GOT A UKULELE - Ukulele reviews and beginners tips

18 Feb 2017

Andy's Ukuleles Nano - REVIEW

It's always nice to write up a ukulele review of an instrument from a luthier as opposed to a factory. There is something just special about hand made things. And this one is quite different to, well, pretty much most other instruments you will have seen on Got A Ukulele. Be prepared to look VERY closely at the 'Nano' from Andy's Ukuleles. In fact, you might need to zoom the web page..

Andy's Ukuleles Nano


The 'Andy' in question here is a well known chap in the UK ukulele world, full name Andy Miles who hails from Berkshire in the UK. Ukulele building is something of a sideline for him that started with a project that I believe was simply a case of 'I'll see if I can do that'. That developed into salvaging necks from cheap or broken instruments to make cigar box type ukuleles, and more recently he's been making a name for himself in sub-soprano instruments. And we are not just talking sopranino scale ukuleles here, although Andy does make those too, but he hit on a wave of popularity with his Nano range of ukes. These are some of the smallest ukuleles I have ever seen. I will hesitate to call them the smallest in the world as there is bound to be someone who says 'ah, but I know one that is smaller'. But they are still REALLY small and the smallest I have reviewed in any case.

How small? Well, they are half the scale length of a soprano ukulele and this one on review measures 29cm from tip to tail. That is seriously small. And playable too. Oh, did I not mention that bit? Yes, Andy makes these accurately such that they are tuneable and playable as instruments. It's the devil's work I tell you...!

Now, on that point I make an early admission that this has been a really difficult review to write due to that scale. It would be wrong of me to call these a 'novelty' as I know the work that goes into them and they aren't just toys. I also know that some people have played staggering music on them as you will see from one of the videos below. Saying that, I also know that many people will look at them and think of them as nothing but a talking point ukulele. Something not to be taken seriously. So how do I cover that off in a review? As you will also see there are one or two other points that caused some difficulty, particularly in my scoring of this one. The point here being - this is not really comparable to any of the other instruments I have reviewed. You get the picture.  What on earth to compare it to?!

Andy's Ukuleles Nano size comparison


Anyway, enough ramblings. Let's take a closer look. The Nano is, as you can see, extremely tiny. Perhaps if I had not pictured it above in comparison to a regular soprano ukulele you wouldn't notice that at first glance. And that's because it's build and all the usual appointments are just like any other ukulele. We have a solid bodied instrument with a traditional double bout shape and it is all made from solid mahogany although Andy does make these in other woods to order too I should add. That body is otherwise unadorned in terms of bindings or soundhole rosettes, as I would imagine that would be incredibly fiddly to do! Finishing the body are some coats of Danish Oil and a final french polish finish on top. It gives the ukulele a very classy and traditional look that you'd expect from things like vintage Martins. It's not a glossy finish that some may prefer, and is very much hand-made in its look, but it's something I like.

Andy's Ukuleles Nano body


Bridge wise, this is an unusual through body style, made from mahogany and fitted with an ebony saddle. Through body stringing means that you have to feed the string through, fish it out of the sound hole and knot it before pulling it tight. It's fiddly enough on regular scale ukulele but I am informed that on the nano, you may well need tweezers... There must be a technical reason for having a bridge like this, probably about strength of the small bridge plate, but there is no getting away from the fact that it will be fiddly all the same. Extremely.

Body wise it's incredibly well put together and feels like a good luthier instrument should. Looking inside shows that Andy has done a tidy job with the construction too. The kerfing is unnotched which does not suprise me being this small, and due to the scale, the bracing is mininal. In fact I don't see back braces at all, but do spot one on the top just south of the soundhole. The top and back are single pieces and the sides are in two pieces. The outer finish also does a great job of showing off the grain and warm orange colour of this wood.

Andy's Ukuleles Nano back


Moving on, we have a single piece mahogany neck topped with walnut fingerboard. The fingerboard wood is really nicely finished with rolled edges and a nice curve to the end where it runs over the body. Fitted into this are 12 nickel silver frets to the body, all dressed nicely too. The edges are unbound, but there are no sharp bits at all. We have pearly inlaid fret markers at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces, and these are repeated on the side too. The other element of the neck that pleased me (and relieved me!) was that the nut width was wider than you'd expect it to me for the scale. I bang on about this subject so much, but as I point out - nut width is more important for people with big hands than bigger scales are. This is where the space matters. Regardless of whether you have big hands or not, this is a VERY small ukulele, so trust me, you ARE going to want as much space as you can get here. Anyway, this is 30mm across at the nut. When you consider the much bigger Ohana O'Nino is 33mm at the nut, that makes this, comparitively a wide one.

Andy's Ukuleles Nano fingerboard


Also worth mentioning here is the fact that in addition to those 12 playable frets we also have a 13th in the form of a 'zero fret' right next to the nut. This has the advantage of making the intonation at this end as accurate as it can be, with the nut being relegated purely to keeping the string spacing correct. It's a nice feature and you don't see them too often. I understand totally why he has employed it on the Nano.

Moving past the ebony nut we have a plain, but nicely shaped headstock. Most luthier ukuleles omit gaudy maker names on the headstock and this is no different. It still looks nice though and fits with the classy vibe. I believe Andy previously carved these into more generic Martin crown shapes, but I like the fact he's gone more simple and avoided that Martin cloning that so many other builders choose to go with. Tuning is provided by unbranded cream plastic friction pegs. They are pretty cheap, but certainly didn't expect to see branded pegs on something so small, as I doubt they even exist. Naturally, friction pegs are the only option on this one for the same size reason - regular ones just wouldn't fit! Thankfully they work just fine though.

