NFC Ukuleles Cedar Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

23 Aug 2020

NFC Ukuleles Cedar Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Just before the Covid Pandemic shut down most of the globe I took a look at an early build ukulele from a new hand made  brand based in Nicaragua. It was quirky, but intriguingly nice. I'm delighted to see the luthier behind them has kept busy and continued to build. This is another example of an NFC ukulele in tenor scale.

NFC Ukuleles Cedar Tenor

NFC is the brand of builder  Néstor Fuentes Castillo who is based near Managua in Nicaragua and there was something in that first one of his I looked at - this Cocobolo Baritone ukulele that had me very interested. It was extremely quirky in places for sure, but showed off some very technical and traditional instrument making skills such as a strongly radiused fretboard and Spanish heel that showed me that Néstor had been well trained. It certainly didn't follow all the ukulele norms, but certainly showed some real luthier skills. The pandemic must have come at precisely the wrong moment for him, but I am pleased to see he has kept building and that people are buying them. He also managed to get them carried by The Uke Room store in the UK - and, trust me - Matt Stead KNOWS his ukes. I was therefore keen to see another one!

With this tenor we move away from the striking swirly Cocobolo wood and into something a lot more traditional and classic. I say that as a good thing because, as striking as cocobolo wood is, the looks are not for everyone. With this ukulele we move to tenor scale and a traditional double bout shape made from all solid cedar. It's a boldly grained cedar with colour variation and I can only assume a different species to our European trees, but I still like it.  (STOP PRESS - after a bit of digging and helpful comments from readers, the guesstimate is this is more likely a Spanish Cedar - which isn't actually the same family at all!).  It's made from a couple of pieces on the top, back and sides and the back is slightly curved.  The top book matching creates a slightly pale stripe down the middle which I like. It 'almost but not quite' matches a slight knot in the wood on each lower bout. The right hand knot is quite a bit more noticeable than the left. Hey, you know I am picky and this is not a factory line instrument.

NFC Ukuleles Cedar Tenor body

Back with the 'quirky' hand made elements and I note that the front and back are 'very' slightly different curves on the base which creates a kind of strange twist in the sides on the bottom. It makes no difference to how it plays and feels, and it's clearly put together strongly, but it's just a bit odd! I suspect it may have been done by eye, which weirdly I quite like! Certainly hand made!

The bridge is made of cocobolo and is a tie bar style, carved nice and low so it's not adding too much wood weigh onto the top. It's fitted with a curved top bone saddle, and the reason for the curve will become apparent later.

NFC Ukuleles Cedar Tenor bridge

Decoration consists of more cocobolo for edge binding around the top and back edges, complemented by a thin purfling stripe of 'Aceituno' (Olive) wood. The same detail forms a tail stripe too. I like the look of the bindings very much, but being a hand made, I must point out a couple of flaws in the edging. Nothing major, but eagle eyed readers may spot them in the pictures. They don't bother me. The soundhole rosette is edged with a ring of mango edged with thin purfling strips of aceituno and cocobolo. I adore how this looks, particularly the mango and how it blends into the top wood colour.

NFC Ukuleles Cedar Tenor decor

The body is finished in a deep gloss which, like the baritone I looked at from NFC shows a real skill. For a guy in a small Central American workshop to get such a deep gloss by hand is just wonderful. I love it.

Inside is very neat and tidy, but interesting for other reasons. The kerfing is notched and the braces thin and carved at the ends. The top bracing is placed 'top to tail' rather than laterally. These are made of Nicaraguan cedar. I also note that he has finished the inside of the body with a thin coat of shellac. That's not something you see everyday but is a technique used by some very high end guitar makers. In the main it makes the interior look tidier rather than leaving bare wood, but there is also a school of thought that it makes the back and sides more 'sound reflective' meaning they add more to the voice and volume. Interesting. He has also employed a shallow 'Spanish heel' to the neck joint as he did on the baritone. This is a seriously old and skilful way of attaching a neck that effectively builds the body around the neck heel for improved stability and sound transference. You may also think that looking at the pictures of the soundholes (front and side) that the tone wood looks thick. That is not the case, rather he has strengthened the edges of the sound holes with extra wood slips. Another example of a clever technique you don't often see.  Nice!

NFC Cedar Tenor inside


The neck is made from more cedar and is in three pieces with well hidden joints in the normal places. It is glossed but doesn't feel 'sticky'. It's nicely shallow at the nut end where we have a really comfortable width of 39mm and 33m G to A. Excellent.

