Aside from the many factory made ukuleles I have reviewed on this site, it is always nice to get to test something handmade and bespoke. I've been doing that for the last couple of months with this mahogany soprano model from DJ Morgan.
Dave Morgan is a UK luthier, based in Dudley in the midlands who hand makes a range of instruments in a traditional style. He is a small volume builder so these are not available in huge numbers (another nice thing about them!)
This soprano is made from all solid woods, and comes in at a fantastic price of just under £300 in this spec. We have a traditional double bout shaped body made from reclaimed solid Brazilian mahogany and they really are some nice pieces of wood. Nothing gaudy (hey, this is mahogany) but nice, subtle and with a lovely orange glow. The top and back are made from single pieces of toned and the sides are in two pieces with an unbound yet still book matched join at the butt. A closer look at the edges of the sound hole show that this is a nice thin top too.
The instrument also has a nice curved butt which I really like.
Aside from an inlaid black and white simple sound hole rosette, the body is otherwise unadorned with no other inlay or binding. I like that. It looks simple yet classy and not over done.
The back is slightly arched both along its width and length to help with sound projection which is nice to see.
We have a slotted style bridge made from ebony with a nicely cut corian saddle. Very reminiscent of original Martin mahogany sopranos and also really user friendly for the player.
A look inside shows off one of the tidiest ukulele builds I have seen for some time. Absolutely no mess, delicately scalloped braces and hand made notched kerfing all applied extremely neatly. Aside from the simple makers label with serial number, there is not much more to say here!
The whole body is finished in a kind of semi gloss cellulose lacquer. I like it. It doesn't give the instrument a mirror finish, but it doesn't feel unfinished either. The other advantage is that it leaves the pores in the mahogany grain open so you feel like you are holding a wooden instrument rather than something artificial.
On to the neck this is all one piece of Sapele and joined to the body with a tenon joint. Capping the neck heel is a small piece of ebony. I like the neck. It has a fairly flat D shaped profile that I know many traditionalists will like. I prefer a bit more chunk to a neck, but this is perfectly playable. What I really do like is that it has a decent width at the nut.
The fingerboard is ebony and unbound, and fitted with 19 nickel silver frets with 14 to the body. On a soprano scale instrument this is a real bonus. None of this '12 frets is your lot' nonsense. They are all finished and dressed expertly with no sharp edges. The fingerboard has a nice pleasing curve to the end of it which I rather like too.
Position markers are provided via white abalone dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th with the 12th fret marker being a double spot. Thankfully these are repeated in the same abalone on the side of the neck for the player. The nut is Corian and cut perfectly.
Up to the headstock and we have a very simple unfussy shape faced with mahogany and inlaid with ebony curved stripes which are really distinctive. I have seen a range of Daves ukuleles and some others have that same stripe motif inlaid in less contrasting woods. I think I would prefer that, but don't get me wrong this still looks great and it's a motif style I have not seen before. With no makers mark on the headstock this IS your DJ Morgan design!
Flipping it over and we have (thank you thank you thank you) friction tuning pegs. I sense some of you are recoiling in horror but you should know if you read Got A Ukulele more deeply that I am a big fan of friction pegs, particularly on sopranos. They get such a bad press, but really, that applies to the cheap and nasty ones. Thankfully, these are anything but. They are unbranded but clearly good quality and turn like butter. Similar to those used on Koaloha ukuleles with full metal collars and parts. Honestly - sticking mickey mouse ear tuners on a ukulele like this would be sacrilege!
Completing the deal are (what else) Aquila Super nylgut strings. If this was my instrument I would definitely be experimenting with others.
So all in all a beautifully built and finished instrument. I can't find a flaw on it to be honest. So you are sensing that I rather like this one aren't you. Yep. Definitely, but that would all mean nothing if it played badly.
Setup was spot on for me at both the bridge and nut. In the hands it feels well made, nicely balanced and light. Ticks in the right boxes when it comes to a soprano!
Tone wise it is typically soprano, bright and bouncy but with a warmness that comes from a mahogany instrument. The clarity of individual strings is absolutely superb and when strummed every note of every chord has it's place in the mix.
Fingerpicked that warmth coupled with the soprano voice makes for a lovely mix, and the bonus of some extra frets give you a range you wouldn't normally find with many sopranos.
Volume wise, it is certainly not quiet, but I have played punchier and louder hand made sopranos. This may be down to the strings, and it's certainly not a criticism - just being honest. It's an enjoyable sound though but definitely a mellower soprano. If you want a soprano that delivers a punch in the guts, you may want to talk to Dave about other wood choices. Anyway - as I say, not a criticism - just have a listen to the video to get a better idea.
In summary, a delightful instrument and so good to see yet another quality hand made ukulele offering on UK shores. You may prefer more bling - speak to Dave to see what he has on offer. For me this one is understated and traditional and that makes it look classy enough. Oh, and that price. Under £300 - I would personally pay considerably more for an instrument of this calibre. Will be sad to see this one go back...
Build quality throughout
More frets than expected
Quality friction pegs
Pretty much nothing!
Looks - 9
Fit and Finish - 9
Sound - 9
Value For Money -
Overall Ukulele Score - 9 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz