Occasionally the ukulele world can give me a much needed whack around the head. Writing so much about the ukulele as I do (and for so long), it's sometimes easy to find yourself in a bubble of thinking you've seen everything, when you clearly haven't. It's a horrible realisation, but something I think is borne out of being so immersed. Anyway, as I say, that happened to me recently as I freely admit I knew nothing of this particular instrument - the Hamano H-100 Soprano.
It came to my attention in a discussion on a Facebook ukulele group I set up in which people were discussing ukuleles they were particularly fond of. There was mention of the H-100 and I realised I'd never heard of it, or even knew very much of the brand. What I did know is that Hamano make those brightly coloured cheap as chips sopranos, so can assume I passed them by for that reason and looked no further. Only in the discussion it was clear that people held the H-100 in high regard. I'd missed something.
A bit of Googling, showed me they were really not widely available, and that there was also very little written about them. As such, I really don't know all that much about them myself for this review, or even whether they are now discontinued and what is for sale is just old stock being run down. That's a great start to a review huh? "And here we have a ukulele I don't know much about or even if you will be able to get hold of one..."
Anyway, there were enough positive comments here and there and the fact that I see that Elderly used to stock these, as did the late great Music Guy Mike helped spark my interest. I grabbed one.
Hamano are a Chinese brand and created the H-100 to deliver a ukulele that was based on dimensions and build features of classic soprano ukuleles from the 1920's. And as such it has a look of a Martin Style 0 about it or a Ditson from Boston (made for them by Martin). It's a double bout soprano but with a very narrow width side to side across the upper and lower bouts. Very old fashioned, but a shape I really like.
It's made from all solid mahogany (what else?) and we have a two piece top and flat two piece back, with two piece sides. The grains are also clear and in line with the body direction and also bookmatched. It's also quite a narrow body depth top to back as well, leaving you with a very diminutive soprano.
Decoration wise we have a bit of black top edge binding and a wooden inlaid soundhole rosette. The top edge binding also has a very thin inlay edge of pale wood which is quite subtle, but nice. The mahogany has been stained darker than mahogany is giving it a vintage feel and this is then covered in a satin coat. For some reason all the shop pictures show this as looking almost black in colour, which as you can see, it really isn't. Dark, but not black at all. The satin though is really rather horrible and I think may not have been buffed back enough in the production. It means that it has a grippy, claggy feel, and is almost cloudy to look at. It's proved hard to photograph, but trust me - the feel is sticky and not nice. In fact if you rub it hard you find some of the finish kind of balls up into bits on your thumb. Ugh. Now that 'may' actually be a relatively easy fix as rubbing the whole thing back with some micro mesh pads to give it 'something' of a shine. I may try that and report back. For now though, like all instruments on here, this gets reviewed 'as is' for now.
Bridge wise we have a rosewood slotted style bridge which is carved really neatly and fitted with a dead straight bone saddle. The saddle though has annoying 90 degree edges on the ends which are sharp and dig into my hand. Oh what a difference a tiny touch of sanding would make!
Inside is a bit of a mixed bag. It's neat and tidy with a serial number stamped on the neck block and has very delicate bracing. The kerfing is not notched though looks ok (ish) and there is no glue seepage. What I really don't like is the gaudy makers label which is massively colourful and seems totally out of sync with the vintage vibe of the instrument. Putting a palm tree on the label also seems odd for an instrument designed to mimic a ukulele from the places like Boston, Chicago or Pennsylvania too. I'd whip that out I think.. It looks completley out of place and spoils it.
Up to the neck, and this is made of one piece of mahogany. Somewhat surprising that for a Chinese instrument. It's also a very typically Martin profile. Nice and shallow and a generous 36mm wide at the nut. Sadly it has the same 'grippy' satin coat which doesn't feel too nice, although it is slightly better than on the body.
Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which has some fairly rough tooling marks in places, but still is very nicely shaped at the end. It's also nice and thin so we dont have a think chunk of wood over the soundboard. It's fitted with a standard 12 nickel silver skinny frets, all of which are dressed very well with no edges I can feel. Like a Martin we have tiny position marker dots at the 5th, 7th and 9th (9th??) with no side dots. I'm really rather liking the neck apart from the poor satin finish on the back. The fingerboard looks really traditional. (STOP PRESS - I have since been reliably informed by luthier Andy Miles that the 9th fret marker WAS traditional on early Martin ukuleles. So it seems faithful, but I remain of the view that I seen no point to one at 9!)
We have a bone nut then a crown shaped headstock. This has the Hamano logo screen printed on and I think it looks quite tacky and also out of place. It's better news when you flip it over to find Gotoh standard friction pegs with black buttons. Not the best pegs in the world, but certainly not the worst, and are the sort of pegs that will come on an Ohana SK-35 or a Kiwaya KS5. Not bad.
I am not certain what the strings are, but I suspect straight up black nylon. I really don't like them, but they are not the worst nylons in the world. And as for the price, well as I say, I suspect these are old stock now, so the prices are quite varied. They seem to have an RRP of £329, but I wouldn't trust that. In many stores they are available for £275, but I actually picked this up for just under £200.
In the hands, when you ignore the sticky finish, it's really rather nice. Small, comfortable and extremely light to hold. A look at the sound hole edge shows you why - it's extremely thin, and for that reason it's also drum like in resonance. Balance is spot on and set up wise this is one of the best out of the box setups I have seen for quite some time. The nut slots are absolutely perfect in depth and action at the 12th is a hair under 2.25mm. Nothing to change here for me.
I mentioned that there were favourable comments about these online, but one common negative was that they were not very loud. Actually I am not really seeing (or hearing!) that. I think this has very good projection and volume. Sure I think it could be improved with better strings (and I will be swapping the strings on this to Fluorocarbon), but it's really not all that bad at all and very, erm, 'vintage' sounding. Seriously. You'd think this was a much older instrument than it really is. We've also got some good sustain and with a powerful strum a gloriously typical soprano bark. It even has some of that Martin jangle when strummed, caused by harmonic chiming of strings in unison. Nice. Picked it's a hoot to play too, particularly for more old-timey numbers as it really sings.
I really do believe that fitting this with strings like Fremont blacklines, Martins or heck, ANY fluorocarbon strings would give it even more punch than it has. But that quality of tone is clearly there regardless of strings. I'll stick my neck out here and say I think it's on a par with if not actually a bit richer than the Martin S1 soprano.
You can tell I am liking this one can't you? I really do. I really wish that finish was better though as it really is truly awful. It may be that this is a bad example, but bear in mind that I did see a number of reports of people mentioning the overly thick sticky finish too. As I say, I'd change the strings too. But that's really it for the major gripes. But the core stuff on this - the light build, the tone, the voice, the volume are all top notch. Really. This is a great little ukulele. If you can find one for the sort of money I paid, then I'd grab one right away! Less so at £329 RRP though!
(Right, now pass me the sanding pads and a packet of new strings...) (and now - see the Stop Press after the video below with sound samples!)
Vintage shape and styling
Thin light tonewoods
Great fingerboard and tidy frets
Great voice, sustain and volume
Awful sticky finish
No side dots
Horrible headstock logo and interior label
I'd change the strings.
Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.4 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
After putting this review up I spent an afternoon with some Micro Mesh brand buffing pads from 1500 grit to 12,000 grit. Thanks to Rob Collins for the guidance but they really really worked. It's not a professional mirror finish (I didn't want a mirror and I am not a professional) but all stickyness and milky looking clag has gone. Feels lovely to hold now. Plus as an added bonus I removed that awful Hamano logo on the headstock!
Also changed strings to Martin Fluorocarbon stings and now it TRULY sings. Great ukulele! Pictures follow!
Below the pictures are two audio recordings - first is the Hamano with Martin strings recorded with an iRig microphone. Second is a Martin S1 (almost twice the price) same strings, same microphone. You tell me?
© Barry Maz
WHY NOT DONATE TO HELP KEEP GOT A UKULELE GOING?