Time for something rather special on Got A Ukulele as we take a look at a luthier built instrument from the UK, crafted by Chris Perkins.
Chris is a luthier based in Staffordshire who makes a variety of stringed instruments to some high level acclaim and who has also been building ukuleles. Chris doesn't take commissions, but as he explained it to me, he builds to his own tastes on individual instruments and then moves on to the next one. I was delighted to meet him recently and take one of his tenor ukuleles on loan.
This one is in standard tenor scale and shape with a very curvy lower bout and made of all solid Makore wood. That's not a wood name I had heard of before, but it's more commonly known as African Cherry. And boy is it pretty. The two piece top, back and sides on this one are simply stunning with a colour verging on the red end of the scale and rather beautiful flaming that moves and shimmers under lights. Certainly one of those instruments that made me say 'wow' when I opened th case, as Chris himself saw when he dropped this one off with me.
The body is finished in a hand sprayed gloss which surprised me as most small scale luthiers don't tend to do this as it's both difficult and time consuming. Chris chooses to though, and has clearly put the effort in and taken great care - we are talking many thin coats here and lots of sanding back, as he has created an impeccable mirror finish on this wood that really makes the Makore wood pop and shine.
The back on this one is very delicately curved to assist with projection. Like the top, this really shows of the wood pattern and is nicely bookmatched.
Bridge wise, this is a pin bridge style and quite complex in it's build. It's made from American walnut with a burr walnut cap and sycamore stripe detailing. The pins themselves are made of boxwood and the saddle is made of ebony. Phew! It looks incredibly pretty and that use of walnut and sycamore becomes a motif that repeats in other parts of the ukulele as you will see. The first repeat of this is in the tail which is inlaid with a walnut burr and sycamore edged detailing stripe and houses the tortoiseshell strap button.
Glancing inside and we have an extremely tidy build, delicate fan bracing, delicate kerfing and absolutely no mess. The linings and bracings are made of Sitka Spruce. Even the makers label looks extremely classy, with the instrument numbered and signed by Chris. In fact the whole body build is clearly extremely nicely done with no gaps or issues. That top wood is also supremely thin and a tap of the body shows the resonance of a drum.
Up to the neck, this is made of a single piece of mahogany with a heel cap of walnut and sycamore matching the tail and bridge. Like I said, this detailing repeats around the instrument and I really do like that. Or rather, I really DON'T like instruments that use a confusing mix of detailing as if they have just thrown everything to hand at it during the build. Repeating details show an attention to detail in the styling that really matters to me. The neck profile is very traditional and shallow at the nut end and is also finished in the same gloss. At 39mm it's also wider than the average factory built neck which is wonderful. The neck is bolted and glued in place which I think is a sensible choice as in the fullness of time it means it can be more easily removed and adjusted if needed.
Topping the neck is a fingerboard of flamed black American Walnut with dressed edges. It always surprises me that many ukuleles don't use the fingerboard to show of more attractive woods, yet Chris has done just that here. It shimmers under the light with the flame look running in diagonal stripes down the board. It's stunning. The fingerboard itslef also runs down over the body and is shaped over the top of the sound hole.
Fitted into this are 20 nickel silver frets which are pleasingly chunky and dressed impeccably. We have no outward facing position markers, as Chris explained to me, why would you want to detract from that flaming on the wood? I personally think small delicate dots would set it off myself though. Thankfully we DO have side position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th in small inlaid pearl dots. The nut follows the saddle in that it is made from ebony.
Up to the headstock and we have more pretty. It's a simple design, and thankfully not another Martin clone. It's face in the same burr Walnut over a sliver of Sycamore and is simply beautiful. In fact when you look at it, your eye is immediately drawn to the headstock.
Fitted into this are Grover open geared tuners with gold metalwork and cream buttons. They are tuners I regularly recommend as they are extremely decent and it's good to see them here.
Chris supplies his ukuleles with a pod case and Titanium D'Addario strings and in this sort of spec you would be looking at a price of around £895. I actually think that is an extremely keen price when you consider that this is hand made and take int account the level of detailing on display here. And bear in mind, as I say, Chris doesn't build to order. His ukuleles are all 'one-off's' and no two are the same. In that sense you really are getting something unique with each one.
So rather wonderful build and rather wonderful looks. You guessed it, but it's also one of those that I worry about reviewing for the simple reason that I am just not good enough of a player to do it justice.
In the hands though this is lighter than you would expect and perfectly balanced. The gloss is also nicely applied all over and in no way feels sticky or grippy as can often be the case with more crudely applied finishes. It really is an instrument that made me smile when I picked it up.
The setup and intonation is absoluetely spot on with both saddle and nut being just about perfect.
The first thing that struck me about this one was the sustain, which is long and deep. Really satisfying for fingerpicking play. And that's where this instrument really shines to me. It has a very pretty tone that was actually brighter than I expected it to be for a tenor - bell like I suppose you could call it.
Strumming is good too of course, with a real jangle to the sound as the harmonics play with each other, but not a confused or muddy tone. One thing I would say is that when strummed it's not as loud as I would have expected it to be. I strongly suspect that this is to do with the Titanium strings as I am not a fan and had exactly the same experience of them on another tenor - lovely for fingerpicking, less to my tastes for strumming. But like I always say, strings are a personal choice and I know many people who like these ones. Personally though, I would change them. It's not a ukulele with a bark or sharp attack, but I guess that would be missing the point a little.
It's a very mature and high quality sounding instrument that is a far cry from the harsher sounds you get at the cheaper factory end of the ukulele world. One would also expect wood of this calibre to open and improve with age.
But the string choice is about the only thing I would change about this one, and that's hardly the fault of the luthier. Absolutely evertything else about this one is from the top drawer, both in looks, build quality, finish and of course the tone. Just delightful.
You can contact Chris through his YouTube page below, but as I said, don't expect to send him a shopping list for what you want. What you may find though is he will let you know what he is building next and when to expect it. I can think of a few lovers of high end instruments who will be beating a path to his door.
https://www.youtube.com/user/perkinsukulele or email him on firstname.lastname@example.org
Wonderful woods, finish and build quality
Use of repeating wood trims giving it a 'theme'
Love that bridge
Great bell like tone
I would change the strings myself..
Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.3 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz