Martin 0XK Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

12 May 2018

Martin 0XK Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

Something this week that may look quite familar to you on Got A Ukulele. It's the Martin 0XK Soprano Ukulele.

Martin 0XK Soprano Ukulele


And the reason it may seem familiar is that this is a soprano ukulele, made from HPL (high pressure laminate)... you know, JUST like that bright blue one I reviewed previously - the Martin 0X UKE Bamboo. In fact it is pretty much identical in many ways. So why am I reviewing it as a separate instrument now?

Well, despite it being so similar there are actually some slight differences too. I also see quite a few discussions suggesting they sound different as well and I wanted to explore that. So let's have a look. (note - I would encourage you to re-read that Bamboo review alongside this one as it goes into more detail about the build and construction that applies equally to this one).

The 0XK is actually the first HPL ukulele from Martin, with the Bamboo model following some years later. The concept of using HPL itself is also not new to Martin and they have been using it for some years on guitars as have several other brands. The body on the 0XK is completely identical to the Bamboo apart from the outer image. It has exactly the same dimensions, and is made from the same HPL paper laminate (think Formica - there is no wood in the main body construction AT ALL - it's made from compressed sheets of paper / card in a resin). HPL was developed in musical instruments as an eco friendly alternative to wood in the ukulele body. It has the same sort of resonance as wood, though is stronger than solid wood. The only point of difference here with the Bamboo is that outer graphic. Whilst on the Bamboo we have a brightly coloured bamboo patterning, on this we get a Koa image - hence the 'K' in the name. Note that I use the word 'image' here - and that's because this outer layer isn't wood at all, rather it's a photographic reproduction in a print. I still see reviewers and even some music stores make the mistake of suggesting there is wood in these bodies. Totally wrong. Apart from the bracing and bridge, there isn't any.  (And yes, full marks to those who emailed me to say 'it's paper laminate, so it's technically wood'... come on... you know what I mean..) Anyway - this looks like Koa and  there is no doubt in my mind that this is much better looking than the bright colours of the Bamboo. One thing I will say though is that the koa image is kind of plain. I mean, given the choice of putting only a graphic on the outer, why would you not choose a really swirly stripy image?

Martin 0XK Soprano Ukulele body

I still have the same gripe I raised in the Bamboo review though. These are NOT wood, so why try to pretend they are with an artificial image that aims to look like it? Because of how HPL is made, Martin had the choice of any image they would have liked on these and I see that as a missed opportunity for something creative. How about a graphic celebrating the history of Martin Ukuleles? How about a jet black model? Candy Stripes, you name it - anything could be on the outside on these.

Otherwise though, as I say, the body is otherwise identical. It has the same black stripe around the top and back edge which people assume is binding, but which is actually the HPL in cross section. It also has the same pleasing satin feel which is very tactile. It doesn't feel like wood, but doesn't feel artificial either. I like it. The top, back and sides are all single sheets of HPL and the back is very slightly arched. There is no other decoration apart from a white and black transfer rosette around the sound hole reminscent of the S1 soprano.

Martin 0XK Soprano Ukulele back

Bridge wise, whilst the design is the same slotted Martin style, housing a compensated Tusq saddle, unlike the Bamboo which uses Sipo wood, this one is Morado (also known as Pau Ferro). It's equally attractive though, if a little paler. But that paler wood works just fine against the paler outer image I think. Just a (confusing) word on the wood in the bridge and fingerboard here. When I reviewed the Bamboo, the wood used by Martin was Rosewood, but Martin advised they were changing to Sipo due to CITES changes (which is what you will get now on that model). This may be old stock of the 0XK as this is Morado, but apparently this is moving to Sipo as well. Confused? I am. Either way, depending on the age of the model you buy, you will either get Morado or Sipo. Both are fairly dark hard woods with fine texture, making them good choices for fingerboards.

Martin 0XK Soprano Ukulele bridge

Inside we have the same tidy construction as the Bamboo with notched wooden linings and bracing together with the hand numbered Martin label telling you this is made in Mexico. Weirdly, like the Bamboo, ths actually has the signature Martin smell in the soundhole despite being made from HPL. Maybe they spray it in with a bottle!

The neck is also similar, yet very different to the Bamboo. It's dovetail jointed into the body (like all Martins) and made of 'stratabond' laminate wood, which is long thin strips of wood compressed together along the neck of the ukulele to create a very strong multi layered sandwich. It's light, strong and apparently is more eco friendly that a solid hunk of wood. Martin aficionados and guitar lovers shudder at this material, but I think it both looks and feels great. The stratabond on the bamboo is made from birch, and the Martin specs say the same for the 0KX version. What is different though is the colour and Martin also differentiate here. On the Bamboo you get 'natural birch' and on the 0XK you get 'dark birch'. The Bamboo version is really pale, where this is a more attractive darker set of stripes. I much prefer this, particularly where the strips end at the headstock creating an attractive set of darker stripes. Apart from the colour, it feels identical and is shaped the same way.

Martin 0XK Soprano Ukulele neck

The neck is topped with more morado (again, you get Sipo on the Bamboo and soon to be on this one) and again I prefer the paler colour against the Koa image on these. It too is shaped at the end like most Martin sopranos. We have the same 17 frets with 12 to the body and a typical Martin layout of tiny outward and side facing dots. Like the Bamboo it's finished really nicely and the frets are dressed well. They are also really low profile and thin making playing a pleasure. The neck profile is also nicely shallow with a pleasing 36mm at the nut. Nice. I really do like Martin soprano necks.

Martin 0XK Soprano Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the Tusq nut, we have a typical Martin headstock, but faced in the koa graphic, not the coloured bamboo. It has that nice sweep up to the tuners giving lots of space at the nut on first position chords that so many other ukulele makers miss. Whereas you get a simple black transfer for the Martin logo on the Bamboo model, on this they use a gold screen print. It's nice enough and at least it's not one of those horrid 'greeting card' stickers they use on some other instruments. And because I KNOW I will be asked when people see the photograph - why are the strings strung that way on the G and A strings? Short answer is, I don't think it actually matters, but is something I have seen on a lot (but not all) new Martin Sopranos. I think it avoids a nasty break angle on the string from the nut to the post which is meant to be better for stability. Hmmm... OK. If you don't like that though, it's easily reversed.

Martin 0XK Soprano Ukulele headstock

Tuners are the same as the Bamboo. They are entry level Grovers which are not stellar, but not terrible either. I think they are the 2 series and come with nice cream buttons. They are easily changed though to 4's or 6's and should be a straight swap. And it's looking more closely at the tuners that tells me this is the older 'morado' stock as the Grover tuners are not branded Grover on the top faces of the tuning posts like newer ones are. Can I just say a word again about that stripy neck here. I think it looks great with those tuners. OK, OK, I'll give it a rest now..

Martin 0XK Soprano Ukulele tuners

Naturally it comes strung with Martin flourocarbon strings and it comes with the usual high quality Martin branded TKL padded gig bag in blue. The price, like the Bamboo, is something that may cause a sharp intake of breath at an RRP of £375, although, shopping around finds them cheaper. The naysayers say that it's far too much money for HPL, but as I said in the Bamboo review, I don't judge it based on what it's made of, rather how it sounds and plays. Surely that is what matters? Funny how you don't see people saying that the Blackbird ukes made from flax resin and costing over £1,000 are 'too much because they are not wood'...

Like the Bamboo, it's nice and light and very well balanced It's not as light as some other high end sopranos I have played like Kiwayas and even the Martin S1, but it is far lighter than the more generic Chinese copies in this scale. I read some reviews suggesting that the neck was overly heavy on these, but I honestly don't sense that at all with this review model. In fact the balance at the 12th is just fine.  Setup too is typically Martin and bang on with an action at the nut and saddle that I am perfectly happy with. Martin also call this one 'lefty friendly' and that's because despite the saddle being compensated, it works in the same way if you flip it around and flip the strings too. Clever.

And, surprise surprise, the sound is pretty much identical too. It has terrific volume and punch, great sustain and again, actually sounds like wood and has the Martin jangle. I think it sounds terrific and for me is as good as, if not better than, several more expensively priced wooden sopranos I could name. Oh, and that includes the Martin S1... It's not a super bright, sharp tone like the S1 and much warmer, but still extremely pleasant. I have seen people doing video comparisons between the sound of these and the Bamboo and claiming differences between them, but I really don't get that. Disclosure - I no longer have the Bamboo to compare it side by side (I eventually went against my own comments on that review suggesting I liked the colour and found I couldn't live with the bright blue...) - but this honestly sounds very much like that one. And that stands to reason, it's essentially identical in the body. I suspect any differences people are hearing / claiming are actually just differences between individual builds and you could get similar variation between two Bamboos or two 0XK's. For all intents and purposes though, it's the same - and that's very good. Yes, you may have both models and tell me that you hear a difference between them, but I suspect you might hear another difference if you played your 0XK next to this one. Individual models vary too!

Playability is fantastic and the combination of the tactile body finish and low profile frets on a wide fingerboard makes this a joy to play with. Whether strummed (where you get the jangle and shimmer) or picked where it has a chiming tone and great projection, it puts a smile on my face. This is a great ukulele.

Martin 0XK Soprano Ukulele sound hole

Overall, it's hard to pick the two variants apart, but the scoring below gives them equal billing on all areas bar looks. I think this just LOOKS nicer with the koa finish and that darker neck. Yes, I'd still prefer some innovation in the looks, but there is no getting away from it with this reviewer - I prefer the wood look to the bright blue (or red, or green). And yes, the value for money score is still a bit depressed, because I suppose it IS a bit expensive really, but still - bear in mind that comment above. In my opinion, this sounds as good as, if not better than MANY similarly or more pricey sopranos made of wood. So who cares what it's made of if it sounds good and plays well? I don't. Sadly many do, including the person who commented on the Bamboo review after I reviewed it saying 'a ukulele made from HPL is not a real ukulele'.... Groan... What nonsense.

I genuinely think these have become the instruments some Martin fans love to hate despite never having picked one up. (and no, the commenter above who said they are not real hadn't either...) The comments tend to be  'Oh it's HPL, it must be rubbish'... when in reality the sound is terrific, the playability is terrific and I find it hard to fault. I'm not saying that it's a 'vintage Martin' and nor is it trying to be in any way, but for those who have dismissed them totally off-hand, I really would recommend picking one up. I think you would be pleasantly surprised. I'd gladly have one of these in the herd.

Very much recommended.

https://www.martinguitar.com/guitars/ukulele/

UKULELE PROS

Impeccable build
Light and balanced
Nice outer looks and contrasting stripy neck
Does NOT sound like artificial material
Volume and sustain are terrific

UKULELE CONS

Outer graphic could be better utilised
Outer koa image is rather plain
I want better tuners
A touch expensive (shop around!)


UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW

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THANKS!

4 comments :

  1. The neck looks amazing! Agree 100% people shouldn't knock them because of construction materials, especially if they are players, not collectors..

    ReplyDelete
  2. I commented on your other review about how much I love my OXK. I still do, but just wanted to mention that the bridge on mine came loose after about 3 years, and I had to re-glue it. It has metal positioning pins to help keep it in place, but there is apparently enough torque to twist the whole thing forward. This is apparently an issue with the Martin OX guitars also. It wasn't a big deal to fix, and it plays as well as ever. It is still my go-to travel instrument.

    I wonder if mine has rosewood on it, and I should worry about traveling internationally with it...

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love my two Martin soprano Ukuleles I have this Oxk and it wasn’t first Martin and I still consider it my favorite of all my ukes and I also own a S-1 solid mahogany soprano and I love that one too, but honestly, I find myself reaching for the oxk more than any other! It is a beautiful quality build, sound and feel! Well rounded and not as bright as my S-1 but I like the contrast!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I quite like the look of the laminated neck also, would be a real winner with a set of Gotoh UPT's.
    This has me really wanting to purchase one, soon.
    Thanks for another great review Barry.

    ReplyDelete

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