Something of an unusual one this. What do you do if you run a successful ukulele club, and beginners keep turning up with cheap junk instruments and you want them to get better ones? Well, you get your own signature ukulele made that's what! And that is what the Birmingham ukulele club 'Moselele' have done. I present the Moselele Bambookulele!
Now that is quite a clever thing to do. The internet is awash with cheap £10-£20 ukes and any brand new beginner may well struggle with those in a club environment (cue the funny looks as the intonation is off and you just can't get the thing in tune!). Yet Moselele recognised that not everybody wants to spend (or can afford) top dollar on an instrument, so as well as speccing this ukulele to their desires, they recognised it was incredibly important to make it affordable for beginners. So you will find this uke at a £60 (yes, sixty!) price point. That really is attractive to a beginner, and puts it alongside stalwarts like the Lanikai LU21, or in concert scale just a little below the Ohana CK10. Attractive indeed, so let's take a look at it. And bear in mind that price. Throughout this review I suspect I will be reminding you of the price point.
The Bambookulele is quite striking to look at, most notably because of the wood it is made from. This uke is made from bamboo, and apart from a quick flirtation with another bamboo uke, this is the first one I've been able to spend some time with. The bamboo gives it a rather attractive pale finish, with the distinctive look of the bamboo strips. A word about the construction. You will read on Got A Ukulele reviews much talk about laminate ukes and solid wood ukes. A laminate is usually (with one or two exceptions) the preserve of the budget instrument and is made from sandwiching wood layers like plywood. A solid uke is made from a solid thin pieces of wood. The Bambookulele is, strangely, kind of both! Bamboo by it's very nature grows in very thin long strips. As such to make it into a piece of flat wood big enough for a top and back of a ukulele requires those strips to be stuck together along their length. So in a sense it is a laminate of sorts. Having said that though - a careful inspection inside suggests to me the uke actually has more traditional laminate under the bamboo outer finish (making things even more confusing). The telltale sign, the grain on the outside of the back doesn't match the grain on the inside! Anyway, it matters little as at £60 for a concert instrument you just will not get solid wood.
|Standard shaped concert body|
Those bamboo strips show off all over the instrument giving it what I think is a really nice looking and interesting grain pattern. Here and there are little knots and curls in the strips and I think it really stands out as something 'different'. The strips are used for the whole of the top back and sides, with the back being slightly arched to help projection - a good feature to see at this price.
|note the bamboo grain pattern and edge binding|
And let us move on to other features that, for me, are surprising to see on a ukulele of only £60. Firstly the whole body is finished in gloss, which I think really sets off the bamboo nicely. It's also applied pretty well too. Sure there are some bubble spots and a bit of pooling of the varnish around the sound hole and end of the fingerboard, but I have seen much worse. Also of note is that we have edge binding around the edge of the top and back in cream, with the top binding finished in black and white stripes. Binding does nothing for the sound of an instrument, but it gives a uke a more professional finish. Usually manufacturers will offer an unbound instrument, and the same model with binding for more money. To see binding at £60 is very surprising, and it is also applied neatly too.
The soundhole rosette is, more unsurprisingly for the price, a transfer under the varnish, but at least the gloss will stop it being scratched off as I have seen happen on Makala and Lanikai ukes without a finish.
The bridge is a standard tie bar style in rosewood, and the saddle seems to be plastic and is uncompensated. Fairly standard stuff bridge wise. It is decorated with two mother of pearl circles which actually hide the fact that the bridge is screwed, not glued to the top. Quite normal at this price.
Another nice touch is the strap button. Something specified by Moselele when the specced the instrument. I won't (again) get in to the whole strap debate, but I fail to see why more ukes don't come with them as standard. If you are strap phobic, the presence of the button won't do you any harm. I was very pleased to see it there myself!
|Strap button! Yay!|
A quick look inside and the first thing I noted was there was no makers label inside. The Moselele logo is reserved for the headstock only, but I think it would look professional for them to specify a label inside. Minor point! Otherwise inside is nice and tidy, with no glue seepage. The braces look a little chunky, but nice to see the kerfling that holds the back and top to the sides is fitted well and notched, rather than the cheaper flat thin kerfling you see on most budget ukes.
