Vorson FLPUK-2 LP / Clearwater UCWLVS Electric Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

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10 Jun 2019

Vorson FLPUK-2 LP / Clearwater UCWLVS Electric Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Back today with another steel strung electric ukulele, the type of which are continuing to prove popular with ukulele players. This time it's an intriguing 'double header' name. That's because this electric Les Paul style tenor is badged differently depending on where you are on the planet. Clearwater in the UK, Vorson in the USA. But the instrument is identical in both cases.


Clearwater Vorson Les Paul Electric Tenor Ukulele

I've never been entirely sure why ukulele players have such a hankering for an instrument that looks like a Gibson Les Paul, but I know of several out there that do. Sure, it's an iconic guitar shape, but we are talking here about ukuleles, not guitars. Anyway, in my experience they range from the poor (Mahalo and Epiphone Les Paul ) to the sublimely good (Risa LP). This Clearwater / Vorson follows the same general classic Les Paul shape, albeit without such a rigid approach to the decor.

This is a solid body electric in the tenor scale, in this flavour coloured in a classic sunburst finish, but also available in other colours such as black and red. And when I say 'electric' here, I am talking more like the Risa than the Epiphone as this one is steel strung and employs single coil magnetic pickups not a piezo under the saddle. Electric guitar players will know that this will provide much longer sustain and a pickup system that is much more versatile for effects like overdrive, compression and the like.

Clearwater Vorson Les Paul Electric Tenor Ukulele body

And it is indeed a Les Paul shape. More of a nod to a Les Paul Junior or Melody Maker single cut than the Standard which the Risa nodded back to, but a Les Paul shape all the same. The wood type used required a bit of research as it's not really very clearly marketed by either Clearwater or Vorson, but it turns out to be made of 'Candlenut' wood. That's a new one on me, but is a tree that grows widely in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Phillipines and also Hawaii. Whilst that sounds suitably exotic it's actually just a generic hardwood that is sometimes lumped in with the catch all term 'basswood', meaning 'cheap instrument wood'. The sunburst on this one is on the top and is nicely done on what looks like a two piece bookmatched 'drop top' on the top of the instrument. That looks like maple to me, but that isn't mentioned on the specifications. There is even a touch of flaming going on here that is nice to see. The back and sides are otherwise uniform in the darker reddish brown of the outer fringes of the sunburst. It's pretty.

There is no other decoration such as edge binding, so the only other thing you see going on here are the electric fittings. We have a Fender style micro saddle bridge in chrome which is a very basic type and doesn't look like great quality judging by the metal pressing marks in the finish. By the look of the size of the saddles, it looks like these parts have been harvested from a guitar production line. As with the Risa I would have preferred to see a Gibson style adjust-o-matic, but I suspect they simply don't exist for small four string instruments. The pickups are a pair of single coils which, again, will be generic and likely pretty cheap. Cheap single coils always worry me as they can buzz like crazy if they are not wound well or shielded. We shall see how this gets on and also how well they match the strings considering I cannot see the pole pieces that are needed to run under each individual string. Those are controlled by a volume and tone pots in chrome and selected singly or as a pair with a three way selector switch. Once again, these are clearly from a guitar parts bin and look far too large for a small bodied ukulele. Ugly in fact and they detract from the rest of the look. Risa on the other hand saw this as a risk and use specially made smaller pots for their controls. Of course, that would cost more money though.

Clearwater Vorson Les Paul Electric Tenor Ukulele bridge

Other than the jack socket on the lower bout, a strap button on the base and a control hatch on the back there is nothing much more to say about the body. It's done very well to be fair with no flaws I can see, but I find that, compared to the Risa, it looks overly simple and plain.

Clearwater Vorson Les Paul Electric Tenor Ukulele back

The neck is made of maple and is more Fender style than Gibson being a bolt on on the back of the top of the body. I actually don't mind that, as a set neck is notoriously hard to get right and can also be extremely fragile if dropped or knocked over. All Fenders are bolt on necks and it doesn't do them any harm. This is finished in a tactile and non-grippy satin which is very nice on the hands.  The profile is massively rounded and the nut is narrow at 34mm (27mm from G to A), but bear in mind that, like the Risa, these are much thinner strings than a nylon uke so space up here is not so precious.

Topping the neck is a 'simulated rosewood composite' fingerboard (cheap layered up wood stained a rosewood colour) with a slight overhang at the high end. In a styling I am seeing more and more of, the whole thing is finished in a simple thin gloss. I dislike that and really hope that is not becoming a norm. The frets are skinny and you get 19 with 13 to the body joint. The edges appear to be bound in the same wood as the fingerboard and none of them are sharp. You will find your way around with outward dot position markers at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th and these are repeated on the side. Unlike the Risa there is no zero fret to help with intonation.

Clearwater Vorson Les Paul Electric Tenor Ukulele neck

Beyond the unspecified nut is an attractively different headstock shape, faced in black glossy wood. Depending on which version you buy you are going to find a silk screened Clearwater or Vorson logo here. There is also a hatch to access what I assume is an adjustable truss rod in the neck. With the extra tension steel strings apply to an instrument this is good to see allowing the neck relief to be adjusted.  Pleasingly, sighting down the neck of this I spot a tiny amount of concave bow in the fingerboard which any guitar player will know is exactly how it should be.

Clearwater Vorson Les Paul Electric Tenor Ukulele body

Tuners are generic sealed chrome gears with small kidney shaped buttons. They are functional, and there is not much more I can say about them.

Clearwater Vorson Les Paul Electric Tenor Ukulele tuners

It's finished with a set of steel unwound guitar strings. Don't ask me the gauges as they dont specify them, but using the Risa gauges as a guide would be a good start. You also get an instrument cable for plugging in that is pointlessly short unless you like playing sat on top of your amplifier. In the Clearwater guise, that is your lot, but with the Vorson model you get a gig bag. That's an omission for the Clearwater as it's a non standard shape and would be nice to have something that fits from the get go. Pricing differs too, naturally. The Clearwater variety comes in at about £135 and the Vorson at about $130. Clearly they are both significantly lower than the Risa Les Paul.  The thing is though, when it comes to electrics like this, cheap can often mean pretty nasty so we shall need to see how it plays.

Still, as I say, the build looks great on this. Obviously  it's far heavier than an acoustic, but it is bound to be. It's not overly so though and feels nice and balanced if you hold it without a strap. The setup seems pretty good too, particularly at the nut height. The intonation down the fingerboard needs a tweak, but the beauty of those micro saddles is that each string can be individually adjusted for height and scale length so I don't see an issue here given more time to do it.

Clearwater Vorson Les Paul Electric Tenor Ukulele pickup

Obviously there is next to no sound unplugged as this is an instrument purely designed to be plugged in to an amplifier. And things are pretty decent here too. Firstly the controls have no noise, are smooth and offer a nice sweep of both volume and tone. The selector switch feels cheap and clunky, but the different tones of neck, bridge or paired pickups are distinct from each other and nice to have those options.

Clearwater Vorson Les Paul Electric Tenor Ukulele controls

Tone wise, another tick in the box is that the pickups are not too noisy with only minimal hum.  Sure, there is hum there, but that's normal for coil pickups but it's not too distracting. In addition, the volume level across the strings is pretty uniform meaning the magnets in the pickups are lining up ok. The A string is a bit lower, but I have no doubt that can be compensated by raising that side of the pickups a little.

The clean tone is, as expected, clean and simple. Certainly on a par with the Risa and comes with no complaints really. But that's really not how you are going to play this, as this is patently an instrument designed for effects and a bit more welly. My first observation is that it is a much thinner, simpler tone than the Risa. That's clearly down to pickup quality, but where you could coax some fatter meaty tones out of the Risa, this just feels a bit more basic. It's not a massive critisism, but the tone doesn't beat the Risa at all. Rolling off the tone helps a little, but it still doesn't have a lot of meat to it. It is, however, perfectly functional and when you have applied reverbs, delays and fuzz to it, perhaps it doesn't matter so much. It's hard to pin down, but I think comes down to how 'hot' the pickups are. The Risa felt like it was raring to go once you plugged it in whereas this feels it needs a helping hand. And this is with the exact same amplifier.

I am being harsh though because it plays well, feels good and does pretty much everything you want a solid electric to do for a LOT less money than the Risa. It's natural that the tone would fall behind it and it's the same on looks too I suppose. Whilst I like much of the simplicity here, the oversize parts and ugly fingerboard annoy me. Still, once again I am nitpicking.

This one really surprised me for a reason I really must share with you. In my various discussions in ukulele circles I have come across owners of both the Vorson and Clearwater models who have talked about shocking quality control. Bad pickups, sharp frets, failing electrics. However.... much like I say to the people who knock my review of the Epiphone because 'they themselves have a good one', I can ONLY review what is in front of me. In that case, the Epiphones I had seen were pretty awful. Here whilst I hear some horror stories, this example (bought by me blind, not supplied by Clearwater) has really rather impressed me. So, I think it's a case of 'go carefully' but if you find one like this it's very much recommended. What's not to like?

SPECS ROUNDUP

Scale: Tenor
Body: Solid Candlenut
Bridge: Micro saddles, Fender style
Fingerboard: Composite rosewood
Tuners: Sealed chrome gears
Strings: Electric guitar unwound
Price: £130 / $130








UKULELE PROS

Terrific price
Nice build and finish throughout
Decent enough clean sound and noiseless controls
Good setup and neck feel

UKULELE CONS

Glossy fingerboard
Oversized guitar parts
A touch thin on tone

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.8 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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2 comments :

  1. I now have a Risa Les Paul in black. Love it. Previously I owned a Clearwater Strat shaped version of this uke. It comes in Les Paul, Strat and Tele guises with identical necks and electrics. My Strat shaped Clearwater was sunburst and had a very pretty flamed maple top. Lovely finish and the neck was also absolutely spot on. Problems I had were minor ones. Very sharp edges to the bridge saddles. I took a file to the two outer ones and rounded the edges. Problem solved. The nut also had sharp edges. Again a quick touch with a file sorted this too. The machine heads were not great. However I swapped them for a not too expensive set of Leader ukulele tuners from Eagle Music. Exact fit even of the fixing screw. Much better feel and they had black buttons which looked great. Fitted the middle 4 strings from a set of D’Adario Slinky’s. Much sweeter. I had a strat style volume and tone knob which went straight on and looked much better plus they have number markers so you can see your settings. I gigged with this uke and only sold it as I was lucky enough to find a pre-owned Risa for £350 otherwise I would still have the Clearwater. 3 of my friends have Clearwaters and are happy with them. One has bought a strat style bridge from EBay and replaced the original.

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  2. I have the telecaster version of the Clearwater one, and would agree with your findings.
    I bought a Clearwater gig bag off ebay, designed for something like an electric mandola, and it fits the uke well, with the nice touch of being Clearwater branded to match the uke. Obsessive or what?
    I changed out the strings for the top 4 of an electric guitar set in 12 gauge and I am pleased with them. Also tried lighter gauge sets but found them too "bendy" for me. Just personal preference.
    I agree that the volume on 1st string is a little low. Playing with an acoustic uke band, I use a Roland Micro Cube amp (I play the lead fills) and I use a cheap Behringer graphic equaliser / volume pedal to tweak the tone. Slightly boost the treble end, slightly reduce the bass end. It works for me.
    Keep up the good work!

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