Andy's Ukuleles Nano headstock


Completing the deal are fishing leader line fluorocarbon strings in 40, 50, 60 and 30 lb test. It's actually the same gauge Andy would put on his sopranos, and the brand is Berkeley Trilene. It looks (surprise surprise) like most other clear fluorocarbon strings!

Andy's Ukuleles Nano tuners


Price wise, that will depend on the exact spec you go for, but in this setup it would be around £150. That is very good value for any luthier build (bearing in mind the time it takes to make them is really no different than making larger scales). Equally you may be thinking that it's more than you want to spend if you do just consider it as an occasional ukulele or a talking point. Whatever you think, bear in mind that somebody's time is involved in that and it doesn't come from a Chinese factory...

Taking a closer look, as I say, this is extremely well built and I can see no flaws or issues whatsoever. You can tell this has been put together carefully by someone who cares about what they are doing. Naturally it's light (lighter than any other I have played), and whilst I normally talk about balance, this is just so small it's irrelevant. There's nothing to it!

Andy's Ukuleles Nano neck


But you want to know about the playing don't you, and this again is where I found the review to be a difficult one to write. You see, bearing in mind the small scale, it's never going to be loud, that would be simply impossible. It will also be hard to get a massive amount of sustain out of such a small scale, and it IS short, but actually much longer than I expected when I first picked it up. Incidentally, it's tuned at GCEA one octave above soprano, as is Andy's recommendation. Considering the scale is half the soprano, doubling the tuning up seems to make logical sense. But for that reason it's hard to review this as a more serious musical instrument against others on my reviews page and I hope that Andy won't be offended for me saying that. What I mean is, you would struggle to mix this in with, say, a tenor ukulele and get it to match. In fact the low volume means you'd probably struggle to perform with it unless you relied on a microphone to amplify it. Neither of those things are complaints, as it is what it is, but I just don't want people buying them and expeciting to mix in with their local ukulele jam as it is. (And yes, I also recognise that people are bound to message this post and say "I do just that!").

But the key thing to bear in mind here is that it is accurately made, and it DOES play, and plays in tune too. The intonation is actually pretty damn good and I actually like the tone too. Admittedly, at the higher frets, the notes are getting so high, perhaps only dogs would notice a note being off, but for regular cowboy chords it sounds like a ukulele should. I did check the notes up the neck though with a strobe tuner and they are actually pretty accurate all over. The personal issue I have, as borne out by my review video below, is that I have very big fingers, am nearly six foot four and am not actually that good a ukulele player... Whilst that wide nut certainly gives you more room than you would expect, I struggled to play it without having to adjust my hands regularly. That's just me though, and you will note that I have included another video below featuring Ben Rouse playing exactly the same scale Nano rather brilliantly. I think what this shows you is more about how bad my technique is rather than saying anything bad about the Nano itself. It CAN be played, and it works - you will likely have to work at it though! Nothing like a challenge though eh? Sadly, certain circles of the ukulele community are bought into the 'easy' myth and want things with minimal effort. I'll make it clear now - this is not a ukulele for those people...

All in all, it's a great little build, and yes, certainly a great talking point. I can't remember a preview photo of a ukulele that I threw on Facebook that received quite so much interest as this one. I also can't remember a ukulele coming in to Got A Ukulele towers for review that had so much interest from my nearest and dearest (and as you can imagine, they see a LOT of instruments). There really  is much to love about it. In fact when it arrived by post - Andy had packed it in a plastic sandwich box - that's how small it is! If you are a beginner, it might totally fox you in playability, but for a more seasoned player, I think it may present an interesting challenge for your practice routines.

As for that scoring, some may question some of the numbers I have given it, but I've tried to take into account both the 'talking point' element as well as the fact that it IS well made and nice looking. Looks and fit and finish are a given, they are both good. Sound wise, well I guess it's NOT a serious instrument and doesn't have high volume or massive sustain, something I'd normally pick a ukulele apart for. But that isn't a fault when you consider the scale, and it does what it does very well. I thought a fair score of 8 was appropriate so long as you are not expecting a super loud long sustaining big instrument.

Andy's Ukuleles Nano sound hole


I'm also aware that some people think that ukuleles priced at  even £50 is too much to spend and they might reel at a price of £150. But bear in mind though that this is not a factory instrument with huge branding and marketing money behind it. It's hand made by one guy with a lot of care and attention using his own time and efforts.... to order.  I'm afraid that costs as it rightly should. So price is relative really. Likewise, I considered 8 to be a fair high score on this front. And if you think it should be cheap just because it's small then a) you don't know how ukuleles are made and b) by that reasoning, small items of jewellery should be cheap..

All in all, I think it's a lot of fun and will rightly generate a lot of interest in ukulele circles. In fact I can see most people wanting one to keep on their desk or throw in the overnight bag for the fun of it. It therefore ends up with a score in the high 8's from me, which for Got A Ukulele puts it firmly in the 'recommended' category. In fact I would rather this one didn't have to go back. A serious instrument for all round performance? No, clearly not, but so what? It made me smile.

