Blackbird Farallon EKoa Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

16 Jun 2018

Blackbird Farallon EKoa Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

A change of pace this week on Got A Ukulele reviews as we move to the upper end of the scale and welcome back Blackbird Guitars. This week I am looking at their Ekoa Tenor Ukulele called the Farallon.

Blackbird Farallon Tenor Ukulele


You may recall my first look at a Blackbird in the form of their Clara Concert Ukulele, and what a terrific instrument that was. For a non-wood ukulele, the sound it produced was quite breathtaking. In the Farallon model (named after a set of islands off the shore of Blackbird's native San Francisco) we move into tenor scale, and whilst it has a more traditional look than the Clara, the materials are still anything but.

This is a USA made double bout tenor instrument constructed from the same proprietary 'Ekoa' material created by Blackbird. That is a flax based linen composite that is light, incredibly strong and remarkably has the tonal properties of traditional solid woods. It's essentially a cloth weave hardened in a resin for strength. Don't make the mistake of looking at this and thinking it's just a 'plastic ukulele', because it isn't. This isn't petrochemical based at all, and rather is actually plant based. Even the resin that hardens the material is a bio resin. Blackbird have a history in making 'non-wood' based musical instruments, and whilst there remain to be some naysayers out there who are not happy unless a tree has been cut down to give them their precious fix of 'solid wood', they have really made a real name for themselves as innovators who also make instruments that sound terrific. Ultimately that's what matters most isn't it?

Blackbird Farallon Tenor Ukulele body

Like the Clara the back and back of the neck is all one piece of Ekoa moulded in a press to create a single, curvy bowl back shape of which the neck forms a continuous part. The back moulding has the same mid brown checkerboard effect showing of the linen patchwork and is really rather attractive. The word 'tactile' just doesn't do this justice! Dropped onto the top of this is another sheet of Ekoa with a different pattern that is more reminscent of wood.  This example has a matte finish on the top, but Blackbird offer it with an optional high gloss sunburst if you prefer the shiny look. I like it like this. Unlike the Clara we stay more traditional here in other ways as this comes with a regular circular sound hole rather than the funky off centre hole on the concert. And if a single sound hole is not enough for you, they offer a side sound port as an added extra. Whilst it's not as striking as the shape of the Clara, I like it for it's traditional double bout approach. And those curves are really curvy which helps. Very reminsicent of a Grand Auditorium style guitar. We have no other decoration, but I would argue that when the build materials are so striking and such a talking point in themselves, why would you need bling? There are a pair of strap buttons though that come as standard.

The bridge is a more traditional shape than that on the Clara, but is made from the same paper based richlite composite. It looks great and is fitted with a  straight topped Micarta saddle - again, also a composite. Seriously - go looking for wood anywhere on this ukulele and you won't find it!

Blackbird Farallon Tenor Ukulele bridge

There's not much to look at inside save for the makers label. Because of the method of construction there is no back bracing or kerfed linings to speak of but I can spy a couple of black composite top braces presumably to create some tension and resonance in the top together with strength.

Blackbird Farallon Tenor Ukulele heel

Up to the neck and this swoops out of the body in one piece. It has a nice satin feel and a rounded profile. Because of the method of construction we don't have a traditional heel. It measures about 35.5mm at the nut and  28mm from the G to the A string, so that will make for comfortable play. The nut, incidentally, is made of Graphtech. Topping the neck is more Richlite composite in jet black. Like the Clara it's too shiny for me and I would much prefer it to have a matte finish, but there you go. It's extremely neat and tidy though. We have a generous 20 nickel silver frets in total with 14 to the body 'joint'. They are not overly chunky and all dressed very neatly. This example comes with optional outward facing dots in aluminium at the 5th, 7th, 8th and 10th, but all models come with side dots as standard. Nice.

Blackbird Farallon Tenor Ukulele fingerboard

The simply shaped headstock is faced with another sheet of Ekoa similar to that on the body top and carries the silver screen printed Blackbird logo. Like the Clara it has a hole in it due to the fact that the neck is a hollow extension of the body. This very cleverly acts as a another sound hole projecting, in particular, the treble end of the tone. Very clever, and yes, it does work.

Blackbird Farallon Tenor Ukulele headstock

Tuning is provided by a set of absolutely wonderful Gotoh UPT's in all black with vintage keystone shaped buttons reminscent of the shaping Ken Timms applies to his tuners. They look great, they work great, and full marks from me for a tenor employing rear facing pegs. More of this sort of thing!!

Blackbird Farallon Tenor Ukulele tuners

The Farallon comes strung with Oasis 'Warm' fluorocarbon strings with a wound low G, but thankfully that is an option only and not something they force on you. I'd take the high G myself, but there you are. You also get a great quality branded gig bag and this one comes in (in this spec) at $1,542 with those optional fretboard dots. They also offer a range of other optional extras such as custom inlays, pickups and radiused fretboards for a price. So yes, that's serious money, but then if it's like the Clara, its a serious ukulele. Another way of looking at it I suppose is that it's on a par with decent examples of tenors from Kamaka, Kanile'a and Koaloha. So if it delivers comparably on tone, maybe the price is where it should be.

The build quality, like others i've seen from Blackbird is exemplary. There is absolutely nothing wrong here that I can find and it also feels solid in the hand although not heavy. The balance and set up is also spot on. That 'tactile' word I used above comes into play again here. Whilst it's an artificial material it actually feels completely natural in the hands. You may think it's going to be slippy and, for want of a better term 'plasticky' but it really doesn't. I have absolutely no complaints here.

The sound of the Clara knocked me sideways and i'm pleased to say this does the very same. It has terrific sustain and resonance that you can feel in your chest and a volume level that, when played hard, will wake the dead. That's not a 'one trick' thing though, as rest assured, this plays wonderfully when picked with the softest touch too. And that comes from it's response which is effortless.

Blackbird Farallon Tenor Ukulele back

But like the Clara it's all about the clarity of the tone for me. Not a single note is missing when strummed and it never gets confused. From the bass side to the treble, they all cut through extremely clearly in a rich mix that just shimmers. Whilst the Clara was possibly a touch on the bright side for my tastes, being a smaller body and scale, this adds a mellower and rounder richness to the mix whilst not losing that 'zing' that these are famous for. Whether strummed or picked, this one puts a huge smile on my face. The body shape and size is clearly helping here, and whilst being an artificial material that ran the risk of it losing some character and sounding a little echoey or boxy, that's just not the case here. Put a blindfold on and listen and you cannot pick this apart from a very high end wooden ukulele. You might not be able to place a particular tonewood (naturally, because there isn't any) but I think you'd be pressed to say the tone was anything but wonderful.

I'm extremely lucky to get to test instruments as good as this one, and they really do make the whole process of reviewing so many instruments (good and bad) worthwhile. But not only are my plaudits just about the sound and the build here. As was the case with the Clara, my hat is off to Blackbird for having the bravery and brains to introduce new materials to the ukulele world. And it's not just new material for the sake of it. They didn't once take their eye of the importance of it being a great musical instrument. And it excels on that. It excels at the very highest level. Totally recommended. Boy.... do I NEED one of these!

Many thanks to Blackbird and Southern Ukulele Store for coming together to help get this one on loan.

https://www.blackbirdguitar.com


UKULELE PROS

Innovation
Great classy looks that give it a more traditional edge
Terrific volume and sustain
Incredible tone for non-wood
Great tuners

UKULELE CONS

Would prefer a matte fingerboard


UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9.5 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 - 9.4 out of 10

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6 comments :

  1. Love that tone and sustain. If I won the lottery....

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  2. wish I had enough money to get something like this. It would give me plenty of incentive to get even better (3 years in, nailed the E-chord, starting to learn fingerpicking, still a long way to go). And it does look stunning. And I presume, being resin-based gloss finish, it might be a bit less prone to humidity changes than wood, and also more suitable for my busking should it start to rain (mind you, would I want to cart such an expensive instrument around for that sort of thing?)

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  3. Just think what Mr. Maccaferri could have done with Ekoa!

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  4. The smile and dreamy look on your face while playing it Baz....pure gold!
    It sounds and looks stunning.
    From the sound of the construction method it’s kinda like bio-fibreglass...should be very strong and sturdy.
    I love it...as I did the Clara.
    Great review smiley.
    ��

    ReplyDelete
  5. Baz, I ordered my custom Clara on Oct '17 and received it in Aprl. The delay was caused by my change orders. I added a custom fretboard inlay and discreet "piano key" side markers plus the tobacco sunburst gloss finish. (And every other option.) I was/am blown away. BTW, Joe will imclude a matte fretboard on request.

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  6. What's the going price for a kidney these days? I've got two perfectly good ones, so trading one for a Farallon isn't a bad deal, right?

    ReplyDelete

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