A somewhat unusual review for Got A Ukulele this week, but a musical instrument I have been looking forward to playing. It's the Uke Steel from Seagull guitars, or to give it it's more cumbersome, full name, the 'Seagull Uke Steel SG burst EQ Electro Acoustic Soprano Ukulele'.
I've been looking forward to it because of that brand name. Seagull form part of the Canadian Godin group, makers of guitars I have enjoyed for many years under the names of Godin, Seagull, Simon and Patrick and Art and Lutherie. I also very much enjoyed their Godin Multiuke ukulele and played on on stage for many years. Godin instruments are all made in Canada and are renowned for being of great quality for reasonable prices.
This model was announced last year and Seagull actually launched a pair of ukuleles based on the same body model, a steel string version like this one and a nylon strung version which is almost identical. And it's certainly a very different looking instrument and I like that.
We have a striking body design with a back and sides made of chambered solid maple wood. It appears to be in three pieces with a central piece comprising the neck and two 'wings' on the side. Looking in to the sound hole and you see that the block of maple then appears to be hollowed out to create the sound chamber. Because of that we don't see the normal back bracing and kerfing, but rather a carved chamber. It's nicely done, very tactile with some curves and chamfering on the back on the parts you hold that is very reminiscent of an electric guitar and the Godin Multiuke.
Topping this is a soundboard of solid spruce, which looks reasonably thin and also nicely edge shaped meaning that no matter where you hold it it feels smooth and comfortable. Looking inside an you see that top appears to be cross braced to hold it in tension.
The whole body is finished in a deep reddish brown burst finish and a satin coat which looks flawless all over. I can't find any flaws with the body build in fact. It's also an instrument that is scaled as a soprano, but I suspect you would never guess that from first glance at it because it's so unusual.
Bridge wise, on the steel string model we have a rosewood plate with cream bridge pins holding the strings, but on the nylon version you get a tie bar style. Both look very nice and are fitted with compensated TUSQ saddles.
Clearly though, the focus of these is to work as electric ukuleles, so this is fitted with a Seagull under saddle piezo system powered by a 9v battery in the back very much like the Multiuke. Connection is via socket in the central strap button on the base. Control of the pickup is afforded by the guitar style tone and volume knobs on the top lower bout. I think they are FAR too big for the ukulele and look, well, really ugly. Why couldn't they have gone for something smaller and less in your face? I would say at this juncture that I also wish they had gone with a magnetic coil option on the pickup rather than just an under saddle to allow for a more electric tone, but there you are.
There isn't much else by way of decoration aside from a simple line around the unusually shaped sound hole and a stark white scratch plate which I think stands out way too much and would have looked much better in tortoiseshell. These are minor gripes though.
Up to the neck and this, as I say, seem integral to the body and a natural extension of the middle section of maple. It's very rounded in profile, but I think that is exaggerated by the nut width on the steel model which is a tiny 30mm. You would be forgiven for thinking that I would immediately slam it for being so narrow but bear with me here. Remember, this is fitted with steel strings, not nylon. It really doesn't feel so narrow because of that, and in fact it feels very like a mandolin in my hands. I didn't struggle with the width one bit. It's clear that Seagull recognised the string gauges here, because the nylon version of this increases the nut width to 34mm to compensate for the thicker strings. Fair enough. Don't let this width put you off.
The neck is topped with rosewood, and as well as a zero fret to aid intonation has a further 18 nickel silver frets that are all dressed very nicely. We have outward dot markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th and these are repeated on the side too. Interestingly, where the fretboard extends over the body it kind of floats over the top rather than being glued to it, presumably to help allow the top to vibrate.
Beyond the TUSQ nut we have a very nicely shaped headstock which reminds me of those on Gibson Flying V guitars. It's holds the simple Seagull logos and looks good I think. It also holds a plastic cover plate which gives you access to an adjustable truss rod for tweaking neck relief. With higher tension steel strings, this is good to see.
Tuning is provided by what I think look like overly ornate, but still good quality side facing gears with small cream buttons. Yes, I normally prefer rear facing pegs but I think these suit this shape of headstock.
And that can be yours in dealers now for a smidge under £370 which isn't a wildly crazy price for this level of build quality, and certainly far more reasonably priced than the Multiuke. One gripe I DO have though is the fact that there is no gig bag as standard like there was with the Godin. This is a somewhat unusual shape , and I worry that you might struggle to get the 'right' case for it, particularly a hard shall option.
Lets put it through its paces..
Like most Godin group instruments, the build quality, fit and finish really doesn't disappoint here. It's really well put together and feels great in the hands. I expect that the looks are going to be divide people although in the main I like it a lot. What does divide me though are some of the odd design cues I mention above like the overly large controls and stark scratch plate, but still, overall I think it looks terrific. Setup is also spot on at both bridge and saddle so I have no complaints here either. Weight wise, well it's certainly heavier than a thin wooden uke, but it was always going to be. What I would say though is that it is lighter and more comfortable than you would expect it to be if that makes sense. It certainly doesn't feel a chore to hold.
To play this one I personally opted for a plectrum as the steel strings would quickly shred my fingers, but some of you may choose to go with nails. The acoustic side is probably not what this is really all about but it plays like, feels like and SOUNDS like playing a mandolin! It's remarkably similar, albeit a 4 string one that is tuned like a ukulele. It's a thin sound though when unplugged and whilst it has some volume, is not totally massively punchy. Still you could easily record from the sound hole with it. I just think it sounds a bit overly metallic and a rather thin. But as I say, I don't think that's really what this one is all about.
Plugged in to an amp and I really started to have a giggle with it. The pickup is clear, even in sound and effective. It takes a range of effects very well and there is always something fun about playing an instrument very loud. Sure, I would still like a coil pickup to get some longer sustain than the piezo can ever give you, but it's still a LOT of fun to plug this in. Playing it with some overdrive and fuzz is an absolute hoot. one that put a real smile on my face.
Yes, I really like this one, but I suppose my final word on it is that I am still not entirely sure what it is trying to be. Is it a ukulele? Is it a mandolin? Is it a small electric guitar? I'm not entirely sure it's any of those things. But you know what? I don't really care either way. I am not one of those people who likes to box things into hard and fast pigeon holes, and think life is too short to debate what IS and IS NOT a ukulele (and get angry about it online). What this IS is though a very well made, well finished, fine musical instrument that is worth your attention.
Many thanks to World Of Ukes for the loan of the instrument!
STOP PRESS! For those thinking that a soprano scale is the work of the devil - it really, REALLY isn't that small - see below - pic is L - R - Kanile'a Tenor, Seagull Soprano, Kamaka Standard Soprano
Great build quality
Great looks (on the whole!)
Great fun plugged in
Some questionable design elements
No included gig bag
Acoustic sound a bit thin
Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9.5 out of 10
Sound - 8.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.9 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz
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