The pUKEs - Exmas - Charity Christmas Single!

Always puts a smile on my face when there is a new pUKEs release and what better than a ukulele band with a Charity Chrismas Single?

The pUKEs
The pUKEs - credit Mark Richards

Another self penned track from the band with a superbly produced video (see below). What  I love about the pUKES is that whilst they are ukulele driven band, when you listen to them they sound like a 'band', and a good one at that. They use the ukuleles as what they are meant for - to make music. The music THEY like, with not a Hawaiian twee derivative thing in sight!

Great tune, great driving rhythm, great vocals.

The single is available for pre-order on iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/exmas-single/id1055100584 and the money raised is going to the Rock N Roll Rescue charity in Camden.  Rock N Roll Rescue is a volunteer run music shop that directs it's money to a range of local charities including local food banks, homeless, kids and the like. It was set up by Knox of punk band The Vibrators and has been supported by the pUKEs for some time.

Have a pre listen and watch the video - not least as you get to see old mate and pUKE Paul Redfern dressed up as an old lady..

The single gets a launch party too - 6th December at the Dublin Castle pub in Camden.

And in other pUKEs news - they have a mini tour this December supporting none other than Bad Manners!

12 December NORWICH Epic (with Bad Manners)
13 December LONDON Under The Bridge (with Bad Manners)
18 December LONDON Under The Bridge (with Bad Manners)
 20 December BRIGHTON Concorde 2 (with Bad Manners)

Be sure to grab the single - its a cracker and all for a great cause.



How To Tell If A Ukulele Is Solid or Laminate - Beginners Tips

Something I am seeing a lot of these days is ukulele manufacturers being economical or misleading with their product descriptions.

The use of terms like 'all mahogany' as a means to give the impression that an instrument is made from solid wood annoys be greatly - so how can you check what you have?


Beltona Style 2 Tenor Resonator Ukulele - REVIEW

I am rather excited to have this one in my hands, as it really does hold a special place in the range of ukuleles out there. It's also a ukulele I have wanted to own for quite some time. Hello to the tenor scale resonator ukulele made in the UK by Beltona.

Beltona Tenor Resonator Ukulele

Look at it.... just LOOK AT IT!! Sorry.. sorry.. I am getting ahead of myself - but seriously - just LOOK AT IT! OK, back to the review...

Beltona was the brainchild of Steve Evans who started making instruments in partnership with Bill Johnson in 1990 and since then has developed an enviable following amongst musicians who appreciate good quality. Steve started building them in the UK, moved to New Zealand where he continued to make them and has since returned to the UK again. Well known owners of Beltona instruments include Jake Shimabukuro, James Hill, Peter Brooke Turner of UOGB, Mark Knopfler and at one point Tiny Tim (who's actual Beltona instrument is now owned and played by Tim Smithies in the band Dead Mans Uke). Quite a roster I am sure you will agree!

I've not reviewed a lot of resonators on this site, but I have played quite a few. ( I don't write fleeting reviews without proper time spent with an instrument, reviews of instruments via Amazon reports or 'across the room' reports -  I will leave those to other websites..) But based on the examples I have played, something I have said publicly about resonators is this. If ever there was an example of a ukulele where you benefit from spending more or sensible money, it's with resonators. As such, whilst there are indeed many resonator ukes out there for the low hundreds of pounds in price, they have all left me a little flat with their tone and quality control. A kind of 'what is the fuss all about' feeling.  Then, at a ukulele festival back in 2013, I was chatting with Phil Doleman who had just bought a Beltona and let me have a play of his. I had played a few resonators by this point and was not 'getting' it. Those I had played had not impressed me, but  I was completely blown away by the sound of Phils and have been hankering for one ever since. In fact, I played Phils Beltona back to back with a National reso ukulele at that event (probably the most famous resonator name on the planet) and far, FAR preferred the Beltona! That very statement will likely enrage some National fans, but there you go.

As I say, Steve is now based in the UK in Birstall, about halfway between Huddersfield and Leeds and makes these instruments by hand. The first thing that differs with a Beltona is that resonators tend, in the main, to be made of either metal (with brass bodies, usually nickel plated - think 'Brothers In Arms' album cover and the guitar reso made so famous by Dire Straits) or traditional wooden bodies. Each of then employ a cone or range of cones (the resonator bit that can differ) set into the body to amplify the sound. Where the Beltona differs the most these days though is that their bodies are made from glass fibre resin. Steve used to make metal bodied instruments, but has not done so for some time, preferring the resin option. Not only is this extremely strong, but they are also much lighter than brass bodied resonators, and Steve claims they have improved sound projection also.

A quick break to go back to basics for a little while - what is a resonator? Well, generally speaking it's a non electric ukulele that uses a spun cone under the bridge to amplify the sound naturally. Think of it as like a metal version of what a banjo does. It doesn't rely on a wooden sound chamber and sound hole like most acoustic ukuleles to project the sound - it uses a natural, metal cone 'amplifier' to do that. In other words a musical instrument that uses another feature to make a louder sound - originally developed in guitars in the days before affordable amplifiers, or for people to play into microphones. They have a distinctive, old time bluesy sound that many people adore. They can have more of an attacking sound than a straight acoustic and like a banjo without the 'melt your ears off' punch that banjoleles seem to possess.

