Flight WUS-4 Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

21 Jun 2020

Flight WUS-4 Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

An interestingly different ukulele review for all sorts of reasons this one. I've been looking at the Flight WUS-4 Soprano Ukulele!

Flight WUS-4 Soprano Ukulele

The details of why this is quite 'different' will become clear in the review, but I must admit that at first I wondered how I could approach this one. But.. I relish a challenge and actually realised that this review could serve to demonstrate some other things about ukuleles outwith just what I thought of this particular model itself. Intrigued? Read on.

The WUS-4 (and it's sibling, the WUS-3) are the first foray by Slovenian based Flight ukuleles to having an instrument made in the USA. In fact, not just anywhere in the USA but in Hawaii. Flight ukuleles are normally made in the far east as I am sure you are aware, but these models came about during the business travels of the couple that run Flight whilst they were on the islands. They  hooked up with a team of highly regarded Japanese luthiers who had set up a workshop in Hawaii to make ukes to the typical exacting Japanese quality standards and they agreed to make a couple of models for Flight.  Hence the WUS-4 and 3 were born. The 3 is made from mahogany, and this one, the 4 is made from Hawaiian Koa. And to be specific, they are both made from laminate woods in the body. More on that further into the review as it's highly relevant to what this review intends to demonstrate.

Anyway, the first 'complication' for my review then comes when you hear the back story. Having arranged an initial short run of models from Hawaii, a certain pandemic swept the globe..... (you may have heard of it...)... The Japanese luthiers faced no choice but to close their new operation and return to Japan and as such, only the initial run of about 50 Mahogany models and only 10 Koa models were ever made. That's the lot. There is, I believe, an outside chance that when the world gets on its feet again Flight may be able to get them made again in Japan, but these 60 models are the only Hawaiian ones that will ever exist. I find that heartbreaking for Flight as a brave step into a new market was snatched away by Covid-19.  So it's an odd one to be reviewing because in a few months (or possibly even weeks) time it will be likely that these will be unavailable to buy.  Incidentally - the 50 or so mahogany models are now solely available from Musicroom and the, at the time of writing, EIGHT Koa models remaining (including this one) are only available exclusively from Gute Ukulele in Germany who kindly loaned this to me. Links for both are at the foot of the review!

So.. why review this one? Well - as I say, I think this review can teach more than just what I think of the models themselves, but let's look at the details. 

This is a very standard shaped and scaled soprano ukulele made from laminate koa as I say. It's not a striking curly koa, but it's pretty enough with some colour variation in the outer veneer. And when I say laminate, this is pro-grade laminate, not just rough ply wood, and more likely a sandwich of three pieces of koa wood pressed firmly into a strong bonded sheet. And that's an important thing to realise here. Not all laminates are equal and music grade laminate like this is a highly regarded material used by guitar brands like Taylor as well as high end ukulele makers like Kiwaya. In fact this immediately reminded me of the Kiwaya KS-5 - another laminate Koa ukulele I looked at in 2012 and one that scored very highly because it sounded so damn good! This is a far cry from your regular laminate ukulele. Just looking at the joints to the top and back and the edge of the soundhole shows how decent this material is.  It's often hard to determine if there are multiple pieces on the top and back of laminates and I can't tell here. What I can confirm though is the sides are a single piece  and the back is dead flat. It's really well built.

Flight WUS-4 Soprano Ukulele body

The bridge is made of walnut and fitted with an extremely well compensated bone saddle, again, very like Kiwaya's. Interestingly I thought it was a slot bridge at first glance due to the dimensions, but it's actually a tie bar.  I don't have a problem with that, and don't mind tie bars, but I do wonder why they didn't just go with slots like Martin and Kiwaya do on their sopranos? Still, it's nice and diminutive and extremely well finished.

Flight WUS-4 Soprano Ukulele bridge

There is no other decoration here or on the WUS-3 either, but I think it's designed to be a simple, no-frills ukulele where the focus is on the core construction and sound rather than with bells and whistles. I like it for that. The body is finished in a kind of semi gloss that shows off the pores in the wood which is really tidy, extremely smooth and comes with no issues I can see. It reminds me of Kamaka finishing in fact - not mirror gloss, but very nicely done and tactile. From memory, the finish here is quite a lot nicer than the more gloopy gloss on the KS-5.

Inside is simple but tidy bar a touch of glue on some of the edge lining. The kerfing linings are not notched, and the braces are simple.  Oh, and it has the only Flight label to state 'made in the USA' of course!

Flight WUS-4 Soprano Ukulele inside


The neck is made of mahogany with two joints at the heel and headstock which are next to impossible to see on this example. It's also got a really nice 'island' flat D profile which I always like to see (and play!). Even better is the roomy 36.5mm nut width and 30mm from G to A. That's excellent and I do hope that Flight learn from this Hawaiian experiment and introduce that sort of profile to their other sopranos. In fact I'd like to see all far eastern builds start to do that!

The neck is topped with a walnut fingerboard which is very even in colour and even feels a bit 'edge rolled' for smoothness.  It has more than a standard 12 frets for a soprano with 15 of them in total, joined at the 12th. It's also nice to see that the fingerboard extension is not massively thick, but only a thin sliver over the top of the body. Position dots face out at the 5th, 7th and 10th and thankfully these also appear on the side too. This is a VERY comfortable neck.

