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15 Oct 2017

Got A Ukulele and Copyright

It's really sad to have to post this, but I am getting really tired of other websites using my content without my permission. It stinks. And even more sadly, writing this post won't change a damn thing.

The thing is, I am not a business. I don't have a team of lawyers, so there is little you can do when it DOES happen, but equally there is something else I want to point out. And that's that I am not trying to come across like some restrictive loon in stopping people using things. I want to be fair.


You see, ALL of the content on Got A Ukulele is covered by a Creative Commons 4 Licence (as it states in the footer). That means that you are FREE to use the original content. You can copy it, you can share it, but you have to do it in the original format. And in order to have that privilege you have to agree to three terms:

Attribution - you have to provide a link back to the original content

Non Commercial - obvious

No Derivatives - you cant trim stuff out, take pictures out of context, modify the content and that sort of thing.

I think they are really fair rules in the spirit of social media myself, yet some scumbags seem to think it is ok to just lift what they want like it's a free for all. A while ago I even had to turn off the ability to copy and paste text from the site as some scumbags chose to copy whole swathes of the blog (I'm talking big sections here that took years to build up) and pass them off as their own work on their sites...  So that means people now can't copy the song sheets that was the EXPRESS intention... And that really upsets me.  But ah, you know - the few spoil it for the many. This is why whe cant have nice things....

I know mistakes happen, I've probably made mistakes myself, but it just KEEPS happening. And it's always the same SORT of site - the Facebook Page or the Review Site that clearly has no other original content in it and that thrives on copying other peoples work just to build traffic.. The sites that just list reviews that are basically text culled from Amazon reviews. Or the pages that just share endless mindless ukulele memes. (Yes, I've had my photographs used in memes...)..

Come on people - stop ripping off other creators of content. Use your own brains for once. I can't sue you and you know that, so you give it a shot anyway. But I WILL expose you far and wide. I will tell the ukulele community what low life you are.

And ultimately no - this ISN'T the end of the world and it does kind of smack of 'first world problems' but it's still damn annoying. The amount of time that goes into this site I really don't think people understand.

Thanks for listening. Again...

More on the Creative Commons Licence that covers this site on this link.


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Aklot AKC23 Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

MY APOLOGIES - BUT THIS WHOLE REVIEW IS PERMANENTLY DELETED FOLLOWING SOME DISCOVERIES MADE AFTER POSTING THE REVIEW. 


Post is still up so as to provide landing page for the links already shared online. Please revert back to my Ukulele Reviews page for reviews of other instruments. Normal service resumes next week with a model from Sigma Guitars.

Best wishes

Baz




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8 Oct 2017

Kala Elite 3KOA-TG Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

I am extremely privileged in writing this ukulele blog. And I say that because it gives me the opportunity to borrow both a wide range of instruments, but also some truly beautiful ones. And I don't feel like I am pre-judging this review when I say this one certainly fits into the beautiful category. Say hello to the Kala Elite 3KOA-TG.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele

Absolutely beatiful indeed. Stunning in fact. Just look a the flaming stripe of the all solid Hawaiian Koa used in constructing this one. Yes, that's right. Flamed, solid Koa on a Kala brand ukulele... But then, this is a Kala 'Elite' model and it's something that has impressed me about Kala lately. As a brand they are arguably one of the biggest and most well known ukulele brands on the planet, and they didn't need to make this range, but they did. They were already kind of winning, yet went the extra mile. And that Elite range is a selection of hand built instruments not made in far eastern factories, but made in Petaluma, California, where Kala are based. Nice story.

Their Elite range is split into a selection of sub categories. The Doghair collection (which uses a finish process to embellish the grain like some old vintage guitar brands), the Luthier collection and the Koa collection which this one comes from. Within that Koa collection are various grades, numbered 1 through to 3. The 1 series being the 'simplest' grain woods with satin finishes and the 3 at the upper end which get the flamed wood and gloss coatings. As such, being a '3' within the Koa collection this one is the top of the line. Told you I was privileged!

This is a standard shaped and scaled tenor instrument made, as I say from high grade solid Hawaiian Koa on the top back and sided. Basic Koa can actually be quite pale and simple at times, though usually you get a bit of stripe in it. This turns the dial up to 11 and you are getting tightly packed stripes, some swirls and a shimmery flame that changes in a 3D effect as you turn it in the light. The top and arched back are beautifully bookmatched with the stripe angled slightly to create a slight V shape. The stripe and swirl on the two piece back also meet neatly at the base. It's all finished in a UV cured gloss which is absolutely impeccable and one of the best I have seen on a uke. That gloss makes the colours and flame in the wood really pop in the light. It's frankly jaw-dropping, warm and rich.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele body


We have a nicely shaped through body ebony bridge which is small and delicate, meaning not too much extra wood on the top, and finished with a bone saddle. I really like the diminutive nature of the bridge. Simple and small, and doesnt need to be more.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele bridge

Yet this isn't just a case of a brand throwing some pretty wood together - you can tell that it's been built very well. The woods are delicate, the top and back edges are ever so neatly chamfered off so you dont get flat sharp edges. The inside is a tidy as you would like and the kerfing linings notched and the braces delicately scalloped. Just wonderful everywhere really.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele sound hole

The necks on these are made of Honduran Mahogany, which is very nice, but may disappoint Hawaiian purists who like their necks, and indeed their fingerboards to be made of Koa too. Nope, Mahogany it is, in a single piece, but with a nice flat profile. At the nut this is 35 mm which confuses me as the Kala website specs say this is 38mm (or 1.5 inches). It's certainly NOT 38mm and had it been I would have had no complaints. As it is, for a high end tenor in the Hawaiian style, I think the nut is on the narrow side and that's a shame. I also think Kala should get their specs right! Hey ho, for many of you will find 35mm just fine, but I always prefer a wider nut myself. What I do really like about this neck though is that despite the body being highly glossed, they recognised that gloss on a neck can feel sticky - so here the finish is satin. Clever and thoughtful.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele nut


Topping that is a flat, non-radiused ebony fingerboard which is gorgeously dark. The edges are not bound, but the frets are dressed back very well. Incidentally we have 18 of those and 14 to the body joint. Fret markers are provided in nice mother of pearl oval inlays at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th spaces, which isn't a lot, but actually all you need and I like that the fingerboard isn't 'over done'. Thankfully these are also repeated on the side.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele fingerboard

The nut, interestingly isn't bone, but synthetic NuBone, which is fine by me, but not sure why they made the difference here. Then up to a typical Kala crown headstock, faced in black ebony and with the Kala logo inlaid in what is either pearl or a pale wood. Simple and classy.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele headstock


Tuners wise we have sealed gears with Kala K logos engraved in the gold covers and fitted with small  Acacia buttons. They are nice and classy and suit the ukulele perfectly.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele tuners


These come new fitted with 'Kala Elite Fluorocarbon' on the C, E and A strings, but a wound low G. I don't know where the 'Elite fluoros' are sourced, but please, please PLEASE Kala - dont force me to have a low G from the off, and certainly dont force me to have a wound string there. Yes I know some people will want low G, but I still think the majority don't. If this was mine, the first job would be to remove that set. As always, I dont mark review scores down for this sort of thing but I DO moan about it here because I think it's frankly silly and forceful. On the plus side, you also get a wonderful Kala branded hard case with wonderful plush interior, and a humidifier in the accessory compartment. Everything is covered here! And for that you are looking at a current UK RRP of £1,199 and in the USA it's listed at $1,259. A not inconsiderable sum, but more on that below.

In the hands it feels wonderful. It's light, it's balanced, and you can just feel how well put together it is. Setup is naturally spot on too, and therefore so is intonation all over the fingerboard. And that great build comes though in the voice.

First of all we have tons of sustain and volume. This is certainly no slouch and what is really noticeable is how that volume doesn't fall off as you move off the fretboard. That often happens with cheaper builds as the resonating length of the string gets shorter and less powerful, and cheaper tops kind of lose their way. Not here, as this one is still punching no matter how high you go. Resonance in spades.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele back

It's a typical Koa tone. Bright, shimmery, rich and fizzy. Yet every note in a chord holds its place perfectly in the mix and shines through. Great dynamic range and clarity. I'm really struggling to dislike this one much in any way.

I am however struggling to get over that choice of putting a wound low G on it as stock and would rush to change it. It's too dominant for me and spoiling the voice for this test. A real shame. Still, that is easily fixable with a string change.

Still, whether picked or strummed, there is a lot to love in this tone and it really put a smile on my face. An utter pleasure to play.

