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18 Aug 2017

Noah Mahogany Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

A welcome return to Noah Ukuleles on these pages, a brand I like for a variety of reasons. This time it's one of their soprano models in the Mahogany Soprano.

Noah Mahogany Soprano Ukulele

And yes, as you probably know, I really like sopranos, so this is a good one for them to send over to me! I think they get a bad deal and I really dont know why ( I blame the media claiming they are 'beginner models' or 'hard to play'. Both of those claims are completely wrong and indicative of someone who has NO idea about what a ukulelel is).. This one is actually very similar in specs to the Mahogany Concert Ukulele of theirs I reviewed back in 2014 and forms part of their wider mahogany series of instruments. By way of a quick recap, Noah are the ukulele wing of Saigon Guitars, a UK company run by Matt Cohen. They source their instruments from Vietnam, in fact from a small luthier workshop in Vietnam where Matt used to live, and that makes for a hand made feel at a very good price. If you like your small independent businesses, then Noah are worth taking a look at I think.

The Mahogany soprano is standard in it's soprano dimensions, double bout, body depth and the like and looks really classy in all aspects I think. The body is all solid mahogany on the two piece top, two piece sides and two piece slightly arched back and those woods look like good qualoity that have been put together well.

Noah Mahogany Soprano Ukulele body

For decoration we have some edge binding that looks like maple with some black and white purfling on both the top and back and we also have an abalone sound hole ring. The whole body is then finished in a satin coat which is on the shinier side not totally matte. I think the look of it is incredibly classy and interesting. Not ostentatious, but just enough decoration to make it stand apart from other mahogany sopranos.

Noah Mahogany Soprano Ukulele decoration

Bridge wise this is made of rosewood and is a tie bar style, and it's also nice and small. Like other Noah ukes the bridge is glossed and I don't like that as I prefer them to be bare wood. Ho hum. It makes absolutely no difference to the sound of course, and my gripe is purely one of personal opinion.  Fitted into this is a straight topped bone saddle.

Looking inside and it's very tidy, notched kerfing, small braces and a makers label that is signed and dated - something else giving you a feel of individuality about things.

Up to the neck, this is mahogany and seems to be in two pieces with the joint at the heel. I don't like the huge contrast in colours at this joint and prefer them to match up more to be honest. Still, the maple heel cap is a nice classy touch. Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which is in good condition, housing a generous 16 nickel silver frets with 12 to the body. The fingerboard is also shaped at the end, Martin style.

We have pearloid dots at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces, but sadly these are not repeated on the side and i'd urge Matt to consider this with his luthier. I mean, surely they can't increase the price to any great degree? The fret ends are not bound but they are very nicely dressed though and the fingerboard is comfortable. The nut width is also narrower than I would personally like at about 34mm, but that's fairly standard for far eastern sopranos I guess.

Noah Mahogany Soprano Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the bone nut we have an interesting, yet simple shaped Noah headstock with an inlaid Noah logo. I like these headstocks. Once again, not ostentatious.

Noah Mahogany Soprano Ukulele headstock

Sadly they have gone with generic sealed chrome geared tuners on these, and I know that is commonplace but I really really wish they offered friction pegs as an option. It is a soprano after all. Still, the tuners work just fine. They just wouldn't be my choice on a ukulele of this scale.

Noah Mahogany Soprano Ukulele tuners

Completing the package are Aquila brand strings and like all Noah ukes, a decent quality padded gig bag. And the price is pretty attractive too at £189. That's a good deal for this sort of build.

So far so good with only one or two gripes, but nothing life and death. The build quality is good all over too, and whilst you can tell this has come from a small workshop rather than a faceless factory line (small blemishes in some of the finish and some tooling marks) I actually think that makes them feel a bit more 'real' as it were. I am never a fan of perfect factory finishes that seem to have no character whatsoever.

It's also very light and very well balanced to hold, so no real complaints here either. But it is typically soprano in it's voice and that's what matters most!

Noah Mahogany Soprano Ukulele back

Strummed hard it has a good bright bark that you really want from a soprano. You will certainly not be lost playing this in your club and it sits right up there with other more expensive sopranos made in mahogany. It also has that signature jangle which is so nice on a soprano.   And those sound signtatures are not at the expense of the notes getting lost in the mix. Clarity is the order of the day here.

