot head tenors.

VTAB Concert Ukulele tuners


Finishing off the package is a branded gig bag, some picks, a clip on tuner and a spare set of strings to accompany the Aquila strings it is fitted with. And here's the thing. This is going to have an RRP of $115 and an expected retail of $95. You read that right.  That's not a typo.  There's a bit of shipping when getting one from them, but only taking the price to $107, so still a very very good price. And that price really took me by surprise because on closer inspection, this is a ukulele that is very well put together, brilliantly finished and extremely attractive to look at. I was honestly expecting that price to be much higher. It looks like a much higher end instrument. Yes, I know it's only solid in the top, but still...

It's nice in the hands, not overly heavy either and also balanced. This thing just keeps ticking the right boxes. Surely there has to be a catch?

VTAB Concert Ukulele back

Well, sorry to disappoint you, but I'm struggling to find a major one. Setup is within acceptable limits OK, so it's not the highest end tone in the world, but it has the things I want. We have decent volume, we have decent sustain, we have some harmonic jangle, it SOUNDS like a concert should! About the only thing I would complain about is that the geared tuners feel a touch grindy, but that could easily be solved with a drop of sewing machine oil.

The individual notes are clear in the mix and as I say, the projection is really surprising. Intonation is good on acount of the accurate build and setup and you get a pleasing vibration into the chest on strumming. Dead and unresponsive this is NOT. I've had a lot of fun playing this. Strummed and picked equally too, this has surprised me. Picked it projects just as well and this isn't going to see you lost in the group.

It's a fun instrument to play with a nice voice that is just very pleasing. And I am simply foxed as to how they have done it for the money. Really.

I suppose the only thing I am concerned about is how to get hold of them. At the time of writing this I think you can only buy from them direct from China (links below) which may put some people off. I really do hope we see some dealers outside of China start to pick these up though. Recommended!


http://www.vtabmusic.com/product/621.html

https://meivie.com/collections/2017-vtab-ukuleles/products/vtab-24-solid-spruce-mahogany-ukulele-with-tuner-and-logo-carrying-case


UKULELE PROS

Great classy looks
Very good construction
Excellent gloss finish
Nice wooden bindings
Wonderful headstock

UKULELE CONS

How to buy one?
Logo lost on headstock
Somewhat grindy tuners


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

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



8 Jul 2017

DJ Morgan Mini Pineapple Ukulele - REVIEW

It was back in 2015 when I first looked at an instrument from the UK luthier DJ Morgan (Dave Morgan) when I was given chance to look at one of his soprano ukes. That one was very nice so I'm delighted to be able to feature him again with a look at the interesting 'mini pineapple' ukuleles he has been is building recently.

DJM Mini Pineapple Ukulele


As I say, Dave is UK based, building out of Dudley in the midlands and had really impressed me with this soprano of his. In a glance at his website shows a wide range of beautiful instruments he makes both on spec and (I think) on commission.  They are also played by some pretty esteemed players too on account of their excellent build and tone. Clearly a luthier to get to know! Yet these mini pineapples are something rather different for him.

The idea for them came about when Dave made a few of these for sale on his stall at the 2015 Ukulele Festival of Great Britain in Cheltenham. They did very well, so he made some for recent festivals and has now decided to make more batches that will be available through his site. But what are they exactly?

Well if you follow the world of ukuleles, you can't have avoided the recent surge in the very small models. That is to say, ukuleles smaller than sopranos. We have sopraninos from the main brands like Kala and Ohana, we have iUkes, Pixies from John Daniel and Nano's from Andy Miles. So it must have seemed clear to Dave that there would be interest in a smaller version of one of his instruments too. But this one isn't just small - it's a bit different in a couple of other ways too.

First up, apart from the iUke, I haven't seen another mini pineapple / boat paddle shaped ukulele (please correct me if I am wrong),  and I've certainly never seen any mini ukulele that use the sound hole design this one has. We'll come on to more about that in a moment, but it did leave Dave with some head scratching I think.

So it's a very attractive boat paddle / pineapple shape that I love, and I suspect that may be no bad thing on a smaller instrument. You see the smaller the body, the less resonance there is, yet pineapples are renowned to have a 'fuller' tone to similarly scaled double bout instruments. Basically, removing that 'waist' from the shape seems to fill the sound out. Incidentally, when I say these models of his are 'smaller', this is not the smallest instrument out there, but it is smaller than a regular soprano. The scale length of this is actually at 11 and ⅝ inches which is about 2 inches shorter than his standard soprano ukuleles These are made from all solid tone woods, and Dave is going to be making them in a variety of wood combinations that are all of the same price. This particular one is made from Meranti, but at the end of this review is a picture of a model made from Acacia.

DJM Mini Pineapple Ukulele body


First up it's extremely well put together with exact and accurate joints at every turn and no issues I can spot. It really does feel very high quality. And there is just something about that soundhole design that sets it off. Firstly we have an off centre soundhole on the top, but to give more sound to the player, Dave has added a side sound port on the top shoulder, something I know that many people love. Dave explains that being a small instrument it was probably never going to have a loud voice as an ensemble instrument, so he went with the side port to ensure that the sound to the player was as clear as it can be. A nice idea, but I will touch on the sound a little later.

The top and back are single pieces, but the sides on this are in a pair.

DJM Mini Pineapple Ukulele back


And the challenge that then created was how to attach the body to the neck. You see Dave uses a bolt on neck design that with a standard ukulele would involve putting the appropriate wrench in through the sound hole to tighten it. It's a common build technique used by many luthiers, but as we have an off centre sound hole that wasn't physically possible. The answer he hit upon was to drill a hole in the base and go through that way. And what do you do with a hole in a ukulele? Well, it's perfect to house an old style push in strap pin. Neat! The pin is turned from wood and I think looks great. Thoughtfully Dave has made it removeable (you can literally pull it out) for those people who get apoplectic about strap buttons on ukuleles. If you like it (and I do) a dab of titebond on it will ensure that it is going nowhere.

DJM Mini Pineapple Ukulele end pin


Bridge wise we have a mahogany slotted style fitted with a compensated corian nut. It's extremely nicely carved with slots that differ in thickness depending on the string they are taking. Nice.

One of the other nice things about side sound ports, at least to a ukulele reviewer like me is that they make it really easy to look inside the body. On some instruments that has sadly shown off a multitude of sins in terms of messy construction, but I am pleased to say that on this one it shows off some excellent luthiery. Really neat and tidy, delicate braces, notched kerfing and absolutely no mess. We have the makers logo off to the centre also so you can see it through the sound hole. There is a single cross back brace and because there is no central sound hole, there is no cross brace on the top, rather a single fan brace running down the middle, top to bottom.

There is no other decoration and the body is finished in a matt cellulose lacquer coating which feels nice on the fingers.

Up to the neck and this is made of a single piece of Sapele machined by Dave to shape. It's got a really nice profile to it and with a similar finish is extremely smooth under the hands. The fingerboard on this is topped with Wenge which is just stunning I think. The stripe really gives it a nice look that you don't often see on fingerboards. Fitted to this are 12 nickel silver frets down to the body joint, all nicely dressed and finished. We have inlaid dot markers on the face at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces and thankfully these are repeated on the side. Incidentally, that nut is about 35 mm across.

DJM Mini Pineapple Ukulele fingerboard


Beyond the Corian nut we have a plain shaped headstock decorated with what I think is now the DJ Morgan design of inlaid wooden fan strips. I really like it. I liked the style on the soprano I reviewed, but thought it was a little too stark in black. These are subtle and give it a certain something.

DJM Mini Pineapple Ukulele headstock


Tuning wise, these are unbranded friction pegs, but I can attest that they work brilliantly with no stickiness and hold well without masses of tension. It would have been a total disaster to put big ears on a small little ukulele like this one.

DJM Mini Pineapple Ukulele tuners


We have a set of fluorocarbon strings which are Seaguar Blue Label fishing lines, and Dave has used the same gauge he fits to sorpanos as this is designed to be tuned to regular C tuning. And as for the price, well that's a pretty terrific £185 in whatever wood spec he makes them in. All will be the same, and that is an extremely good deal I think for an all solid wood luthier built instrument. Amazing in fact.

In the hands it's a delight, and extremely light too. Naturally, it's balanced as well and really easy and fun to hold. There is no grappling with this to get yourself comfortable.  Set up is spot on, as you would expect from a luthier.

And as for the sound. Well, as I said above, Dave had  explained that the side port was to compensate for it not being a loud instrument. Well... ok, it's not got the punch of some of the loudest sopranos out there I have played, but this is no slouch. I really want to make that clear. This is NOT an overly quiet instrument at all. In fact, this will stand up perfectly well to many, many other sopranos I have played. It also punches much bigger than most other sopraninos I have played.

And it's a really pleasnt tone too, as you would expect from a luthier build. Tons of character and pretty great sustain. Naturally, being a small instrument the staccato sound of a strum is a real joy to listen to (like good sopranos), but I also enjoyed noodling with this one fingerpicked too. Of course, setup was spot on with this and that means intonation was remarkably good up the neck.

Now I'm not getting ahead of myself here. Sub soprano ukuleles are not truly serious I suppose. You are not getting into one of these as a performance instrument (although one or two people have made a great fist at that on big stages in cetain numbers), they are more (dare I say it) novelty or talking poonts. But then perhaps the appeal for travel, or just for when you want something smaller is there too. As such it would be wrong to compare this to bigger ukuleles, so perhaps my scoring system is flawed. But for what it is, I think it's utterly delightful.

DJM Mini Pineapple Ukulele pair


So I have been totally and utterly taken with these whilst I have had them on loan. I own one other sub soprano ukulele in the form of the John Daniel Pixie, but nothing else that has yet come along has really made me say, YES I need another. I fear that may have just happened here.

Absolutely superb.

http://djmorganukuleles.co.uk


UKULELE PROS

Sublime build
Great tone, sustain, setup, everything really!
Wonderful fingerboard
Great price

UKULELE CONS

Absolutely nothing I can think of

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.3 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




A New Ukulele Discussion Group

If you are anything like me, you have kind of fallen out of love with the massive number of ukulele discussion groups on Facebook. So in a last ditch attempt to create a friendly space I thought it was time I started my own....

got a ukulele facebook


You see, every ukulele group I have contributed to eventually just descends into the same endless spam, the same endless videos of people playing, the same endless event promotions and the same endless trolling, nastiness and name calling. The internet huh??

So I've Got A Ukulele has been formed - https://www.facebook.com/groups/Ivegotaukulele/ That we want to be a friendly site, where it's ONLY about discussion on the instruments themselves. Why not join up? Read the first post and join in!

See you there hopefully.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/Ivegotaukulele/

1 Jul 2017

Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano - REVIEW

Soprano time again on Got A Ukulele and another brand that takes it's first steps on the reviews page in the form of the Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano.

Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano Ukulele


To be honest with you, I have known about Diamond Head ukuleles for quite some time, but thought they were only available in the USA. So, when I was surprised to see them for sale in the UK, I grabbed one to take a look. Clearly, this is very much a beginner / entry level soprano uke, made in China, so it will come as no surprise that this review finds me drawing many comparisons to last weeks woeful Ashton ukulele review - it's the same 'sort' of price, same sort of construction, will it have the same fatal issues that let the Ashton down so badly?

In this ukulele we've got a standard double bout shaped soprano instrument finished in a paint coating with a satin finish. The colour of this one is clearly dull brown (I call it 'creosote brown' as it is about as inspiring as the fence in my garden..) but these are also available in a range of gaudy colours. It's got one or two blotches in it which don't seem to be flaws as such, rather changes in colour of the paint itself, but I must say - on the whole it's not that badly applied. Of course, everything is relative, and this is still a cheap coating, but I have seen much worse.

Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano Ukulele body


Under that coating is a body they specify as being made from maple. Maple it may be, but it's still laminate, and a thick laminate at that. That's immediately noticeable by the weight and a glance at the edge of the soundhole. I could also get annoyed by the fact that there product descriptions say things like 'maple body' and not 'laminate maple body' (and it does annoy me), but that is now happening SO much with brands I'm tired of moaning about it. It's impossible to say if the top is a single sheet or two pieces due to the coating and ditto on the sides. I suspect that they are all single pieces. The back is dead flat too.

Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano Ukulele back


We have as similar bridge on this one as on the Ashton insofar as it is impossible to say what wood it is as it's painted black. It's a tie bar style bridge screwed in place, but actually, apart from it being painted, it's much tidier than the Ashton. Fitted into this is a plastic uncompensated saddle.

Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano Ukulele bridge


We have no other decoration on this one safe for a soundhole rosette transfer in gold. At least they applied it in the right place!

Inside things look pretty dull and messy. We do have kerfing linings this time, but they are un-notched - just strips of bent wood. There are also a ton of shavings /mess knocking about plus a label with a suitably Hawaiian theme (yawn...). And like so many other cheap laminate instruments there is no bracing on this one.

The neck is specified as being maple, but you wouldn't know because it's covered in the same paint which also makes it impossible for me to see how many pieces it's made from. Topping this is what they call an 'ebonized hardwood' fingerboard. That must be one of the worst forms of marketing speak I have ever  heard. The hardwood bit may be correct, but in this case ebonized means 'painted black'...  Ebonized indeed...   "I see a red door and I want to ebonize it black..."   (** note - Ebonizing wood IS actually a chemical reaction to turn it black - this is painted..)

Unlike the Ashton though, it's actually painted relatively neatly and at first glance you wouldn't know it was paint. Still, I'd prefer an actual dark wood myself, and you can get them at this price. The neck is a generic 34mm wide at the nut and the profile quite slight.

Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano Ukulele fingerboard


It's fitted with a fairly standard 12 nickel silver frets, and they are actually all dressed very well. No sharp edges here at all and the fret ends are hidden by black paint too. Some of the upper frets though appear a bit corroded. We have plastic inlaid position markers facing out at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces and these are repeated with dots on the side.

Past the plastic nut which is glued in place roughly (glue seeping out of the side) and does suffer from being sharp on the edges, we have a generic three pointed crown headstock. Screen printed on this is the Diamond Head logo in gold which I think is pretty awful. It reminds me of lettering from a cheap 1950's cartoon and just looks cheap.

Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano Ukulele headstock


Fitted to the headstock are generic, open geared tuners with chrome hardware and overly large white plastic buttons. Exactly what I expected for the price, but at least they have no play or wobble in them, don't grind and work. Yet that is academic, as being a soprano, I would prefer friction pegs anyway - these look like massive ears. Why oh why oh why etc...

Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano Ukulele tuners


Finishing off we have a gig bag that makes the one that came with the Ashton look high quality. It's kind of like the material used to make the flysheet of cheap tents and utterly, utterly pointless. You also get a set of generic clear nylon strings which are horrible and the sort I had hoped we had seen the back of in the ukulele world. The slippery, flabby sort that just seem to have no life in them whatsoever.  For this you will also pay a little more than the Ashton at about £33. That's putting it more 'head to head' with a Makala Dolphin (which you can pick up for only a little bit more) and more than the excellent Octopus Soprano which you can grab for about £25. So this is still a cheap uke, but at this end of the scale every little helps.

In the hands it feels much nicer than the Ashton as it doesn't have a finish that feels like it will rub off on your palms and leave you stained. There's a weird positive.. As I say above, the neck is comfortable too on account of there being no sharp edges.  It's actually pleasant. It is a heavy ukulele though for its size, although not as heavy as the Ashton. It's well balanced too. Good things I suppose.

Set up on this...well, it needs a setup. Badly. The action at the nut and saddle are both far too high, and whilst you are setting it up I would take the time to swap those strings too as they are frankly dreadful. Now I could say that for the Ashton too, but the point here is twofold. I always review ukuleles with stock strings, and you need to then consider IF the instrument is worth upgrading the strings. In other words - would the cost of new strings purely to improve it be worth it?  With the Ashton there was no point I thought as the build was flawed in too many ways.

And because of these strings I'm finding it hard to be too positive about this one. Naturally they give it a very one dimensional plinky plonky 'dead' sound. No matter how I play it, it's just not enjoyable in tone. Perhaps (and it's a very minor 'perhaps' that is clutching at every straw in the box), fingerpicking is a little better, but really it's all just a bit flat. One thing that IS obvious about this though is that the body does have a fair amount of resonance to it. Just rapping it with the knuckles tells me that and that leads me to believe that there may be more in this ukulele with the right treatment and setup. In fact you can sense it even with these strings as it has much more sustain than something like the Ashton. Perhaps there is something in it.

The intonation is 'reasonably' good too, though would be improved further by attending to the nut and saddle action. I've seen worse out of the box on some much more expensive instruments though. So it's leaving me not totally depressed and wanting to smash it, so that's something I suppose. As a very well known ukulele festival Director friend of mine would say, "It does not totally suck".

Yet let's put things back into perspective - despite me trying to be pleased this is not a great ukulele, and in the scheme of things and you can do much better for the price. I have absolutely no doubt that a setup and string change would turn this into a different intstrument altogether.  But I don't want that to come across as a recommendation or validation.  My issue with it lies mainly with that price. For a little more money you can get the extremely reputable Dolphin, or for less the excellent Octopus which already comes with much better strings and a much nicer neck and fingerboard. Adding a pack of Aquila strings into your basket on this one makes the bill come in at £40 plus and then I'm just thinking 'why would you?'

Close, but no cigar I am afraid.





UKULELE PROS

Generally reasonably put together for the price
Well dressed fret ends
Reasonably resonant body
Tuners that dont grind

UKULELE CONS

Untidy build inside
Painted bridge and fingerboard
TERRIBLE strings let the whole thing down
Some cruddy upper frets
Big eared tuners
Utterly pointless bag

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 7 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6 out of 10
Sound - 5 out of 10
Value for money - 6 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 6 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



24 Jun 2017

Ashton UKE100 Soprano - REVIEW

It's a first for this brand on Got A Ukulele, and possibly the first with Australian heritage too. This is the Ashton UKE100 Soprano uke.

Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele

I say Australian, and that is because Ashton are an Australian company, but this particular ukulele is made for them in China. Intriguingly though, the box and makers label both say proudly that it is 'designed in Australia'. I am not entirely sure what that means as from a first glance at it I can't see any particular design cues and it all looks rather generic, but there you go. As a company, Ashton make quite a range of musical instruments and gear, including drums, a range of guitars and a number of ukuleles. It must be said that the UKE 100 is their entry level ukulele, but as a brand with a number of stringed instrument products in their line up, perhaps they know what they are doing. We shall see.

The UKE100 is a soprano scaled instrument, with a traditional double bout shape and is made from all laminate woods. Ashton bill it as 'Linden' wood (also known as Lime), but make no mistake - this is cheap plywood. Very cheap in fact, and also very, very thick. Without pre-judging the rest of this review too early, it's possibly one of the poorest ukulele bodies I have ever come across. The UKE100 is also available in a range of colours, this one in a very dull brown, but if you want something a little less sombre you will find this in lots of primary colours too. I wouldn't get too excited by the alternatives though as like the plywood itself the finish on this is extremely cheap and poor. It kind of feels like thin poster paint has been used and it marks if you rub it with your nail. It also has numerous flaws and bubbles over most of the body and in places it is flaking off. It really is appalling. Strangely, stock photos seem to suggest that their other colours appear to be glossy, whilst this one is definitely matte. Not sure why that is.

Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele body

Equally concerning are the mounds of what look like cement filler that are layered up around where the fingerboard comes over the body. They are slathered with paint but it looks like window putty underneath. The mind boggles at the sort of gap that is (badly) trying to hide.

Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele neck joint

We have no other decoration save for a rudimentary sound hole rosette in the form of a transfer. Naturally, that is applied off centre. For the bridge we have a tie bar style firmly screwed in place. Ashton specs tell me it's rosewood, but it appears to be painted black. The thin straight saddle appears to be plastic. The whole thing is extremely rough with some wood splinters showing on the edges.  In the groove that houses the screws holding it in place there is some strange sort of mold or crust growing in there. Yuck. I would have also thought that a slotted bridge would be a better choice on what is obviously a beginner instrument, but there you are.

Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele bridge

Looking inside and it's pretty messy. Dollops of glue around the edges, wood shavings and splinters. Surprisingly (or not perhaps), we have no bracing at all and no edge linings. I guess when your plywood is this thick bracing is just not necessary and when you have so much glue holding the thing together, things like edge kerfings are just unnecessary fripperies.... (These are not things to be proud of by the way!)

Up to the neck, and I have no idea what it is made from or from how many pieces because it's covered in the same thick paint. I think there is a joint at the heel but I can't be sure.  Topping this is a what Ashton call a 'layerered rosewood' fingerboard. I am not sure what they mean by 'layered' though. Do they mean laminate? If so, why on earth would you need a laminate fingerboard? Anyway, it matters not because what you are looking at here is not the actual wood finish as the whole thing has been painted matte black. I mean, come on.. if it IS rosewood under there, why paint it? Unless of course it's because it's rosewood of extremely questionable quality.. who knows? Amusingly in a nod to Martin ukulele styling we have some end shaping to the board. Silk purses and pigs ears spring to mind.


Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele fingerboard

Fitted into this are 12 frets which appear to be made of brass. They look horrible and the ends are dressed terribly. These are not just slightly sharp, but the protrude so much you could use the edge of the fingerboard as a saw. Imagine how that feels on your fingers...  It's odd because some of the fret crowns don't quite make it to the edge of the fingerboard, whilst they are still sharp - it's like the tops have been dressed back, but not the seating part of the fret that still sticks out.  Incidentally, looking at the frets more closely they appear to be set directly into the neck wood, so perhaps that reference layered rosewood really does mean that it's a very thin veneer. It's very odd. One thing I suppose it does have going for it is that the neck profile is not overly chunky, rather is traditonally shallow. Sadly the nut width is 34mm so very thin there too though. Oh, and we have no position markers either facing out or on the side. For a beginner ukulele that's a pretty poor show.

Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele headstock

Past the plastic nut and we actually have a relatively nicely shaped headstock. Fair play to Ashton for not simply going with a three pointed crown clone and choosing something a little more unique. Unfortunately it's totally let down by more poor finishing a cheesy looking screen printed Ashton logo and a set of some of the worst open geared tuners I have ever seen on a ukulele. The ones with plastic front collars, overly large plastic buttons and posts the wobble in their mountings. Terrible. Amusingly it also comes with a holographic label of Ashton authenticity on the back. As if that makes everything ok, and as if somebody would want to copy it..

Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele tuners


Completing the package is an extremely thin 'gig bag' of which I have seen thicker carrier bags, and an unnamed set of strings. They are clear and my guess is that they are basic nylon and certainly not fluorocarbon. You WILL want to change those out. And for that you will be looking at an RRP of £23 in the UK.


Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele back

Now, as you can probably tell there isn't actually much, if anything, about this ukulele that I have liked so far. But let's give it a chance and see how it plays. (Remember folks.. I do this so you don't have to...!)

First up, I was actually surprised by a first look at the setup. Whether this was more down to luck than judgement (I am going with luck), it's actually acceptably set up at both the nut and the saddle. Unfortunately that is rendered completely irrelevant by virtue of the fact that I think the bridge is screwed in the wrong place. That is to say it is, it seems screwed on an angle, and not intentionally either. The whole plate is on an angle, not just the saddle. That means that regardless of factors such as action height and break angles for the strings, that intonation is never going to be on point. That's actually a fatal build error as it wouldn't be cost effective to correct.

On to another positive, the UKE100 is also balanced well in the hands. Yet once again, that positive is completely nullified by the fact that it is really, REALLY heavy. It also feels pretty awful on the fingers too. Kind of tacky, kind of rough, kind of... I can't quite put my finger on it. In fact I really don't WANT to put my finger on it.... oh, do I have to?

Anyway, play it I must. And after days and days of tuning, re-tuning and re-tuning, those nylon strings eventually got to a point of holding.. Incidentally, talking of tuning. You know I said the tuners looked bad? Well they work pretty badly too. The usual issue of some grinding, some feeling loose and there being lots of play. Oh well, being gears, they won't slip I suppose.

And when it comes to tone and sound, well there isn't a great deal I can say really. Almost zero sustain and about the most 'plinky' dull sound I think i've heard from a ukulele. There's just nothing about it for me that is likeable. Yes, the intonation is slightly off, but actually that isn't the worst of it. It just has no life to the sound whatsoever. The C strings is worst, but really none of them come together to give me anything. It has 'some' volume, but it's really not great (and to be honest, I am not sure I would want it any louder..) And yes, before you say it, new strings would help, but really, when the rest of it is so rough - why would you? I will tell you what it sounds like. It sounds exactly like people who have a deep rooted hatred for the ukulele think all ukuleles sound like. That assumption of the ukulele sounding like rubber bands on a tissue box, of being childlike and non serious. It sounds EXACTLY like that. And that is pretty damning.

So there you have it, I think this is quite possibly one of the worst ukuleles I have ever reviewed on this site. And yet I can guarantee that now some people may be moved to comment such things as "of course it is, it's a cheap one after all, what did you expect", or worse still, as I say above, "yes but I could put better strings on it and knock it into shape" (begging the counter question, "but why would you though?"). I will also get the "I have one of these and it's actually OK - you must have got a bad one" (a comment I get whenever I review a ukulele badly) and maybe even the "There's lots of 5 star reviews on Amazon, you are clearly wrong". Perhaps you did and perhaps there is, but the fact that this one must have gotten through their quality control tells you exactly why I can't recommend them.

But I'm actually angry with it less because of how bad I think it is (it's bad, that much is clear, but it certainly isn't the ONLY bad ukulele out there), but it's because of how it serves to perpetuate the opinion that the ukulele is not an instrument to be taken seriously, that it's a toy, that setup and QC don't really matter. You see, it's out there under the name of what appears to be a reputable musical instrument brand not a random Chinese 'who are they?' brand. When you have a known instrument brand name you carry a certain amount of respect. People assume that you know what you are doing. And when they see a ukulele like this they may then assume "that's just the way they are"... "hey, it's an Ashton, it's even got a holographic sticker and everything!"  This isn't an instrument designed to be sold in discount stores as a 'toy' like the fabled Ready Ace was - this is being sold by a musical instrument brand as a serious thing - as part of their line up.

The brand may say, "yes but we are just meeting a demand / filling a gap and there are people out there that only want to spend this much", and that, of course, is both true and fair enough. But there's the thing - several other brands such as Octopus, Tiger and Makala have shown that you CAN do cheap pretty well. It IS possible. This one however is cheap done very, very badly. Very roughly and without much of care about the end result.

And what I find particularly sad is that Ashton have what appear to be some other nicer instruments in their range. Who knows, perhaps they actually do make some good stuff. If so, why have this in the line up at all? Why degrade your brand?  If they do make good things, I for one will now never be moved to try them because the fact they have the UKE100 in their lineup says to me that they don't actually give a damn. Yet, I give you this quote from direct the Ashton website..

 "We know how important a great sound is, which is why we put so much time and effort into the research and development of our products."

And they also state..

"Designed in Australia by a highly qualified team of experts, Ashton’s range of musical instruments and sound equipment are built to strict quality standards. All Ashton instruments, systems and accessories are the end result of countless hours of development, research and testing."

Sorry Ashton - none of those statements mean a single thing as long as you are selling instruments like this one. This blows your credibility.

Avoid!

http://www.ashtonmusic.com



UKULELE PROS

Nothing I can really find. It's very cheap I suppose..

UKULELE CONS

See above...

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 2.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 2 out of 10
Sound - 2 out of 10
Value for money - 3 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 2.4 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



17 Jun 2017

Noah Guitalele - REVIEW

It's been a while since I featured an instrument from the Noah brand, and I'm therefore delighted now to welcome them back to Got A Ukulele, this time with something quite different. The Noah Guitalele

Noah Guitalele Ukulele

First, some back story on Noah as a reminder before we get on to the instrument concept itself. Noah are are the ukuele wing of a company set up by Brit businessman Matt Cohen called Saigon Guitars. As a brand they work with a very small workshop in Vietnam (where Matt used to live and work) with the intention of providing very good value for money instruments that are NOT of the mass produced factory production line variety. Incidentally, Noah is the name of Matt's son. A nice concept and a nice story behind the name too!

So I had previously looked at a couple of their ukuleles and liked them a lot, but as I say, this one is quite different. In fact is it a ukulele? Is it a guitar? You know what? I never personally care too much about what things are called as some people do - it's a musical instrument! Life is too short! Though I suppose there is still quite a bit of confusion between the various types of 'extra string' ukuleles out there. First of all you have the 'four course' extra string ukuleles such as five, six and eight string models. With those you are still playing essentially four main notes (four courses), only some of the strings are doubled up and played together. With a guitalele though you are getting two extra 'true' strings, meant to be played independently. With these you have six distinct courses, much like a guitar.

It's also fair to say that the four course extra string ukuleles are far more prevalent, and this Guitalele is the first I have ever reviewed on the site and only the second I have ever played.  And being a Guitalele, some of the more common comparisons between instruments don't really come into play as it kind of 'is what it is'.

It's a double bout shaped instrument about the same size in the body as many baritone ukuleles. In fact it's the same sort of scale length as a baritone at 19 inches too. The body is made from all solid Monkeypod wood, which is always a pleasure to look at.  Monkeypod, also known as the Raintree is an exotic timber from tropical regions with a distinctive curly, stripy and wavy grain pattern that works to great effect on musical instruments.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele body

This one has a two piece top and back, both of which have been nicely bookmatched to show off that wavy curl in the wood. It's really attractive I think and a good analogy I once read about Monkeypod is that it is reminiscent of clouds in milky coffee! I think it's absolutely beautiful. This review model is finished all in satin, but Matt also offers it in a gloss coat if you prefer that. It's pretty well applied all over, but there are one or two bubbles here and there if such things annoy you.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele back

The back on this is very slightly arched and the sides are also made from two pieces with an inlaid strip of pale wood where they join at the base. That inlay matches the pale wood edge binding that decorates the top and back and really sets off the wood nicely, and not too gaudily.  Around the soundhole though we have abalone, where I would prefer to have seen something plainer to match the edge binding myself. I'm never a fan of mixed decoration types.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele sound hole


The bridge is a tie bar style, made from rosewood and fitted with a non compensated saddle which appears to be made from bone. Like other Noah instruments, they tend to apply a gloss coat to the bridge mounts that I don't particularly like.

A look inside shows a tidy build on the whole. A few spots of glue and some wood shavings but I suppose that's to be expected from a workshop instrument.

Up to the neck and this is described by Noah as being made from maple. It's certainly very dark maple if it is, and I would have put money on it being mahogany, but there you go! It's made with a stacked heel joint (capped in more pale wood trim) and possibly a very well hidden joint at the headstock. Naturally, being a Guitalele the comparisons with normal ukuleles end here as this is naturally a much wider neck on account of the extra strings. It's also very much a classical guitar profiled neck I find, and whilst it's wide, it is nice and shallow in depth.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele neck heel

Topping it is a roswewood fingerboard which is nice and dark, but showing quite a few tooling marks from the builder. Again, this bothers some people and it would be amiss of me not to mention it. We have 20 nickel silver frets in total with 14 to the body joint. To be more accurate we have 19 and a half frets as that 20th one is cut in two by the curve around the sound hole and not really useable! They are all dressed very nicely and the edges are bound in darker wood hiding the ends. We have pearloid dot inlays at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces, with the 12th being a double spot. Thankfully these are repeated on the side too. And as I say, this is a wide neck, so at the nut this is measuring about 48mm. Despite sharing a lot of features with the guitar, I would also note that the neck is very much of the 'classical guitar' style as opposed to the folk guitar or electric guitar. That is to say its wide and very flat with no radius.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele fingerboard

Past the bone nut we have a slotted design headstock, which is always something I like to see.  It's faced in a darker wood and detailed quite nicely with some carving notches in the top that give the indication of petals of a flower on the top edge. The Noah logo is inlaid in pearl and sets it off nicely.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele headstock

Tuning is provided by rear facing, unbranded geared tuners with white pearly buttons. They are arranged three a side and also look extremely classy I think.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele tuners

Completing the deal is a padded gig bag and what look to be light gauge classical / Spanish guitar strings. And for that you will be looking at £299 in the UK, which I don't think is a bad price at all. In fact if this WAS a guitar, you'd be hard pressed to find one made from all solid wood for that kind of budget.

It's nice in the hands too. Not overly heavy, nicely balanced and nicely set up too. No complaints here. A very tactile instrument.

I said above that I had played only one guitalele before, and that was a Yamaha model. I didn't actually get on with it all that much as I found the sound a bit wishy washy and not doing it for me. Perhaps that's because I mainly play acoustic folk guitar and I was wanting more of that kind of sound, but then perhaps that's a flawed comparison - they are never going to sound like that.

From the off though the tone of this one has been really pleasing to me. Just richer, yet brighter than that Yamaha I had played. Incidentally, I have this tuned to ADGCEA - so essentially the same as ukulele standard tuning with two extra bass strings, but with the right strings you could also get this to standard guitar tuning (EADGBE). Of course, using those relative tunings means that if you are a ukulele player you will recognise the majority of guitar chord shapes as the finger positions on strings 1-4 will be exactly the same as for ukulele. Not a huge amount extra to learn then - just a couple more strings!

It's just got a really rich warm sustain to it that I have been really quite taken by. For me it's not an instrument to thrash / strum chords on (although I can see it working well with flamenco style), but it shines when played fingerpicked. A more contemplative instrument if you will that I very much enjoyed testing sat in my garden. Those two extra bass strings, naturally, are giving a more rounded overall tone to the sound that you just can't get from a four string ukulele. Volume isn't as loud as I would have expected, but it's no slouch. No complaints on the sustain though particularl from those wound strings.

No, it doesn't sound like a ukulele (it isn't a ukulele) and not it doesn't sound like a guitar (it isn't a guitar). It merely sounds like what it is, and it's rather nice for that!

Who does this suit? Well if you have a grounding in classical guitar this will be right up your street. If you are enjoying the ukulele you might very well enjoy this and use it as a first step towards dabbling with the guitar too. (And seriously, when I see some ukulele players get almost evangelical in their dislike for guitar... trust me, they need to broaden their horizons in my view..). Most of all though, I applaud it for offering music lovers another 'option' that they might not have considered. A nice option too that looks and sounds great.

Recommended.

http://www.noahukuleles.com

UKULELE PROS

Looks of that wood
Fair price
Classy tuners
Slotted headstock

UKULELE CONS

Some tooling marks on fingerboard
Some finish bubbles / flaws
Would prefer more consistency with decorative materials.

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8 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


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