One of the ukulele brands that had a special mention from me in 2017 was Snail, so i'm pleased to be bringing you yet another of theirs. This week we look at the BH-1C Concert Ukulele.
My last review for this brand looked at one at the higher end with a solid wood model but with the BH-1C we have a more affordable alternative. And it's certainly got striking looks I am sure you will agree. This one is in concert scale and in the body is made from laminate spalted maple. I'm pleased to see laminate here because what you may not know about spalted wood is that it's technically a flaw in the tree. Spalting refers to the black lines you can see in the body wood which is actually caused by a fungus in the wood when the tree was growing. I've never been comfortable with that spalting on solid sheets of wood and some I have seen have bordered on diseased and worry about the strength of the spalting lines. But of course laminate gives the wood a strength that you don't need to worry about and you quite often see spalting in laminate ukes. And it's a very effective look as the black spalting stands out against the pale maple wood. Boring grain this is not.
The top, back and sides here are made from two pieces each, and where spalting works so effectively is when they are bookmatched. Thankfully that is the case here, providing a mirror image in each case. Saying that, the back is a little disappointing as not only does it not have much figured spalting, it also doesn't book match too well. A minor point.
Decoration is provided by pale wooden binding strips to the top and back complete with thin black purfling lines which works well with the spalting patterns.
The bridge is made of ebony and is in the batman-esque shape I've seen on a few Snails. It's a through body bridge, helping with vibration transfer to the top, and no, that doesn't mean difficult string changes - it's really easy. The saddle appears to be bone and is heavily compensated.
Soundhole wise, this is another standout and something that makes this Snail very distinctive. It's a teardrop shape set to one side of the top. I don't normally like off set sound holes, but something about this one is pleasing me. This is complimented by a side sound port on the lower bout helping sound to travel up to the ear of the player. Nice.
The joy for a reviewer in seeing soundholes and sound ports like these is that they allow me to get a good look inside to look at the quality of internal finish. The bracing on this is delicate with the top benefiting from a double fan running into the lower bout. The kerfing is notched and neat. Whilst there is no glue mess there is a massive pool of overspray of the gloss that adorns the body that has come through the teardrop hole. Whilst such things don't affect the ukulele tone they do show a sign of laziness as it's really easy to mask that off before spraying.. You know me... little things.
The neck wood isn't specificed but looks like a pale mahogany, sapele or nato. It's jointed at the heel and the headstock and also finished in gloss. The profile though is rather generic Chinese with a 35mm nut width ( 27.5mm from the centre of the G to the A string) and a rounded profile. I prefer them flatter and wider, but it's hardly unusual from the far east.
It's topped with an ebony fingerboard edge bound with a paler wood. The wood condition looks ok, but the finishing around some of the frets at the upper end is rather scruffy. We have 17 and a half frets with 14 to the body on this. The half is down to that taper on the end of the fingerboard to allow the frets to bypass the sound hole. That looks nice. We dont have any outward fret dots, there are side markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th. What you do get is a wooden inlay of a Hawaiian tropical flower halfway down the neck. For me it's all far too stereotypical for a ukulele and not my cup of tea at all I'm afraid.
Beyond the bone nut we have the standard attractive Snail shaped headstock with chamfered edges and a darker wood facing. Like other Snails the logo is inlaid in paler wood. Sadly there are some minor finish issues on the edge of this too.
The tuners are chrome open gears with vintage styled buttons. They are stamped with a name I can't make out but they don't say Snail or Amahi, the parent company. Who knows! One thing I will say though is they have that irritating feature of being different tensions that so often goes hand in hand with cheaper gears. They work though.
This one arrived with unnamed flourocarbon strings and a decent branded padded gig bag and is available for an RRP of £199. Not a bad price at all.
So all in all, this is an attractive ukulele with highly distinctive looks that in most areas is built very well. I have a couple of minor niggles but they are not huge. It's also light and sits nicely balanced in the hands. Set up is also decent if actually a little low at the bridge. That's unusual as many brands send them out overly high but at least there is no buzzing.
And for a laminate ukulele the sound is extremely impressive. Not only does it have good volume, it has good sustain too and a very pretty 'chime' to the sound. It's a very sweet tone that I'm quite taken with. Strumming produces a satisfying jangle that hangs around and will certainly get you noticed. Fingerpicking is a joy too as it projects a kind of music box feel on the higher notes. And despite it not having a neck profile I normally enjoy, I like how playable it is. I've probably sat and noodled with this one a lot more than I do with certain other review models I get to borrow, so that tells you something.
That side sound port really does help with your own ear, but the forward one is no slouch either. And I think that the price is particularly attractive too.
Aside from some messy finishing hear and there, and some design cues that I don't like on a purely personal level, as a striking musical instrument that works well, there's not a huge amount to fault here. This certainly demands your attention for under £200.
All in all, I think Snail have done it again and are firmly now established as a great value alternative to the other obvious brands at this sort of price level. Every model I have reviewed sits firmly in the 'great score' section of this site. I think this one is a terrific alternative to some of the exotic wood laminate ukes from brands like Kala for example, and I think the price is acually a bit better too. Certainly a recommendation from me. And thanks to Red Chili Audio, the UK distributor for the loan of this one.
Good build (on the whole)
Good volume and sustain
Sweet bell like tone
Some rough finishing in spots
The Hawaiian stereotyping is not for me
Cheap feeling tuners
Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.9 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz
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