Contact Andy at his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/andysukuleles/

UKULELE PROS

Build
Looks
Great fingerboard finish and fret dressing
Just the sheer bonkers-ness of it
The fact it actually plays accurately

UKULELE CONS

Understandably low volume
Fiddly bridge stringing
Would likely need careful amplification to play alongside others
Price may be much for an occasional ukulele

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.5 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




BEN ROUSE PLAYS A NANO


15 Feb 2017

I'm Tired of the Ukulele Versus Guitar Debates - RANT

It has been a while since I went off on a ukulele rant, but this one has been bubbling away for some time now. It's the endless 'the ukulele is easier than the guitar' statement that people seem to use as some sort of badge of honour in ukulele circles. And some go further than just commenting on the 'easy' thing and actually step towards being openly hostile to the guitar.

guitar vs ukulele


You may recall my earlier rants on the media endlessly calling the ukulele 'easy'. You may have been bored by those rants in fact as I did keep going back to them... The thing is though, I felt it was really important to shout against this generalisation. The simple fact is this, the word 'easy' is extremely subjective and because of that I don't find it to be a helpful 'tag' whatsoever. It excludes too many people. When you have spoken to so many beginners (as I have) who found starting out anything BUT easy, and then hear them tell you that they felt useless and talentless because THEY found it difficult but the media told them it was easy... well, you start to see why I dislike the claim. For some people the ukulele may be 'easy' to them, but please bear in mind that for some others that just doesn't hold true.

And without a doubt, one of the most common lines of 'defence' I heard in response to my rants on the 'easy myth' were those along the lines of, 'yeah, but, the ukulele is certainly easier than the guitar'. And for that matter, you could add in 'yeah, but, the ukulele is certainly easier than the piano'.. Once again though, totally subjective, totally unhelpful and very much open to debate. In fact it's as big a generalisation as saying the ukulele is 'easy', full stop. And anyway, since when was 'ease' a valid plus point for any instrument anyway? Why are you judging something being 'better' because it is 'easy'? Surely the instrument you choose to play should be based on the one that moves you most musically, not the one that gives you a fast track pass?

On the face of it, you may perhaps think you see what they are getting at. In fact you may have a number of 'reasons' that spring to mind. For example, when starting out on a steel strung guitar, most people may find that the strings hurt their fingers more than on a nylon strung ukulele. Perhaps that is true, but to me that's just a side effect and has nothing to do with 'ease'. In fact, i've seen plenty of sore fingers on new ukulele players too, so again... completely subjective. It's also temporary.

Perhaps it's down to the size of the instruments - that many beginners find the larger guitar more cumbersome to hold and fret. Yet again though, totally subjective and depends on your size as well as the size of the instrument. And of course, a very common beginners issue with the ukulele is the fact it's too small... so the same issue from the other end of the telescope. Some will find one thing diffiuclt, some will find the opposite.

Is the claim down to the fact that there are more strings on a guitar? Well, that naturally makes certain pieces of music more complicated in some, but equally, some are just as easy if not easier than on ukulele. In fact the shorter scale and fewer notes on a ukulele actually mean you have to work harder to adapt music. And are you really telling me that an E major chord on a guitar is harder for a beginner to get their head around than and E major on the ukulele? Bear in mind, that whilst a guitar has a couple of extra strings, the majority of players have only five fingers and that doesn't change with either instrument. When you take away the thumb that sits behind the neck, whether playing guitar or ukulele, the majority of chord forms are going to use three fretting fingers. Exactly the same on both. And the 'easier' angle can't be purely down to the number of strings anyway can it? I mean, are you honestly saying that a violin is easy? I don't think anyone would agree with you on that!

Yes, I suppose the guitar has more notes on the neck to play with. A piano has lots of notes too, and I just as regularly see people suggessting that learning to play the piano is one of the hardest instruments to play. But really? To master, perhaps, but to start to play? I actually don't think so. When you consider that part of the real problem here is that ukulele players assume they have 'learned' their instruent when they have only mastered 5 chords, I actually think the concept of playing five chords on a ukulele is HARDER than playing five on a piano. Think about it. Playing a chord on a piano requires only one hand to play it (not two - there is no strumming to deal with), and it doesn't hurt the fingertips either. In fact the only skill action you require to play a chord on a piano is the ability for your brain to press a combination of 'buttons' together in close proximity. Hey! they piano is easy!! The example may sound extreme, but actually it really isn't. Like so many instrument comparisons, when you break them down to the core elements you find things that are both easy and hard on most of them. The problem comes when you  pick and choose the easy ones and ignore the difficult bits to justify your argument that the ukulele is the 'easiest' of all. Or even that you think the 'easier than' argument is a particularly helpful one in the first place.

Maybe intimidation comes into play. Most of us these days are exposed to a massive number of guitars in music and perhaps new players approach it with trepidation - a fear of much to live up to. That may be true, but that again says nothing of the learning process, only of the mindset BEFORE you start learning. A common point I also see raised is along the lines of 'I know people who tried on guitar and struggled, but were good on ukulele'. But that is merely an anecdote, not evidence that fits the whole ukulele playing population.  That was simply the case for THAT person, and once again it doesn't apply to everyone.  Sure enough, the comments may come in saying 'yeah, but it's easier for kids in a classroom'. Cheaper, perhaps. Smaller, definitely (so you can fit more in a class). Easier? Dunno - there are plenty of kids learning guitar to a high level at very young ages. Are they geniuses? And anyway, using kids in a classroom as a defence to the whole population is, yes, another generalisation..

Looing at this another way, surely the guitar would be a minority instrument if it was just SO difficult. As it is you will struggle to put music radio or TV on an NOT find a guitar in a band. How many ukuleles do you see? People sure got over that intense difficulty with guitar huh? How on earth have they done that (repeatedly) for decades in towns across the globe and in such great numbers... it must be magic.

