Brüko S523W Walnut Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

1 Feb 2020

Brüko S523W Walnut Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

Ahhh Brüko ukuleles.. it's been a while... And nice to have you back on Got A Ukulele. This time with an all walnut soprano ukulele.

Brüko Walnut Soprano ukulele

Why that introduction? Well the more longstanding uke players out there will immediately recognise the Brüko brand name and know that I am a fan. They've been around for years and years and are regarded by most as interesting, fun and utterly idiosyncratic. The Brüko brand hails from Kitzingen in the heart of Germany (about halfway between Frankfurt and Nuremberg) and have been making their ukes in Germany for over 100 years now and, since 1995 has been under the watch of Hubert Pfeiffer.  It's a small production line setup, but hardly a 'factory', so still a true 'handmade' product.  I've featured them before, including their Model 9 tenor, and of course, the famous model 6 soprano ukulele, an instrument that I think EVERY ukulele collector should own at some point in their life. They are well loved in uke circles. Did you know, for example, that friend and global ukulele performer Phil Doleman performed with a Brüko model 5 in his first proper performance with Ian Emmerson in the Re-entrants?  They are utterly traditional in design, haven't changed much over the years and (with the greatest respect to the brand as I mean this with love) a little bit bonkers! They just do things their own way, because it's the way that works for them. Take their tenors for example.. they are the size of concerts and have 12 frets like a soprano... Ahh Brüko...  you silly sausages..

(Quick diversion - you may see these listed as BRUEKO with an E. That's a convention that is used when you haven't got means to apply the umlaut dots over the U. It indicates the pronunciation here is  Brüe to rhyme with stew, glue and chew. Without the dots in German the first four letters would be pronounced to rhyme book, cook and luck... and that would be wrong.)

But.... it's actually been a while since I've seen one out and about in the wild, and maybe that's because they now seem to be solely available from their own sales page rather than in stores. That's a shame.  Anyway it's about time to bring them back to the attention of the many new ukulele players that follow Got A Ukulele. Those who are wondering what on earth I am going on about with that rambling introduction!

The Brüko ukulele offerings come in the usual flavours, soprano, concert, tenor and a harder to find baritone (I've never seen one in the wild!).  They also make pineapples and longnecks, and offer extras like pickups and tuner changes if you want them. Originally it was really all about the sopranos and they came in a much simpler range of wood or decor types, but there is quite a bit more on offer now. These days the soprano, concerts and tenors are split into two general categories. The 'classics' (which are cheaper and simpler, like the Model 6 - kind of the 'original' Brüko line if you will) and a wider grouping for each scale that introduces other woods, different body depths, curved backs, skunk striped necks and edge bindings. This walnut soprano model is part of a range of a few other walnut sopranos in that wider group with differing levels of 'bling' and of body depth. I say 'bling', Brüko are anything BUT blingy but I also love them for that too!  Anyway, I grabbed this one in particular to show the 'blingier' end of the scale, at least in Brüko bling terms!

Brüko Walnut Soprano ukulele body

It's a very traditionally shaped soprano with a double bout that is not a million miles away from a figure of eight and I think looks great.  It's curvy! This one is made from all solid walnut tonewood with a two piece book-matched top and a beautifully arched book-matched back. The sides are a single piece. That book-matching is done nicely too and the grain on this example is nice and stripy without being over done with staining - the wood has enough colour variation of it's own. It looks like wood! The back shaping is one of the main things you pick up on here - the curve is really is exaggerated and used to both provide strength and also help with  clarity in the projection (allegedly).

Moving on to the bridge, this too is made from walnut and is a slot style for simple string changes. It's really pleasing to see that these days Brüko go with a separate saddle piece (not sure of the material), as the originals had a one piece carved saddle that was integral to the bridge wood. They looked very cool and worked well for me at least, but were terribly difficult to adjust if you wanted to lower the action as you would need to sand the bridge wood itself. This is an improvement, no doubt. The bridge is also nicely carved on the ends and, being a slot bridge, they didn't make it overly large, helped in part my the dimuntive saddle strip.

Brüko Walnut Soprano ukulele bridge

Decoration on the body here is minimal, as it is on all Brüko ukuleles so you get nothing more than a white transfer soundhole ring and a flawless satin coat. Perfect for me really! I must say though, in times past they used to edge the inside of the soundhole itself with a white ring - a real nod to some old 1920s - 1950s ukes. I miss those. Bring them back Brüko! Still, the finish here is really nice on the hands. Not sticky, not over done, smooth absolutely everywhere, but providing enough protection for the wood.

Brüko Walnut Soprano ukulele decoration

Inside is very neat and tidy too with no mess I can spot. Because of the curved back there is no back bracing as the curve provides the strength here. The kerfing is not notched. The thing that always makes me have a warm feeling about Brüko is the name stamp that is branded on the back. Not only does it look uber cool, it also says 'W. Germany'. The branding iron they use comes from a time before Germany was re-united, and shows the longevity of the brand as well as some modern history.

Brüko walnut soprano inside


Up to the neck and this is another 'blingier' departure from the ever so slightly cheaper and plainer walnut soprano offering. The cheaper one gets a straight up maple neck, akin to that on the model 6 (which are beautiful), but this one goes with walnut again, made from multiple pieces of different coloured woods along it's length to create a skunk stripe. It looks great. I've always found Brüko necks comfortable to hold and this is no different either helped by a slightly flattened profile and the roomy nut width of 35.5mm (29mm G to A).

Brüko Walnut Soprano ukulele neck

Topping this is yet more walnut for the fingerboard which has some nice stripy grain to add to the interest and a wavy end detail where the board sits over the top edge of the body. In traditional soprano style it has just the 12 frets to the top of the body. Hey, the soprano is a rhythmical instrument, you don't need to go up the dusty end so much! Outward black position dots are fitted at the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 10th, but sadly you get no side dots. They are easy enough to add with a marker, but should be an equally easy addition for Brüko that surely should be standard now. I put that down to their traditional 'do it our way approach' I suppose.

Brüko Walnut Soprano ukulele fingerboard

Like all Brükos the nut here is made of wood, and beyond that you run up to their usual three pointed crown headstock.  I like how the nut sits in a slot on the fingerboard rather than the fingerboard abutting it,  and it leaves a taper of fingerboard that fades onto the headstock. I like it purely for the aesthetics. On the plainer maple neck model the headstock is plain maple too, but here you see the opposite side of the maple skunk stripe creating a stripe on the front of the headstock. Nice.

Brüko Walnut Soprano ukulele headstock

Tuning is provided by what look like Grover Style 2 copy rear facing friction tuners. They are not the best in the world and the sort of thing you will get on standard spec Flea instruments, but they are easily swapped out. These could be better though it must be said. I don't totally hate them and use friction pegs regularly so adjusting them is second nature for me,  but there ARE better ones out there. As I say though - very easily swapped.

Brüko Walnut soprano ukulele tuners

Finising the package are a set of Pyramid brand Carbon strings. This is a string set Brüko have used for a long time and one that confuses me as I don't know a single person who actually likes them! Again, they are easily changed, and I WILL be doing so. With these higher spec models you also get a padded bag thrown in, and these come in at €285 (which is about £240 at the time of writing) which is not a bad price at all to be fair. Bear in mind though that, unless you are in Germany you will have shipping on top of that and, depending on where you are, potentially import duty too. This landed with me at a total of £285 UK after those additions. Still, not bad for a hand made solid wood instrument I don't think. Especially one made outside of China.

Like every Brüko I have come across the build and finish quality is absolutely impeccable here. Precise doesn't begin  to do it justice and this one has an accuracy in the construction that is really only matched by the likes of Japanese Kiwaya ukes. It's utterly superb. The weight surprises me too. The model 6 Brüko models I have experenced you could not call 'featherweight'. They are not overly heavy but were still a bit hefty. This on the other hand is light and feels delicate, despite being solidly made. Whether that is a Brüko change generally or specific to this walnut model, I don't know, but I like it a lot. The balance is also just perfect, as is the setup, although before I get on to the tone of the stock strings I will say that I don't like the feel of them either. They just don't have enough tension for me and I find my strumming hand getting caught. But I must come back to the looks. Sure, it's plain and simple, but honestly... i've seen people paying significant sums of money for ukuleles that look like this and with this sort of build and finish too.

Brüko Walnut Soprano ukulele back

Volume is not bad here, though I 'think' could be better with different strings. I found the exact same thing with Pyramid strings on the Brüko 6. That is not to say it's overly quiet, but I just sense it could do more. I may do a follow up video with something like Seaguar or Martin fluoro strings fitted to it. Sustain is reasonable and for a rhythmical soprano sound it does the job well and it has a nice attack that works for bouncier playing. Still, I guess both could be a bit fuller.

The tone here is not standout characterful or with a high end complexity, but has much more going for it than the Brüko 6 did. (And I liked the Brüko 6). It was just a touch one dimensional, and dare I say 'simple' sounding, but that was part fo the charm for me. There is much more going on here on the character stakes, but still a certain amount of simple tone profile too. I rather like it though, and whilst it's not got the shimmery charm of something like a Kamaka or a Koaloha soprano, it works very well as a sop as it's bouncy, rhythmical and fun. It's a far warmer tone than I had expected too. Yes, I'd like a bit more sustain and volume, but see my comment above regarding the strings. It's still a very enjoyable uke to strum quickly whilst you wander around. Fingerpicking is surprisingly nice with clear notes right up the neck that chime in the mix very nicely. I have played far far worse or more boring sopranos for more money than this. In fact, this is all sounding too negative (just trying to be honest!). I really DO like the tone of this one!

All in all, I still have a huge soft spot for Brüko. No, they are not something that compares with a Kamaka or a high end Kiwaya, but then they are leagues away from them on price. Yet they are not akin to the usual alternatives to those options as these are not Chinese production line re-badges either. For a buyer looking for a good, very well made, handmade instrument and one that doesn't see you looking like every other ukulele player in your club, then I'd say they are absolutely worth your consideration. A brand I love that has not let me down with this one. As such, it comes highly recommended. And as I say, every ukulele player should own a Brüko at some point. They are simply better than the sum of their parts.

(And as a final treat - below my review video below you will find a delightful video Brüko produced in 2011 showing them at work in the workshop!)


https://brueko-ukulelen.smoolis.com


UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Brüko Walnut
Scale: Soprano
Body: Solid Walnut
Bridge: Walnut, slot style
Saddle: Unspecified
Neck: Multiple piece walnut with skunk stripe
Fingerboard: Walnut
Nut: Wood
Nut Width: 35.5mm (29mm G to A)
Tuners: Unbranded friction pegs
Strings: Pyramid Carbon
Extras: Padded gig bag
Price: €285

UKULELE PROS

Wonderful looks
Superbly accurate build and finish
Light and balanced
Bouncy soprano sound
Great neck
Good price (but watch those shipping charges)

UKULELE CONS

No side markers
I'd upgrade the tuners
I'd change the strings
A little subdued with standard strings

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW


BRÜKO PROMO VIDEO


BRUKO WITH STRING CHANGE



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