Ohana SK-39 Soprano - REVIEW

22 Apr 2018

Ohana SK-39 Soprano - REVIEW

There is something of a collection of Ohana brand sopranos building on Got A Ukulele now and it's time to look at another new release from the US musical instrument brand - the SK-39 Solid Mahogany Soprano.

Ohana SK39 Ukulele

One thing that knits all of the Ohana sops I have reviewed together is a nod to the general Martin ukulele look. The SK-25 is a basic entry level solid wood instrument that uses the basic Martin style, and then we looked at the rather decent SK-35 which added binding and a bit more decoration. The SK-39 series though goes into overdrive on the homage to Martin, taking design cues directly from the Martin 3M mahogany ukuleles. To be fair - the 25 and the 35 are not out and out Martin clones in the way this model is, but there is certainly a nod. After all - plain, mahogany body, standard double bout - that's a Martin!

What Ohana have presented here is an all solid mahogany soprano ukulele that is extremely traditional looking. It's similar in the basic construction to the SK-35 but seems to have a darker mahogany wood in the body and quite a bit more decoration. Shape wise - this screams Martin soprano shape in every curve.

Ohana SK39 Ukulele body


Adding to the homage, we firstly have inlaid multiple layer purfling in cream and black on the top binding with similar back binding and this is complimented by a more exaggerated set of concentric circles around the sound hole. The sound hole rings create an optical illusion that the hole is bigger than it is, reminscent of the ornately decorated soundholes of the earliest Hawaiian sopranos, and I like that. It's also nice to see that the cream side binding is inlaid maple rather than plastic. These are both very reminiscent of the original Martins alone, but it wouldn't 'look' like a 3 series without that small cream moustache shaped inlay on the base of the top, called a 'Parend' or a 'Pendaloque'. Sure enough, the SK-39 provides that here too. It's not quite the same shape as the originals (this is only a homage after all), but I like the way it finishes off the top decoration.

Ohana SK39 Ukulele bridge

That body is finished in all satin and it give it a nice professional yet antique feel which exudes a certain class. It certainly feels more vintage than the other Ohana sopranos I mentioned and not as artificial. Incidentally, the sides are made from single pieces in each case.

Ohana SK39 Ukulele soundhole


The bridge wood is not specified by Ohana, but due to CITES I believe they have switched away from rosewood now and this is likely to be Ovangkol which the fingerboard is made from. It's a slotted style in another nod to Martin, and fitted with a bone straight saddle.  I do like the slight end shaping that Ohana put on their slotted bridge plates. Nice.

Looking inside and it's typically tidy as Ohana ukes usually are. There's a glue blob on display, but nothing major. Bracing looks not to be overly done and the linings are notched and neat. Oh, and that typical Ohana label which I've never liked. I think the pineapple thing looks cheesy and i've never understood why it doesn't match their actual logo. Time for a change.

The neck is made from mahogany in three pieces with joints at the headstock and heel, and is also finished in satin. The profile is more rounded than a Martin and at the nut it's narrower at 34mm. I think both of those are a real shame and am still hoping that the far east will start introducing wider fingerboards on sopranos with flatter profiles. This is the only way we will dispel the myth that people with big fingers struggle to play sopranos.. I'd also point out that the heel is much chunkier than the dovetail on a Martin if such things worry you.

Ohana SK39 Ukulele fingerboard

Topping this is an ovangkol fingerboard which is inlaid with an attrative purfling stripe down the centre line which I think looks terrific.  The end of the fretboard is also shaped, but unlike the Martins that shape does not mirror the parend inlay and that kind of irritates me - the two are supposed to be in tandem after all. That is complimented by the use of double position markers at 5th, 7th and 10th in another nod to the Martin original. The neck looks just great because of this I think. Frets wise we have a generous (for a soprano) 17 of them with 12 to the body. Nice. Side markers are provided too. One other thing I will say about the fingerboard is that it needs a damn good oiling. What is it with dry fingerboards becoming more prevalent?

Beyond the bone nut, we obviously have a Martin crown shaped headstock with an inlaid Ohana logo in script font. It looks great as the Ohana logo usually does, but sadly it's only a silver screen print as opposed to an inlay. It's also not applied straight... I like crown headstocks to have a more flowing taper at the lower section like Martin and Kamaka do, but I am really nit-picking now.

Ohana SK39 Ukulele headstock

Flipping that over and I am delighted to see friction tuners, but they are lower end Gotoh pegs and something I would personally want to change. They are essentially the same as those you get on Kiwayas and the SK-35 Ohana and whilst they are better than most, I still find them a bit grippy. I also don't like the stark white of the buttons against the cream binding either and would like these to be cream too, but I suppose you can't have everything. I'm just very particular when it comes to friction pegs.

Ohana SK39 Ukulele tuners

Completing the package are Aquila strings (surely someone, some time will put out a Martin clone with Martin fluorocarbons??) and in the UK this can be yours for a shade under £250. That's certainly not bad when you consider the Martin Style 3 re-issue would cost you about $3000!

The build overall on this model is terrific really. There are no issues that I can see and I think the adornments, finish and build all come together into (mostly) a great looking instrument. It's also very light (though not as light as a Martin!), and perfectly balanced. Setup on this review model was also spot on so I have no real gripes so far. This is a fine looking instrument all told.

To play, despite it being essentially the same build in the body as the SK-35, it seems to have slightly better sustain and roundness of tone to my ears. There's not a huge amount in it, but it certainly improves on the 35 for me. I can only assume that is down to a different tone wood selection as I can't see much else that is different in the body.

Ohana SK39 Ukulele back

The sustain is good for a soprano, and the volume is punchy. I find all Ohana solid sopranos built on the Martin model to be good in that regard, and even the basic SK-25 is something of a pocket rocket. That's exactly what you want with soprano. It's supposed to be punchy, staccato and in your face. It's a rhythmical instrument after all.

What I am getting from the sound though is more warmth and darker tones than I would like from a soprano. Perhaps a string change would brighten it up a touch, but then I am not a fan of Aquila strings on sopranos. Give me bright fluorocarbon any day. As it is I just wished it was a little brighter. Still - it's a very nice tone all the same and many will like the warmer sound.

And it's not a rhythmical one trick pony however. Whilst it doesn't have the more delicate chiming tones of a Martin when picked softly, it's still a very pleasant sound indeed. Very playable in fact.

All in all, aside from a few minor gripes with the design and fitments, all of which are very personal, there is much to like here. Ohana have spent time over the years improving their model range in the Martin copy category and this one takes the next step to great effect. Terrific looks, good sound, and really not a bad price at all.

Recommended. And many thanks to Southern Ukulele Store in the UK who are stocking these right now, together with the concert and tenor versions in the same series.

https://ohana-music.com
https://www.southernukulelestore.co.uk

UKULELE PROS

Classy vintage looks
Good build and finish
Adornments set it off nicely
Good sustain and volume
Very 'soprano' sound

UKULELE CONS

Would prefer a more faithful neck width and profile
Tuners could be improved.
Sound is a little too warm for my liking on a soprano.

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.9 out of 10


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1 comments :

  1. Great review Barry- I really do appreciate the information you impart in all of your reviews, most especeially that you clearly differentiate between fact & opinion!

    I'm pretty partial to the brand as my favorite soprano is an Ohana. Trying to wangle a visit to their HQ which is a few minutes drive from where I live.

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