Just like the generalisation of the ukulele being 'easy', I equally don't like the endless comparison between it and other instruments as a justification for people playing it. In fact I don't much care for one upmanship between different instruments for any reason. They are all just tools to make music and, you know, each to their own.  It's not helpful and it certainly doesn't, to my mind, put ukulele players in a very good light. In fact I think it clearly puts them in the spotlight as being a bit too evangelical about things. And with that statement I think we are getting to a couple of cores of the problem.

First up, we have an assumption, no, in fact an 'assumed right' that the ukulele has to be easy. This is something I've touched on before and I am seeing it more and more. Only a quick browse around the mass of resources on the internet will show you a real swing towards the 'easy' the 'learn in five minutes', the 'I want it NOW' kind of teaching. Those learning are to blame of course, and maybe this is deep rooted in the way society is these days. Everybody wanting things instantly, NOW, with the minimum of effort. The difference between guitar players of the pre-internet age (who didn't have a world wide web to turn to in order to get chords for their favourite song - they had to work them out themselves - yeah, imagine that!), and today's players who want, nay EXPECT every single performance to come with chords or tabs ready for them, pre-packaged and at the click of a mouse. They want others to do the work for them, and the concept of working it out themselves is completely lost. I WANT easy, it MUST be easy and I will kick back against anything that STOPS it being easy...  It's all wrapped up in the same 'but it's all about fun' tag the community has given the instrument. REALITY CHECK - music is NOT necessarily easy, and music can be fun as well as being difficult. You have to work at it to be rewarded, and no particular instrument is going to fast track that for you. Nor should it. Wanting everything to be easy is just a descent to mediocrity in music.

The second angle I think is one of ukulele tribalism. Only last week I saw yet another meme along the lines of 'guitars are bad'. In fact this one talked about 'guitars only being fit for firewood'. It was supposed to be a 'joke', but I actually find it rather sickly. Yes, ukulele players will say that they too have to put up with other instrument players sneering at them, but honestly, do you think the best form of retalliation is to do exactly the same thing back? Don't you think that actually shaking off the easy myth and showing these other musicians exactly what the ukulele is capable of may actually do more for the cause than simply perpetuating the division? But no, sadly, it continues. And because of that of course, it also becomes 'cool' or 'on message' to say that ukuleles are easier or, indeed, 'better' than those pesky guitars.  REALITY CHECK 2 - I play both. I like both. I think both have their merits. I don't think one is easier than the other and irrespective, that's not why I play both either.

Ultimately, the joy from any musical instrument comes from the music that you make on it. 'Ease' is completely subjective and not necessarily the mark of something being better.  Ease is actually an indicator of something you don't have to work as hard at and I am certainly not sure that is 'better' either. I realise this post is wide open for a flood of comments disputing it. Telling me, 'but I knew someone who'.. but it wont change my mind. I just don't like such comparisons between instruments. And dare I say it, if you are finding ANY instrument 'easy', then maybe you are not trying hard enough?

(If you liked this rant, found it resonated in any way, you might like my other shout outs for common sense on my ukulele rants page!)

11 Feb 2017

Ibanez UKS 10 Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

A first on the Got A Ukulele reviews page for this brand, and it's a brand that will be well known to guitar makers - the Ibanez UKS 10 Soprano.



Ibanez UKS 10 Ukulele


Regular readers of this site will know that I am not usually a big fan of guitar makers ukuleles. That is to say the ukuleles that are made by very well known guitar brands and tend to come across as afterthoughts, or bandwagon jumping. The Epiphone Les Paul ukulele is a prime example. As a guitar brand, I adore them and own several, but their ukulele offering really should never have seen the light of day. I've played several Fender brand ukuleles that fall in the same category. Ibanez themselves are probably best known for electric guitars on the rock end of the scale, and they are admired in those circles. I don't consider them to be as well loved in making acoustic instruments so do we have another bandwagon jumper here?

The UKS 10 is the entry level ukulele from Ibanez, but at an RRP about £70 - £75, it's far from the cheapest ukulele on the block. First confusions come with the product description that on some sites has this as all mahogany laminate, and on others as all sapele laminate. Even more confusing is one site that lists the name as a mahogany ukulele but then the sub specs list it as sapele. Sapele is often used as a cheaper substitute for mahogany, but it ISN'T mahogany. Oh well, whatever it is, perhaps it doesn't matter as it's only the outer veneer that indicates that wood as the rest of is laminated. Mahogany laminate, sapele laminate, either way it looks like wood, is orangey brown and generally pretty plain looking but classy enough.

Ibanez UKS 10 Ukulele body


It's a standard double bout shaped soprano in the standard soprano scale, with a slightly rounded base to the body. The laminate body is finished in an open pore satin and is otherwise undecorated. That is to say there is no body binding to the edges, and no sound hole rosette. You know, I don't mind that so much, as there is one thing I really don't like it's over done decoration on a cheap ukulele. A look at the edge of the sound hole shows that this laminate is extremely thin and that really is a good sign. Laminate, by it's very nature can be thin, and thin means resonance and volume. Usually cheap laminate ukes tend to be made like tanks out of thick plywood, but this one is pleasing. It actually reminds me of the sort of thinner laminate you will see on a Baton Rouge or something like the Kala KA-S. Trust me, these are good comparisons, not bad.

The back and sides on this one appear to be made from two pieces, whereas the top seems to be a single piece of laminate. The back incidentally is completely flat.

Ibanez UKS 10 Ukulele back


Bridge wise we have a slotted style bridge for easy string changes, with a plate made from rosewood and nicely shaped. It's always nice to see something different from the bog standard in this area, and this shaping is very reminiscent of Taylor guitars bridges. Set in the bridge is a compensated saddle that appears to be made from NuBone composite or similar. The bridge plate also has a couple of plugged holes which indicate that it is screwed in place. That is not unusual at this price, and in fact is not actually unusual at much higher prices, contrary to popular belief.

