ZT Baritone Ukulele - REVIEW

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23 Jun 2019

ZT Baritone Ukulele - REVIEW

Not that long ago I was introduced to the ukulele design skills of Zachary Taylor when I had a chance to try his Tenor model. And what a terrific instrument that was! Since then I have been keen to look at Zachary's own personal favourite scale - the Baritone. Luckily I managed to get one of those on loan.

ZT Baritone Ukulele

Without going over all of the ground covered in the ZT Tenor Ukulele review, (which you should probably read alongside this review as it goes into more background detail) Zachary is a Brit who is long trained in luthiery and instrument design. In fact he designs a range of instruments including guitars, lutes, harps and many others. His approach is a mainly scientific one, getting down to details like sound hole placement and size, bracing patterns and even bridge design - all with the aim of getting the best sound and performance out of an instrument. The result with the tenor was an unusual shaped instrument that punched far harder than you would expect it to and came with a terrific voice. He takes hi design skills and has these ukuleles made to his exacting standards in Vietnam. The very same goes for this one -  his personal favourite in the Baritone scale.

I am well aware that I don't have enough baritones on Got A Ukulele so was keen to take a look at this one. Looks and design wise you wouldn't tell it apart from the tenor version because it is built to the same design and layout. Of course the scale length differs, but otherwise the specifications and the options are the same. It's just a bit bigger!

We have the same pleasingly different body shape with small upper and lower bouts and an attractive cutaway. Like the tenor this is made from two pieces of solid spruce on the top which has a tight straight grain  showing the quality of the wood. Elsewhere we have two pieces sides and a two piece back made, in this example, from Vietnamese Acacia. Like the tenor, this wood is a cost option as when you order the standard spec model (for the base price) it comes with solid mahogany back and sides. As you can see from the quality of this one though, that acacia is pretty and nicely bookmatched.

ZT Baritone Ukulele body

The bridge is the same wide winged style as the tenor uke and reminiscent of old jazz guitars. It's made from ebony and is darker than the photo below suggests as I had a rare flare of UK sun that lit the ukulele up! Again, the saddle is straight topped and made from bone. With the tenor I had reservations on the size of the bridge, but was proved wrong by Zachary's scientific approach as it worked wonderfully with no impact on projection or vibration. I expect the same here. I'm glad he looked at the science of bridges as you see far too many ukuleles out there that assume you can plonk any old hunk of wood on the top and that it will work. Sure, it will work as far as terminating the strings goes, but a bridge that transfers vibrations efficiently is another thing altogether.

ZT Baritone Ukulele bridge

Decoration is limited to the same ebony binding strip on the top edge and the strengthened tear shape sound / air ports on the upper bout of the top and on the upper shoulder facing the player. As with the tenor, Zachary explained that these were designed carefully in terms of their placement and size to work best for the instrument and not affect the vibrating sound board too much. They certainly worked with the tenor. And the decor and looks all come together into what is, in my opinion, a strikingly pretty ukulele.

ZT Baritone Ukulele sound holes

It is finished in the same semi gloss which lets you both see and feel the wood grain whilst protecting the instrument and giving it a smooth silky finish. Once again it is extremely well done. Like the tenor this is also extremely tidy inside with fan bracing on the underside of the top and a Spanish heel connecting the neck to the body securely. This is not your usual ukulele build!

You will have spied the same Fishman pickup system in this review model, and once again that is an optional extra. I pointed out in my review of the tenor that I was not a fan of this sort of system and felt it wasn't doing a higher end instrument like the tenor enough justice. Of couse it IS an option and you don't need to specify it. The good news here though is that Zachary is considering other alternatives for buyers, possibly offering a MiSi pickup either instead or as an 'either / or'. I think that is great news and would be sorely tempted by the MiSi myself! Watch this space.

The neck is made of maple with some stacked pieces at the ebony capped heel, and has that smooth glassy feel that only maple necks can give you. Topping this is an ebony fingerboard, shaped at the end to compliment the sound holes shape. It looks like it is edge bound meaning that the 19 frets (14 to the body) are all smooth on the ends. Like the tenor you get no outward facing markers, only the dark reddish black of ebony that looks great for being so simple. Thankfully you get side dots at the 3rd, 5th, 7th 10th, 12th and 15th. It's an extremely roomy neck too with a 40mm nut and appoximately 30mm from D to E strings. That's great.

