Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

11 Jan 2020

Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

I've said it before and I will say it again. I have a lot of respect for any ukulele brand that continues to develop and improve their offerings rather than resting on laurels and taking the easy route. So for that reason I have been really excited to write this review of the brand new Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor ukulele.

Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor Ukulele

Flight, the Slovenian brand who I have featured several times fit that description of getting better and better. With each new development I see they improve because they clearly listen to feedback. When I consider the Flights I see today compared to the more basic entry models I saw years ago it shows they've been on quite a journey. The timeline says it all really, with the first Flights I reviewed in the 7's out of 10 and with successive reviews, the scores have gone up. And this one is so new that at the time of writing it's not yet in stores. Lucky me! Can it reach the heights of the last big flight score in the Victoria Tenor Ukulele?

In actual fact the Flight Diana tenor is not a new instrument and they had originally approached me asking me to look at the straight electro acoustic version which has been available for a little while. That review choice switched to a brand new 'option' they just finalised for the Diana (and for that matter, going to be an option on the Sophia ukulele too), and that option is in the name - the 'Soundwave' bit. Because of that, this is going to be a longer review than normal, because there is a lot to get through. But to summarise, this version adds the option of a transacoustic pickup to their existing model.

But, hang on Baz.. you dislike all that 'gubbins' inside ukuleles... That's true.. when they are not necessary for the job. But this isn't just a pickup though - there's a lot more going on here. Read on!

The Diana is a tenor instrument in a traditional double bout shape and I think it's an stunner to look at. Yes, it's made in China, but I am not sure who Flight are using for builds on this as it immediately screamed a higher quality finish to me when I opened the box. The top here is made of solid cedar with a nice tight and straight grain and a warm colour and is made from a couple of pieces. The back and sides are made of laminate walnut which has been stained to give it a kind of brown / grey / almost pinky hue which I think looks absolutely terrific against the cedar. This is a really classy looking ukulele.

Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor Ukulele body

The bridge is made of what Flight name as 'Purplewood' but I think that must mean 'Purpleheart' - a strong dark brown / purplish coloured  hardwood from central America. It looks nice and is a tie bar style with some thin white trims. It's fitted with a bone saddle which is compesated on the top. Nothing remarkable, but very tidy all the same.

Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor Ukulele bridge

For decoration you get an abalone ring around the sound hole and some great looking reddish trim on the top and back edge and down the centre joint on the back and butt. I suspect this is something like Padauk as seen on one or two Kala ukes recently and is complimented by some black and white purfling edges too. As always, I would prefer more consistency between decor elements and maybe would like to see this red colour around the soundhole instead of abalone, but that is just me. Saying that, perhaps red on the top would look odd. What I will say though is that all the inlays are done extremely well, and I think the red works wonderfully with the walnut on the back and sides. It's a real 'statement' design' without being too blingy and over the top. The body is then finished in a very well done gloss which is mirror finish all over with no flaws I can find.

Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor Ukulele decoration

But before we move on to the neck and other fitments we have to look at the 'main event' here - the 'Soundwave' system. In the most basic terms this is indeed an active pickup system, with an output in the middle of the tail block through a jack socket with integral strap button. That much will be familiar to most of you. It goes far beyond being a regular pickup though as this is a 'transacoustic' system - a technology originally developed by Yamaha guitars for applying effects to the ukulele sound itself, whether plugged in or not. You read that right. This is an onboard effects system that can affect the acoustic sound. How does that work?

Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor Ukulele transacoustic

Well,  similar to a regular pickup system, there is in a under saddle strip connected to a control panel on the side. That panel is a pre-amp too and is powered (incidentally- no replaceable chunky 9V batteries here - it's powered by charging an internal lithium battery through the jack socket with a USB cable - similar to the MiSi system). That side panel runs to the jack socket which you can use as an output to an amplifier in the normal way. The control panel has some built in effects that you can apply to the sound output from the jack and includes volume, reverb, chorus and delay via low profile dials. Simple enough so far. What the system also does though is run an output of that digitally processed signal back into the wood of the ukulele body itself. It does that by sending the processed signal to an actuator attached to the inside of the ukulele on the back (which you will spy in the internal picture further below).  This signal, complete with effects vibrates the body itself and means that when you play it acoustically, you get the chorus / reverb / delay effects coming out of the sound hole. Incredibly cool! The best way to think about it is that the actuator works kind of like a transducer pickup but in reverse. Rather than picking up vibrations, it outputs them back into the wood of the uke. So as you can see, there is good reason in this case for that extra gubbins such that it doesn't bother me one bit. Add to that the integral battery charging through the jack socket and the fact the control panel is ultra low profile and not a hunk of garbage on the side and I am a happy boy.  Some readers will point out that these have also appeared recently on one or two other instruments (the Enya Nova being an obvious example), but bear in mind that this is the first one on a ukulele I have seen that comes with the delay setting. More on how well this works later!

Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor Ukulele jack socket

Looking inside and things are extremely tidy, with notched linings, thin braces, and no mess at all. Of course you do get a bit of wiring and the actuator of course, but as I say, there is good reason for them being here in this case. I also note that the top is fan braced vertically from soundhole down to bridge. What you also spy by peering inside is the fact that the top wood here is really thin and nicely finished on the edge. A classy build this one.

Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor inside

The neck is made of okoume wood and made of three pieces with extremely well hidden joints that I struggled to find. It's glossed, and not overly rounded in profile. The width is a touch under 36mm at the nut and very nearly 30mm from G to A. That's roomy and nice to see too.

That's topped with more purplewood for the fingerboard which is in good condition and supremely dark and nicely shaped down to the top of the sound hole. The sides are edged in dark wood hiding the ends of the 18 frets (14 to the body) which therefore have absolutely no sharp edges. Finding your way around is helped by simple outward pearloid dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and thankfully these are repeated on the side.

Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor Ukulele neck

The headstock is an old favourite design of mine and is a slotted style. It's faced in a wood that I can't quite place, but is certainly a veneer on top of the okoume neck wood. I think this would look better if faced to match the walnut back and sides myself. The simple Flight logo is inlaid in pearl and looks classy.

Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor Ukulele headstock

Tuners are unbranded rear facing open gears in gold with vintage style buttons and look great. Despite being unbranded, the metalwork quality tells me these are decent tuners.

Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor Ukulele tuners

And completing your package are a set of Worth Brown strings, a really nice wine red coloured gig bag which looks great, a charger for the Soundwave system, a getting started guide and set of Flight stickers (which I have pinched from this loan model as I love stickers on my cases!). Price wise this one attracts a premium over the regular Diana which comes with the standard pickup. It will launch across Europe in February and will come in at a price of £349 (versus £229 for the non Soundwave model). Either way I think that's a decent price for this sort of spec instrument.

Turning to how it plays and this review will need to be one of two halves. I'll consider the standard acoustic side of things first as a ukulele pickup can only work with the core sound the base instrument makes. A bad acoustic will turn into a bad electro acoustic!

Build wise, I can't find any flaws or issues anywhere. It's really nicely put together and finished and as I say in the start to this review, Flight really do keep getting better and better in this regard. This is hands down one of the nicest finished Flights I've had my hands on and exudes a kind of Pono level finish. And despite that soundwave system, the ukulele is not overly heavy to hold either. It's also well balanced too. The setup is also great on this example.

Acoustically, the first things that please is me are that the volume / projection is great and also that the sustain is decent too. This is not a difficult instrument to get a noise out of. It's lively, and I have no doubt that thin top is helping here.

There's also a nice broad dynamic range going on with the tone. There is warmth from the cedar, but it's not over the top or dark and the treble end of things  really does cut through.  Throwing some runs up the A string whether strummed or picked will not find the higher notes ring out in the mix whilst the rest keeps away from sounding muddy. Inbetween the lows and highs is a nice shimmer where the ukulele harmonises with itself that is really pleasing too. Strummed it is jangly but not overly bright. It's balanced.  Fingerpicked it is both comfortable to play and clear as bell all the way up the neck, making for a terrific instrument for playing melodies. As always when I find a tone I like at this price  I naturally point out that it's not at the Kamaka or Kanile'a end of the scale, but they are well over £1,000. What this is though is a fine, pretty sounding ukulele that punches well within, if not above, it's price point. This is good news because it's that core tone that the Soundwave system is working with.


Flight Diana Soundwave Tenor Ukulele back

OK, onto the electrics. First off, I am just going to deal with the acoustic effects. You can take it as read that if you plug this in to an amplifier it works like using a regular effects pedal and the output from the jack will have the reverb, chorus or delay you apply to it. But that's not the real trick here. Switch the system on and the indicator light glows green. You then have a master volume dial, but do bear in mind that there are a lot of people out there wrongly suggesting this amplifies the instrument. It doesn't really - it's more of a level dial as to how forcefully the effects are applied. It probably does give a bit of extra something on the acoustic output but I think that is more a case of it sending the output tone back into the body and building breadth of tone. The uke can only be as loud as the acoustic chamber can be though, there is no speaker.

