A new one for me in this review, a uke I have heard the name of in the USA, but never got my hands on. It's a Baton Rouge brand concert scale uke, kindly supplied on loan by the UK distributor, Stones Music.
The V2C (C standing for concert) Sun (read on and look at the pictures) is a very keenly priced laminate mahogany uke, made in China, and available now on this side of the pond for a shade under £85 which is a great price.
But wait you say... 'laminate.... not a real uke..... bleurggg'. Don't talk nonsense. Sure, high end ukes tend to keep in the stable of solid tone woods, but just because we see the word 'laminate' doesn't mean that a uke should necessarily be overlooked. There is laminate and there is laminate and I would argue that a well made laminate uke will beat an over built, over glossed heavy solid wood uke every time. This is a well made laminate!
It actually showed the quality of its build from the moment I took it out of the box. It is light to hold (so certainly not over built) and is pretty much flawless in its construction. All over the uke, the build is extremely good with no odd gaps in joints, rough edges or obvious finish flaws. Finish is in satin, but nothing too heavy and allowing the wood grain and pores to be clearly visible. The grain in the mahogany laminate is straight on both the top, back and sides and creates a nice shimmer under the right lighting. The back is slightly arched to help with projection and is otherwise pretty much 'bling free'.
That is to say, bling free with the exception of the laser etched sun motif around the sound hole, but that doesn't really say bling to me at all. I am often a little cautious of laser etched uke finishes. Commonly I think they are over done, and in some cases they can add unnecessary price to the base ukulele. That doesn't apply here thankfully, and I think the design is pretty and far from over the top. In fact considering the rest of the body is plain, I think it sets it off quite well.
I said above that I considered this a well made laminate and you can see the edges of it around the join between the top / back and sides. The effect is actually one of edge binding and looks quite nice, but it also shows you that the woods are not overly thick (something also given away by the weight of the thing).
The bridge mounting is a tie bar affair in rosewood with a straight NuBone saddle piece and some white strip edging in the bridge mount being the only other departure towards 'bling'.
Inside the uke the interior is spray painted jet black. I did wonder what that may be trying to hide, but an inspection with a torch didn't give anything away. In fact, the inside is nice and tidy, with standard looking bracing, notched kerning on the edges and little in the way of glue spots. Why do I talk about glue spots all the time? Well I consider a messy interior to be an indication on the quality of the build - usually a mark of a uke that was thrown together with little care and attention. This is not one of those ukes.
Up to the hardwood neck and this is made from four pieces with two joints at the heel and one at the headstock. A little excessive, but necessary to keep the uke on budget. You can see them though. Otherwise though the neck is nicely finished and narrow and shallow in profile. A little much so for my large hands, but pretty standard in the world of concert uke necks really.
The fingerboard is uniform in colour and made from Rosewood. It has 18 nickel silver fret in total and 14 of those run to the body. They are by no means jumbo, but again, fairly standard. It is finished well, and whilst the edges are neither rolled or bound (they are painted to hide the frets), the feel is good and the fret dressing just great. Its a very comfortable player.
We are missing outward facing fret markers (no biggie for me, but they do leave the fingerboard looking a little empty I suppose) but thankfully they have included side markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th, so full marks there.
We pass the NuBone nut (cut and fitted well) to a nicely shaped headstock that is faced with a piece of mahogany and bears the Baton Rouge logo in similar laser etching.
Tuning is provided by silver finished, unbranded open geared tuners with small plastic buttons. They work just fine for me and also have no rough finishing on them. The package is completed by standard Aquila Nylgut strings.
And so far, so.... great actually. For £85 I am really struggling to find anything wrong with it. The finish, feel, weight, balance and looks are all great. I do go over my review ukes with a fine toothed comb, and found a very slight finish blemish on the butt, but honestly it is so minor and not something I would ever complain about. So on to the playing.
It is surprisingly loud for a laminate box, but no doubt that is on account of the good laminate, light construction and arched back. It projects very well when either strummed or picked (see video below) and sounds great. Sure, its not a high end complex tone, but its surprisingly good and up there with some ukes that cost considerably more. It arrived setup in a way that draws no questions from me - just spot on, and extremely playable. Fingerpicked its a joy, and more so than many other concerts at this price or above and sings quite nicely. Its fun to play too, and I've struggled to put this one down. My readers will also know that I am not a huge fan of Aquila standard strings, but they seem to suit this well, they don't bark or boom and the whole thing sounds sweet.
And there is my summary - this now goes firmly in the camp of ukes I will recommend for beginners looking at the concert scale on a budget (and, by budget, I mean a proper budget and not £19.99 for a musical instrument). It should be a well considered choice if you are going for a Lanikai LU21 concert or the starter Kala ukes in many respects. In fact, it beats the over built guitar makers 'solid' ukes that cost considerably more in many ways (I am looking at you Oscar Schmidt, Fender, Ibanez etc). It comes highly recommended by me and sits as one of my favourite entry level concerts.
At this price - none at all.
Looks - 9
Fit and Finish - 9
Sound - 8
Value For Money - 9.5
OVERALL - 8.9 out of 10