Flight WUS-4 Soprano Ukulele neck

Beyond the skinny nut is the usual Flight shaped headstock which is a nice variant on the usual crown tops. The Flight logo is in white but sadly feels like a sticker. You may need to be careful with this when using clip on tuners - rather like the current Martin ukuleles.

Flight WUS-4 Soprano Ukulele headstock

Talking of tuners (but a different kind!), this comes with unbranded gears and that's my first disappointment. On a soprano I would much prefer rear  facing friction pegs, but maybe if the shop making these had stayed open that could have become an option. These are good quality though, and the buttons are small, but they are not for me. 

Flight WUS-4 Soprano Ukulele tuners


Finishing it off are a set of 'Japanese Fluorocarbon' strings (so likely sourced from fishing line makers - a thumbs up from me!) and one of the better, cream coloured Flight gig bags which is certainly on a par with the gig bags that come with Martin ukuleles. An the price is where people who don't understand the differences between laminates and build locations is where some my raise an eyebrow. This is available for €420 which comes in at about £380 UK money. It seems a lot, but only if you compare it to a Chinese laminate uke, which wouldn't be at all fair. This is actually the same money you will pay for a Kiwaya Koa laminate made in Japan, plus you get a gig bag which adds more value. As for a solid wood comparison, a Martin S1 will cost you £450. As much as I like those ukes, and the build quality is similar to this one, I think this has a much nicer tone. Remember - this is a pro grade instrument made by luthiers, not a far eastern workshop and is therefore made with USA costs of production. That costs money. I think it's fairly priced. Incidentally, the mahogany is about £100 less.


Flight WUS-4 Soprano Ukulele back

But all of that means nothing if it didn't play well, and I think you need not worry. The construction is exacting and superb in every department. It's also light as a feather, extremely well balanced and resonant as you like. It's flawless really.

And like all of the best sopranos this punches and barks with terrific volume when strummed hard. It's quite remarkable and an easy match for some of the best sopranos I have played on that score. Thankfully the sustain is also very good, leaving a pleasing vibration in your hand and chest when played. That means it will allow more character to come through when playing, particularly picking melody lines.

Strummed, it's right up there with some of the best sopranos I have played. It's bouncy, rhythmical and jangly just where you want it making it a really fun instrument to play old time passages on. It reminds me very much of the Kiwaya I refer to above, and remember that I said that Kiwaya to me sounded much closer to the likes of Koaloha solid Koa sopranos than I wanted to really admit! Th same applies here. This is a great sounding ukulele.

Fingerpicking is really pretty, chimey and bell like on account of that sustain and allows for something more than just staccato chops in your play. Once again,  for me this gets closer to solid wood instruments, some costing considerably more, than some of those other brands will like to hear me say! 

In fact, in both departments I am certain that, if played to somebody who is blindfolded against some other mid to higher end solid wood sopranos that they would be hard placed to tell you this was a laminate instrument. In fact I am sure they would think it was more costly too. I'm sure of it. I think it sounds terrific. OK, I have one or two minor gripes (the sticker logo, the tuners), but that really is about it. I've gone over it with a fine tooth comb and I can't find any issues. And nor-would I - the Japanese attention to detail in builds like this is famously precise.

In summing up,  I agree that it may seem strange to review a ukulele that is not widely available (if available at all when you read this!) But on reflection I think it's valid for a few reasons. Of course there is an outside chance that they may be available again in the future, but mainly because it proves a couple of other things.  First it's nice to see that Flight are prepared to develop and take a leap in a new direction and I applaud them for that. The Covid-19 impact on the factory was not something that could be foreseen and I feel sorry for them with what developed, but fair play to them for going for it though! But also because, like the Kiwaya laminate ukuleles I have compared this to, this is a prime example of a laminate build that exceeds in quality over similarly priced solid wood builds. It shows perfectly that 'not all laminates are equal', and with any musical instrument it's the quality of the construction that counts the most. And I still see to many people swayed by the 'it must be solid' marketing angle and ending up with a solid wood uke that is over built and, well, a bit dead. This is anything BUT over-built. 

I simply don't care what this is made from, this is an absolutely cracking instrument. But.. be quick if you want to be one of the only people to own one. Very highly recommended!




UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Flight WUS-4
Scale: Soprano
Body: Laminate Hawaiian Koa
Bridge: Walnut, tie bar
Saddle: Bone
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 15, 12 to body
Tuners: Unbranded gears
Strings: Fluorocarbon
Extras: Gig bag
Country of Origin: USA
Price: €420

UKULELE PROS

Great understated looks
Terrific build quality
Light
Great volume and sustain
Barks and punches like a soprano should
Tone matches or possibly beats many comparably priced solid wood sopranos
Nice bag

UKULELE CONS

Would prefer friction pegs
'Sticker' headstock logo


UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

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2 comments :

  1. That’s a lot of punch in a small package, Barry! Great review. I’ve never regretted finding a secondhand Famous FS1 (thanks to your recommendation). Maybe some day there will be more of these.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Barry, thanks to this review I gifted myself the last one.

    First time I've spoiled myself by buying a musical instrument.

    Keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete

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