Bonanza Homestead Baritone Ukulele REVIEW

1 Mar 2020

Bonanza Homestead Baritone Ukulele REVIEW

Over the last few years I have learned that it's always a fun weekend when a Bonanza Ukulele comes my way for review. This week I am looking at the Bonanza Homestead Baritone.

Bonaza Homestead baritone ukulele


Bonanza ukuleles are instruments that are hand made in Minnesota by Pete Mai and have built a reputation of not only being great ukes, but being unusual and different too. I've looked at instuments from they built from HPL, a banjo that is not a banjo and instruments that are just plain built differently. At first glance with this one you might think it's not so unusual, but do read on.

This baritone forms part of the new Homestead series, available in all the standard scales, and developed by Bonanza to combine what they consider to be their best build ideas into a plainer, no frills instrument at a lower price. And for that reason this one does look more standard from the front, and, dare I say it, 'plain' at first glance. So we are not talking highly patterned HPL here, we don't have stripes around the body, we don't have etchings and sound ports. It's just a double bout ukulele made, in this case, from mahogany (you have some other wood choices too). But if that sounds like I am being dismissive, I actually think quite the opposite. I absolutely adore the simplicity of the look here, and for this reviewers tastes at least, I think it's the fact that it is understated that is a triumph.

It's a regular baritone scale, in a double bout shape with an attractive cutaway on the upper shoulder.  But when you take a closer look you see that this is very much 'Bonanzafied' ( © Barry Maz 2020 )... It's a thinline and a thinline for a reason. Much like the Oreo ukulele this doesn't feature separate top, side and back pieces, rather it's made from two blocks of wood, routed out into ashtray shapes and connected together in a clamshell. When I first saw this method on his Oreo I was convinced it wouldn't work... but it does. Really well. Because this is a 'no frills' uke it has no central stripe like the Oreo has or any other decoration, and as much as I like those features, I really like the simplicity of this one.

Bonaza Homestead baritone ukulele body

The bridge is similar to other Bonanza ukes, made from walnut and holding a straight topped Corian saddle piece. Like others too it's a through body design for stringing with engraved star motifs on the string holes. Nice. The design also creates a very strong break angle behind the saddle which will be great for keeping the saddle firmly down for better vibration transfer.

Bonaza Homestead baritone ukulele bridge

The body is then finshed in a hand rubbed satin coat which gives it a beautiful look and feel. That finish coupled with the smoothed off top and back edges makes it wonderful to hold. It's super tactile.

Inside is simple, like the Oreo and Saguaro, and because of how they are built you don't have or need any edge linings. Like the the Saguaro the top bracing is integral to the routing rather than attached separately. Pete calls it his 'Gen 5 integral bracing'. And, of course, you get the Bonanza wooden makers label with the build number and date pyro etched. Pete brought the Homestead to the market to mark the buiding of his 500th instrument and this one is #528.

Bonanza Homestead Baritone Ukulele inside


Up to the neck, this is made of mahogany which seems to be one piece and is bolted on. It's carved really nicely with a subtle flattened heel to fit the thinline body, and a fairly flattened profile at the nut too. At the nut it is around 38mm wide and just shy of 30mm from the bass to treble strings.

Topping that is a walnut fingerboard with a nice angled end shape. It's not bound in the normal way, rather with what Pete calls his 'self bound edges'. That is to say that the frets, (19 of them, 14 to the body) are fitted into slots which don't quite reach the sides of the board. It means you see no fret ends and, of course, have no sharp ends. Position markers are provided with pale wooden dot inlays facing out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th, and these are repeated with white dots on the side.

Bonaza Homestead baritone ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the Corian nut is the usual Bonanza flat topped headstock, faced with more mahogany. It's engraved with the Bonanza logo.

Bonaza Homestead baritone ukulele headstock

Tuners on this example are unbranded sealed chrome gears with small black buttons, similar to my eye to what you will get on a Pono uke. Saying that, Pete does offer other tuner offerings too if you prefer them.

