GOT A UKULELE - Ukulele reviews and beginners tips

24 Jun 2017

Ashton UKE100 Soprano - REVIEW

It's a first for this brand on Got A Ukulele, and possibly the first with Australian heritage too. This is the Ashton UKE100 Soprano uke.

Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele

I say Australian, and that is because Ashton are an Australian company, but this particular ukulele is made for them in China. Intriguingly though, the box and makers label both say proudly that it is 'designed in Australia'. I am not entirely sure what that means as from a first glance at it I can't see any particular design cues and it all looks rather generic, but there you go. As a company, Ashton make quite a range of musical instruments and gear, including drums, a range of guitars and a number of ukuleles. It must be said that the UKE 100 is their entry level ukulele, but as a brand with a number of stringed instrument products in their line up, perhaps they know what they are doing. We shall see.

The UKE100 is a soprano scaled instrument, with a traditional double bout shape and is made from all laminate woods. Ashton bill it as 'Linden' wood (also known as Lime), but make no mistake - this is cheap plywood. Very cheap in fact, and also very, very thick. Without pre-judging the rest of this review too early, it's possibly one of the poorest ukulele bodies I have ever come across. The UKE100 is also available in a range of colours, this one in a very dull brown, but if you want something a little less sombre you will find this in lots of primary colours too. I wouldn't get too excited by the alternatives though as like the plywood itself the finish on this is extremely cheap and poor. It kind of feels like thin poster paint has been used and it marks if you rub it with your nail. It also has numerous flaws and bubbles over most of the body and in places it is flaking off. It really is appalling. Strangely, stock photos seem to suggest that their other colours appear to be glossy, whilst this one is definitely matte. Not sure why that is.

Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele body

Equally concerning are the mounds of what look like cement filler that are layered up around where the fingerboard comes over the body. They are slathered with paint but it looks like window putty underneath. The mind boggles at the sort of gap that is (badly) trying to hide.

Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele neck joint

We have no other decoration save for a rudimentary sound hole rosette in the form of a transfer. Naturally, that is applied off centre. For the bridge we have a tie bar style firmly screwed in place. Ashton specs tell me it's rosewood, but it appears to be painted black. The thin straight saddle appears to be plastic. The whole thing is extremely rough with some wood splinters showing on the edges.  In the groove that houses the screws holding it in place there is some strange sort of mold or crust growing in there. Yuck. I would have also thought that a slotted bridge would be a better choice on what is obviously a beginner instrument, but there you are.

Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele bridge

Looking inside and it's pretty messy. Dollops of glue around the edges, wood shavings and splinters. Surprisingly (or not perhaps), we have no bracing at all and no edge linings. I guess when your plywood is this thick bracing is just not necessary and when you have so much glue holding the thing together, things like edge kerfings are just unnecessary fripperies.... (These are not things to be proud of by the way!)

Up to the neck, and I have no idea what it is made from or from how many pieces because it's covered in the same thick paint. I think there is a joint at the heel but I can't be sure.  Topping this is a what Ashton call a 'layerered rosewood' fingerboard. I am not sure what they mean by 'layered' though. Do they mean laminate? If so, why on earth would you need a laminate fingerboard? Anyway, it matters not because what you are looking at here is not the actual wood finish as the whole thing has been painted matte black. I mean, come on.. if it IS rosewood under there, why paint it? Unless of course it's because it's rosewood of extremely questionable quality.. who knows? Amusingly in a nod to Martin ukulele styling we have some end shaping to the board. Silk purses and pigs ears spring to mind.


Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele fingerboard

Fitted into this are 12 frets which appear to be made of brass. They look horrible and the ends are dressed terribly. These are not just slightly sharp, but the protrude so much you could use the edge of the fingerboard as a saw. Imagine how that feels on your fingers...  It's odd because some of the fret crowns don't quite make it to the edge of the fingerboard, whilst they are still sharp - it's like the tops have been dressed back, but not the seating part of the fret that still sticks out.  Incidentally, looking at the frets more closely they appear to be set directly into the neck wood, so perhaps that reference layered rosewood really does mean that it's a very thin veneer. It's very odd. One thing I suppose it does have going for it is that the neck profile is not overly chunky, rather is traditonally shallow. Sadly the nut width is 34mm so very thin there too though. Oh, and we have no position markers either facing out or on the side. For a beginner ukulele that's a pretty poor show.

Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele headstock

Past the plastic nut and we actually have a relatively nicely shaped headstock. Fair play to Ashton for not simply going with a three pointed crown clone and choosing something a little more unique. Unfortunately it's totally let down by more poor finishing a cheesy looking screen printed Ashton logo and a set of some of the worst open geared tuners I have ever seen on a ukulele. The ones with plastic front collars, overly large plastic buttons and posts the wobble in their mountings. Terrible. Amusingly it also comes with a holographic label of Ashton authenticity on the back. As if that makes everything ok, and as if somebody would want to copy it..

Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele tuners


Completing the package is an extremely thin 'gig bag' of which I have seen thicker carrier bags, and an unnamed set of strings. They are clear and my guess is that they are basic nylon and certainly not fluorocarbon. You WILL want to change those out. And for that you will be looking at an RRP of £23 in the UK.


Ashton UKE100 Soprano Ukulele back

Now, as you can probably tell there isn't actually much, if anything, about this ukulele that I have liked so far. But let's give it a chance and see how it plays. (Remember folks.. I do this so you don't have to...!)

First up, I was actually surprised by a first look at the setup. Whether this was more down to luck than judgement (I am going with luck), it's actually acceptably set up at both the nut and the saddle. Unfortunately that is rendered completely irrelevant by virtue of the fact that I think the bridge is screwed in the wrong place. That is to say it is, it seems screwed on an angle, and not intentionally either. The whole plate is on an angle, not just the saddle. That means that regardless of factors such as action height and break angles for the strings, that intonation is never going to be on point. That's actually a fatal build error as it wouldn't be cost effective to correct.

On to another positive, the UKE100 is also balanced well in the hands. Yet once again, that positive is completely nullified by the fact that it is really, REALLY heavy. It also feels pretty awful on the fingers too. Kind of tacky, kind of rough, kind of... I can't quite put my finger on it. In fact I really don't WANT to put my finger on it.... oh, do I have to?

Anyway, play it I must. And after days and days of tuning, re-tuning and re-tuning, those nylon strings eventually got to a point of holding.. Incidentally, talking of tuning. You know I said the tuners looked bad? Well they work pretty badly too. The usual issue of some grinding, some feeling loose and there being lots of play. Oh well, being gears, they won't slip I suppose.

And when it comes to tone and sound, well there isn't a great deal I can say really. Almost zero sustain and about the most 'plinky' dull sound I think i've heard from a ukulele. There's just nothing about it for me that is likeable. Yes, the intonation is slightly off, but actually that isn't the worst of it. It just has no life to the sound whatsoever. The C strings is worst, but really none of them come together to give me anything. It has 'some' volume, but it's really not great (and to be honest, I am not sure I would want it any louder..) And yes, before you say it, new strings would help, but really, when the rest of it is so rough - why would you? I will tell you what it sounds like. It sounds exactly like people who have a deep rooted hatred for the ukulele think all ukuleles sound like. That assumption of the ukulele sounding like rubber bands on a tissue box, of being childlike and non serious. It sounds EXACTLY like that. And that is pretty damning.

So there you have it, I think this is quite possibly one of the worst ukuleles I have ever reviewed on this site. And yet I can guarantee that now some people may be moved to comment such things as "of course it is, it's a cheap one after all, what did you expect", or worse still, as I say above, "yes but I could put better strings on it and knock it into shape" (begging the counter question, "but why would you though?"). I will also get the "I have one of these and it's actually OK - you must have got a bad one" (a comment I get whenever I review a ukulele badly) and maybe even the "There's lots of 5 star reviews on Amazon, you are clearly wrong". Perhaps you did and perhaps there is, but the fact that this one must have gotten through their quality control tells you exactly why I can't recommend them.

But I'm actually angry with it less because of how bad I think it is (it's bad, that much is clear, but it certainly isn't the ONLY bad ukulele out there), but it's because of how it serves to perpetuate the opinion that the ukulele is not an instrument to be taken seriously, that it's a toy, that setup and QC don't really matter. You see, it's out there under the name of what appears to be a reputable musical instrument brand not a random Chinese 'who are they?' brand. When you have a known instrument brand name you carry a certain amount of respect. People assume that you know what you are doing. And when they see a ukulele like this they may then assume "that's just the way they are"... "hey, it's an Ashton, it's even got a holographic sticker and everything!"  This isn't an instrument designed to be sold in discount stores as a 'toy' like the fabled Ready Ace was - this is being sold by a musical instrument brand as a serious thing - as part of their line up.

The brand may say, "yes but we are just meeting a demand / filling a gap and there are people out there that only want to spend this much", and that, of course, is both true and fair enough. But there's the thing - several other brands such as Octopus, Tiger and Makala have shown that you CAN do cheap pretty well. It IS possible. This one however is cheap done very, very badly. Very roughly and without much of care about the end result.

And what I find particularly sad is that Ashton have what appear to be some other nicer instruments in their range. Who knows, perhaps they actually do make some good stuff. If so, why have this in the line up at all? Why degrade your brand?  If they do make good things, I for one will now never be moved to try them because the fact they have the UKE100 in their lineup says to me that they don't actually give a damn. Yet, I give you this quote from direct the Ashton website..

 "We know how important a great sound is, which is why we put so much time and effort into the research and development of our products."

And they also state..

"Designed in Australia by a highly qualified team of experts, Ashton’s range of musical instruments and sound equipment are built to strict quality standards. All Ashton instruments, systems and accessories are the end result of countless hours of development, research and testing."

Sorry Ashton - none of those statements mean a single thing as long as you are selling instruments like this one. This blows your credibility.

Avoid!

http://www.ashtonmusic.com



UKULELE PROS

Nothing I can really find. It's very cheap I suppose..

UKULELE CONS

See above...

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 2.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 2 out of 10
Sound - 2 out of 10
Value for money - 3 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 2.4 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



17 Jun 2017

Noah Guitalele - REVIEW

It's been a while since I featured an instrument from the Noah brand, and I'm therefore delighted now to welcome them back to Got A Ukulele, this time with something quite different. The Noah Guitalele

Noah Guitalele Ukulele

First, some back story on Noah as a reminder before we get on to the instrument concept itself. Noah are are the ukuele wing of a company set up by Brit businessman Matt Cohen called Saigon Guitars. As a brand they work with a very small workshop in Vietnam (where Matt used to live and work) with the intention of providing very good value for money instruments that are NOT of the mass produced factory production line variety. Incidentally, Noah is the name of Matt's son. A nice concept and a nice story behind the name too!

