Oulcraft Soul Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

26 Apr 2020

Oulcraft Soul Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

Another weekend where I have the pleasure at taking a look at something that is brand new to me. This time it's the Oulcraft 'Soul' Concert Ukulele.

Oulcraft Soul Concert Ukulele

Without wishng to get ahead of myself, this ukulele has surprised me in all sorts of ways from the very moment I opened the case.. And it's not just the looks.  Oulcraft are a company based South Korea and the models are overseen by luthier Jungtae Kim who was trained in Japan by master luthier Shinji Takahashi. The team is completed by Jungae's wife Seyoon on design elements and his brother Hyuntae in the workshop. A real family affair that started in 2011.  And at first glance of both this one and others in the range immediately had me intrigued by the quirky looks. Incidentally, this one is loaned to by by Southern Ukulele Store who are pleased to be the first European dealer for Oulcraft. (And yes, despite lockdown - they are still trading on mail order!!) What does Oulcraft mean? Well, I am not entirely sure of the origin, but when you consider the logo is an owl, I can only assume it's a Korean variant on the name of the animal. Owl / Oul... Not sure to be honest!

Let's take a look. The 'Soul' model is a 16" scale (edit - the Oulcraft site lists it as 16, but SUS list it as 15 inch scale. I checked.. It's 15!!) concert ukulele in a traditional double bout shape with nice curvy sides. It reminds me a lot of models from Koaloha, Opio and The Rebel in shape, and in fact that's not the only element where I find that similarity. It's made from all solid tone woods with two pieces of Engelmann Spruce on the top and two pieces of solid mahogany to both the flat back and the sides. It's a great combination and one also used by brands like The Rebel. The spruce here in particular is startlingly clean with a tight grain, pale colour  and absolutely no coloured patches to spoil the look. It's patently good quality wood. The contrast with the mahogany is just beatiful. The mahogany itself is also decent quality. Sure, mahogany is never that intersting, but there is nice shimmer and stripe here too.

Oulcraft Soul Concert Ukulele body

The bridge is a tie bar style made from Indian Rosewood and is wonderfully carved, tidy AND small. I think it looks great too and it's fitted with a bone saddle with a compensated top.  This is about as small as a soprano slot style bridge, yet is a tie bar. I like that a lot.

Oulcraft Soul Concert Ukulele bridge

Decoration on the top is minimal insofar as you don't get edge binding, and the only inlay work is the abstract mother of pearl pieces laid into the top between the sound hole and bridge. I don't know what they represent but look like pebbles on a beach to me (EDIT - I have been reliably informed the marks represent the spots in the feather colouring on the owls chest in the logo!). Certainly different, but I am quite taken by them for the simple reason that they didn't go with the 'same old same old'.

Oulcraft Soul Concert Ukulele decor

The finish here is interesting too. The top edges where the spruce meets the mahogany are beautifully chamfered off, again reminiscent of Koaloha ukuleles. The whole body is then glossed with the back and sides being more of an open pore gloss, very similar to the finish on Kamaka ukuleles, whereas the gloss on the spruce is like a mirror. I adore the different feels of the different woods.

Inside is extremely tidy too. The braces are thin and criss-crossed on the top and the linings are notched. I cannot spy ANY mess at all.

oulcraft soul ukulele inside


The neck is made of Spanish Cedar and is beautifully carved from a single piece with a heel that narrows to an almost sharp point. It's nice and flat in profile up at the nut with a roomy enough 36mm nut and nearly 28mm G to A. It's a wonderful feeling neck.

That is topped with more Indian Rosewood which is dark and evenly coloured. The frets are low and skinny and you get 19 of them with 14 to the body. That should make for a fast neck. The fret markers edge back towards the quirky with the use of offset moon phases at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th. They are a little on the 'twee' side for this player though. Thankfully you also get regular dots on the side at the same places.

Oulcraft Soul Concert Ukulele neck

Beyond the bone nut is the first part of the ukulele which I find looks almost too plain for the rest of the the instrument. The shape of the headstock looks different enough, but the finishing is just an extension of the cedar of the neck. I do wonder if this might have been improved with a facing veneer. The logo of eyes of an owl is inleaid in pearl, but looks too small for me on the wood and is a bit lost. It's a minor gripe and purely a personal reaction.

Oulcraft Soul Concert Ukulele headstock

The tuners here are about as good as they get with geared pegs as they have used Japanese Gotoh UK700 with height adjustable posts to dial in the right tension and break angle at the nut. They just ooze good quality. They're wonderful. Sure, being a concert I would have preferred something rear facing, like Gotoh UPT's but it's hard to critisise the quality of these.

Oulcraft Soul Concert Ukulele tuners

Completing your package are worth clear CM strings for re-entrant tuning and a nice padded gig bag. Throughout this review I have noted higher level appointments so you may be expecting an eye watering price. Sure, it is at the expensive end, but it actually surprised me for being available at £899. That's pitched as somewhere between the likes of the Opio line and the higher end stuff like Moon Birds and fully Hawaiian K brand ukes. It's probably most similarly lined up against instruments from The Rebel on price, and considering I have mentioned other similarities elsewhere in this review, that's maybe not surprising.

The first important thing to recognise here is that on build quality and finish alone, I can totally see why it derserves to be at that price. The build and finish are impeccable and flawless. Absolutely everywhere I look the finish is just as it should be and the whole thing feels great in the hands. From the smooth top gloss to the extremely comfortable chamfered edges and flat neck it's comfortable all round. It's really light too and nicely balanced and does remind me of picking up a Koaloha.

Thankfully, the accolades don't stop with the build quality either. Firstly, this is one of the best projecting ukuleles I think I have ever played. It knocked me sideways when I first played it. In fact the very first strum was a quiet one played on the evening of the day it arrived. Despite it being a soft strum, I woke my daugher up who is on another floor of the house. It's quite bonkers! Sustain too is terrific which allows you to put character into your playing with slides and vibrato. Great on both fronts here. But even that is not the full picture and often high volume ukuleles can sacrifice clarity and can 'boom'.

Oulcraft Soul Concert Ukulele back

Not a bit of that here though. The tone itself which is incredibly broad, insteresting and rich. Sure there is a zingy snap brought out by the use of spruce on the top, but it's nicely rounded out by the use of mahogany (and, probably, the bracing pattern) leading to a really balanced tone that oozes quality right across the range. The clarity of the notes when strummed is absolutely excellent and it never finds itself wrong footed or lost. Countering the jangly strum sound fingerpicking is chimey, bell like and just has 'all the pretties'. This has put a massive smile on my face. It is the nicest sounding ukulele I have played? Well that's subjective, but it's certainly up there. Is it the nicest sounding concert ukulele I have played, it's even more 'up there'! Couple that great tone and projection with a really comfortable playing experience and there isn't much to dislike here.

Sure I touched on the quirky angle, but looking back at the pictures it's not actually all THAT quirky at all. Some of the others in the Oulcraft line are certainly more so, and it's hardly The Rebel levels of oddness. Still, I suspect some people will prefer a regular soundhole rosette. But that belies the really wonderful build quality and terrific sound.  As I said above, I wasn't actually that surprised at the price, and in fact, I'd probably have expected it to be more.

A wonderful ukulele that is very highly recommended. Thanks again to Southern Ukulele Store for the kind loan.


https://www.southernukulelestore.co.uk/oulcraft-soul-solid-spruce-mahogany-concert-ukulele-gloss-finish-inc-gigbag/

http://oulcraft.com/index.html


UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Name: Oulcraft Soul
Scale: Concert
Body: Solid Engelmann Spruce top, solid Mahogany back and sides
Bridge: Tie Bar, Indian Rosewood
Saddle: Bone, compensated
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Spanish Cedar
Fingerboard: Indian Rosewood
Frets: 19, 14 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut Width: 36mm, 28mm G to A
Tuners: Gotoh UK700 Gears
Strings: Worth Clear
Extras: Gig Bag
Price: £899

UKULELE PROS

Impeccable build and finish
Diminutive saddle
Nice neck profile
Superb tuners
Frankly bonkers volume
Great sustain
Clear, rich, characterful tone

UKULELE CONS

Not as quirky as some Oulcraft, but maybe still too quirky for some?
Headstock looks a bit plain

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 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.3 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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