Bonaza Homestead baritone ukulele tuners

Finishing it off are a pair of strap buttons and strings which are a mix of wound La Bella classical guitar strings for the low D and G strings and Seaguar Flourocarbon on the B and E. And this bartone comes it at an extremely reasonable $299. Incidentally the case you see in the pictures is not included, but can be bought as an extra.

So there you have it. And as I say above, there is something about the plainness here that, for me makes it perhaps even more attractive than the other Bonanza's I have looked at. It looks very traditional while being, well, not traditional at all. I love it. Like every other ukulele I have looked at from Bonanza, the build and finish is excellent. It's also far lighter than I expected it to be and very nicely balanced. The most notable thing though is how incredibly resonant it is. A rap on either the top or the back with the knuckles makes the whole instrument boom like a drum. Remarkably so in fact.

Bonaza Homestead baritone ukulele back

And with that resonance comes great volume and quite remarkable sustain. This goes on and on and on, and if you thought that thin body would limit it, you'd be quite wrong. I loved the tone and playability of the Oreo, but did point out that it wasn't the loudest ukulele on the block. Whether he has changed his routing or it's the impact of the larger body, that is NOT an issue here. This is a forceful ukulele with a vibrating resonance you can feel from every part of the instrument.

The tone is warm (low D of course helping here), but with highs from the treble strings that cut through really nicely. It jangles, it harmonises with itself and it sounds full and rich in voice. It's also very clear, right up the fingerboard. To my ears this is getting close to guitar in tone and that's no bad thing as it indicates more dynamic range. It's a joy to play whether strummed where you can get a bouncy rhythmical tone from it, or fingerpicked where the long sustain gives a tonne of character to the sound. It really does sing and shimmer and it's put a big smile on my face each time i've picked it up. It's terrific.

Bonaza Homestead baritone ukulele cutaway

All in all, despite this being a 'no frills' model, I actually think that this series would be the 'Bonanza for me'. I loved the look and feel of it from when I first opened the case. That's not to take anything away from his decorated ukuleles at all, but this player loves the simplicity of this one, whilst still being 'different'. Add in the comfortable playability, excellent sustain and great tone and I'm really finding it hard to critisise this one. For me, it's his best yet.

Highly recommended!


https://www.bonanzaukuleles.com/default.asp

UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Name: Bonanza Homestead
Scale: Baritone
Body: Clamshell routed solid mahogany
Bridge: Walnut, through body
Saddle: Corian
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 19, 14 to the body
Nut: Corian
Nut width: 38mm, 30mm D to E
Tuners: Unbranded chrome sealed gears
Strings: La Bella D and G, Seaguar B and E
Price: $299

UKULELE PROS

Wonderful understated looks
Excellent build and finish
Light weight and great 'feel'
Incredible resonance from the whole uke
Terrific volume and sustain
Warm rich and clear tone
Good price

UKULELE CONS

Really none than I can think of

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.4 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW






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4 comments :

  1. Looks really nice and the review makes me quite interested

    ReplyDelete
  2. 1) They are made in the USA, and are priced in dollars so I take it that they are not available over the counter in the UK. This is quite a problem for me!2) You often have to ask for voluntary funds from people who view your posts, and people like me, who just have a pension to live on, cannot afford many extras. Would it be possible for you to hold some sort of paid for prize draw, using the tested instruments as prizes? Just asking......

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are USA based, but they do offer shipping to the UK. You just have to get in touch with them for a quote. Bear in mind also that approx half the audience that reads Got A Ukulele is USA based, so the content needs to suit them as much.

      I don't demand donations from anyone though, and Got A Ukulele will NEVER be a tiered site (where people have to pay for some content). If people can't donate, disagree with donating or anything else, that's absolutely fine. I toyed with some competition giveaways in the past, but it's difficult for the reason of my first point. To ship a prize to the USA is massively costly for me, so I'd have to rule out half my audience. That's not good sense. Can't do a paid prize draw in the UK as that crosses over into gambling laws!

      Delete
  3. Excellent review as always Barry - really look forward to them. I'm off to the States in a few weeks and I'm considering A Bonanza concert, but I've also got my eye on a Bruko. How do their basic models compare sound-wise? Anyone?

    ReplyDelete

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