So I had previously looked at a couple of their ukuleles and liked them a lot, but as I say, this one is quite different. In fact is it a ukulele? Is it a guitar? You know what? I never personally care too much about what things are called as some people do - it's a musical instrument! Life is too short! Though I suppose there is still quite a bit of confusion between the various types of 'extra string' ukuleles out there. First of all you have the 'four course' extra string ukuleles such as five, six and eight string models. With those you are still playing essentially four main notes (four courses), only some of the strings are doubled up and played together. With a guitalele though you are getting two extra 'true' strings, meant to be played independently. With these you have six distinct courses, much like a guitar.

It's also fair to say that the four course extra string ukuleles are far more prevalent, and this Guitalele is the first I have ever reviewed on the site and only the second I have ever played.  And being a Guitalele, some of the more common comparisons between instruments don't really come into play as it kind of 'is what it is'.

It's a double bout shaped instrument about the same size in the body as many baritone ukuleles. In fact it's the same sort of scale length as a baritone at 19 inches too. The body is made from all solid Monkeypod wood, which is always a pleasure to look at.  Monkeypod, also known as the Raintree is an exotic timber from tropical regions with a distinctive curly, stripy and wavy grain pattern that works to great effect on musical instruments.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele body

This one has a two piece top and back, both of which have been nicely bookmatched to show off that wavy curl in the wood. It's really attractive I think and a good analogy I once read about Monkeypod is that it is reminiscent of clouds in milky coffee! I think it's absolutely beautiful. This review model is finished all in satin, but Matt also offers it in a gloss coat if you prefer that. It's pretty well applied all over, but there are one or two bubbles here and there if such things annoy you.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele back

The back on this is very slightly arched and the sides are also made from two pieces with an inlaid strip of pale wood where they join at the base. That inlay matches the pale wood edge binding that decorates the top and back and really sets off the wood nicely, and not too gaudily.  Around the soundhole though we have abalone, where I would prefer to have seen something plainer to match the edge binding myself. I'm never a fan of mixed decoration types.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele sound hole


The bridge is a tie bar style, made from rosewood and fitted with a non compensated saddle which appears to be made from bone. Like other Noah instruments, they tend to apply a gloss coat to the bridge mounts that I don't particularly like.

A look inside shows a tidy build on the whole. A few spots of glue and some wood shavings but I suppose that's to be expected from a workshop instrument.

Up to the neck and this is described by Noah as being made from maple. It's certainly very dark maple if it is, and I would have put money on it being mahogany, but there you go! It's made with a stacked heel joint (capped in more pale wood trim) and possibly a very well hidden joint at the headstock. Naturally, being a Guitalele the comparisons with normal ukuleles end here as this is naturally a much wider neck on account of the extra strings. It's also very much a classical guitar profiled neck I find, and whilst it's wide, it is nice and shallow in depth.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele neck heel

Topping it is a roswewood fingerboard which is nice and dark, but showing quite a few tooling marks from the builder. Again, this bothers some people and it would be amiss of me not to mention it. We have 20 nickel silver frets in total with 14 to the body joint. To be more accurate we have 19 and a half frets as that 20th one is cut in two by the curve around the sound hole and not really useable! They are all dressed very nicely and the edges are bound in darker wood hiding the ends. We have pearloid dot inlays at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces, with the 12th being a double spot. Thankfully these are repeated on the side too. And as I say, this is a wide neck, so at the nut this is measuring about 48mm. Despite sharing a lot of features with the guitar, I would also note that the neck is very much of the 'classical guitar' style as opposed to the folk guitar or electric guitar. That is to say its wide and very flat with no radius.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele fingerboard

Past the bone nut we have a slotted design headstock, which is always something I like to see.  It's faced in a darker wood and detailed quite nicely with some carving notches in the top that give the indication of petals of a flower on the top edge. The Noah logo is inlaid in pearl and sets it off nicely.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele headstock

Tuning is provided by rear facing, unbranded geared tuners with white pearly buttons. They are arranged three a side and also look extremely classy I think.

Noah Guitalele Ukulele tuners

Completing the deal is a padded gig bag and what look to be light gauge classical / Spanish guitar strings. And for that you will be looking at £299 in the UK, which I don't think is a bad price at all. In fact if this WAS a guitar, you'd be hard pressed to find one made from all solid wood for that kind of budget.

It's nice in the hands too. Not overly heavy, nicely balanced and nicely set up too. No complaints here. A very tactile instrument.

I said above that I had played only one guitalele before, and that was a Yamaha model. I didn't actually get on with it all that much as I found the sound a bit wishy washy and not doing it for me. Perhaps that's because I mainly play acoustic folk guitar and I was wanting more of that kind of sound, but then perhaps that's a flawed comparison - they are never going to sound like that.

From the off though the tone of this one has been really pleasing to me. Just richer, yet brighter than that Yamaha I had played. Incidentally, I have this tuned to ADGCEA - so essentially the same as ukulele standard tuning with two extra bass strings, but with the right strings you could also get this to standard guitar tuning (EADGBE). Of course, using those relative tunings means that if you are a ukulele player you will recognise the majority of guitar chord shapes as the finger positions on strings 1-4 will be exactly the same as for ukulele. Not a huge amount extra to learn then - just a couple more strings!

It's just got a really rich warm sustain to it that I have been really quite taken by. For me it's not an instrument to thrash / strum chords on (although I can see it working well with flamenco style), but it shines when played fingerpicked. A more contemplative instrument if you will that I very much enjoyed testing sat in my garden. Those two extra bass strings, naturally, are giving a more rounded overall tone to the sound that you just can't get from a four string ukulele. Volume isn't as loud as I would have expected, but it's no slouch. No complaints on the sustain though particularl from those wound strings.

No, it doesn't sound like a ukulele (it isn't a ukulele) and not it doesn't sound like a guitar (it isn't a guitar). It merely sounds like what it is, and it's rather nice for that!

Who does this suit? Well if you have a grounding in classical guitar this will be right up your street. If you are enjoying the ukulele you might very well enjoy this and use it as a first step towards dabbling with the guitar too. (And seriously, when I see some ukulele players get almost evangelical in their dislike for guitar... trust me, they need to broaden their horizons in my view..). Most of all though, I applaud it for offering music lovers another 'option' that they might not have considered. A nice option too that looks and sounds great.

Recommended.

http://www.noahukuleles.com

UKULELE PROS

Looks of that wood
Fair price
Classy tuners
Slotted headstock

UKULELE CONS

Some tooling marks on fingerboard
Some finish bubbles / flaws
Would prefer more consistency with decorative materials.

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.6 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW


10 Jun 2017

Tinguitar Reclaimed Mahogany Soprano - REVIEW

As I have said before on Got A Ukulele, it's always a real pleasure to write a review about a hand made, luthier built ukulele. I was therefore delighted recently to bring another Tinguitar uke into the Got A Ukulele fold, built by Robert Collins of Hebden Bridge, in the UK. This one is a 'reclaimed mahogany' soprano.


The first model from Tinguitar I featured on the site was a custom model, a solid body electro tenor ukulele that I commissioned from Rob direct. That is to say, I met up with Rob, specified the woods, looks, detailing and Rob built it for me to order. In fact I ordered it at his workshop and selected the actual woods he used from his extensive stocks of tonewoods on the workshop shelves. I think it's one of the very best things about using a luthier as you can specify exactly what you want, (within reason!). Because of that level of planning, I know that's not for everyone though, so alongside his custom creations, Rob also builds more standard instruments 'on spec', for sale without a specific buyer in mind. I suppose you can call them the 'off the peg' Tinguitar models used to show off his work - yet they are built in exactly the same way and to the same quality standards as all his instruments. I've actually been thinking of grabbing one of his more standard sopranos for quite some time but never quite got around to it. Then I spied a series of instruments he was advertising made from reclaimed tonewoods and just had to have one.  For those who don't know, Rob is one of the only full time ukulele luthiers in the UK today. This IS what he does for a living.  Without pre-judging this one, I'm a fan of his work.  In fact, I am not the only one and his instruments have been played on festival stages by people like Ian Emmerson, Phil Doleman, Samantha Muir and Del Rey and many others. He's also one of the team being the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival. I think it's fair to say he knows his ukuleles!

So here we have a standard shaped and scaled soprano ukulele made from solid reclaimed mahogany. More specifically, this is made of Brazilian Mahogany. Now, bear in mind that it's not been possible to get virgin brazilian mahogany for quite some time as it was made illegal to log it / export it for very good reason. As such, any 'new' ukulele you see made from mahogany today will be not be Brazilian. Yet many luthiers agree that the Brazilian variety of this particular wood has a richer tone and is considered the superior variant for stringed musical instruments as a tonewood. It's like the difference between acacia wood and koa I suppose - they are effectively the same tree, but koa is acacia that is grown ONLY in Hawaii - and does sound different because of it. And that's where using reclaimed wood provides a luthier with a brilliant eco friendly option that you won't find with mass produced instruments that stick to commercial woods. So, if it's banned, how does Rob do it without falling foul of the law?  Well the mahogany in this particular instrument came from old stair treads and office doors from between the 1940's and 1960's that were destined for the skip. You see, as well as using virgin woods in some of his creations,  Rob takes these wood pieces away as salvage materials wherever he can find them, splits and sands them into tone woods, and hey presto - 'instant vintage mahogany' from a tree that was long since felled and already used!  I absolutely love the story behind it and as pressures on natural resources continue to increase around the globe I think it's a great option for a luthier and a very green one too. It's an even better option when you consider that if Rob hadn't salvaged this particular wood, it would likely have been shredded into pellets and thrown with other waste woods into an energy plant and gone up in a puff of smoke! I for one am happy it was turned into a musical instrument instead! What a great story?


So as you will see, this is a solid top back and sides instrument made from that reclaimed mahogany, and it's gorgeously deep, rich and orangey brown in colour. The top and back are single pieces and the sides are in a pair. The back is very (very) slightly arched and it's put together precisely and neatly all over. Finishing the body is a coating of Tru-Oil which Rob then buffs back with a microfibre mesh to create a rather lovely hand rubbed finish. It's not hyper glossy, but it's not rough on the fingers either. It just looks, for want of a better word, 'vintage'. And the finish really brings out that deep, deep colour and grain of the wood. In some lights and angles the wood can look paler, but turn it and as the grain fibres move against the light it seems to flush it with a much richer darker brown. Being a single piece top and back, the grain is swirly rather than bookmatched into a pattern, if that sort of thing bothers you, but that's no different to the Martin S1.  I think it's wonderful. In fact I could have written several paragraphs in this review just about the colour and look of the wood! I love just looking at it. I think the pictures I have taken, from different angles, show how it changes in the light, but you would need to see it in the flesh to 'get it'. I had seen pictures of it online and really liked it but opening it at home was a totally different experience.

In another step up from his most basic sopranos, this one has had the added top edge binding in ebony. There is no other decoration, and whilst I personally like my instruments totally plain (and this essentially is) the black of the ebony top edge really works here I think in giving it a little 'something' else. It's not flashy or blingy, but kind of 'just enough' decoration for me. I'm not a glitzy ukulele fan, but know that some of you are - but that's where Rob can offer a range of options on custom orders that will satisfy even the most gaudy desires!

Bridge wise we have a slotted bridge also made of ebony, fitted with a saddle made from Corian - a very dense stone substitute often used for kitchen counters. It's in a typical Martin slotted style, but no complaints from me there. They work.  It's also very tidily carved and much nicer on the finish than the Martin S1 ukulele I reviewed.

And the tidy nature of the build continues inside. There is no mess at all and not a hint of glue seepage anywhere. We have the signed and numbered makers label, delicate scalloped bracing and notched kerfing linings. All very nice. Interesting point here - on the inside because you can see the raw cut wood with no oil finish, you see the tiny white flecks in the grain which is a telltale sign of Brazilian Mahogany.

Up to the neck, and this too is made of reclaimed mahogany. It's been put together from three pieces, but not in the normal factory way of stacking them at the heel and headstock. These pieces are in a sandwich along the whole length, the middle strip creating a very subtle stripe down the neck and right through the headstock. It's a very similar mahogany, but 'just' different enough to create an attractive stripe detail. Noticeable, but not flashy or gaudy. So essentialy two different pieces of mahogany used to create a sandwich of three parts. Clever and very effective I think.


Topping this is an ebony fingerboard which is in great condition and super dark in colour. Fitted to this are 14 nickel silver frets with 12 to the body joint. Not the greatest number of frets i've seen, but equally not a totally standard 12 like on so many sopranos. Like the Martin S1 ukulele I recently reviewed they are very delicate and thin, suiting a soprano perfectly. They are also dressed really nicely. There are no position markers on the face of the fingerboard and a solitary single mother of pearl dot on the side at the 7th space. That may bother some people, but I don't feel like it's missing them myself. The single dot allows me to know where I am and it is only soprano scale after all. In fairness here - please note, having no dots is not a 'feature' for Tinguitar and in fact most of his instruments carry them in the usual places. It's just that this one doesn't and that's cool with me. Personally, I like the minimalist look and the dark ebony.

At the nut we have a 34mm width which is a little narrower than I would normally like if I am honest, but then I have big hands!


The headstock shape is the Tinguitar standard and one I really like, mirroring part of his logo. It also makes for a nice amount of space above the nut so you don't find your fretting hand bumping the headstock as you do with some other models with badly thought out and massive headstocks. Somebody recently commented on one of my reviews that the shape of a headstock is irrelevant to a review and that they wished I would shut up about them... I could not disagree more! It really IS relevant, as anyone with an uncomfortably large headstock will know . There is nothing worse than an oversized headstock at the base as they do affect the fretting hand. I don't mention headstock shapes for no reason! Rant over.


Fitted into this are Grover friction tuners, which are actually their newer 6 series. I've really been looking forward to trying these as I usually use Grover 4's and rate them highly. The 6 series are a bit lighter and claim to work just as well as the 4's. I can confirm that they certainly DO. They hold just fine and don't require wrist snapping amounts of tension on the set screw, whilst still turning smoothly with no jumps that you get with cheaper friction tuners. I will be buying these again. Another good example of friction pegs that demonstrate that not all friction pegs are the work of  Satan.


Finally, it's strung with Rob's choice of strings for his instruments, which is Seaguar fluorocarbon line.  Price wise, in this specification it was £325. I think that is tremendous value for money when you consider the work and man hours that went into it. Obviously that is just for this particular one. Rob is not making these on a production line and as such this one is unique to me. Whilst that may seem odd for a review choice, it's still actually very representative of his off the peg soprano prices. I've seen Rob make standard sopranos without the edge bindings and in plainer woods for a bit less than this price and some for a very similar price or possibly a touch more. Equally, you can spend much more too depending on the detailing because the price is all about the time it takes to make them. Ultimately though, it's like I've said many times. Owning a luthier built ukulele can be a lot cheaper than you may expect.  I do think people often shy away thinking 'these are too rich for me', or 'I could never afford a luthier built instrument'... I think that you may be surprised! And when you read on and consider the price comparison to some other sopranos of similar spec, I may convince you completely!

On to playing it. The first thing you notice after that striking colour richness, is how lightweight and balanced it is in the hands. It's really nothing at all. Nothing! In fact, (and this is no word of a lie), when the courier delivered this to my place he joked at my door that I was signing for an empty box. And the reason for that is that the tone woods used on this are really, really thin and delicate. There I stood with a huge box (on account of the excellent packing Rob sent it wrapped in) that weighed nothing at all!

And with that thin body comes a tremendous resonance. Seriously, this one is like a drum and kind of feels like it is vibrating if you lightly touch it. In fact if you do tap on the soundboard that's exactly what happens. It's as lively as you can imagine.

Set up wise, I have no complaints either, with nothing I would change at all. And that's how it should be. This was not made on a Chinese production line that relies on a QC check to make sure that 'most' are OK. It feels great in the hands on account of that hand rubbed finish, strangely making it feel like I have already owned it for years and worn the wood in with years of sweat and oil from the hands. Oh, and the finish also smells gorgeous too if you like that sort of thing. A very tactile and classy looking instrument indeed.

And that resonance really strikes you when you first play it. With even a very slight strum on the strings this projects extremely well and clearly. Dig in more and it has a hell of a bark (in a very good way, just like a soprano should!!). You feel the vibration backwards into your chest and it's immensely satisfying. All notes are clear and in their place, and the intonation all over the neck is great.

Naturally I tested this one side by side with my recent reviews of both the Martin S1 and the Kiwaya KTS-5 (how could I not?). Each are mahogany sopranos, each have a non gloss finish and the Kiwaya and Martin are both very decent ukuleles. Volume wise they are all on a par with each other, but tone wise, this one has a far richer and much more rounded sound than the Martin. It's similar to the Kiwaya I think, yet still different. It really is massively warmer than the Martin though though still has some bite and jangle. In fact playing this for a while has made be revisit my thoughts on the Martin and now feel it sounds a lot thinner than I would like. And bear in mind, in this spec, this is cheaper than both of those two ukuleles....  for an instrument hand made in the UK, not in a faceless factory but in a tiny workshop in West Yorkshire. Well.. I think that's remarkable really.


And whether the richness in tone comes from the build, the fact that it's Brazilian mahogany, or the fact that it's OLD and aged Brazilian mahogany, I can't say for sure. It's probably a mix of all three really. Whichever, it works for me and I think it's just delightful.

To be fair, the other two I am comparing it to were each tested with different strings, albeit fluorocarbon in each case, but one thing is for certain - this one still punches well above it's weight and, to my ears at least is at least on a par with the considerably higher priced Kiwaya. It's THAT nice. Rich, bright yet warm, light in the hands, well made and beautifully classy to look at. Really, what's not to like here?

And I am well aware that many readers will know that Rob is a personal friend of mine, and I perhaps need to point that out considering how much I am bigging this one up. But it's not me being a sycophant. He really DOES make great instruments and there are countless other people including professionals who will agree.  And I also know full well that, like any other builder, he will have been very nervous about what I was going to say about this one, because people know that I speak my mind on here. But, you know - this isn't a loan instrument and I am not reviewing this for a favour. I paid him my own cash for this one, and I wouldn't have done that if I didn't know that he makes great instruments. And this IS a great soprano, and also one of the highest scores I've ever given to an instrument in all my time. A high end finish and tone for less than a high end price.

Keep an eye on his site or Facebook page for other 'on spec' models like this one, or even better, drop him a line to talk about options for a custom. I don't think anyone who appreciates a good ukulele would regret it.

http://tinguitar.com

UKULELE PROS

Beautiful aged looking wood
Excellent precise build quality
Very light and resonant
Great tuners
Rich, clear and powerful tone

UKULELE CONS

Would like a slightly wider nut, but it's still perfectly playable.

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.3 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




6 Jun 2017

GNUF Scoops The Queen's Award For Voluntary Service

Many of you  in ukulele land will have seen this news by now, but in case you hadn't I wanted to get it noted down on the blog for posterity. The Grand Northern Ukulele Festival has recently been awarded the highest award a voluntary organisation can receive in the UK. The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.

queens award
This is essentially the equivalent of an MBE but one that is awarded to groups that undertake voluntary, charitable or social work in the UK. And I think that highlights a couple of very important things about GNUF, one you may know and one you may not.

Firstly it's obviously a huge credit to the organising team for the massive amount of work they put in each year the festival runs. Having spent time behind the scenes on previous events I can assure you this is NOT a walk in the park and is the culmination of a full years work from many people to successfully pull it off.

Team GNUF ukulele festival
Part of Team GNUF L-R Mim, Rob Collins, Kris Ball (credit James Millar)
The second point though is the 'voluntary' angle. You see, GNUF is run as a not for profit event, and that means the team that set it up are indeed volunteers. This is not a festival that is run to be a money spinner. They do it for the love of the festival, of the ukulele and for the many people who visit and take enjoyment from it. And that's many people who get that enjoyment.. 353 artists, 1,700 participants, and over 4,000 people who have attended so far. That's pretty impressive.

The Department of Culture, who select the recipients for the award, added: “The award of The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service 2017 represents a tremendous achievement for your organisation. We hope that everyone involved, and particularly your volunteers, feel immensely proud of the recognition that this award represents.”

GNUF ukulele festival
Credit James Millar

So on behalf of Got A Ukulele, I want to say a massive well done to my friends on the organising team and all those who contribute in other ways and say that this is hugely deserved by all!

And take a look below at two of the festival organisers Mary Agnes Krell and Rob Collins at the Buckingham Palace Garden Party recently at which GNUF and other award winners attended as part of the 2017 awards.

Team GNUF at Buckingham Palace
Credit Mary Agnes Krell

http://northernuke.com/queens-award-voluntary-service/

Ohana SK-35 Soprano - REVIEW

Time for another look at an Ohana Ukulele, with a long established model of theirs in the SK-35 Soprano uke.

Ohana SK-35 Soprano Ukulele

The purchase of this came about as I was looking for a decent good value soprano ukulele for travelling with that I wouldn't worry too much about losing or damaging. Cheap but not dreadful in other words! One of the key requirements I wanted it to meet was that it was installed with friction peg tuners - and that's where my problems began. You see, in the main you will only really find friction pegs on either the absolute cheapest brightly coloured Chinese trash (no thanks) or on a plethora of high end ukuleles from brands like Koaloha, Kiwaya and Kamaka. The latter of these didn't meet my requirement as a low cost instrument, and then I realised that the choices are extremely limited in the middle to lower price bracket. In fact the vast majority come with gears only.  I found a couple though. It came down to Mainland or Ohana as the only models that really satisfied the brief, and I went with this one.

And why friction pegs? Well, as I've said before I just think they look much better on a soprano, and don't get in the way of the fretting hand. I also don't buy the argument that they 'don't work', as good quality ones DO work fine. In that respect, I would have even bought one with poor quality friciton pegs as swapping them for better quality ones is a super easy job. As it is, finding the Ohana, I found an instrument that not only had them but had 'fairly' decent ones too.

The SK-35, like the Mainland sopranos actually comes in a variety of variants. The SK-35G is exactly the same instrument but with a gloss finish, and they also make an SK-35S which has side facing geared tuners. This is the straight up plain SK-35, so it comes with friction pegs and matte satin finish, but as you can see - something for everyone which is nice.

It's a standard scaled and shaped soprano made from all solid mahogany and very much modelled on a Martin ukulele in almost every way. The top and back on this one are made of single pieces and the sides are also a single piece bent to shape. The back is completely flat. The whole body is finished in a satin coat on this one, and it's 'generally' nicely applied. The grain on the wood is straight up and down the body, but being mahogany was never going to be hugely ostentatious or curly.  But it's nice for what it is, and exactly what I wanted. It's a nice warm orangey brown, typical of mahogany.

Ohana SK-35 Soprano Ukulele body

Bridge wise we have a rosewood slotted style bridge plate housing a straight bone saddle shaped at the ends to match the taper on the bridge. The whole bridge and saddle is really nicely finished I must say and in fact in much better shape that that on the Martin S1 which was much rougher.

Ohana SK-35 Soprano Ukulele bridge

Decoration wise we have some black and white edge detailing next to rosewood binding on the top edge, and more of the rosewood binding the back. Around the saddle we have a subtle, cream coloured sound hole ring that is a transfer under the satin. Unlike the Martin S1, I think it looks nice and isn't stark white. The whole thing looks classy, vintage and traditional. In fact this detailing is what sets it a peg above it's slightly cheaper younger brother the SK-25 Ukulele. That one is essentially the same instrument without the bindings.

One thing I will say about Ohana satin finishes though is that, rather like Kala, they can make the instrument look a bit too 'new' and almost artificial. Yes, I know it IS new, but on something the like the Martin or Kiwaya you will find finishes that still make the instrument 'feel' like wood. The factory finishes on these mass produced models just seem to take some of that away for me. It must also be said that there are also quite a few finish flaws and marks on this one, particularly on the edge binding but they are minor I suppose and are nothing structural. I guess it's one of the things that sets a £150 instrument apart from one costing £400 or more.

Ohana SK-35 Soprano Ukulele sound hole

Inside things look reasonably good. Scalloped braces, notched kerfing and the makers logo label. There are though, it must be said, lots of glue seepages around the joints. Pretty messy.

Up to the neck, this too is made from mahogany with a joint at the heel and the headstock. It's finished in satin too, although the colour of it is a little too orange for my liking. I would have liked that to match the body colour more closely. Sometimes little things like this set off my OCD.

Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which is nice and even in colour and nicely conditioned. We have a generous (for a soprano) 15 nickel silver frets with 12 to the body joint, the last few overlapping the top above the sound hole. They are all finished nicely, helped by the strips of rosewood edge binding on the sides that hide the fret ends. Personally I would have liked thinner fret wire on a soprano, but there you are. Compared to something like the Kiwaya KTS-5 though, you see that the fingerboard is much thicker where it passes over the top of the body. There are also a couple of finish flaws in the edge binding that actually look like splits in the rosewood that have been polished over. Again, pretty minor, but noticeable to me.

Ohana SK-35 Soprano Ukulele fingerboard

We have pearloid position markers at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces. I'd like one at the 12th too, but they are thankfully repeated on the side - something that I think was missing from the original run of SK-35's. Good to see that Ohana are improving things as they go along.

Incidentally, the nut width is a generic 34mm, so narrower than I would like too, but I suppose pretty standard for a Chinese instrument.

Past the bone nut we have the usual Ohana headstock style which I really do think looks great. They always exude a certain class in their shape and this is faced in dark rosewood and has the same black and white edge binding detail. The Ohana logo is under the satin and whilst I think it's a screen print, it looks pearly and classy.

Ohana SK-35 Soprano Ukulele headstock

And flipping it over we see the friction pegs that I was wanting all along. In this case we have standard Gotoh brand pegs with cream buttons - model UKB I think. They are not high end friction pegs, but they are far from the worst out there and I think they are better than the ones that come as standard on the Martin S1. In fact I think they are exactly the same as those fitted to the Kiwaya KS5. Kind of a 'mid range' peg I suppose.

Ohana SK-35 Soprano Ukulele tuners

Completing the package are a set of Aquila strings and whilst these have an RRP of £229, I picked this one up for around £150.  Likewise the US RRP is $289 but you will regularly find these for around $180 or so. I do find that a lot with Ohana in that their RRP prices are always much higher than you ever find them for sale and I am never sure why. Even new models seem to hit dealers at lower prices than they show as RRP. Either way though, at a price of £150 I think that's a good deal, so do shop around. I wouldn't be quite as happyy at the RRP I must say.

Ohana SK-35 Soprano Ukulele back

So the build quality of this is pretty good all over with no issues in the body joints and only minor flaws in the finish. A bit messy inside, but that's about it. It's also light and balanced too. Not as light as a higher end soprano as the tone woods are noticeably thicker, but that's to be expected for the price. Setup is also pretty decent on this one although I would likely take the saddle down a touch. It's not affecting the intonation, just the feel for me, so that's purely a personal preference.

So no huge complaints so far. Sound wise it's got decent volume and it has some nice sustain too for a cheaper soprano. Not ultra long lasting, but it's there and noticeably making it feel lively enough. Not hugely snappy, but not too shabby.  But remember, this is a £150 instrument, not a £500 ukulele.

I wouldn't call it a 'complex' voice, but it does have a bit of jangle and certainly barks a bit as a soprano should when you need it by digging in. I much prefer it for strumming than picking, but it's no slouch at the latter. Just a very typically mahogany soprano tone I think and one that does it's job for 95% of people very well. It's a wood that I find gives a warmth and richness of tone that just really suits the soprano scale ukulele. It's no coincidence that classic Martin sopranos used mahogany.

But the one thing I can't get past is the strings. I always point out that I don't review ukuleles up or down based on strings because they are just too personal, but i'm finding it slightly hard to come to a clear view of this one based on the Aquila strings. You see, I want a soprano to be bright, snappy and punchy and I just think that (for me at least) the Aquila strings are far too mellow for it to show what it can really do.  I really think that I'd want to try fluorocarbons on it is what i'm saying, and with the review out of the way, that's exactly what I am going to do! Please bear in mind you are entitled to disagree - the number of people who love Aquila strings are legion and this is just my personal opinion. And it's exactly why I don't let strings affect my scores unless they truly are dreadful.

Those tuners on this are also a little bit fiddly, but as I say, they are not the worst out there and do hold and turn smoothly enough. I just find they have a touch of play that is annoying,  but as I always say, swapping these out is a minor job.

It probably reads like I am trying to find things wrong with this one, and I suppose I should come to a conclusion that is more positive. And that's because for the great value price, it's actually a great little instrument that I AM positive about. Hugely.  It looks the part (traditional and classy), on the whole is built very well and sounds pretty good too. I think it probably fits the bill for exactly what I wanted. A non hellishly expensive soprano that still sounds great and has friction pegs! I therefore still give this a good recommendation and a score to match. I'm very pleased with it!

(Please note! I noticed on playing back the video that the sound goes very 'phasey' in parts  - I was experimenting with a new microphone and decided it sounds horrid, but didn't have time to re-record it. So to give you something better to listen to, I have done the soundcloud file below which is using a microphone, but without the phasey effect!)



(STOP PRESS - Since writing this review and recording the video I swapped the strings out to Martin M600's. To my ears it now sounds far, far better. However, I stand by my policy of reviewing instruments with the strings they are supplied with and for many of you, the Aquilas will be your preferred choice. Take these comments with a pinch of salt!)

https://ohana-music.com


UKULELE PROS

Great price (if you shop around!)
Classy traditional looks
Nice binding
Use of friction tuners
Good volume and sustain
Accurate set up

UKULELE CONS

Some finish flaws and internal glue seepage
Friction tuners are not the best, though easily changed.

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.6 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




1 Jun 2017

G7th UltraLight Ukulele Capo - REVIEW

Accessory time on Got A Ukulele, and a ukulele capo from British company G7th in the form of their new UltraLight model.

G7th UltraLight Ukulele Capo

Being a guitarist, G7th are well known to me as they make my guitar capo of choice in their clutch geared 'Performance' model that I have been using for many years. I love those to bits, for reasons I will come on to later, but this one is quite a bit different.

Firstly this one is designed to be super light weight. On a ukulele I don't want masses of weight on the neck of the instrument, and you might recall in my last round up of ukulele capos that I critisised a few of them for being just too heavy. This one is quite remarkable it it's weight at only 7.5 grams.  That's about half the weight of the super light D'Addario I recommended before which weighs 14 grams and massively lighter than the chunky Shubb that came in at over 50 grams. Full marks for that.

And it keeps the weight down because it is made of plastic and dispenses with the clutch gear system that G7th are best known for. Now I say above I adore that model on guitars, and that is because of that mechanism. You see, that system allows you to minutely adjust the pressure the capo was placing on the strings. One of my critisisms of many capos that use the snap or spring system to attach is that they are either tight or too loose. The G7th clutch system allowed you to very finely adjust the pressure just by squeezing it.  And that is important for a very simple reason. Applying too much pressure on strings can easily throw the tuning out and affect intonation. Not what you want at all. It's a great system, but they are heavy as a result. That's not much of an issue on a guitar, but on a ukulele I just wouldn't want that. In fact G7th did make a version that worked like that for ukulele, but I don't think they are available any longer.

G7th UltraLight Ukulele Capo on neck

But the way this one works still seems to allow you to vary that pressure in increments. It's a really simple design, where the plastic body is flexible and wraps around the neck of the ukulele and clips on to itself. The part that presses on the strings is, like most capos, padded with some rubber type material, and then you simply turn the screw on one side to adjust the tension. And it works, allowing you to minutely adjust pressure until you get just enough to cleanly engage the strings without throttling them until they go out of tune. Neat. Incidentally it's wide enough to suit any scale ukulele (I tried it on each), and I could see it equally working well on a mandolin or banjo too.

Now, it's not as intuitive a system to attach and move up and down the neck as the clip varieties but it does do it's job and once it's on it's on. It's not all that fiddly and took only a second to attach, but it's not quite the same as just clipping one on with a spring. However, when you move to one of the spring capos you then have that issue of increased pressure and of course increased weight which is where this one leads the way.

One other comment I would make is that as I have big hands I do tend to find all ukulele capos can get in the way of my fretting hand on the lower positions.  This is better than some I have played as it's rather sleek, but I still bumped into it on occasion. I actually found though, like with other capos on ukulele that placing it at a slight angle overcomes much of that. Just bear that in mind, but like I say, that's a comment about all capos really. If you use a capo on a ukulele you will know what I mean.

G7th UltraLight Ukulele Capo unpackaged

And one of the nicest things about this aside from the weight is the price. These are launching at only £9.99 which is the sort of price that really doesn't need thinking about. I mean it's only a touch more than the cost of a pack of strings. Why wouldn't you grab one for that sort of money? I like simple things that just work, and this fits that bill for me.

Recommended!


https://www.g7th.com/new-ultralight-classical-and-ukulele

VIDEO REVIEW


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