Ibanez UKS 10 Ukulele bridge


A look inside shows a tidy build, with no glue drips and notched kerfing. The braces sadly seem to be on the heavy side which is a shame considering that it uses thin laminate for the build. Lighter braces would make it even more resonant.

On the whole though, no huge complaints with the body, which, although plain is put together well and has no build or finish issues.

Up to the neck this is made of mahogany and also finished in satin. It's constructed from three pieces with a joint at the heel and a nicely hidden joint at the headstock. Profile wise it's quite a chunky C shape, but the width is standard narrow Chinese at about 34mm.

Topping the neck is a rosewood fingeboard which is in good condition and evenly dark all over.  We have pearloid inlaid position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces with the 12th being a double spot. Thankfully these are repeated on the side. And yes, I did say 15th space and yes, this is a soprano. This one is really generous with the frets with 17 in total and 12 to the body joint. It's really nice to see that on a soprano rather than the usual measly 12.  They are nickel silver, but sadly the fret ends are sharp and need much better dressing. They are also unhidden as the fingerboard edges are not bound so you see the fret ends showing on the edges. Worse still the edges are stained, but not quite enough so you see a variable attempt to hide them. Either hide them or don't I say. The halfway house looks cheap.

Ibanez UKS 10 Ukulele neck


Beyond the NuBone nut we have an interestingly shaped headstock, complete with the Ibanez logo. Sadly this is an extremely cheap looking gold silk screen affair and just looks nasty.

Ibanez UKS 10 Ukulele headstock


Tuning is provided by unbranded open gears in chrome. At least the buttons are small, but they still look too big on a soprano. They work reasonably well though and are decorated if that matters to you. Pretty generic though.

Ibanez UKS 10 Ukulele tuners


Completing the deal is a thin gig bag with the Ibanez logo. Sadly this is one of those that is so thin it would only serve to protect the instrument from dust and very minor scratches. When they are this thin, I tend to ignore that they are even included. As you know I also don't tend to mark ukuleles down on string choices on the basis that most players will change them anyway. That only applies though when the supplied string choice is of a good standard in the first place and a change would really only serve to suit different tastes. Sadly this comes with those black nylon, GHS type strings that I thought we had seen the back of. I have been around ukuleles long enough to remember when most instruments came with these as stock, and hoped they had been phased out. I say that because they are simply horrible. Stretchy, slippy, dead sounding things. Trust me, you WILL want to change the strings on this one from the off. So that £75 ukulele now becomes an £80 plus ukulele.. Even the absolute cheapest Chinese ukuleles these days come with better string that this.

On the whole though, generally well made with one or two issues, but not massive problems. Certainly a far cry from the absolute cheapest on the market, but then perhaps it should be at this sort of price.

To hold, this one is light in the hands and nicely balanced too. A rap of the soundboard shows that it is indeed resonant, so that thin laminate is doing it's job. It feels lively. Out of the box setup is less impressive though with a saddle that clearly needs taking down but also a nut that is too high. That nut is bound to cause intonation issues at frets 1-3 and certainly needs work. Perhaps you will get that checked if you buy this from a ukulele specialist, but there's the rub. I am not actually seeing this model at any ukulele specialists. In fact I am only seeing it at the big box online stores like Amazon and Thomann. The simple fact here is that you WON'T get a setup when you buy one... Bear that in mind. If it comes like this, it will need more work.

Sound wise, it's impressively loud and punchy like good soprano should be. It's got a bark that I like. No complaints there and clearly that resonant body is doing its job.

But otherwise those strings just make it sound pretty poor. It's one dimensional, plinky, lacking in sustain and the intonation is woeful too. A telltale sign of these cheap strings is a really dull thudding C string, and we certainly have that here. I have absolutely no doubt that this would sound much better with decent quality strings fitted and a nut setup, but like I say, take a careful note of that price. As it comes though, it sounds like a loud version of the the very cheapest ukulele examples out there.  So it has the punch and volume that many are lacking, but the tone is a let down. Like my review of the Les Paul I will get people commenting on this saying 'yeah, but if you change the strings it will be brilliant'. Perhaps it will, but I always review instruments on Got A Ukulele as stock for obvious reasons. And to repeat, a string change will add to the price which I think is already too expensive.

Ibanez UKS 10 Ukulele sound hole


Don't get me wrong, there is much to like here, and I really thought I would dislike this one more than I did. The build is generally good and the thin resonant laminate is great to see. But for me the price and QC is all wrong. Bear in mind that for £15 less than the list price for this you can get a Baton Rouge V1 or a Kala KA-15S and neither of these will need a string change from the off as they come with Aquila brand. Adding in a string change on this one and the price difference from the obvious competition is even bigger. Why would you?

It's certainly not the worst example of a guitar makers ukulele I have come across, but once again my quest for a decent one continues. Close but no cigar.

http://www.ibanez.com






UKULELE PROS

Light thin build
Resonance
Generous fret number
Volume

UKULELE CONS

Terrible strings
Sharp fret edges
Uncompetitive price point

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7 out of 10
Sound - 6 out of 10
Value for money - 7 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



10 Feb 2017

The Essential Ukulele Accessories

Just a short Ukulele Beginners Tips video I was compelled to make following a discussion I saw online recently.

ukulele accesories


In that discussion, somebody (a new ukulele player) was asking what accessories they should buy to go with it. I was staggered by the rather unhelpful responses, including odd ideas and several items that really just are not needed when starting out. I was also staggered at the lack of mention of the basics.

