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21 Oct 2017

Sigma SUM-2S Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

I don't know whether it's a result of my personal passion for them or just that the ukulele market is stronger in them generally, but it's time to look at yet another mahogany soprano. This time it's the very Martin-esque Sigma SUM-2S Soprano Ukulele

Sigma SUM-2S Soprano Ukulele

But before you also groan about this being 'yet another Martin copy', you should be aware that it's actually a Martin copy with quite a bit of provenance. You see, Sigma Guitars were set up BY Martin  in 1970 in an attempt to stem the tide of the (very good) Japanese guitars that were cloning Martin and others and stealing market share. How to beat the cloners? Become one yourself! And those original Sigma instruments were indeed VERY good too,  made to the same designs (in fact using the same blueprints as Martins) because Sigma essentially WERE Martin.

Times have changed a bit though and they are now no longer made in Japan, and Martin sold Sigma to the German AMI brand together with the rights to the original Martin designs some time ago. AMI then transferred production to Korea and then China and in 2015 released a range of Martin ukulele clones based on the original designs from Martin. So, like I say, this is a clone, but a clone with some provenance, albeit a somewhat disjointed one.

The SUM-2S forms part of a trio of mahogany ukuleles released by Sigma that also include the 2C (Concert) and 2T (Tenor) models. The 2S seems the most 'Martin-ey' to my eyes, and that's because it's closely modelled on a vintage Martin Style 2 soprano from the 1930's. And it DOES look like one in many ways, which is hardly surprising considering that Sigma history. I mean, if you are working from the blueprints it stands to reason!

This one is a very standard shaped soprano made from all solid mahogany with a double bout and curvy base that screams 'traditional' and 'old school'. The top and back are made from single pieces and the sides are in a pair. The whole thing is finished in a satin showing off the rather attractive swirly grain in the wood. It's very reminiscent of the Martin S1 I reviewed earlier this year, but actually looks, in some ways, nicer to my eyes. More 'finished' if you will. The grain is better lined up with the body orientation and just looks prettier too. The finish though is more reminiscent of modern models from the likes of Ohana and Kala, with that almost 'too' flat satin that means you don't feel the wood grain despite seeing it. I think that's a real shame as it's the one thing on the instrument that doesn't feel in any way traditional to me. In fact what also irritated me is that the limited shop photographs of these I have seen don't really indicate that you are getting this sort of finish. Ho hum, not the end of the world I guess, but don't go expecting a hand rubbed, oiled finish. On this front it's no match for the Martin.

Sigma SUM-2S Soprano Ukulele body

The added decoration is nice though, and of course the Martin S1 didn't have much at all. This on the other hand has an attractive black white black edge purfling complimenting the cream binding, but the sound hole rosette in black and white concentric circles is also less stark than that on the S1. It's still a transfer which is a shame, but then, so is the Martin. This just looks classier I think and fits the instrument.

Sigma SUM-2S Soprano Ukulele bridgeFor the bridge we have a rosewood slotted mount with a bone saddle that is very reminiscent of Martins new and old. Just like the Martin, the saddle sits in a contained slot rather than a slot cut right through the bridge edge to edge, so it looks even more authentic than something like an Ohana or Hamano Martin copy.

Looking inside and it's also very neat and tidy and I love how there is no makers label, rather the Sigma logo is pyro embossed on the back wood itself. Very traditional and more on that logo later. Incidentally, that logo, model number and serial number are also embossed on the neck block which is also nice. We've also got very neat notched linings and thin braces with absolutely no mess whatsoever. Top marks here.

Sigma SUM-2S Soprano Ukulele sound hole

Up to the neck and this is made of mahogany that appears to be made from a single piece. That's surprising for a Chinese instrument, and nice to see. It's hard to tell if it is attached with a dovetail like the Martins are, but it wouldn't surprise me if they worked from original design plans. The profile seems a little more rounded than the very flat Martin and we have a pleasing nut width of 36mm. Cool.

Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which extends over the top of the body housing a generous 17 nickel silver frets with 12 to the body. They are not bound, but the edges are dressed very well. The end of the fingerboard also shows off the traditional Martin shaping. Whether they will be changing that Rosewood to comply with CITES, I don't know but I suspect they will need to consider it. One thing I will point out here is that many soprano fans don't like the fingerboards that extend over the top of the instrument for fear that they affect the tone. Kiwaya make a shorter fingerboard version of their KTS-5 (the KTS-4) for that reason. With the KTS-5 though, that fingerboard, whilst it over hangs, is supremely thin and delicate. Here however we have quite a chunk of wood on the top.

