I like it when I have a 'first' on my Got A Ukulele reviews page, and this is a first. My first ukulele review for something with more than four strings. Say hello to the Ohana TK-35G-5, five string tenor ukulele.
The TK-35-G-5 is essential pretty much identical to their very popular TK-35G series tenor, with the addition of one extra G string. The T in the name denotes the Tenor scale, the 35 is the model series, and the G denotes gloss, which this uke is finished with. These retail at a shade over $500, but a quick Google tells me they can be found for considerably less with many dealers.
Like all of the gloss model Ohana Ukes, it looks visually very classy indeed, with no finish flaws whatsoever. The wood is made from all solid mahogany, and kind of glows with a warm orangey brown tone which is very pretty indeed. The top of the uke is a single piece of mahogany, showing some nice grain. My readers will know that I am not the worlds biggest fan of gloss finishes, but I tend to gripe the most about ukes that are decked out like christmas trees. This on the other hand I could live with as it has a more classic feel rather than overtly showy. The gloss is deep and allows the underlying wood to really shimmer.
Taking a look inside, and things look fairly standard on the bracing front. The kerfling holding the sides to the top and back is flat and not notched, and I must say it's a little messy on the finish in there with some noticeable glue spots and wood shavings. Acontrast to the outside of the instrument.
The sides of the ukulele are a single piece which is somewhat unusual for a tenor ukulele and I would have expected to see a join at the butt. It's not a criticism however! The sides also show a more significant grain pattern than the top, though the grain does not run parallel with the sides and is on an angle pretty much all the way around. Despite that lack of a join, looking inside tells me there is still a tail block in the base meaning that if you wanted to add a strap button you have the strength to fix one.
On to the back, and that is another single piece of solid mahogany with a very slight curve to it. Finishing the deal on the body is the binding which keeps with the classy look of the instrument. It's brown rosewood on the sides, with some brown / cream / brown purfling on the binding on the top and back. The soundhole is trimmed with a similar rosette in cream with brown edging. It looks like it could be a transfer, but I can't quite tell under the gloss.
The bridge is a fairly standard designed rosewood tie bar, with a plain, uncompensated plastic saddle. Of course it is on inspection of the saddle that we see the first difference from it's stock tenor cousin. The fifth string. For any beginners reading this and not understanding how a five string ukulele works, that extra string is not designed to be played independently of the other four - it is tune in a pair with the normal G string. So we have two G strings in close proximity, one tuned as a high G and one as a low G (presumably to solve many nights of agonising for those who can't make their minds up whether to tune their instrument to high or low G.....!). Incidentally, the low G on this uke is unwound, but I see no reason why a wound low G wouldn't work if that is your thing. (it's not my thing...)
Moving on to the mahogany neck, it too is finished in gloss, and made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and at the headstock. The neck is topped with a rosewood fingerboard which is nicely finished and consistent in colour. The edges of the fingerboard are unbound, so you can see the fret edges below the gloss. Speaking of frets, there are 19 of them in nickel silver and they are also fairly chunky which I prefer. The fret edges are smooth and help make the playing experience extremely comfortable.
We also have pearloid fret markers at the fifth, seventh, tenth, twelfth, and fifteenth frets. Sadly, there are no side fret markers (Grrrrrrr!)
Past the plastic nut (and incidentally, despite the fifth string, the nut width is pretty standard) we move on to the quite unusual shaped headstock. Clearly, it needed to be slightly bigger to incorporate the extra tuner, but I rather like it for the simple reason that I like any uke that diverts itself away from the usual Martin clone headstock shape. This one is long and distinctive, and is faced in what appears to be rosewood. The Ohana logo looks typically classy in pearloid finish under the gloss.
The tuners are particularly pleasing - like several Ohana ukes I have played, they are open geared Grover brand tuners (similar to those on my Kanile'a uke) with cream buttons. This tuner type works extremely well, so top marks to Ohana for picking them.
So there we have it - quite an understated yet classy and pretty ukulele with no real issues at all with the build. And it doesn't need to be over the top. On the whole its a fairly standard design, but that fifth tuner is enough to turn heads and have people questioning what it is. But how does it play and sound?
Well, to hold, its a fairly heavy ukulele ( no crass comments please about it being the weight of the extra string!!). It's not overly so, nor uncomfortable, but you know it is there - not a bad thing. It's nicely weighted too, and despite the large headstock, feels balanced in the hands.
The setup on the model I am testing is just how I would like it and it plays nice and evenly with no tuning issues.
Volume is excellent, not just helped by that fifth string, but on the other strings also. It really has a warm tone to it, without it barking when played hard. Best way to describe it, is that it has a lot of presence in a mix. The low G also doesn't take over the sound, and I found that the A string is just as clear amongst the notes. It doesn't have the tone or sustain of some of the highest end instruments I have played, but has more volume and shape to the sound than (say) the Kala Acacia Tenor I reviewed.
But on to that fifth string. It's a bit of an enigma to me I suppose - mainly because I have several ukes and don't find it a challenge to choose between low and high G tuning (I have some tuned one way, others the other!), so I am not sure of this 'best of both worlds' approach. Perhaps that is the wrong way to consider this model, and it would be better to just accept that this uke has a voice all of it's own. And I do like it, particularly when strummed. It's clear, resonant and means business. Picked however I was not quite so happy with it. That may be more an issue with my technique, but I found it not that easy to get a clean note from the G when picking with my thumb. That said, one of the players in our band can fingerpick an 8 string quite brilliantly, so it must just be me. Either way, I tend to strum more than pick, so could happily live with this sound.
In summary, well worth your attention if you can find one. It has that certain something that makes it 'different', especially if you are playing with a group of players. Go on - be different! At the RRP I think it is expensive for what it is, but if you can shop around and get a deal there are some bargains to be had.
Beautiful finish and build
Rich resonant tone with great volume
No side markers!
Little more difficult to fingerpick effectively.
Fit and finish 8.5
Value for money 8