A welcome return to Got A Ukulele for a brand I had reviewed favourably before. This time it's a Super Soprano scale instrument from Cocobolo Ukuleles
I won't go over the background in too much detail as you can read about that in my review of the Cocobolo Tenor, but these are handmade instruments from Nicaragua, made from all solid Cocobolo wood. They've taken the uke market by storm and have proved incredibly popular on account of their striking looks. As you will see from that tenor review though, they also play and sound great too!
So this one comes in an increasingly popular size called the Super Soprano. Basically that is a soprano body with a longer neck, and are often called 'long neck sopranos' too. It's essentially a concert scale neck on a soprano body, meaning more frets.
So aside from the longer neck, this is a typically soprano sized and shaped instrument, with a traditional double bout shape.
The first thing that struck me about this one, like the tenor I reviewed, was the looks. It's absolutely stunning to look at. In my review of the tenor I said I was disappointed that it wasn't bookmatched on the top and back, rather a more random swirl of cocobolo. It was still beautiful, but I hankered for it to be book-matched. I was thrilled to see that this one was a book-matched version meaning that the two pieces of tone wood on the top (and the back) match perfectly like a mirror down the middle. On the top, that book matching makes great use of the much paler sap wood of the cocobolo, creating a cream coloured stripe down the middle. It contrasts brilliantly to the deep red brown of the rest of the wood. I just love it. There is otherwise no binding or decoration on the top, but when the wood looks this good, it hardly needs it. This is one of the prettiest ukuleles I have reviewed.
The sides are in two pieces, and similarly matched, with a nice stripe of paler wood around nearer the back and an inlaid detail stripe where the sides meet at the base.
The back has a nice arch to it, makes similar use of the sap wood to create a pale stripe down the middle and also has a very attracive darker cocobolo inlay running down the join. It's gorgeous.
Complimenting the traditional sound hole on the top, this one is also complete with a side sound port. This is another sound hole on the top side which projects sound up to the player. They are regularly seen on some high end instruments and they really do work well. I would add though, that this feature is an extra on the standard spec.
Bridge wise we have a cocobolo bridge mount holding a bone saddle. The saddle is slightly curved to match the radius of the fretboard (more on that later). Unlike the tenor though, this isn't a standard tie bar bridge, but rather involves the strings running directly through the body. It's not a feature that you see that often, but it is effective. Saying that though, in my opinion it does make string changes far more fiddly than they need to be as you have to fish the strings out of the sound hole to tie knots in them before pulling them tight to the tuners. In its defence I would say that it looks very smart. I'd still prefer a more standard bridge though.
The whole body is finished in a very tactile satin coat. It's incredibly nice on the hands but I do wonder if a mirror gloss would bring that cocobolo grain out even more. That's not a critisism though as the wood is plenty pretty as it is.
Looking inside the instrument and it's all reasonably tidy. There are one or two glue spots, but nothing dramatic. We have notched kerfing and fairly thin braces.
Up to the mahogany neck and this is made of several pieces with a joint at the heel and the headstock. It's also complete with an inlaid cocobolo 'skunk stripe' that contrasts nicely with the paler wood down the back of the neck. The OCD in me notes that the stripe slightly off centre and that would really irritate me though!
On top of the neck is a cocobolo fretboard, which, like the tenor has a radius. That is to say the top of the fretboard isn't flat, but has a slight curve to it from side to side. The jury is split on whether this feature assists playing, with some people not liking them, and some loving them. I'm fairly in the 'love' camp with radius boards. I think they are noticeably more comfortable and natural feeling. Given the choice, I would always have one myself.
Once again, they have made use of the sapwood of the cocobolo with a really striking pale section in the wood up near the nut. I think it looks great. Being a super soprano it's fitted with 18 nickel silver frets with 15 to the body. This is far more than a standard soprano and really welcomed, particularly if you play up at the dusty end of the neck.. The frets are all dressed on the edges really well too. In my tenor review I pointed out that I would have liked to see more crowning to the frets as they were a bit hard on the fingers. They seem to have improved that a little, but I would still like more crowning. This is a minor point and this fret style is actually more vintage. The fretboard edges are not bound, but you don't really see the fret edges either.
We have white mother of pearl fret markers set into the fretboard at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th spaces and these are repeated on the side. Oddly, the side markers on this ukulele come as standard, but the fretboard markers are a $20 addition. I've never seen that before as an option, but at least the side markers cost you nothing extra!
Past the bone nut, we have a generic three pointed crown shaped headstock which too has a bookmatched double veneer on the face. The back is also veneered with a slab of cocobolo showing off both the dark and light woods. I think the whole thing looks great and anything but dull.
Tuning is provided by wonderful open geared Grovers. Really really good quality tuners these, but you know what I am going to say.. this is a soprano. I'd LOVE to have seen good quality friction pegs
on it! PLEASE!
This model came strung with Worth Brown strings which again are actually an extra at another $20. I have no idea what strings you get if you don't pay that extra. I presume it does actually come with strings!! The tenor I reviewed came with Aquila strings as standard, but I really don't quite get why a set of Worth Browns represents a price increase? Some people like them, but some people like Aquila. They both have their fans and I don't think one brand is better than the other. Either way, if you are selling a ukulele I really don't see that strings should be too much of an issue anyway (so long as you don't use ultra cheap nylon rubbish). Most people change them to suit their preference anyway, so just sell me a ukulele with a half decent set of strings on it, I don't really mind what they are.
So onto that pricing model. The standard spec super soprano (meaning no side sound port, no worth strings and no fretboard markers) will come in at $379 which I think is an excellent price for a ukulele of this spec. With the sound port, Worth strings and freboard markers it moves up to $459 which I still think is a great price, but I just find the pricing model to be a little odd. Personally I would take the side sound port as I like it a lot, but couldn't see me paying an extra $40 just to have fret markers and Worth strings.. Incidentally, you may have spotted a strap button in the pictures. This one was actually fitted with a pickup, but I don't believe they are offering those now. They will however fit you a strap button for another $10. All in all, I would prefer a single price myself.
Let's have a play though. First off, to hold the instrument, as I say, is really tactile. That satin is very nice on the hands and the whole thing feels solid and well made. There are no flaws on it anwhwere at all that I can see. It's also very nicely balanced. It feels heavier than you would expect for a soprano, but then cocobolo is a dense wood, and we do have that extra long neck. What is pleasing me is that despite that extra weight, it is still nicely balanced in the hands.
Checking the intonation and all over the neck it's exactly what I would expect. Visually I thought the saddle looked a little high, but the action above the 12th fret is actually just how I would like it. The nut is a little high, but not enough to create tuning issues so no complaints really.
Sound wise it's much warmer than you'd expect a soprano to sound, but strummed hard you still get a very staccato punchy soprano voice if you want it. Much more like a concert, but with a smaller body and a voice that I found very pleasing. Strummed more softly and things sound much more jangly. It's got quite a range of tones really, and that is the mark of a responsive instrument. Lifeless this is NOT.
There is bags of sustain, volume and ring to the notes and fingerpicking is particularly nice on the ear. I found picking particularly nice and the comfort of that neck probably had something to do with that. The individual notes are particularly clear and defined, and come together nicely when strummed in a rich mix.
And that side sound port really does its job. It doesn't add much for an audience, but coupled with the vibrations you feel in your chest when you play it, it's nice to have that 'in your face' sound coming directly up at you.
All in all it's a warm, rich sounding beast that I think not only looks beautiful, but is really enjoyable to hold and play too. I'd prefer a clearer price model, but even with the extras, I think this is still good value for what you are getting. Once again, Got A Ukulele would give Cocobolo a strong recommendation!
Beautiful looks and bookmatching
Great tuners (but see cons below!)
Lots of different voices to the tone depending on your play
Side sound port adds to richness for the player.
Good core price
Odd pricing options. I wouldn't pay extra for fret markers and strings!
Would prefer a less fiddly bridge
Would actually prefer good friction pegs on a soprano
Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 9.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz