I was absolutely thrilled to have the chance to review another aNueNue ukulele on the site, this time in the form of the UT200 Moon Bird Tenor.
I featured the first aNueNue ukulele on the site only fairly recently in their Africa Mahogany model (and it was a cracker). It was strange that it was the first, as when I started out writing, aNueNue were pretty widely available on these shores. Then they became next to impossible to find in the UK, and at the time of writing that last review I had to also explain that there wasn't a UK dealer I was aware of. Well things have changed as you will read further on. But first, let's take a closer look at it.
The UT200, or 'Moon Bird tenor' is right up there at pretty much the top end of the current aNueNue ukulele line up. It's an intriguing name for sure. I believe the 'bird' element in the name is because it is based on their M200 Bird guitar, and as for the moon,.... well you will see in the details. Either that or it sings like a bird and makes you howl at the moon... We shall see.
It's a fairly (and I stress 'fairly') standard shaped tenor ukulele in that it is in a double bout shape. But a common tenor template this is not. For a start, that lower bout is super rounded and fat which I really like - reminiscent of grand auditorium guitars. At the top of the body we have something that people may call a 'cutaway'. But it's less a cutaway and more of a 'staggered shoulder' on the top bout. It does the same thing as a cutaway (ie gives easier access to high frets), but there is nothing 'cut' away as such. I know some people think cutaways affect tone and get seriously stressed about it. I say 'life is too short' and there are far too many other variables to affect sound to make a fair comparison. Either way, with that large lower bout, it's hardly like the UT200 is short on soundboard material! Whatever your views, I think the shape is beautiful. Clearly a ukulele shape but refreshingly 'different'.
The top of the instrument is made from a beautifully pale and even solid Swiss spruce and it looks fabulous. The grain is dead straight and it's impossible to tell apart the two pieces that make the top. The top edges are bound in rosewood, but in a way that is really quite different. Rather than a straight uniform strip of binding with the typical black and white detail strip, the visible binding on the top kind of flows in a variable wave around the edge. I think it's really effective and different. You may be forgiven for thinking it's part of a comfort edge chamfer, but it isn't - it's just a different take on binding and I applaud them for that.
Around the sound hole we have an inlaid rosette in spalted maple, and this gives your first clue to the 'moon' motif with the instrument. The rosette is kind of offset giving a kind of crescent shape on one side. Again, really different and really effective.
The bridge plate is made from ebony in a shape that is again different to most standard ukuleles and is a tie bar style. The saddle is made from buffalo bone.
Moving to the other parts of the body, the back and sides of the instrument are made from solid East Indian Rosewood. It's a striking contrast to the pale top wood and has been used as combination by some of the worlds highest end guitar makers. The rosewood is deep and warm in colour with plenty of stripe to provide interest which is nicely book matched on the back pieces. The joint between the back and sides is bound in rosewood, but without the wave as it would be lost against the rosewood back. The back is only very slightly arched. The sides are in two pieces with a joint at the base. People sometimes asssume that a ukulele 'must' have a massively arched or curved back. Not true. Many manufacturers do that to assist in projection where other elements of the build may be limiting it - to compensate if you like. You don't need a significant curve to the back if your ukulele already projects well. We shall see how this one gets on when we play it.
The whole body is finished in gloss, and it really is quite a gloss. Certainly one of the best I have seen without a single flaw I could find. On that dark wooden back, it really is like a mirror. A serious fingerprint magnet though!
Looking inside and things are impressively tidy. The kerfing is notched. aNueNue specs suggest that this instrument is braced using a 'Mount Fuji voiced brace design' designed by luthier Mitsuta Morihiko. I will level with you to admit that I have NO idea what that means. If the bracing pattern is different (which it may be), it's impossible for me to see it... The back braces are visible and to me look pretty standard.
The neck is made from mahogany with a joint at the heel and a hard to spot joint at the headstock. It's finished in satin meaning it doesn't feel sticky and has a pretty slim profile (that is to say, slim in depth not in width). I really like the shaping of the neck heel on this which seems different enough from the norm to warrant a mention. For those interested, that nut width is actually 1.5 inches or 38mm, putting it on the wider end of the scale alongside Hawaiian K brands. That's another thumbs up for me.
Topping the neck is a deep black ebony fingerboard that is flawless. The edges are bound which hides the fret edges too.
We have 20 nickel silver frets in total, with 14 to the top shoulder and 17 to the lower shoulder. They are all dressed perfectly and the edges hidden by binding on the edge of the fingerboard. The frets are what I would consider in guitar circles to be of the more vintage jumbo style. That isn't to say they are high (quite the opposite) but that they are fatter than most you see on ukuleles which seem nothing more than thin fuse wire. These are immensely comfortable. The sort of frets that do their job but your fingers don't really know they are there. Wonderful.
Fret markers are provided on the face of the fingerboard at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces. They are made from what look like more of the inlaid spalted maple and are wonderfully shaped as moon phases as you move up the neck - the moon getting progressively more full as you go up. What a nice touch. Even better, the position markers are repeated on the side in small white dots for the player.
