Bonanza Ukuleles Oreo Tenor - REVIEW

15 Sept 2018

Bonanza Ukuleles Oreo Tenor - REVIEW

It's good to be back looking at a small luthier builder again on Got A Ukulele. And a return for Bonanza Ukuleles of Minnesota, USA. And this striking model is called 'The Oreo'.

Bonanza Oreo Tenor Ukulele

Bonanza Ukuleles is the business of Pete and Shelley Mai of Big Falls Minnesota, Pete being a woodworker and furniture maker who in around 2015 turned his hand to making some very different ukuleles that went down very well in ukulele circles. You may recall I looked at one of his incredibly funky looking HPL concert ukuleles round about a year ago and that I really rather liked it. Bonanza wrongly get a name for only making instruments out of HPL as they do make wooden instruments too. One thing is for sure though, and that is that the builds are anything but conventional.

And so it is with The Oreo which arrived with me on loan recently and is one of the most striking instruments I have seen and a real head turner from the moment I opened the case.

It's a thinline traditionally double bout acoustic ukulele that is available in all four of the regular scales. But the more you look at it the more you realise this is not build like a regular wooden uke. Unlike a regular construction method this does not employ the usual 'soundboard and back board attached to a set of sides' model, although it IS still made, generally from a top, back and sides concept. With The Oreo, Pete takes two solid blanks of wood and machines out the insides leaving the soundboard intact on one of them and the back on the other. What he creates is a top and back which each have an integral part of the sides as part of them These two pieces are then put together with a central spacing band in a contrasting colour, again made of a machined piece of solid wood to create a kind of hoop. This then gives the ukulele that 'sandwich' look, which in the case of this wood combination looks very reminiscent of a certain brand of American cookie.... (You honestly didn't have to ask did you??)

Bonanza Oreo Tenor Ukulele body

That sandwich ends up at abotu 38mm front to back of the ukulele which is certainly thinline but also very attractive. Like all models from Pete Mai, you get a big range of choice in wood types and decoration, but this review example uses black walnut for the top and back with a pale stripe made from Aspen. You can reverse those combinations if you wish and also throw Cherry and Alder into the mix if you wish. And whilst I say this is a 'standard double bout' we do have a cutaway too. But you get even more choice on that front too as you can have it without the cutaway if you prefer, and also in a boat paddle shape (which Bonanza call their 'pear') and their really fun 'Amoeba' shape. Choices choices... The whole thing is finished in a semi gloss / satin showing off the grain of the wood, but not leaving the instrument feeling bare. It's very nicely done as you would expect from someone who knows about making furniture!

Bonanza Oreo Tenor Ukulele sides

Bridge wise this appears to be made of walnut and is a through body style with attractive star engravings and the point the strings run into the body. It's fitted with a straight topped saddle made of speckled Corian - a material that is an artificial stone substitute and used by a great many luthiers for this purpose.

Bonanza Oreo Tenor Ukulele bridge

The only other decoration on this review sample is an attractive engraved rope design around the sound hole, but Pete can do anything really. In fact I have seen some highly personalised models made by him so the restriction is really only in your own imagination. Nice.

Bonanza Oreo Tenor Ukulele sound hole

Inside is interesting but very tidy. We have no kerfining or linings as there is no joint between the top / back and the sides to support as in a regular ukulele. I do spy a bit of top and back bracing to keep the thing stable though. You also get a pyrographic etched makers label complete with model number and the logo telling you that 'Music soothes the soul'.

Up to the neck, this wood isn't specified but I am guessing mahogany. It's in two pieces with a joint at the heel and quite rouned in profile. At the nut though it's a touch narrow for my tastes on a tenor at 35mm, though it's still about 27mm between G and A which isn't that much different to the Koaloha I reviewed last week.

It's topped with a walnut board which is very neatly done and fitted with 18 frets joining the body at the 14th. They are edge bound and neatly dressed with no sharpness. You also get outward dot markers in pearloid at the 5th, 7th, 10th 12th and 15th and these are repeated with dots on the side. Great.

Bonanza Oreo Tenor Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the Corian nut is the plain but distinctive for BEING plain Bonanza headstock. It's faced with more black walnut with an aspen stripe nicely repeating the design of the body. I'm amazed at how many ukes out there don't take that opportunity or even worse go for a completely different design on the headstock face plate. The logo is then laser etched in the top space.

Bonanza Oreo Tenor Ukulele headstock

Tuners on this are generic chrome sealed gears with small black buttons. You do though get a lot of choice with Bonanza on these in both colours, whether you want friction pegs or even UPT's. I like brands that offer this level of choice. These though are good quality with nice even tension.

