ZT Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

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5 May 2019

ZT Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Here's a ukulele brand I have wanted to bring to the site for quite some time. Today I am looking at the ZT Tenor ukulele from Zachary Taylor.

ZT Tenor Ukulele



Zachary came to meet me not so long ago and turned out to be an extremely interesting chap and a charming one at that. He's been immersed in musical instruments for about 60 years, training initially as an engineer but going on to have a career in music. As part of that, and him not just being a player, he trained in luthiery and has since both written many books on the subject as well as creating a range of stringed instruments including guitars, harps, dulcimers, lutes and, of course, ukuleles. For the ZT range of ukes, Zachary designed these competely and has them made by a team of luthiers in Vietnam to his exacting standards and designs. As he explained to me, this is not just a case of him getting an 'off the peg' ukulele built with his name on it, but rather that he has long studied the science of acoustic instruments and has given a lot of thought to every detail and not just the basic shape. That includes his approach to shaping the bridge, the position of sound holes, the layout of braces - you name it. Interesting indeed.

So in this version (he produces other scales too) we have a standard scaled tenor ukulele with a pleasingly different narrow body shape. It's still a double bout but it has an old time feel about it which I really rather like. It's also complimented too by the cutaway on the upper bout. The top is made of two pieces spruce and of course spruce is always a good choice for stringed instruments and has been used for years on the likes of guitars, violins and others for centuries. It's clearly a nice quality slice of wood too. The back and sides on this one are made of two pieces of Vietnamese Acacia (and full marks to Zachary for not pretending that it is Koa...) , very nicely bookmatched and with some great striping. This wood on the back and sides is an option and the standard vanilla version uses mahogany here, but more on that when I come on to the pricing.

ZT Tenor Ukulele body

For the bridge this is a style designed by Zahcary and reminiscent of older gypsy jazz guitars with a very wide set of wings which are also supremely thin. He explains this design helps with vibration transfer. Aside from that, I think it looks great. The bridge plate is made of ebony and fitted in this is what looks like a straight topped bone saddle.

ZT Tenor Ukulele bridge

Decoration wise we have a simple but effective ebony binding strip around the top edge and sound hole and nothing else. Classy. The sound holes will also catch your eye with a pair of teardrop shaped holes set into the top bout, off centre, and one in the side. Again, Zachary explains these were not just dumped there to be a design feature but are placed away from the most resonant parts of the top to leave the ukulele to do what it needs to do. Again, aside from the science, I think they look great. Looking more closely at them I also note that these are not just hacked into the wood, but rather are strengthened and supported on their inside edges with rings of wood meaning they are strong too. Very nice.

ZT Tenor Ukulele sound holes

The body is then finished in a semi gloss which allows you to see and feel the wood grain on the back, but leaving the spruce as smooth as silk. It's extremely well done and I can see no flaws in it anywhere.

One benefit of side ports is it allows me to have a good look inside the instrument and I can see that it is extremely tidy with notched linings and shaped braces. It also shows off another couple of features that I think are the mark of someone who really knows how instruments work. First we have a 'Spanish Heel' for the neck joint - a very traditional and strong method of attaching the neck which helps with resonance. The bracing on the top is also fanning down vertically from the waist of the instrument into the lower bout. Very nice.

At this point you will also have spied a strap button in the base which is standard, and also a Fishman pickup and jack socket. That pickup is an optional extra, but I will say more about that further on.

The neck is made of maple and both looks wonderful, but has that great quality that maple brings to a neck. Comfort. This is smooth as you like, not grippy and feels like holding glass. It's rather lovely. There are several pieces to it with a stacked heel and a joint at the headstock. It's a flattened D shaped profile at the nut which is also something I find comfortable. It's roomy too with about 39mm at the nut and just over 30mm from G to A.

Topping this is an ebony fingerboard, wonderully dark and even in colour and nicely shaped at the end with a curve to compliment the teardrop soundhole. It's edge bound too hiding the sides of the 19 frets (14 to the body) which are all dressed nicely.  I also like the absence of outer facing dots leaving just the plain black of the ebony facing out which leaves it clean. Thankfully you do get side dots though at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th.

ZT Tenor Ukulele neck

The headstock could not be more different that the usual rash of crown shapes if it tried. It's a curvy, assymetric joy of a shape, faced in ebony which contrasts against the pale maple beautifully. Inlaid here is the ZT logo in mother of pearl. I love this.

ZT Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners are Grover open gears with gold hardware and black buttons. These are excellent tuners as used by the likes of Kanile'a on their tenors, so no complaints from me here.

ZT Tenor Ukulele tuners

Completing the standard package are a set of Aquila strings and a custom shaped hard case made to fit the slightly unusual shape of the body.  Pricing will depend on what options you choose as Zachary does allow you to pick from a range of woods and other adornments. In standard spec you get the mahogany back and sides and no pickup and that would come in at £850. In this specification with the acacia back you would add another £75, and another £95 if you want the pickup. It's a serious price of course, but from everything I can see here it's a serious ukulele. Rather like the Rebel ukulele I reviewed last week which a lot of people said was 'expensive', I think not. In the bigger scheme of all ukuleles out there I'd actually call it more mid priced as you can go much higher than this!

ZT Tenor Ukulele back

The build in every department is superb and because of that, the finish and the diminutive shape it's also very nice to hold. It just cradles into your arm wonderfully well.

ZT Tenor Ukulele cutaway

And there is clearly something in the effort he has made to get the design right because this one punches volume out incredibly well. Strummed hard and it really shouts without getting confused, muddy or over powered, and this leaves every string crystal clear in the mix. Strummed softly and it almost plays itself with a sweet tone. It's a lively thing and one of those instruments you can feel vibrating into your back and fretting hand.

The spruce is certainly bright sounding (as spruce is), but the sustain helps avoid this being all staccato and overly so. The strings mix together in a really nice harmonic shimmer when strummed giving it bags of character and a jangle which is always pleasing with a ukulele. Naturally the finger picked sound is clear, pretty and chimey too with good sustain allowing for frills and vibratos to be pulled off easily. All in all it's a terrific sound and a joy to play.

Couple that with a superb build, and striking looks that will never leave you looking 'samey' at your ukulele gathering and I am really struggling to find anything wrong here. Sure, the price may rule out a lot of players, but this is a serious instrument and no toy.

A superb instrument that comes extremely highly recommended by Got A Ukulele..

https://ztukuleles.com

SPECS ROUNDUP

Scale: Tenor
Body: Various options. Featured model has solid Spruce top, solid Acacia back and sides
Bridge: Ebony
Saddle: Bone
Neck: Maple
Fingerboard: Ebony
Nut Width: 39mm (30mm G to A)
Tuners: Grover open gears
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Hard case included
Options: Pickup system
Price: Base spec £850

UKULELE PROS

Truly wonderful looks
Superb build and finish throughout
Nice options for the buyer
Incredible projection and volume
Jangly bright tone
Supremely comfortable to play

UKULELE CONS

Only that I wouldn't go with a side mounted pickup control option

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

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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4 comments :

  1. Yess you are right about the pickup.
    To me it looks messy, on the back 1 hole for the strapbutton,and one for the pick-up,witch i don't like.
    But iy is a very Nice instrument.
    Thanks for the video Bazz.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Worth noting that all ZT Ukuleles are fully customisable. So if you need something changed/altered, you just get in touch with Zachary and he can make it happen. Would be interested to know how you'd prefer it to be.

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  2. Great review Barry. Wonderful looking and sounding ukulele. I would guess, that you need to have the pickup installed when the uke is made. It looks as though it will be difficult to have a pickup installed at a later date because of the small soundholes located at the top of the upper bout. I'm wondering about import to the States. What that will do to the prices. I confess, I want one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ken - I thought I replied to your comment, but it looks like somehow it didn't update on the page.

      Import to the States is no problem. We get regular orders from all over the world. Most recently Illinois and even Australia! One international shipping charge no matter where you are in the world. As regards pickup, with an instrument like this, indeed it could be tricky to retrofit a pickup depending on which one it is, but nothing is impossible if you know a really good local luthier! Although the model we gave Baz had a Fishman, we can have fitted at the factory any pickup you like. We are currently exploring adding MiSi, LR Baggs and the higher grade Fishman pickups that e.g. Jake Shimabukuro uses. Just get in touch with us via the website with any questions and we can give you a quote.

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