And regarding that price, yes it's a serious sum of money, but this is a serious ukulele. Looking at other handmade Hawaiian Koa instruments of this sort of quality and you are looking at tenors from the likes of Kamaka and Kanile'a. A much plainer Kamaka tenor will cost you this sort of price and considerably more if you want one with striped flamed wood like this. The same goes for Kanile'a so, perhaps this is actually good value for what you are getting.

Kala Elite Koa Tenor Ukulele sides

So all in all, there's really not much to dislike here. A wonderful tone, absolutely jaw dropping looks and great build quality. This one has been a pleasure to take a look at and comes highly recommended.

Huge thanks to Kala and to Matt Warnes at World Of Ukes who provided this loan model for review. He stocks these so do check out his shop!

https://kalabrand.com

http://worldofukes.co.uk

UKULELE PROS

Those looks - amazing wood
Top draw build and finish
Nice diminutive bridge
Punch shimmer and volume
Great sustain
Clear wide ranging tone, certainly no muddyness
Good price for the specification

UKULELE CONS

Confused about nut width and 35mm is too narrow for me
Why that wound G string as standard?

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.1 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW








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30 Sep 2017

Fender Montecito Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

After MANY years of reviewing ukuleles, it's finally happened. AT LAST we have a Fender brand ukulele on the reviews bench. Their new Fender Montecito Koa Tenor ukulele.

Fender Montecito Ukulele


So whats going on here and why is this the first ukulele from one of the most well known instrument brands on the planet? Well, it's not through want of trying and believe me, I  have tried for years for Fender to engage with Got A Ukulele only to be met with silence. It seems when you are as large as Fender perhaps you don't actually NEED reviews to help you along... Perhaps they just don't like engaging with the ukulele community, I just don't know. Though there may be something in that final statement, as whilst you will easily find Fender ukuleles on the shelves of the bigger name, branded high street music stores, they just rarely appear in what I would call the 'specialist' ukulele stores. In fact, at the time of writing this review none of the true ukulele stores I recommend in either the UK or the USA carry Fender ukuleles. Furthermore, you see very little discussion about them on the usual ukulele forums and groups either which is odd. Searches on Google for 'Fender ukulele reviews' throws up very little too. Very odd that.  It's almost like they are making ukuleles that are completely outside the ukulele community as I know it. So for clarity, this one is appearing on Got A Ukulele because I bought it myself!

Anyway, the Montecito, is part of a new range of ukuleles launched by Fender in 2017. Their range generally seems to have been shunk down to a smaller number, now being made up of a selection named after Californian beaches, and ranging from the simple cheap entry level laminates to the more expensive solid wood models. The Montecito (named after a beach near Santa Barbara) sits at the upper end of the range in terms of specification. Don't get too wistful about those Californian names, this, like all Fender ukuleles is made in Indonesia. And you know - ukuleles, beaches, how delightfully stereotypical... Incidentally, this specification appears to be almost the same as their previous Fender Nohea koa tenor, but more on that in a moment.

This one is tenor scale, in standard double bout shape, and at first glance is a very attractive instrument, I am sure you will agree.  The top is made of two book matched pieces of solid koa, with the dead flat back being made from a single sheet of laminate koa. The sides are a single bent piece too which isn't what you normally see on a tenor. It's all finished in gloss which helps set off the wood grain, but it's really only the top that is particularly pretty. The back and sides are distinctly plain on this one. So apart from looking identical to the Nohea ukulele and being the same price (strangely) this differs in that the Nohea has a laminate top whereas this replaces that with a solid koa top.

Fender Montecito Ukulele body


Decorating this instument is some abalone purfling against the cream edge binding that adorns the top and back edges, whereas the back purfling is black. The abalone is repeated around the sound hole and it's both nicely done and also very classy looking I think.  No complaints with the decoration from me.

Fender Montecito Ukulele binding


Bridge wise this is a nice, diminutive slotted style bridge made out of what Fender describe as Sonokeling on their website (Indian Rosewood) though dealers are referring to as 'laminate hardwood'. It looks like rosewood to me, and that surprises me for a new 2017 model that launched after the change in CITES restrictions. The saddle is made of bone and I really do like this bridge plate for the small size. I'm not actually much of a fan of enormous bridge plates on ukuleles as feel they can restrict the vibration of the top. Nice to see this small simple style, which is more typical of Martin.

Fender Montecito Ukulele bridge


Looking inside and things are tidy enough. The kerfing is not notched, but the braces look delicate and there is no glue showing anywhere.

Up to the neck with it's attactive capped heel, and this is made of Nato in three pieces. Nato is often referred to as 'Eastern Mahogany' but it's actually not the same species, rather it's the wood of the Mora tree. It is however hard and reliable like mahogany and often used as a cheaper alternative for use in necks. It's in three pieces with a  joint at the heel and one nearer the headstock, both of which are fairly well hidden. It's finished in the same gloss which I'd rather not have on a neck myself. Sadly it's also quite narrow for a tenor ukulele neck at just under 35 mm at the nut.

Fender Montecito Ukulele fingerboard


Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which surprises me in the way the bridge does. This is nicely edge bound with more cream strips and it is fitted with 19 nickel silver frets and 14 to the body joint. We have pearl outward facing dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces and these are repeated with small black dots on the side. All very nice. I do like necks that are edge bound with a pale strip against the dark fingerboard wood.

Beyond the bone nut is something that I just don't think works, and that's the headstock. Yes I KNOW this is a trademark Fender shape (it's the Telecaster headstock to be specific), but it's iconic on ELECTRIC guitars. I really don't think it suits acoustic instruments and for similar reasons for me not liking them on Fender acoustic guitars I don't like it here. My view is purely an aesthetic one as I can't see what actual difference it makes to the job it is designed for (holding the tuners), but I just don't like it. And this from a man who's favourite guitar is a telecaster... Irrational perhaps, but there you are. Anyway, it faced in more koa and the trademark Fender 'spagetti' style logo is screen printed under the gloss.

Fender Montecito Ukulele headstock


For tuners we also have something that for me would be more at home on an electric guitar with a set of sealed chrome gears with large square covers like on vintage Kluson brand pegs. I think they are totally over the top on a ukulele and just look plain wrong here. Sure, the buttons are small enough, but the huge square covers just look odd to me. I want delicate and simple on a ukulele not this.

Fender Montecito Ukulele tuners


The package is completed with the addition of a branded soft gig bag (which I would want to be FAR thicker - in fact it's really rather pointless) and strings that Fender specify as 'standard tenor uke' strings. They look like Aquila on the C, E and A, and the G is a wound string for low tuning. Forced wound strings never please me. Give me a uke with re-entrant strings and let me decide if I want a low G or not.  And that package has an RRP of £210 in the UK and about $250 in the USA. My first reaction was that's a bit of a high price for a ukulele with only a solid top, albeit a koa one. Bu then again, looking around for similar specced instruments took me to the highly regarded Laka VUC90 which is also a solid koa topped instrument, but that is a concert and doesn't have the same level of decoration or a gig bag. They are £179, so perhaps £210 for a tenor with some more decoration is not so out of the ordinary after all.

Time to play it. And I will say from the off that I was not expecting great things from this one for reasons of history. You see, I have been playing guitars for far longer than I have ukuleles, and as much as I adore Fender electric guitars (have owned many and still own an American Special Deluxe Stratocaster which I would run into a burning building to save), I've never ever liked their acoustic guitars though. They have always sounded a bit dead and heavy to me. Also bear in mind the fact that I have played a few Fender ukes, albeit more basic ones than this and didn't really like them either for the same reasons (over built, lifeless, typical guitar brand ukes) and you can see why I was sceptical. Still, I want to approach this as impartially as I can. Perhaps things have changed with this new range of instruments. The only way to check was to grab one and spend some time with it!

Fender Montecito Ukulele back


First up, the build quality is very good all over. The joints are tidy and the gloss isn't overdone. It looks and feels nice in the hands. It's a little heavier than you would expect it to be, but to be fair it is well balanced in the hands and is no brick. Setup is ok - great at the nut, but a little higher than I would like at the saddle. Otherwise no huge complaints. That narrow nut bothers someone like me with big hands, but it's still playable and feels nice to hold.

And actually the sound has really surprised me in a good way too. Dealing with the negatives first though, it's really not the loudest tenor ukulele I have ever played. That's not to say it is overly quiet, but something feels like it's throttling it back from really barking and punching out. I am probably being a bit picky here but there you go. It's really it's not hugely bad, but it was enough for me to notice it on the first play so I am mentioning it.

On the plus side though, it has a very pretty voice. Bright overtones from the koa no doubt and an almost shimmery sound when strummed but particularly when fingerpicked. The sustain is really decent too meaning it's super easy to get some vibrato into picked notes. And the clarity of individual notes in the mix is rather good too. It all adds up to a very nice sounding ukulele I think. Its a tone that is really enjoyable on the ears, almost relaxing and sweet. Very nice.

So it's a mix really, and an irritating one at that. If the instrument was a bit louder, it would be a killer uke, but then I wouldn't want it louder at the expense of the tone being less charming. A shame we can't have everything.

And it's far from the dead sounding instruments I had seen before from this brand. Maybe the earlier Fender ukuleles I played have been improved with this newer range, and maybe they need to get that message out to people, because I really don't see a lot of reviews of Fender ukes out there. In fact I am beginning to wonder whether people now automatically think Fender are bad based on hearsay and opinions of the older models. That's a shame perhaps, as based on this one, I'd happily own and play one. It's pretty in both looks and in it's sound. Just don't expect melt your face volume. It's doing most other things well though. Headstock aside of course...

Recommended.



UKULELE PROS

Great classy looks, bindings and decoration
Good build quality and finish
Good price all things considered
Nice shimmery chiming tone
Good sustain and note clarity

UKULELE CONS

Dont think the headstock shape works for me on a uke
Tuners - ugghhh
Narrow nut
Rather quiet
Pointless gig bag

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.5 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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23 Sep 2017

Magic Fluke Firefly Tenor Banjo - REVIEW

It's many moons back in 2012 since I first looked at a Firefly Banjo Ukulele from Magic Fluke. And I really rather liked it too. I'm therefore thrilled to be looking at their latest re-vamped tenor version.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele

And whilst I liked that original soprano Firefly ukulele for many reasons, I recall a lot of people getting quite sniffy about it being essentially just a 'drum with a neck bolted on'. Aside from the fact all banjos are essentially just that anyway, I really liked the light as feather construction coupled with great tone and it just 'feeling' right in the hands. But yes, I guess it WAS very simple really and not super cheap either for what it was. It also wasn't adjustable either.  Fast forward to 2017 and we have a completely different proposition in the newest tenor model from the Massachusetts based brand.

So whilst this one is still a banjo uke, out goes the High Pressure Laminate pot with the drum head that was attached with a kind of edge stitching and in comes a maple ply pot which looks like, well, it looks more like a banjo really!

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele pot

Yet at the same time.... it also doesn't.. Where are the outer tensioners that you normally see on a banjo? How is that head being held in tension? Where is the tone ring? Well, always the clever innovators, Magic Fluke have kind of turned the banjo concept upside down. On the underside of that outer wooden rim and inside the banjo is the steel tone ring that is  bolted into the outer wood rim and adjustable using an allen key in one of the ten bolts visible on the front. Looks wise it reminds me a lot of the old Keech banjoleles and I think looks great, clean and simple. It also means that, unlike the smaller original Firefly ukuleles, this one has a head that is both easily replaceable and tunable too. Incidentally, that head is the same 8 inch diameter Remo as the others whilst the overall diameter is 9.75 inches. Nice.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele tone ring

Otherwise we have similar appointments to the other Firefly banjos too with a chrome tail piece and the same sort of three footed floating bridge you see on most banjos. Looking in the back we also have a similar designed pole piece running from the end of the neck and attaching to the pot with a kind of nifty locking wooden piece. It does also look like you can adjust the neck for action by removing or adding washers at the tail end. Neat. We also have the trademark Firefly embossed logo and the hand numbered makers label too.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele neck adjustment

That pole piece is made of hard maple as is the tenor neck, and is a thing of beauty. I am always a sucker for a maple neck, particularly one with a pale fingerboard like this.  It's not quite the same sort of technique as employed by Deering on their Goodtime uke banjo where those frets are set directly into the neck, but I still think this looks great. And unlike some other Fluke instruments, the plastic fingerboard is not an option on this one - just wood. What type of wood it is, I am not totally sure, but I think it's a slightly darker maple.

In fact all of the wood on this is finished very nicely in a smooth satin that just feels of good quality.

And like other Fluke necks this has a chunky profile that some people raise and eyebrow to, but I personally think is really very comfortable. It's actually rounder on the back than their more squared off earlier necks though, but still chunky. Nut wise we have a width of 36mm which is great for comfort. We have 18 nickel silver frets on this 17" body which is very nice for upper neck options, and as is usual with Magic Fluke, they are fitted and dressed very well. We also have black dot position markers at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th but sadly no markers on the side.  (ARGGHH!!)

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele neck

I am not sure what the nut is made of, ebony perhaps,  but like on other Fluke necks we have a zero fret meaning the nut action and intonation are controlled very well by this instead leaving the nut for setting the string spacing only.

Beyond this we have the ubiquitous Fluke headstock shape that people either love or hate (I love it incidentally). In standard spec these come with entry level Grovers that Fluke use widely on other instruments. They are not the best in the world, but not the worst either. Magic Fluke do offer these with a Pegheds option for another $75. Personally I would save your money and if you find that you don't get on with these Grover pegs, spend half the cost of Pegheds on a set of Grover 6's as they should be a straight swap. Don't get me wrong, I do like Pegheds, but just find them over priced.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele headstock

Other options on offer include a shaped soft gig bag for $59 (that I really think should come as standard) and a pickup system for $89 (for those sadists who want to make a banjo even louder...). In vanilla spec though it comes like this with a set of D'Addario Nyltech (Aquila) strings and comes in at $389 or £349 which may make the people who still think all ukes should cost $50 gasp. It is however far cheaper than the RRP on the 17" Tenor Deering Banjo Uke that will cost you best part of $200 more. It's also comparatively priced to the, now in production, Duke 10 Banjo Uke which is terrific. It's also completely made (and parts sourced) in the USA as close to Massachusetts as possible. So there is no Chinese factory involved here either.

And as well as being cheaper than the Deering it's also much lighter - more comparable to the Duke at about 2lb in weight. So maybe it's the Duke 10 that this is going head to head with more than the Deering? It's much heavier than the original Firefly banjos of course, but that stands to reason with that extra body rim. Build quality, as I have hinted at is truly excellent. It really always is with Magic Fluke stuff and I knew it would be too before it arrived.

It just feels right in the hands. The light weight, the smooth as silk satin all comes together for a nice feeling instrument. And its really helped by the fact that they are not using standard tension hooks so there is nothing to dig into your strumming arm. Just smooth maple. It really is very comfortable. In fact I can't think how a banjo could be any more comfortable.

Sound wise this is a joy. It's far brighter, louder and sharper than the earlier soprano version, and more, well, more like a banjo really. Being an 8 inch head it's not up there with the massive punch of something like the Deering, but it's really no slouch at all. In fact it's extremely lound and punchy and with more guts than some other 8 inch head banjos I have played. It's just so precise and snappy.

Magic Fluke Tenor Banjo Ukulele tailpiece

Intonation is really good once you have set the saddle (thank you zero fret) and the comfortable neck means it's easy to play and move around on the neck.

But what has really impressed me is how controlled it seems to be with those hollow echoey sounds that banjos can create. The Deering did it, the Duke 10 did it, and people say 'oh you just put a cloth inside'. And yes, yes you do, and that works, but this Firefly doesn't seem to have that problem in the first place. There is no echo. No ghost notes. Just really clear notes whether you pick it or strum it. It's remarkable really, and has left me wishing this didn't have to go back. Yes people may still raise an eyebrow at the pricing, but as I say, this is right on the money with the competition, and in fact cheaper than some notable others.

Magic Fluke have done it again methinks and this would now be my go to choice for a tenor ukulele banjo, no question.  Highly recommended.

Many thanks to them and to the UK distributor of Magic Fluke, Mark Pugh of Stones Music for setting me up with this for review.

http://www.magicfluke.com

http://www.stones-music.co.uk

UKULELE PROS

It just looks great!
Superb build quality in every department
Head is now more easily replaceable and tunable
Great intonation
Great volume with no echo - clear as a bell
Price is actually fair in view of competition

UKULELE CONS

No side markers
They really should throw the bag in for the price
Some will want to change the standard tuners

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.1 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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19 Sep 2017

Ukulele Books from Al Wood of Uke Hunt

I'm pleased to be able to partner up with Al Wood of Ukulele Hunt to help him bring his fantastic ukulele ebooks to the attention of Got A Ukulele readers.


ukulele books


If you don't know Al, then you really should - he's the writer of the Ukulele site that got me into blogging - with his is awesome site. He also wrote things like the Ukulele For Dummies books too! This is a guy who's stuff you should take a look at. There are a couple of ads for his books in the side bar, but you will also see all his offerings on this page. Link below. Highly recommended!

Ukulele Books by Al Wood of Uke Hunt



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15 Sep 2017

Barnes and Mullins 'Bowley' Soprano - REVIEW

A return for the Barnes and Mullins brand to the Got A Ukulele reviews pages with a look at their first (in 'recent' vintages) ukulele... the 'Bowley' Soprano.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele

I say 'recent vintage' as Barnes and Mullins are actually a very old brand name going back to the late 1800's in London, formed by Albert Mullins and Mr S 'Bowley' Barnes (who's nickname is used in the name of this ukulele). Back then they made a banjo ukulele called the Trumelo, which was technically their first uke not this one. The company then went through various changes to the business it is today as more of a UK distributor of various instrument brands (including the likes of Peavey, Faith Guitars and Hofner amongst others) based in Shropshire. As part of that business though they also have a line of banjos, mandolins and ukuleles that keep the Barnes and Mullins name alive. In fact I had reviewed their Calthorpe ukulele model quite favourably back in 2013. The Bowley was a uke I first saw all the way back in 2010 and since then I have wanted to feature it on the site. Seven years later, and here we are... Sometimes things take a bit of time!!

First up, the Bowley is clearly an attractive instrument with bags of old time charm about it. It's a traditionally shaped double bout soprano with a very curvy base which I always find attractive on a ukulele. It's made from all solid spruce wood, but you probably wouldn't know that when looking at it with a first glance. And that's because it's been finished in a hand rubbed 'antique' stain that gives it a deep mahogany colour all over. In fact people are often confused by what these are actually made from and I've seen several online references to them being mahogany. They are NOT mahogany.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele top

The top and back are made of single pieces and the sides are made of a pair. Through that thin staining though you can see that this indeed spruce as it has the telltale dead straight lined grain of that wood on show. A more detailed word about the finish here. It's actually designed to look 'old' and to be a bit unfinished or worn. Some areas are a bit darker and some are lighter. It's a technique that is, 'on the whole', effective, but I know a few people who will look at these and think it looks a little scruffy. I will let you make your own minds up on that, but I take the point. One thing I will say for the finish is that it isn't particularly durable either. And with spruce being a soft wood that tends to show finger nail scratches easily,  I can see this looking even more worn quite soon. And as the spruce is very pale compared to the finish, that's going to mean light patches showing through. In fact low durability finishes are not something new for B and M as my review of the Calthorpe mentioned above explains. Anyway, I still think it works ok. It's perhaps a little over done in places, but it does look aged and certainly looks very different to other instruments on the market. Putting that finish in perspective, I put a sneak peek image of this up on the Got A Ukulele Facebook page the other day and somebody commented that it looked like it needed a clean. I can't disagree with them!

We have no other decoration save for a very subtle black edge binding strip where the sides meet the top and the back which works well with the dark colour.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele back

The bridge is a rosewood tie bar style that looks very standard and into this is set a dark wooden saddle. It's painfully pale though and in desperate need of an application of oil.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele bridge

A look inside and we don't have the tidiest build in the world. The bracing looks ok, but the kerfing linings are made from straight un-notched wood and on the bends on the waist they are starting to split and crack on both sides. That's not a long term structural issue, but it is messy, not right and annoys me.  The over-use of glue and the lack of finish on the edge of the sound hole is also messy! Not very nice really.

The neck is made from spruce which I thought an odd choice for a neck material (being a softer wood), but there you go. I can't tell if there is a joint at the heel as the finish is too dark, but I am guessing there is. There is clearly a joint at the headstock though and the whole thing is finished in the same antique coating. Whilst it looks scruffy on the body, I think it's particularly effective here as it gives the instrument a look of it having been played for decades and picked up grime and oils from the hands.  And because it's satin it doesn't feel sticky or grippy either. The profile though is overly round for ultra traditionalists, and the nut is narrow at 34mm.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele fingerboard

Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard that is nice and even in colour and has some attractive shaping at the end above the soundhole. It is however a little rough on the finish with some obvious gouges and scratches where some of the frets are set. Set into this are a pretty standard 12 nickel silver frets that are all dressed nicely and have their ends hidden by black edging. We have pearloid dot position markers at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces and these are repeated on the side. They are however toned down a bit too much by the finish coating over the top of them, making them hard to distinguish.

