aNueNue ANN-UT5K Koa Moon Bird Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

28 Jul 2019

aNueNue ANN-UT5K Koa Moon Bird Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

If there is a ukulele brand that has done nothing but blow me away in the last couple of years, it's aNueNue. They have consistently gained my highest scores so it stands to reason that I'd want to take another look and this week it's something really quite special. The aNueNue ANN-UT5K Solid Koa Moon Bird Tenor.

aNueNue ANN-U5K Koa Moon Bird Ukulele



A bit of background for those new to Got A Ukulele. aNueNue are a Taiwanese company founded by Johnson Liao and have actually been around for a good few years now. They sprang to interest some years ago in the UK, but then kind of disappeared and seemed to refocus on a new higher level approach to their instruments. It paid off as they now count names like Tobias Elof and Kyas Ryo as their ukulele artists. When they re-appeared it was their Africa Mahogany Concert that brought me back into contact with them in 2016. Of couse, regular readers will be most remember when I featured their standard Moon Bird Tenor ukulele,  an insturment which at that time went on to get the highest Got A Ukulele score with a 9.5. It really was utterly marvellous. So there was me thinking they couldn't top that, and out of left field they whack me around the head with an all solid Koa Moon Bird... Yes... a koa Moon Bird..

All solid Hawaiian koa. And not just any old koa either, nor is it far eastern acacia misrepresented. This is the real Hawaiian stuff and also of a quality grade that I have yet to feature on Got A Ukulele to this day. The 5K in the name gives it away, because this is AAAAA grade koa. As good as it gets really, and we will come on to why later in this review. Yes you may have seen their 3K Koa model. That's not this one though. This one gets a couple of extra K's...

The Moon Bird range is the result of the collaboration between aNueNue and Japanese luthier Mitsuta Morihiko who was put in touch with them by Kyas Ryo. Like so often in the west I, ashamedly, do not know the luthier myself, but if he is the brains behind the regular Moon Bird he deserves a doffing of ones cap to. Like the others in their Bird series this tenor scaled uke has the same curvy, swoopy large lower bout body which I find really attractive. It's kind of the ukulele equivalent of a grand auditorium in the guitar world and just draws me in. It also comes with the same offset upper shoulder to create the space of a regular cutaway without anything being cut away. I think it looks great and could look at it for hours.

aNueNue ANN-U5K Koa Moon Bird Ukulele body

But of course, looks here are mainly about that wood choice. What that 5K grade koa gives you is quite possibly the most beautiful wood on any ukulele I have ever reviewed.  The closest an instrument has come in terms of pretty koa was probably the  Kala Elite ukulele, but bear in mind that was 3K, not 5K. Both are striped and flamed of course, but this is wood quality on steroids. It's like a tiger and is so very beautiful. The top is bookmatched perfectly into two pieces, the sides are also a pair with a tail piece of inlay and the back is a bookmatched pair too. The back is not quite so striking to be fair, but also has an interesting darker central stripe on to add a bit of interest. But just look at the stripes. It's REALLY stripy and just staggering to look at.  That wood is then finished in a sublime thin gloss which is flawless absolutely everywhere and makes the colours, flame and stripe really pop. In certain light angles it's almost 3D looking as the flame of the wood shimmers. It's stunning.

Decoration is otherwise fairly limited here, and that's perhaps unsurprising considering the wood is the main event. But you do get creamy maple top and back binding with a thin black purfling stripe which works well with the koa and doesn't make the whole thing overly gaudy. I will say though that I do miss the varying thickness binding of the first Moon Bird I looked at, as that was a real head turner for me. This is just 'general' binding.  We have more decor around the soundhole with an assymetric wooden inlay design which is done beautifully. I really like it, but do wonder where the 'Moon' connection has gone, as the original had a clear cresent moon motif in this area which tied the design together. It's still extremely pretty, but at this level I have to be uber critical and am wondering if the design connection still hangs together. Picky? Me? Ah well.. you should know me by now.

aNueNue ANN-U5K Koa Moon Bird Ukulele decoration

The bridge is the same as other aNueNue's, made of ebony in a tie bar style holding a bone compensated saddle. All very tidy and no complaints.

aNueNue ANN-U5K Koa Moon Bird Ukulele bridge

Inside is extremely neat and tidy with notched linings and thin braces. Like other Moon Birds I am told this employs Mitsuta's own 'Mount Fuji' bracing system, but now as then, I still have no idea what that looks like as I can't see inside. I am told it gives the instruments their superb voices, so we shall have to see when I play it. It worked on the original Moon Bird!

