Ukulele review time, and a brand name that I haven't yet featured on the site despite me having played a few for several years. It's a Concert model from far eastern brand aNueNue - their Africa Mahogany II Concert model.
When this one arrived it was one of those 'intake of breath' moments as I opened the case. It's not often a ukulele does that to me, and I do see a LOT of ukuleles. On occasion though one just looks really rather beautiful on the first lift of the case lid. This one did that to me, because I think it is, frankly, rather lovely. But let's get down to the specifications before I gush too much.
It's a Concert scale model, and a fairly standard one at that. I make that point as aNueNue also offer this in a jumbo bodied concert size as well as a concert. The instrument is made from all solid tone woods, with this one having a body made from African Mahogany. I say it's fairly standard, but the shape for me has enough uniqueness about it to make it stand out. That lower bout is wider than most common concert shapes and the butt of the instrument is not flat but curved. Little things like that can give an instrument that certain something.
The top is made of two pieces as is the unarched back and the sides. The wood is really rather splendid. Mahogany is not always recognised for its beauty but the choice of wood coupled with the gloss finish on this really creates an instrument that glows in the light. It's a warm brown orange with some stripe and flame that I think is absolutely delightful. That gloss is another star of the show here as it really is mirror flat and flawless. There is no finish pooling or bubbles on the instrument anywhere.
Setting off the rest of the body is dark (possibly ebony) edge binding to the top and back an and inlaid abalone sound hole rosette. It all goes together I think to create an instrument that looks fancy but classy at the same time. Regular readers will know that I don't go in for bling and often even class gloss as bling. I could happily live with this one though - as I say - it's a combination.
We have a bridge plate that is an unusual shape that I think works well complete with a bone compensated and arched saddle piece. It's a tie bar style and is finished very well.
Looking inside I note a very tidy build, with notched kerfing and delicate braces. The top is clearly not overly thick so I expect good things from the sound.
The neck is fairly standard in profile and width and appears to be made from three pieces of mahogany. It too is finished in gloss. Topping the neck is a rosewood fingerboard that is even in colour and nicely finished. The edges of the fretboard are unbound, but you don't see the fret edges as they are stained dark under the gloss.
Frets are nickel silver and we have 20 in total with 14 to the body join. These present my first (and only) gripe about the instrument - I would prefer them to have a softer crown to their tops. This is something I am seeing more of in ukuleles these days and it may just be personal opinion. It's a more traditional style of fret work but for me I find these jar the fingers a little when you slide up the neck. I prefer frets to be smooth. That isn't to say they are rough (they are not) or unfinished (no sharp edges here). Just that I find the crowning a little angular. Minor point.
We have position markers in pearloid inlays at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th spaces and thankfully these are repeated on the side.
Past the bone nut we have a headstock that thankfully isn't a common crown shape, faced in what looks like rosewood or possibly ebony (or darker mahogany!) with the aNueNue logo inlaid in pearl.
Tuning is provided by open gears that look very like open geared grovers, but are actually stamped 'aNueNue'. Either way, they are high quality and work great - trust me, I can tell. They are finished with black plastic buttons which are not overly large.
Completing the deal are strings that appear to be clear fluorocarbon. I think they are aNueNue own brand choice, so could be anything really. They work well though.
And all of that can be yours for about $500... if you can find one (more on that later).
To hold, the instrument is not overly heavy and it's nicely balanced in the hands without a strap. That gloss finish is never sticky and it feels 'nice' in the hands. The setup on this example is spot on with an action that needs not adjusting at either the bridge or nut, and intonation very accurate right up the neck. No complaints so far.
I have to admit that I am not actually a huge fan of concert ukuleles. For me they are neither one thing or the other and I tend to go for either tenors or sopranos. This one though feels like there is more to it. Strummed this is immediately noticeable by the great projection and even greater sustain. I do love a ukulele where you can feel the vibrations in the body projecting into your chest where you cradle it and this one delivers that.
Clarity across the strings range is impressive and it has a nice balance of warmth coupled with brightness and chime that I really like. I find many mahogany concerts can be a bit 'plinky' but this has a more complex sound.
Fingerpicked it is divine on account of that sustain with notes ringing out far longer than many ukuleles would deliver at this price. As I say, the fret crowning is the only let down for me here, but it really is something I could get used to I guess.
So all in all I am rather taken by this one. It's about the sum of it's parts. No one thing is stellar and outstanding, but the various things (wood / finish / shape) seem to come together into a very pleasing whole.
If you are in Australia or the far east you will be lucky enough to find one of these in your area. Less so if you are in the UK or the US as I don't believe aNueNue currently have a distributor in these regions. I think that is a huge shame as based on the quality of this review model I'd love to see them more widely available.
Recommended if you can find one.
Many thanks to aNueNue and Alan Townsend for the loan of the instrument.
Be sure to read all my other ukulele reviews here
Looks and shape
Great sustain and projection
UKULELE CONSWould prefer softer crown on frets
Not widely available
UKULELE SCORESLooks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and Finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz