Bonanza Saguaro Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

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13 Oct 2019

Bonanza Saguaro Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

It's that man again... Or rather it's that ukulele brand again. It's another Bonanza ukulele built by Pete Mai in Minnesota USA. Their newest model - the Saguaro Tenor ukulele.

Bonanza Saguaro Tenor Ukulele


I've reviewed a few of Pete's instruments now - one of his HPL models, the incredibly funky Oreo ukulele and his, frankly bonkers, hybrid banjo uke, the bonanzalele. And there are a couple of things that ties them all together. Firstly that they are all totally 'left-field' compared to standard ukulele builds, but all have sounded terrific too. He's a cabinet maker by trade, but also a uke player, as is his wife Shelley, who together put together the Bonanza brand. They've proved to be much loved in the uke community not just because of their 'different take' and good sound, but because the pair of them are also so well liked. A real home grown uke community brand.

This one arrived with me recently and represents yet another new shape option in the Bonanza line, this time named after the Saguaro cactus. This is a tenor scale ukulele and is actually a similar (ish) construction to the Oreo. I say that insofar it's not a normal depth ukulele, rather a couple of 'ashtray' pieces that are machine routed out that are then sandwiched together with a wooden middle strip to create the sound chamber. It's a technique that is certainly very different, but worked incredibly well on the Oreo.  The outer top and back pieces on this one are pale Aspen and the centre stripe is made of mahogany. Like all Bonanza ukuleles though, you can specify, (in reason) the wood combinations. And that shape is what this one is all about, looking very 'stratocaster' / electric guitar in outline, certainly making it a head turner. The whole body is finished in a smooth semi gloss for protection, without being a fingerprint magnet. Like his Oreo, it's a very tactile finish and because of the way it is put together all edges are smooth and rounded. I like the pale look of the wood, though you do get a knot in the back of this one to remind you it is real wood after all.

Bonanza Saguaro Tenor Ukulele body


It's fitted with a hardwood  bridge with a corian saddle doing the work. It's a through body bridge, meaning you feed the string in the holes (decorated with stars), fish them out of the sound hole to tie a knot and pull them back. These are much the same as other Bonanza bridges and work just fine. Not much more to say here.

Bonanza Saguaro Tenor Ukulele bridge


You will note this one is quite highly decorated on the top face. As with other ukes by Pete, he uses laser etching to give customers pretty much anything they want in this department. Pictures, logos, messages to loved ones - it's up to you really. This one has a very 'Western' stars pattern soundhole rosette and some laser etched flames reminiscent of the flash paint applied to dragsters or bikes on the lower bouts. On the upper bout shoulder is another soundhole cut out in the shape of a moon. I think Pete knows I am not a fan myself of imagery on ukuleles, but I am not going to mark this down for the simple reason that 'you get a choice'. You don't HAVE to have this decoration.  In fact you don't HAVE to have any decoration if you don't want it. That's cool, even if this is not to my tastes. It's a bit too 'Born in the USA' for this Brit. Sorry!

Bonanza Saguaro Tenor Ukulele decoration


Inside is very tidy and is where it differs from the Oreo. Bonanza say this is built with their new 'Gen 5 bracing' system. With previous Bonanza ukes I have looked at Pete has fitted standard  bracing. That is to say he fits separate traditional brace pieces laterally onto the inside of the the top to give the ukulele the strength it needs. Ever the innovator, this time Pete has made the braces integral to the ukulele top itself. That is to say, as part of the routing process to create the top and back dishes, he has used his CNC machine to 'leave behind' brace strips. The braces are actually part of the top wood. Intriguing. Braces are all about strength, and because this is not your normal approach, Pete tells me he 'torture tested' the concept in both an oven and a deep freeze with no ill effects. One thing is for sure - they are not going to loosen and come off - they physically can't! Here's a photo inside that Pete sent me from before the body pieces were put together.

Bonanza Saguaro Tenor Ukulele bracing
Credit: Pete Mai
Up to the bolted on neck and this is made of mahogany and from three pieces with extremely well hidden joints at the heel and headstock.. The profile is slightly flattened and shallow and at the nut we have an average 36mm width with 27mm from G to A. I'd like it a touch wider, but that's just me.

That is topped with a walnut Fretboard which looks great. Here we have what Pete calls 'self bound edges', because the fret slots are cut into the wood but not right to the edges. Then when the frets are tapped in they don't quite reach the edges of the board, both hiding the ends and eliminating any chance of fret sprout causing sharpness. Nice. You get 18 of those with 14 to the body. Fret markers are wooden lightning bolt inlays at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th, and despite not liking imagery, I really like these! Thankfully also you get side dot markers at the same places.

