Vangoa Mahogany Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

15 Sep 2019

Vangoa Mahogany Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

Pressing on with another ukulele review and after the 'unusual' instrument of last week, we now return to more familar ukulele territory. The Vangoa Mahogany Concert.

Vangoa Mahogany Concert Ukulele

You may look at the pictures and think, 'isn't that one of the Amazon models Baz'? And you would be correct. In the past I declared I would not touch these brands much more due to their fairly stinky marketing practices (giving instruments away for nice reviews or paying for comments). I pondered on that though and figured that if I DON'T look at them, I am just helping their cause and giving them free rein to game the system. I figured it would only be right that someone who is not paid to review had their say too. Now, I am NOT saying Vangoa do that, but I know many that do. So I also point out that I BOUGHT this instrument with Got A Ukulele funds to ensure you get a fully impartial review. Public Service Broadcast ends..

So yes, it is, to the best of my knowledge, an Amazon only product. One of the ones that appears at the top of the listings as 'Sponsored' and comes with the usual bonkers product name which, inexplicably, tells you the overall length of the instrument rather than the scale length. So this one is found with the following listing name..

"Ukulele Mahogany Concert 23 inch Acoustic Ukulele Solid Best Hawaii Vintage Ukulele Beginners Starter Kit Bundle by Vangoa"...

Excuse me? There's lot's that I can pick apart in that name (once I have stopped laughing at it), but lets get into the instrument itself and see what comes out of it as we go along. Incidentally, the inner label lists it as the 'UK-23'. What on earth is wrong with that for a name?

The ukulele is an extremely generic looking concert scale instrument made from laminate mahogany throughout the body. No it's not a "Solid Best Hawaii Vintage Ukulele" by any means. It's not solid wood at all, and its certainly not from Hawaii - it's made in China. And I say generic looking because at a glance it looks extremely similar to the Kala KA-C, Lanikai LU-21C and the Cordoba 15CM. You know the sort of thing - plain looking laminate mahogany bodies finished off in satin with a cream edge binding strip. Of course, that is not to say it's offensive as a design - it absolutely isn't and it's a combination that works and lifts the ultra plain instruments to a slightly classier looking level. But it IS totally unoriginal.

Vangoa Mahogany Concert Ukulele body

The construction looks like two pieces of laminate on the top, back and sides, and that back is very slightly arched. It's a pretty dull plain grain without much of interest, but then I would say the same of all the models I mention above too. Functional I guess. The cream plastic binding strips are applied to the top and back edges and the top strip is coupled with some thin black purfling strips which give it a touch more interest. It's then all finished in an open pore satin. To be fair to Vangoa, as generic as it looks, the construction in the body is flawless, with no gaps, chips, marks or overdone finish pooling. It's very good.

The bridge is a standard tie bar style in an unspecified hardwood fitted with a straight topped plastic saddle. Not much more to say about that really. It's tidy and it works.

Vangoa Mahogany Concert Ukulele bridge

Other than the cream binding decoration, you also get some etching around the sound hole. I'm not a fan of etching, but to be fair this is not over the top and quite subtle. It does, however, suffer in the way a lot of laser etching does - it's a bit scruffy and obviously done by a computer. It also runs under the fingerboard which is another pet hate of mine.  I'd still rather it wasn't there at all or that they just added a cream sound hole ring, but it's not life and death I suppose.

Vangoa Mahogany Concert Ukulele decoration

The interior is extremely tidy with no mess that I can spot. The kerfing linings are neatly notched and the braces don't look massive either. I can also see from the sound hole edge that the top is not overly thick at all. In fact it's pleasingly thin.  Things are looking up here!

Moving to the neck and we are firmly in generic far eastern territory. It's satin finished with joints at the headstock and heel. It's also typically round on the back profile and a narrow 34mm (25 - 26mm G to A) at the nut. That's not my kind of neck at all as I have big hands. It will suit many beginners, especially the smaller handed ones, but not me. I long for the day when we see the back of necks like this!

Topping that is an unspecified pale wood fingerboard which is rather thick. It's nicely finished though, and then I spotted something very interesting in their product specs. The fingerboard has rolled edges. That is to say that the edges are not sharp 90 degree angles, but they are curved / sanded slightly round for more playing comfort. You really don't see that on value instruments at all and I admit feeling a bit giddy when I saw it. Maybe that comfort will help negate the narrrow nut.

Vangoa Mahogany Concert Ukulele neck

But there had to be a 'but' didn't there?  It's not edge bound and the frets (17 with 12 to the body joint) are really sharp on the ends. It's such a crying shame because they went to the trouble of adding the comfortable rolled fingerboard edges, but couldn't get their QC right to ensure the frets were smooth too. That's a big setup fail. Incidentally, fret markers face out with pearloid dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th, but there are no side dots at all. Grrrrr.

Beyond the plastic nut is an attractively shaped headstock holding the Vangoa logo in a laser etch. Like the sound hole I think this would look better in a screen print or inlay, but there you go. I also find the headstock looks a bit narrow. The QC failed a little here too as there is an ugly dent in the top crown.

Vangoa Mahogany Concert Ukulele headstock

The tuners are also generic - unbranded chrome sealed gears, but at least the buttons are small enough. I've seen worse and they work ok.

Vangoa Mahogany Concert Ukulele tuners

Finishing the pack is the usual dizzying array of extras that these Amazon models tend to come with. You get a couple of fitted strap buttons, white nylon strings (and a spare set), a functional gig bag, a strap, a tuner, a pick holder and a few cheap picks, a rhythm shaker ring and, somewhat oddly, a kazoo! People are swayed by these extras of course and I can see how they can be attractive. But bear in mind there is a cost to them. Personally, I would do without them and wish they spent the saving on the ukulele myself. And the price for all of that? This comes in (currently) at £67 in the UK and $55 in the USA. Value indeed.

Vangoa Mahogany Concert Ukulele extras

So all in all a bit of a mix thus far. Yes it's unoriginal, but the core construction is very good and it doesn't seem to be over built. The finishing is good, but it's a crying shame about the sharp frets. It's also light and well balanced too and whilst the saddle action is a touch high for me, it's easily lowered and the nut is just fine. One thing I DO dislike (and has confused me) are the strings. Their product description lists the strings as nylon, and indeed the spare set in the goodie bag are nylon. The ones on this instrument certainly feel like nylon to me, yet it comes with an Aquila swing tag. I have played enough Aquila Nylgut strings in my time to say that I am almost certain these are NOT Aquila. So why use the tag? These are stretchy and slippy and I would be changing them pretty rapidly.

Talking of setup and QC, the minute I started to play it I noticed an irritating buzzing. It's nothing to do with the strings though, and I tracked it down to the washer on the front collar of the C string tuner. That is easily fixed with a spanner or socket to tighten the bolt, but it's yet another example of the sort of thing that would be noticed by any dealer with ears that work. The trials of buying from Amazon once again. Not life and death I guess.

More positively, that thin top is helping with the sound. Not only is the volume good, but there is reasonably good sustain here too. In fact it's much like the Cordoba 15CM I recently looked at in that regard. It takes minimal effort to get going and the sustain helps give it a touch of character, particularly when fingerpicking.

Yes it's still a very generic tone, but it's not an offensive one and it works well enough. If anything I think it just pips the Cordoba tone as it sounds a little more rounded and not quite so boxy. And bear in mind it costs a fair bit less than the Cordoba.  I think it's another one that is at the upper end of laminates in sound terms. Strumming is fun and bouncy, if a little muddy and confused if you really go at it, but i've heard MUCH worse. Fingerpicking is chimey and rather pretty, helped by the greater than average sustain for this price allowing you to get a bit of tremolo into your notes if you wish.  It's all very passable really. But for this player, its still let down by the strings, the narrow neck and those nasty sharp frets.

Now, of course, things like frets can be sorted. Strings can be changed. Loose tuner collars can be tightened. And they WOULD be sorted, I have no doubt, if these were sold by specialist ukulele stores. So there's the rub. This is actually an instrument that could get a more positive recommendation from me, but the choice of selling only through Amazon means you are not getting that final level of quality control instruments at this price really need. Some may say that's fine and they will adjust things themselves, but remember the price point here. This is not aimed at seasoned instrument players - it's aimed at the beginner. How many beginners will know how to lower action, change strings and dress the frets right out of the box? And added to that, the nut width can't be changed at all. On the positive side, the build is still very good in general, the sound is passable and most other things are good enough too. It's just a shame that it arrived with issues.

Vangoa Mahogany Concert Ukulele back

The value price is still hard to knock though, and when you consider it is 'essentially' the same sort of instrument as the Cordoba 15CM which costs over £100, then maybe the saving is worth it?

All in all though, a mixed bag that came out higher on the score because of the pricing that I totally feel comfortable with. Of course, you might get one that needs no setup... Or you might not... Go carefully here!






SPECS ROUNDUP

Scale: Concert
Body: laminate mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Frets: 17 (12 to body)
Bridge: Hardwood
Saddle: Plastic
Nut: Plastic
Nut width: 34mm (26mm G to A)
Tuners: Generic sealed chrome gears
Extras: Bag, spare strings, strap buttons, tuner, rhythm ring, picks, pick holder, kazoo

UKULELE PROS

Good construction in most departments
Good clean finish
Decent volume
Good sustain
Rolled fingerboard edges (see below though)
Light and balanced
Great price


UKULELE CONS

Narrow nut
Sharp frets
Floppy strings
Loose tuner collar
Questionable QC all round
Woeful marketing descriptions

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 8.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.4 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW






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2 comments :

  1. Seems a shame that the manufacturer doesn't seem to realise (as they were obviously making a decent effort, what with how neat the insides and finish were, and the rounded edges) that, if you sell direct, you need a really good quality control department, and really good customer feedback services. Shame, especially since there are people out there who, for reason of being not close enough to a decent dealer, or just out of really-limited budget, will be stuck with this as their only option.

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  2. Good review Barry. I am torn about reviewing these. On one hand, if someone searches these ukes, they will see your review. On the other hand, it feels like rewarding a manufacturer that has questionable marketing practices. I assume it is the manufacturer. It may be a distributor who has bought these from the Mfg. Had them branded and arranged to sell them on Amazon. Hard to tell really. Either way, I'd be curious about their return policy and quality of their customer service.

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