ZT Baritone Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the bone nut is the tradmark ZT headstock which is funky as you like and looks great in my opinion. I don't know how to describe the shape, but the fact it doesn't fall into a ubiquitous 'crown' shape is good enough for me. The facing in ebony against the pale maple is a great combination too and looks extremely pretty. Set into this is the ZT logo in overlapped abalone.

ZT Baritone Ukulele headstock

Tuning is provided by gold plated Grover brand open gears with black buttons. Terrific tuners used by the very best ukuleles. No complaints here from me. They are good enough for Kanile'a after all.

ZT Baritone Ukulele tuners

Completing the base spec are what look like Aquila strings with a wound D and G, and a custom fitted good quality hard case - and it's a REALLY nice case, not a cheap afterthought. Good clasps and the oh so important strong handle. The price for the entry level starts at £950, and if you opt for options like acacia and pickups (like this one) or extra decoration, that will be extra. Yes, it's a serious price, but if the tenor is anything to go by, these are serious instruments and not factory production line stuff.

ZT Baritone Ukulele back

With the tenor I was impressed with how the attention to the build details in every department created an instrument that really surprised me in terms of tone and volume, particularly when you consider the shape and smaller size. And it's much the same here. This is a really punchy, clear baritone with bags of volume and projection with even minimal effort on the strings. Sustain is very good too and it's one of those instruments that really vibrates into your chest when it is played. In fact the whole thing vibrates in the hands, making it clear that his has bags of resonance!

Tone wise, the tenor was a bright instrument on account of the smaller body and spruce top, and whilst the spruce still gives the baritone a brightness, the combination of the bigger body and lower tuning balances it off really nicely. It's a 'crisp guitar' kind of sound and is incredibly pleasing. Because of some of that zing in the higher notes, it gives this a really nice balance to the warmer notes of the lower tuning however it is played. In fact with many baritones I find they tend to suit more of a fingerpicking style than pure strumming as they can get a bit muddy with multiple strings doing their thing. Not here though, this works both ways very well. Fingerpicking is naturally delightful of course, but strummed too I really like how clear each string is. Hammer-on  a note or two on the E string and it really adds some range to the mix. There is warmth AND there is brightness here. This is a nicely thought out instrument.

And I guess, that figures when you understand how Zachary approaches the design of these instruments. It also makes me understand why Zachary likes this model the best, even though I am not personally a baritone guy. I think the combination of body style and woods suits the baritone tuning a touch more than the tenor. But I say that in NO WAY to discredit the tenor - that has a terrific ukulele sound in its own right. Some people just prefer the higher brighter tones of the smaller ukes and for them the tenor will be a gem. For those who play on the darker baritone side, one thing is for sure - this is a VERY nicely balanced and built instrument! It's a first class baritone.

ZT Baritone Ukulele cutaway

I need not have been surprised by this one considering the tenor was so very good. The approach to design down to the minute detail paid off in spades with that model and so it is here too. You will note that the scoring here is identical, as I suppose it had to be. Sure, I know this is the preferred scale of the designer himself, but not everybody prefers baritone (even if I do in this case). If this site was called 'Got A Baritone' I would likely edge the score higher than the tenor out of personal preference, but likewise if the site was called 'Got A Tenor' I would do the reverse. The site is neither of those things though and it depends on which scale you prefer! One thing is for sure, if you favour the baritone scale for ukulele or are 'baritone curious', this comes extremely highly recommended as a superb option in that scale.

https://ztukuleles.com


SPECS ROUNDUP

Scale: Baritone
Body: Various options. Featured model has solid Spruce top, solid Acacia back and sides
Bridge: Ebony
Saddle: Bone
Neck: Maple
Nut Width: 40mm (30mm D to E)
Fingerboard: Ebony
Tuners: Grover open gears
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Hard case included Options: Pickup system, woods, decor
Price: Base spec £950

UKULELE PROS

Wonderful looks
Excellent build quality and finishing
Multiple options for the buyer
Great volume and resonance
Warm yet bright - balanced tone
Roomy neck

UKULELE CONS

None really! Though again, I'd pass on the Fishman pickup.


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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