Sigma SUM-2S Soprano Ukulele fingerboard

Position markers are also suitably Martin with outward dots at the 5th, 7th and 10th (the 7th being a double) and side markers that follow these positions but with extras at the 3rd, 12th and 15th. The dots are larger than those on a Martin, but that's no bad thing when you have eyesight like mine!

Beyond the bone nut and we find that the headstock is similar to Martin with a crown top. On the front is the Sigma logo which is also very Martin looking in it's style too - again unsurprising as Martin designed it. It's a transfer of course, but still far better looking than the gold sticker on the Martin S1 and it's quite subtle and aged looking, rather like the logos on higher end Kiwaya instruments. I like this.

Sigma SUM-2S Soprano Ukulele headstock

Flipping it over and we have my second gripe. The tuners. Sure, they are friction pegs (how could they be anything else on an authentic soprano?), but they are really pretty cheap ones with the plastic buttons creating friction onto plastic collars. They are the sort of friction pegs that give friction pegs a bad name to be honest. They look great, and I love the cream colour, but you will want to swap these out for certain I would say.  Thankfully that is a really easy job as I suspect most Grovers will be a straight swap in the holes left behind. Yes, these ones do hold, but they can be a pain to set right and there are, simply, much smoother friction pegs out there. Grover 4's or 6's spring to mind. Heck, some Gotoh UPT's would look killer on this!

Sigma SUM-2S Soprano Ukulele tuners

The package is completed with a decent quality padded gig bag bearing the Sigma name (that appears pretty much identical to the padded bags that entry Martins come with, only black) and a set of Aquila strings. I think that is a shame too, as they really should have gone with Martin strings to finish off the authenticity? Again though, an easy swap and one I would go for personally.  And that can be yours for around £225  which is a pretty keen price for this sort of build. I am not however seeing them in the USA and I 'believe' that as part of the deal during the sale of Sigma to AMI as they required that Sigma don't sell under the Martin name in the USA. Sigma guitars are sold there under the name of 'Kindred Guitars' but I don't see a ukulele version. Please correct me if I am wrong on this, but looking on their website and there is no US distributor. Sorry USA.

It's a nice feeling instrument, very light and balanced as is so important with a soprano and despite that 'factory' style satin it is rather nice in the hands too. Setup was good too with a very low action at the saddle, and a nut that I could possibly take down a touch, but isn't uncomfortably high. Certainly nothing I would rush to change.

And when it comes to sound, you should know what I am going to say by now. A soprano is foremost the rythmical option amongst the ukulele scales. An instrument really designed to be played with fast strum patterns, and for that it needs to have a good staccato bark and a punch. Thankfully this Sigma has it where it counts. It doesn't quite have that melt your face trademark jangle of a Martin ukulele but it still has a very nice punchy voice, more reminiscent of the Ohana SK-35, but to my ears, richer and rounder than that.

It's also a very playable instrument. By that I mean the combination of light weight and comfortable neck make it a joy to sit and play freehand with no straps or other cumbersome additions. When you add in the good resonance and lively tone it's got that 'aching to be played' feel too. In fact you can get great tones out of this with the lightest touch.

Sigma SUM-2S Soprano Ukulele back


It IS remarkably similar to the S1. In volume terms it's certainly comparable and it has a very very pleasant tone. This mellows the bright tone of the S1 down a touch, and may be a different option in the same scale package for people who want a less punchy sound. It's only subtly different, but come on - it's also the best part of £200 cheaper. All in all, this one is doing everything you want in a traditional mahogany soprano very well indeed.

This one my not quite give you the kudos of a Martin, but it could well BE one. And if you are comparing it to other value Martin clones like the Ohana SK35 and the Hamano, then I'd say this one takes the 'crown'. It's a shame about that finish and those tuners, but those things are far from end of the world stuff (plus one is easily changed). Recommended and this came awfully close to a 'highly recommended'! If you are looking for a traditional looking, sounding and good value mahogany soprano, i'd buy one in a heartbeat.

http://www.sigma-guitars.com



UKULELE PROS

Great looks
Martin blueprint build and quality
Classy non stark decorations
Great volume and tone, with great soprano bark
Nicely dressed fingerboard and frets
Very fair price

UKULELE CONS

Artificial looking and feeling flat finish
Average friction pegs

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 - 8.9 out of 10

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15 Oct 2017

Got A Ukulele and Copyright

It's really sad to have to post this, but I am getting really tired of other websites using my content without my permission. It stinks. And even more sadly, writing this post won't change a damn thing.

The thing is, I am not a business. I don't have a team of lawyers, so there is little you can do when it DOES happen, but equally there is something else I want to point out. And that's that I am not trying to come across like some restrictive loon in stopping people using things. I want to be fair.


You see, ALL of the content on Got A Ukulele is covered by a Creative Commons 4 Licence (as it states in the footer). That means that you are FREE to use the original content. You can copy it, you can share it, but you have to do it in the original format. And in order to have that privilege you have to agree to three terms:

Attribution - you have to provide a link back to the original content

Non Commercial - obvious

No Derivatives - you cant trim stuff out, take pictures out of context, modify the content and that sort of thing.

I think they are really fair rules in the spirit of social media myself, yet some scumbags seem to think it is ok to just lift what they want like it's a free for all. A while ago I even had to turn off the ability to copy and paste text from the site as some scumbags chose to copy whole swathes of the blog (I'm talking big sections here that took years to build up) and pass them off as their own work on their sites...  So that means people now can't copy the song sheets that was the EXPRESS intention... And that really upsets me.  But ah, you know - the few spoil it for the many. This is why whe cant have nice things....

I know mistakes happen, I've probably made mistakes myself, but it just KEEPS happening. And it's always the same SORT of site - the Facebook Page or the Review Site that clearly has no other original content in it and that thrives on copying other peoples work just to build traffic.. The sites that just list reviews that are basically text culled from Amazon reviews. Or the pages that just share endless mindless ukulele memes. (Yes, I've had my photographs used in memes...)..

Come on people - stop ripping off other creators of content. Use your own brains for once. I can't sue you and you know that, so you give it a shot anyway. But I WILL expose you far and wide. I will tell the ukulele community what low life you are.

And ultimately no - this ISN'T the end of the world and it does kind of smack of 'first world problems' but it's still damn annoying. The amount of time that goes into this site I really don't think people understand.

Thanks for listening. Again...

More on the Creative Commons Licence that covers this site on this link.


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Aklot AKC23 Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

MY APOLOGIES - BUT THIS WHOLE REVIEW IS PERMANENTLY DELETED FOLLOWING SOME DISCOVERIES MADE AFTER POSTING THE REVIEW. 


Post is still up so as to provide landing page for the links already shared online. Please revert back to my Ukulele Reviews page for reviews of other instruments. Normal service resumes next week with a model from Sigma Guitars.

Best wishes

Baz




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8 Oct 2017

Kala Elite 3KOA-TG Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

I am extremely privileged in writing this ukulele blog. And I say that because it gives me the opportunity to borrow both a wide range of instruments, but also some truly beautiful ones. And I don't feel like I am pre-judging this review when I say this one certainly fits into the beautiful category. Say hello to the Kala Elite 3KOA-TG.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele

Absolutely beatiful indeed. Stunning in fact. Just look a the flaming stripe of the all solid Hawaiian Koa used in constructing this one. Yes, that's right. Flamed, solid Koa on a Kala brand ukulele... But then, this is a Kala 'Elite' model and it's something that has impressed me about Kala lately. As a brand they are arguably one of the biggest and most well known ukulele brands on the planet, and they didn't need to make this range, but they did. They were already kind of winning, yet went the extra mile. And that Elite range is a selection of hand built instruments not made in far eastern factories, but made in Petaluma, California, where Kala are based. Nice story.

Their Elite range is split into a selection of sub categories. The Doghair collection (which uses a finish process to embellish the grain like some old vintage guitar brands), the Luthier collection and the Koa collection which this one comes from. Within that Koa collection are various grades, numbered 1 through to 3. The 1 series being the 'simplest' grain woods with satin finishes and the 3 at the upper end which get the flamed wood and gloss coatings. As such, being a '3' within the Koa collection this one is the top of the line. Told you I was privileged!