So, here you go... enjoy


Now - please bear in mind that these are the ABSOLUTE BASICS I recommend. If you like buying gear, you will find my fuller list of ukulele accessories here - some of your suggestions may be on the longer list - but this video was about BASICS.

4 Feb 2017

Ohana BK-70 Baritone Ukulele - REVIEW

Always good to redress the balance a little in favour of baritone ukuleles on the Got A Ukulele reviews page. So it's nice to be looking at a brand for which i've never seen one of their baritones up close before. The Ohana BK-70.

Ohana BK-70 Baritone ukulele


This instrument is a standard shaped ukulele from the renowned brand Ohana, incidentally not to be confused with their BK-70RB of a few years ago which has a composite rounded back. This one is traditional in it's construction throughout. So we have a standard double bout shape in the baritone scale made from a mix of solid and laminate woods.

Ohana BK-70 Baritone ukulele body


Making up the ukulele top are two pieces of solid spruce with nice straight grain and no flaws in the wood whatsoever. I always think that is particularly important with spruce as being such a pale wood, flaws and knots would stick out like a beacon on the instrument. None of that here. And that pale spruce compliments a real contrast in the back and sides which are made from a warm coloured laminate rosewood. I think that's a mix that works really well in the looks department, and the laminates in the two piece back and sides are certainly pretty. Lots of warm orange with brown stripes at play here and the back shows an open grain and pore structure helped by the fact that the whole body is finished in satin. Incidentally the body depth seems fairly standard to me for a baritone and the back is very slightly (and I say 'very') arched.

Ohana BK-70 Baritone ukulele back


It's a very classy look, very traditional but with enough about it to avoid being plain. And that is assisted by edge binding in cream on where the top and back meets the sides, with extra black / white / black striping on the top edge. We also have inlaid abalone purfling around the sound hole. The whole thing is reminiscent of a very classy acoustic guitar and I really rather like it for that.

Ohana BK-70 Baritone ukulele sound hole


Bridge wise we have a standard looking rosewood bridge plate in a tie bar design holding what appears to be an uncompensated bone saddle. No complaints here.

Ohana BK-70 Baritone ukulele bridge


Before we move on, a quick look inside shows a tidy build. The bracing looks a little over done and we have notched kerfing with no mess or glue drops at all. Interestingly the makers label in this one is a little different to other Ohanas I have seen, so perhaps they are changing them. One of those minor details that some people like to know about...

They don't specify the neck wood, but it looks like mahogany to me and also finished in satin. It's a standard profile and in three pieces with well hidden joints at the heel and one at the headstock. The colouration is a bit variable on it though I must say.  Nut width (which is bone by the way) is about 38mm so about standard too.

Ohana BK-70 Baritone ukulele neck heel


Topping the neck is a rosewood fingerboard which I must say on this review model looks extremely dry and icky. It's fitted with 18 nickel silver frets with 14 to the body. Not only do I think that is a bit low for something the scale of a baritone, i'm confused by the Ohana product description. Their own website lists it as being a 21 fret ukulele, but their product picture clearly shows 18.. Oh well. We have pearloid fret space markers facing out at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and thankfully these are repeated on the side. The fret ends are nicely dressed, but the edges aren't bound. They are kind of hidden but the ends themselves have been stained black, so whilst you don't see silver notches, you do see black ones. They really shouldn't allow a fingerboard to go out looking that dry though...

Ohana BK-70 Baritone ukulele fingerboard


Up to the headstock and we have a real delight I think. A slotted headstock with rear facing geared tuners that I think compliments the classy look of the body. It's faced in rosewood giving some contrast to the neck, and employs a different brand logo to what you will normally see on an Ohana.  This is more of a calligraphic letter 'O' in inlaid wood. I think it looks great and would be happy to see them use this on more of their instruments as a matter of course.

Ohana BK-70 Baritone ukulele headstock


The tuners are open gears, and despite being unbranded they hold ok. I like the look and size of the cream plastic buttons in particular.  Saying that, one of them is a bit 'grindy' in operation which shows they are not the highest quality. The metal work is chrome and they are four separate tuners. Maybe it's just me, but I prefer the rear facing gears on slotted head ukuleles to be in the form of fixed pairs. Minor gripe..

Ohana BK-70 Baritone ukulele tuners


Completing the deal are strings with a low D that is un-wound. That alone will please quite a few people. Ohana say the strings are Aquila but I was not aware Aquila made a clear un-wound low D string. In fact, all the strings look like clear Fluorocarbon and not Aquila, so I am not sure what has changed there. Answers on a postcard please.. The bag you see in the photos is not included, but is the recommended bag for this baritone specified by Ohana. It's called the UB-31C and is rather funky looking. Price wise, I always get a bit confused with Ohana as their website RRP's are usually much higher than you can actually buy them at Ohana dealers. The RRP on this one is $329, yet I saw this listed on a couple of reputable dealer sites for $250... make of that what you will.

So a very classy looking ukulele. A couple of minor issues, but I do like the look of it a lot. In the hands it feels solid and well made, and isn't overly heavy in the hands. What it is though is very slightly off balance and is a touch body heavy. It's not hugely out, but such things annoy me. One wonders if the simple addition of slightly more substantial tuners would even this out a little. The setup on this one too was just right, the nut in particular being well cut meaning there are no intonation issues at all.

It's not the loudest baritone ukulele I have ever played, but perfectly passable. It has a nice tone to it actually. Bassy as you would expect, but with some nice sustain on the higher notes when you need them with which you can easily get some noticeable vibrato when fingerpicking.  I guess the tone and volume may be more strident with a couple of wound string fitted, but you know - horses for courses.

Strummed it gives a satisfying vibration into the chest, and all round it's a very nice ukulele to play. It seems easy on the fingers and fast on the neck, both things I really like. That sustain though is what it's all about for me. It still has a bit of that boom on strumming that I think is natural with baritone ukuleles, but it's not too bad really. But picked it's a lot of fun to play and I struggled to put this one down. So as you can tell, I have mixed feelings here. Still, it's not a bad ukulele by any stretch.

All in all a classy looking instrument with a nice sound. I can't help thinking though that the pricing is letting it down. When you consider that something like the Clearwater baritone ukulele I reviewed also has a solid spruce top with binding and inlays and only really differs in the composite back, I kind of think that even at $250 this is a litttle on the high side these days. That will translate to £250 in the UK and bear in mind the Clearwater is about £100... I mean you can get a standard Pono baritone that is made from all solid woods for £350. I'd say they should either drop the price, or consider having that back and sides made from solid wood also.

So not a bad one, but I suspect you might want to shop around for these.

http://www.ohana-music.com/index.php

UKULELE PROS

Classy looks
Great construction
Good sustain
Pretty headstock

UKULELE CONS

Rather mean on the number of frets
Very dry fingerboard
Tuners could be better quality
Could do with a touch more volume
Too expensive for what it is.

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 7.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW


29 Jan 2017

Baton Rouge V2 T8 Sun 8 String Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

A welcome return to the Got A Ukulele Reviews page for the Baton Rouge brand, this time with their 8 string 'sun series' tenor ukulele. The V2 T8.

Baton Rouge V2T8 Sun 8 String Tenor ukulele body


Time flies, but it was all the way back in 2014 when I looked at one of their Sun Series ukuleles for the first time in the form of the standard concert ukulele. It was given (rightly in my opinion) a great score for being extremely well built, sounding great, but being really cheap too. Following that uke review and ever since I have been asked regularly on how to source them as people were hearing good things about them all over. It's been a while, but was delighted to hear from Stones Music, their UK distributor, asking me to have a look at their new (ish) 8 string tenor version. Somewhat strangely, this is also the first 8 string to feature on Got A Ukulele. I guess there are not that many about..

So this one sits in the same ukulele family as their V2C, but is in tenor scale and comes with 8 strings in usual 8 string configuration. The 'V2' range sits somewhat halfway with Baton Rouge, above the V1 and their absolute entry level ukes, but not quite as fully furnished as their V4 series. It's a standard tenor scaled and double bout shaped instrument with a body made throughout from mahogany laminate. Like the concert model, this laminate is thin and seems to be good quality, so another tick in the box for a 'laminate that isn't just cheap plywood'. It's a very resonant sound box in fact.  The wood laminates on this are a much darker colour to those on the concert which I rather like and once again there is no edge binding. The top is made from a couple of outer veneers on the laminate body, nicely book matched, and we also have two side pieces.  It feels like a good solid tenor ukulele and the body depth is generous which will help with projection.

It's hard to tell if the back is two pieces as the wood grain is not bookmatched on an angle like the top. No matter though, what really struck me about the back is that it is slightly arched (nothing unusual with that these days), but it actually has a shaped 'press' raised into it that follows the edge of the body. What I mean by that is that it isn't a simple curve top to bottom and side to side. It gives it a nice subtle touch that is a bit different. It actually reminds me of the curve on the backs of brass resonators. Hard to photograph I am afraid as it's subtle - but it is there!

Baton Rouge V2T8 Sun 8 String Tenor ukulele back


So as I say, no edge binding, and in fact no other decoration at all. However we do have the trademark sun etching around the sound hole that features on all 'sun' models. I like it, and as with the concert ukulele,  I pointed out that this is neither 'over done' and deeply etched like the examples on Luna ukuleles, and nor is it there to bump the price up for no reason. It's subtle, and if anything with the darker body wood it actually stands out far less than on the concert. This may be down to this particular example, but I'd prefer it to be a little more noticeable. The whole body is finished in a satin coat that shows off the grain pores nicely and feels good to the touch. Its a handsome ukulele.

Baton Rouge V2T8 Sun 8 String Tenor ukulele rosette

We have a standard looking rosewood tie bar bridge with some white edging and this is fitted with an uncompensated NuBone saddle. Unremarkable, but certainly no complaints from me here.

Baton Rouge V2T8 Sun 8 String Tenor ukulele bridge


A look inside shows a tidy build with notched kerfing, and as per the concert version, the inside is spray painted black. I have still never seen another ukulele since the concert review that actually does that and I still don't understand why they do it. Oh well, it's doing no harm as a closer look with a torch shows it's a tidy build.

On to the neck and this is also made of mahogany, albeit slightly paler than the body woods. It's made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and a hidden one at the headstock. The heel actually feels a little on the chunky side for my liking, but otherwise the overall profile is nice enough. It's a C shaped profile up to a nut that is 38mm wide.  So nice and wide on the nut width, but do bear in mind there are an extra four strings to fit in there! For large hands like mine though, wider nuts are that bit more comfortable.

Topping the neck is a rosewood fingerboard which is dark and even in colour. Like the concert version we have no outward fret markers, but it looks less bare on account of the extra strings. Thankfully we have markers for the player on the side at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th spaces. The frets are nickel silver and all are dressed very nicely. We have 18 of them in total with 14 to the body joint and the edges of the fingerboard are bound black to hide the ends.  The fretboard edges themselves feel a little severe as they are not chamfered, but I really am nit-picking there trying to find something wrong with it! Honestly, it's the same as 99% of ukuleles out there!

