This week it's one of those musical instrument reviews that make writing these pages so enjoyable. And that's because it's another hand made ukulele in the form of the KM Ukuleles Dreadnought Concert in mahogany.
That KM in the name stands for Kevin Mulcock, a builder based in in Bridgend, South Wales who has been building ukuleles that have been gaining popularity for a couple of years now. Kevin is a part time builder who's day job is in operating theatres, but some time ago decided to look into making his own instruments. Rather than just jumping in to the process blind he undertook some training from the very well known Pete Howlett in North Wales, so we will see how that training has paid off!
As I say, he has not been building all that long, and this ukulele is number 19. Saying that, it was finished some time ago and he has completed a number of others since so the number is a little misleading. He's actually on number 26 now!
This one is in typical concert scale and made from all solid Cuban Mahogany in the body. The shape may immediately catch your eye as rather than going with a more narrow waisted double bout, Kevin has used the guitar Dreanought shape giving it a really distinctive outline, and a squarer profile. I really like it. Alongside that wider than normal body is a narrower depth front to back which does a great job of not making it feel cumbersome.
The wood is actually very old at over 80 years and was sourced from Pete Howlett. I don't know what it is, but the term Cuban Mahogany just screams classy, top quality cigars, that kind of thing. It's a deep orangey brown colour which is extremely uniform, and it must be said, a little plain. But then it IS mahogany, and not a uke made from a super stripy wood. It's constructed from two sides on the top, sides and flat back, and put together extremely well. I honestly can't find a single issue with the body. The whole thing is then finished in a nitrocellulose satin which means you still see and feel the grains in the wood, but the whole thing still feels tactile and complete.
Bridge wise, this is a very neatly carved tie bar style in rosewood and it's fitted with a straight Corian saddle. No complaints.
There is no other decoration to the body, though you will spy the addition of a strap button. This one is made of Pear wood and looks great. A word here on options, as I will be coming back to this in the summary. Being a hand made ukulele, this is merely an 'example' of what Kevin can build for you - he is not making these on a production line. Want a strap button? You can have one. Don't want a strap button, don't have one. In fact, within reason he can work with you on a range of choices. It's one of the very best things about getting a ukulele hand made. So anything you see here that you don't like, you can probably change.
Looking inside shows and extremely tidy build with some details I found interesting, despite not really knowing why the choices matter. First of all we have back bracing which is kind of flat yet rounded in a way I have not seen before and these are made of cedar, with a Brazillian walnut centre strip holding the two bookmatched sides together. The linings are kerfed and made from mahogany. Up on the top we have what look like standard top braces, with additional bracing running top to bottom either side of the sound hole and these are made of spruce. Why the different shapings and different woods for each, I freely admit to not knowing. Still, they are all incredibly tidy and I like the variation. Completing the inside is the KM Ukuleles logo on the central label which is hand numbered.
Up to the neck, and this is a bolt on made of a single piece of Tulipwood. It's absolutely stunning in it's pale contrast with the darker body. I absolutely love it. Tulipwood by the way is a hardwood with very good strength for low weight and is also sometimes called Yellow American Poplar. It's got a look of maple to it, and the finish and polish Kevin has applied makes it feel like that too. It's like glass. It also has a rather chunky heel which I both like the feel and look of. It's all incredibly comfortable. At the nut we have a width of 36mm so zero complaints from me on that score either!
Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which is very nicely finished and shaped at the end. I love the stripe to it which makes it very pretty I think. It's fitted with 14 nickel silver frets with 13 to the body which are all dressed very nicely. I can't help feeling that Kevin could have got away with adding a couple more at the end, but there you are. They also have a more old style finishing with flatter tops than I would prefer (I prefer more rounded crowns), but again, being hand made you could talk to Kevin about that. As such, it's just an observation, not a gripe. It's fitted with circular position dots at 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th, and thankfully these are repeated on the side.
Beyond the Corian nut we have a nicely simple shaped headstock faced in more Cuban mahogany. The contrast here between this and the tulipwood is absolutely gorgeous and, for want of a better term, almost looks edible! It's like a layered cake. One thing that does strike me about the headstock is that there is a lot of space above the C and E tuners. I don't have a problem with that technically, but to me it is is screaming out for a logo or an inlay!
Tuning wise we have rear facing planetary tuners by Der Jung with gold hardware and black buttons. They are extremely similar to Gotoh UPT's and work in the same way. The great looks of rear facing tuners coupled with the ease of use of gears. Nice. I actually prefer the feel of these to Gotohs when in use as they have a bit more of a direct action.
Finishing this off are a set of Martin fluorocarbons, but again, being hand made, Kevin could reasonably fit you whatever you want on this front.
And that leaves us with the price, which is always a tough one when reviewing something hand made. As I say above, this is just an example of what Kevin can make, but ultimately a lot of his builds will be specified differently by the buyer, and that will change the price. As such I can only give you an indication on this one. Kevin suggests that in this 'sort' of specification he would probably start pricing at about £350. He may however consider auction sales of his intruments like Ken Timms does, so ultimately the price will be where it will be. What I will say is that for this sort of spec if I saw an auction starting at £350 I wouldnt hesitate in bidding further. I think that's extremely fair in price. In fact I think it's worth a bit more.
Time to put it through it's paces... As you can see from the description above there really isn't anything wrong here in the construction. It's put together extremely neatly, accurately and carefully. I've gone over it with a fine toothed comb and I can't see any issues. That actually surprised me being a luthier instrument as you almost always get some tooling or rubbing marks in the finish. That's not something I complain about, it's just a fact. But not here. I see nothing but flawless finishing no matter where I look. And that tells he that he has put a lot of time and effort into this one. Setup is great too, as you would expect. I'd probably take the saddle down a touch, but it's not at an unacceptable level.
It's also a touch heavier than you would expect from a concert, but not so much that it's uncomfortable and it's still perfectly balanced. I'm assuming that is on account of the more substantial body the dreadnought shape provides and I am also hoping that wider waist will help give a meatier more rounded tone in a way a pineapple does.
The very first thing that struck me about the sound was how much of it there was. Wow this thing packs a punch. It's got absolutely terrific volume when you need it coupled with substantial sustain which means you can hear (and feel) it ringing long after a strum. Wonderful.
And the tone is simply wonderful too. This has a mix of everything I really like in various forms of ukulele all in one package. It's got extremely clear highs that ring like bells coupled with good rounded bass filling in the other end of the picture. And where those tones meet in the middle it gives you a jangly shimmer as they mix and harmonise. It's an extremely pretty and rich sound that genuinely puts a smile on my face. Great character.
I can't normally pick apart which I prefer best on it (like I normally can), strumming or picking. Strumming is huge fun and creates a 'wall of sound' that shines, whearas picking has a nice mix of shimes, sustain and richness. All in all, it's got terrific range and is no one trick pony. Played hard or soft, this one sounds great. Whether it's down to base construction, that body shape, those braces, I don't know. Almost certainly a mix of all three.
I always get a little nervous when asked to review a hand made ukulele. Naturally I am dealing face to face with the very person that put hours of work and sweat into creating it, and as such they can get quite nervous at putting it out there for critisism. And of course Got A Ukulele doesn't shy away from telling it like it is, and never has. Kevin Mulcock need not have worried though as I consider this to be an absolutely stunning ukulele. This is not a ukulele builder just throwing things together on a whim. There is serious skill and attention to detail here and it shows.
Good price, good construction, great sound. What's not to like? I'd strongly recommend you adding Kevin Mulcock to your list if you are looking at a hand made instrument. Highly recommended.
Nothing to see here! And if there is anything you don't like the look of, you can probably change it.
Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9.5 out of 10
Sound - 9.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.3 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz
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