You spend four plus years reviewing ukuleles and never come across a bass uke, then in the space of a month and a half, two come along at once! Yes, it's time for some LOW END, and quite an unusual one this. The 'Afan' ukulele bass from Buzzards Field Basses.
The Afan model (he makes other slightly smaller ones too) is essentially a modified small bodied guitar. In this case a Tanglewood half sized classical guitar, and because of that, the bulk of the construction is already in place. These guitars are laminate spruce topped and linden wood back and sides and come in either red, or this rather fetching electric blue colour (me like!). They are roughly baritone uke sized (perhaps a little bigger), and thats really the trick here - a good sized bass ukulele! As I say though, his 'Tintern' model is a little smaller if that is what you prefer and I believe Darren will also take instruments you can supply to make the conversion. In fact, he also sells build your own bass kits with the requisite parts to turn any small guitar into a U Bass.
This puts me in a slightly different position in this review that I am in with other ukes, as the build of the main parts of the uke (body and neck) are not Darrens. As such, if there are flaws on the finish (and there are, just here and there), that is down to Tanglewood and not Buzzards Field Basses! Sure he could work with higher end guitars, but it is important to note that part of his build plan in creating these uke basses was keeping the price reasonable. The base price (excuse the pun) of the Afan model comes in at £170, so considerably cheaper than the Kala U Bass.
So rather than go over the finish (its blue, its glossy, black binding, large sound hole rosette, 18 frets (12 to the body) no fretboard markers, side markers at 5, 7, 9 and 12), lets take a look at what Darren does to these guitars to make them all bass! First up, a standard guitar bridge is not going to be big enough to tie off bass guitar strings. (Incidentally, they come with Aquila Thundergut strings - you know my views on these....). So he has added in a wooden tailplate drilled through the body at the base of the top to take the strings. Not only does this provide the space for the strings to be tied off but also sets the spacing of the strings at the bridge end. Flipping the bass over and there is a hole drilled in the back with a rubber plug bung closing it off. It is through here that you feed the strings and tie knots behind the top to hold them in place. Clever. And it works - the strings are spaced just great.
Of course, this is not a ukulele sized neck, its a guitar, but that is just perfect for good spacing of the bass strings and feels very similar to other uke basses I have seen.
There is a similar issue with the gauge of strings at the nut, so he has removed the stock guitar nut and fitted a hand carved wooden nut that comprises four v shaped notches to hold the strings at the other end. It looks a little rough and ready, but it works. It is also removable if you wanted to adjust it easily.
Up to the headstock and what do you do with a guitar head that holds six tuners when you only need four? Well, the headstock is sawn down and the top two tuners (these are side mounted gears - typical classical guitar style) are removed, but the top of the headstock is reserved and then re fitted and held in place by the redundant metal frame of the tuners. Another clever idea, but another thing that looks a little rough and ready. To be fair though I am not sure what else he could have done and I do quite like it.
On the tuners, Darren warns that due to the tension, if mistreated one may shear the pinion cog on the tuner. One thing I have liked about Darren in his communications with me is how honest he is. I don't think they will shear, but he does go to the trouble of sending out spare cogs with the uke just in case! For me, if that concern is there I wonder whether he would look at fitting bass tuners for total peace of mind.
Tuning wise (and this is the key to pleasing true bass fans) it is tuned to EADG, but unlike the Kamoa E3E which I liked (and many readers didn't) its tuned an octave below that - so true bass. It is because of that the Buzzards Field needs to use the Aquila strings as steel string tension would be too much and pull the instrument apart.
Completing the deal on this particular model is a 4 band eq powered by a battery and a pickup fitted under the saddle, a jack socket on the butt off to one side and a butt end strap button. I think the whole thing looks great. Quirky, but great. And there is nothing wrong with quirky in my book.
So how do I like it? Well I am not a bass player, but I just keep picking this one up. It's partly the looks, but it is very nice to play and I just like the whole concept. The setup just works. His choices on the tail piece and the nut may look a little rough, but they do their job. Action is just right and I found it to be a fast comfortable neck to play, with comfortable string spacing too.
Sound wise, a couple of plus points - it is quite a bit louder unplugged than the Kalas on account of the larger body. Sure you will need to amplify it to be heard in a band or club, but for practice at home it has a punch and that is part of why I keep picking it up. This is a good thing. Plugged in is a treat too. I don't think that pickup is too high a quality model, but it works, doesnt sound too 'electric' and carries lots of thump. It is also nicely balanced across the strings.
Negative points are simple, but as I say, I can't really blame the Company for the finish on the underlying guitar. I wonder whether a coloured finish / stain / gloss on the tailpiece may make it look a little nicer though, and the headstock joint does look a touch scruffy - but these are built to fulfil a requirement on cost and I admire them for that. Darren did tell me that he will work with buyers to meet all reasonable requirements so I suppose the sky is the limit. Personally though, I would try to respect his mission statement, and at the end of the day, a finish doesn't make sound. On sound it seems great to me. One other point on that - because they are bespoke and will depend on the core guitar used to make the bass, you are getting something unique every time too.
Yes I could moan about the strings, I still don't like them, but this is what it is, and can assure you that this review is not scored down in any way on account of the strings.
Overall, I am always a huge fan of innovation and people striking out on their own. As such, if you are in the Uke bass market and put off by the price of the Kalas, I really do think these should be on your list for checking out. Support your local innovator!
More details at http://www.buzzardsfieldbasses.co.uk
Playability and setup
Some rough finishing
Looks - 8.5
Fit and Finish - 7.5
Sound - 9
Value For Money - 10
OVERALL - 8.8 out of 10
To understand my review scoring and see this result in context - visit my review page at