Duke 10 Tenor Banjo Ukulele - REVIEW

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13 May 2017

Duke 10 Tenor Banjo Ukulele - REVIEW

Here's a ukulele I've been looking forward to writing about. A follow up to a banjo ukulele that I really rather liked with a new, slightly larger model from Duke in the form of the new Duke 10 tenor.

Duke 10 Banjo Ukulele

For those that don't recall, I looked at their last model, the Duke Banjouke some months ago and thought it was a well priced, funky and fun instrument. I had some minor gripes, but thought it was a lot of fun for not a lot of money. Duke (the brainchild of Ed Ackman from Russell in New Zealand) have responded to requests for a larger head version of their banjo and now have this new model available for pre-order through a Kickstater campaign. I can see the sense, as a larger head banjo like the Deering ukulele I looked at proved incredibly popular and I actually think is a better pairing for a tenor neck. Whilst this isn't quite the size of the Deering's eleven inch head this ten inch drum is larger than their previous eight inch offering. (Hang on, that sounds confusing. So to recap - the first one was 8 inch, this one is 10 inch, the Deering is 11 inch..)

One of the key design aims of the previous Duke was to be as low a weight as possible. Whilst at about 1.8 kg (4 lb) the Deering is far from the heaviest banjo ukulele around, Duke wanted to repeat the low weight aspect to this one that they achieved with their last model. And surprisingly, whilst they have moved back to a wooden construction from the previous HDPE plastic, they still have kept the weight of this down to about 1 kg (2.2 lb). That's nothing for a banjo. Scale wise this one is a tenor whilst the Deering I looked at was a concert (though they do make a tenor which is a touch heavier again), but I never really think too much about normal ukulele scales when it comes to banjo ukes.

So we have a ten inch drum head on this model that appears to be made from a glossed marine maple ply, similar to the Deering. On to that is placed an aluminium tone ring topped with a black plastic covering and eight adjustable drum tensioners holding the polyvinyl head taught. Once again the drum head is branded with the Duke logo sticker with the number 10 underneath which is nice. And being a larger head it gives the instrument a much different, and in my opinion, better look than their earlier banjouke.  Whether it's the size or the more natural look of the wooden pot I can't say, but I like it more. It just looks a lot more serious as an instrument (not that the earlier one was in any way a toy I might add!).

Duke 10 Banjo Ukulele head

Fitted at the base is Duke's own design smooth tail piece which the strings pass over before being threaded into small holes in the base of the pot.  I am also really pleased to see they have repeated the inclusion of an arm rest to stop the drum tensioners digging into your arm. On the previous model I pointed out that I thought the rest looked a little 'industrial' with its matte finish, and this one improves on that with a chrome finish that looks a lot more classy.

Duke 10 Banjo Ukulele tail and bridge

We have a standard moveable three footed banjo saddle that you need to set yourself for correct intonation (not a huge job and actually something that will teach people about what intonation actually IS!) and flipping the instrument over I see that they have repeated the installation of the Schatten LP-15 pickup with an output jack on the base. Once again, I think you must be terribly sadistic if you want to make a banjo even louder, but there you are! (Seriously - it's actually a great option for stage use or recording - pickups are not just about making things louder for the sake of it..)

Duke 10 Banjo Ukulele pole and pickup

The neck is made of mahogany and finished in satin with a joint at the headstock and a kind of stacked heel running to the pole piece. And as you can see from the photos the neck then runs right through the body pot in a single piece, bolted at each end for stability and strength. I believe that means that neck relief is unajustable, so action would be adjusted by sanding down the saddle itself.  I really like the feel of the back of the neck and the profile. It feels much nicer than their earlier instrument which was painted gloss and this one is much smoother and quicker.

Duke 10 Banjo Ukulele neck heel

Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which is in nice enough condition (possibly needs a bit of oil) and is evenly coloured. We have 17 nickel silver frets and the edges are smooth and dressed well. Like most banjo's (but not the Deering) the fingerboard stops at the edge of the pot on this one, but that does mean that all 17 fret spaces are easily accessible. We have mother of pearl position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and I am really pleased to see that they have added side dots which were missing from their earlier model. The fingerboard edges are unbound meaning you can see the fret ends.

Duke 10 Banjo Ukulele fingerboard

They don't specify what that nut is made of, possibly cream plastic. What I can tell you though is it's a 35mm width and I would personally have liked that to be a bit wider. As I say though, the profile is still very comfortable.

Up to the headstock and I am pleased that they have repeated the funky staggered shaped look of the earlier model, and this one is topped in what looks like a maple looking facing plate. Banjo ukuleles are often (perhaps fairly) stereotyped as 'old fashioned' and I, for one, am glad to see a brand going for something a bit different. Come on, funky headstock, pickup... that's quite 'out there' for a banjo! The Duke logo this time is pyro embossed as opposed to the sticker application on the earlier one, which is nice to see. Much nicer.

Duke 10 Banjo Ukulele headstock

I'm also pleased to see that they have repeated their tuner choice of planteary geared pegs with white plastic buttons. So you get the backwards peg look, but the advantages of the gearing system. They are not high end planetary pegs to be honest and vary in stiffness, but they work and hold just fine so i'm not complaining.

Duke 10 Banjo Ukulele tuners

As part of the deal you are getting Aquila strings, a padded and branded gig bag (in the same fabric design as before that many people loved!) and some other extras including a strap, felt pick and wrench to adjust the drum head tensioners.

Duke 10 Banjo Ukulele accessories

As I say, this is currently in a Kickstarter programme, but the price is set at $389 or £312. I'd say that's pretty decent value for a lightweight banjo particularly with the various additions you are getting with it such as the bag, pickup and strap. And that is a delivered price to anywhere in the world too, which makes it even better value, especially to people like me on the other side of the globe to New Zealand. So a little more pricey than the last Duke, but still less than the Deering.

So how did I get on with it? Well first up it really IS light. Very light. I know it's a touch more than the earlier Duke, but I can't notice it, but do know it's noticeably lighter in the hands than the Deering. It really weighs nothing considering all that metalwork and the switch to wood, so it's been cleverly done I think. Setup at the nut was perfectly acceptable although I'd probably take the saddle down a little myself. Not a huge job on a banjo as they are so easy to remove.

And as I've said, I really LOVE the fact it looks less than traditional. Less 'stuffy' if you will, but the move to wood has added a class to it I think.

Sound wise, it's certainly 'very banjo'! Loud, snappy, barky and punchy.  But where the first Duke Banjouke I played was perhaps overly bright  this has a much richer and warmer tone that reminds me more of the Deering. It can certainly bark if you want it to, but it's just an all round nicer tone than their earlier one. The bigger head is doing what was intended I think.

There are still some ghost notes, but I find that with most banjoleles and it can be easily improved by putting a cloth or old sock wedged between the pole and the head.

I much prefer it for strumming, but some clawhammer style picking is very satisfying too. I think with these you need to get out of the 'traditional uke' or 'traditional banjolele' mould - it's neither of those things, rather it kind of is what it is. And it's a lot of fun.

I still don't think it's quite as loud as the Deering (which could wake the dead), but it's certainly not quiet either. And heck, if you want more volume, you've got a pickup too which works well after some EQ tweaks.

Like their earlier model too, it's really easy to play and hold. The combination of the low weight and smooth neck really work well together I found. The bigger head seems to be the right size and doesn't feel 'oversized' making for a very comfortable instrument. Being an open back that sound can be changed a fair bit depending on how you hold it to your body, but I quite like that. I actually believe some have had success with tone guards for mandolins fitted to the back that keeps the instrument a uniform distance from your chest if that worries you.

On the whole though, I was a very big fan of the earlier Duke Banjouke, but a couple of minor gripes on fit and finish pulled the overall score down for me. On this one though, it seems that they've addressed all of those, improved the tone and still kept the weight and price down. No, it's not a high end traditional Gibson, Abbott or Ludwig but then I don't think it would appeal to the players of that style regardless - this is more of a bluegrass instrument I suppose. You may argue it's not even a ukulele, but I tend not to be drawn on those debates - it's still a musical instrument and that doesn't make it invalid. And at three hundred quid for a funky electro banjo uke, with extras...  What's not to like? Highly recommended.

http://www.dukeuke.com

UKULELE PROS

Price
Low weight
General finish improvements all over
Funky looks
Planetary tuners

UKULELE CONS

Aside from possibly wanting better brand pegs, none that I can find.

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

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5 comments :

  1. As of today Saturday, the 10th of June, it looks like the Duke 10 on Kickstarter is NOT going to make it !! DAMN !! I really want one.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The KickStarter Duke 10 project failed to meet their goal yesterday. Maybe they'll find another way and it will still happen. DAMN !! I really want one!!! Best regards.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes I believe they are trying a different offer

    ReplyDelete
  4. They're going ahead now - I placed an order with World of Ukes to help take them over the threshold for production, and they'll be arriving in the UK in November.

    ReplyDelete

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