A second review on Got A Ukulele for Flight Music, in the form of their DUS 320 SP/ZEB Soprano uke.
This is another entry level ukulele from the Slovenian based brand, also made in China like the NUS 310 Soprano ukulele I reviewed earlier in the year. Whilst Flight do make some slightly higher end instruments, this is another of their value models made from all laminate woods. I've been keen to give them another ukulele review.
Unlike the NUS 310, this one employs a couple of contrasting laminate veneers with the SP in the name representing the Spruce used on the top and ZEB representing Zebrawood as used on the back and sides of the instrument. It's certainly a contrasting look that I like and that I have seen used by several other brands. On their website, Flight talk about these two woods providing contrasting tone, and this comment confused me. If these were two pieces of solid wood, I could understand the sound differences they would offer, but with two laminates, I personally don't find that the outer veneer imparts signature tone to the construction. Saying all of that, regular readers will know that I am not necessarily 'down' on laminate ukuleles and think they have their place. Sounds like marketing speak to me though.
So we have a very standard shaped and scaled soprano ukulele with a double bout and a pleasing rounded base. As I say, I like the contrast between the two woods, but otherwise the instrument is fairly plain, finished as it is in satin. It does however show of the veneer wood grain, particularly on the striking zebrawood, but also on the spruce top in which the grain is straight. Saying that, the satin is quite thin on the top and in testing this model it quite quickly picked up finger nail marks.
Being laminate, the top is made from a single piece of laminate spruce, not that bookmatching in spruce is particularly noticeable in any event. The edges of the top are bound but Flight do not say in what. I suspect it is just stained wood veneer, but it does add a bit of extra interest to the edging. Around the sound hole we have a laser engraved rosette which also looks quite nice.
The bridge is a screwed on tie bar design made from rosewood, and the saddle is uncompensated bone.
The zebrawood stripe is nicely matched on the two side pieces, and the same applies to the back which also employs two bookmatched pieces of veneer. The back is also slightly arched, and also edge bound where it meets the sides. Aside from the distinctive pattern of the zebrawood, the finish shows off the open pores quite nicely if you like that sort of thing.
Inside looks tidy and interestingly the inside of the side pieces show the same zebrawood striping. This is somewhat unusual for a laminate as the outer veneer is usually only applied to the outside of the instrument leaving the inside faces plain (like the back is on this one). The fact I can see more zebrawood leads me to believe that the laminate is actually strips of zebrawood. That doesn't make the sides 'solid wood' but I thought I would mention it. Otherwise we have no glue spots, and thin bracing and notched kerfing.
Up to the neck and this is a pale Okoume hardwood like the NUS 310 employs and is made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and the headstock. It is all finished in satin.
Topping this is an evenly coloured rosewood fingerboard with end shaping detail and 12 nickel silver frets. Unlike the 310, the fret edges on this review model are very smooth and nicely done. We have pearloid position markers at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces, and although there are no side markers, Flight tell me that current production models are putting side markers on since my last review. Got A Ukulele strikes again! Either way, this is a considerably nicer neck than I reviewed on the 310.
We have a bone nut before a typical three pointed crown shaped headstock. It is faced in more of the striking zebrawood veneer and the Flight logo is nicely engraved. Also engraved into the face of the headstock is another flower style logo mimicing the sound hole decoration.
Flipping it over and I see that the tuners are leagues better than the wobbly open gears used on the NUS 310. Sure they are still unbranded gears (would still prefer friction pegs!) in chrome, but they are good enough quality and work just fine. So many brands at this price just get it wrong with massive buttons and cheap tuners. These are perfectly passable.
Completeting the package is a set of Aquila strings and a nice quality embroidered Flight gig bag with shoulder strap and front package. As I said, this is an entry level instrument and commands and RRP of €99, although I am seeing them online for considerably less than that.
To hold, the instrument is not overly heavy, and it is nicely balanced too. Generally speaking the construction also feels sound as well, and nothing feels weak or roughly done.
The setup on the saddle and nut both need some work. The saddle only needs to come down a touch, and is on the verge of being passable, but the nut is just far too high, leading to some intonation issues at the lower frets. Nothing major, and fixable though, so I would recommend buying this from a store that offers a setup, or budget in the need to get it checked over. Just to make a point on this issue. I regularly get emails from readers asking for ukulele recommendations that have 'good intonation'. There is no such thing - and by that I mean that ANY ukulele can have bad intonation if the setup needs adjusting. It is not something symptomatic of any brand - rather more symptomatic of the dealer you bought it from. So as I say - this one can be easily adjusted and for that reason I don't mark down instruments if the intonation is purely down to the adjustable elements that are designed to be adjustable. What I can confirm on this one is the issue seems in no way connected to anything more fatal in the construction! We digress.
So nice to hold, nicely made, what about the sound? Well, first impressions were that in comparison to the NUS 310, this is significantly better. That last Flight I looked at sounded very thin and boxy on the tone, but this one has a lot more going on. The volume is good, the notes are pretty clear and it's certainly bright. Sustain isn't great to be honest, but I have played much worse. Yes, it's kind of one dimensional, but then I find that a lot of laminate ukuleles are at this price point - hence my confusion on the marketing speak about the spruce and zebrawood above. But it's a passable instrument that actually performs well and will suit a beginner better than some of the dreadful rubbish still about. I was particularly impressed with it when fingerpicked as it does have some chime to it too.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a high end complex tone, but then it is not trying or pretending to be. But as I say - still perfectly acceptable. I think this one is following what is a pleasing trend in ukuleles from China at the cheap end in the recent year. When I started out on ukulele there were some truly woeful instruments out there at the cheap end. Things that should never have left the factory. Sure, there still are, but they are being drowned out by an increasing number of better made cheap instruments. For the new ukulele player not looking to spend a fortune, I think things have never been better in terms of choice and reliability. Of course with more choice comes harder decisons on what to buy, but hey, that's what Got A Ukulele is for!
So in summary - this one is not getting a stellar score, but it's not getting a bad one either. I think if you were considering one of these as a first instrument, or for a child, then you could do a lot worse. And you can't argue with the price. Just factor in that you may need to do some adjusting on the setup. Pleasantly surprised with this one.
Good general build quality
Decent gig bag
Better quality tuners
Needs some setup on this review model
Satin finish is quite thin
Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8 out of 10
Sound - 7.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.1 out of 10
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© Barry Maz