Soprano time again on Got A Ukulele and another brand that takes it's first steps on the reviews page in the form of the Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano.
In this ukulele we've got a standard double bout shaped soprano instrument finished in a paint coating with a satin finish. The colour of this one is clearly dull brown (I call it 'creosote brown' as it is about as inspiring as the fence in my garden..) but these are also available in a range of gaudy colours. It's got one or two blotches in it which don't seem to be flaws as such, rather changes in colour of the paint itself, but I must say - on the whole it's not that badly applied. Of course, everything is relative, and this is still a cheap coating, but I have seen much worse.
Under that coating is a body they specify as being made from maple. Maple it may be, but it's still laminate, and a thick laminate at that. That's immediately noticeable by the weight and a glance at the edge of the soundhole. I could also get annoyed by the fact that there product descriptions say things like 'maple body' and not 'laminate maple body' (and it does annoy me), but that is now happening SO much with brands I'm tired of moaning about it. It's impossible to say if the top is a single sheet or two pieces due to the coating and ditto on the sides. I suspect that they are all single pieces. The back is dead flat too.
We have as similar bridge on this one as on the Ashton insofar as it is impossible to say what wood it is as it's painted black. It's a tie bar style bridge screwed in place, but actually, apart from it being painted, it's much tidier than the Ashton. Fitted into this is a plastic uncompensated saddle.
We have no other decoration on this one safe for a soundhole rosette transfer in gold. At least they applied it in the right place!
Inside things look pretty dull and messy. We do have kerfing linings this time, but they are un-notched - just strips of bent wood. There are also a ton of shavings /mess knocking about plus a label with a suitably Hawaiian theme (yawn...). And like so many other cheap laminate instruments there is no bracing on this one.
The neck is specified as being maple, but you wouldn't know because it's covered in the same paint which also makes it impossible for me to see how many pieces it's made from. Topping this is what they call an 'ebonized hardwood' fingerboard. That must be one of the worst forms of marketing speak I have ever heard. The hardwood bit may be correct, but in this case ebonized means 'painted black'... Ebonized indeed... "I see a red door and I want to ebonize it black..." (** note - Ebonizing wood IS actually a chemical reaction to turn it black - this is painted..)
Unlike the Ashton though, it's actually painted relatively neatly and at first glance you wouldn't know it was paint. Still, I'd prefer an actual dark wood myself, and you can get them at this price. The neck is a generic 34mm wide at the nut and the profile quite slight.
It's fitted with a fairly standard 12 nickel silver frets, and they are actually all dressed very well. No sharp edges here at all and the fret ends are hidden by black paint too. Some of the upper frets though appear a bit corroded. We have plastic inlaid position markers facing out at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces and these are repeated with dots on the side.
Past the plastic nut which is glued in place roughly (glue seeping out of the side) and does suffer from being sharp on the edges, we have a generic three pointed crown headstock. Screen printed on this is the Diamond Head logo in gold which I think is pretty awful. It reminds me of lettering from a cheap 1950's cartoon and just looks cheap.
Fitted to the headstock are generic, open geared tuners with chrome hardware and overly large white plastic buttons. Exactly what I expected for the price, but at least they have no play or wobble in them, don't grind and work. Yet that is academic, as being a soprano, I would prefer friction pegs anyway - these look like massive ears. Why oh why oh why etc...
Finishing off we have a gig bag that makes the one that came with the Ashton look high quality. It's kind of like the material used to make the flysheet of cheap tents and utterly, utterly pointless. You also get a set of generic clear nylon strings which are horrible and the sort I had hoped we had seen the back of in the ukulele world. The slippery, flabby sort that just seem to have no life in them whatsoever. For this you will also pay a little more than the Ashton at about £33. That's putting it more 'head to head' with a Makala Dolphin (which you can pick up for only a little bit more) and more than the excellent Octopus Soprano which you can grab for about £25. So this is still a cheap uke, but at this end of the scale every little helps.
In the hands it feels much nicer than the Ashton as it doesn't have a finish that feels like it will rub off on your palms and leave you stained. There's a weird positive.. As I say above, the neck is comfortable too on account of there being no sharp edges. It's actually pleasant. It is a heavy ukulele though for its size, although not as heavy as the Ashton. It's well balanced too. Good things I suppose.
Set up on this...well, it needs a setup. Badly. The action at the nut and saddle are both far too high, and whilst you are setting it up I would take the time to swap those strings too as they are frankly dreadful. Now I could say that for the Ashton too, but the point here is twofold. I always review ukuleles with stock strings, and you need to then consider IF the instrument is worth upgrading the strings. In other words - would the cost of new strings purely to improve it be worth it? With the Ashton there was no point I thought as the build was flawed in too many ways.
And because of these strings I'm finding it hard to be too positive about this one. Naturally they give it a very one dimensional plinky plonky 'dead' sound. No matter how I play it, it's just not enjoyable in tone. Perhaps (and it's a very minor 'perhaps' that is clutching at every straw in the box), fingerpicking is a little better, but really it's all just a bit flat. One thing that IS obvious about this though is that the body does have a fair amount of resonance to it. Just rapping it with the knuckles tells me that and that leads me to believe that there may be more in this ukulele with the right treatment and setup. In fact you can sense it even with these strings as it has much more sustain than something like the Ashton. Perhaps there is something in it.
The intonation is 'reasonably' good too, though would be improved further by attending to the nut and saddle action. I've seen worse out of the box on some much more expensive instruments though. So it's leaving me not totally depressed and wanting to smash it, so that's something I suppose. As a very well known ukulele festival Director friend of mine would say, "It does not totally suck".
Yet let's put things back into perspective - despite me trying to be pleased this is not a great ukulele, and in the scheme of things and you can do much better for the price. I have absolutely no doubt that a setup and string change would turn this into a different intstrument altogether. But I don't want that to come across as a recommendation or validation. My issue with it lies mainly with that price. For a little more money you can get the extremely reputable Dolphin, or for less the excellent Octopus which already comes with much better strings and a much nicer neck and fingerboard. Adding a pack of Aquila strings into your basket on this one makes the bill come in at £40 plus and then I'm just thinking 'why would you?'
Close, but no cigar I am afraid.
Generally reasonably put together for the price
Well dressed fret ends
Reasonably resonant body
Tuners that dont grind
Untidy build inside
Painted bridge and fingerboard
TERRIBLE strings let the whole thing down
Some cruddy upper frets
Big eared tuners
Utterly pointless bag
Looks - 7 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6 out of 10
Sound - 5 out of 10
Value for money - 6 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 6 out of 10
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© Barry Maz
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