So this Tenor is known as the 'Songster' model and is one of two types of tenor made by Steve. The type 2 like this one has the rather attractive sweeping cutaway you can see in the photos, whereas the type 1 has a standard double bout shape. According to Steve,  the sound from each is the same, so the choice is one of aesthetics. I really like the look of it myself as I like things that are a little different. I mean - just look at it!! The sweep of that cutaway is just sublime to my eye, and perfectly offset by the opposite sweep on the other shoulder which also runs contrary to what you may expect from a traditional double bout. I am not sure of the best way to describe it but it kind of gives it a '1950's space age' feel. The base of the ukulele is more standard in shape. I sourced this one through Southern Ukulele Store, but they can also be ordered direct from Beltona.

Beltona Tenor Resonator Ukulele body

The body, as I say, is made from glass fibre resin and is finished with a  painted coating in a high gloss finish. The look and finish of the instrument really is pretty much flawless all over. Beltona label it as an 'automotive finish' and I can see why - it does make you think that the instrument was made from steel and finished in a car plant spray shop - glossy, shiny and solid looking! Occasionally you see one or two bubbles or application marks, but I quite like that in the same way I like tooling marks showing on hand made wooden ukuleles. Put more simply, I don't like absolute perfection as that tends to be the mark of a faceless factory build. This was built by Steve, not a cheap labour force. The finish is not overly thick either and you can see that when you inspect the edges, hollows and the grille of the resonator. There is no pooling or build up of the finish anywhere on the instrument.

The body is essentially all one piece with a cavity in the top in which to mount the resonator itself. With Beltona you get a custom made aluminium resonator cone made just for them, and here we have one of the key elements that set these apart from cheaper resonators.  I am no expert on the science of resonator cones but I know a nice tone when I hear it, and this delivers. More on that later though.

The back is shaped and curved with a kind of hump in it that I think looks really classy. The pictures don't show it off as well as they might, but it's small things like that which set things apart for me.

Beltona Tenor Resonator Ukulele back

Covering the resonator is a grilled aluminium cover plate, screwed in place and finished with six diamond shaped drilled colander type vents. The bridge is a biscuit type and the bridge cover is plain.  I have seen older Beltonas where the brand name was embossed in the bridge cover. I would have liked that. The 'biscuit' is basically a disc of wood that sits on top of the cone with a wooden bridge saddle on top similar to those on banjos to transfer the vibrations from the strings downwards. The biscuit is the conduit between the resonating cone and the strings and where the magic happens.

Beltona Tenor Resonator Ukulele cover

Anchoring the strings at the base of the ukulele is a rosewood bridge piece with a couple of mother of pearl dots covering the mounting screws. The whole thing feels solid and oozes hand made quality.

Up to the neck, and this is made of mahogany. The neck I believe runs into the instrument with a  pole running through to the base giving it more strength and assisting with resonance. The whole feel of the neck is very nicely done and it has a nice profile and width for my hands. The neck is also finished in gloss which I am not normally a fan of, but it doesn't feel sticky and is fast in the hands. It is a nicely applied gloss which shows how it can be done well.

Beltona Tenor Resonator Ukulele neck heel

The fingerboard is topped with rosewood and is flawless and even in colour. We have 19 nickel frets with 12 to the body, and of course that cutaway allows access to all of them easily. Pearl position markers are provided at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 17th fret spacings with a the 17th being a double dot. The edges are unbound but the fret edges are dressed impeccably. One gripe - no side fret markers!

Beltona Tenor Resonator Ukulele fingerboard

Up past the nut (which is cut from wood - most likely rosewood or ebony) and we have a really nice headstock for a tenor. No Martin clone here - this is an old time looking headstock that is small and fitted with rear facing friction tuning pegs. Shaping on the top is asymmetric which gives it a vintage feel and is certainly unique. So nice to see something other than a standard three pointed crown shape really.  I believe Beltona headstocks do vary, but I really like this one. The way it is carved and sprouts from the neck is just rather beautiful.

Beltona Tenor Resonator Ukulele headstock

Back to the tuners. A note here (as I so often do go on about friction pegs)... These are great quality pegs, and I think they are upper end Grovers or similar (metal parts and washers - i.e. the bits that matter). Anyway, they work brilliantly, turn like butter and don't slip. As I so often say, people should not be afraid of good quality friction pegs. For me they not only work great, but they look great as well. It's a treat for me to see them on a tenor. They just kind of fit the vibe of the instrument.

Beltona Tenor Resonator Ukulele tuners

Elsewhere on the headstock is the Beltona logo which sets the whole thing off very well. It also comes strung with what I think may be Hilo strings. Not sure - but they look and feel like fluorocarbon to me so I suspect the latter. Anyway - they are good quality although you know my views on strings..

And at about £850 retail price, this is clearly not a cheap ukulele and a serious investment. But going back to my earlier comment, I firmly believe that with resonators you get what you pay for. Besides, one of the most famous names in quality resonators, National, make resonator ukuleles and they cost considerably more than this. So as resonators go, I actually think this is actually a reasonable price. On to the play test.

Firstly, the feel of the instrument in the hands is quite sublime I think. It's nicely balanced, and certainly not heavy on the headstock (helped by those friction pegs and small head), or heavy in any way in fact. The whole body is something that makes me want to pick it up and hold it. Since this arrived I can't quite remember cosseting and just 'holding' a ukulele quite as much as this one.

The lack of weight compared to many resonators is extremely welcomed. It feels like it is going to be a resonant instrument in the hands and doesn't feel like a chore to hold, even without a strap. (You may note a strap button in the pictures - that is not standard with Beltona and was added afterwards!).. It just kind of feels alive in the hands when you pick it up. I know that sounds odd, but it's the best way I can describe it

The action at both the nut and bridge is great, spot on in fact. It makes this ukulele one that is fast to play and comfortable in the hands. In fact I would go as far as saying that this is one of the nicest tenor necks I have played. High praise indeed. That setup means that the accuracy all over the fretboard is also spot on. Unlike many ukuleles it also maintains its volume well down the neck.

Volume and clarity across the strings is bold,  extremely clear and defined so all looking good so far.

The sound generally? Well, it sounds like a resonator, naturally. It's not the sound of a sweet Koa wood solid instrument, it's a very different thing. But that is not what you are going for with a resonator. The whole point of them is the use of the cone as a kind of in built amplifier. It's about punch and projection. An old time sound if you will without the (forgive me Formby fans) aggressive punch in the face of a banjo. As such it is certainly loud and projects brilliantly but has a more rounded tone which I adore. Yes, it has a metallic tone that is a normal thing with resonators but unlike cheaper models I have played it is a solid, clear tone, and not echoey or rattly (the curse of cheaper resonators). It's hard to describe the difference in words, but you would see what I mean if you play one side by side with a cheaper version.

The punch is clear, but it is not brash. Just the ticket for my tastes!

Beltona Tenor Resonator Ukulele cutaway

But it isn't all about amplified volume. Since getting hold of this I have thoroughly enjoyed fingerpicking with it in the living room at low volumes and it performs just as admirably. It seems to adapt and sound comfortable regardless of playing style.

Finally, being a reso I have been tinkering with it using fingerpicks (Alaska Piks as recommended by Aaron Keim) and really enjoying some old time rolls and clawhammer type stuff on it. Now that is not to say this only suits one style of play, it doesn't. It works well with everything, but I do prefer fingerpicking on it. There is something about picking it softly but still getting great projection that I like.

What really stands out for me though is the clarity it has across the strings - every note in a chord rings out clearly right across the dynamic range. Nothing seems to be lost and it never gets muddy. The mark of a well made instrument.

As you have probably gathered by now, I am seriously impressed with this instrument. I don't think a resonator is for every person, but if you are keen on the reso sound, I genuinely think that you would be hard pressed to beat this brand. I know National fans will cry foul on me saying that, but there you go.

Perhaps they are a Marmite tone (US readers - look that up) but they really do seem popular these days as ukulele players look to pad out their collections. I do think though that the vast majority of resonators on the market today are lacking in something  when it comes to quality of tone.  For me, the Beltona has, thus far, impressed me the most. By far. A staggeringly good instrument.

Beltona website

Be sure to check out my other ukulele reviews here!


Build quality in every department
Light weight
Sublime neck
Top quality friction pegs
Clear bright rich sound
Just look at it!


No side fret markers...


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




Fancy Something Different? How About Ukulele Speed Dating?

Ah, the ukulele boom. Certainly still in full swing around the country and the world. But do you ever find the events are getting a little samey? Festivals large and small, club nights in most towns on any night of the week. And so on. Then something catches your eye that is just that bit different. Ukulele Speed Dating is certainly that!

Brainchild of Lorraine Bow of Learn to Uke fame I thought this was a really neat idea. Lorraine is known to many people and us a ukulele teacher in London. She started the Learn To Uke ukulele classes, Ukulele Wednesdays and KaraUke and figured that as ukulele playing is such a social pastime, and that many people are single - why not put the two together?

Lorraine Bow Ukulele Teacher
Lorraine Bow

Speed dating is nothing new I guess - but with a ukulele? A new one on me!

Ukulele Speed Dating is starting out on 1 December in the Goldsmith Bar and Kitchen in London SE1. It's going to start with a 45 minute speed dating session followed by a strum along until 9pm to meet more people.

Learn To Uke

Importantly, this is not just about dating. Whilst you may find the love of your life you may actually use it to find new ukulele friends. At that can't be a bad thing can it?

For more details - see http://www.learntouke.co.uk/buy/ukulele-courses-and-classes/ukulele-speed-dating-london-45-minutes/

Lorraine is someone with a real knack for ukulele events so I am sure this one will go from strength to strength. I look forward to news of the first Ukulele Speed Dating wedding!


Vintage VUK20N Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

I am  often accused of only reviewing 'expensive' ukuleles. I clearly don't (just go to the Reviews section and see...) so here we go with another one at the low price end. Say hello to the Vintage VUK20N Soprano.

Vintage VUK20 Ukulele

I actually owned one of these years ago when I started the blog and it featured in my video comparing the sound of lots of instruments. It was pretty dreadful to be honest. Sadly, that was before I started writing up regular instrument reviews, and I had since given it away (along with a bunch of other ukuleles) to a charity. More recently though I have been keeping an eye on ukuleles on Amazon and picking out those that have unusually and consistently high user review scores. This one certainly fits the bill on that score, so could I have been wrong about it all those years ago? Let's take a look.

The Vintage VUK20 is billed on Amazon as the 'Vintage Ukulele Outfit' (meaning it comes with a gig bag, a plectrum and a pitch pipe) although it is available in very similar forms called the VUK15 also. To my eyes, they all look very similar and are the same price too.. I was actually intrigued by the Vintage brand as I actually own a guitar of theirs which is pretty damn good.  In fact, their guitars have built a fairly solid reputation as good value and quality in both the acoustic and electric markets. Clearly they chose to dip a toe into the ukulele world.

First up, let's take a look at some of the product wording from Amazon for this one. It is billed as being made of mahogany. Err, no, no it isn't. It's made of laminate plywood with a mahogany coloured outer that is spray painted. In fact it doesn't even look like wood as there very little grain showing at all.  Pedants may suggest the plywood is made of mahogany pieces, but for me that does not make it a mahogany ukulele. The product descriptions also says it is 'wonderfully finished' and being 'for beginners wanting to spend that little bit more for superior quality'. We shall see.  I'm not entirely what this is 'spending more' than, considering it costs just over £20 but there you go.

(To be fair, the Vintage website is not quite so gushing, but describes the body as Sapeli Ply. It is certainly ply, but that is far as it goes..). For those interested, Sapele (note the correct spelling) is a cheap african wood reminiscent of mahogany and often mistakenly called 'African Mahogany'. So isn't mahogany in the first place, but not even laminate with a mahogany outer. It's Sapele... plywood.  I would also note that on the UK Amazon store this has a massively high user rating and very few negative comments. Sounds too good to be true?

So as I say, a laminate body ukulele in a kind of spray painted satin gloss finish in a rather dreadful shade of brown. Mahogany does NOT look like this in any way and for that matter, neither does Sapele.. It's in a soprano scale and standard in shape with a double bout. It's made in China (where else?) and can be bought for about £23 in the UK. At first glance it actually doesn't look too bad on the construction front. Cheap certainly and rather bland to look at,  but all seems to be in one piece.
It comes boxed with a suitably Hawaiian look to the packaging and arrived with me with one of the worst setups I have ever seen on an instrument. More on that later, but trust me, if you are a beginner, you will not be able to realistically play this from the get go if it arrives like this one did.

The laminate is extremely thick and it feels overly heavy for what it is. As I say, generally speaking the body finish is ok, but there are a few scuffs and scratches in the finish here and there which isn't right for a brand new instrument. The issue appears to be a mix of that soft plywood construction coupled with a thin finish with no resilience. There is no body binding or decoration save for a simple white screen printed double circle around the sound hole.  As simple as that decoration is, it is also applied slightly off centre. Annoying. The top and back are made from single pieces of laminate and the back has no curve to it. A pretty basic standard cheap soprano then.

Vintage VUK20 Ukulele sound hole

The bridge is a slotted type made from what Amazon claim to be rosewood. At first I thought it may well be, although looking closer, the strings are starting to split and gouge the wood. That would be very unlikely with a good rosewood leading me to think it is either not rosewood at all, or a very cheap piece of it. It is finished ok though I suppose, very simple and held in place by screws covered by a couple of pearloid cover plates. But the impact those strings are having on the slots worries me. On cheaper ukuleles those slots can split to be too wide for the knots rendering them useless and I suspect that is what is going to happen to this one.

The saddle is plastic, straight and uncompensated. One of those cheap saddles that you know has not been shaped in anyway as you can still see the ridge from the plastic moulding machine running along the top.

Vintage VUK20 Ukulele bridge

A look inside shows it to be very plain. It is neat enough I suppose, but at the end of the day it's a laminate box. The edge kerfing is flat and on one side seems to be splitting with a chunk of wood kind of peeling away from the inside. What surprised me is that there appears to be no bracing at all. I know laminate is stronger than solid wood, but you usually see at least 'some' bracing to give some strength to the thin laminate pieces. But hey, when your laminate is this thick - Vintage clearly don't think you need it.. It genuinely is just a hefty plywood box then. I suspect the strength on the top under the bridge area is achieved by some extra sheets of plywood in that area. Exactly where you want resonance and vibration...

The neck is a fairly generic Chinese factory soprano profile and width. It's coated in the same finish as the body so it's hard to see how it is constructed in full, but I think it is made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and one at the headstock.Vintage claim it is made from Linden wood.  Lime or 'basswood' in other words.

The fingerboard is made of...... what on earth is that made of?? Amazon claim it is rosewood but it certainly isn't. I think it's a cheap slab of mahogany, possibly laminate that looks cheap, rough and unfinished. It's got an orangey colour and has an open grain that I don't like on a fingerboard. Looking at it more closely and there are quite a few indentations and gouges in the wood in various fret spaces. Taking a fingernail to the wood and pressing it leaves a mark. There is a reason why denser and harder woods are used for fingerboards and Vintage seem to have ignored that. In short I think after a night of playing this, the fingerboard is only going to look worse. The softness, open grain and light colour also are likely to make it a magnet for oils and dirt from fingers and I suspect this will look dirty quite quickly. Quite honestly - horrible.