This is all about the effects transferring into the wood. Dial up the reverb and... well... wow.. yeah - you get reverb! Out of the soundhole! It's quite ghostly to hear when you are not plugged in and very effective whether picking or doing staccato strums. The chorus adds that swirly kind of shimmer to your sound, though is not an effect I am hugely fond of  in any form of pedal (it's often over done). The standout for me here is the delay. Whilst it's not a tap delay or editable, so you have to do a bit of fiddling with the dial to get it in time with your playing, the dial starts you off with faster delay and the more you turn it the longer the delay repeat gets. It's huge fun, particularly on picked melodies I thought, though again, fast strums can be enhanced with it too. And all the effects really do come through out of the sound chamber. It's freaky!

I will say that the effects are not going to give you the creamy sound of a boutique effects pedal, and nor could they - it's a digital signal processor. The reverb and chorus clearly sound quite digital and I found were better used in moderation, but they do work as they say on the tin. I pushed them to the full on the video and you will probably agree that they are a bit in your face on the chorus and reverb set to the max. They work nicely though applied more subtly. The delay though is the real fun here however you use it, as is the blending of effects together, which I suspect is the real trick to play around with. I found the reverb at about half, with a touch of chorus gave a really nice effect for general playing, and that delay with big reverb was a lot of fun too, giving the ukulele a kind of dark, old timey twang reminiscent of acoustic stuff by Mark Lanegan. It's really clever and will put smiles on a lot of peoples faces. And, of course, if you are stage gigging, you get all those out of the jack socket too though I think these will be a hoot for playing with your local uke jam. Is it essential? No, of course not, it's an effects system, but it certainly adds a whole range of additional tones to an already nice sounding ukulele. Don't like the effects? Turn them down!

All in all, this is a very well made and great looking ukulele that works well as a core instrument even before you consider the Soundwave system. And that's a big part of the importance here - it HAS to work acoustically, and it very much does. Looks great, plays great, feels great.  Adding the Soundwave effects is a really fun bonus though. Sure, if you think the effects are not for you, the instrument is also available without them, but I think many will want to have a play with a new toy!

Once again, Flight take as step further up and it boggles my mind what they have planned for the future at the rate they are going. Highly recommended, and available for pre-order now pending launch. And I 'think' the GOTAUKULELE code at checkout may still give a small discount on Musicroom (don't hold me to that!). I think they will be available on Bax too.

https://flightmusic.com

https://www.musicroom.com/product/almdiateqsw/flight-diana-tenor-electro-ukulele-soundwave-pu.aspx

UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Name: Flight Diana Soundwave
Scale: Tenor
Body: Solid cedar top, walnut back and sides
Bridge: Purplewood
Saddle: Compensated bone
Decor: Padauk (?) binding with purfling. Abalone soundhole.
Neck: Okoume
Fingerboard: Purplewood
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 35.5mm (29.5 mm G to A)
Headstock: Slot style
Tuners: Unbranded rear facing gold gears
Strings: Worth Brown
Extras: Soundwave effects / pickup system, starter book, gig bag, stickers
Price: £350 approx at launch

UKULELE PROS

Great classy looks
Excellent tidy build and finish
Balanced and pleasing acoustic tone
Good volume and sustain
Comfortable neck
Low profile electrics
Effects system is cool as you like!

UKULELE CONS

Headstock would benefit from different veneer facing

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.3 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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7 comments :

  1. Wonder how many of these are sold as a result of the favourable gotakulele review. Well I've just ordered one today (P.S. 10% discount applies with the code GOTAUKULELE at the checkout on musicroom.com.

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  2. Hi Baz, it looks great, does the jack plug allow for a strap to be fitted. cheers Kev

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  3. Barry, I just happened to come across your "Rant" about influencers etc, and whilst your Flight reviews do appear to be impartial would you please clarify what your relationship with Flight is because you are listed on their site as a "Friend" alongside others such as Bernadette who has an artist signature model in the Flight range.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah they added me because I have featured their ukes since they started really and they are nice people. I am not, however, a Flight Artist so dont have a contractual relationship with them, go to their stands on trade shows etc. I think they wanted to share back some thanks for my reviews and actually a few other brands have done that with my vids (Blackbird, VTAB spring to mind). But I don't have a contract with any brand and the Flight ukes I review get sent back to them or on to Musicroom for sale.

      Flight also know that if there is something I don't like I will say so - and in fact a couple of their early review models had some issues I highlighted.

      I can guarantee you that you will never see a Barry Maz signature uke!

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    2. Thanks for the clarification and keep up the good work.

      Delete

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