Fingerpicked and it's got a particularly clear and pleasant tone that is really sweet to listen to. Extremely.  No it's not a Kiwaya or a Martin, but then its only £189.

In fact this has been my favourite Noah to play to date. I think it's a really sensible alternative to the solid sopranos from the likes of Kala and Ohana, not least because of the classy looks, but also because of the nice small maker story behind it. I'd gladly own and play one of these as part of my soprano collection. In fact, other agree as Noah is also endorsed by UK performers of the likes of Danielle from the Mersey Belles and Matt Hicks (Redshirt).

Recommended once again by me too!

And I just spotted that Noah are selling direct on Amazon too. I don't normally recommend Amazon where Amazon are the seller as you wont get a setup - with this though it appears they are coming from Matt - so no worries



http://www.noahukuleles.com

UKULELE PROS

Great classy looks
Good build quality
Terrific price for a small workshop build
Nice typically soprano sound and bark

UKULELE CONS

No side fret markers
Some minor finishing issues
Geared pegs on a soprano

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.8 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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14 Aug 2017

A Short Word About Monetisation on Got A Ukulele

Perhaps I should have written a post like this a while ago, but didn't. Seems appropriate now. A quick word on the monetisation elements of Got A Ukulele.

ukulele money

Why am I bringing this up? Well, if you are a regular reader you probably see me repeat the mantra that I want my reviews to be impartial and free of corporate funding. You may have also seen me critisise some other new 'review sites' that are nothing more than Amazon Affiliate sites that give the author money from sales made from a 'click'.  I've also had a couple of critisisms lately.. 

But hang on Baz. You DO have adverts on your site, you have PayPal donation buttons and you yourself use Amazon Affiliate links for items for sale. How is that any different? Are you not doing the same thing?

Well, no. And here's why:

1. What about those adverts? You must be raking it in?

Yes there are adverts on my site. Any money generated by those goes back directly into the website. It's invested back into keeping Got A Ukulele going. Without them, the blog would be massively infrequent if it continued to exist at all. Put simply, whilst many ukuleles are kindly loaned to me for review, many are not and I buy those so I can write about them. But trust me, the money is not particularly significant. I'd have ukuleles backed up for review for several years if it was.

2. But if you buy some of them, surely you are just growing your ukulele collection? You must have loads!!

Well, again, no. I dont WANT a bigger ukulele collection - I have a growing daughter and I dont have the space in our modest house to have endless ukes. If there are ukuleles that I have bought they then get given to local charity stores / local primary schools / ukulele festival charity raffles to make sure the purchase gets given back to the community. Some of you who run festivals will know about those.

3. But I've seen you selling ukuleles, what about those? 

Yes, if the ukulele is considered by me to be too valuable to give to a local charity shop who will under price it, I put them on eBay and then use THAT money to re-invest in more cheaper ukuleles for review. Those cheaper ones then get donated. Like I said, I don't want to grow my collection. In fact my collection is not as large as you might think it is. I counted up the other day at 14 ukes...

4. What about the Amazon links - I thought you didn't recommend Amazon for ukes?

I don't and I don't use them for every instrument. In fact I only use them where the only sensible place to buy them IS Amazon (like the recent review of the Enya Ukulele). If the instrument I am reviewing is available in a reputable bricks and mortar ukulele store, there won't be an Amazon link.

5. And what about the Donate button?

That's just another option to help grow the reviews list. There is no compulsion on any reader of Got A Ukulele to donate if they don't want to. Those that do have my huge thanks (and BIG thanks to those who have done!). They DO help. But I will categorically state that Got A Ukulele will NEVER go down the subscription model or a model where paying gets you extra content. I use Patreon, but it's not a two tiered system for me - everyone can see everything. It will ALWAYS be free to read. Some sites choose that model, but not me. The donations are purely voluntary.

So, you know, yes.. advertising is a thorny topic that makes some people feel uneasy. I have NO issue with you using an ad blocker if you want to. I dont want you to be uncomfortable reading the site. I'm just a blogger trying to get information out to you. But hopefully this post gives a bit of an explanation as to why it is there. And all of the above says nothing about my own personal time put into the site!

