Freebird KT1-T Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

8 Feb 2020

Freebird KT1-T Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Another new brand for Got A Ukulele, yet.... not quite. Read on to see why and meet the Freebird KT1-T Tenor Ukulele.

Freebird KT1-T Tenor Ukulele

Freebird are a new line of instruments introduced by Liam Gordon of the Freebird Music online store in Leeds, UK. If it has a certain familiarity about it,  that's because I previously reviewed a very similar instrument by the Mr Mai brand in the M-M80 Concert ukulele. It was a cracking instrument and part of a line of Mr Mai ukuleles exclusively carried by Liam at his store. They proved popular but were sat in a dizzying array of other instruments on the market and Liam wanted something unique to his own store he could call his own. He therefore arranged for a couple of the Mr Mai models to be built under his own shop name as a 'house brand' uke. As such, the M-M80 Concert is now a Freebird ukulele as is this new one, the KT1-T Tenor. It's a neat idea and something that has been undertaken by many specialist ukulele shops. And I think it works because if a store is putting their own brand name to something, you can take comfort in the fact they are not going to put their badge on a load of rubbish!

The KT1-T is a tenor ukulele built to fit a lower price point compared to the all solid M-M80. As such this keeps a standard double bout ukulele look, but has a solid two piece acacia top and goes with laminate acacia on the two piece sides and slightly arched back. It's a common price adjustment technique in the musical instrument world and, as someone who doesn't run scared of the use of good laminate woods, does not faze me at all. In fact there are some musicians out there who will suggest laminate is a better material for the back and sides, as it allows the top tone wood to impart it's character unimpeded. Not that you would know that the acacia back and sides here are laminate as they nicely match the top in both colour and grain. It's not the curliest or most stripy acacia I have seen, but it's hardly ugly and exudes a very pretty orange brown hue. It's paler than the M-M80, but taste will be subjective here. I like the look of both to be honest.

The bridge is similar to the M-M80, and is made of ebony. It's a tie bar style in a reverse moustache shape fitted with a compensated bone saddle and is very tidy.

Freebird KT1-T Tenor Ukulele bridge

Decoration and other appointments are also similar to the M-M80 in that you get some ebony edge binding around the top edge which transforms into a bevelled comfort edge / arm rest on the top lower bout. It's all done very well. Also simlilar is the soundhole rosette made of inlays of coloured wooden chevrons that I thought looked great on the M-M80 and they do here too. The body is then finished in an extremely shiny gloss finish which has also been done tidily all over with no major flaws I can see.

Freebird KT1-T Tenor Ukulele decor

Inside is extremely tidy. We have notched linings, thin braces and absolutely no mess. You will note that the top bracing is top to tail, rather than lateral, and the bridge is not screwed to the top. The top is also nice and thin. A tidy instrument inside.

Freebird KT1-T Tenor Ukulele inside


The neck is made from okume with a very subtle joint at the heel and a near enough invisible one at the headstock. From memory it feels slightly flatter and less rounded in profile than the M-M80 (though that may be my mind playing tricks), but either way it is very comfortable to play. It's also helped by the rooomy 'just over' 38mm at the nut with 'just over' 30mm from G to A strings. Nice.

It's topped with an ebony fretboard which is in great condition and uniformly dark in colour. Like the M-M80 you get the same triangle inlay pattern in pearl across the 12th space, but you get extra inlays shaped like dovetailed pennants inlaid in offset positions at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 15th. I think they look great for being that bit 'different'. Thankfully they are also repeated on the side with dots. You get 18 frets in total with 14 to the body and because the edges have been bound with wood, there are absolutely no sharp fret ends. All very good here.

Freebird KT1-T Tenor Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the bone nut is a slot headstock shape I have not yet seen before, which is to say it's 'almost' a traditional slot head, but with a piece removed from the central section. Design touches like these don't change the way the ukulele plays, but I do like builders who take the effort to make small changes to things like this, and of course, players themselves love individuality and a bit of fun. I think it looks great myself and creates another talking point. It's nicely faced with glossed ebony too and holds the Freebird logo of a peace dove inlaid in pearl on the top face.

Freebird KT1-T Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners are unbranded but are side mounted, rear facing gears as you would normally see on a slot head. They are clearly of good quality and the mix of gold metalwork and black painted parts looks terrific I think. Thankfully, they also turn smoothly too.

Freebird KT1-T Tenor Ukulele tuners

Completing your package are a set of Aquila strings, a padded gig bag and comes in at the much lower price of £229 when compared to the £400 for the M-M80. That's a good deal.

Overall, as I say, the build here is neat and tidy in all departments. The setup on this review model also arrived just fine for me too and it plays accuately right up the neck. It's a light instrument for a tenor and very well balanced at the 12th. Things like the comfort edge, the roomy nut and the non sticky gloss make it a very nice instrument to play and hold too.

Freebird KT1-T Tenor Ukulele arm rest

Sadly, not having the M-M80 here with me any longer it's hard to do a straight comparision (although maybe that is unfair as that one was a concert). From memory though it doesn't  quite have as impressive a volume or sustain. That is not a huge complaint, as this one is clearly no slouch in itself, but I remember the M-M80 having more punch and feeling livelier from the get go. The difference is not that noticeable here when strummed, if at all, as the KT1-T still gives off a bouncy jangly mix of tones which are huge fun to play in rhythmic patterns. I did notice it a little more though in the fingerpicking which needed me to 'dig in' a little more to make it sing. It's still pretty sounding in that department though and it's certainly got volume. I think the M-M80 just had a bit more up front attack.

The overall tone is brighter than I had expected, yet with some richness and warmth that still comes through from the use of acacia. Whilst the brighter tones shine through the most, there is stll some balance across the range though it's still more of the 'zingy' than the 'woody' in its voice. Again, that's not a complaint, just an observation of how it sounds to my ears and you may sense it differently. And in this case, it's strung with a high G so it stands to reason that if you wanted more bottom end you could fit a low G. (In fact you can specify that when ordering from Freebird direct.)  Either way, it's still a pleasant tone which is fun to play and listen to, and certainly up there with the competition at this sort of price point in the likes of Flight, Kala, Snail etc.

Freebird KT1-T Tenor Ukulele back

This was actually a hard one for me to score as in the end the M-M80 and the KT1-T came out very similar on their overall scores. I really like the way this one looks and it's built and finished very well too.  As I say above, perhaps it's unfair to compare it to the M-M80 when you consider that one is a concert and one is a tenor, but still.  I suppose some will say that if they are so similar, why pay more for the all solid ukulele? Well, some people just like the thought of all solid wood and you have to pay more for that sort of build to be done well. I also think it has a touch more punch to the sound. But that doesn't make an instrument with laminate elements irrelevant or to be avoided and for many this will be a sound choice. It's a great uke.

And that's it really. They are both very much recommended by Got A Ukulele. Horses for courses I guess. I'd happily own either.. or both!

Many thanks to Liam at Freebird Music for the loan of this one.

https://www.freebirdmusic.co.uk

UKULELE SPECS ROUND UP

Name: Freebird KT1-T Tenor
Body: Solid acacia top, laminate acacia sides
Bridge: Ebony tie bar
Saddle: Bone, compensated
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Okume
Fingerboard: Ebony
Nut: Bone
Nut Width: 38mm (30mm G to A)
Tuners: Unbranded gears in black and gold
Strings: Aquila
Price: £229

UKULELE PROS

Great looks
Good all round build and finish
Funky headstock and 'different' decor elements
Very comfortable neck
Bright, jangly pleasant tone
Great price

UKULELE CONS

From memory, not as punchy as the all solid concert model, but it's slight.
The acacia could be more stripy?

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

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