This is a standard shaped and scaled tenor instrument made, as I say from high grade solid Hawaiian Koa on the top back and sided. Basic Koa can actually be quite pale and simple at times, though usually you get a bit of stripe in it. This turns the dial up to 11 and you are getting tightly packed stripes, some swirls and a shimmery flame that changes in a 3D effect as you turn it in the light. The top and arched back are beautifully bookmatched with the stripe angled slightly to create a slight V shape. The stripe and swirl on the two piece back also meet neatly at the base. It's all finished in a UV cured gloss which is absolutely impeccable and one of the best I have seen on a uke. That gloss makes the colours and flame in the wood really pop in the light. It's frankly jaw-dropping, warm and rich.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele body


We have a nicely shaped through body ebony bridge which is small and delicate, meaning not too much extra wood on the top, and finished with a bone saddle. I really like the diminutive nature of the bridge. Simple and small, and doesnt need to be more.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele bridge

Yet this isn't just a case of a brand throwing some pretty wood together - you can tell that it's been built very well. The woods are delicate, the top and back edges are ever so neatly chamfered off so you dont get flat sharp edges. The inside is a tidy as you would like and the kerfing linings notched and the braces delicately scalloped. Just wonderful everywhere really.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele sound hole

The necks on these are made of Honduran Mahogany, which is very nice, but may disappoint Hawaiian purists who like their necks, and indeed their fingerboards to be made of Koa too. Nope, Mahogany it is, in a single piece, but with a nice flat profile. At the nut this is 35 mm which confuses me as the Kala website specs say this is 38mm (or 1.5 inches). It's certainly NOT 38mm and had it been I would have had no complaints. As it is, for a high end tenor in the Hawaiian style, I think the nut is on the narrow side and that's a shame. I also think Kala should get their specs right! Hey ho, for many of you will find 35mm just fine, but I always prefer a wider nut myself. What I do really like about this neck though is that despite the body being highly glossed, they recognised that gloss on a neck can feel sticky - so here the finish is satin. Clever and thoughtful.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele nut


Topping that is a flat, non-radiused ebony fingerboard which is gorgeously dark. The edges are not bound, but the frets are dressed back very well. Incidentally we have 18 of those and 14 to the body joint. Fret markers are provided in nice mother of pearl oval inlays at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th spaces, which isn't a lot, but actually all you need and I like that the fingerboard isn't 'over done'. Thankfully these are also repeated on the side.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele fingerboard

The nut, interestingly isn't bone, but synthetic NuBone, which is fine by me, but not sure why they made the difference here. Then up to a typical Kala crown headstock, faced in black ebony and with the Kala logo inlaid in what is either pearl or a pale wood. Simple and classy.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele headstock


Tuners wise we have sealed gears with Kala K logos engraved in the gold covers and fitted with small  Acacia buttons. They are nice and classy and suit the ukulele perfectly.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele tuners


These come new fitted with 'Kala Elite Fluorocarbon' on the C, E and A strings, but a wound low G. I don't know where the 'Elite fluoros' are sourced, but please, please PLEASE Kala - dont force me to have a low G from the off, and certainly dont force me to have a wound string there. Yes I know some people will want low G, but I still think the majority don't. If this was mine, the first job would be to remove that set. As always, I dont mark review scores down for this sort of thing but I DO moan about it here because I think it's frankly silly and forceful. On the plus side, you also get a wonderful Kala branded hard case with wonderful plush interior, and a humidifier in the accessory compartment. Everything is covered here! And for that you are looking at a current UK RRP of £1,199 and in the USA it's listed at $1,259. A not inconsiderable sum, but more on that below.

In the hands it feels wonderful. It's light, it's balanced, and you can just feel how well put together it is. Setup is naturally spot on too, and therefore so is intonation all over the fingerboard. And that great build comes though in the voice.

First of all we have tons of sustain and volume. This is certainly no slouch and what is really noticeable is how that volume doesn't fall off as you move off the fretboard. That often happens with cheaper builds as the resonating length of the string gets shorter and less powerful, and cheaper tops kind of lose their way. Not here, as this one is still punching no matter how high you go. Resonance in spades.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele back

It's a typical Koa tone. Bright, shimmery, rich and fizzy. Yet every note in a chord holds its place perfectly in the mix and shines through. Great dynamic range and clarity. I'm really struggling to dislike this one much in any way.

I am however struggling to get over that choice of putting a wound low G on it as stock and would rush to change it. It's too dominant for me and spoiling the voice for this test. A real shame. Still, that is easily fixable with a string change.

Still, whether picked or strummed, there is a lot to love in this tone and it really put a smile on my face. An utter pleasure to play.

