Ashbury AU-12S Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

2 Jun 2019

Ashbury AU-12S Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

Staying in soprano ukulele territory this week with another value model from Ashbury. This is the AU-12S Soprano Ukulele.

Ashbury AU-12S Soprano

Ashbury are a British based brand and best known as being the house brand of the Hobgoblin chain of music stores. They are made in Vietnam and come in, largely, at competitive prices. I've reviewed a couple from them before and whilst not howlingly bad, they equally have never really bowled me over either.  Something about the looks of this soprano model turned my head though.

This is a standard scaled and shaped soprano, labelled by Ashbury as their 'Black Walnut' model. It's a laminate and I actually found the product description somewhat confusing. As well as saying the body is made from black walnut, their description goes on to say that it's made from Senna Siamea (cassia wood). That's NOT Black Walnut, so maybe they are saying the inner laminate is made from Cassia and the outer veneer is Black Walnut. Either way, I do wish brands would be clearer. But there is something about the colour of that outer veneer that I really find attractive. It's chocolate coloured and works well against some of the other paler parts of the instrument. It's constructed from two pieces on the top, back and sides and done rather well. The back has a very slight arch too. That is then finished in an open pore style covered with a semi gloss which again has been done tidily with no pooling, drips or runs.

Ashbury AU-12S Soprano body

The bridge is a simple and tidy slotted style holding a straight topped saddle that appears to be plastic. The bridge wood is maple so looks nice and pale against the body, but being unfinished does look a touch rough and like it has been 'half done'. All it needs is  rub with danish oil or wax to soften the finish a touch.

Ashbury AU-12S Soprano bridge

There is no decoration anywhere on the body, but I quite like it for that. Inside is only reasonably tidy with a lot of glue seepage around the braces and neck block. The braces are not overly heavy though, and the linings are bent and un-notched. A look at the sound hole edge shows it to be fairly thick laminate. I've seen much thicker of course, but this is still noticeably a bit chunky.

Ashbury AU-12S Soprano sound hole

Up to the unspecified neck, and you see  obvious heel and headstock joints. It's attractive grained wood though stained brown and covered in the same semi gloss. I think it's rather pretty really but kind of looks odd as it doesn't match the colour or the finish of the body. The profile is fairly flat on the back and the nut is a reasonably roomy 35mm with 28mm from G to A. That's good.

Topping this is a maple fingerboard which I think looks just great against the dark walnut. It has a soprano standard 12 frets to the body and these have no sharp edges on account of maple binding strips running down the sides. That's a nice touch. There are no outward facing fret markers, a minimal look I always personally like, but sadly there are none on the side either. They would be easy to add, but considering that this is a ukulele at a beginners price, not putting markers on seems like an odd ommission.

Ashbury AU-12S Soprano fingerboard

Beyond the plastic nut is a headstock with a design shape that could not be any more simple. That is to say there IS no design shape. It's just square on the top. But you know what? I rather like that. It's faced in more walnut and carries the Ashbury logo in a silk screen print in silver. Sadly it's applied on an angle and looks wonky.

Ashbury AU-12S Soprano headstock

Tuning is provided by Ashbury branded open gears with small black buttons. They are very clearly modelled on Grover tuners and I encountered them on another Ashbury ukulele. To be fair, despite me wanting to see friction pegs on a soprano, these are rather good tuners and leagues above the usual rubbish that plagues cheaper instruments.

Ashbury AU-12S Soprano tuners

It comes with nothing more than a set of D'Addario Nyltech strings and is available for a reasonable enough £70. It's a laminate and, sure, the price is well above some of the cheap end stuff, but it puts it alongside instruments like a Kala KA-S or Ohana SK-10. And compared to those, my first impressions of this suggest it has a bit more 'going on'.

All in all I have liked what I have seen so far. The build is simple, but still good in all departments. The finishing is equally good (bar the inside, scruffy bridge and wonky logo - not of which are life and death) and it's a nice, but plain, looker. It's also pleasingly light and balanced in the hands, and the neck in particular is very comfortable.

Ashbury AU-12S Soprano back
But it's all about the play of course and it's something of a mixed bag here. First of all, I can report that the volume is very passable and it doesn't have bad sustain either. This is not a dead instrument and carries a good amount of life and bounce.

Tone wise though and this is very clearly a cheaper laminate tone. Strummed it's rather one dimensional but to be fair it IS a rhythmical soprano sound that can become quite jangly if strummed fast. In fact I rather liked it. If you want to noodle with melodies or play fingerstyle though I think you will be disappointed. Any sense of warmth that was there in the strummed play seems to fall away leaving on overly bright, thin and brittle sound that I just didn't find pleasant enough.

But I am extremely conscious that this is a £70 instrument that clearly looks higher end than it actually is. Compared to the contemporary ukuleles around this sort of price it's really on a par with them. So we have a weird trait going on here - where you 'expect' it to sound more high end than it actually is!

This is not a bad instrument by any means and it's nice to have another ukulele to recommend that sits alongside the likes of those Kalas and Ohanas I mentioned above. Of course there will always be the 'it needs to be as cheap as possible' brigade who will lap up the never ending conveyor belt of 'who?' named Chinese instruments flooding Amazon. Good luck to 'em.

This one though - I think it looks great, it is built well and carries a fair price. No the sound is not stellar but I have heard much MUCH worse. Possibly worth a look as a recommendation to a friend wanting a first uke?


Scale: Soprano
Body: Laminate Cassia with walnut outer veneer
Bridge: Maple
Saddle: Plastic
Neck: Unspecified
Nut Width: 35mm (28mm G to A)
Fingerboard: Maple
Tuners: Ashbury branded open gears
Strings: D'Addario Nyltech
Price: £70


Great looks
Decent volume and sustain
Well built throughout
Good finish, on the whole..
Decent tuners, albeit big ears
Fair price


No fret markers
Clearly a laminate tone
Fingerpicked tone in particular is brittle and too thin


Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8 out of 10
Sound - 7 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10






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