19.8.15

Jake Shimabukuro To Tour The UK!

I am probably a little bit late to this party, but I don't usually put up gig or tour announcements on Got A Ukulele. This one is a little special though. Jake Shimabukuro is touring the UK for the first time ever. You heard that right - THE Jake Shimabukuro.


Jake Shimabukuro To Tour The UK


That is pretty massive news actually, with Jake being probably one the most well known and highly regarded players of ukulele on the planet. And this is his first time in a proper tour of the UK.

He is playing four dates:

15 September - Liverpool - St Georges Hall
17th September - London - Kings Place
18th September - Leeds - Town Hall
19th September - Bath - The Forum

All great venues! The tour has been arranged by Grand Northern Events (yes, the very same Grand Northern folks behind the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival, so you know it is being organised with care and love) on a not for profit basis. Not long to go now - so time to grab your tickets!


For more details, visit - http://www.grandnorthernevents.com/jake-shimabukuro-first-ever-uk-tour/



http://www.jakeshimabukuro.com/home/



9.8.15

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele - REVIEW

Something of an 'about time' ukulele review this one. The Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele has been around for a few years now, and although I have played many of them, I just haven't seemed to have one long enough to write a detailed review up.  It must also be said, this instrument was probably the one that was most requested as a review on Got A Ukulele. Now is that time, and I suspect this one will divide opinions.


Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele


The Epiphone Les Paul ukulele, as the name suggests, is an instrument designed to look like the iconic Gibson Les Paul shape guitar. I feel I should get one thing out of the way before getting into the meat of this review. I don't like the concept of making ukuleles look like famous guitars. They are not guitars. They are ukuleles. Why not come up with novel designs that are original? I get that this is going to be highly subjective, but it's just me. I mean, as ukulele players we all have to deal with the claptrap that is 'oh it's just a small toy guitar', so why play a uke that looks, well, like a small toy guitar? I think the style of it, whilst clearly 'Les Paul' in design looks a bit silly. It's not Les Paul guitar - Les Pauls are big heavy things. To me this is just a novelty. Glad to get that off my chest.

So, we have a Les Paul shape and this one is in Heritage Cherry Sunburst. They are also available in 'Vintage Sunburst' which loses the red colour and replaces it with brown. They come in at about £90 in the UK and are in concert scale.

But when we get in to the detail there are one or two things that just jar with me. First of all, let's look at that top. Shiny, sparkly and with a stripy flame that is, I admit, quite eye catching. Epiphone bill it as 'grade AAA flame maple' yet it is also laminate. Hang on...  As my readers will know, I am not one of those who sneers at laminate and to be fair to Epiphone, they do make it clear that it is laminate, but to call it grade AAA? I don't buy that. That sort of terminology should, in my opinion, be reserved for solid woods of the highest calibre. The fancy flamed outer of this instrument is just an extremely thin veneer stuck on to a piece of plywood. Grade AAA? And that laminate is thick thick thick. Sorry, just because the outer (which for all intents and purposes could be a photograph sticker) looks like flamed maple, that doesn't make this grade AAA tone wood in my book. What we have is a thick laminate top, but albeit one that looks pretty.

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele top


The top is attached to what Epiphone call a 'solid mahogany body'. Ah, that 'solid' word, but again, a misnomer here. The body is indeed made from mahogany, with a deep red colour, but it's made from various pieces of mahogany. Blocks of mahogany in fact as this body is not constructed in a traditional ukulele way. Like the top, I am not saying there is anything wrong with that, but I think the 'solid' word misleads. It's all marketing speak and I don't much care for it. There is nothing incorrect in the words Epiphone use but for 'grade AAA' and 'solid' read 'grade AAA veneer on plywood' and 'solid chunks of mahogany glued together into a guitar shape'.

So the body creates kind of a swimming pool type chamber on to which the laminate top is laid. And looking inside the sound hole the chamber actually isn't that big. The sides of this are not thin at all. Reaching in with my finger I would estimate they are about 1cm thick. The top and body are all finished in gloss and nicely done too with no flaws that I could find. The joint between the top and body is bound with a cream edge binding. Elsewhere on the top we have a rosewood looking slotted bridge with a plastic saddle, and a cream plastic 'pick guard'. I really don't like the pick guard. I know it's there to mimic the guitar, but Les Paul pick guards don't look like that and I think this one would look better without it.
Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele sound hole


Oh, and then we have a sound hole - not something you see on Les Paul guitars but more on that later!

On the base of the body we have a strap button and a jack socket mounting in an offset position and faced in chrome. That's right - this instrument has a pickup, and a passive one at that, meaning no need for batteries.

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele jack socket
At the top of the body we have another strap button on the top left shoulder and the top right shoulder has a cutaway to complete the Les Paul look. I must say the whole of the body is finished to a high standard.

Up to the neck, this is made of mahogany and also finished in a deep red gloss. The neck appears to be in two pieces, jointed about halfway along and has quite a chunky D shaped profile that I like. What I dislike though is that it's on the narrow side. The neck is joined to the body with four chrome bolts.

The fingerboard sits on the neck and is made of rosewood which is nice and even in colour. We have 19 nickel silver frets with 14 to the body and all are finished nicely with no rough edges. We have inlaid pearloid fret markers at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 17th and 19th spaces and these are repeated on the side. I found that an odd choice for marker positions myself, and certainly don't see a need for one at the 3rd. They are also dots, and think this would have looked far nicer if they were trapezoid markers like on higher end Gibson guitars, but we can't have everything...

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele neck


Past the plastic nut we have a typical Epiphone Les Paul shaped headstock (in a symmetrical scroll shape) faced in black gloss. The Epiphone logo and ubiquitous Les Paul signature are applied in gold transfer and look 'OK' but nothing special.

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele headstock


The tuners are open gears in chrome with vintage shaped buttons. They are nice enough but would have preferred something more akin to the Kluson Tulip shaped tuners on vintage Gibsons to really set this off.  On the back of the headstock are more stickers that you can shake a stick at  (serial number, QC check and the label stating proudly that it is Made In Indonesia). Completing the deal are some black unnamed glossy strings (GHS?) and a reasonable zippered gig bag with the Epiphone logo and front pocket.

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele tuners


So all in all, a nicely finished ukulele but one that I don't think is quite what you think it is. If you are a fan of the Les Paul guitar and absolutely must have a miniature version, then you probably already own one and nothing I write will matter. And, hey, it's £90. But that low price does make these very attractive to new players and I see this instrument named as a recommendation from many players to beginners. On that basis, I need to delve a bit deeper!

Setup and action at both the bridge and nut are good. It's a very playable instrument. The neck is too narrow for my tastes, but will be perfectly acceptable to many. It's not overly heavy (unlike the guitar equivalent!) and nicely balanced in the hands. It's a nice thing to hold.

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele back


Let's try it unplugged first of all. And that is the first major disappointment. If they set out to make this sound like the proverbial toy guitar, then they succeeded. This has an incredibly thin tone, with very low volume and little sustain. In fact, exactly the sort of 'plinky' cheap sound that some people expect the ukulele to have. I really don't have much good to say about it in this department. I put it down to the overly thick top and relatively small sound chamber inside the body - there just isn't enough instrument to resonate.

Some people may say 'but it's great for quiet practice'. Perhaps, but why not ditch the sound hole altogether and make this a solid body? You could still have quiet practice or use a headphone amp plus the instrument would look more like a Les Paul, which as I say, don't have sound holes!  You would never be heard playing this at a jam session or club alongside other more traditional acoustic instruments, and what you can hear is very one dimensional. What staggers me is that I regularly see 'reviews' of these where people claim the acoustic tone is pretty good. No it really isn't. For me, they should have made this as a solid body and then I would have had no grounds to complain. For those who may say, 'but it's not designed to be an acoustic' I would reply with two things. 'Then why put a sound hole in it?' And, 'It better sound good plugged in then!'.