Past the bone nut we have what I think is now the generic aNueNue headstock. I like that it differs from lazier designs like three pointed crowns, and I like how it is finished (ebony facing cap, aNueNue logo inlaid in pearl)... but, is it wrong of me to say this? Compared to the rest of the instrument it kind of looks a bit plain to me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this headstock, but I just thought it perhaps needed more of the moon or bird logic applying to it. Minor gripe!
Flipping the headstock over and all that is forgotten when you see they have provided Gotoh UPT planetary tuners. These are SERIOUSLY good tuners, and provide all the benefits of gears in a form factor similar to friction pegs. I was so pleased to see these and the black metalwork also looks a treat. Elsewhere on the headstock we have the holographic sticker of authenticity.
Completing the deal are what aNueNue call 'Black Water' strings (which I assume are black flurorocarbon, they certainly feel like it) and what is probably the best hard case that is included in a deal I have EVER seen in my reviews. It's finsished in a dusky blue leatherette tolex that is padded and soft to touch everywhere. The hinges and clasps are superb quality and finished in aged brass and also lockable and all the edges are stitched. The handle is amazingly padded and the velour inside is just beautiful. At the top of the case is a stamped aNueNue logo. I really REALLY love this hard case. In fact if I could get away with filling this review with pictures of the case I would!
And for all of that you are looking at a dealer price of around £1,148 in the UK. You can push that price up as aNueNue offer it with a couple of pickup options, but this is the base acoustic price. A serious price for sure, setting it alongside high end tenors like Kamaka and Kanile'a, but does it play like a serious ukulele? And yes, I can hear traditionalists falling to the floor saying 'that much for a Chinese instrument?', but I hope we can deal with that myth too.
First up, I think you have probably gleaned from my description and the pictures, that this ukulele is flawless in its construction. Seriously, I cannot find anything wrong with it at all. It feels comfortably solid and well made and whichever angle you look at it it's warm, classy, smart and just wonderful.
Thankfully, in the hands it doesn't disappoint either. It's not heavy, but doesn't feel flimsy or overly delicate either. It's also wonderfully balanced to hold.
Without a doubt, the first thing that strikes you when you play this is the stunning volume and projection. This is a loud and strident ukulele. In fact one of the most forward ukuleles I have ever played and up there with something like the Blackbird Clara. It's staggering in fact and really surprising. Maybe there is something in that bracing, but certainly that large lower bout is assisting here. That isn't to say it's a one trick pony on volume though, as it is just as easily played softly. But if you give it a heavy strum you really will rattle the windows. Marvellous!
But as I always say, volume is nothing if the tone then disappoints. Thankfully the quality shines through here also. It's a complex and varied town that reacts wonderfully depending on how you play it. For a start it has bass if you need it. This is strung in re-entrant G so that surprised me too, but what is coming through here is the range it has. It's a rich, rounded tone when you strum or pick more pronounced on the C string or lower positions. But it's balanced out perfectly (to my ears) by the soaring ring of the higher strings, particularly if you move up the neck. It's quite remarkable really as it never seems to miss a beat no matter what you ask of it. Want soft and sweet? It can do that. Want punchy staccato? ? It can do that. Want wonderful lingering sustain? It can do that. Want both together? It can do that.
Never do you play this one, whether strummed or picked and find that some of the notes are lost in the mix. They all sit there bright and clear.
It's all about the clarity of tone and dynamic range with this one. A ukulele that can be as soft as a kitten if you want it to be, but equally can turn into a wild tiger with the right treatment. I suspect part of it is down to the size of the body, but also it's the natural brightness of spruce mixed with warmth provided by the rosewood back and sides. Whatever it is, it works.
Let's cut to the chase...this instrument is an absolute delight and hands down one of the best instruments I have EVER had the pleasure of featuring. And from China too... you see, if you are down on China just because it's, well.. China - then you are completely behind the curve now. Yes they make some shockingly bad instruments at the cheap end, but things have moved on at the higher end. This is a stunningly good ukulele and I don't care where it came from.
Boy... this has been a hard review to write. Am I really giving this the best score on Got A Ukulele ever? Well, yes, I am. It's close, but it IS the best. I have played a LOT of ukuleles but not all of them, so perhaps there is a better one out there. But I can only write as I find and this ukulele is wonderful. I want this ukulele!
And as I also said - i'm delighted that since my last aNueNue review to learn that my home country now has a dealer where you can buy these direct. Just head over to World Of Ukes and speak to Matt who has had these exact models in store!
Body shape which is traditional yet different
Superb (and I mean superb) finish
Nice theme with moon motifs
Excellent build quality
Staggering volume, projection, sustain
Bright / deep / firm / delicate - it can be all those things - excellent dynamic range
Wide nut and comfortable frets
Marvellous hard case
Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finsish - 10 out of 10
Sound - 9.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.5 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz