Shima JS ' Jake Shimabukuro' Wideneck Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

19 Jan 2019

Shima JS ' Jake Shimabukuro' Wideneck Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

Next up on Got A Ukulele reviews and and instrument that caused quite a stir when it was announced. The Shima JS  Wideneck Soprano.

Shima JS Wideneck Soprano Ukulele


The stir of course comes down to what those letters 'JS' stand for in this case. This is the Jake Shimabukuro Wideneck Soprano. Whether you go in for Jake's music or not, that attaches an enormous badge of credibility to an instrument when you consider that Jake is undoubtedly the most revered ukulele player on the planet!. That credibility would mean nothing of course if this was just a commercial badging for no reason (bandwagonning), but Shima are actually owned by both Jake himself and his brother Bruce. It is THEIR company. I was therefore delighted to engage with Bruce Shimabukuro to be able to bring you this one!

The concept of the model is that the Shimabukuro brothers wanted to create something of high quality at a more affordable price for those wanting to learn to play uke. And that affordability angle comes from the fact that, on stage, Jake himself exclusively plays custom Kamaka ukuleles. Those come in at an extremely serious price that, despite how sublime they are, most likely rule out the majority of players who are getting on the ladder. So in 2018, Shima was launched. Bruce himself is a ukulele player and also had a ukulele store on Hawaii before moving into ukulele design and production  of ukes in Taiwan. He found himself somewhat disillusioned by the vast number of new instruments coming out of the far east, and the tide of, well.. shall we say 'less than brilliant instruments'. This led to a discussion with his brother about creating their own value instrument to the high level specs of an actual seasoned player rather than a corporate brand.

And so it was that the instrument itself was designed by Jake himself, and it has resulted in something a little unusual for a 'mere soprano'. Some of those features will be self evident when we look closer at it.

Shima JS Wideneck Soprano Ukulele body

The Shima soprano ukulele is made in China (then shipped to Hawaii for final checking by Bruce and Jake) and is built from a laminate mahogany body ukulele in a standard sized and shaped soprano configuration.  The top, back and sides are each in two pieces. It's very simple looking, but my readers will know that I like ukuleles for that. That is to say that it has no exterior decoration in the form of inlays, binding or a sound hole rosette. The body is finished in a kind of glossy open pore satin and I must say the finish and build are impeccable. There is not a flaw in the instrument anywhere I can see, the joints are tidy and the finish is pleasingly smooth and tactile on the hands.  But.. you read that first line and will be thinking... 'a laminate... by Jake?'.  Oh come on people.. you know my views on this topic and this is designed to be a value instrument. Without wishing to repeat an old rant of mine ad nauseum, I would take a well made laminate over a poorly made solid instrument every time. So it's other ukuleles at this price REGARDLESS of laminate or solid that it needs to stand up against. We will touch on that again later.

The bridge is made of reconstituted rosewood, meaning (I believe) laminates of the wood rather than a clean virgin piece. I presume this gets around CITES difficulties of using virgin wood and I have no problem with it as it looks clean, tidy and well made. It's a tie bar style and is fitted with a bone saddle with a compensated top. The whole bridge is small and doesn't employ my pet hate of huge 'wings' on the sides which serve to dampen the top.

Shima JS Wideneck Soprano Ukulele bridge

There is not much more to say about the body other than looking inside which is extremely tidy. The linings are notched and the braces are scalloped and thin. You also spot the makers label with the JS logo and Jake's signature. What you also see is that the laminate used for the build is extremely thin. This is NOT a plywood ukulele and sits in that 'high end' laminate world which I do like so much.

Shima JS Wideneck Soprano Ukulele sound hole

The neck is made of Okoume wood in three pieces (joints at heel and headstock) and this is where we start to go off track from a standard soprano. Fitted to the JS is a long neck giving the instrument a 15 inch scale. So that is a concert scale on a soprano body. Nothing unusual in that as such as there are a few long neck sopranos about which work on the same basis but Jake wanted it to be even more 'hybrid.'  So they label this model as a soprano with a 'tenor range'. They achieve that because as well as just being a regular long neck, it is fitted with a more standard tenor number of frets (18 with 14 to the body) and also a wider nut.  The frets are also thin and diminutive, which I like on any ukulele. The nut here is a roomy 37mm and 30mm from G to A strings which is great to see. It also has a nice flattened back profile giving at a traditional feel. Overly rounded and typical of China this is NOT. So in short you are getting a soprano body with a longer neck, and a tenor quantity of frets and a tenor style nut width. No complaints from me here and how I wish this was more common! Jake's reasoning was that he wanted something as comfortable to play as his tenors but smaller in the body for portability. Yep. I get that and I like that! In fact that neck is modelled on his tenor I believe in width and profile. Sure... some people will question what it actually 'is', but personally I don't get too concerned about naming conventions. It's a ukulele, and so long as the punters know what they are getting when they order one, it's ok with me.

The fingerboard material is not specified in their specs but is the same laminate / reconstituted rosewood, evident by the thin strips running down the length. You also get outward dot position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and these are repeated on the side too. Great.

Shima JS Wideneck Soprano Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the bone nut we have a simple flat topped shaped headstock but one that oozes class in my opinion. It is faced in a darker almost piano black wood and is finished beautifully. The 'JS' signature logo is a pearly inlay and looks great too. I really like this headstock.

Shima JS Wideneck Soprano Ukulele headstock

Tuners are un-named sealed gears with kidney shaped buttons. They are finished in black paint which works really well with the black faced headstock. They work well too. Yes, I'd much prefer friction pegs, but I do like how these compliment the black face and with the longer neck, they don't like as out of place as they can do on a regular soprano.

Shima JS Wideneck Soprano Ukulele tuners

Completing the package are a set of custom gauge D'Addario strings and the ticket price comes in at $299. Now, that is a serious price, and one that I have seen a bit of consternation about in ukulele forum groups online. I take a somewhat different view, and that is mainly down to one other brand name - Kiwaya. As I always say, the fact that an instrument is laminate or made in China does not matter to me, rather what DOES matter is whether it is built well, plays well and sounds good. The Kiwaya KS-1 is an all laminate regular scale soprano from Kiwaya and will cost you a similar amount of money. And I thought that instrument was absolutely worth every single cent of the ticket price for the simple reason that it is made and plays so well.

Shima JS Wideneck Soprano Ukulele back

So that will be what matters to me here, so let's get on to that build and playing the thing. First up, as I say, the finishing is impeccable so that translates to a ukulele which is nice to hold. There is nothing rough, sharp or jarring in the hands here. The setup is spot on too.  It's also light and nicely balanced and a tap of that thin top tells me it is resonant and bouncy. Things are looking good.

That resonance makes itself known with a terrific punchy volume that just barks out of the ukulele when you want it to. Exactly what you want from a rhythmical soprano, this is not a ukulele that will get lost. Sustain too is also impressive for a small bodied instrument, and whilst not quite as longing as a more resonant tenor is certainly better than many other sopranos.  That, of course, makes for satisfying fingerpicking, but strummed too, the resonance shimmers across the strings in a really pretty way.

The tone is brighter than I would like and, yes, you CAN tell it's a laminate as it has a touch of boxiness, but I am really nitpicking here. What it does deliver is a beautifully clean, crystal bell like tone which coupled with that projection makes for an extremely nice sound.

And the playablilty really stands out here. That roomy neck makes it a joy for someone like me with 'fists of ham' to play, and if you are the sort of player who enjoys a foray up to the dusty end, those 19 frets will let you reach pretty much anywhere you want to go. And importantly, unlike many ukuleles the volume and tone does not drop off to useless when you DO play up the neck. That's really great.

Shima JS Wideneck Soprano Ukulele neck

In summary, this is a wonderfully made instrument with no flaws or issues on it that I can spot anywhere when it comes to the build. The sound too is excellent as is the playability. The scale length and tenor type neck is a joy to play and is the perfect antidote for those players who still assume that they will never be able to play a soprano ukulele, and something I hope reverts to being more common. The price is on the high side compared to the competition, I do have to accept that, but this has a build and tone that places it alongside the Kiwaya brand ukuleles and as such I can see the justification.  All in all though, for the money it delivers extremely well for me and will stand up to most other instruments I can think of for that sort of cost whether laminate or solid. And that's the point really. That's why I am not swayed by wood type or country of origin. It plays brilliantly.  As such, this comes highly recommended!

http://shimaukulele.com

And for my readers - a reminder that Jake Shimabukuro is performing at his first ever UK Ukulele Festival this year at GNUF as well as a UK tour. Who knows, if you bought one you could get it signed by the man himself!

STOP PRESS - I number of people were interested in these from the UK, but were put off by the shipping charges from the USA to UK. Bruce has kindly informed me that you can now get FREE SHIPPING on these if you put the code ' AlohaBaz ' in the checkout on the Shima website. You can't say fairer than that! Expires 6 March!

UKULELE PROS

Excellent build and finish
Thin resonant body helped by thin tonewoods
Excellent volume and sustain all over the neck
Divine playable neck
Classy looks

UKULELE CONS

Possibly a bit plain for some
Not much else

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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THANKS!

5 comments :

  1. Wow! Glad you reviewed this, Barry. I'm also delighted I got a Famous FS-1 ... but if I hadn't, this would have been on the list for sure.

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  2. Exciting news for UK readers! Jake himself has signed one of these lovely ukes and sent it to England for us to use for fundraising for the Motor Neurone Disease Association! Isn't that kind and just absolutely wonderful! Watch this space for further details very soon, and your chance to bid for this uke!

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  3. Is there an import tax and shipping on this price

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  4. Yes there will, depending on your country. Into the UK this will be subject to duty, VAT and possibly a postal service handling charge

    ReplyDelete
  5. from uk , that makes it a bit too pricy then thanks for reply

    ReplyDelete

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