The neck is made of mahogany with a well hidden joint at the headstock and a more obvious joint at the heel. It has a far eastern profile with the same chunky style heel that tapers to a point making it extremely comfortable and more so than it looks. This is topped with a very dark ebony fingerboard, shaped around the top of the sound hole and fitted with 20 nickel silver frets with 14 to the body. They are, naturally, dressed impeccably. You have abalone dots facing out at 5, 7, 10, 12 and 15 and these are repeated on the side. Rather nicely, side dots are usually just white plastic, but these are abalone too. Comfort on this neck is excellent because of the string spacing and also the fact that it has a slight radius. Whilst the nut is just an average 36mm, the space from G to A is 30mm making it wonderful to play.

aNueNue ANN-U5K Koa Moon Bird Ukulele fingerboard

The headstock is the trademark aNueNue slotted style which looks great, particular with it's face of glossed ebony with white trim. The aNueNue logo is inlaid in pearl.

aNueNue ANN-U5K Koa Moon Bird Ukulele headstock

The tuners are top of the line open gears from Gotoh, made with typical Japanese precision. These are the SX510 tuners in a gun metal finish which not only look utterly wonderful, but work brilliantly and precisely too. I am in LOVE with these tuners. In fact, when I send this back, can I do so having unscrewed these as I want to keep them!!...  Whilst inspecting those beauties, you will note the authentity sticker on the back of the headstock. Is it me being picky or just my OCD in overdrive that it annoys me that they couldn't put that on straight on such a high end instrument? It's not life and death and really irrelevant to what this does as a musical instrument, but... come on... It IS wonky. ...


aNueNue ANN-U5K Koa Moon Bird Ukulele rear headstock


Finishing it off are aNueNue's own Black Water strings (black fluorocarbon fishing line) and it also comes with the familiar, superb quality hard case with cornflower blue tolex. And now for the sharp intake of breath. This one costs a cool £2,999. Wow. That makes this the most expensive ukulele to feature on Got A Ukulele. Not the most expensive in the world of course, and far from it, but the most pricey i've looked at all the same. Wow indeed. That's a chunk of money.

aNueNue ANN-U5K Koa Moon Bird Ukulele back

Build here is, as expected, completely flawless. I can't find a single thing wrong with the wood, the joints, the finish inside or out.. (except that sticker). It's just like other aNueNue Bird series ukes I have looked at. And without wanting to pre-judge it, I kind of expected it to sound great too. What ever it was that made the bracing work in the first Bird I looked at, it's the same here too. This has superb projection and resonance that vibrates out of the whole instrument. You need very little effort to get this one to sing. And as such it delivers great volume and great sustain.  The sustain in particular is chimey, long and really rings out. That means it's going to be a cracker for either strummed play or fingerpicking. And like the orignal Moon Bird, this one sings whether you give it some welly or play it softly. It's a delightful instrument.

And whilst the original Moon Bird made me smile based on it's great dynamic range, this one has that in spades. Of course, that's a signature sound of koa in that you get a rich set of frequencies right across the scale from bass to trebles. And this model does not disappoint on that score. It shimmers and harmonises with itself wonderfully as it projects the whole gamut of tones with each strum. Rich? You betcha. What a glorious sound.

aNueNue ANN-U5K Koa Moon Bird Ukulele tail

So what's not to like here? Is it 3 times nicer sounding than the original? - well of course not, though if you love koa sounds you will likely be extremely taken with it. But of course this is one that will be bought more for the looks. Looks alone do not make a great ukulele,  but thankfully it's not ONLY about the looks here. Far from it. As well as looking stunning it plays wonderfully well and sounds utterly delightful.

Yet scoring this one really did give me some sleepless nights. As you will see this does extremely well on  three of the categories. How could it not? The looks for me are flawless and it gets a straight 10. Everything else is top end too, bearing in mind I can't see me ever giving an instrument 10 out of 10 on sound as there will always be something better! The value for money element was the challenge though. I have no doubt that this IS worth the money they are asking, and the raw wood alone will be close to third of the cost.  I just can't help but think that if I had £3,000 to spare on a ukulele I would, personally, be putting my funds into a luthier and specifying my own build to be totally unique to me. For that reason I felt it was only fair to bring that element of the score down a little whilst still keeping the overall score high. Of course, that's just my view on price and the value of an instrument depends on what the buyer is willing to pay. People DO buy ukuleles of this value all the time. and consider something like a Martin 5K Soprano will cost you a good 50% more than this (and they DO sell!). So to the right person the price is likely to be perfect. It's just too rich for me.

aNueNue ANN-U5K Koa Moon Bird Ukulele tuners

But if you can afford it you can afford it. It therefore goes without saying that, all things considered this one comes extremely highly recommended. It's simply wonderful and one of the nicest ukuleles I have ever had the pleasure to play.

What a stunning ukulele.

And once again, huge thanks to UK aNueNue dealers World of Ukes for trusting me with something quite so valuable!

https://www.anuenue-uke.com/en/

SPECS ROUNDUP

Scale: Tenor
Body: 5K Hawaiian Koa
Neck: Mahogany
Bridge: Ebony
Saddle: Bone
Fingerboard: Ebony
Nut Width: 36mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: Gotoh SX510
Extras: Hard Case
Strings: aNueNue Black Water

UKULELE PROS

Heavenly looks
Superb build and finish
Great volume
Great sustain
Rich tone with superb dynamic range
Comfortable neck
Great case

UKULELE CONS

Seems to have lost the 'moon' connection?
Too rich for my blood

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.4 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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1 comments :

  1. Great review Barry as usual. I agree with you about the cost. I'd want a custom for that kind of money. The Moon Bird kind of mellowed out your stock testing music. A minor comment: You only have "Ukulele Pros" the heading is written twice instead of "Ukulele Cons" in the second header.

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