Bonanza Oreo Tenor Ukulele tuners

Completing this one are a set of Worth Browns and a couple of strap buttons, but you could specify a pickup too if you wanted it. In this specification though the price would be $339 with the price going up and down based on scale length  and options chosen. That's really pretty competitive though when you think about it, particularly that this isn't made in a far eastern sweat shop..

The first thing that I need to major on here are the looks. This is an extremely different and attractive looking ukulele. Want a head turner? Get an Oreo. I am totally in love with the looks here. I would say though I prefer this wood combination to some of the alternatives, but that's where it's good to have the choice. And thankfully that is not the end of the story as the build quality and finishing throughout is very good leaving you with an incredibly tactile instrument that is a joy to hold and feel.  Sure, you can tell it's hand made and you get a couple of tooling marks here and there, and the finish is not a mirror gloss, but it's still very good. That's further helped by the fact it is light and very well balanced too meaning that I have few complints here. I'd prefer the nut a touch wider and the profile of the neck a little flatter, but I am really nitpicking.

Bonanza Oreo Tenor Ukulele heel and back

Sound wise you would expect a narrow body built this way to suffer on volume and whilst it is not the loudest ukulele on the block, I was pleasantly surprised by what it does have. No, it's not 'melt your face' in volume but it is no slouch and louder than many tenors I have played. Perfectly respectable and perhaps more suited as a travel model for more considered strumming and picking, but perhaps I am doing it a disservice here. Perhaps a carved and curved back would increase volume, but I appreciate that may be difficult to achieve in view of the construction method.

The playing tone is rich, jangly and is both distinctive and surprising for a small package. There's a clear harmonisation going on between the strings when played together giving it a very pleasing shimmer and the resonance comes through in vibrations not only in the body but in the whole instrument. Lovely.

The key word here is 'different' and I mean that in a very good way. I like different as you know. What arrived in this review sample was a ukulele that I have found it very difficult to put down. I think that's mainly a combination of the looks and the feel, but it's also extremely playable and a great laid back strummers or pickers instrument. As you can tell, I am very taken with this one and once again Bonanza have sent me something that is very much recommended.

Many thanks to Pete and Shelley for loaning this one, and kindly also donating it to the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival where I think it will be going in the charity raffle. Well worth checking out and supporting a local builder with some great ideas.


Drop dead stunning looks
Great build quality
Nice sustain and voice.
Good price


Not much, but not the loudest ukulele out there.
Would prefer a slightly wider flatter neck profile


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






  1. I recently also purchased a Bonanza ukulele. Mine was also a thin line uke however I went for their tutti fruttie(this pattern really stands out) arberite on an ameba concerte body. It also has planetary tuners and a MiSi pick-up and low G stringing. I absolutely love my new uke. It has a full rich sound with good volume and a beautiful sustain when used acoustically. When used electronically boy howdie does it have a kick. I had to turn my amp down it was that powerful. So again I really love my Bonanza ukulele, it is now my favorite ukulele to play.

  2. You do realise you are costing me money! Just ordered one and not for the first time after one of your fabulous reviews. Thank you for raising my horizons.

  3. As soon as I read this review, I ordered one just like Barry reviewed. It arrived yesterday, and it's even more beautiful in person. It's lightweight, and it sounds beautiful (low G)

  4. Where can I buy one of these bonanza oreo think one tenor ukulele in the uk? Thanks

    1. They are only available direct from Pete. Link at end of the review

  5. After reading this review I ordered one from Pete in concert size. I went for the additional Gotoh tuners and MiSi pickup. A wonderful and truly innovative uke and one that is nothing like anything else I have ever had the pleasure of playing. They are such lovely people to deal with. They told me the lead time would be 4-6 weeks and it was in fact 5 delivered by FedEx. Thanks Baz for giving us the heads up on this great ukulele.

    1. Did they give you a case, or was it just packaged in a box? I'm just wondering because it would really persuade me to buy if they also made custom cases for their unusually-shaped ukes...

  6. Another great review! I really like your objectivity and transparency across all your reviews but this one ended up costing me money. Thanks for keeping us informed and keep up the good work!

  7. Got me too! This is the third uke bought after seeing your reviews.
    Currently in the process of ordering my Oreo. Just like that one! Cheers Barry. (Also donated a beer or two)

  8. After seeing this review, I went to the website and ordered my Oreo tenor! They told me that this was the last batch of oreos they were making. It’s a limited edition of only 1,000 instruments! They are of course going to promote other styles and many more instruments! Can’t wait to receive mine and play some music! Checking the mail everyday! Haha!

    1. Pete actually retired from building, but had so much interest he was persuaded to make a few more for fans - so I have no doubt you are in the final batch. Well bagged!


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