Vintage VUK20 Ukulele fingerboard

Set into the fingerboard are brass frets with a fairly standard 12 to the body. The edges are finished ok but the frets themselves look like they have seen better days (bearing in mind this is a new instrument). Most of them are caked in a fairly gunky looking rusty corrosion which is not really to my tastes at all. And surely I am not being fussy there? This is a BRAND NEW INSTRUMENT! "Would you like your ukulele frets corroded or non corroded sir?"

Vintage VUK20 Ukulele corroded frets

Position markers are provided at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces in the way of inlaid pearly plastic dots. There are no side markers and the edges of the fingerboard are unbound.

Past the moulded plastic nut (in which we have something I would not describe as 'slots' more 'slight depressions' for the strings) we have a generic crown shaped headstock finished in the same brown as the rest of the instrument. Screen printed on is the Vintage logo in gold (and screen printed quite roughly at that with a fuzzy edge to the print).

Vintage VUK20 Ukulele headstock

Tuning is provided by open geared chrome tuners that are of the ultra cheap variety and move in the brackets when you turn them. The buttons are cream coloured plastic and way, way to large for an instrument of this size (unless you like your sopranos to look like it has ears). They are each held in place by two small screws, but Vintage clearly thought that was overkill, so on one of the tuners, a screw has been missed. This means the whole tuner shifts on the mounting not just the peg. I'm sure it is probably in the packaging somewhere and probably didn't leave the factory like this but the inside of the screw hole looks sheared. No wonder it came out.. A fiddly thing to fix.

Vintage VUK20 Ukulele tuners

Completing the deal is a black 'gig bag' (of which I have seen bin liners that are thicker), a pletctrum, a pitch pipe and a set of black nylon strings that you REALLY want to swap out (unless you like the feel of strumming rubber bands).

So.. dare I go on? How does it 'play' (I use that word with caution)? Well in the simplest sense it feels like a soprano ukulele I guess. It's overly heavy for what it is, and certainly over built. The feel of the body is not the nicest in the world and the fretboard, as well as being marked and scratched as I say above, actually feels rough under the fingers. The corroded frets are also noticeable against the fingertips. Some people talk about the smell from the sound hole in instruments in their reviews. I never have, but I did not need to get my nose anywhere near the sound hole to know what it smells like. A kind of synthetic, glue /chemical odour. Not enjoyable.

Action at the saddle is unacceptably high although that can be easily adjusted I suppose if you know what you are doing. Action at the nut though is one of the highest I have ever seen which means the notes throw sharp when fretted at the lower spaces on account of the string stretching required to make the strings engage with the frets. That isn't quite so straightforward for a beginner to fix. We are talking MASSIVELY high. Bearing in mind this is aimed at beginners, and beginners spend most of their time playing chord shapes in the first positions (i.e. near the nut) - well you can see that this sort of setup doesn't make for a good experience. Sure enough, even simple first position chords sound out of tune when the ukulele is actually in tune played open. Classic nut issue.

Taking a ruler to the neck I noted that the bridge is slightly out of place as well. Not by much, but enough to affect intonation and one of those things I put down to being more in the 'fatal' category of flaws. So when it comes to the things that affect action the most - nut height, saddle height and bridge position, all three are flawed.

There is something odd going on with the string spacing at the saddle as well. The C and E strings are further apart from each other than they are from the G and A strings. I don't think that is fatal, just odd. It's more normal at the nut end, so I think the slots in the bridge are cut incorrectly.

Sound wise, the instrument is suitably boxy and one dimensional on account of that excess of thick laminate. It's got poor volume / projection and very little sustain. You can really tell it is not projecting well both with your ears (it is quiet) but in feedback through the body. Lively sopranos vibrate into your chest when you play them. This one feels dead.

Sure, those strings are truly awful and you WOULD want to change them, but you are not going to get much more life out of this thing regardless of what you string it with.  In reviews of other instruments I have been less than impressed with, I quite often receive comments along the lines of 'if you re-strung it, it would sing!'. Please don't assume that this ukulele is a killer instrument let down by the strings alone. It really just sums up what some people call a 'ukulele shaped object'. Sure you could also call it a 'wall hanger' (i.e. a ukulele for decoration only), but really - with this putrid shade of brown - I'd at least go for something prettier!

This one is heavy, over built, badly built and terribly set up.

Vintage VUK20 Ukulele back

Just a final point on ukuleles that get my bad reviews like this one. I know full well that some of the elements I have mentioned on this can relatively easily be fixed. Yes, the strings are bad, but they can be changed. Yes, the action is high but it can be lowered.  Heck - you could even swap out the tuners, and some wire wool may work wonders with the frets. I accept all of that but bear in mind the sort of person who is likely to buy one of these. A beginner? A parent buying one for a child? Why should they go through the trouble of having to deal with these things, potentially at further cost in order to make the thing sound even slightly decent. Ukuleles in this state should never reach the customer (and probably wouldn't if you bought one from a good dealer). So why are these not in the hands of the places I consider to be 'good dealers'? Well probably because far too many of them arrive from China in this sort of state that they are not worth the hassle!

And those, of course, are just the things that can be adjusted. The thick laminate woods, the boxy sound, the mis placed bridge, the terrible tone - those cannot be fixed very easily.

Some people are bound to say, 'but I got a good one Barry!'. Perhaps you did - that is entirely possible but I have seen enough at this price to know that the quality control is like playing Russian Roulette. You might have had a good one, but how many got a bad one? And there lies the problem I have with them. Why take the chance when there are better alternatives?

They are the preserve of Amazon and eBay stores, usually accompanied by 'user reviews' by people who have only ever played this one instrument and think they are 'great'.  This Vintage is NOT great and I don't care how many five star reviews you will find. It's just a perfect example of everything I don't like about most instruments at this price point. For the record Amazon I also don't see anything in it that is 'wonderfully finished' or of 'superior quality' as you state.

Yes - of course you could just 'send it back', but my advice would be to not put yourself through the waste of time in the first place.

And finally, reviews such as this also tend to cause some people to claim the 'snob' card and suggest that I only like expensive instruments. Regular readers of Got A Ukulele will know that is not the case. I just don't like 'cheap' being used as an excuse to make something that is awful and doesn't fulfil the basic requirements of a musical instrument.  More importantly, it need not be this way.  I understand that for many people money is extremely tight and this may be as much as they can justify on a ukulele. There are good options though. Take my advice - if this is your maximum budget level,  get a Makala Dolphin, Makala Shark or an Octopus brand... This is not a ukulele you should trouble yourself with.


Be sure to check out my full range of ukulele reviews on this page!


Not really any I can think of - I suppose it is 'ukulele shaped'..


Scuffed body finish and misleading product description
Horrible soft fingerboard
Corroded frets
Cheap tuners that are not screwed on properly
Bridge misplaced, and slots mis cut
Woeful setup out of the box at both bridge and nut
Terrible strings
Pointless gig bag
Depressing spray painted colour


Looks - 3.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 3 out of 10
Sound - 3.5 out of 10
Value for money - 5 out of 10





Pre Christmas Sale on my Ukulele E-Books!

Been a while since I ran a promotion on my ukulele ebooks so by way of a pre-Christmas promotion, all of the Got A Ukulele beginners ebooks are on half price promotion in the Kindle Stores worldwide!

That means that the two original books (What Ukulele Players Really Want To Know and More What Ukulele Players Really Want To Know) can now be grabbed in Kindle format for only $1.99 (or £1.29 in the UK). The Chords book has also been price dropped.

The Omnibus edition (the collection of the first two books in one volume) is now only $2.99 (or £1.99)

These offers are a short term thing, so now may be the time to grab a bargain.

Think of them as costing ¼ of a pack of strings (or other such comparisons!)

You can grab each of the Barry Maz books on Amazon Kindle on the links below!



And its also available on the Amazon Kindle stores in Germany, Canada, Australia, Japan, Italy, France, Spain, Mexico too! Hurry - the price drop won't last forever!



Get To Know Your Ukulele - It's Designed For It!

One subject that you will see mentioned a lot is that of ukulele 'setup'. This means the adjustment of certain parts of the ukulele to adjust playability and tuning accuracy. In the main most people go no further on the point than 'leaving that to the dealer' and may never adjust anything on their instrument again. Why not?

ukulele bridge

Some time ago I put this video together on YouTube talking about adjusting action / intonation on the ukulele but thought I would expand on that on the blog. And why? Well because I think with many many people they still seem afraid to adjust anything. A fear that they may break something at best or that the universe will end at worst.. But, it's designed to be adjusted!

In the simplest sense I have seen beginners stress about changing strings on their ukulele and even in a couple of cases taking them in to stores to have the shop do it for them. I find that quite incredible because the reality is that changing strings on a ukulele is super simple. Sure, it's a job none of us really enjoy, but complicated it is not. I always that strings are like tyres / tires on a car. If you own a car you SHOULD know how to change a wheel in case you get a flat. Tyres are designed to be changed and they don't last forever. It's the same with strings - they wear and break. They will need changing. Sadly there is no magic ukulele fairy out there who can do these while you sleep (although the way some people get evangelical about the uke, you would think there would be...). It's something that I would encourage all ukulele beginners to do quite early on in their ownership of the uke. Sure, you may get it wrong first time, so just whip them off and start again! Go too far and snap one? Then get another set. Strings are not expensive (well unless you think that $15 for a ukulele is expensive and then strings would represent a big chunk of that... but lets not go there...). The thing is, you WILL be changing strings at some point. You WILL snap a string at some point. Do you really want to be in a situation, perhaps half way through a busk / gig / club night and have to change strings having never done it before? Surely far better to have done it once or twice before in the calm of your own home. Here is my take on changing ukulele strings.

But it goes beyond strings too. The next most adjustable part of the ukulele is the bridge saddle. Now unless you have something exotic with a fixed moulded bridge, the little white strip in your bridge is designed to be removable and adjusted. This can adjust a range of things and is something that is MEANT to be looked at. Adjusting your action can change the playability of the ukulele (the feel on the fretting fingers) but also the projection and response. The saddle changes the action of the ukulele over most of the fretboard and reducing a high action can often deal with intonation issues (the accuracy of the fretted notes up and down the neck). Last but not least, removing a saddle allows the fitting of an under saddle pickup, and fitting one of those WILL require you to lower the saddle to compensate for the height the pickup is adding. For me, an acceptable action would be one that sees the strings at about 3mm above the crown of the 12th fret but this can vary and it really is personal preference. Much higher though and the mathematics of the neck to string angle throws the tuning out on some of the frets. Adjusting a saddle downwards is simply a case of removing it and sanding the base down keeping it perfectly flat. No need to touch the top edge at all. Go too far and you can get buzzing or loss of projection and tone, but you can shim it back up with card or a sliver of wood veneer.  If you go slowly replacing and checking the height every so often you should not have that problem. Try it - measure your action height at the 12th and if its way higher - why not give it a go!

Fret edges sharp? Get a file to them! Whilst I mention fret edges in all my reviews, and a ukulele sent by a dealer with sharp edges is unacceptable, what people don't realise is that humidity, environmental factors and time can affect fret edges through the slight shrinkage of the fingerboard. It's perfectly normal to have a ukulele that was nice and smooth on the neck suddenly develop sharp edges. Do you really want to pay someone to smooth them off when its just a short job with a small file? Again, just go easy and if you are concerned about the finish, masking tape is your friend!

This leaves the nut which is a more difficult one to deal with as it requires some special filing equipment to take high nut slots down. The trouble with the nut is that it is not quite that simple. It's about taking them down AND leaving the correct break point at which the string runs off in tension down the neck. Get that wrong and you can throw out intonation as well. And of course, if you go too low its a much bigger job to take them back up. For me, I check nut height by holding a string at the third fret and seeing that the string should then only just kiss the top of the first fret. If you have loads of daylight when you do that, you have a high nut and likely to have intonation issues at the lower frets. Be very careful though in taking them down and use the right tools for the job. That said, I'd encourage you to try if you are confident.

But this isn't meant to be a 'how to guide'. It's here to make the point that getting to know your instrument, and getting used to adjusting things is a normal part of instrument ownership. Not only can such adjustments improve the performance of a ukulele they get you totally in touch with the instrument and give you a better understanding of how the ukulele actually works. At the end of the day a ukulele relies on some accuracy in mathematical measuring to make it play the way it supposed to. It's one of the curses of cheap ukuleles as things like whilst action can be adjusted and often improve such ukuleles, things like mis placed bridges and frets can prove fatal in a pursuit of accurate tuning. But learning to see how these things work will help you recognise whether you do have a major problem or not, and in most cases give you the skills to improve tuning issues. (How many times have I read of beginners saying 'yeah it was cheap and it goes out of tune up the neck, but I will live with it'? Why live with it??

Of course I am also not saying that certain build flaws are acceptable just because you can fix them yourself. I remain if the view that ukuleles should be sourced from good dealers who will give things like the frets and saddle a once over before shipping, but you are permitted to have a fettle yourself.  If you are not happy it is your right to send it back. Nor am I  saying that you should all be talented luthiers willing to take ukuleles to pieces (although I am sure some of you would have that in you if you put your minds to it). It's just that I think players need some encouragement to try things out with their instruments. If you go carefully and read guides / watch example videos, so long as you don't go crazy it's unlikely you will do anything fatal.

I actually find it quite sad when I read that people are afraid to meddle with anything on the uke. It's really not all that hard and will get you in touch with the instrument. No dealer can give you the perfect setup that you find the most comfortable as we all have different preferences. I have owned a LOT of ukuleles and have adjusted the bridge of most of them since they arrived. That is not to say the dealers got it wrong (they don't because I choose good dealers who send things within acceptable limits) but I find that the fine tuning is down to me!  And at risk of repeating myself - these things are SUPPOSED to be adjusted.


The Most Common Questions From Beginner Ukulele Players

Over the years of writing this website I get a lot of mail and messages, as you can imagine. I'm always keen to help new ukulele players, but it struck me that there are a range of common questions that crop up more often than any others.

ukulele questions

Questions are normal and it is good to ask rather than plough on blindly. I think though that most of them can be plagued by questionable responses from people who really should know better. Thought it would be interesting to collate them here, together with the answers I usually give! Did I miss any?

1. What are the best strings I should get?

There is no 'best' string, only the string brand YOU like best. That's my usual answer and at first glance it may sound unhelpful. The thing is though, strings for ukuleles are personal things and I don't like many strings that other people swear by. Different strings can also suit different instruments. My advice is always the same - try a few sets and trust your own ears. Your decision will not be 'wrong' despite what others may tell you. Also remember that whilst Aquila brand strings appear on new ukuleles perhaps more than any other, that does not make them the best. And no string will make you a better player!

2. What is the best ukulele you can recommend me for price X?

This is also an impossible one to answer. I can give you some suggestions, and point you in the direction of my ukulele reviews to help you out, but there really is a dizzying array of instruments on the market. When I started playing the choices were pretty slim, now there a huge numbers available. All I would say is try a few if you can, and if you can't and have to rely on mail order, read as many impartial reviews as you can.

