I was rather excited about taking a look at this ukulele for a couple of reasons. Say hello to the Southern Ukulele Store (SUS) All solid mahogany concert ukulele ACU-SUS.
This uke represents the first step the famous store has made into having their own branded instruments - and that is one of the first things that excited me. I mean, I'm typing this as someone who likes to wear a SUS branded T Shirt, so what better than having an SUS branded ukulele too?
In short summary, this is an all solid mahogany concert ukulele in a traditional design. Oh, and it costs £80.... That's right, £80, not £180. And there you have the second thing that excited me about it. An all solid mahogany concert uke for £80. That is an absolutely killer price. An all solid uke at the same price as the usual laminates such as the Lanikai LU21C. In fact, at the concert scale you have to go to £100 or so before you even see a solid top instrument, and in terms of an all solid instrument, you are going to have to top £150. As such, this price is quite stunning. However, solid or not, it matters little if the ukulele doesn't play or sound any good, so how does it stand up?
The SUS model uke is based on an Aria ACU-250 ukulele and has been re-badged to feature the SUS logo on the headstock and internal label. Speaking to the guys at the shop they told me they had been trialling a range of ukes to re-badge this way, and wanted to choose the model that really 'cut it' for them based on price and sound.
The uke is traditional in shape, with a very classy double bout body made of solid mahogany. The wood used is not high end, so don't expect any curls or flaming in the grain, but it is simple, effective and nicely finished. The body of the uke almost glows with a warm orangey brown colour which to my eyes is very similar in look to the Islander range. The top is made from a single piece of wood, and despite being a budget model, benefits from some extra bling in the form of a soundhole rosette and edge binding in plain black. Both are finished very nicely, and whilst the rosette seems to be a transfer, it is under the finish and seems unlikely to rub off. That finish is in satin, and not over done in any way, giving the uke a classy look.
The sides are in two pieces and also solid, with a simple joint at the base of the uke. The back is a single piece of solid mahogany, with a very slight arch to help with sound projection. Simple black binding between back and sides matches that on the top. It is all put together very nicely leaving a ukulele which is pretty standard looking but entirely respectable.
The bridge is made from rosewood and is a tie bar design. It uses a plastic, uncompensated saddle which is to be expected at this price. A glance inside the uke also shows a very tidy build, with notched kerfling at the joints between top, back and sides. The label proudly displays the name 'Southern Ukulele Store' together with the model number (ACU-SUS) and serial number. All looking good so far.
On to the neck - the wood type is unspecified, and it is made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and one towards the headstock. Again, this is expected at the price. The finish is nice and smooth and it has a quite chunky C shaped profile which I personally found very comfortable to hold. At the nut the width is on the narrower (standard) size.
The fingerboard is laid on to the neck and is made from rosewood. It's a plain dark piece of wood with no light patches or stripes. I particularly like the shaping at the end of the fingerboard over the top of the body which sets it apart a little from other ukes. The edges of the fingerboard are unbound meaning that you can see the fret edges. There are also some ugly looking finish blemishes on the edge of the fingerboard. This is a shame, but SUS state honestly on their site that the uke may come with some blemishes, but the price and sound make up for them. These are, however, the only blemishes I found with this model so not too bad really.
Frets are in nickel with 14 to the body and 18 in total. They are finished nicely with no sharp edges or uneven heights and are quite chunky too. Fret markers are in small mother of pearl inlays at the third, fifth, seventh, tenth and twelfth and look classy. Sadly, no side fret markers (how cheap are those to include....) so out with a Sharpie if you want those!
Past the plastic nut and we have a standard crown shaped headstock, faced with a darker veneer and emblazoned with the SUS logo in gold. I think the logo looks great , and good to see it wasn't 'over done', or in a stark white transfer. It suits both the store and the uke.
Tuning is provided by cheap, unbranded open geared tuners with white plastic buttons. They work just fine, but look far too big on the buttons for my liking. Still, they are the same sort of tuners you will find on most ukuleles at this price.
Rounding off the package - the instrument comes strung with black GHS strings. More on those later, but..... ugh!
So, a very nice price (a staggering price in fact), a simple but nice looking instrument, that despite one or two minor issues, seems to be put together nicely. How does it sound?
First impressions were good, but sadly hampered by those GHS nylon strings which are not really my cup of tea. They are slippy and feel too low tension for my liking. I did persevere, but quickly found myself swapping out to flourocarbon strings. And, I am glad that I did. This ukulele has a surprisingly loud and rich voice for a small concert uke. Volume is great, and there is a real harmonic chime from the strings giving it quite a chunky complex sound when strummed. Note separation is decent, and it doesn't get too muddy.
It is equally at home picked with some good sustain on show. As an £80 uke, it certainly surpasses many laminate sub £100 concert ukuleles I have played. It might not have as much bark as say, a Lanikai LU21 loaded with Aquilas, but that would be missing the point. The solid wood on this provides a more subtle ringing tonal quality that is missing on others at this price point. In fact I have played solid wood concert ukes for a lot more money than this, and this SUS model compares extremely favourably.
The setup was only half decent on arrival. The saddle height was just as I would like it, but the nut slots were a little too high meaning some notes were going sharp at the low end frets. That was a five minute job for me to fix, but if you are a beginner, I would ask the store to look at those before they ship to you (or before you take it away). But those setup issues are not unheard of by any means at a price of £80, are easily fixed and not something that renders the instrument useless for all time.
All in all, I think they have something of a killer instrument here for those looking to buy their first uke. Personally speaking, I think anyone in the store with intentions of buying a Stagg, Lanikai, Brunswick, Laka (etc etc!) laminate instrument for this sort of money should really be considering this as a very cheap step on to the solid wood ladder. In fact, for £80, it's worth a punt for anyone really.
What's not to like for £80? Well, a couple of blemishes, a potential need for a setup tweak and those GHS strings. But they are minor issues for the money, and even if you buy one with flourocarbon strings fitted, you are talking only £86 for the ukulele. That is still a price miles below anything similar. Still not convinced? Heck, you get to play a uke with SUS on the headstock! Suspect the guys may shift a fair few of these at the Cheltenham Ukulele Festival this year.
AVAILABLE FROM - SOUTHERN UKULELE STORE
Nice looks and finish on the body
Great volume and ringing tone
Slight finish blemishes and setup issues
Tuner pegs far too big for my taste
Looks - 8
Fit and finish - 7.5
Sound - 9
Value for money - 10
OVERALL - 8.6
To understand my review scoring and see this result in context - visit my review page at