GOT A UKULELE - Learn Ukulele, beginners tips and reviews

5 Dec 2016

Flight DUS 320 SP/ZEB Soprano Ukulele REVIEW

A second review on Got A Ukulele for Flight Music, in the form of their DUS 320 SP/ZEB Soprano.

Flight DUS 320 SP/ZEB Soprano ukulele


This is another entry level instrument from the Slovenian based brand, also made in China like the NUS 310 Soprano ukulele I reviewed earlier in the year. Whilst Flight do make some slightly higher end instruments, this is another of their value models made from all laminate woods.

Unlike the NUS 310, this one employs a couple of contrasting laminate veneers with the SP in the name representing the Spruce used on the top and ZEB representing Zebrawood as used on the back and sides. It's certainly a contrasting look that I like and that I have seen used by several other brands. On their website, Flight talk about these two woods providing contrasting tone, and this comment confused me. If these were two pieces of solid wood, I could understand the sound differences they would offer, but with two laminates, I personally don't find that the outer veneer imparts signature tone to the construction. Saying all of that, regular readers will know that I am not necessarily 'down' on laminate instruments and think they have their place. Sounds like marketing speak to me though.

Flight DUS 320 SP/ZEB Soprano ukulele body


So we have a very standard shaped and scaled soprano ukulele with a double bout and a pleasing rounded base. As I say, I like the contrast between the two woods, but otherwise the instrument is fairly plain, finished as it is in satin. It does however show of the veneer wood grain, particularly on the striking zebrawood, but also on the spruce top in which the grain is straight. Saying that, the satin is quite thin on the top and in testing this model it quite quickly picked up finger nail marks.

Being laminate, the top is made from a single piece of laminate spruce, not that bookmatching in spruce is particularly noticeable in any event. The edges of the top are bound but Flight do not say in what. I suspect it is just stained wood veneer, but it does add a bit of extra interest to the edging. Around the sound hole we have a laser engraved rosette which also looks quite nice.

Flight DUS 320 SP/ZEB Soprano ukulele sound hole


The bridge is a screwed on tie bar design made from rosewood, and the saddle is uncompensated bone.

Flight DUS 320 SP/ZEB Soprano ukulele bridge


The zebrawood stripe is nicely matched on the two side pieces, and the same applies to the back which also employs two bookmatched pieces of veneer. The back is also slightly arched, and also edge bound where it meets the sides. Aside from the distinctive pattern of the zebrawood, the finish shows off the open pores quite nicely if you like that sort of thing.

Flight DUS 320 SP/ZEB Soprano ukulele back


Inside looks tidy and interestingly the inside of the side pieces show the same zebrawood striping. This is somewhat unusual for a laminate as the outer veneer is usually only applied to the outside of the instrument leaving the inside faces plain (like the back is on this one). The fact I can see more zebrawood leads me to believe that the laminate is actually strips of zebrawood. That doesn't make the sides 'solid wood' but I thought I would mention it. Otherwise we have no glue spots, and thin bracing and notched kerfing.

Up to the neck and this is a pale Okoume hardwood like the NUS 310 employs and is made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and the headstock. It is all finished in satin.

Topping this is an evenly coloured rosewood fingerboard with end shaping detail and 12 nickel silver frets. Unlike the 310, the fret edges on this review model are very smooth and nicely done. We have pearloid position markers at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces, and although there are no side markers, Flight tell me that current production models are putting side markers on since my last review. Got A Ukulele strikes again! Either way, this is a considerably nicer neck than I reviewed on the 310.

Flight DUS 320 SP/ZEB Soprano ukulele neck


We have a bone nut before a typical three pointed crown shaped headstock. It is faced in more of the striking zebrawood veneer and the Flight logo is nicely engraved. Also engraved into the face of the headstock is another flower style logo mimicing the sound hole decoration.

Flight DUS 320 SP/ZEB Soprano ukulele headstock


Flipping it over and I see that the tuners are leagues better than the wobbly open gears used on the NUS 310. Sure they are still unbranded gears (would still prefer friction pegs!) in chrome, but they are good enough quality and work just fine. So many brands at this price just get it wrong with massive buttons and cheap tuners. These are perfectly passable.

Flight DUS 320 SP/ZEB Soprano ukulele tuners


Completeting the package is a set of Aquila strings and a nice quality embroidered Flight gig bag with shoulder strap and front package. As I said, this is an entry level instrument and commands and RRP of €99, although I am seeing them online for considerably less than that.

To hold, the instrument is not overly heavy, and it is nicely balanced too. Generally speaking the construction also feels sound as well, and nothing feels weak or roughly done.

The setup on the saddle and nut both need some work. The saddle only needs to come down a touch, and is on the verge of being passable, but the nut is just far too high, leading to some intonation issues at the lower frets. Nothing major, and fixable though, so I would recommend buying this from a store that offers a setup, or budget in the need to get it checked over. Just to make a point on this issue. I regularly get emails from readers asking for ukulele recommendations that have 'good intonation'. There is no such thing - and by that I mean that ANY ukulele can have bad intonation if the setup needs adjusting. It is not something symptomatic of any brand - rather more symptomatic of the dealer you bought it from. So as I say - this one can be easily adjusted and for that reason I don't mark down instruments if the intonation is purely down to the adjustable elements that are designed to be adjustable. What I can confirm on this one is the issue seems in no way connected to anything more fatal in the construction! We digress.

So nice to hold, nicely made, what about the sound? Well, first impressions were that in comparison to the NUS 310, this is significantly better. That last Flight I looked at sounded very thin and boxy on the tone, but this one has a lot more going on. The volume is good, the notes are pretty clear and it's certainly bright. Sustain isn't great to be honest, but I have played much worse. Yes, it's kind of one dimensional, but then I find that a lot of laminate ukuleles are at this price point - hence my confusion on the marketing speak about the spruce and zebrawood above. But it's a passable instrument that actually performs well and will suit a beginner better than some of the dreadful rubbish still about. I was particularly impressed with it when fingerpicked as it does have some chime to it too.

Flight Ukulele


Don't get me wrong, it's not a high end complex tone, but then it is not trying or pretending to be. But as I say - still perfectly acceptable. I think this one is following what is a pleasing trend in ukuleles from China at the cheap end in the recent year. When I started out on ukulele there were some truly woeful instruments out there at the cheap end. Things that should never have left the factory. Sure, there still are, but they are being drowned out by an increasing number of better made cheap instruments. For the new ukulele player not looking to spend a fortune, I think things have never been better in terms of choice and reliability. Of course with more choice comes harder decisons on what to buy, but hey, that's what Got A Ukulele is for!

So in summary - this one is not getting a stellar score, but it's not getting a bad one either. I think if you were considering one of these as a first instrument, or for a child, then you could do a lot worse. And you can't argue with the price. Just factor in that you may need to do some adjusting on the setup. Pleasantly surprised with this one.

http://www.flightmusic.com



UKULELE PROS

Good general build quality
Striking looks
Decent gig bag
Better quality tuners
Good volume
Balanced weight
Great price

UKULELE CONS

Needs some setup on this review model
Lacking sustain
Satin finish is quite thin

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8 out of 10
Sound - 7.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.1 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




27 Nov 2016

Ohana 'O'Nino' Sopranissimo Ukulele - REVIEW

A welcome return for the Ohana brand on Got A Ukulele with their latest tiny uke in the form of the "O'Nino" model.

Ohana O'Nino Ukulele


This is not the first sub-soprano scale ukulele I have looked at on the site, and nor is it the first sub-soprano for Ohana, as this follows on from their earlier SK21 series. The difference with the O'Nino however is that it even smaller than the 21 series. Call it a sopranino, call it a sopranissimo, call it a sub-soprano, call it what you like. It's a very small ukulele! And like a lot of the Ohana line, it is made in China, but brought back to the USA for quality control before distribution. I must say, their QC is pretty good too, as I have rarely (if ever) seen a truly bad Ohana.

With a scale length of 11 inches and an overall length tip to tail of only 17 inches, this is certainly a tiny ukulele. Not the smallest out thre by any means as ukuleles like the Tiny Tangi and the Nano Ukes built by Andy Miles are smaller, but it's still smaller than a soprano, and the smallest yet from Ohana. Readers will know of my love for the John Daniel Pixie Sopranino instrument and this O'Nino is very slightly smaller than that!

Size apart though, this is a standard double bout instrument made from all solid mahogany. I really like the shape, and that narrower upper bout which exaggerates the small scale to the eye even further.

The whole body on this review model is flawless and finished in a semi gloss coat that is neatly applied all over the instrument. I've commented on these finishes before on the likes of Kala ukuleles. They are a way apart from a hand rubbed finish which I prefer, and can sometimes look a little synthetic. Saying that, it doesn't look all that artificial and the wood grain shows through the top very nicely. It looks like a solid wood Ohana!

Ohana O'Nino Ukulele body


Decorating the edge of the top is a strip of well applied cream binding with black and white stripe detail and a similar cream and black inlaid rosette around the sound hole. It all looks classy and traditional and I like it a lot. The top is a single piece of wood, which is not surprising considering the size of the body.

The bridge is a slotted rosewood affair, meaning straighforward string changes with a white uncompensated saddle that looked to me like plastic, but specs tell me is made of bone. The bridge plate is mounted low down on the top of the instrument to keep the scale length without making the ukulele overly large. I like the look of that too.

Ohana O'Nino Ukulele top


The sides are made of a single piece of solid mahogany as is the back which is dead flat.  Where the back meets the sides we have more edge binding but this time in straight cream with no detailing.

I like the whole look of the body and it screams ukulele whilst also looking typically Ohana. A look inside the soundhole shows a typical Ohana tidy build, with notched kerfing and no mess or glue spots. All very nice so far.

The neck is made from mahogany and finished in the same satin, meaning it's nice on the hand. It's made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and one near the nut. I'll come on to the width and profile of the neck in a moment.

Topping the neck is a rosewood fretboard with some colour variation near the upper frets which I think actually looks quite nice. It is fitted with 12 nickel silver frets, so a standard soprano number really. They are all dressed very nicely and are of the more jumbo style in width. The end of the fingerboard is also nicely shaped adding another detail to an instrument that already looks quite classy.

Ohana O'Nino Ukulele neck


We have pearloid position markers at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces, but none on the side. I usually consider the lack of side markers to be a gripe, but thinking about it on a sopranino, I consider it less of an issue. The small nature of the uke, and the way you need to hold it means that it's probably hard to see the side of the neck in any event, and certainly your fretting hand will hide a lot of it.

Up to the nut, and this is an area that is always of great interest to people wanting a sub-soprano scale instrument. You see, reason suggests that as you go down in overall size, the nut will get narrower too, and if there is one thing that makes a ukulele harder to play it's a narrow nut. In some cases the nuts get too narrow, as was the case with the iUke, but the John Daniel shows that they can be made wider. I measure the nut on the O'Nino as 33.5mm, so very slightly (0.5mm) narrower than the Daniel, but still bigger than the iUke Piccolo by several millimetres. I think it could do with being wider still, but then I think the John Daniel would benefit from that too (and neither are as bad as the iUke in that respect).  Talking in millimetres may not seem like much to sniff at, but trust me - nut width is really noticeable when playing and despite the endless myths, has far more impact on space for large hands than the scale of the instrument does. So, thankfully, even with big hands, I can manage this one (wheras I struggled with the iUke). The O'Nino also has a fairly shallow neck profile so it does kind of feel bigger than it is when in the hands anyway. That nut incidentally is also made of bone.

Moving up to the headstock, and we find the first things that I was not too pleased with. Firstly, the headstock is finished nicely, and employs the traditional Ohana curved top. The logo is not screen printed, rather is inlaid in pearloid and looks good. The size however really stands out to me. In fact it looks no different to the headstock on a standard Ohana soprano. I think it's just too big and would have loved to see it smaller. Take a look at the headstock on the John Daniel to see that it is tiny in comparison.

Ohana O'Nino Ukulele headstock


And flipping it over we see another change from the SK21, and the reason for that large headstock. Whilst the 21 was fitted with decent quality Gotoh friction pegs, Ohana have reverted to unbranded open gears on the O'Nino. They are good enough quality in themselves with small white buttons, but you know me.... On small ukuleles I just think they look better with friction pegs to get rid of the 'ears' look. I know why they will have done it, as many beginners reject instruments with friction pegs off hand, but I'd have a couple of things to say to that. First, the SK21 pegs were not the worst  friction pegs and shouldn't be rejected, and secondly, I think the O'Nino appeals to more than just beginners. I suspect more seasoned ukulele players may be agreeing with me on the lack of friciton tuners here. Yes, beginners will welcome gears, but what about the rest of us? All things considered, I just think the headstock is out of keeping with the rest of the instrument - big headstock / big tuner / Tiny uke... Will that affect the way it plays?

Ohana O'Nino Ukulele tuners


Completing the deal is a set of Aquila strings, and the O'Nino carries an RRP of $219. In reality you will find them at much more competitive prices online with Ohana dealers like Mims Ukes stocking them at about $140 at the time of writing and about £120 in the UK at somewhere like SUS. You will have noticed a gig bag in the pictures. That doesn't come included, but this is the Ohana UB19 bag they recommend for this model, and will set you back a few dollars more. So be honest though, you could carry this in a sock!

So all in all we have an instrument that will appeal to those in want of a sub-soprano fix. It's well made, looks classy and has a pleasing nut width. Shame about the headstock and tuners... but on to the playing!

First of all, in the hand it is very comfortable. Sure, being so small I wouldn't recommend any sub soprano as a first timer's ukulele, but if you know the ropes, you will not struggle with this one. It feels nice on the finish and it's light and well balanced to despite the gears and large headstock. And that body size has other advantages too of course - travel with one of these would be a breeze!

Tuning wise you have a number of options, but I tend to work on the basis that a sopranissimo is something you buy knowing that you will tune it differently from standard. Yes, you could get away with tuning it to standard C tuning (though the strings would be too floppy for my liking and it may cause intonation issues). You could go C tuning but one octave higher like the iUke (with different strings!), but I seriously dislike that shrill sound. Come on, the ukulele is already very high pitched and I find that 'even higher' C tuning is like nails on a blackboard to me. I saw Mim's recommendation was to try D tuning, but found that the intonation was a bit off with the 3rd string. If this were my ukulele I would however experiement and probably try F tuning like I usually use on the John Daniel which I find works well at this scale. SUS recommend Eb tuning which is somewhere between those two and that's what I chose for the video review. So lots of options really. And yes, I know, some will be reading saying 'but I don't know the chords for that tuning' and may be put off. You really do know how though, and working them out is far simpler than you may think. Have a read of this! (Seriously, don't be afraid of alternate tunings - you know the shapes!).

But, for now, Eb tuning it is (ie Bb, Eb, G, C), and it actually feels quite comfortable that way and intonates well. String tension is ok too. Your mileage may vary of course, but you know - no rules. Your uke - tune it how you are comfortable.

Ohana O'Nino Uke


Setup on this one was very good, and I am pleased about that for good reason. The smaller you go with a ukulele scale the more necessary it is to have good intonation setup on the instrument. In other words, the larger ukuleles hide such innacuracies better, but if you are only a tiny bit out on a sopranino, you WILL notice it. For that reason I would certainly recommend you buy this from a specialist dealer who will offer a setup (somewhere like Mim's, HMS or SUS). I know I bang on about the big box shippers not doing setups, and I know many of you risk it, but trust me - this is an instrument for which you will definitely want the setup to be exact. Some say that it's impossible to get a sopranino perfect, and when you understand that all ukulele tuning is something of a 'fudge' in any case, I can understand why. This one is close enough for me though, and it's hardly and instrument for playing orchestral pieces right up at the dusty end of the fretboard in any case I suppose.

Sound wise, I find that people tend to fall into two camps when it comes to ultra small ukuleles. Those that love them and those that don't... (Well duh!)..  But in that 'don't' camp, the dismissers tend to be those who don't like them for the simple reason of the staccato sound they have. To me though that is exactly the point of them. The soprano ukulele itself was designed to be a staccato, almost rhythmical instrument and not one for long sustain and massive resonance. That is the point of a soprano in my book. So if you go even smaller it stands to reason that the sub-soprano ukuleles are going to sound even more rhythmical. Of course, you are free to like what you like, but personally I like the range of all sizes of ukulele. If I want sustain and resonance I will go tenor or baritone, if I want something that is more rhythmical, I go soprano. And that's what you get with a sopranino - in spades.

This one is certainly playable, and unlike the neck on the iUke, for someone with my sized hands, enjoyable too. It's certainly staccato as I say, but great fun to strum fast. The sustain is short, but really not much different from that on my much loved John Daniel. Tone wise, it's far, far brighter from the Daniel, which is also made from solid Mahogany. Whether that is down to the strings or the build I am not wholly sure, but it doesn't make one worse than the other - just different. Like many things it will come down to personal taste, and at this size I have to say I like the John Daniel tone quite a bit more, but maybe that's just me. Saying that, I do recall playing an Ohana SK21 and I much prefer the O'Nino tone. It also beats the tone on the Kala Pocket for me and certainly that of the iUke. Volume wise, with a body this small, you are never going to wake the neighbours, but it's as loud as the John Daniel (just in a different way) and great for home use. If you wanted to perform with it - hey, that's why they invented microphones!

All in all, a very well made, nice looking instrument from a reliable brand. No, I don't like the tuners, but I know many of you will and think I am crazy for not wanting gears. I suppose I could always swap them out though. Tuners aside, I think the headstock is just all out of proportion, but that's a personal gripe and it doesn't affect the play in any way. A sopranino is never going to have massive sustain and killer tone, but as I say, that's not the point of them. As sopraninos go though, this is one of the better ones around.

At the deals on price I am seeing, I think it's something of a no brainer as a fun addition to your ukulele collection.

With many thanks to Ohana Music for the loan of the instrument

http://www.ohana-music.com


UKULELE PROS

Great classy look
Great build quality
Decent price (if you shop around)
Wide enough and comfortable neck
Light and balanced to hold

UKULELE CONS

Overly large headstock
Geared tuners

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.4 out of 10



UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW









19 Nov 2016

aNueNue UT200 Moon Bird Tenor Ukulele REVIEW

I was absolutely thrilled to have the chance to review another aNueNue ukulele on the site, this time in the form of the UT200 Moon Bird Tenor.

aNueNue UT200 Moon Bird Ukulele



I featured the first aNueNue ukulele on the site only fairly recently in their Africa Mahogany model (and it was a cracker). It was strange that it was the first, as when I started out writing, aNueNue were pretty widely available on these shores. Then they became next to impossible to find in the UK, and at the time of writing that last review I had to also explain that there wasn't a UK dealer I was aware of. Well things have changed as you will read further on. But first, let's take a closer look at it.

The UT200, or 'Moon Bird tenor' is right up there at pretty much the top end of the current aNueNue ukulele line up. It's an intriguing name for sure. I believe the 'bird' element in the name  is because it is based on their M200 Bird guitar, and as for the moon,.... well you will see in the details. Either that or it sings like a bird and makes you howl at the moon... We shall see.

It's a fairly (and I stress 'fairly') standard shaped tenor ukulele in that it is in a double bout shape. But a common tenor template this is not. For a start, that lower bout is super rounded and fat which I really like - reminiscent of grand auditorium guitars. At the top of the body we have something that people may call a 'cutaway'. But it's less a cutaway and more of a 'staggered shoulder' on the top bout. It does the same thing as a cutaway (ie gives easier access to high frets), but there is nothing 'cut' away as such. I know some people think cutaways affect tone and get seriously stressed about it. I say 'life is too short' and there are far too many other variables to affect sound to make a fair comparison. Either way, with that large lower bout, it's hardly like the UT200 is short on soundboard material! Whatever your views, I think the shape is beautiful. Clearly a ukulele shape but refreshingly 'different'.

The top of the instrument is made from a beautifully pale and even solid Swiss spruce and it looks fabulous. The grain is dead straight and it's impossible to tell apart the two pieces that make the top. The top edges are bound in rosewood, but in a way that is really quite different. Rather than a straight uniform strip of binding with the typical black and white detail strip, the visible binding on the top kind of flows in a variable wave around the edge. I think it's really effective and different. You may be forgiven for thinking it's part of a comfort edge chamfer, but it isn't - it's just a different take on binding and I applaud them for that.

Around the sound hole we have an inlaid rosette in spalted maple, and this gives your first clue to the 'moon' motif with the instrument. The rosette is kind of offset giving a kind of crescent shape on one side. Again, really different and really effective.

aNueNue UT200 Moon Bird Ukulele sound hole


The bridge plate is made from ebony in a shape that is again different to most standard ukuleles and is a tie bar style.  The saddle is made from buffalo bone.

aNueNue UT200 Moon Bird Ukulele bridge


Moving to the other parts of the body, the back and sides of the instrument are made from solid East Indian Rosewood. It's a striking contrast to the pale top wood and has been used as combination by some of the worlds highest end guitar makers. The rosewood is deep and warm in colour with plenty of stripe to provide interest which is nicely book matched on the back pieces. The joint between the back and sides is bound in rosewood, but without the wave as it would be lost against the rosewood back. The back is only very slightly arched. The sides are in two pieces with a joint at the base. People sometimes asssume that a ukulele 'must' have a massively arched or curved back. Not true. Many manufacturers do that to assist in projection where other elements of the build may be limiting it - to compensate if you like. You don't need a significant curve to the back if your ukulele already projects well. We shall see how this one gets on when we play it.

aNueNue UT200 Moon Bird Ukulele back


The whole body is finished in gloss, and it really is quite a gloss. Certainly one of the best I have seen without a single flaw I could find. On that dark wooden back, it really is like a mirror. A serious fingerprint magnet though!

Looking inside and things are impressively tidy. The kerfing is notched. aNueNue specs suggest that this instrument is braced using a 'Mount Fuji voiced brace design' designed by luthier Mitsuta Morihiko. I will level with you to admit that I have NO idea what that means. If the bracing pattern is different (which it may be), it's impossible for me to see it... The back braces are visible and to me look pretty standard.

The neck is made from mahogany with a joint at the heel and a hard to spot joint at the headstock. It's finished in satin meaning it doesn't feel sticky and has a pretty slim profile (that is to say, slim in depth not in width). I really like the shaping of the neck heel on this which seems different enough from the norm to warrant a mention. For those interested, that nut width is actually 1.5 inches or 38mm, putting it on the wider end of the scale alongside Hawaiian K brands. That's another thumbs up for me.

aNueNue UT200 Moon Bird Ukulele neck


Topping the neck is a deep black ebony fingerboard that is flawless. The edges are bound which hides the fret edges too.

We have 20 nickel silver frets in total, with 14 to the top shoulder and 17 to the lower shoulder. They are all dressed perfectly and the edges hidden by binding on the edge of the fingerboard. The frets are what I would consider in guitar circles to be of the more vintage jumbo style. That isn't to say they are high (quite the opposite) but that they are fatter than most you see on ukuleles which seem nothing more than thin fuse wire. These are immensely comfortable. The sort of frets that do their job but your fingers don't really know they are there. Wonderful.

Fret markers are provided on the face of the fingerboard at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces. They are made from what look like more of the inlaid spalted maple and are wonderfully shaped as moon phases as you move up the neck - the moon getting progressively more full as you go up. What a nice touch. Even better, the position markers are repeated on the side in small white dots for the player.

aNueNue UT200 Moon Bird Ukulele fingerboard


Past the bone nut we have what I think is now the generic aNueNue headstock. I like that it differs from lazier designs like three pointed crowns, and I like how it is finished (ebony facing cap, aNueNue logo inlaid in pearl)... but, is it wrong of me to say this? Compared to the rest of the instrument it kind of looks a bit plain to me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this headstock, but I just thought it perhaps needed more of the moon or bird logic applying to it. Minor gripe!

aNueNue UT200 Moon Bird Ukulele headstock


Flipping the headstock over and all that is forgotten when you see they have provided Gotoh UPT planetary tuners. These are SERIOUSLY good tuners, and provide all the benefits of gears in a form factor similar to friction pegs. I was so pleased to see these and the black metalwork also looks a treat. Elsewhere on the headstock we have the holographic sticker of authenticity.

aNueNue UT200 Moon Bird Ukulele tuners


Completing the deal are what aNueNue call 'Black Water' strings (which I assume are black flurorocarbon, they certainly feel like it) and what is probably the best hard case that is included in a deal I have EVER seen in my reviews. It's finsished in a dusky blue leatherette tolex that is padded and soft to touch everywhere. The hinges and clasps are superb quality and finished in aged brass and also lockable and all the edges are stitched. The handle is amazingly padded and the velour inside is just beautiful. At the top of the case is a stamped aNueNue logo. I really REALLY love this hard case. In fact if I could get away with filling this review with pictures of the case I would!

And for all of that you are looking at a dealer price of around £1,148 in the UK. You can push that price up as aNueNue offer it with a couple of pickup options, but this is the base acoustic price. A serious price for sure, setting it alongside high end tenors like Kamaka and Kanile'a, but does it play like a serious ukulele? And yes, I can hear traditionalists falling to the floor saying 'that much for a Chinese instrument?', but I hope we can deal with that myth too.

aNueNue UT200 Moon Bird Ukulele hard case


First up, I think you have probably gleaned from my description and the pictures, that this ukulele is flawless in its construction. Seriously, I cannot find anything wrong with it at all. It feels comfortably solid and well made and whichever angle you look at it it's warm, classy, smart and just wonderful.

Thankfully, in the hands it doesn't disappoint either. It's not heavy, but doesn't feel flimsy or overly delicate either. It's also wonderfully balanced to hold.

Without a doubt, the first thing that strikes you when you play this is the stunning volume and projection. This is a loud and strident ukulele. In fact one of the most forward ukuleles I have ever played and up there with something like the Blackbird Clara. It's staggering in fact and really surprising. Maybe there is something in that bracing, but certainly that large lower bout is assisting here. That isn't to say it's a one trick pony on volume though, as it is just as easily played softly. But if you give it a heavy strum you really will rattle the windows. Marvellous!

But as I always say, volume is nothing if the tone then disappoints. Thankfully the quality shines through here also. It's a complex and varied town that reacts wonderfully depending on how you play it. For a start it has bass if you need it. This is strung in re-entrant G so that surprised me too, but what is coming through here is the range it has. It's a rich, rounded tone when you strum or pick more pronounced on the C string or lower positions. But it's balanced out perfectly (to my ears) by the soaring ring of the higher strings, particularly if you move up the neck. It's quite remarkable really as it never seems to miss a beat no matter what you ask of it. Want soft and sweet? It can do that. Want punchy staccato? ? It can do that. Want wonderful lingering sustain? It can do that. Want both together? It can do that.

Never do you play this one, whether strummed or picked and find that some of the notes are lost in the mix. They all sit there bright and clear.

It's all about the clarity of tone and dynamic range with this one. A ukulele that can be as soft as a kitten if you want it to be, but equally can turn into a wild tiger with the right treatment. I suspect part of it is down to the size of the body, but also it's the natural brightness of spruce mixed with warmth provided by the rosewood back and sides. Whatever it is, it works.

Let's cut to the chase...this instrument is an absolute delight and hands down one of the best instruments I have EVER had the pleasure of featuring. And from China too... you see, if you are down on China just because it's, well.. China - then you are completely behind the curve now. Yes they make some shockingly bad instruments at the cheap end, but things have moved on at the higher end. This is a stunningly good ukulele and I don't care where it came from.

Boy... this has been a hard review to write. Am I really giving this the best score on Got A Ukulele ever? Well, yes, I am. It's close, but it IS the best. I have played a LOT of ukuleles but not all of them,  so perhaps there is a better one out there. But I can only write as I find and this ukulele is wonderful. I want this ukulele!

And as I also said - i'm delighted that since my last aNueNue review to learn that my home country now has a dealer where you can buy these direct. Just head over to World Of Ukes and speak to Matt who has had these exact models in store!

http://www.anuenue-uke.com/en/




UKULELE PROS

Body shape which is traditional yet different
Superb (and I mean superb) finish
Nice theme with moon motifs
Excellent build quality
Staggering volume, projection, sustain
Bright / deep / firm / delicate - it can be all those things - excellent dynamic range
Wide nut and comfortable frets
Marvellous hard case

UKULELE CONS

None, seriously..

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.5 out of 10


UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





17 Nov 2016

Choose Your Ukulele Dealer Carefully!

In a conversation this morning helping out a new ukulele buyer, I once again came across the issue of choosing your ukulele shop with care. It was being answered by the usual suggestion of buying from Amazon...

Amazon ukulele
This Stagg ukulele was rated one of the best ranked ukuleles on Amazon - it was more fit for firewood...

Now this is a subject I have touched on in various other blog posts, but realised that I hadn't written a more consolidated advice guide on where I think you should consider buying your instrument, particularly your first one. Well, that and why I don't recommend the 'Zon..

You see, I see comments made online quite often on this subject that say, 'That chap at Got A Ukulele doesn't recommend buying from Amazon'. And it is almost always followed with someone saying 'I bought from Amazon and it was absolutely fine, so he doesn't know what he is talking about'..

So lets be clear - NO, I don't recommend buying from Amazon except in certain cases. Same goes for eBay if you are a beginner, and in fact also goes for a worrying number of big brand music stores too. I will deal with the exceptions further on in this piece, as like anything there is no one size fits all here, but lets first look at where and why I make the general warning against the big A.

The likes of Amazon, big selling channels on eBay and the large brand music stores come with a couple of issues for me. First of all, those sellers tend to concentrate (in the main) on the cheaper end of the ukulele market. We are talking the sub £200 price point with a particular focus on the sub £100 (or even sub £50) price. And the second point is that direct purchases from Amazon (and sadly, many big brand music stores) mean that for online shopping the ukulele will come to you unopened. In other words what the factory sends to Amazon is exactly what you will get. And here lies my problem.

It is a simple fact that the cheaper you go with a ukulele, the greater the chance you will find that the instrument needs (at the least) some setup work (adjustment of the saddle or nut to ensure accurate intonation), or something more serious like a warped neck or misplaced bridge that means that it should have been weeded out from sale altogether. Not every cheap ukulele needs that, and of course such issues can occur even with higher end instruments, but it's about percentage chances. Trust me - the cheaper you go, the more the chance a ukulele will need checking over before being shipped. Enough instruments have come through my hands over the years to see the pattern.

And Amazon just don't do that checking over. Big channels on eBay just don't do that and even big brand music stores who have jumped on the uke bandwagon just don't do that. So why is that such a problem?

Well put simply, the majority of buyers of instruments at this price may well be beginners. It may be their first instrument in fact. Do they really know how to adjust setup on a ukulele, or how to reject an instrument that has a fatal build flaw. In fact will they even know that there is an issue? I see lots of beginners talking about cheap ukuleles saying things like 'this one is good because it holds tuning, the other one I bought sounded out of tune'. I've seen beginners suggesting that wonky tuning is actually a 'feature' of the humble ukulele and is to be expected. Holding tuning is not something that is good or bad and specific to certain brands - it's something that can be fixed on ANY ukulele. That is part of setup! But I think more often than not, if they hear an instrument playing out of tune, they tend to blame the strings and not the setup. And no, wonky tuning is NOT a feature of the ukulele.

And for those people who DO recognise there is an issue with the ukulele, what do they then do to resolve it? Return it? Have a go themselves and get frustrated? Take it to a shop and pay them to fix it? All of a sudden that cheap ukulele isn't so cheap any longer. If you spend £30 on a ukulele, then another £10 on strings because it sounds out of tune because somebody on the internet told you its a string issue, but then that doesn't fix it... You then pay another £20 to get a shop to set it up and all of a sudden your £30 ukulele becomes a £50 ukulele complete with a load of hassle and wasted time.

And that price issue is really the reason why people choose Amazon. They are highly competitive, and also offer excellent and cheap delivery options. Similar ukuleles, when you consider shipping, from independent specialists may cost you more money and people go with their wallets. What I am saying is it's false economy if you are going to have to spend more money down the line. And it's for that simple reason that I recommend specialists who will look the instrument over and adjust the setup if needed. It's called peace of mind.

Now, back to that comment of 'I bought one from Amazon, and it's fine' that I always get in defence. I never said that it's impossible to get a good one. In fact you could buy ten ukuleles from Amazon and find that they are all setup just fine. Great. I'm glad for you! But I'm afraid there are many examples that are not fine and just because you did well doesn't make it a hard and fast rule. Case in point is the Kaka ukulele I recently had from Amazon for review. The saddle needs adjustment and so does the nut. Those are fixable if you know how, but the bridge that is in the wrong place is more fatal and a massive job to fix  (if it's even worth it). These things happen more than I would like and the simple fact is that a good ukulele specialist would have weeded this one out from sale. I've seen many like that from Amazon. Oh, and bear in mind that ukulele specialists that do setups do so for a REASON.

So what are those exceptions I talked about? Well there are a couple of situations in which I wouldn't hesitate buying from Amazon.

1. When know how to undertake a full ukulele setup. I do, so I know that if a uke arrives with a high saddle, high nut or dodgy tuners, that I can easily put it right. I wouldn't want to tackle a warped neck however, but I can sort the majority of issues. If you are not comfortable with this, I'd recommend using a dealer who will do that for you and remove the worry.

2. That you are dealing with a real specialist who is using Amazon or eBay as a marketplace. When you look at your product listing - have a look whether it says who is fulfilling the order. If it is coming from Amazon it is coming direct - from a shelf in a warehouse and will NOT be set up. It may however be coming from a marketplace seller who is a reputable ukulele specialist. I know a few great stores who use Amazon this way - those sort of sales are fine because you KNOW that you are getting one from a dealer who has opened the box before shipping it.

But sadly that's it.

People often ask why my list of ukulele dealers isn't any longer. It's short for the simple reason that I only list stores that I know will check instruments over before despatch and may offer a full setup a part of the price. And the sad thing is - there are not all that many of them. Just because a big brand music store is on every high street and happens to sell ukuleles - doesn't mean they are ukulele specialists. In fact for online sales, most of the big brand stores are despatching, unopened, from warehouses themselves. So I'd really urge sticking to the stores who know and understand that instrument. Trust me, it will be less of a headache in the long run.

And yes, I know that some of you can only rely on online shopping, but most if not all the specialists I know offer that. And yes, even the specialists can get things wrong too - but again, it's all about the chances. Mistakes do happen, but at least they are opening the boxes which is more than can be said for the big box shippers..

Go carefully!

12 Nov 2016

Cocobolo Super Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

A welcome return to Got A Ukulele for a brand I had reviewed favourably before. This time it's a Super Soprano scale instrument from Cocobolo Ukuleles

Cocobolo Super Soprano Ukulele


I won't go over the background in too much detail as you can read about that in my review of the Cocobolo Tenor, but these are handmade instruments from Nicaragua, made from all solid Cocobolo wood. They've taken the uke market by storm and have proved incredibly popular on account of their striking looks. As you will see from that tenor review though, they also play and sound great too!

So this one comes in an increasingly popular size called the Super Soprano. Basically that is a soprano body with a longer neck, and are often called 'long neck sopranos' too. It's essentially a concert scale neck on a soprano body, meaning more frets.

So aside from the longer neck, this is a typically soprano sized and shaped instrument, with a traditional double bout shape.

The first thing that struck me about this one, like the tenor I reviewed, was the looks. It's absolutely stunning to look at. In my review of the tenor I said I was disappointed that it wasn't bookmatched on the top and back, rather a more random swirl of cocobolo. It was still beautiful, but I hankered for it to be book-matched.  I was thrilled to see that this one was a book-matched version meaning that the two pieces of tone wood on the top (and the back) match perfectly like a mirror down the middle.  On the top, that book matching makes great use of the much paler sap wood of the cocobolo, creating a cream coloured stripe down the middle. It contrasts brilliantly to the deep red brown of the rest of the wood. I just love it. There is otherwise no binding or decoration on the top, but when the wood looks this good, it hardly needs it. This is one of the prettiest ukuleles I have reviewed.

Cocobolo Super Soprano Ukulele body


The sides are in two pieces, and similarly matched, with a nice stripe of paler wood around nearer the back and an inlaid detail stripe where the sides meet at the base.

The back has a nice arch to it, makes similar use of the sap wood to create a pale stripe down the middle and also has a very attracive darker cocobolo inlay running down the join. It's gorgeous.

Cocobolo Super Soprano Ukulele back


Complimenting the traditional sound hole on the top, this one is also complete with a side sound port. This is another sound hole on the top side which projects sound up to the player. They are regularly seen on some high end instruments and they really do work well. I would add though, that this feature is an extra on the standard spec.

Cocobolo Super Soprano Ukulele side port


Bridge wise we have a cocobolo bridge mount holding a bone saddle. The saddle is slightly curved to match the radius of the fretboard (more on that later). Unlike the tenor though, this isn't a standard tie bar bridge, but rather involves the strings running directly through the body. It's not a feature that you see that often, but it is effective. Saying that though, in my opinion it does make string changes far more fiddly than they need to be as you have to fish the strings out of the sound hole to tie knots in them before pulling them tight to the tuners. In its defence I would say that it looks very smart. I'd still prefer a more standard bridge though.

Cocobolo Super Soprano Ukulele bridge


The whole body is finished in a very tactile satin coat. It's incredibly nice on the hands but I do wonder if a mirror gloss would bring that cocobolo grain out even more. That's not a critisism though as the wood is plenty pretty as it is.

Looking inside the instrument and it's all reasonably tidy. There are one or two glue spots, but nothing dramatic. We have notched kerfing and fairly thin braces.

Up to the mahogany neck and this is made of several pieces with a joint at the heel and the headstock. It's also complete with an inlaid cocobolo 'skunk stripe' that contrasts nicely with the paler wood down the back of the neck. The OCD in me notes that the stripe slightly off centre and that would really irritate me though!

On top of the neck is a cocobolo fretboard, which, like the tenor has a radius. That is to say the top of the fretboard isn't flat, but has a slight curve to it from side to side. The jury is split on whether this feature assists playing, with some people not liking them, and some loving them. I'm fairly in the 'love' camp with radius boards. I think they are noticeably more comfortable and natural feeling. Given the choice, I would always have one myself.

Cocobolo Super Soprano Ukulele neck


Once again, they have made use of the sapwood of the cocobolo with a really striking pale section in the wood up near the nut. I think it looks great. Being a super soprano it's fitted with 18 nickel silver frets with 15 to the body. This is far more than a standard soprano and really welcomed, particularly if you play up at the dusty end of the neck..  The frets are all dressed on the edges really well too. In my tenor review I pointed out that I would have liked to see more crowning to the frets as they were a bit hard on the fingers. They seem to have improved that a little, but I would still like more crowning. This is a minor point and this fret style is actually more vintage. The fretboard edges are not bound, but you don't really see the fret edges either.

We have white mother of pearl fret markers set into the fretboard at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th spaces and these are repeated on the side. Oddly, the side markers on this ukulele come as standard, but the fretboard markers are a $20 addition. I've never seen that before as an option, but at least the side markers cost you nothing extra!

Past the bone nut, we have a generic three pointed crown shaped headstock which too has a bookmatched double veneer on the face. The back is also veneered with a slab of cocobolo showing off both the dark and light woods. I think the whole thing looks great and anything but dull.

Cocobolo Super Soprano Ukulele headstock


Tuning is provided by wonderful open geared Grovers. Really really good quality tuners these, but you know what I am going to say.. this is a soprano. I'd LOVE to have seen good quality friction pegs
on it! PLEASE!

Cocobolo Super Soprano Ukulele tuners


This model came strung with Worth Brown strings which again are actually an extra at another $20. I have no idea what strings you get if you don't pay that extra. I presume it does actually come with strings!!  The tenor I reviewed came with Aquila strings as standard, but I really don't quite get why a set of Worth Browns represents a price increase? Some people like them, but some people like Aquila. They both have their fans and I don't think one brand is better than the other. Either way, if you are selling a ukulele I really don't see that strings should be too much of an issue anyway (so long as you don't use ultra cheap nylon rubbish). Most people change them to suit their preference anyway, so just sell me a ukulele with a half decent set of strings on it, I don't really mind what they are.

So onto that pricing model. The standard spec super soprano (meaning no side sound port, no worth strings and no fretboard markers) will come in at $379 which I think is an excellent price for a ukulele of this spec. With the sound port, Worth strings and freboard markers it moves up to $459 which I still think is a great price, but I just find the pricing model to be a little odd.  Personally I would take the side sound port as I like it a lot, but couldn't see me paying an extra $40 just to have fret markers and Worth strings.. Incidentally, you may have spotted a strap button in the pictures. This one was actually fitted with a pickup, but I don't believe they are offering those now. They will however fit you a strap button for another $10. All in all, I would prefer a single price myself.

Let's have a play though. First off, to hold the instrument, as I say, is really tactile. That satin is very nice on the hands and the whole thing feels solid and well made. There are no flaws on it anwhwere at all that I can see. It's also very nicely balanced. It feels heavier than you would expect for a soprano, but then cocobolo is a dense wood, and we do have that extra long neck. What is pleasing me is that despite that extra weight, it is still nicely balanced in the hands.

Checking the intonation and all over the neck it's exactly what I would expect. Visually I thought the saddle looked a little high, but the action above the 12th fret is actually just how I would like it. The nut is a little high, but not enough to create tuning issues so no complaints really.

Sound wise it's much warmer than you'd expect a soprano to sound, but strummed hard you still get a very staccato punchy soprano voice if you want it. Much more like a concert, but with a smaller body and a voice that I found very pleasing. Strummed more softly  and things sound much more jangly. It's got quite a range of tones really, and that is the mark of a responsive instrument. Lifeless this is NOT.

There is bags of sustain, volume and ring to the notes and fingerpicking is particularly nice on the ear. I found picking particularly nice and the comfort of that neck probably had something to do with that. The individual notes are particularly clear and defined, and come together nicely when strummed in a rich mix.

And that side sound port really does its job. It doesn't add much for an audience, but coupled with the vibrations you feel in your chest when you play it, it's nice to have that 'in your face' sound coming directly up at you.

All in all it's a warm, rich sounding beast that I think not only looks beautiful, but is really enjoyable to hold and play too. I'd prefer a clearer price model, but even with the extras, I think this is still good value for what you are getting. Once again, Got A Ukulele would give Cocobolo a strong recommendation!

Cocobolo Super Soprano Ukulele 2

http://www.cocoboloukuleles.com/


UKULELE PROS

Beautiful looks and bookmatching
Great tuners (but see cons below!)
Lots of different voices to the tone depending on your play
Side sound port adds to richness for the player.
Good core price


UKULELE CONS

Odd pricing options. I wouldn't pay extra for fret markers and strings!
Would prefer a less fiddly bridge
Would actually prefer good friction pegs on a soprano

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10


UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



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