And regarding that price, yes it's a serious sum of money, but this is a serious ukulele. Looking at other handmade Hawaiian Koa instruments of this sort of quality and you are looking at tenors from the likes of Kamaka and Kanile'a. A much plainer Kamaka tenor will cost you this sort of price and considerably more if you want one with striped flamed wood like this. The same goes for Kanile'a so, perhaps this is actually good value for what you are getting.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele sides

So all in all, there's really not much to dislike here. A wonderful tone, absolutely jaw dropping looks and great build quality. This one has been a pleasure to take a look at and comes highly recommended.

Huge thanks to Kala and to Matt Warnes at World Of Ukes who provided this loan model for review. He stocks these so do check out his shop!

https://kalabrand.com

http://worldofukes.co.uk

UKULELE PROS

Those looks - amazing wood
Top draw build and finish
Nice diminutive bridge
Punch shimmer and volume
Great sustain
Clear wide ranging tone, certainly no muddyness
Good price for the specification

UKULELE CONS

Confused about nut width and 35mm is too narrow for me
Why that wound G string as standard?

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.1 out of 10

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30 Sep 2017

Fender Montecito Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

After MANY years of reviewing ukuleles, it's finally happened. AT LAST we have a Fender brand ukulele on the reviews bench. Their new Fender Montecito Koa Tenor ukulele.

Fender Montecito Ukulele


So whats going on here and why is this the first ukulele from one of the most well known instrument brands on the planet? Well, it's not through want of trying and believe me, I  have tried for years for Fender to engage with Got A Ukulele only to be met with silence. It seems when you are as large as Fender perhaps you don't actually NEED reviews to help you along... Perhaps they just don't like engaging with the ukulele community, I just don't know. Though there may be something in that final statement, as whilst you will easily find Fender ukuleles on the shelves of the bigger name, branded high street music stores, they just rarely appear in what I would call the 'specialist' ukulele stores. In fact, at the time of writing this review none of the true ukulele stores I recommend in either the UK or the USA carry Fender ukuleles. Furthermore, you see very little discussion about them on the usual ukulele forums and groups either which is odd. Searches on Google for 'Fender ukulele reviews' throws up very little too. Very odd that.  It's almost like they are making ukuleles that are completely outside the ukulele community as I know it. So for clarity, this one is appearing on Got A Ukulele because I bought it myself!

Anyway, the Montecito, is part of a new range of ukuleles launched by Fender in 2017. Their range generally seems to have been shunk down to a smaller number, now being made up of a selection named after Californian beaches, and ranging from the simple cheap entry level laminates to the more expensive solid wood models. The Montecito (named after a beach near Santa Barbara) sits at the upper end of the range in terms of specification. Don't get too wistful about those Californian names, this, like all Fender ukuleles is made in Indonesia. And you know - ukuleles, beaches, how delightfully stereotypical... Incidentally, this specification appears to be almost the same as their previous Fender Nohea koa tenor, but more on that in a moment.

This one is tenor scale, in standard double bout shape, and at first glance is a very attractive instrument, I am sure you will agree.  The top is made of two book matched pieces of solid koa, with the dead flat back being made from a single sheet of laminate koa. The sides are a single bent piece too which isn't what you normally see on a tenor. It's all finished in gloss which helps set off the wood grain, but it's really only the top that is particularly pretty. The back and sides are distinctly plain on this one. So apart from looking identical to the Nohea ukulele and being the same price (strangely) this differs in that the Nohea has a laminate top whereas this replaces that with a solid koa top.

Fender Montecito Ukulele body


Decorating this instument is some abalone purfling against the cream edge binding that adorns the top and back edges, whereas the back purfling is black. The abalone is repeated around the sound hole and it's both nicely done and also very classy looking I think.  No complaints with the decoration from me.

Fender Montecito Ukulele binding


Bridge wise this is a nice, diminutive slotted style bridge made out of what Fender describe as Sonokeling on their website (Indian Rosewood) though dealers are referring to as 'laminate hardwood'. It looks like rosewood to me, and that surprises me for a new 2017 model that launched after the change in CITES restrictions. The saddle is made of bone and I really do like this bridge plate for the small size. I'm not actually much of a fan of enormous bridge plates on ukuleles as feel they can restrict the vibration of the top. Nice to see this small simple style, which is more typical of Martin.

Fender Montecito Ukulele bridge


Looking inside and things are tidy enough. The kerfing is not notched, but the braces look delicate and there is no glue showing anywhere.

Up to the neck with it's attactive capped heel, and this is made of Nato in three pieces. Nato is often referred to as 'Eastern Mahogany' but it's actually not the same species, rather it's the wood of the Mora tree. It is however hard and reliable like mahogany and often used as a cheaper alternative for use in necks. It's in three pieces with a  joint at the heel and one nearer the headstock, both of which are fairly well hidden. It's finished in the same gloss which I'd rather not have on a neck myself. Sadly it's also quite narrow for a tenor ukulele neck at just under 35 mm at the nut.

Fender Montecito Ukulele fingerboard


Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which surprises me in the way the bridge does. This is nicely edge bound with more cream strips and it is fitted with 19 nickel silver frets and 14 to the body joint. We have pearl outward facing dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces and these are repeated with small black dots on the side. All very nice. I do like necks that are edge bound with a pale strip against the dark fingerboard wood.

Beyond the bone nut is something that I just don't think works, and that's the headstock. Yes I KNOW this is a trademark Fender shape (it's the Telecaster headstock to be specific), but it's iconic on ELECTRIC guitars. I really don't think it suits acoustic instruments and for similar reasons for me not liking them on Fender acoustic guitars I don't like it here. My view is purely an aesthetic one as I can't see what actual difference it makes to the job it is designed for (holding the tuners), but I just don't like it. And this from a man who's favourite guitar is a telecaster... Irrational perhaps, but there you are. Anyway, it faced in more koa and the trademark Fender 'spagetti' style logo is screen printed under the gloss.

Fender Montecito Ukulele headstock


For tuners we also have something that for me would be more at home on an electric guitar with a set of sealed chrome gears with large square covers like on vintage Kluson brand pegs. I think they are totally over the top on a ukulele and just look plain wrong here. Sure, the buttons are small enough, but the huge square covers just look odd to me. I want delicate and simple on a ukulele not this.

Fender Montecito Ukulele tuners


The package is completed with the addition of a branded soft gig bag (which I would want to be FAR thicker - in fact it's really rather pointless) and strings that Fender specify as 'standard tenor uke' strings. They look like Aquila on the C, E and A, and the G is a wound string for low tuning. Forced wound strings never please me. Give me a uke with re-entrant strings and let me decide if I want a low G or not.  And that package has an RRP of £210 in the UK and about $250 in the USA. My first reaction was that's a bit of a high price for a ukulele with only a solid top, albeit a koa one. Bu then again, looking around for similar specced instruments took me to the highly regarded Laka VUC90 which is also a solid koa topped instrument, but that is a concert and doesn't have the same level of decoration or a gig bag. They are £179, so perhaps £210 for a tenor with some more decoration is not so out of the ordinary after all.

Time to play it. And I will say from the off that I was not expecting great things from this one for reasons of history. You see, I have been playing guitars for far longer than I have ukuleles, and as much as I adore Fender electric guitars (have owned many and still own an American Special Deluxe Stratocaster which I would run into a burning building to save), I've never ever liked their acoustic guitars though. They have always sounded a bit dead and heavy to me. Also bear in mind the fact that I have played a few Fender ukes, albeit more basic ones than this and didn't really like them either for the same reasons (over built, lifeless, typical guitar brand ukes) and you can see why I was sceptical. Still, I want to approach this as impartially as I can. Perhaps things have changed with this new range of instruments. The only way to check was to grab one and spend some time with it!

Fender Montecito Ukulele back


First up, the build quality is very good all over. The joints are tidy and the gloss isn't overdone. It looks and feels nice in the hands. It's a little heavier than you would expect it to be, but to be fair it is well balanced in the hands and is no brick. Setup is ok - great at the nut, but a little higher than I would like at the saddle. Otherwise no huge complaints. That narrow nut bothers someone like me with big hands, but it's still playable and feels nice to hold.

And actually the sound has really surprised me in a good way too. Dealing with the negatives first though, it's really not the loudest tenor ukulele I have ever played. That's not to say it is overly quiet, but something feels like it's throttling it back from really barking and punching out. I am probably being a bit picky here but there you go. It's really it's not hugely bad, but it was enough for me to notice it on the first play so I am mentioning it.

On the plus side though, it has a very pretty voice. Bright overtones from the koa no doubt and an almost shimmery sound when strummed but particularly when fingerpicked. The sustain is really decent too meaning it's super easy to get some vibrato into picked notes. And the clarity of individual notes in the mix is rather good too. It all adds up to a very nice sounding ukulele I think. Its a tone that is really enjoyable on the ears, almost relaxing and sweet. Very nice.

So it's a mix really, and an irritating one at that. If the instrument was a bit louder, it would be a killer uke, but then I wouldn't want it louder at the expense of the tone being less charming. A shame we can't have everything.

And it's far from the dead sounding instruments I had seen before from this brand. Maybe the earlier Fender ukuleles I played have been improved with this newer range, and maybe they need to get that message out to people, because I really don't see a lot of reviews of Fender ukes out there. In fact I am beginning to wonder whether people now automatically think Fender are bad based on hearsay and opinions of the older models. That's a shame perhaps, as based on this one, I'd happily own and play one. It's pretty in both looks and in it's sound. Just don't expect melt your face volume. It's doing most other things well though. Headstock aside of course...

Recommended.



UKULELE PROS

Great classy looks, bindings and decoration
Good build quality and finish
Good price all things considered
Nice shimmery chiming tone
Good sustain and note clarity

UKULELE CONS

Dont think the headstock shape works for me on a uke
Tuners - ugghhh
Narrow nut
Rather quiet
Pointless gig bag

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.5 out of 10

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23 Sep 2017

Magic Fluke Firefly Tenor Banjo - REVIEW

It's many moons back in 2012 since I first looked at a Firefly Banjo Ukulele from Magic Fluke. And I really rather liked it too. I'm therefore thrilled to be looking at their latest re-vamped tenor version.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele

And whilst I liked that original soprano Firefly ukulele for many reasons, I recall a lot of people getting quite sniffy about it being essentially just a 'drum with a neck bolted on'. Aside from the fact all banjos are essentially just that anyway, I really liked the light as feather construction coupled with great tone and it just 'feeling' right in the hands. But yes, I guess it WAS very simple really and not super cheap either for what it was. It also wasn't adjustable either.  Fast forward to 2017 and we have a completely different proposition in the newest tenor model from the Massachusetts based brand.

So whilst this one is still a banjo uke, out goes the High Pressure Laminate pot with the drum head that was attached with a kind of edge stitching and in comes a maple ply pot which looks like, well, it looks more like a banjo really!

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele pot

Yet at the same time.... it also doesn't.. Where are the outer tensioners that you normally see on a banjo? How is that head being held in tension? Where is the tone ring? Well, always the clever innovators, Magic Fluke have kind of turned the banjo concept upside down. On the underside of that outer wooden rim and inside the banjo is the steel tone ring that is  bolted into the outer wood rim and adjustable using an allen key in one of the ten bolts visible on the front. Looks wise it reminds me a lot of the old Keech banjoleles and I think looks great, clean and simple. It also means that, unlike the smaller original Firefly ukuleles, this one has a head that is both easily replaceable and tunable too. Incidentally, that head is the same 8 inch diameter Remo as the others whilst the overall diameter is 9.75 inches. Nice.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele tone ring

Otherwise we have similar appointments to the other Firefly banjos too with a chrome tail piece and the same sort of three footed floating bridge you see on most banjos. Looking in the back we also have a similar designed pole piece running from the end of the neck and attaching to the pot with a kind of nifty locking wooden piece. It does also look like you can adjust the neck for action by removing or adding washers at the tail end. Neat. We also have the trademark Firefly embossed logo and the hand numbered makers label too.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele neck adjustment

That pole piece is made of hard maple as is the tenor neck, and is a thing of beauty. I am always a sucker for a maple neck, particularly one with a pale fingerboard like this.  It's not quite the same sort of technique as employed by Deering on their Goodtime uke banjo where those frets are set directly into the neck, but I still think this looks great. And unlike some other Fluke instruments, the plastic fingerboard is not an option on this one - just wood. What type of wood it is, I am not totally sure, but I think it's a slightly darker maple.

In fact all of the wood on this is finished very nicely in a smooth satin that just feels of good quality.

And like other Fluke necks this has a chunky profile that some people raise and eyebrow to, but I personally think is really very comfortable. It's actually rounder on the back than their more squared off earlier necks though, but still chunky. Nut wise we have a width of 36mm which is great for comfort. We have 18 nickel silver frets on this 17" body which is very nice for upper neck options, and as is usual with Magic Fluke, they are fitted and dressed very well. We also have black dot position markers at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th but sadly no markers on the side.  (ARGGHH!!)

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele neck

I am not sure what the nut is made of, ebony perhaps,  but like on other Fluke necks we have a zero fret meaning the nut action and intonation are controlled very well by this instead leaving the nut for setting the string spacing only.

Beyond this we have the ubiquitous Fluke headstock shape that people either love or hate (I love it incidentally). In standard spec these come with entry level Grovers that Fluke use widely on other instruments. They are not the best in the world, but not the worst either. Magic Fluke do offer these with a Pegheds option for another $75. Personally I would save your money and if you find that you don't get on with these Grover pegs, spend half the cost of Pegheds on a set of Grover 6's as they should be a straight swap. Don't get me wrong, I do like Pegheds, but just find them over priced.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele headstock

Other options on offer include a shaped soft gig bag for $59 (that I really think should come as standard) and a pickup system for $89 (for those sadists who want to make a banjo even louder...). In vanilla spec though it comes like this with a set of D'Addario Nyltech (Aquila) strings and comes in at $389 or £349 which may make the people who still think all ukes should cost $50 gasp. It is however far cheaper than the RRP on the 17" Tenor Deering Banjo Uke that will cost you best part of $200 more. It's also comparatively priced to the, now in production, Duke 10 Banjo Uke which is terrific. It's also completely made (and parts sourced) in the USA as close to Massachusetts as possible. So there is no Chinese factory involved here either.

And as well as being cheaper than the Deering it's also much lighter - more comparable to the Duke at about 2lb in weight. So maybe it's the Duke 10 that this is going head to head with more than the Deering? It's much heavier than the original Firefly banjos of course, but that stands to reason with that extra body rim. Build quality, as I have hinted at is truly excellent. It really always is with Magic Fluke stuff and I knew it would be too before it arrived.

It just feels right in the hands. The light weight, the smooth as silk satin all comes together for a nice feeling instrument. And its really helped by the fact that they are not using standard tension hooks so there is nothing to dig into your strumming arm. Just smooth maple. It really is very comfortable. In fact I can't think how a banjo could be any more comfortable.

Sound wise this is a joy. It's far brighter, louder and sharper than the earlier soprano version, and more, well, more like a banjo really. Being an 8 inch head it's not up there with the massive punch of something like the Deering, but it's really no slouch at all. In fact it's extremely lound and punchy and with more guts than some other 8 inch head banjos I have played. It's just so precise and snappy.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele tailpiece

Intonation is really good once you have set the saddle (thank you zero fret) and the comfortable neck means it's easy to play and move around on the neck.

But what has really impressed me is how controlled it seems to be with those hollow echoey sounds that banjos can create. The Deering did it, the Duke 10 did it, and people say 'oh you just put a cloth inside'. And yes, yes you do, and that works, but this Firefly doesn't seem to have that problem in the first place. There is no echo. No ghost notes. Just really clear notes whether you pick it or strum it. It's remarkable really, and has left me wishing this didn't have to go back. Yes people may still raise an eyebrow at the pricing, but as I say, this is right on the money with the competition, and in fact cheaper than some notable others.

Magic Fluke have done it again methinks and this would now be my go to choice for a tenor ukulele banjo, no question.  Highly recommended.

Many thanks to them and to the UK distributor of Magic Fluke, Mark Pugh of Stones Music for setting me up with this for review.

http://www.magicfluke.com

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

UKULELE PROS

It just looks great!
Superb build quality in every department
Head is now more easily replaceable and tunable
Great intonation
Great volume with no echo - clear as a bell
Price is actually fair in view of competition

UKULELE CONS

No side markers
They really should throw the bag in for the price
Some will want to change the standard tuners

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.1 out of 10

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19 Sep 2017

Ukulele Books from Al Wood of Uke Hunt

I'm pleased to be able to partner up with Al Wood of Ukulele Hunt to help him bring his fantastic ukulele ebooks to the attention of Got A Ukulele readers.


ukulele books


If you don't know Al, then you really should - he's the writer of the Ukulele site that got me into blogging - with his is awesome site. He also wrote things like the Ukulele For Dummies books too! This is a guy who's stuff you should take a look at. There are a couple of ads for his books in the side bar, but you will also see all his offerings on this page. Link below. Highly recommended!

Ukulele Books by Al Wood of Uke Hunt



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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. Call it a labour of love! And, no, I don't get to keep the ukuleles that are loaned to to review...