Bonanza Saguaro Tenor Ukulele neck


Beyond the Corian nut we have the usual simple Bonanaza headstock which is nice for it's lack of fussy shaping. It's faced with more of the Aspen witha  mahogany stripe running down the middle. It's both a nod to the body woods, and looks just great. The Bonanza logo is then laser etched across the top.

Bonanza Saguaro Tenor Ukulele headstock


Tuning comes in the form of the Graph Tech Ratio Tune-a-lele planetary tuners. I first saw these on the Bonanzalele and  I did say when I first saw them that I thought they were a bit ugly and look like door knobs. I still think that. And it's not helped by them being plastic and looking kind of cheap. But saying all that - they ARE cheap, and much cheaper than Gotoh UPT's. And here's the important thing - they work really well - remove the 'ears' look of geared pegs and, being planetary are a joy to use compared to friction pegs. I'm pleasantly surprised. But also, remember that with Bonanza you get choice. Want regular gears, regular friction pegs, or something else entirely? Pete can work with you on that.

Bonanza Saguaro Tenor Ukulele tuners


Finishing the package are Seaguar fluorocarbon strings and a couple of strap buttons, and this can be yours in this spec for $389. Not a bad price once again for Bonanza considering you are getting something hand built and created to your own specs, but it is a bit more than the Oreo was or the Bonanzalele. Maybe that's inflation for you, but it's nearer to $400 than $300.

As I say above, it's put together really well in all departments and feels very nice in the hands on account of the finish and thin body. It's also nice and light and perfectly balanced too. No complaints here. Despite me preferring a slightly wider nut, the comfort on the fingerboard too is very nice, probably helped by the slightly flatter profile. It's a very comfortable instrument to play and hold, even without a strap.

Bonanza Saguaro Tenor Ukulele back


Tone, volume and sustain all remind me in some ways of the Oreo too. Firstly it's not the loudest uke on the block, but perfectly passable and perhaps, from memory, a touch more forward in it's projection than the Oreo. That could be down to the wood type though. The sustain is very good on this one, and rings well making picked pieces a real joy. And both of those work well right up the fingerboard too with no noticeable drop off on the higher frets. That new bracing system is certainly NOT hampering the ukulele on these grounds.

The tone itself is very nicely balanced between highs, mids and lows in a way that surprised me. I admit to not having played an Aspen ukulele before so wasn't sure what the tone signature would be, but I had assumed something bright like maple or spruce. It's actually got a bit of everything going on, which might be down to the body design. There are chimey, jangly elements for sure, but there is a warmth in the background which rounds it out very nicely. Whether strummed or picked, this one is a lot of fun to play.

All in all, credit once again to Bonanza for delivering something very different that still works very well as a ukulele. I think, personally, I still prefer the look and shape of the Oreo over the Saguaro, but that's a personal thing and a dislike for guitar shaped ukes. But construction, tone and price wise there is not a lot wrong here at all. Another recommendation from Got A Ukulele!

Bonanza Saguaro Tenor Ukulele sound hole


And finally, in a move that is typical of the generosity of Pete, this ukulele is now being donated to charity. In particular, UK ukulele player Lesley Fowkes is fundraising for MNDA (the Motor Neurone Disease Association). Lesley is very well known to many of us in the ukulele world who was, very sadly, diagnosed with MND a couple of years back. This ukulele will help raise funds for her campaign. And knowing what a generous bunch my readers are you too can make a donation here

https://www.bonanzaukuleles.com

https://lesley-fowkes.muchloved.com


UKULELE SPECS ROUND UP

Scale: Tenor
Body Wood - Aspen top and back dishes joined with mahogany centre
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Walnut
Bridge: Walnut - through body
Saddle: Corian
Nut: Corian
Nut width: 36mm (27 G to A)
Tuners: Graph Tech Ration Tune-a-lele
Strings: Seaguar
Extras: Decoration to order, strap buttons
Price: $389

UKULELE PROS

Superb 'different build'
Light and balanced
Very comfortable fingerboard
On reflection, I like the tuners!
Great sustain
Very balanced tone.
Playable well up the neck

UKULELE CONS

Decor not really for me
Would like 'very slightly' wider nut

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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1 comments :

  1. Enjoyed both the video and the text review. Something useful I'd like to add: I contacted Bonanza via direct message on Facebook to ask them if they can make expanded nuts, as I like 38mm nuts as much as Baz does. To my surprise, they got back to me right away and said that they can, but they charge for it. (I don't remember the price unfortunately and since I don't plan on getting a custom bonanza super soon I haven't asked again.) I am not sure why they under-publicize it.

    Anyway, if any readers are interested in a Bonanza and want a 38mm nut, I would message Bonanza as it seems that they do offer the option!

    ReplyDelete

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