So, I could forgive it on the acoustic front if it then shines through an amplifier. Yet, I am afraid to say, it doesn't. Again, I see many people review these claiming that they have a great tone. I can only assume those people have not played anything better. And I am not talking high cost here, just better pickups generally.  The tone for me is muddy, slightly noisy and worst of all, uneven across the strings.  It's just a louder version of the acoustic tone and therefore totally lacking in sustain or character. And here is the thing. Over the years I have played a few of these and they all suffered in the same way. I have also had my hands on one and tried to adjust the pickup and that really showed me where the problem lay. The pickup Epiphone use in these is cheap cheap cheap. Basically the cheapest I have seen - a basic Piezo braid that is thick, doesn't sit well under the saddle (hence the uneven sound issue) and and just sounds plain nasty. Sure, through a 2.5W battery amp you may have some giggles, but I couldn't ever imagine performing with this though anything else and being pleased with the sound. Don't get me wrong, it makes a noise. It just doesn't make a particularly pleasing one. The tone of something like the Risa Uke Solid leaves this in the dust, and in reality those instruments are not hugely more expensive.

I've tried it through a variety of pre-amps, EQ's and into a couple of very nice acoustic amplifiers and whilst I can improve the tone with some tweaking it is still quite noisy, incoherent and uneven with a lack of any sustain. Perhaps you could change the pickup, but really, why would you?  And in reality, who is going to buy a £90 ukulele and then part with more money for a £200 EQ pre-amp and a £300 amplifier just to improve the tone? They missed an opportunity here and I just think it could have been so much more.

For me it is a classic case of Epiphone jumping on the ukulele bandwagon. I like the Epiphone brand and just think they could have done better here (or could have introduced a great acoustic ukulele of their own). It seems to trade only on the looks. 'All mouth and no trousers' as the saying goes. Style over substance. I can almost forgive it the lack of acoustic tone if it then did the one thing it needed to do, well. Yet it doesn't. Which leaves me with something of a novelty and nothing else.

UKULELE PROS



Looks (if you like miniature guitars!)
General build and finish
Price

UKULELE CONS



Zero acoustic tone
Thick top
Terrible plugged in tone
Questionable product marketing speak

UKULELE SCORES



Looks - 8
Fit and Finish - 8
Sound - 5
Value For Money - 7

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.1 out of 10


To understand my review scoring and see this result in context - visit my review page at


UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




AND - Sound comparison against other beginner ukuleles




1.8.15

DJ Morgan Mahogany Soprano - REVIEW

Aside from the many factory made ukuleles I have reviewed on this site, it is always nice to get to test something handmade and bespoke. I've been doing that for the last couple of months with this mahogany soprano model from DJ Morgan.


DJ Morgan Soprano ukulele


Dave Morgan is a UK luthier, based in Dudley in the midlands who hand makes a range of instruments in a traditional style. He is a small volume builder so these are not available in huge numbers (another nice thing about them!)

This soprano is made from all solid woods, and comes in at a fantastic price of just under £300 in this spec. We have a traditional double bout shaped body made from reclaimed solid Brazilian mahogany and they really are some nice pieces of wood. Nothing gaudy (hey, this is mahogany) but nice, subtle and with a  lovely orange glow. The top and back are made from single pieces of toned and the sides are in two pieces with an unbound yet still book matched join at the butt. A closer look at the edges of the sound hole show that this is a nice thin top too.

The instrument also has a nice curved butt which I really like.

DJ Morgan Soprano ukulele top


Aside from an inlaid black and white simple sound hole rosette, the body is otherwise unadorned with no other inlay or binding. I like that. It looks simple yet classy and not over done.

DJ Morgan Soprano ukulele sound hole


The back is slightly arched both along its width and length to help with sound projection which is nice to see.

DJ Morgan Soprano ukulele back


We have a slotted style bridge made from ebony with a nicely cut corian saddle. Very reminiscent of original Martin mahogany sopranos and also really user friendly for the player.

DJ Morgan Soprano ukulele bridge


A look inside shows off one of the tidiest ukulele builds I have seen for some time. Absolutely no mess, delicately scalloped braces and hand made notched kerfing all applied extremely neatly. Aside from the simple makers label with serial number, there is not much more to say here!

The whole body is finished in a kind of semi gloss cellulose lacquer. I like it. It doesn't give the instrument a mirror finish, but it doesn't feel unfinished either. The other advantage is that it leaves the pores in the mahogany grain open so you feel like you are holding a wooden instrument rather than something artificial.

On to the neck this is all one piece of Sapele and joined to the body with a tenon joint.  Capping the neck heel is a small piece of ebony. I like the neck. It has a fairly flat D shaped profile that I know many traditionalists will like. I prefer a bit more chunk to a neck, but this is perfectly playable. What I really do like is that it has a decent width at the nut.


DJ Morgan Soprano ukulele fingerboard

The fingerboard is ebony and unbound, and fitted with 19 nickel silver frets with 14 to the body. On a soprano scale instrument this is a real bonus. None of this '12 frets is your lot' nonsense. They are all finished and dressed expertly with no sharp edges. The fingerboard has a nice pleasing curve to the end of it which I rather like too.

Position markers are provided via white abalone dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th with the 12th fret marker being a double spot. Thankfully these are repeated in the same abalone on the side of the neck for the player. The nut is Corian and cut perfectly.

Up to the headstock and we have a very simple unfussy shape faced with mahogany and inlaid with ebony curved stripes which are really distinctive. I have seen a range of Daves ukuleles and some others have that same stripe motif inlaid in less contrasting woods. I think I would prefer that, but don't get me wrong this still looks great and it's a motif style I have not seen before. With no makers mark on the headstock this IS your DJ Morgan design!

DJ Morgan Soprano ukulele headstock


Flipping it over and we have (thank you thank you thank you) friction tuning pegs. I sense some of you are recoiling in horror but you should know if you read Got A Ukulele more deeply that I am a big fan of friction pegs, particularly on sopranos. They get such a bad press, but really, that applies to the cheap and nasty ones. Thankfully, these are anything but. They are unbranded but clearly good quality and turn like butter. Similar to those used on Koaloha ukuleles with full metal collars and parts. Honestly - sticking mickey mouse ear tuners on a ukulele like this would be sacrilege!

DJ Morgan Soprano ukulele tuners


Completing the deal are (what else) Aquila Super nylgut strings. If this was my instrument I would definitely be experimenting with others.

So all in all a beautifully built and finished instrument. I can't find a flaw on it to be honest. So you are sensing that I rather like this one aren't you. Yep. Definitely, but that would all mean nothing if it played badly.

DJ Morgan Soprano ukulele neck heel


Setup was spot on for me at both the bridge and nut. In the hands it feels well made, nicely balanced and light. Ticks in the right boxes when it comes to a soprano!

Tone wise it is typically soprano, bright and bouncy but with a warmness that comes from a mahogany instrument. The clarity of individual strings is absolutely superb and when strummed every note of every chord has it's place in the mix.

Fingerpicked that warmth coupled with the soprano voice makes for a lovely mix, and the bonus of some extra frets give you a range you wouldn't normally find with many sopranos.

Volume wise, it is certainly not quiet, but I have played punchier and louder hand made sopranos. This may be down to the strings, and it's certainly not a criticism - just being honest. It's an enjoyable sound though but definitely a mellower soprano. If you want a soprano that delivers a punch in the guts, you may want to talk to Dave about other wood choices. Anyway - as I say, not a criticism - just have a listen to the video to get a better idea.

In summary, a delightful instrument and so good to see yet another quality hand made ukulele offering on UK shores. You may prefer more bling  - speak to  Dave to see what he has on offer. For me this one is understated and traditional and that makes it look classy enough. Oh, and that price. Under £300 - I would personally pay considerably more for an instrument of this calibre. Will be sad to see this one go back...

http://djmorganukuleles.co.uk

UKULELE PROS



Build quality throughout
Price
More frets than expected
Quality friction pegs

UKULELE CONS



Pretty much nothing!

UKULELE SCORES



Looks - 9
Fit and Finish - 9
Sound - 9
Value For Money -

Overall Ukulele Score - 9 out of 10


To understand my review scoring and see this result in context - visit my review page at

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW







27.7.15

Win a Makala Waterman - THE RESULT!

Well this one proved to be one of my most popular competitions with hundreds of entries from all around the globe. The names have gone into the hat, and as in previous draws one lucky winner has been drawn by my five year old daughter!





This shiny, brand new Makala Waterman is winging it's way to..

Karl Catteeuw from Bruges, Belgium.

Congratulations Karl, and everyone else - thanks for entering - there will be another giveaway soon!

Oh - and the answers to the questions were...

1. Which Acacia Wood ukulele did I review and what was the score - the answer was the Kala KA-ASAC/TE/C - and I gave it 8.9 out of 10

2. Who was the uke designer who made the original plastic uke the Waterman is based on - Mario Maccaferri

3. What is the name of the new Kala US Koa series of instruments? They are called the 'Elite'.





19.7.15

Ukulele Album Roundup

With life getting in the way of this ukulele blog, I have been finding it hard to get reviews done as quickly as I would like. And as part of that I have a stack of ukulele albums that I have been listening to that I haven't got around to reviewing on this site as yet. Feeling guilty about that, I figured I would give them a shout out in a combined roundup of what I have been playing in the last few months.



Manitoba Hal - Dancing In The Moonlight


Manitoba Hal Dancing In The Moonlight


I adored Hals 'Flirting With Mermaids' album, and have seen him perform live a couple of times since then, so have really been enjoying this one. The Canadian bluesman really shines on this short album in what sees his blues show of more of their country side (which is a real love of mine). A mix of originals and covers (including a sublime take on Wayfaring Stranger) I thoroughly enjoyed this one and it cements his position as being one of this bloggers favourite ukulele artists.

Available from http://www.manitobahal.com/#!music/c1erv


Ben Rouse -  Love Of Rin


Ben Rouse Love Of Rin

If you have not been wowed by one of Bens stage performances lately, then you have missed a treat. But for those that struggle to get to shows, you can now hear what all the fuss is about with this 12 track recording of total wizardry on the strings. For anyone who thinks Ben is 'that guy who plays rock tunes' on the ukulele then this album really shows that the breadth of his tastes go way beyond that. Whilst we have rock in covers of Zeppelins Immigrant Song and a sublime medley of Thunderstruck and Highway To Hell we also have the likes of tango in Por Una Cabeza, classical music, folk and an inspired choice of 'Baby Now That I Found You'. If you like your solo ukulele you will love this. Something for everyone really. Another performer in the 'how does he do that' category.

Available from - http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/benrouse2


Ric McCormick - Pies, Love and Ukulele EP


Ric McCormick Pies Love and Ukulele


I first saw Ric perform at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival but had been hearing good things about him for a while. Really enjoyed listening to his new EP selection of self penned witty tunes. If you are compelled by song titles such as 'Bunny Stew' and 'Who The Hell's George Formby?' or subject matter including Ethel Austin knickers you will like this. It's all very tongue in cheek, but well performed. In addition, Ric is making this available in return for a charitable donation to The Christie hospital.

Available from - https://www.justgiving.com/ricmacfeegle/


Jono and The Uke Dealers


Jono And The Uke Dealers


I had no idea what to expect with this one. I have been in touch with Jono Bell, lead singer and uke player with this Northampton four piece for some time,  but I have to admit that I had not heard his music before this EP arrived. It's really nice when something new arrives that is just up your street and this certainly is. Six self penned tunes and one of those records that, whilst clearly having a ukulele in their, is more of a full band sound. Kind of a punk / mod / grebo / groove sound to it which I am really enjoying. Includes a guest performer in the form of Rev D Wayne Love from Alabama3 just to add to the cool factor. I'd recommend you give this a listen. It's my pick of the bunch.


Available from http://grassrootsrecords.bigcartel.com/product/jono-the-uke-dealers-ep


More reviews coming soon!


Like this blog? Donate to help keeping it going!

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. Thank you!