Topping that is a fingerboard of cocobolo which I think looks wonderful against the paler body colour. We have yet more quirky interest here too. Firstly, the board is radiused with a 10 inch curve. Again that's severe for a ukulele (Mya Moe use a shallower 12 inch), though not as high as I saw on the baritone and feels more comfortable for it. It comes with a decoration style I think I have never seen before as he has inlaid a purfling strip around the full edge of the top face of the fingerboard to 'frame' it with a paler wood. Such things do nothing for the technical ability of the ukulele but I think it looks terrific and really sets off the dark cocobolo. We have 17 frets, unusually joined at the 13th, though it is still a 17 inch scale length. The are dressed very well, helped by the fact that the sides are bound with more cocobolo. There is though a bit of finish / polish build up around some of them, but this can be quite common with hand mades. Unlike the baritone we thankfully have pearl dot markers facing out at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th, but sadly there are still no side dots..

NFC Ukuleles Cedar Tenor neck

Beyond the bone nut is the first element of design that disappointed me a little. The headstock looks rather plain and lonely. Sure, it's faced front and back with more cedar veneers, but they are not contrasting or really different to the neck. I like the top shaping,  but it's a rather a large headstock and stands out to me for looking a little bare. Maybe a logo would set it off better. Oh well, there could be worse things for me to dislike!

NFC Ukuleles Cedar Tenor headstock

Tuners are excellent quality open gears from Grover, and exactly the same as appear on my Kanile'a tenor, so no complaints from me here.

NFC Ukuleles Cedar Tenor tuners

Finishing off the deal are re-entrant D'Addario Titanium strings and a locally made rectangular hard case. The asking price is $650 which includes shipping anywhere. That's a pretty fair price for a hand made instrument with these appointments. Very fair in fact.

It's a nice instrument to hold and doesn't feel too heavy at 635g. It's also well balanced. I do like the gloss Néstor applies as it feels good quality and not grippy (though like all glosses, it does pick up fingerprints!).

The volume here is good and whilst not 'out of the park' you will not be lost with it. The sustain and resonance is excellent which you can feel in your chest and hands when played. This bodes well.

Tone wise I found it quite surprising. It's a far brighter and chimier tone than I would expect from cedar which I usually find quite woody. Strummed the instrument is peppy, zingy and very clear. That creates a pleasant jangle with faster strums which almost doesn't sound tenor like at all. Perhaps more like a concert in vibe?  Everything is clear and whilst it isn't 'woody', there is a nice range to the tones with some nice mids coming through with the higher notes which is very typical of cedar. Of course if you hanker after more bass a switch to a low G would be no trouble at all here.  Fingerpicking really shines for me with a nice clarity and chime wherever you play on the neck. It also produces a nice resonant harmonious shimmer where multiple notes are picked together. That's the sign of a clever build as the instrument is singing with itself. I really like the sound of this one.

NFC Ukuleles Cedar Tenor back

All in all I am glad he kept building and sent another one over. I liked the baritone but it had quirks. This is quirky too and I have come around to the fact that quirks are a good thing and make a build personal to you. This aint a factory Kala!  More importantly there is nothing in the build here that worries me, and in fact much in the build that you just wouldn't expect to get at this price. OK, i'd specify side dots and that headstock needs 'something' but it's very well put together looks classy and its got a wonderful tone. There's really nothing to dislike here and it therefore gets into the 'highly recommended' category on Got A Ukulele. A treat and a builder worth checking out.


https://www.facebook.com/NFC-ukuleles-1387349118036550/

UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Name: NFC Cedar Tenor nestor fuentes castillo
Scale: Tenor
Body: Nicaraguan Cedar
Bridge: Cocobolo
Saddle: Bone
Decor: Cocobolo, Olive, Mango
Neck: Cedar
Fingerboard: Cocobolo
Frets: 17, 13 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 39mm (33mm G to A)
Tuners: Grover open gears
Weight:635g
Extras: Hard case
Country of Origin: Nicaragua
Price: $650

UKULELE PROS

Classy looks and details
Extremely well built with high level techniques
Great tuners
Good volume
Great sustain
Chiming clear sound
Fair price

UKULELE CONS

Some 'quirky' (non fatal!) elements to the build and looks
Headstock looks a bit 'lost' and empty
No side dots!

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.1 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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3 comments :

  1. Like so many luthiers there's a side port for right handed players. It is no help to us lefties who have to reverse play.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm a right handed player - there was no point in him sending me a left handed one. He builds to order so could very easily build in reverse.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Side port is a nice surprise. Lovey looking. Fair price for a handmade instrument.

    ReplyDelete

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