A return to the Got A Ukulele reviews pages for a uke brand that always gets talked about due to their striking looks and prevalence. That musical instrument maker is Luna, and this week we look at their Honu Turtle Soprano ukulele.
You may recall that I reviewed a Luna before in the form of their 'tattoo concert ukuele', and that I really didn't like it all that much on quality control grounds amongst several other things. It also ended up in that category of ukuleles that really did put the cat amongst the pigeons and caused people to become quite angry in defending it in their comments. Hey, it was just one persons review and if you like yours that's just great! I still don't get WHY people like them though..
So with this Honu Soprano we get yet more of the same engraved decoration, and as you can probably tell from my views on the tattoo model, no, I don't like it much either. It's a standard double bout shaped soprano and laser etched into the top is a large stylised turtle (a honu) pattern which Luna freely admit that they took from a Polynesian tattoo design. That was part of my gripe with the concert I reviewed though. Not only do I think it looks over the top, too big and is quite crudely done (that cheap wood really shows in the etching), I am not a big fan of the cultural appropriation and stereotyping going on here either. Tribal tattoos symbols are revered on the Polynesian islands and are not, in my opinion, something to me slapped on a cheap ukulele made in China in order to make money.. Your views may differ. It's not for me though.
The turtle asisde, lets look at the ukulele itself. As I say it's a traditional double bout soprano and made from laminate mahogany. Once again, I have a gripe with Luna on their product description in which they certainly don't go out of their way to tell you this is laminate wood. Rather they choose to call it 'all mahogany' and on some listings 'select mahogany'. I don't like that one bit and feel the word 'all' is being used to give the impression that it something it is not (ie solid). As for calling it 'select', oh please don't make me laugh. What it is is very ordinary, very plain looking mahogany plywood. There is nothing I can see that is 'select' about this plywood. The top back and sides are all single pieces and the back is dead flat.The body is finished in pretty standard feeling and looking satin coat which fairly well done, but has some uneven patches and some annoying polish marks in the engravings. One other thing to note is that the laninate, particularly that on the top is pretty thick which is never good to see. One thing I do quite like is the curvy shape of the body and base.
Thankfully, unlike the concert, the etched design doesn't run under the bridge plate of which I had read a number of accounts of bridges failing due to that uneven surface on the contact point. The tie bar bridge plate itself on older honu models was rosewood, but these are now walnut. The saddle is plastic and not compensated. The design of the bridge plate is nice enough I guess as it's different to most.
Looking inside and things are reasonably tidy, but basic. The linings are not notched, rather thin strips of wood and the braces look far too heavy to me for a thick laminate body.
Up to the neck and the wood type isn't specified, but if they are saying 'all mahogany' it may well be that. It's in three pieces with joints at the usual places (and very obviously too) and a round far eastern C shaped profile and a narrow 34/35mm nut. I KNOW that seems to be the standard for ukuleles that come out of China, but maybe, just maybe if sopranos came with wider nuts (like 36mm as seen on things like Martins) then MAYBE people would then stop with the ludicrous suggestion that people with big hands need bigger ukes. THIS is where you feel the space. Rant over.. It's narrow.
This is topped with walnut and comes with a standard 12 nickel silver frets to the body joint. We have position markers in triangle shaped pearloid plastic that Luna say are 'sharks tooth' shaped at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th spaces and are complimented by side dots. Aside from not seeing the point of a marker at the 3rd, it's nice to see a different shaped inlay to regular dots I suppose. What is a let down is the finishing which is both rough of the walnut and extremely sharp on the fret ends. Really bad in fact on this one.
Beyond the plastic nut (which the Luna website say is graphite, but looks very much like white plastic to me), we have the standard Luna headstock shape faced in darker wood. I actually quite like it for being different and it reminds me of the coke bottle shape headstock seen on some Danelectro guitars. The Luna logo is screen printed on in white and looks cheap and stark. The finishing on the edges of the face is also messy.
Following the tattoo concert, this comes with open geared tuners in chrome with pearly buttons. Leaving my massive dislike of geared tuners on sopranos to one side, these are still really cheap and nasty tuners regardless. They 'look' cheap and you can tell that from the cheap pressed steel mountings and scruffy posts.
And this one comes as part of a package deal that gives you a soft branded gig bag, a pitch pipe tuner, a sheet with some chords on it and a gaudy Hawaiian themed cardboard box (complete with stereotypical Hawaiian girl in a bikini top... ugh - come on Luna.. It's 2017..). And that's all for about £80 to £90 in the UK depending where you shop and a US RRP of about $99 and street of about $80. We will come on to price later on. Lets have a play.
In the hands it feels light enough, but is definitely neck heavy. Aside from needing a fret dressing, the setup needs work regardless as we have both a high nut and a high saddle. Tuning up really shows off the poor quality of the tuners too, which are really grindy and all of different tensions. There is also loads of play on the buttons meaning that if you tune over your target note and back off on the peg, you have quite a bit of turning to get through before the string starts to unwind. I hate that.
Tone wise it's pretty unremarkable. One thing it does have going for it to be fair is reasonable volume which I do like in a soprano, but otherwise it's very one dimensional and rather boxy in tone. The volume surprised me considering the fat braces. It's not helped by low sustain and the fact that the high action is throwing off the intonation up the neck, but those things aside it's pretty uninspiring full stop. Sure, it sounds like a ukulele I suppose, and far better than many of the entry level instruments around, but bear in mind this has a retail of $99. That puts it head to head with a lot more than Mahalos and Makala Dolphins. In fact it is fighting in a very different league. That makes for a challenge that it's not up to in my opinion.
It kind of surprised me how much I didn't like it as I have seen some people who's views I respect suggesting the tone is good for the money. Maybe they were old opinions, because 10 years ago I might have said the same thing to you, but today in 2017 I think it's in the shade compared to what else is out there. I really found it very flat and uninspiring to play.
I think you might have noticed that I am not the biggest fan of this ukulele, but to tone it down a little I will say this. It's not a dreadful ukulele and I have played much worse. For a beginner it will probably suit them just fine. But it's also far from great.
Things have moved on and I think that the price on this model is way off for what you are actually getting - which is a very plain standard laminate soprano that has been zinged up with some laser etching and not much more. For similar money you can now get terrific ukuleles from the likes of Baton Rouge, and VTAB with tonnes more character and better appointments. Even if you are swayed by the 'extras' thrown in by Luna, these days even they look tired. Lots of other value instruments now throw in a half decent clip on tuner these days, and a strap, and a capo, and a better bag, and a... you get the picture. I mean - pitch pipes? Thin bag? Really not worth anything as 'extras' at all. Sadly, what I think IS steering people on this brand is the engraving and the fact a kid played one a big TV talent show. Neither of those factors make this a great ukulele though, or one that is any longer good value for money in view of the wider competition.
As I say, don't be upset if you own one, or even want to buy one. It works OK as a ukulele. I just really think that even a tiny bit of shopping around will show you that you can do much better for the money, or even less money. And that's why I can't recommend it.
Decent enough construction on the basics
Different looking bridge, headstock and position markers
Uninspiring boxy sound with low sustain
Poor wood finish in places
Poor fingerboard finish
Sharp fret ends
'Extras' are way behind competition these days
Expensive for what you are actually getting
Not a fan of the cultural stereotyping
Looks 7 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6 out of 10
Sound - 6.5 out of 10
Value for money - 7 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 6.6 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz
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