3. What is the best wood for a ukulele?

Another totally subjective question (spotting  pattern here?). Wood choice boils down to a couple of things - tone and looks. The tone is the most important and they do differ, but I appreciate that looks can be important to people. Try not to be swayed by ultra fancy finishes that are really just plywood underneath (most ukuleles at the lower price end). Nothing wrong with laminates, but I see a lot of people recommending them based purely on looks when in reality most cheap laminates are the same stuff with just a different outer veneer. For me, I probably own more ukuleles made of mahogany than anything else. I am not saying that makes the best ukuleles but it is a good traditional choice with a balanced tone and good projection. Hawaiian Koa seems to be considered to be the holy grail for ukuleles and I agree that in a high end instrument it has a wonderful tone. Beware the cheaper far eastern Acacia Koa though - really not the same as Hawaiian stuff and if you are buying an instrument purely because it has the word 'Koa' in the product description then you really need to consider who you are trying to impress.. Beyond those woods there is a lot of choice out there - none of it is 'wrong' and 'best' is down to personal choice.

4. What is the best place to buy a ukulele?

There are lots of good ukulele specialist on the planet but sadly not as many as I would like there to be. Note the word 'specialist' here. Lots of general music stores have cottoned on to the fact that ukuleles sell well and have filled their walls with the instruments. Sadly I have had first hand experience with some of these big name stores and the assistants in them know very little about the instrument. If a dealer doesn't know the first thing about a ukulele, would you trust them?  A good specialist dealer will not only select their range carefully, but will weed out sub standard models and ensure that the setup is checked before shipping. Big brand music stores are unlikely to do this and Amazon certainly will not. Looking to save $5 on the purchase price of a ukulele only to find you either have to work at the setup (or worse, pay someone to set it up) seems counter productive to me. My recommended ukulele stores are these

5. I'm a beginner / have small hands -would a larger ukulele be better for me?

No no no and no. What I mean is there is no correlation between ease of play and hand size or ability. In fact for a beginner a larger scale ukulele may be more cumbersome to hold and have longer stretches on some chords. All ukuleles have their place and none is any better than the other, they are just 'different' in resonance. Think about it - the soprano is the standard shape and the most common around the world. When I started most ukuleles on the market were soprano scale and that didn't stop people learning on them. Play a few, pick a scale that feels comfortable to you. You won't make a 'wrong choice'. And please, don't consider larger ukuleles a 'step up' for better abilities. Complete nonsense.

6. I only have £20 what ukulele should I get?

A touchy subject. I totally understand that many people don't have access to much money and that things are tight. I don't mean this to sound snobby, but there is no automatic right for something to be cheap just because you want it to be. Ukuleles are technical musical instruments and they require a certain level of care in their construction to play well. At the ultra low price points that can be very hard if not impossible to achieve. For that reason the ultra bargain end of the ukulele ranges are plagued with dead sounding instruments with fatal build flaws that are only ever going to work against you. Why would you buy an instrument that costs less than a ukulele lesson?  Being less negative, there ARE some choices out there at the ultra cheap end, but they are few and far between. Go carefully if that is all you are prepared to spend, and if you can, try and save up a bit longer and get something a little more serious. I think an entry level spend of £50-£60 will improve things for you.

7. What is the strumming pattern for this song? 

Seriously, just read this... 

8. I have been playing for a couple of weeks and my fingers hurt / I can't form this chord - what am I doing wrong?

Most likely you are doing nothing wrong. The ukulele has been cursed by the media enjoying giving it the tagline of 'being easy'. The result of that is people assume that they can be playing all chords in a  matter of days. The word 'easy' is relative though. It's easier than many instruments but it still requires all important practice. Sore fingers and inability to reach certain chords are perfectly normal issues facing most new players. Your hands are trying to reach positions that they are not used to and they will ache or seem impossible at first. Stick with it and I promise you that in time you will look back and wonder what the fuss was all about. Assuming you practice of course. Rome wasn't built in a day and please please please, don't immediately go for cheat chords or avoid certain chords because they are too difficult. Those difficult ones are the ones you should focus more practice on!

9. Can you recommend some good tuition videos?

YouTube is a pretty marvellous thing and there are lots of ukulele resources on there. They are though more aids to practice than true teaching tools. And like anything open to the public there are lots of people on there who call themselves teachers but really are not.  Personally if you are set on tuition I would recommend going to a decent teacher (a list of ukulele teachers can be found here). If you must rely on  internet videos, choose carefully and watch many. If a 'teacher' is merely showing you the chords to some songs, I would argue that is not a 'teacher'.

10. I am finding it hard to hold my ukulele. Is it ok to use a strap?

Of course it is. The last time I checked there was no law in any country stating that such a thing was unlawful. It's your ukulele, do what YOU need to do for it to be comfortable. Why struggle against something that can be improved so simply? And no, they don't affect the tone.

If you are a more seasoned player - do any of these questions resonate with you from when you were starting out?

Do you enjoy 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. Many of the review instruments are bought by Got A Ukulele then sold on at a loss or donated to charity. But buying them takes funds! Thank you!