Magic Fluke SB20 Solid Electric Ukulele - REVIEW

Donate to help keep Got A Ukulele going!

14 Jul 2019

Magic Fluke SB20 Solid Electric Ukulele - REVIEW

There is a ukulele brand out there that I have held deep in my heart since I started playing ukulele. That's the Magic Fluke brand from Massachusetts in the USA. I've looked at most of their stuff, but not this one before. The Magic Fluke SB Solid Body Electric.

Magic Fluke SB Electric Tenor Ukulele


My passion with Magic Fluke goes back nearly fifteen years now. I had first wanted to try a ukulele and, stupidly, went down the cheap route and bought a Mahalo that turned out to be totally unplayable. I'd played guitars for years and kicked myself as I should have known that if you 'buy cheap you buy twice'. So I turned my head to something more serious and made my next ukulele a Magic Fluke Flea. I never looked back, still own it and still adore it. My Flea and Fluke reviews are on this site but don't get too excited about them, they were written so long ago they are embarrassingly short! I've also looked at two of the Magic Fluke Firefly banjo ukuleles. The common thread between all of these. I've loved them all.

Magic Fluke started out in Connecticut as the brainchild of Phyllis and Dale Webb. They wanted to make and affordable and reliable USA made ukulele that wouldn't hamper somebody picking one up for the first time. The Flea took off for being both quirky, but supremely playable and sounding great too! And to this day, the Magic Fluke instruments are still USA made, still quirky and still a lot of fun.

The Fluke SB (SB for 'Solid Body') actually first appeared some years back but I think went away for a while. This model, kindly loaned to me by World of Ukes (Magic Fluke dealer in the UK), is a return for the SB with some new upgrades. It's an all solid wood body instrument, shaped distinctively in the boatpaddle shape of it's acoustic Fluke brother from a single hunk of wood. It's also reminiscent of a Taihaitian ukulele. It's certainly different!  It comes in two wood types, light ash like this one, or a dark walnut version. Being a solid body electric, I suspect the wood types are really down to aesthetics rather than impacting on tone. I like the look of both of them to be honest.

Magic Fluke SB Electric Tenor Ukulele body

There isn't a huge amount more to say about the body as it's otherwise very plain in that boatpaddle shape. The grain and finish on it though are exemplary and really stand out. The whole thing is really tactile and smooth without any rough spots I can feel. It's utterly wonderful.

The bridge isn't a normal bridge at all, rather a saddle set directly into a channel in the body. It's made of stained bubinga and is finished really nicely. And, of course, under this sits the piezo pickup strip for amplification, but I will come on to that below. The strings run over that and then run straight through the body where they are tied with stopper knots to hold them in place. It's nice to see that the through body strings holes are strengthened with metal ferrules, rather like on a Telecaster, to ensure that the long term pressure of strings on the hole edge does not eat away at the wood.

Magic Fluke SB Electric Tenor Ukulele saddle

Being a solid body electric, this makes next to no sound unplugged and needs amplification. As part of the Fluke SB re-launch, I am delighted to see that this now comes with a MiSi pickup system. The MiSi is one of the most natural sounding pickup setups I have come across on a ukulele and it's great to see here. I regularly point out to my readers that I don't like active systems, and the MiSi IS a hybrid active system. However, when I point out I don't like them as 'active' it is because that usually means a huge control panel in the side, extra wiring, a battery box and that sort of nonsense that you just don't need on a ukulele. The MiSi is much smarter. Behind the jack socket mounted on the side of the ukulele is a small circuit board and tiny rechargeable battery. The pickup comes with a charger that you plug in to that socket for 60 seconds, and that gives you 20 hours of play time. A superb development. And no need for control panels and extra gubbins.

Magic Fluke SB Electric Tenor Ukulele jack output

The only other points worth noting on the body are the attractive etched logo on the top of the back and the fact that the base is not flat like on the acoustic Fluke. That's because it houses a strap button which works and looks better in the slight curved recess.

Magic Fluke SB Electric Tenor Ukulele base

Up to the neck and this is your typical Flea and Fluke neck. I'm not sure what the wood is, but it is the typical, kind of square Fluke neck and supremely smooth along it's length. Some people say they don't like the feel of them, but I have always found them extremely comfortable and playable.  It's bolted on to the top of the body with three attachment points meaning this is not going to be fragile and snap off in the event of a knock. Another thing they are renowned for is being roomy and at the nut this is a pleasing 37mm (30mm from A to G)

That is then topped with a hard wood fingerboard as standard, meaning the people who have issue with the Fluke plastic boards (not I incidentally!) need not worry as you don't get that choice. I believe this one is made of cherry. Like the back of the neck it is extremely nicely finished and smooth on the edges.  It comes with 17 nickel silver frets, together with the usual 'zero fret' you get on Magic Fluke instruments to perfect the intonation and action at this point. Great. Dot markers in black sit at the 5th, 7th, 10th and a double at the 12th. There are no side markers as standard and I read on the MF website that to get they you have to pay an optional extra. Sorry, but that is completely shameful!

Magic Fluke SB Electric Tenor Ukulele neck

Naturally, being a Fluke, this then runs into their trademark open headstock shape. Again, the shape has some detractors, but I have always liked it. You certainly know what instrument it is when you see it and I like that it has become part of ukulele lore now.

Magic Fluke SB Electric Tenor Ukulele headstock

Tuners are the standard Magic Fluke choice of Grover 2's. They are acceptable I guess, but not the best friction pegs out there. As the owner of a Fluke who swapped tuners though I can confirm it's a straight swap if you wanted to put 4's or 6's on it yourself with no drilling required. Alternatively, Fluke offer it with Peghed planetary tuners for an extra cost. That's a nice option, but I can't help thinking it's about time Magic Fluke started putting Grover 4's or 6's on their instruments as standard.

It comes with a set of Nyltech by D'Addario strings. Oh and that strap you see in the pictures? I didn't forget to take that off. It actually comes semi permanently attached to the ukulele which is a nice touch. Being an odd shape electric, you are certainly going to play this with a strap, so they provided one. It's attached with a regular button in the base, but via a loop in the heel of the neck built into the instrument.  Yes, you can remove it, but why would you?  It's made of real leather and works great. And that is yours for $395 or the usual hit on exchange rates in the UK at £399. A serious amount of money I suppose, but I will come on to that in my summing up.

If it's not obvious from the above, the build on this one is totally impeccable. That comes as no surprise to me as everything I have ever seen from Magic Fluke is impeccably well made. There are no issues I can spot anywhere, and the finish is smooth and flawless. Being a solid body it's heavier than an acoustic for sure, but not uncomfortably so. Coupled with the smooth body it's extremely comfortable, but you will want to use the strap due to the shape. No complaints here with the build or setup at all.

Magic Fluke SB Electric Tenor Ukulele back


As I say, there is virtually no sound unplugged so into the amplifier we go and immediately you recognise that this isn't an 'afterthought' pickup system. Output is hot on account of that active circuitry so you will be fine into a desk with this one without a pre-amp. Into an amplifier you don't need tonnes of volume on the amp itself either.  Sustain is good too and it doesn't feel like it is straining to give you an output. And like with other MiSi systems I ahve played, it's a really clean unmuddy tone. A quality tone. Sure you will want to do some EQ tweaking to dial out the  piezo quack, but compared to many other piezo strips this is really natural sounding from the off. One other thing it does well is take effects, whether you just want to add a bit of reverb or go for full on distortion - it works. You could really rock out to this one. And coupled with the playability of the Magic Fluke neck, this is a hell of a fun instrument to play.

The price, I suppose, is the one area where people may raise an eyebrow, but you have to bear in mind that this is a US company and the instrument is made in the USA. There is no cheap far eastern labour going on here, and that costs money to achieve.  Saying all of that, I paid more for a solid body luthier instrument from Rob Collins, and the Antica Ukuleleria UFOS are not miles away from this price.  The other thing to bear in mind is the MiSi system. Those alone will cost you about £140 if bought separately. In that sense it strikes me as the right price for a well made, non import ukulele. And hey, that applies to all Magic Fluke products and I still would buy them again and again. But when you are pricing something at this level I do have that one gripe. The idea of charging people extra for side dots is just utterly cheeky. I also think that for the money it's about time they put better tuners on these as standard, and included a gig bag in the price.

Magic Fluke SB Electric Tenor Ukulele logo

All in all though, I've nothing else but positives here.  The build is superb, it's a joy to play and sounds fantastic. You know this will serve to be a solid workhorse for somebody gigging on ukulele stages where reliability is key. The looks too help make it stand out as there is little else like this out there. As such, this one gets nothing more than a high recommendation from me.


https://www.magicfluke.com

SPECS ROUNDUP

Scale: Electric Tenor
Body: Solid Ash (though solid walnut is available)
Neck: Unspecified wood
Fingerboard: Unspecified wood
Nut width: 37mm (30mm G to A)
Strings: D'Addario Nyltech
Tuners: Grover 2's
Extras: MiSi Pickup. Integral strap
Price: £399


UKULELE PROS

Superb build and finish quality
Supremely comfortable neck
Excellent pickup choice
Great looks
Integral strap is a cool idea
Good sustain
Really clean, hot base tone that takes effects with easy

UKULELE CONS

A touch pricey I suppose
No included gig bag
Would prefer better tuners
Charging extra for side dots is criminal

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW






WANT TO LEAVE A DONATION TO HELP KEEP THE SITE GOING?




THANKS!

3 comments :

  1. Great review. Is it sturdy enough for a travel-ukulele?

    I had a Risa stick but couldn't get on with it because the lack of a headstock made me develop some bad habbits with the E7 etc.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Irrespective of anything else, I'm sold on the aesthetics with this uke - stripped- down simplicity is an approach that I hope might inspire other designers.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just as a minor PS, the thread attaching the strap is made from Kevlar, so will not wear out. That was a concern of mine, when I first saw the Timber bass, but it's unfounded. Of course, if someone really wanted to, they could add a standard button.

    ReplyDelete

Please leave me a comment!

Please Help Keep This Site Going!

If you enjoy this blog, donations are welcomed to allow me to invest more time in bringing you ukulele articles. Aside from the Google ads, I don't get paid to write this blog. Your donations all go back into the site to allow me to keep bringing you reviews, and in the end the ukuleles acquired are given to local schools and charities.