Baton Rouge V2T8 Sun 8 String Tenor ukulele neck


We have a NuBone nut which seems cut well and also seems easily removeable if you wanted to change things up. I much prefer to see that rather than nuts that are drowning in excess finish that will ruin the coating if you try to remove them. Why do they do that?

Up to the headstock this is shaped like other Baton Rouge ukuleles (for that, read: Not Martin shaped!) and I like it. it's faced in the same darker mahogany as the body and has the logo delicately etched / pyrographed into the top with a simple 'BR'. Obviously, being an 8 string it's more elongated than a standard headstock and is also a slotted head design which I am always a sucker for. The slots are nicely carved, showing off the difference between the darker mahogany facing and the lighter neck wood on the elongated parts where the strings dip to the pegs. It looks great!

Baton Rouge V2T8 Sun 8 String Tenor ukulele headstock

Tuning is provided by unbranded, but very pretty side mounted, reverse facing open geared tuners.  They are decorated, coloured with a gilt finish and have small white pearloid buttons. Altogether they look really classy and thankfully they turn well too with the right amount of resistance. I say thankfully as you have twice as much tuning to do with an 8 string!!

Baton Rouge V2T8 Sun 8 String Tenor ukulele tuners


Talking of those strings, they are Aquila brand and as I say, in a standard 8 string tuning configuration. That is to say we have a high and low octave G string and C string and the E and A strings are in unison pairs. If you are new to 8 string ukuleles, you may be forgiven for thinking that you get 8 individual notes. That's not the case and the strings are paired up rather like a mandolin into 4 distinct courses that are desinged to be played in pairs. The low G on this one is metal wound which I never really like, but with an 8 string and the lack of space to fit them in I assume a fat unwound G string just wouldn't go in the space. Of course, there are other ways of tuning the pairs, but I am happy with this method.

And for all of that you are looking at an RRP of about £139, although I have seen them a touch cheaper on reputable ukulele dealers sites like Southern Ukulele Store. That's a heck of a price for any good ukulele in my book, but for an 8 string that is one of the most keenly priced you will find. So does that make it cheap and cheerful or cheap and nasty?

First up the build quality, as I allude to above, is really very good. It's pleased me in the way that the concert model did, and it's clearly well put together with no issues I can see whatsoever. Solidly made but not overly done and no flaws in either the finish or construction anywhere. It's also fairly light despite all that extra hardware on the headstock and the deep body, and also nicely balanced to hold.

The setup on this review sample was absolutely spot on. I really, really mean that. Nice low saddle height, and absolutely perfect nut height with no buzzing whatsoever. I should point out that with four extra strings and the tendency for the ear to spot intonation issues on doubled unison strings in particular, having an accurate setup is even more important than with a four string. I'll re-phrase that, accurate setup is ALWAYS important on any ukulele, but you would tend to notice an anomaly far more on an 8 string. Thankfully there are no issues here at all, at least not to my ears.

And that setup means it's really nice to play and easy on the fingers. Some people struggle with 8 string ukuleles as they find they are harder to fret or that the fingers are more easily tangled on the strumming side of things. There is no tangling here, and whilst there will (naturally) be a different feel on the fretting fingers, it's really not very noticeable. In fact, aside from the sound, you would think you were playing a regular ukulele.

And as for the sound itself, well, for a £130 ukulele it surprised and pleased me in the same way that the concert version did. In fact it has you checking the price tag to make sure you read it correctly. It has great volume and projection whether you strum or pick it, and you actually don't need masses of effort to get it to project either. I usually say at this point with cheaper laminates that the tone is 'not as complex as higher end instruments' and of course it isn't here. However, this one is giving you more range because of the extra strings and has something about it that is decent in it's own right.

And because of that this really shimmers and sings. It's rich and bright when you want it to be but equally a change in your picking angle and attack can easily bring out the bass more if you need it (or both together). It's incredibly pleasing and for what is virtually no money for an 8 string ukulele. Enormously satisfying to strum with in fact. For me, the tone from these Baton Rouge ukuleles has a quality to it that far exceeds most of the competiton at the price point and in fact compares well to instruments that cost significantly more. Like the concert, this is one of those rare ukuleles I come across that makes me look at one or two others in my collection and wonder why I spent so much on some of them..

Now, naturally, as their are far fewer 8 string ukuleles around, it's impossible for me to have had anything like the same experience with them over the years. As such, I can't compare this to hundreds of other examples as there simply aren't hundreds of others about. I have played quite a range of them though, and can honestly say that this one stands up extremely well to certain 8 stringers from well known brands that cost considerably more. Sure it's no Kamaka, but.... well you will know what I am referring to. In fact I once had some time with one other 8 string that cost more than twice the price of this and found I really didn't like the sound and the intonation was woeful. This is far from that.

Baton Rouge V2T8 Sun 8 String Tenor ukulele


I thoroughly enjoyed testing this model and I would very happily own, play and enjoy this one. Heck, throw a pickup in it and take it on stage! Another recommendation from me for Baton Rouge and another laminate ukulele that shows how it should and can be done. If you are wanting a decent laminate and don't have a huge budget, seriously, don't throw your money at some others just because they are all over Amazon or have an obvious brand name.. you should be checking these out.

Available at good ukulele specialists now.

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

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



UKULELE PROS

Price
Great construction and finish
Great setup
Rich tone broad tone
Lovely headstock and tuners

UKULELE CONS

Very few at this price..
More contrast to the rosette?
Add in outward fret markers?


UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.9 out of 10



UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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