Past the wooden nut and we have a really attractive, 'old timey' shaped headstock with a rounded top. It reminds me of very old banjos and I absolutely love it. It's also set off by the Barnes and Mullins logo transfer in black that looks really classy in itself. I think it looks wonderful myself.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele headstock

But then, to my horror I see that they fitted it with open geared tuners with black buttons. I mean, come on... when you are trying to create an instrument that looks vintage / antique / classy, why would you then ruin it by giving it modern sticking out ears. I think it totally ruins the whole look of it. OK, the buttons are not the largest, and the gears are actually decent quality ones, but still... Worse, they use two mounting screws each so if you were to replace them with pegs you have eight drill holes in total to fill and hide. Just awful. I know some people will say 'oh get over it Barry, that's not such a big deal'.. but come on look at this ukulele and look at those ears!! The one thing I will say for them is this. They are pretty decent quality and work well enough. And there were gritted teeth typing that..

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele tuners

Completing the package is a set of Aquila strings and these are on streets for about £125 ish in the UK, occasionally cheaper if you shop around. I had heard that the Bowley had been discontinued, but it's still readily available and still listed on the Barnes and Mullins website. So back to the positives, for an all solid wood instrument that is an extremely attractive price, no question about it.

And despite the tuners, there is much to like about the design and the build. It's also really nice to touch with the hands. Not grippy or tacky like some finishes, but it kind of feels old too. And then there's the weight. Spruce isn't a particularly dense wood, and that coupled with the thin tone wood sheets used in construction means this is a super light soprano. It's really very light and that's a great thing. It's also nicely balanced and that adds up to an instrument that is very comfortable to play.

I can't get away from some of the scruffy finishing though, and if such things bother you... well, they will continue to bother you! I think it's one of those ukuleles that looks great at a distance, but less so when you get up close to it! And being a soft tonewood that finish bothers me in other ways too. There is a reason most spruce ukuleles and guitars are finished in a hard gloss. This wood marks really easily with fingernails. This WILL scuff up easily.

Barnes and Mullins Bowley Ukulele sound hole

Set up was reasonably ok. Fine at the nut, but I would personally want to take the saddle down a touch myself. It doesn't seem to be massively affecting intonation though so my desire to take it down is more about playability on the strumming side. It's not beyond normal ranges, just very much on the high side.

But what really surprises for such an inexpensive instrument is the great tone, bark and projection. Being made from all spruce, means it's really bright, sharp and snappy, and on a soprano, I think that is a very good thing. It's that mix of staccato snappiness whilst also having sustain that I really like in a decent sounding soprano. All of a sudden, finishing looks aside you start to see the sense in the build. Super light spruce, very thin woods, very thin resonant body - bright and snappy!

This is not a ukulele you will be worried about volume with. It's huge fun to strum and we have nice clarity across the notes too. Clear and purposeful in it's voice you could say. And that is whether strummed or picked. What I am getting from it, is that as well as having very traditional looks, it has a very traditional old timey sound too. I don't quite know what that is I am describing, but its the sort of ukulele where you dont feel right wearing a pair of jeans and a t shirt to play it. It's a sound that demands you are in a three piece suit, with an undone bow tie and a pair of brogues...

I'd say it's more of a fast strummers instrument than anything, but honestly, the sustain does make fingerpicking enjoyable even if the 12 fret total will limit melody playing on some stuff.

Ultimately though, I like this one quite a lot. It certainly has a great sound and excellent projection and as a musical instrument works pleasingly well. I love the old time looks of most of it, but they are slightly let down by the scruffy finishing and mostly by the plain ugly tuners that do nothing at all for it. But, you know, perhaps I am making too much of those tuners that annoy me. They work ok and others won't be bothered with them.  And £125 for an all solid wood instrument with this sort of volume and tone? Bit of a no-brainer perhaps? I would.

http://www.bandm.co.uk

UKULELE PROS

Very classy old time looks
Light as a feather
Generally good construction (on the outside)
Nice fret finishing
Good punchy clear sound
Great price

UKULELE CONS

Old fashioned finish that is in places downright scruffy
Some rough finishing on fingerboard and inside the body
Impossible to see side dots
Those friction tuners on something so old fashioned? WHY OH WHY???

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 8.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.4 out of 10

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