Another new ukulele brand for me and another one from China. This one is a concert scale ukulele from Makanu. The 'Muk-maho C' mahogany concert model.
Like many other Chinese ukuleles these days, they seem to be once again keeping away from recognised 'scales' in their product names and listing them based on their overall dimensions. As such this one is more commonly listed as their '24 inch ukulele'. I really don't like that concept as it means absolutely nothing at all. If you are going to list dimensions, list the SCALE LENGTH, or better still, stick to recognised naming conventions. This, after all IS a concert ukulele.
So a concert it is, in a standard double bout shape and made from all laminate mahogany. It's got a satin finish that allows the nice straight grain to show through so it doesn't look unnatural. It reminds me rather a lot of the Baton Rouge models I like so much. It's a deep dark brown which is attractive and we have a single piece top, a single piece slightly curved back and two piece sides. It's also put together very well and accurately too.
Decoration wise we have some simple edge binding where the top and back meet the sides in black. It's understated and works well with mahogany I think. Around the sound hole we have some laser engraved laurel branches which are nice enough if you like that kind of thing. (I don't). They are quite simplistic though.
For the bridge this is a slotted style with some nice shaping and appears to be made of rosewood. What I don't like about it is that it is glossed, as I prefer bare or oiled wood here. Fitted into it is a dead straight saddle made of bone. I do like the shape though and slotted means really easy string changes.
Inside the ukulele things are very tidy indeed, with no wood shavings or mess. The braces are very delicate and thin and the kerfing linings are notched and tidy. Looking at the edge of the soundhole we also see that the laminate woods are on the thinner side, so chunky and heavy this is not. Again, rather like the Baton Rouges. All rather nice so far.
The neck is made of mahogany in three pieces with a joint at the heel and one at the headstock. It too is coated in satin and has a fairly chunky C shaped profile all the way along it ending at a nut with a generic and narrow 34mm width. I'd like that wider myself.
Topping the neck is a rosewood fingerboard which is in desperate need of some oil. The colour is even enough but it just looks really dry. We have a generous 18 nickel silver frets with 14 to the body joint. They are on the chunky side, and sadly are also dressed pretty terribly. Very sharp edges on both sides up the whole length of the neck and it's not helped by the lack of any edge binding. These really need a lot of work. We are given pearly dot position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces, with the 12th being a double spot. Sadly these are not repeated on the side though.
Beyond the bone nut we have an interesting shaped headstock with the Makanu logo and star / flower motif engraved which looks quite nice.
Tuners look generic sealed gears in chrome with small chrome buttons and the Makanu logo lightly embossed into the cover plates. So lightly I couldn't catch them with the camera!
And closing the deal is a padded gig bag embroidered with the Makanu logo and a set of what look like Aquila strings. And that will set you back about $50 bought from Amazon (which incidentally appears to me to be the only place you will find these). So a very low price for what is, on the whole a pretty well made instrument.
So a bit mixed so far. A nice enough looking instrument reminicent of the Baton Rouge models, well put together in the body, with thin woods and tidy internal construction, but badly let down by the state of the fret ends.
Sadly, setup wise things don't improve with the nut and saddle either. The nut is far too high, and the saddle even worse with a measurement of about 3.5mm or more above the 12th fret. It doesn't seem to be throwing intonation off too much but it DOES make for an uncomfortable playing experience both in terms of pressure required by the fretting hand and getting tangled with the strumming. It screams of a need for a damn good setup by a dealer and really does sum up why I warn beginners about buying direct from Amazon. Yes you may pay a bit more through a dealer but if it comes with a setup, then I'd say that's worth it to pay a bit more. If you dont have the tools or knowledge, getting this set up is going to cost you.
So setup aside... as I say, it's nicely built in the body, and those thin woods mean it's light and resonant like a drum. It's nicely balanced to hold too so no complaints there. Quite a nice instrument underneath really. Arrgghhh - why ship it out like this??
Sound wise, it's very much a laminate instrument and a touch boxy I suppose, but not unpleasant at and actually has a bit of jangle that is quite attractive. It's far brighter sounding than I would expect from mahogany too and has great volume and good sustain. Very pleasing to play actually.
Usually I find that these cheaper end instruments are really best for strumming and can get 'found out' a little on fingerpicking but not so with this one. Sure, strumming is the most fun and the notes are surprisingly clear in the mix, but fingerpicking shows off a rather nice bell like tone to the sound which I quite like. No, it's not high end or complex, but it is still rather pleasant and will suit most ears and tastes I think.
All in all, it's a great price and would make for a good beginners instrument or club uke. I just struggle to give it a stronger recommendation because of the woeful setup. Sure you 'might' get a better one (though you 'might' not...). Of course, if you like doing your own setups and have the tools, then I am sure this could be knocked into good shape. It's not fundamentally flawed. Thing is though - how many people who have the tools and knowledge to do uke setups are in the market for a $50 laminate model from Amazon?
Close but no cigar I'm afraid, though certainly better in the sound stakes than some others out there at this price like Caramel..
Good body contruction
Thin light laminate woods
Good volume, sustain and characterful tone
Very poor nut and saddle setup
Sharp fret edges
No side fret markers
Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money 8.5 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.9 out of 10
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© Barry Maz
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