It's been a while since I featured this brand on Got A Ukulele, but seeing as they are popular with buyers I figured it was time for a return. This week I am looking at the Protégé U100CM from Cordoba Guitars.
The first Cordoba I featured was the 20TM-CE Tenor Ukulele, and whilst it wasn't too bad it fell into the trap of many Cordoba's I have played in that they are over built, heavy and off balance. It was also slightly higher up the spec line for Cordoba compared to this one which is an entry level offering. First things first with the U100CM is my confusion with the naming. Firstly this is labelled (and the headstock is marked) as 'Protégé by Cordoba' as opposed to Cordoba. A look on their website though and it's not listed as such. In fact it's listed as the U1 Concert, of which there is the U100CM (which is only available on Amazon), or the U1M which is available from Guitar Center and other places. The U1M also comes with different strings Confused? Yes, I am too. Answers on a postcard please... It's a ukulele, it doesn't need to be this complicated! So it's a U1/U100CM/U1M... or something.. You also know my thoughts about buying from Amazon, but at least you should be able to track this down elsewhere too.
This one is an entry level, all mahogany laminate concert ukulele in a traditional double bout shape and usual concert scale. It's extremely plain looking, but you know me, that's not necessarily a bad thing and more important is the way it is put together. And this is pretty tidy to be fair. The top is made of a single piece of laminate as are the sides and the very flat back. The body is then finished in a satin coat which has been done neatly, though does little to bring the grain of the wood to the fore. I must say that as much as I like plain ukes, this is rather flat looking. It just needs something else. Can I use the word boring?
There is no decoration other than a white pearl inlaid soundhole rosette. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I find it looks odd and rather lost on the top. Adding a bit of black edging for example would bring it to life, as would making it thinner, but as it is it's not really doing it for me. Of course soundhole rosettes don't do anything for the way the ukulele sounds and plays of course, they are just there for decoration. But as decoration goes, this is bland. Being a laminate you see the edge of the wood sandwich where binding would normally be. I don't mind that as it gives the eye something else to look at, as minimal as it is. Do also note that my Googling suggests that the non-Amazon version of this, the U1M, has an abalone soundhole rosette. I think that looks much better.
The bridge is a very standard rosewood tie bar style holding what looks like a composite (NuBone) straight topped saddle. There's not much more to say about it but it is tidy enough and doesn't suffer from an overly large mounting plate.
Looking inside shows me that the laminate on the top is overly thick for my liking, but otherwise it's simple inside and not messy. The linings are straight bent wood strips and not notched, and the bracing is generic and looks rather chunky, particularly on the underside of the top. Again, not much to say here. As dull as the outside really.
The neck is made of mahogany with overly obvious joints at the heel and headstock. The heel shaping also bothers me as the tip of it is actually really severe and sharp on the hands. It's not a thing that you feel when playing it, but when you pick it up at that position you notice it. Again, as trifling detail, but it was enough for me to immediately notice it. I've never felt a sharp heel before!
It's topped with a rosewood fingerboard, shaped at one end, which is in reasonable condition and comes with a concert standard 14 frets to the body joint and 18 in total. The edges are bound in black hiding the fret ends, but sadly you can still feel them a little. Outward facing pearl dots are fitted at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th, but sadly this comes with no side dots... Profile wise it's also generic Chinese in having a rounded back and a sightly narrow nut width of 35.5mm (27.5mm G to A strings)
Beyond the composite nut is the usual Cordoba headstock shape. It's reminiscent of the Kanile'a shape, so whilst not unique in the uke world, at least it's different from a crown top and I quite like it. It's also narrow up to the first set of pegs which I like as it means your hand doesn't bump the tuners. The Protégé name (note, not Cordoba) is applied to the top in a silver screen print and looks a bit cheap.
Tuners are very generic and cheap looking open gears with fairly small white pearly buttons. They are pretty basic and the sort where you really notice the tooling marks in the metal work and have a bit of play on the posts. They are also not quite in line with each other and in use are all very different tensions. Still, like all geared tuners they hold the strings just fine, it's just that they look and feel cheap.
The package is completed with a functional thin padded bag with the Protégé logo on the pocket and a set of Aquila strings. It also comes with a 'starting to play' leaflet with something of a chord chart and a couple of songs to get you going. Sadly one of those chords is listed as a C7 but includes the chord diagram for a CMaj7. A similar chord, but NOT the same (the C7 is the same as the CMaj7 but the 7th note is flattened). Come on Cordoba.. if you are going to include learning materials with a ukulele for a beginner, it is essential you get it right. That's just shocking! The packagage comes in at the price of just under £50 which is clearly not a lot of money for a ukulele. It's also the sort of price point where quality control issues creep in and the sound can be lacking. We shall see.
To hold it's ok I suppose. It still feels a touch heavy like other Cordoba instruments I have come across, but at least this one is well balanced. It's clear that the thicker than normal laminate and chunky braces are not helping here and that won't help resonance. The neat finish is also pleasant on the hands, but those fret ends are noticeable as is the heel. Setup is reasonable and nothing I would change at the saddle but the nut is a little high. Easily fixed by a dealer, but of course you won't get that from Amazon.
It's always difficult to review models at this sort of price as with one or two exceptions they all kind of sound the same. This on is something of a mixed bag. On the positive side the volume is good and you will have no trouble making yourself heard playing this. The tone is bright and cheery enough, but ends up being a little one dimensional due a lack of sustain. It's also a bit off balance on the volume between the strings, with the A string dominating the mix whether strummed or picked. Admittedly a string change could sort that out, but it started to bother me. Overall it's not a bad tone at all and certainly passable. It's just, well, not very exciting or involving to my ear. It sounds like a ukulele, but a rather generic one. I suppose that's kind of what I expected. Still it's nice enough to play and accurate too. I think thinning that top down and making the braces smaller may create more resonance here, but sadly it's not to be.
So all in all whilst this isn't a head turner of an instrument and is rather bland on tone, one needs to be aware of that ticket price. Whilst this price point can usually be a case of sailing in dangerous waters, it avoids most of the usual hazards and issues I see. It's hard for me to enthuse about it too greatly though because the sound is so one dimensional and it's extremely dull to look at. But as a beginners ukulele you are not going far wrong here I suppose. No, I don't recommned buying from Amazon, but at least this is available in near identical form eleswhere. But that's an unnecessary confusion that annoys me. For me, I would be looking to put a bit more money in the fund and taking a look at offerings from Snail, Baton Rouge or the new Chinese Kiwaya's for better sounding laminate concerts with some character. Still, you'd do FAR better with this than most of the generic Chinese garbage that floods Amazon these days. Overall - not bad, if not essential.
Oh, and Cordoba - learn your chord charts...
'Generally' good construction and finish
Plain to the point of boring
No side markers
Not great sustain and one dimensional tone
Volume a little off balance
A little heavy
Looks - 7 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8 out of 10
Sound - 7 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.9 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz
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