24.11.14

It's Birthday Week on Got A Ukulele - FIVE Years Old!

Happy birthday to me! - can't believe how quickly this one came around but this week Got A Ukulele turns FIVE years old (yes, Five!).


Happy Birthday Got A Ukulele
(Credit - Amanda Malam)


I had no idea when this started that it would grow to prove so popular. I remember when I would ge thrilled looking at stats to see I had received over 100 page views in a day - these days it is well over 5,000 and the blog has (at the time of writing this) received over 6.18 MILLION views - all rather humbling.

The review count on instruments and accessories is now approaching 100 items, over 20 interviews with well known names in the ukulele worlds and is still home to one of the largest club and festival databases around. Oh - and a few rants along the way.

I am also delighted to announce that as five years is something of a milestone, the good guys at Omega Music have announced their support on a great giveaway competition that will be launching very soon. They are supplying five (one for each year!!) ukey prizes  including a fabulous uke with gig bag. I am so thankful to them.

For now though - my MANY thanks for your continued support and watch this space for the competition announcement!

Thanks again

Baz
x

23.11.14

Omega Music Zedro II Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

I have been looking forward to taking a look at one of these homegrown ukes from Omega Music - part of their Zedro series of ukuleles and built to their own specs based on customer feedback.

Omega Zedro II Concert Ukulele


The Zedro II in this case is a classic concert shaped ukulele made from solid cedar and zebra wood and I had heard good things about them.

Omega are a ukulele store in the north of England who wanted to bring to the market their own brand of uke, taking on board feedback from players and reviewers on the elements that people really wanted to see on a uke.

In this case we have a solid cedar topped uke in traditional figure of 8 style complete with back and sides made from laminate zebra wood.

Omega Zedro II Concert Ukulele back and sides


The cedar top first - its a very nice piece of wood with nice straight grain and absolutely flawless on the version I got to look at. It's plain looking, but in a good way. I am a fan of cedar, and not just for the way it sounds but I think it looks classy. There is no other decoration on the top, and nor does it need it in my opinion.

The saddle mount at the bridge is made from rosewood and is a traditional tie bar design that fits nicely on the top. The saddle itself appears to be plastic (but do correct me if I am wrong). We have no sound hole rosette - just wood wood wood (though I think I would have preferred some form of rosette myself)

Omega Zedro II Concert Ukulele bridge


A concession to 'bling' appears in the edge binding between top and back and the sides in a dark wood which I think looks very nice.

Looking inside - all is very neat and tidy with no glue seepage and delicate looking bracing. The edge kerfing is notched and well applied.

Omega Zedro II Concert Ukulele sound hole


More on the back and sides though. I often see people now getting quite sniffy about laminate wood on ukuleles as the myth seems to have perpetuated that nothing else 'will do'. Firstly, there are good laminates and I personally would rather have a good laminate uke than some of the massively overbuilt solid instruments on the market that trade on that word 'solid' and not much else. Secondly, the impact on tone from the back and sides is hardly as important as from the top. I suppose a third point from me is that as much as I like zebra wood, it can be over done, and I am glad they didn't put it on the top. But that is just me.

It's also a fairly understated zebra wood - the wood is certainly stripy (hence the name) but I think a lot of examples are overly so and gaudy. This isn't and I think it works with the top nicely.

The sides are in two pieces with a join at the base, and the back has a slight arch to it, to help with sound projection.

The whole body is finished in a satin coating which leaves the instrument with a very nice 'feel'. On the zebra wood I can see some wood pores through the finish which tells me that the outer veneer of the laminate is not paper thin. The top is completely smooth and looks superb. One thing I will say about cedar is it is not the hardest wood around and can easily pickup knocks and scratches. This can be countered with a gloss finish, but I think that would stand out like a sore thumb on this uke. Besides, cedar is a great tone wood and it would be wrong of me to mark this instrument down on account of using it. Ukes to me are meant to be played and should not be museum pieces, so if the cedar picks up a scratch it just tells me it has been played and loved.

Up to the neck of hardwood, this is built from three pieces with a joint at the heel and one at the headstock. Its a fairly chunky profile which suits me perfectly and feels great in the hands. The nut is on the wide side, but not overly so. The neck heel is definitely on the large side, but I didn't find it obstructed my playing at all.

Omega Zedro II Concert Ukulele neck heel


The neck is topped with a nice uniform top of rosewood with no colour variation. This is unbound so you can see the fret edges, but those frets are very nicely finished and such things don't bother me. There are 18 frets in total with 14 to the body (pretty standard for this scale of uke). We have pearloid inlay fret markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th, and pleasingly these are repeated on the side. The 12th fret is a double marker and also included an inlaid Greek Omega symbol which I think is a really nice.

Omega Zedro II Concert Ukulele fingerboard


Up to the headstock this is a plain design, but I always quite like those - and far better to me than another Martin crown knock off. It's kind of elongated and faced in a darker wood / stain. Into this is engraved the name Omega and I also think that looks far better than a transfer.

Omega Zedro II Concert Ukulele headstock


Tuning is provided by unbranded sealed geared tuners which work nice and smoothly. They are finished with small kind of rubberised black buttons which are nice to hold. No complaints there.

Omega Zedro II Concert Ukulele tuners


The package is finished with (hooray!!) Worth Brown strings and not the 'to be expected' Aquila brand which still tend to adorn most new ukes. I won't get in to the whole string debate, but Worths are a brand I like and its nice to see them here. I would still experiment, but perhaps will leave these on much longer than I would with Aquilas.

As for the playability - well it came pretty much perfectly setup as I would expect from Omega. I would perhaps drop the saddle a minor amount, but this is perfectly acceptable, as is the nut. As such it is accurate all over the neck. It feels good to hold and is far from heavy and certainly not over built.  It feels great in the hands.

Omega Zedro II Concert Ukulele full fingerboard


But the sound was the most pleasant surprise - it has a ton of volume and clarity across the neck which I found really pleasant. Separation across the strings is impressive and for a cedar soundboard I found the sound had much more bite and brightness than I expected though it does mellow in the sustain. Just as a concert should sound in my book. It doesnt have a boutique or high end Island sound, but nor does it try to pretend it does. It's just a great all round concert uke.

I think Omega are on to a good thing here, and at only £180 (ish) I think they are definite addition to the wish list for anyone wanting to move on from a beginner uke to more professional sounding woods and build. Very much recommended by this blog.

And..STOP PRESS - this very uke is coming up soon on a competition on this site - so it could be yours!

http://omegamusic.co.uk/buy/omega-zedro-ii-solid-cedar-top-zebrawood-concert-ukulele

PROS

Understated looks
Build quality
Super sound

CONS

None that I have found for the money


SCORES

Looks - 9
Fit and Finish - 8.5
Sound - 9
Value For Money 9

OVERALL - 8.9 out of 10

VIDEO REVIEW





14.11.14

A Trip To UK Ukulele Luthier Rob Collins at Tinguitar

In late summer this year I took a trip up to the charming town of Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire to visit two well known people in the ukulele world - Rob Collins, Luthier at Tinguitar and his partner Mary Agnes Krell, director of the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival. We had a terrific day and I was keen to see Rob's new workshop in the town. (Rob had previously been building from home but had made the step to take on new premises to help him in building his much sought after instruments.)

Hebden Bridge
Hebden Bridge

We had a good chat and Rob explained his roots in instrument building that went back to 2004 when he was 'tinkering with musical instrument projects, building electric guitars from off the peg components (necks and bodies) and when I got a bit more ambitious making my own necks and fingerboards.'

The workshop has various bits and pieces hanging around that hark back to his roots. His first ukulele build was actually a solid body. 'It was going to be an electric, but by the time I had it strung up and playable, I had already started on a nicer one, so it never got electrified'.

Rob Collins in the Tinguitar workshop
Rob in the workshop


Rob explained that it ended up being a garden ornament which he still has! (See below)

Rob Collins first ukulele test
That first ukulele! (Picture Rob Collins)


Then, following an article on MIMF.Com by Deb Suran, he turned his hand to making biscuit tin and cigar box instruments, at first promoted through the Alternative Technology Centre in Hebden Bridge, and then on his own website. For some time, this was what Rob specialised in.

Today, the workshop is clearly geared up for the building of solid wooden instruments, with a large rack of tone woods facing you on the right as you go in sourced from all over the place. Let me tell you - the smell of the workshop is just sublime! Rob explains that today, whilst he also makes instruments such as stick dulcimers, travel mandolins and short scale guitars, his instrument builds are about 95% uke related though.

Yet that 'Tinguitar' name does hark back to where he started, and in 2006 when searching for a website domain name with his workmate Trystan Davies, they found the Tinguitar name and it fitted perfectly. From 2006, Rob continued on the tin instrument path as a sideline to his day job. 'I worked for 3 days a week as a Process Engineer in the chemicals industry and 2 days making a range of weird and wonderful stringed instruments, including mandolins made from Bertie Bassett tins to cigar box lap steel guitars'.

'The money I made from instrument sales I spent on new machines, new tools, getting more ambitious as time progressed. At the time I was focussing more and more on ukulele building until by 2009 I had amassed everything I needed to build traditional ukes in solid woods.'


Rob Collins with the Tinguitar tone wood stocks
Wood supplies!


A trip to the workshop also comes with another treat as you get to take a look at some of his ongoing build projects waiting to be finished. I got to take a look at a beautiful concert model in solid walnut that I wanted to take away myself - sadly, it was a commission of course and has since gone to its rightful owner.

That delicious walnut concert (picture - Rob Collins)


Hand making ukuleles of this quality is not a quick business of course, though Rob advises that over 2014 he will be averaging one uke per week, but tells me,  'I am hoping this will increase next year as I have just invested in a new thickness sanding machine that will make the task of preparing woods for uke bodies quicker and easier'.

And with all that gorgeous wood going through his hands he surely must have favourite builds?

'I have to be careful not to get too attached to the ukes I build. They all have to go to their rightful owners in the end.

'I am particularly fond of the tarpopatch uke I made for Phil Doleman though. It's a very humble looking instrument in plain Khaya wood, and it's now one of his main stage instruments - it sounds great mic'd up through a big PA!  Phil has been a great supporter of my work for some time and I am very grateful.'


Tinguitar ukulele taking shape
New build taking shape


One topic that will spring to mind to anyone interested in the bespoke uke building world is the sustainability of the raw materials. I asked Rob about this and found his comments refreshing.

'I find it is best to have lots of different sources of supply. Mahogany, Sapele and poplar come from local timber yards. Typically I buy offcuts and short pieces which are left over from door and window manufacture.

British-grown timbers I generally get from Paul Goulden at Goulden Hardwoods in Hampsire. I’ve been buying from him for nearly a decade now. I also buy wood from the specialist instrument woods supplier, Madinter in Spain – they are a good source for ebony fretboards. (I buy violin fingerboard blanks, then slice them on the bandsaw to make three uke fretboards from one blank).

I am committed to working with non-traditional woods for ukuleles. When the remaining stocks of Brazilian mahogany are used-up, there is no more to replace it, so it makes no sense to rely on the ever-dwindling supplies of traditional timbers. Koa is unique to the tiny islands of Hawaii – there will never be enough to go around all the instument makers in the world, so the price is astronomical and the “grey market” that exists makes importing small quantities a very risky business. I have a small stock of soprano and concert-sized sets in plain non-figured koa. I do not plan on purchasing any more in the future.

I have found great-sounding timbers growing on our doorstep – Cherry, London plane, walnut. All man-made and cultivated, so there is no question of depleting natural forests. All sound different and they all have distinctive looks.


I still occasionally find useful pieces in skips and salvage. In fact if you’ve had a meranti soprano uke from me in the past two years, the chances are the headstock veneer is an offcut from the refurbished staircase at the Old Gate pub in Hebden Bridge.'


Rob Collins in his workshop
Rob with a range of workshop machines.


I'd strongly recommend you taking a look at his ukes if you want something unique. Rob makes off the peg soprano ukes that start at under £200 (so if you are in the market for any sort of serious uke, no real reason not to consider one at that price). But of course the fun comes in working with Rob in specifying your ideal mix of design and woods. Even then though I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the costs involved. And if you do decide to go down the Tinguitar route, whilst Rob will do mail order, I would argue that you are missing a real treat if you don't head up and make an appointment with him. His knowledge is impeccable and he can advise and let you have a close up look and feel of the woods he has available.

In fact, I did just that and am now on the waiting list for completion of a solid body electro tenor. It's going to be made with a Brazilian Mahogany body and an Indian Rosewood drop top finished by french polishing. In fact Rob has just sent me some very early pictures (below)  of the basic blanks being cut out and I hope to have some more to let you see as it develops to completion.
Rosewood top of my new Tinguitar solid electro tenor ukulele
Rosewood top pieces (picture Rob Collins)
Mahogany back wood of my new Tinguitar ukulele
Blanks being cut for mahogany back (picture - Rob Collins)
If you want to see some more examples of his work, do take a visit to the website at http://tinguitar.com or his Facebook page where he regularly posts pictures of completed builds at https://www.facebook.com/tinguitar.bespoke.luthiery. They are well worth drooling over. And who wouldn't want a uke that was totally personal to them?

Thanks for your time Rob!

9.11.14

The pUKEs - Turn It Off

Always a good day at Got A Ukulele towers when a new pUKEs video comes my way.  Here's another!

It's another track from their Too Drunk To Pluck album, written by The pUKEs own Cil Wong - and in typical pUKEs fashion - a lot of fun.  And while I am here - doesn't Paul Redfern scrub up well?
;-)

Video by Stuart Sterling.



( DIRECT LINK )

7.11.14

Hive Ukulele Demo in Spruce and Rosewood - by Corey Fujimoto

Been keeping an eye on the Luthier Skills of Jake Maclay at Hive Ukuleles for some time, but not really had the chance to hear one.


Cue Hawaii Music Supply and Corey Fujimoto giving one a whirl - how nice is this??

Hive - Spruce Rosewood from Hawaii Music Supply on Vimeo.

Well done Jake - super ukulele.

If you want to know more about Hive ukes - take a visit to http://www.hiveukuleles.com