A couple of 'firsts' in this ukulele review. It's the first instrument I have reviewed from Grenosi, but also the first instrument i've looked at that was hand made in Austria - the Grenosi Soprano Ukulele Machete, built by Gregor Nowak of Grenosi in Vienna.
Gregor is a luthier in Vienna who really caught my eye with the stunning looks of his instruments (not just ukuleles, he makes quite a range). They are a real mix between ultra traditional yet being really striking and 'different'. And what, you may ask is a 'soprano machete'. Well, the Machete, also known as the Cavaquiho or Braguinha is one of the key contenders for the crown of 'where did the ukulele come from'. They were traditional stringed instruments from the Portuguese island of Madeira, and quite possibly the instrument that first landed in Hawaii and gave rise to the ukulele. Before you write in, yes I KNOW there are other contenders - this history is not totally clear! And it is the looks of the Machete that have been mimiced in this instrument from Gregor, though it's still a 'ukulele' on account of it being strumg with fluorocarbon strings as opposed to the traditional steel strings of the machete. It's also tuned like a standard ukulele in gCEA.
And what a look it is, I am sure you will agree. It's the same sort of dimensions as a soprano ukulele with a scale length of 13 ¾" but it takes the very narrow body and even narrower waist from many machete designs. And I think it looks absolutely stunning and certainly one of the most different looking ukuleles you will find around today. I adore it.
The top on this one is made of solid spruce with supremely straight grain and made from two pieces. The back and sides are made from solid curly walnut and I think are absolutely beautiful. What a great striking wood choice that has some real shimmer in the stripe of the wood and the bookmatching on the back, done on an angle is just beautiful. And do go with the diminutive size of the body, the body depth too is very slight on this. The back, incidentally is very slightly arched. The tonewoods themselves are thin and delicate meaning we will hopefully have a very clear voice and lots of resonance.
Decorating the top we have edge bindings made of curly maple (always a favourite wood of mine) with a black trim and an inlaid soundhole rosette made from curly walnut. Both these details are applied extremely well and add another touch of class to the instrument.
And ohhhhh that bridge. Wow. Extremely traditional and all the better for it, the bridge is shaped / carved into a kind of moustache shape and made from ebony. Strings are secured by the use of bridge pins and these are made of Indian rosewood with gold and mother of pearl dots. I adore this bridge. The saddle is made of ivory substitute and has been carved slightly to compensate it.
Yet more decoration down at the tail where we have a section of curly maple creating an attractive V shape which also houses a strap button made of rosewood with a pearloid and gold inlay. As you are probably seeing, everywhere you look on this instrument are high class details and appointments!
Looking inside and all is very neat and tidy with notched linings and ladder bracing made of spruce. Whilst I can't see the bridge plate (and never can on review instruments!) Gregor tells me this is made of maple. Nice to see the makers mark applied by branding into the back wood too. Far better than a sticker in my opinion.
The whole body is finished in a hand rubbed oil and wax finish which gives it a very distinctive feel in the hands, and makes it feel older than it is. Being a luthier instrument there are some tooling marks and rub marks, but that isn't an issue for me and what you will expect with a handmade instrument. It really is put together very very well. Just be aware that with luthier instruments they don't look like they have come out of a factory, and that for me is a positive thing.
Moving on to the neck this is made of mahogany and in two pieces with a joint at the heel. This surprised me as on high end and luthier built instruments you normally see a single piece neck. It doesn't actually matter to me either way, but I do always mention it as readers had pointed out that they would like to know. But it doesn't make any difference, and if anything a well jointed neck can be stronger. There 'may' be another joint at the headstock, but if there is, it's a scarf joint and incredibly well hidden. Incidentally, the heel of the neck is capped with ebony.
Topping this is an ebony fingerboard which being ebony is supremely dark. It's not edge bound, but the edges are stained black to hide the fret ends. We have a generous 17 nickel silver frets with 12 to the body joint. My only complaint with them is that they are on the jumbo side and on a small instrument like this, think it may look better with more delicate narrow frets. A minor gripe, and I know some people like their frets like this.
We have position markers in parloid dots at the 5th, 7th and 12th spaces, but sadly there are no side markers at all. Maybe that was to keep with tradition, but I would have liked at least one of them! For those that like to know such things, the width of the fingerboard at the nut is 35mm and 42mm at the 12th fret. Fairly standard I guess and the profile is not too chunky either.
Past the nut we have a really traditional and attractive shaped headstock. This too is faced with more curly walnut and even the facing is bookmatched. I love the shape of this.
As for tuning, another excellent choice here in the use of Peghed brand tuners. These look like wooden violin pegs giving the instrument a really old fashioned look, but are actually metal barrelled geared tuners that house a clever kind of planetary system in the narrow shaft to work like gears. Quite wonderful and absolutely the right sort of choice for an instrument this traditional looking.
The instrument came strung for gCEA tuning as I say and has a set of Worth Brown strings fitted. And for all that this instrument comes in at €1,300. Not an inconsiderable amount of money, but when you see the sheer amount of work that has gone in to the various elements of detailing on this one, I can totally see how the price is justified. In fact I can honestly say this is one of the most attractive ukuleles I have ever had the pleasure of reviewing. And to be that way takes time, patience and a lot of skill. Saying that, it IS expensive, and there is no getting away from that. I should add, that it does come with a pod case!
So PLEASE don't let me down with the sound!! In the hands it feels great. It's supremely light and perfectly balanced. If anything a little too small for someone the size of me, but I am 6 foot 4! Again, a minor gripe and fans of sopranos generally will love this. Setup was also good with no changes I could see that I would make to the nut or saddle and a precision tuner showing accuracy all up the neck.
As for the sound, well for such a small little thing it certainly can make it's voice heard. It's quite remarkable really. I really good projection and volume and bags of sustain. It created a really satisying vibration into your arm and chest that shows what a lively little thing this is.
The dynamic range is impressive, giving it a really complex warm tone when strummed, but still leaving you able to pick out every string in the mix. And despite my coment on the fret sizes, it's really a delight to move around the fingerboard and play.
Fingerpicked, particularly when you dig in is deeply satisfying with clear, long pronounced notes all over the fingerboard. It really is quite staggering how clear and strong the sound is for such a tiny thing. It does sound very much like a soprano, but a very good soprano. Sure, those instruments will never have the resonance and range of larger bodies like tenors, but then, they are not really supposed to. This has the right mix of staccato and sustain for me that has it up there with some very good sopranos I have played.
I've really enjoyed playing this one and it really is right up there with some of the best I have reviewed in looks. This one will shortly be winging it's way back to Vienna where I believe it will be available to buy. I'd urge you to take a look at this and some of his other instruments as if you are in the market for a high end instrument with great traditional looks, this could be right up your street. Highly recommended.
Looks and striking wood choices
All those extra detailing appointments
Great build quality throughout
Warm, loud, great dynamic range
Wonderful looking bridge
No side markers
Would prefer thinner frets
Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9 out of 10
Sound - 9.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.1 out of 10
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© Barry Maz
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