Got A Ukulele likes musical instruments which are a bit different, and this week we certainly have that. It's a Tiny Tenor Ukulele from Romero Creations.
And I say 'different' because, well.... just look at it! OK, at first glance you might be saying 'so what, it's just a boat paddle ukulele', and indeed that is what the shape is. But there is a bit more going on here.
The Tiny Tenor is the brainchild of master guitar and ukulele luthier Pepe Romero Jr and Grammy Award winning musician Daniel Ho as a means of creating a ukulele with a tenor sound but that was somewhat more portable. Putting their heads together, and Pepe came up with this model which is a 17" tenor scale instrument but similar overall dimensions to a concert. Clever. Incidentally, whilst Romero ukuleles at the higher end are made in the USA, this one is put together in Vietnam, presumably to keep costs down.
Starting with the body though, as I say, this is a boat paddle shape ukulele, a shape I am always very fond of for it's very traditional island style feel. This one has an all solid spruce top and a back and sides made from laminate mahogany. Whilst it's hard to see due to the dead straight grain patterns, the top, back and sides are all made from two pieces each. The grain is also pretty unremarkable, but clearly is good quality wood with no eye catching flaws. Another thing you will notice is what is a pretty deep body depth front to back. Whilst the back is not arched, this is presumably to help with volume and projection in the smaller package. I should say that these also come in some other woods too including an all Koa version.
For decoration we have a black edge binding to the top and back, with the top added to with some black and white purfling. We also have an attractive abalone sound hole rosette. And what a sound hole. It's enormous! Presumably made that way to help with sound projection, although that size is, I think, exaggerated by the eye on account of the very narrow upper shoulders. That whole body is finished in satin which is done very well and feels smooth and tactile in the hands.
Bridge wise we have a rosewood through the body plate, meaning the strings are tied inside the uke. It means it's nice and small and is very nicely finished. Whether Romero Creations will change that wood in time due to CITES restrictions we shall see. It holds a compensated and very nicely shaped bone saddle.
That large sound hole allows a very good look inside the instrument and things are pleasingly neat and tidy. The kerfing linings are notched and done neatly as is the top bracing. It doesn't actually have back bracing as such (being laminate), but as three fanning strengthening strips running from the neck block down to the tail.
Up to the neck and this is what looks like mahogany. It's made from what I think is a rather excessive four pieces with an obvious joint at the top of the headstock and a double stacked heel. The heel is capped in black and the rather round profile is again finished in satin making it feel very smooth.
Topping this is a rosewood fretboard with a bit too much colour variation for my tastes, being very pale at the nut end and dark towards the sound hole. Still it's edge bound and seems to be in good condition. We have 16 frets in total with 14 to the body joint which seems a little mean. That said, because of the squat body and high sound hole, it would have been impossible to extend the fingerboard. We have pearloid position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and these are repeated with side dots. Also somewhat disappointing to me is the nut width of only 35mm. I have sopranos with wider nuts than that. The short dimensions in now way would have precluded a wider nut.
Up to the headstock and this is where we see the other design feature that is as striking as the body. It's really tiny, but then when you think about it, there is no real reason for headstocks to be so large. It's been cut short just above the tuners with and attractive swoop in the top meaning the whole instrument tip to tail is that bit smaller. I love it personally. It's stamped with the Daniel Ho signature in the face which also looks classy.
Tuners are unbranded sealed gears in matte black with small metal black buttons. I think these too look great myself.
As part of the price you get a Romero Creations branded pod case and a set of La Bella strings. I like La Bella a lot and they have a long heritage with strings for all kinds of instruments. Sadly what I would not choose is the wound low G as standard. Still that is easily replaced. And for all of that you are looking at a not inconsiderable £429 in the UK. Sadly you can get the laminate back and sides in the US for $299 and the all solid version for $499... I'm in the UK though, so the headline figure here is £429..
I don't usually deal with price first in reviews, but I will say from the off that despite the Romero heritage, and the Daniel Ho involvement, that seems like rather a lot of money for me for an instrument that only comes with a solid top. Regular readers will know that I have nothing against laminate, but when I reviewed a solid spruce top concert from VTAB (also from the far east) in the summer that was only £120, this price kind of stands out to me... If the Vietnamese source was intended to keep costs down I shudder to think what the price would be if these were made in the USA. Putting it another way, when I saw the price I did a bit of searching to see if the website I was looking at had a typo. Let's play it though and see if my views are changed in any way.
Firstly the instrument is really light, nice to hold and nicely balanced in the hands. It's also set up very well too with nothing I would want to change at the nut or saddle. No complaints here at all. This is a very tactile ukulele.
Build quality all over is also impeccable with no issues in QC that I can see having slipped through. It's a very attractively put together ukulele too.
When playing it, the first thing that jumps out at you is the volume. Yep, that deep body and that large sound hole are a certainly working here and for such a diminutive instrument it certainly packs a punch, and carries with it great sustain too. It really is remarkable and really surprised me.
And that spruce also seems to be doing it's job as it has a sharp bright punch to the sound which makes the high notes really shimmer. Bell like and chimey, which are things I really do like in a ukulele, yet it's never muddy either. A really clear sound right across the range and no matter where you play on the fingerboard. Terrific.
Bass is good to, obviously helped by that low G (and I do wonder if the instrument may be TOO bright without it), but there you are. It's an instrument that vibrates all over and into your chest when you play it. Something else I really like in a uke. Lively!
I really am taken with the sound as you can tell. It's very pleasing, accurate and enjoyable to play. It's also been one of those review instruments that I keep picking up and saying 'just one more go', so there must be something to be said for that too.
So a ukulele here that I love the look of, that is put together very well, uses clever design touches to get the size down and sounds terrific. Yet I'm afraid that I still can't quite get over that price though as I remain of the view that this is a lot of money for only a solid topped instrument made in the far east.
Sorry if it seems I am making too much of the price. Maybe I am missing something and maybe you are reading and thinking the price is a 'good deal'. I'm just not totally sure where the £400 plus has gone on this one.
That's not to say you would be wrong to buy one of course, and as an instrument it's ticking all the other boxes. And of course, if you have the funds, then why not? As a ukulele, it's pretty damn good.
Thanks very much to Southern Ukulele Store for the loan of this one.
Great build quality
Terrific volume and sustain
Wonderful high notes that shimmer
Uneven fingerboard wood colouring
Narrower nut than I would like
Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Price - 7.5 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.5 out of 10
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© Barry Maz
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