What better way to mark the opening of your ukulele store than to spec a ukulele just for YOUR store. That's what Matt Warnes of World Of Ukes did late last year with the Pioneer T1 Tenor.
This is not the first ukulele store 'own brand' instrument i've come across and in fact it's not the first one that Matt himself has specced. You see, prior to opening World Of Ukes, Matt was at Omega Music in the UK and was behind the design of the Zedro and Klasiko ukuleles. He subsequently opened a dedicated ukulele store in Carlisle called World Of Ukes (the brand also behind a host of ukulele events and the marvellous UKE Magazine) and decided to do another uke. I previously reviewed the Zedro uke on this site and thought it was a great instrument. The question therefore is, has he done it again?
I say 'specced' by Matt, that is to say that he came up with the design choices rather than sitting in a workshop at the back of his shop with a pile of wood and some tools.. And because of that, this is made in China, but Matt explains that he chose a very small hand-made workshop for the build rather than going for a re-badge of something else (like so many brands do). This is not a generic instrument from a large factory line.
The Pioneer is an all solid wood instrument made from acacia wood. And it's very beautiful acacia at that. This has some great stripe and colour variations on the top back and sides that range from paler sandy colours through to chocolate and coffee stripes. I think it's beautiful. Yes I know that acacia is naturally like this, but still - it's a good choice I think. Both the top and back are in two backmatched pieces and we have two piece sides as well. The bookmatching on the back is particularly effective as it shows off the paler heart wood down the centre, but that isn't to say the top is a slouch! I think the photos show what I am getting at better than words!
Decorating the top is an abalone inlaid purfling ring around the sound hole and some mahogany edge purfling against the black / white / black ebony (I think) edge binding. I would have liked the decoration choices to match here, by either having abalone round the edge or making the sound hole ring from the same edging mahogany so the design cues tie up, but it's a minor gripe. They are still inlaid really well and set it off nicely.
The back is dead flat, but also benefits from some more of the black edge binding. The sides are actually smaller front to back than many tenors giving a shallower bodied instrument than some. That makes for a very nice instrument to hold, but we shall see if it has affected the volume and projection.
Bridge wise, this is a tie bar style with a white detail trim, fitted with a compensated bone nut. No complaints here.
And the whole body is finished in gloss which really makes the acacia colours pop and shimmer. Matt explains that because these are made in a small workshop, one can expect imperfections in the finish, but really, I think he is doing these a disservice. Sure, there are one or two wrinkles if you inspect it closely in the light (and only like many other mid level gloss instruments I see), but on the whole it's a great mirror finish. There are no runs or pooling on this review model and in fact seems to me to be one of the better gloss finishes at this price I have seen.
And of course, I have to come on to the butt of things... This is perhaps the thing that most people will notice first about this. Matt specced this to have an assymetrical base with a kind of offset, and to use that offset to hold the strap button. I think it's really effective and certainly a talking point. Does it affect the tone and playability - no, of course not. But so what? It looks brilliant! I like little touches like these that make instruments just slightly different. A talking point if you will.
A look inside shows a very tidy build too. We have notched kerfing linings and delicate braces with absolutely no glue drops or wood shavings.
Up to the neck and this is made of mahogany in four pieces. If that sounds excessive there's a good reason, as you will see. Whilst we have a joint at the headstock and heel like on most Chinese instruments, the neck is also made from a sandwich along it's length, housing an inner strip of darker wood giving it a skunk stripe. I love these and have seen some very high end luthiers employing this technique. It works for me and provides another nice visual touch that's just a little different. Incidentally, the back of the neck is in more of a satin finish which will please those who don't like the feel of overly glossy necks.
Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which is nicely and evenly dark. It's fitted with a generous 20 nickel silver frets in total with 14 to the body joint and they are all dressed very nicely. The edges are bound in black which hides the fret ends nicely. We have pearloid dot position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces, with the 12th marker being a double. Thankfully these are repeated on the side too.
Past the bone nut we have a nice shaped heastock - no three pointed crowns here! This is faced in glossed rosewood and the World Of Ukes marque is inlaid in pearloid. It looks classy. It's a simple shape but with enough 'design' about it to make it interesting.
Flipping it over and we have unbranded open geared tuners with small black buttons. They are not the most high end tuners in the world, but are not ultra cheap either and work well so again, no complaints. There are one or two tooling marks on the back of the neck if you go looking for them and some polish marks too, but again, I suppose this goes back to the small workshop source of the instrument. They don't bother me.
Completing the package are Worth Brown strings and this comes in at £279 in the tenor scale. Matt also offers it with a MiSi Pickup for a bit extra. I think that price is pretty decent really for a solid instrument of this build quality and looks.
So an excellent build quality throughout, and a nice light and balanced instrument too. It feels good in the hands on account of the slighter body depth and the glosses feel nice and not sticky. Setup is good too and I wouldn't find myself adjusting the nut or saddle on this one from where it is.
And the good news is that the body depth hasnt't affected the volume or projection either. Both are good and the ukulele sings proudly in a typically acacia voice. It's a jangly sound that is a signature of that wood that has mixtures of bright and bassier notes working together. In fact I would say this sounds more like the Pono acacia tenors than it does of the Kala acacia tenors which I find are a bit muddier or muted.
This really shines through when strummed and gives you a bit of that 'have I got more than four strings here?' feeling. It's about the harmonics of the strings combining to give a rich sound. Yet it's still not muddled and every string has it's place in the mix. Really enjoyable and full of character.
And fingerpicked it's no slouch either, with great sustain and a bell like sound that really makes you want to keep playing it. A really rather a nice instrument I would say.
These are also available in soprano and concert scales too, and Matt advises that they will be in a limited run like the Zedro and Klasiko were. So not only is this one highly recommended by Got A Ukulele, but if you are mulling over another instrument and want one with striking looks and a great tone, i'd be seriously thinking of heading over to the website to grab one.
A great ukulele!
Stunning looks and beautiful wood
Assymetric body works great
Jangly rich sound with great sustain
Some small tooling marks, if such things bother you
Would prefer consistency in purfling inlay materials
Looks - 9.5 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 - 9 out of 10
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© Barry Maz