17 June 2016

Waverly Ukulele Friction Pegs - REVIEW

Well it's the ukulele myth that just never seems to go away. The 'friction pegs are universally awful' claim seems to be alive and kicking in the ukulele world. And it really gets me down for the simple reason that it's just not true. (What is it with the ukulele world that makes untruths 'stick' so easily??)

Waverly Friction Ukulele tuners
Waverly friction pegs on my Bruko tenor


Regular readers will have seen me rant about this before, and I include an original video of mine on the subject at the foot of this article which shows you what I mean. Put simply, CHEAP friction tuners are indeed awful, but GOOD friction tuners are sublime. They simply dont suffer from the problems people encounter when they are dealing with cheap ones. The trouble is, people assume the problems they face with cheap tuners (slipping and sticking) applies to all friction pegs. It doesn't!

And why exactly do I like friction pegs? Well lots of reasons, but mainly because they dont weigh a headstock on a soprano down like gears do and I think they just look better. They remove the look of 'ears' that geared tuners create. But, I ONLY use friction pegs that work well!

Anyway, back to the point at hand. The Waverly tuners. I'd been looking for some time to try these out. For good quality friction pegs I usually go for Grover 4 style pegs, that move like butter and hold like a rock. However I was looking to change the tuners on my John Daniel Pixie ukulele which has a very small headstock. I kind of thought the Grovers were a little too big for that headstock, and possibly a little heavy as well. I'd actually changed the tuners on the Daniel before and was using fairly standard basic pegs.

John Daniel ukulele tuners
The John Daniel before with cheap friction pegs


Waverly make a whole range of instrument tuners and are kind of the 'Rolls Royce' in the tuner world. They are used by brands like Martin, Collings and Santa Cruz on their high end guitars and for good reason. They represent an acclaimed choice where 'only the best will do'. They are based in Montana, USA.

And I will be frank here. The reason I had shied away from the Waverly tuners was because they are expensive. By that I mean they are around $45 dollars a set (not a huge amount of money, but still expensive) but bear in mind that I am in the UK so international shipping pushes that yet higher. That's about twice the price of the Grovers I normally go with. Still, they seemed a perfect option for a small ukulele on account of how sleek they look. Add to that the fact that I read nothing but great user reviews of them and I thought it was time to bite the bullet.

ukulele friction pegs
Pegs compared: From L-R Grover style 2, Grover style 4, Waverly


The Waverlys arrived. I actually bought a couple of sets, one with black buttons that I retro fitted to a Brüko Tenor ukulele and another set with Koa buttons for the John Daniel.

The friction element of the Waverly tuners is simplicity itself, and genius too. As you will have seen from the video below, the improvement on sticking and slipping with good geared tuners like the Grovers is created through the use of many internal parts (washers, bushings and collars) that hold when tight, but equally move extremely smoothly. The Waverly brand are different though - in fact there are a minimal number of parts - just 5 parts in fact, or 6 if you count the screw.

waverly ukulele friction peg


First we have a collar bushing for the front face of the ukulele. This needs the outer face to have a countersink chamfer, which wasn't really needed on the Daniel as the holes were already quite large, and was also in place on the Brüko. This allows the collar to sit flat against the headstock and not protrude and the collar serves to centre the post. If you dont have a counter sunk hole it's pretty easy to drill one and Waverly even make their own drill bit for the purpose (though most drill counter sink bits will do the job).

John Daniel ukulele headstock

Through that runs the tuning post which is a pretty standard affair. A hole in one end for the string and a hole in the other into which to screw the button.

On the back of the headstock you fit the metal chromed collar (its nickel plated brass), complete with the embossed Waverly name (which I think looks extremely classy) and into that fit a spring. Yes, a spring. These are the first friction pegs that I have seen that use a spring to create the friction effect. You then attach the button and screw it down. The action of screwing the button compresses the spring and that creates the friction. There are no metal on metal, or plastic on plastic faces that are creating the friction - these work though that spring creating the grip between the tuner and the headstock. Bear in mind that Waverly also recommend a chamfer on the back of the ukulele like the one for the collar on the front although I am not totally sure how essential that is.

It works kind of perfectly I found. At first I needed to work out how much tension to apply to stop the pegs slipping but with a few turns of the screwdriver eventually I found the nice balance between them holding and yet still turning for tuning purposes. And that turning is just ultra smooth and accurate. Unlike cheap friction pegs there is no judder, they simply turn when you want them to and then hold. Perfect!

When completely fitted I think they look the part too - and certainly for soprano ukuleles or smaller they will really look classy and remove the neck heavy 'ears' look of geared tuners. Saying that - I also fitted them to a tenor and they look great too!  If I had one complaint its that the adjustment screw uses a flat head screwdriver rather than a posi-drive / cross head. It's a minor complaint, but I just find it easier to quickly apply a cross head screwdriver than I do a flat head. Other than that though - I am absolutely delighted.

waverly pegs on John Daniel ukulele
The John Daniel after!


Now - in both of my cases, the Waverly tuners slipped right in to the holes that were already there. I can't, however, say that will the case for every instrument. According to Waverly these will retrofit directly into holes between 5.56mm and 6.35mm so that should allow you to check. Don't panic though - widening a peg hole is not as scary as you might think - I've done it to several instruments. Simply use a drill with the correct sized bit, cover the back and front of the headstock with masking tape and GO CAREFULLY and slowly - remember you are not drilling a new hole, rather enlarging one very slightly. In terms of headstock thickness, Waverly say that these will work on headstocks anywhere between 7.94mm and 14.29mm.

So yet another example of a tuner that completely disproves the myth that all friction tuners are bad. Whether you choose good quality Grovers or these Waverlys, I recommend them both. Both will show you the world of difference between cheap pegs and good quality pegs. I fully understand why the cheapest ukuleles dont fit these - it just couldn't be done for the price, but then tuners are only one of the things that are wrong with cheap ukuleles...  You get what you pay for! And to be honest with you, I would happily see these on all instruments!

(and if you want to know where I got these - StewMac)

And here is that original rant about the untruths surrounding friction tuners.



And be sure to read my other ukulele and ukulele product reviews here!

4 June 2016

Mahalo 2016K Soprano - REVIEW

Another Mahalo ukulele on the Got A Ukulele reviews bench. This time another soprano, but one of their slightly higher end models - the 2016K soprano.




This one also goes under the less glitzy name of the Mahalo U/LTD2/G ukulele, and what all that stands for I have NO idea. I'm told that it's a Limited Edition (no idea what makes it Limited - it's readily available in loads of stores), but the confusion doesn't end there as you will see.

The 2016K is a standard shaped soprano scale instrument, with a double bout, and a fairly flat base. It's also made from a variety of woods.

Firstly we have a solid top made of mahogany. It's hard to tell, but I think it's in two pieces, but the very straight mahogany grain leaves nothing really to bookmatch. Regardless, it's a nice piece of wood and no complaints here. I suppose it's pretty plain on top, but I have a liking for plain looking mahogany sopranos.



Things get more confusing when we go to the back and sides. These are made from laminate wood with an outer veneer. Most dealers suggest that the outer veneer on this is koa, and from the stripe, I can see why. Saying that, the stripe is a little uniform and a check on the Mahalo website says the outer veneer is Malapoga wood. I know very little about malapoga and have never seen it on an instrument, but I believe it's a type of cedar. Answers on a postcard please.... Anyway, whatever it is, it does actually look nice and I do like the stripes. Being laminate of course it wont affect the tone distinctly so perhaps it doesn't matter what it is! If I sound confused though, it's because I am!



The back is very slightly arched and made from two pieces, and the sides are also in two pieces with an inlaid wooden stipe at the base join.



Decoration wise we have a few things and they are not overly blingy. Firstly we have some thin black white black edge binding on the top and back together with some wood edging on the binding too. It's not overly done and I think looks very nice actually. Around the sound hole we have an abalone inlay which doesn't match the binding but again is nicely done. The whole of the body is finished in a satin coat which also tones down the bling and gives it a rather nice tactile finish and look.



Unlike many Mahalos I have looked at, the finish on this one is pretty good actually and I am not spotting any rough patches, drips or bubbles. All ok on this front.

The bridge is a rosewood slotted type and the saddle appears to be NuBone and is compensated to assist with intonation.

Inside the instrument is nice and tidy too, with notched kerfing and no glue blobs. The bracing looks a little chunky to me, including a back brace that is not only overly thick but questionable on a laminate back in any event.

Up to the neck and this is made from 'nato' wood and is finished in the same satin. It's made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and one at the headstock. The heel is also nicely capped with a sliver of mahogany.



Topping the neck is a rosewood fingerboard. It's unbound at the edges, but looks to be in good condition.

We have 12 nickel silver frets and none past the body join. They are actually a little sharp on the edges, but a good store can easily tidy these for you I suppose. We have pearloid position markers at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces and these are thankfully repeated on the side.

Past the nut, (which appears to be made of plastic and not NuBone like the saddle) and we have a generic crown shaped headstock, complete with a screenprinted Mahalo logo. I said in an earlier review that I think the Mahalo logo looks cheap and old fashioned now and I still think that.



The tuners are a real letdown - the same dolphin shaped brass open gears that adorn so many Mahalo instruments, complete with MASSIVE black plastic buttons.  They are grindy to use (some are looser than others) and look, frankly, horrible.  I dont like geared tuners on a soprano at the best of times, but if you are going to use them, please dont choose ones with tuning pegs that would fit a guitar. It looks silly and can affect the balance of the instrument.



Completing the deal are (what else) Aquila strings and a rather nicely made padded and branded Mahalo gig bag. And all that for.... £80. So a pretty nice price really.



So as you have probably gathered, this is not what most people think about when they think Mahalo and it is a far cry from the brightly coloured cheap ukuleles that flooded the market in the Mahalo name. It's actually a nice looking solid top instrument for a pretty reasonable price. Is the playability a let down though?

Well, the body is pretty light and comfortable to hold, and that satin finish is nice on the fingers. Sadly it's totally neck heavy on account of those mahoosive tuners. If you try to balance this at the 12th fret the headstock just dips to the ground. More established players wont perhaps notice it, but beginners learning to hold and play the ukulele for the first time will find they fight against it. This would be so easily solved with different tuners.

Setup wise, the action at the saddle is perfectly acceptable. A little high for my liking but within reasonable tolerances and easy to take down. The nut however is cut too high, particularly on the C and E strings, meaning intonation issues at the first and second fret. Whilst the saddle is easily remedied by a beginner, the nut is a more complex job. And there is no point throwing a compensated saddle on an instrument if your setup then undoes all the work on tightening up the intonation..

The sound is actually far better than I imagined it to be, and I will stick my neck out to say it's the nicest sounding Mahalo soprano I have ever played. Volume is just about acceptable, although I would prefer a little more bark and bite from a soprano. Perhaps it's being hampered by that thick bracing. No real punch to it, but it would hold it's own I think.

It's not the sweetest tone in the world and it can get a bit one dimensional when strumming and can get a bit muddy and confused. Sustain isn't too bad, but as a whole it just doesn't really set me alight. Massively better than a lot of the Mahalo stable, and perfectly acceptable as a cheap soprano though.

I also think that it's a shame that Mahalo strode away from the ultra cheap, creating a nice looking instrument with a solid top, but then totally let it down with terrible tuners.

And that I suppose is my main gripe with it. At £80, yes, it's reasonable on the face of it, but I think I would be more pleased with a decent fully laminate instrument from the likes of Kala or Baton Rouge or perhaps a solid topped Ohana for the same sort of money (or less). Saying that, it really doesn't fit in the 'avoid Mahalo at all costs' category and is a quite passable instrument. Mixed feelings I suppose and it will serve you better than a lot of the real cheap and nasty stuff out there. Shop around though!

Be sure to read all my other ukulele reviews here!

And if you are still interested in this one

UKULELE PROS

Looks classy
Nice finish
Nice gigbag

UKULELE CONS

Poor setup at nut and sharp fret edges
Terrible tuners
Unbalanced
Over braced
Price seems reasonable but over priced compared to competition

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8 out 10
Fit and Finish - 6.5 out of 10
Sound - 7.5 out of 10
Value for money - 7 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.3 out of 10



UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW


Got A Ukulele Gets Around

I was delighted to see this picture appear on Facebook the other day for a whole heap of reasons, and not just because there is a Got A Ukulele T Shirt in the picture!



pUKEs Paul Redfern in a Got A Ukulele Shirt
Credit - Liam Capper-Starr


First of all - that fine fellow in the photograph is Paul Redfern - ukulele player and performer in one of my favourite outifts that I have featured on this site many times - The pUKEs!

Second of all, the photograph was part of a series of wonderful shots taken by another ukulele player, the supremely talented Liam Capper-Starr - performer in his own right and organiser of the much lauded Uke-East Festival. Incidentally - Liam has a new full album out now which you can find on that first link!

The third reason is a sadder one - it was taken at GNUF and I wasn't able to go. Still - nice when things from friends come together like this!

Thanks both!

http://gotaukulele.spreadshirt.co.uk

http://gotaukulele.spreadshirt.com



14 May 2016

Pono ATDC Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

I am a lucky boy. Sometimes I get a ukulele on loan that genuinely makes me gasp when I first open the box. And Pono hit that right on the button with this new model in the shape of the ATDC Tenor. I mean, just look at it.


Pono ATDC Tenor Ukulele


First, the specs and background to that name. The ATDC is a solid Acacia (the A)  Tenor scale (the T) gloss finished (which Pono call their 'deluxe', there's the D) ukulele with a cutaway for upper fret access (the C). The model is also available and has been for some time in ATD form without the cutaway, but this is a new addition. And I think it just looks pure class.

For those that don't know, Pono are the Asian line of master Hawaiian Ukulele makers Ko'olau. So essentially a line of instruments made outside Hawaii to save cost, but made under the careful watch of one of the oldest and most revered ukulele makers on the planet. And what I have found with other examples from Pono (hey, not wishing to show bias here, but I own three!) is that they create a balance between the highest end instruments but at a more consumer friendly price point. I'll go further and say that I consider Pono to be pretty much my favourite brand for that reason. But that is based on the others I own... will my view change when I get into this one?

The ATDC is a fairly standard sized and shaped tenor ukulele (double bout, flat base) only modified by that cutaway. It's made from all solid acacia wood, a tone wood used due to it's striking looks and similarity to Hawaiian koa. It's a type of koa, but not from Hawaii and that means a far more reasonable price. (If this was made from Hawaiian koa it would be signifiantly more expensive). Some more unscrupulous manufacturers call their acacia instruments 'koa' and argue that the they are technically correct. It's a bugbear of mine - when an instrument is called 'koa' it should relate to Hawaiian koa. Fair play to Pono for telling it like it is. If a brand sells acacia and simply calls it koa they are trying to mislead you.

Pono ATDC Tenor Ukulele body


And that striking look of acacia certainly comes through on this one. We've got stripe, curl and flaming all in the one instrument and for a consumer level instrument, I think that's pretty awesome. First the top, this is made of two pieces, beautifully bookmatched with angled stripe  fanning out towards the base. In the right light, that stripe really flames and shimmers on the lower bouts. It's quite beautiful and thankfully not spoiled with tons of other 'bling', only an inlaid rope marquetry soundhole rosette. When wood looks this good it really doesn't need inlays and binding.

The sides are two pieces, perfectly bookmatched at the base and showing off some really wavy stripes at the upper bouts. The body depth is actually nice and chunky and deeper then many tenors which should help with projection.

Pono ATDC Tenor Ukulele sides


The back is very slightly arched and is also made from two pieces, which almost identically match the top. This is a nicely crafted instrument!

Pono ATDC Tenor Ukulele back


The whole of the body is finished in gloss with a mirror finish and not pooling or bubbles. The gloss really sets off the stripe and flame on the woods and gives it a really high end feel and look.

The saddle is a tie bar style and made from ebony with a bone saddle.

Pono ATDC Tenor Ukulele bridge


A look inside reveals an extremely tidy build with absolutely no glue blobs, shavings or mess. The bracing looks delicate as does the notched kerfing. As well as the manufacturers label the end of the neck block inside is stamped 'Ko'olau Pono' together with the serial number. You can also spy the end of the truss rod (but more on that later).

Up to the neck, I believe this is made from Mahogany, and from four pieces with a three piece stack at the heel and a joint at the headstock. It too is finished in gloss and the end of the heel is capped with a sliver of stripy acacia. It's a fairly rounded C chaped profile which I like.

Topping the neck is an ebony fingerboard which is in great condition and has a very faint orangey stripe running through it. The edges are bound in black and it is fitted with 20 nickel silver frets with 14 to the body. They are all dressed perfectly and are on the jumbo side which I also like. We have pearloid dot position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces and thankfully these are repeated on the side. The nut width is a little wider than most far eastern tenors, but not quite as some like the Kanile'a K1.

Pono ATDC Tenor Ukulele neck


A word about that truss rod. This is something you dont see a lot on ukuleles but I see a lot on Pono instruments. It's basically a threaded bolt that runs through the full length of the neck. By tightening or loosening it (using the bolt I referred to above accessed via the sound hole) you can change the relief of the neck. That isn't about action (people wrongly assume it is), but rather the very slight concave curve that a well setup neck should display to help avoid buzzing. The jury is out with me on the need for these on ukuleles as it's something that is more often adjusted on guitars in view of the considerably higher tension their strings exert on the neck. I just dont see that with ukuleles. Oh well, not a complaint and I suppose over the years it's a nice thing to have if age and humidity start to bend the neck.

Past the nut which is made of bone, we have the usual Pono shaped headstock, faced in stripy acacia and inlaid with the Pono logo in white pearl.

Pono ATDC Tenor Ukulele headstock


Tuning is catered for by my absolute favourite open geared Grover tuners in gold with small glossy black buttons. Regular readers will know I rate these tuners highly. When you bear in mind that they are used by Martin and Kanile'a on their tenors and that I specified them on my Tinguitar custom model you will know why!

Pono ATDC Tenor Ukulele tuners


Finishing the deal are Ko'olau strings as is usual for Pono instruments. Some like them, and some don't. I'm in the don't category and to make matters worse this one has a wound C string (something else I despise!). Saying all of that, you should know by now that I don't rate ukuleles up or down based on the strings they come with. They are like car tyres - and you will most likely change them to your own preference.

For that you will pay around $699 RRP or just under £500 in the UK. Yes, that's a serious price but when you consider that a K brand tenor will likely cost you twice that money, it's certainly mid level to me in terms of cost. You know my view on this - ukuleles are musical instruments and not toys. If you think a £100 ukulele is 'mid-level', then sorry, I completely disagree with you.

So as you have probably gathered, it hasn't let me down so far.... will it let me down in playability?

Firstly it's nicely weighted, balanced and set up. Nothing I would change at the bridge or the nut and that doesn't surprise me in the slightest with Pono. Intonation and action are just how I would want them.

Sound wise I found it quite a surprise. It doesn't quite have the raw power of some of their mahogany bodied ukuleles I have played, but it improves on them with a really nice mix of chime and warmth. It's a complex sound that I really rather love actually.

Strummed it can sound jangly in the way smaller bodied instruments do, whilst still having some bigger bodied warmth and resonance. Individual strings stand out in the mix clearly and the dynamic range is impressive.

Pono ATDC Tenor Ukulele butt


Sustain is excellent allowing you to easily add some tremolo to fingerpicked notes. In fact this thing really shines when fingerpicked. The clarity is superb and the range of frequencies it throws out really are far closer to some highest end instruments than the price would suggest.

So different from mahogany, but then in should be because... err... it's not mahogany.  I really like it actually. That chime and warmth together makes for a nice sound to my ears. In fact the more I play it the MORE I like it.  Why am I beating around the bush? Just come out with it Barry... OK - it's the nicest Pono I've personally played.

So all in all, Pono have done it again I'd say. It has looks to die for, a complex and interesting tone and is just brilliantly made. A ukulele that shimmers with both it's looks and it's sound. I've never played a Pono I didn't like and this one doesn't buck that trend. In fact I'm quite annoyed with you Pono. I have been downsizing my ukulele collection and I REALLY want to own this one...!!!

Highly recommended.

http://koolauukulele.com/pono/

Be sure to read all my other ukulele reviews here


UKULELE PROS

Looks to die for in every aspect
Chimey sound yet warm
Superb build quality
Great tuners

UKULELE CONS

I'd change the strings! But nothing else really!


UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.3 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW


8 May 2016

GNUF Preview - Flea Bitten Dawgs

Another look forward to this years Grand Northern Ukulele Festival and a real treat for ukulele fans. The Flea Bitten Dawgs in their first UK mini tour and festival slot.


I've said many times before that one of the things that makes GNUF very special is their ability to get artists to the UK that haven't previously been over here. And that is to say, they create a bill that stands out from the multitude of other ukulele festivals where you tend to see the same names over and over. The breadth of the bill is astounding year after year. GNUF brought Aaron and Nicole Keim over for their first UK Festival last year (and they are back this year). GNUF is bringing Danielle Ate The Sandwich over for her first UK dates, and of course the GNUF organiser was responsible for the first UK tour of Jake Shimabukuro and the first ukulele festival appearance for the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain. This year sees the appearance of another US outfit who are revered in ukulele circles - the Flea Bitten Dawgs.

Formed in 2010 by three musicians with MANY years experience in performing (and having shared stages with some seriously impressive names), Flea Bitten Dawgs consist of David Henry Spangler and Thom Pallozola on ukulele and vocals, with percussion provided by Lee Kram. These are real players players and have opened for / shared the stage with some of the ukulele worlds biggest names, such as Gerald Ross, Stuart Fuchs and Cali Rose. Their style? 'Ukulele Jazz Americana'. Sounds great to me!

Their slot at GNUF this year marks the end of a mini tour of the UK and Europe also being organised by GNUF. It sees them perform in Brussells, Bradford, Reading, Belper (with Phil Doleman and Ian Emmerson) and Liverpool.

Take a tip from me - this is an act to watch. Take a look at their 'hello' to the UK!



And have a tune!



Nice huh?


The Grand Northern Ukulele Festival takes place on 27-29 May at Huddersfield, UK.

http://northernuke.com

http://fleabittendawgs.com

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival


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If you enjoy this blog, donations are welcomed to allow me to invest more time in bringing you ukulele articles. Aside from the Google ads, I don't get paid to write this blog. Many of the review instruments are bought by Got A Ukulele then sold on at a loss or donated to charity. But buying them takes funds! Thank you!