And believe me, I have had LOTS of offers to really try to monetise this site and take advantage of my readers. That is of NO interest to me!

Thanks for reading and forgive the crisis of confidence!


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11 Aug 2017

Bonanza Ukuleles - HPL Concert - REVIEW

There are two things you probably know that I like reviewing on Got A Ukulele. The first is luthier or 'non-factory' built instruments. The second are ukuleles that are just very different and 'shake the game up' a little. And this fits both those criteria. Lets take a look at this HPL Concert ukulele from Bonanza Ukuleles.

bonanza concert ukulele

Bonanaza Ukuleles are the brainchild of Pete Mai and his wife Shelley from Big Falls, Minnesota USA. The story goes that in 2015 Pete, a woodworker made a model for his wife out of the HPL 'countertop' material and the idea stuck - so he made more. And this of course is not the first time that we have featured on HPL on Got A Ukulele. The Martin 0XK and 0X Bamboo ukuleles are made of the stuff as was last weeks review of the Enya EUR-X1. It's the same material used on kitchen counter tops and is incredibly strong and hard yet light. It's basically a formica material made from sheets of paper in a resin material layered up under high pressure. Some people have been sniffy about it, but I personally found that the sound of the Martin was staggeringly good. And here's the heads up for those of you who sneer at it. You are going to see quite a lot more of this going forward as pressures on the use of traditional woods grows. In fact I have more HPL instruments lined up for review and the word is there is lots more of it being revealed at trade shows. Watch this space.

Now, I will say from the off that Bonanza also offer wooden instruments too, as well as kind of half and half models with laminate back and sides with solid wood tops. So something for everyone really. And that concept of 'buyers choice' extends into other areas too. Pete makes these in a choice of soprano through to baritone in scale. For each scale you get a choice of body shape (traditional double bout like this one, flatlander (kind of like a flat based Fluke), Pear (shallow waisted shape) or the funky 'amoeba' shape you can see in the final photo. On top of that you can specify the fingerboard materials, the tuners, whether it has a pickup - you name it. I like makers that offer this level of choice. Choice is good. As such, this review is more of a review of the brand than so much the specific instrument on display.

So turning to this one, as I say, this is a 15" concert in scale and in the double bout shape made from single piece top, back and sides. This one comes in their 'Butterscotch Retro' pattern which is great fun. They offer a wide range of patterns and basically the range is dependent on what the HPL maker (Wilsonart) is offering I think. You can see the various patterns Bonanza offer on the link at the end of this review.  A word about that. In my review of the Martin 0X Bamboo I berated Martin for creating a HPL 'non-wood' ukulele but then covering in a graphic that looked like wood. I thought it was a missed opportunity to offer something fun and different. You see, the outer graphic has no bearing on the tone, so I say have some fun with it. It's just an image after all. And that's what Bonanza are doing here I think, and full marks to them for that.

So, as I say, a double bout shape. It has the same clean join edges as the Martin 0X with the same telltale dark grey edges to the HPL showing. On this one we have no other decoration (as if you would need it with a pattern like this!) and it feels chunky in the hands on account of the deep body depth.

bonanza concert ukulele body

Bridge wise we have a walnut bridge plate that is in a slotted style. Fitted into this is a Corian (stone substitute) nut. It's not the first time I have seen a Corian nut - it's a material used by many luthiers to replicate bone, but it IS the first time I've seen it looking like this. Normally luthiers go with plain white corian, but Pete has chosen the variety of corian that looks like stone so it has flecks of black grain in it. It doesn't change the composition of the corian, only the look and I think it's rather funky!

bonanza concert ukulele bridge

A look inside shows a tidy build and regular cross bracing. What did suprise me though is the very chunky kerfing linings which look like they are made of shaped or bent maple ply strips. They are hard to describe, and not really like any other kerfing I have seen before. I assume that is to ensure a good joint on the top and back. Still, they are doing their job. Also inside is the attractive hand pyrographed wooden makers plate and build date. Nice.

bonanza concert ukulele sound hole

Up to the neck, this is made from mahogany in three pieces (joint at heel and headstock) and bolted to the neck block in the body. It's a nice chunky profile and 36mm wide at the nut making it comfortable for me. And then we have another 'different' departure as this one has a fingerboard with integral frets made from the same corian material as the saddle. That is to say Pete has machined the Corian back to leave frets in place so we dont need inset nickel silver frets. The frets are carved in the Corian! Once again it looks like it is made of stone, but isn't and actually it feels more like the Richlite fingerboards on the Blackbird Clara. I suspect though it will be a 'love it or hate it' design feature, but you should be aware that most of the models Bonanza make have regular wooden fingerboards with metal frets as you will see on the Amoeba photo below. If you want those you can have them. For me, I would take the wooden board, but that's just me and won't be marking the Bonanza down because of this. Choice, choice, choice. Incidentally, we have 19 here with 14 to the body. We also get black dot position markers at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th spaces and these are repeated on the side.

bonanza concert ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the Corian nut we have a subtly shaped headstock with a facing of more HPL and the Bonanza logo laser engraved into the top. I like the simplicity of the shape and that they havent tried to go too crazy.

bonanza concert ukulele headstock

Tuners are unbranded sealed gold geared tuners with small red / amber style buttons that work well. Sure, I'd like friction pegs myself, but that's just me and I am sure Pete could fit them if you wanted them (remember that choice!). These appear to be very similar to the ones you get on Mainland ukuleles.

bonanza concert ukulele tuners

Completing the package are a set of Seaguar Blue Label strings (Pete is a man after my own heart) and a couple of gold strap buttons. In this spec this comes in at a remarkable $209, and bear in mind that this fingerboard is a $10 surcharge on the standard one - so the concerts start at $199. That's pretty good value for a hand made instrument from the USA I'd say

bonanza concert ukulele back


So an interesting one so far and full marks to it for the boldness of the outer design. The whole build has a kind of homely arts and crafts feel to it that I hope Pete doesn't take the wrong way. I say that in a good way as I want luthier instruments to feel like they have been made somewhere other than a production line. This one feels like that despite the synthetic material in the body.

The body is substantial but it's comforting to hold. It is certainly heavier than a lot of concerts though and is slightly body heavy. I mention weight and balance in all my reviews so only right to mention it here. It's not annoyingly so, but it is heavier than most wooden ukes. Maybe it's things like the corian or the chunky kerfing as looking at the edge of the HPL it seems thinner than that on the Martin 0X or Enya EUR-X1.  Of course, that body depth is also substantial which may have something to do with it.

Set up though is spot on at the nut and saddle making for a pleasurable strumming and fretting experience on the fingers. A rap of the top shows me that it's resonant too, which bodes well despite the weight.

And that resonance is there in the sound too. It's got a real punch when you want it and good sustain and power. Great projection in fact and delivered with a rich, complex and jangly tone. It's certainly a 'HPL tone' and despite being a concert reminiscent of the Martin 0X in warmth yet with a bit of bite. I'm not trying to get ahead of myself here and put this on a pedestal next to a Koa hand made wooden uke, it's not. But it IS very pleasant to listen to I think.

What really surprised me was despite not liking the look of the corian fingerboard in the white, the feel on the fingers is extremely comfortable. Maybe I could get used to the looks!  That feel really comes off when played fingerpicked and you slide up the frets. Really really nice on the fingers. And the fingerpicking tone is bell like and jangly too. I'm really liking the tone on this one.

bonanza concert ukulele amoeba shape

Most of all though I like what this brand is 'about'. I like that they are home made in the USA, and I particularly like that Pete is being bold in the designs, shapes, and things like the use of Corian. He'e experimenting and that is a good thing. Of course, if you want ultra wooden traditional, he will do that for you too, but you know... why not be different? Remember that word 'choice'!

Highly recommended.

http://www.bonanzaukuleles.com/

UKULELE PROS

Bold looks
Decent construction all round
Resonant body
Great tone jangle, projection and sustain
Great setup
Very comfortable fretboard

UKULELE CONS

Would prefer friction pegs (you can have them!)
Would go for the wooden fingerboard on looks ground (you can have it!)
A little body heavy and heavy overall

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





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5 Aug 2017

Enya EUR-X1 Round HPL Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

It's another return for 'High Pressure Laminate' on Got A Ukulele (you see I TOLD you there was going to be more of them!) with this attractively circular ukulele from Enya - the EUR-X1.

Enya EUR-X1 Ukulele


Enya are a Chinese ukulele brand that are 'fairly' new on the scene. They are actually the same company behind Kaka ukuleles, which you may recall I wasn't particularly keen on, and not just for the name either. But lately I have been seeing some interesting and rather pretty instruments coming out under their main name, including a range of ukes made from HPL laminate called their 'X1 series'.  This was brought to my attention on the new I've Got A Ukulele Facebook Group and since it appeared people seem to have been going crazy for them! This one is the starter in the Enya HPL line up and is also one that was on a tremendous price offer in order to kick start interest. A REALLY tremendous price as you will see.

The EUR-X1 is a soprano scale instrument that is completely round, reminiscent of the old Camp style instruments from the early 20th Century. The camp style goes back to the early 'camp uke's 1920s made by Lyon and Healy and subsequently Gretsch and have a very traditional and old fashioned look about them that I rather like.

The body of this one is about 8.5" in diameter, totally round and quite shallow in depth top to back. The back is slightly arched and as I say the whole body is made from HPL with an outer Koa graphic. For those who don't know, HPL is the same formica material used in kitchen counter tops and contains no wood whatsoever (not even the outer image, that's a photograph) - it's made from sheets of paper in a resin. It's the same sort of material as used in the Martin 0X series ukuleles and in fact looking at the literature that comes with this one, Enya themselves confirm that this IS indeed 'Martin HPL'. So exactly the same stuff as the 0XK soprano ukulele is made from. Interesting. And like the 0X series from Martin, this one seems to be very tidily put together, with clean joints, chamfered edges and the telltale look of HPL on the top and back join giving the effect of a black binding strip. Sadly also like the Martin, they chose to go with a false wood look that I think is missing a trick. It's not wood, so don't pretend it is. Why not go a bit more crazy with the graphic? It could be anything at all after all!

Enya EUR-X1 Ukulele body


Bridge wise this is attractively shaped and made from rosewood in a 'through body' style. That means that the strings go through holes directly into the body where you tie knots in them to stop them pulling back through. It's a fiddly sort of arrangement for string changes, but is said to be good for alleviating unnecessary pressure on the bridge plate and pulling tension and hence vibration down into the top of the uke. The saddle is compensated and made from bone. Incidentally, Enya confirm that these bridges are now starting to change and will be made from Richlite - a paper composite as used by Blackbird Guitars and presumably as a way of avoiding CITES restrictions on the shipping of rosewood. I have no complaints with that as Richlite works well on the Clara, and is widely used by guitar makers like Gibson. In fact, like HPL, I expect we will be seeing more of it all round in the ukulele world.

Enya EUR-X1 Ukulele bridge

A glance inside shows a very tidy build with delicate bracing, neat notched kerfing and no mess at all. Like the Martin 0X the inside shows off the real colour of HPL as a dull dark grey. the central back wooden strip has the Enya logo embossed into it, as does the neck block which is nice.

Enya EUR-X1 Ukulele inside

Up to the neck and things start to get very interesting indeed. It's made from mahogany and in three pieces with a joint at the headstock and the heel. Nothing particularly interesting about that you may say, but read on. The neck is attached to the body in a pocket and held in place with a bolt arrangement. Only that bolt is not on the inside of the ukulele as normal, rather it's visible on the outside and doubles as a neck strap button. And that is deliberate because Enya supply these with an allen wrench that not only allows you to adjust the neck relief, but also allows you to remove the neck completely and swap it for another. I guess you might either want to do that in the event of a break or just because you want a different headstock. I have never seen that before on a ukulele and whilst I can't immediately think of a reason why I would  personally want to swap necks, I must admit it's still kind of cool. Inside the neck is a carbon fibre strengthening rod too. I am not entirely sure why as I cant imagine the tension on a ukulele means it needs it, but there you are. By the way, that neck strap button is complimented by another button the base of the ukulele.

Enya EUR-X1 Ukulele neck


Topping this is a fretboard made of rosewood that is not edge bound but is very nicely finished and even has rolled fingerboard edges. It's fitted with a generous 16 nickel silver frets with 12 to the body joint. I am also advised that like the bridge these are changing to Richlite in due course. We have attractive star shaped position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th made of inlaid wood and these are complimented with dots on the side. Another very interesting feature about the neck is it has a very slight radius to it. That is abolutely startling for an instrument of this sort of price. It's not a hugely noticeable radius, but it is there. A radius AND rolled edges. Wow.

Enya EUR-X1 Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the bone nut we have a three pointed crown headstock (ugh..) and this is faced in a darker wood, but interesting doesn't seem to be HPL. It has the Enya logo inlaid in what looks like pale wood and I think looks quite attractive.

Enya EUR-X1 Ukulele headstock


Tuners are sadly open geared pegs and not friction and threfore look a bit large on a soprano. They are however a nice design with black plastic mounts, metal gears and small red plastic buttons. I'll let my deep rooted dislike of gears on sopranos slide on this one as I quite like the look of these.

Enya EUR-X1 Ukulele tuners


Completing the package is a mind boggling array of accessories.  As well as the strings that come on it, you get a spare set. You also get a clip on tuner, a strap, a polishing cloth, an allen wrench for the neck, a capo, some picks, a rhythm ring shaker and some brochures all in a zip up leatherette pouch. The ukulele also comes with a really nice quality padded bag, a good thing considering the unusual shape.  And the price will probably astound you. These were originally listed on Amazon (the only place to buy them at present I believe) with an RRP of £129, but are available on an introductory special price of £45. In the USA I have heard reports of fluctuating prices, with the latest being around $28 all in. Clearly that isn't a sustainable price and  in due course these will be at a more realisting price point (and indeed Enya have confirmed that it WILL be going back to a more normal price at $95) Still, it's a killer price for now, and considering the sound construction and the fact the Martin HPL is about £350, I think even the RRP is a very good price.

Enya EUR-X1 Ukulele accessories


So let's get on to playing it. As I say, it's very well put together with no build issues I can spot anywhere. I will get one thing I really DON'T like out of the way first though, and that's the strings. They are apparently fluorocarbon, but they are incredibly low tension and feel just awful and floppy on the fingers. Looking at them more closely the gauges look very odd too with only the C string being noticeably different in width to any of the others. Very strange and I will be changing them.

The instrument itself is light though and very nicely balanced. I really like the feel of HPL as I did on the Martin. It doesn't feel like wood, but then it doesnt feel like plastic either. It has a pleasing tactile matte coating to it that is rather pleasant. I spent some time looking for build flaws and honestly I can't find any that are obvious.

The uke is obvously a different shape than most and I must say camp ukuleles despite their roundness are normally a joy to hold. This one though has the bridge right down at the end of the body. That means the arm that tends to cradle the ukulele  is immediately pressing onto the bridge and is a bit uncomfortable. It's not really an issue when playing seated, but standing you do notice it. This is definitely one to play with a strap I think, which I find odd for a soprano.

Action at the nut and saddle on this one are both incredibly good. Really, just how I would like them. And as I say, the manual explains that tweaking the neck bolt can also adjust the relief and action up and down. I have not tried that, because as I say, this is how I would like it regardless, but it's good to know it can be done. Seriously though, the setup on this is one of the best I have seen out of the box and talking with other buyers this week, this seems to be common amongst others. That's great news.

I'm pleased so far. Sadly, on the first strum I found something very disappointing. The instrument is seriously quiet. Not just slightly, but massively quiet. It's a real shame because the sound itself is really very nice for what it is. It's also surprising as the body materials seem thin enough, the box is resonant and the bracing doesnt seem to be heavy. In fact it's very like the Martin models which bark loudly if needed.  My only guess (and it is just a guess) is that the bridge being set so far down the body is not driving vibration down into the most resonant part of the top. Tapping the top between the bridge and the soundhole and it's like a drum, yet tap it near the bridge and it isn't. And I think I might be right with this theory because I have heard reports of people swapping the strings on these to things like Martin fluorocarbons and it still being quiet. The string change improves the tension issue, but is not increasing the volume at all. I was going to do a follow up video to the one below with a string change, but having seen there is little change, there doesn't seem a lot of point. The volume IS an issue and you should be aware of that.

One other thing that is noticeable is you can get the best volume out of it if you play it kind of away from your body on the back and without resting too much arm on the top. Again, using a strap can help with that. Still, you shouldn't have to and it's still very quiet regardless.