Moving on to the neck, this isn't made from bamboo, but rather from some sort of hardwood. It's a similar colour but it doesn't quite match the shade of the bamboo. The neck is made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and one at the headstock. Quite normal at this price. The whole thing is finished in gloss, though the application on the neck is not as good as the body with some rough spots where not enough was applied.
On to the fingerboard and this is made of rosewood and is nicely even in colour. There 17 nickel silver frets and 14 to the top of the body, so fairly standard for a concert. The frets are all nicely with no rough edges whatsoever. Fret markers on the fingerboard are mother of pearl type dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th positions. These too are nicely applied, but it was sad to see no side fret markers - the more important ones for the player! The edges of the fingerboard are unbound, but are stained which just about hides the fret edges. The finish here is also a little shoddy with some bare spots, but nothing serious. I actually really like the feel of the neck. It is a little wider than most concerts I have played, and has a nice chunky feel in the hand.
Up past the plastic nut (nicely finished and cut for intonation) to the headstock. This is a Martin style three pointed crown shape and with a signature club ukulele it perhaps would have been nice to have a distinctive style, but there you go The headstock is hardwood, veneered with the same bamboo, and labelled with the Moselele in grey black over the gloss. How cool is that to have your club logo on the headstock of your uke?! The tuners are unbranded sealed geared tuners, with nice small silver buttons. I can report that they work just fine and seem to be evenly matched in turning resistance.
|Headstock and Moselele logo|
And that, all finished off with Aquila Brand strings (what else...) is the package. When the club offered to send this to me to look at, I must admit that at a £60 price point I wasn't expecting great things, but it really does look good I think and features a variety of 'bling' that belies the price point. But how does it play?
Well, first of all, to hold I found it nice and light. In fact much lighter than many cheap concerts I have played, which can be plagued from being over built (thick heavy woods used to stop them falling apart). This one though is nicely balanced and easy to hold with or without a strap.
For me, the action at the saddle was just a little low for my liking, but there is no string buzz so it's within acceptable limits. The nut (usually the place where cheap ukes show their pedigree) is set just right so no sharp notes when fretting at the first, second and third positions. All in all, nicely set up and playable.
|Slightly curved back|
As for the sound, well the first thing that struck me was the great volume it has, no doubt aided by the Aquila strings and curved back. You will have no problem being heard at a ukulele club night with this instrument, so a plus point there. The tone is quite bright, which surprised me with Aquilas as I find they can make instruments sound muddy, but this has a clear bell like sound which was rather pleasing though I think it could actually do with a little more range and wonder what it would sound like with a low G string. Very nice though and has some clarity across the strings. Fingerpicked shows you that it has some nice sustain too and you can get some nice harmonics out of it. All quite surprising really for the price, but clearly the construction is helping here - not a uke that has just been thrown together without a care for whether it will actually make a decent sound or not!
|geared tuners - those are protective labels, not a flaw!|
Sure, it doesn't compete with intermediate or higher end instruments and nor would I expect it too, but it has a greater build and tone that I have seen on other ukes at this price, and many other concerts at the £100 mark or above. You may have also read my review of the Southern Ukulele Store brand concert ukulele which I rather liked. Well that uke is £20 more expensive than this one, and I think the Moselele beats it on looks, and just edges it on tone too. (Sorry SUS guys!).
And as such, I think the guys who specced this knew exactly what they wanted. To me, if you are joining a club and getting a first uke something like this should be a no brainer as a first instrument, and should certainly be your port of call instead of a cheap Mahalo. I remain quite surprised at the elements of the finish such as gloss and binding at this price point, and aside from a few finish flaws, is pretty well put together, so it gets a thumbs up from me.
The ukes are available on ebay, but you can also order one direct from the club at:
At this price - well worth giving a go!
Looks - 8.5
Fit and finish - 7.5
Sound - 8
Value For Money - 10 (I would give it an 11 if I could!)
OVERALL - 8.5