Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

6 Oct 2019

Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

This week it is back to a ukulele brand that, until fairly recently, were new to me. But it's a brand I am increasingly seeing being carried by specialist ukulele stores (a good sign). This time it's the Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele.

Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele

Freshman started out as a UK Acoustic guitar brand, and one that built a lot of fans of their good value, well made far eastern instruments. They started in ukuleles too, and there have been a couple reviewed on this site. They were though, it is fair to say, more 'entry level' offerings which were laminates on the whole. So it was interesting to take a message from Freshman recently to tell me about what they class as a more 'prestige' set of models they are releasing. And that's where the UKLMAPLEC fits, alongs side two others with differing wood combo's.

Firstly, this is not to be confused with their UKMAPLEC ukulele, which is a spalted maple laminate instrument. This one forms part of their 'Lono' series of all solid wood ukuleles. I must admit, the name similarity confused me, and my initial Google searches to do some research had me finding the wrong uke. I think they would do well to make this name a bit more distinct. Still, the L in the name is the key here to this being part of the solid wood Lono series. And it is quite the looker.

Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele body

This is a concert scale ukulele with a traditional double bout bout body shape with a touch of extra curve in the body which immediately looks attractive. The top here is made of solid AAA grade Englemann Spruce. I never can quite tell the difference between grades all that easily on a wood like Spruce as it is, naturally, a plain, straight grained wood. But fair play, this looks like nice quality with straight even grains and no ugly flaws or knots.

The slightly curved back and sides then contrast this very well with all solid flamed maple. It's not super pale maple, for which I am relieved because the whole ukulele would then look too pale, but rather it's a milky coffee colour that looks great. And being flamed maple  you get some really nice stripes that look almost 3D in the right light. It's really pretty and nicely bookmatched too, although there are a couple of knots in the wood which detract slightly on this example. Incidentally, the top, back and sides are all made from two pieces each.

Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele back

The bridge is a very standard tie bar style with a maple decoration strip across it to add some colour. It's neat, not overly large and fitted with plastic compensated saddle (EDIT - Am advised by Freshman that all their nuts and saddles are actually bone - happy to correct here). No complaints here other than the fact that the wood looks to be semi glossed. Whilst I can't think of a technical reason why that is a problem, I just think it looks a bit ugly. I much prefer bridge wood to be matte with an oiled finish.

Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele bridge

Decoration wise, this is quite tasteful, with maple binding strips to the top and back edged with a thin black purfling line to each. The top also gets an abolone inlay strip and soundhole ring. Whilst I don't go in for abalone myself, it's usually because brands tend to make it clash with other design cues. Not so here, and it gives the instrument a classy look without being too gaudy. The body is then finished in a gloss which does wonders for the maple flaming in particular. Looking more closely at it, I can see it has not been over done, and I also can't find any flaws or bubbles.

Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele rosette

Inside is tidy on the glue front, with thin enough braces and very neat notched kerfing. There is a touch of over-spray from the polish gun though which is a bit ugly, but then I own a Martin guitar that has the very same going on. At least it HAS been polished! I can also see the top wood is not overly thick.

The final thing to report on the body is that it comes with an onboard pickup system by Fishman. These are not to my tastes as you will know, but at least this doesn't employ an ugly side mounted control panel (a red line for me!), rather a sound hole control. I can live with those and my Gibson and Martin acoustic guitars have them. I'm less happy with the 9V battery compartment in the lower bout though which I find chunky and adds totally unncessary weight to a uke compared to cell batteries. Or, indeed, no batteries at all if they had gone passive! I'll give it a bye though as it makes it recording ready and doesn't suffer with an ugly side control panel.

Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele pickup

The neck wood isn't specified but looks like mahogany and despite being in three pieces, the heel and headstock joints are very well hidden. To remind you this is in the Lono series, you get a small L on the heel in silver. I like little touches like that. It's a very far eastern profile and a bit rounder than I would like, and whilst it's not overly narrow, it's only average at the nut for a concert (36mm and 28.5mm for G to A). I'd like it a bit flatter and wider, but that is personal preference.

That's topped with a walnut fingerboard which is so pleasingly dark and even you would be forgiven for thinking it is ebony. Very nice.  It's also edge bound in glossy black meaning there are no sharp edges from the 18 frets (14 to the body). Also pleasing is the fact that the outward facing pearloid dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 15th and 17th are repeated with side dots. And no, they didn't miss out the octave marker because at the 12th you get another L for Lono. Nice.

Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the plastic bone nut is a slotted headstock which is pleasingly simple in shape. It also looks wonderful on account of the thin facing of more flamed maple which really sets it off. It's finished with the Freshman logo in an pearloid inlay which is also very tidy. I like that a lot.

Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele headstock

Tuning is another big plus with gold hardward open gears by Grover. These really are flawless tuners and some of the best you will see on any ukulele. Good enough for Kanile'a and Martin for example. Really pleased to see those here.

Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele tuners

Finishing the package are a set of Aquila strings and a really (and I mean REALLY) nice hard case with a super comfortable handle and strong antiqued latches. A great case. And that is available now at an RRP and, indeed, street price of £299. That's a step up from the more entry level Freshman prices, and will be more of a considered purchase. But still, for a ukulele with these sort of appointments in all solid wood it's a pretty competitive asking price and certainly a fair bit less than you would pay for a glossy decorated Pono for example. I'm liking the price.

And i'm liking a lot about it to be fair. No, I would pass on the pickup but that's about it really. It's put together really well and finished very tidily too. It also doesn't feel too heavy despite the battery (but it would likely be as light as a feather without the electrics!), and is still balanced to hold.

Being made of spruce and maple, I expected this to have a bright voice and I was not wrong. It's a crisp, bright and direct tone that comes together in quite a pretty package. The sustain is pretty decent, though it must be said I didn't find it to be the loudest ukulele on the block. It's not strangled as such, but I just wish it had a touch more punch. Perhaps that's where the pickup is the godsend because it would be ready to go for recording or amplifying.

Freshman UKLMAPLEC Concert Ukulele in case

And that tone you would be amplifying is very pretty - it's chimey and cheerful and I liked it. Plugged in or not, strumming it is pleasingly jangly without being muddy or getting confused with individual notes clearly in the mix.  I have a preference for fingerpicking it myself as it has a music box tone that can be very pretty on the higher frets. In fact that's how i've been playing it the most, and perhaps that quiter volume level has helped here for considered sofa picking. Very pleasant indeed I thought.

All in all, this is a very nice ukulele in all departments. I love the looks, it is well put together, well finished and nice sounding too. It's also a good price when you consider the pickup and very decent case. I think the acoustic volume could do with being a touch punchier, but with the pickup you are ready to go into a desk or amplifier for plugged in busking. All in all worth a look at the price they are asking I think.


Scale: Concert
Top Wood: Solid AAA Engelmann Spruce
Back and sides: Solid Flamed maple
Neck: Possibly mahogany
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 18, 14 to the body
Bridge: Walnut
Saddle: Compensated plastic
Nut width: 36mm (28.5 G to A)
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Fishman soundhole contolled pickup system, hard case
Price: £299


Very nice looks
Good build and finish throughout
Very nice dark fingerboard
Love the look of the headstock
GREAT tuners
Very nice hard case
Jangly, pretty tone with great clarity


I would pass on the pickup myself
Would prefer a slightly wider nut
Volume could be a touch greater


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






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