But volume aside though, it IS a pleasant, jangly sound, full of character and this has had me thinking of the benefits of tonal character against volume. What would I rather have if given the choice of one or the other? It's hard to say, but I am not personally in the market for a quiet uke and want a instrument to have some bite when needed.

Back to the positives - the great setup means it is very accurate to play too with no intonation issues on this review sample. It's fun and easy to play whether strummed or picked with a very light touch on the fretting hand. And as someone very fairly pointed out to me recently, the lack of volume makes for a great late night / practice / kids ukulele. I think all those points are valid, but this player would rather a ukulele that you can either play softer or mute to quieten it down, but still has a bark if you want it. And I just can't get this one to bark at all. Yet, all of that said, there is still 'something' about the tone of this one that I rather like. In fact I've been playing a lot more than many review instruments I get my hands on, so it must have something about it! Maybe it's the shape, maybe it's that neck, maybe it's the excellent build... I dunno! I just like it! I'm also keen to try more of the X1 series, particularly those with a more regular shape.. Dang this one has me torn...

So my view is, at this sort of price then why not? I think this will make a great travel / camping / practice uke.  Just don't expect super power I suppose.  And scoring this one was a challenge because I KNOW the price will be going back up soon. But like I say, even at $100 or so, I still think i'd like this one because there is just 'something' fun about it, even without the volume. So I have broken with tradition and there are two end scores below reflecting the current and higher price point. They are actually not that much different in the scheme of things, and that's because most of the other stuff that matter is highly rated. So it's recommended either way I say, and most certainly at the low price, but only if you can live with low volume.

STOP PRESS

Now strung with Martin Fluorocarbon strings. The string tension is MUCH improved, and therefore the play feel. Volume slightly increased, but only slightly and not enough to make a noticeable difference on a video.

STOP PRESS 2

I am seeing a number of people online incorrectly stating that these have 'gone up' in price. They haven't - read the review. The low price was a one of introductory special. The real price of these is $95 or so in the USA. That IS the correct price. Please refrain from saying they hiked the price. They didn't! It just reverted back to where it always was. It's called a 'sale'.

http://www.enyamusical.com







UKULELE PROS

Great build quality
Great looks
Marvellous adjustable neck with radius and nice rolled finishing on edges
Nice tuners, even if they are gears!
Bang on setup
Killer price (at the reduced price that is!!) Although, the RRP is still pretty good value.
Light weight
Nice tone and jangle
Nice added bundle of accessories and great bag

UKULELE CONS

Just too darn quiet!
Low position bridge can be a little uncomfortable
Absolutely horrible stock strings
Like the Martin - why the false wood look? Be bold Enya!

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 6.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.3 out of 10 (8.0 out of 10 at full price!)

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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29 Jul 2017

Makanu Muk-maho C Mahogany Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

Another new ukulele brand for me and another one from China. This one is a concert scale ukulele from Makanu. The 'Muk-maho C' mahogany concert model.

Makanu Mahogany Concert Ukulele


Like many other Chinese ukuleles these days, they seem to be once again keeping away from recognised 'scales' in their product names and listing them based on their overall dimensions. As such this one is more commonly listed as their '24 inch ukulele'. I really don't like that concept as it means absolutely nothing at all. If you are going to list dimensions, list the SCALE LENGTH, or better still, stick to recognised naming conventions. This, after all IS a concert ukulele.

Makanu Mahogany Concert Ukulele body

So a concert it is, in a standard double bout shape and made from all laminate mahogany. It's got a satin finish that allows the nice straight grain to show through so it doesn't look unnatural. It reminds me rather a lot of the Baton Rouge models I like so much. It's a deep dark brown which is attractive and we have a single piece top, a single piece slightly curved back and two piece sides. It's also put together very well and accurately too.

Decoration wise we have some simple edge binding where the top and back meet the sides in black. It's understated and works well with mahogany I think. Around the sound hole we have some laser engraved laurel branches which are nice enough if you like that kind of thing. (I don't). They are quite simplistic though.

Makanu Mahogany Concert Ukulele sound hole

For the bridge this is a slotted style with some nice shaping and appears to be made of rosewood. What I don't like about it is that it is glossed, as I prefer bare or oiled wood here. Fitted into it is a dead straight saddle made of bone. I do like the shape though and slotted means really easy string changes.

Makanu Mahogany Concert Ukulele bridge

Inside the ukulele things are very tidy indeed, with no wood shavings or mess. The braces are very delicate and thin and the kerfing linings are notched and tidy. Looking at the edge of the soundhole we also see that the laminate woods are on the thinner side, so chunky and heavy this is not. Again, rather like the Baton Rouges. All rather nice so far.

The neck is made of mahogany in three pieces with a joint at the heel and one at the headstock. It too is coated in satin and has a fairly chunky C shaped profile all the way along it ending at a nut with a generic and narrow 34mm width. I'd like that wider myself.

Topping the neck is a rosewood fingerboard which is in desperate need of some oil. The colour is even enough but it just looks really dry. We have a generous 18 nickel silver frets with 14 to the body joint. They are on the chunky side, and sadly are also dressed pretty terribly. Very sharp edges on both sides up the whole length of the neck and it's not helped by the lack of any edge binding. These really need a lot of work. We are given pearly dot position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces, with the 12th being a double spot. Sadly these are not repeated on the side though.

Makanu Mahogany Concert Ukulele fingerboard


Beyond the bone nut we have an interesting shaped headstock with the Makanu logo and star / flower motif engraved which looks quite nice.

Makanu Mahogany Concert Ukulele headstock

Tuners look generic sealed gears in chrome with small chrome buttons and the Makanu logo lightly embossed into the cover plates. So lightly I couldn't catch them with the camera!

Makanu Mahogany Concert Ukulele tuners

And closing the deal is a padded gig bag embroidered with the Makanu logo and a set of what look like Aquila strings. And that will set you back about $45 bought from Amazon (which incidentally appears to me to be the only place you will find these). So a very low price for what is, on the whole a pretty well made instrument.

So a bit mixed so far. A nice enough looking instrument reminicent of the Baton Rouge models, well put together in the body, with thin woods and tidy internal construction, but badly let down by the state of the fret ends.

Sadly, setup wise things don't improve with the nut and saddle either. The nut is far too high, and the saddle even worse with a measurement of about 3.5mm or more above the 12th fret. It doesn't seem to be throwing intonation off too much but it DOES make for an uncomfortable playing experience both in terms of pressure required by the fretting hand and getting tangled with the strumming. It screams of a need for a damn good setup by a dealer and really does sum up why I warn beginners about buying direct from Amazon. Yes you may pay a bit more through a dealer but if it comes with a setup, then I'd say that's worth it to pay a bit more. If you dont have the tools or knowledge, getting this set up is going to cost you.

So setup aside... as I say, it's nicely built in the body, and those thin woods mean it's light and resonant like a drum.  It's nicely balanced to hold too so no complaints there. Quite a nice instrument underneath really. Arrgghhh - why ship it out like this??

Sound wise, it's very much a laminate instrument and a touch boxy I suppose, but not unpleasant at and actually has a bit of jangle that is quite attractive. It's far brighter sounding than I would expect from mahogany too and has great volume and good sustain. Very pleasing to play actually.

Makanu Mahogany Concert Ukulele back

Usually I find that these cheaper end instruments are really best for strumming and can get 'found out' a little on fingerpicking but not so with this one. Sure, strumming is the most fun and the notes are surprisingly clear in the mix, but fingerpicking shows off a rather nice bell like tone to the sound which I quite like. No, it's not high end or complex, but it is still rather pleasant and will suit most ears and tastes I think.

All in all, it's a great price and would make for a good beginners instrument or club uke. I just struggle to give it a stronger recommendation because of the woeful setup. Sure you 'might' get a better one (though you 'might' not...). Of course, if you like doing your own setups and have the tools, then I am sure this could be knocked into good shape. It's not fundamentally flawed. Thing is though - how many people who have the tools and knowledge to do uke setups are in the market for a $45 laminate model from Amazon?

Close but no cigar I'm afraid, though certainly better in the sound stakes than some others out there at this price like Caramel..



UKULELE PROS

Good body contruction
Thin light laminate woods
Nice finish
Good volume, sustain and characterful tone

UKULELE CONS

Very poor nut and saddle setup
Sharp fret edges
No side fret markers
Dry fingerboard

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money 8.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.9 out of 10

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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






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