A couple of ukulele reviews ago I mentioned how I liked seeing 'house brand' ukuleles. When a shop has an interest in putting their name to something, it's unlikely they should do a shabby job. Like buses, another one comes along in quick succession. This is the brand new FUZZ-S Tenor from Forest Ukuleles at The Uke Room.
Forest are a brand developed solely for The Uke Room, a small specialist ukulele store in the Forest of Dean, UK, run by Matt Stead. It's a shop that carries an eclectic and extremely tempting range of ukuleles. A house brand ukulele seemed a great idea for a shop like that and sure enough Matt has been on the case. The FUZZ-S has taken a lot of time in development with various changes going back and forth between him and the Chinese builders until he was happy. And the result is quite the looker.
This is a Tenor scale ukulele made from all solid tone-woods in a modern, curvy double bout shape. This one comes with a solid spruce top, but it will also be available with a solid cedar top choice as well as both being available in concert scale. The spruce is tightly grained and looks to be of good quality with minimal staining giving it a traditionally pleasing pale yellow look. That's coupled with all solid ziricote wood on the back and sides which looks absolutely stunning and contrasts with the pale top wonderfully well. I've only ever seen laminate ziricote before, and it's a wood used in that way precisely because of the striking looks. The use of solid here is nice to see and sure enough, it IS striking and nicely book-matched too. Those solid woods are in two pieces on the top, sides and slightly curved back.
The bridge is a tie bar in a reverse moustache shape made from rosewood so black you would be forgiven for thinking it's ebony. The saddle looks to be made of bone and is compensated. String spacing at the bridge is circa 43mm. This is really tidily done.
Decoration is limited to the top, but very classy and complimentary to the rest of the uke. There is no pearl or bling here. Around the top edge is a dark wood edge binding trim which gives the illusion of the sides wrapping around the top. Added to that is a sound hole rosette made up of opposite quadrants of dark and pale woods surrounding an inner pale inlay. Those woods are not specified, but I think the pale wood is flamed maple. It's subtle and matches the other woods on the body perfectly without jarring the looks.
The body is then gloss finished and is really very well done. Of course, with such a dark back and sides that does make for a fingerprint magnet, but that's what cloths are for! There are no flaws, bubbles or pooling though. I think the whole thing so far is beautiful.
Inside is extremely tidy with notched linings and very thin braces. The top is kind of a mix of V bracing and traditional lateral bracing as you can see. I can also see that the top wood here is extremely thin, in fact one of the thinnest I have seen. This is Kiwaya level thin.
The neck is made from mahogany and whilst I think there are joints at the heel and headstock they are next to impossible to spot. I adore the flattened neck heel which looks very different and feels great. The neck tapers to a 38mm nut with 30mm string spacing and is a flattened D profile on the back. For this reviewer at least that's two very important boxes ticked for me. The neck is glossed though so I wonder if the recent trend in moving to satin necks may nudge Matt to change this spec. It's not sticky, but I think I have been spoiled recently with satin necks.
Topping that is more extremely dark rosewood for the fingerboard, edge bound to hide the ends of the 19 frets joined at the 14th. There are absolutely no sharp edges here. Position markers face out with offset dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th and these are repeated with dots on the side. Great.
Beyond the bone nut is probably the feature that most people will be drawn to here on a 'love it or hate it' basis. I have never seen anything quite like it before. I shared some 'sneak peek' pictures on social media before the review and the vast majority of people said they adored the look, but there were one or two doubters. So it's not quite the full on 'marmite', but it has certainly raised eyebrows. Hey, that's a good thing. The tuner posts are set across the face of the headstock in a diagonal, leaving a couple of open gaps above and below (more on that below). The top of the headstock has a nice carved shape and it's faced in a glossed dark wood. I think it looks absolutely superb and certainly different.
More on those tuners. As I say, it's a layout I have not seen before, and has the effect of working like inline tuners you will see on a Fender style uke. Whenever I am dismissive of Fender ukuleles I can guarantee someone will point out that their inline placement helps keep the string path straight from the nut, and that's certainly the case here. But these are rear facing so you don't get an 'electric guitar' effect and looks much better for it. Matt specified Gotoh UPT Planetary tuners here and I think that is a very wise choice too. The buttons on the pegs are close together and had he gone with regular friction pegs I think they would have been a real devil to turn with big fingers on the stiff pegs. UPT's turn like butter though and I had no issue using these. They are wonderful tuners. If I have one gripe, it's the bare metal choice of UPTs here which I think look a bit industrial. Maybe the gold plated or jet black painted versions would look better.
STOP PRESS - Matt has just told me he agrees and the models that go up for sale will have all black UPT's fitted!
It comes strung with Worth Clear fluoro strings and comes with a really nice padded gig bag embroidered with the brand name and a funky red interior with neck support. At launch that will set up back £449 which I think is a really good price for this level of build. In fact, when I knew he was sending one of these over on loan I had assumed it would be much more expensive. This is kind of low to mid Pono territory but with the looks and decor of a higher end model.
The build and finish here is really, really good. I'm struggling to find anything at all wrong with the important elements. It's not overly heavy either at 696g and is perfectly balanced.
The volume is extremely good with terrific punch and projection. Sustain too is terrific and leaves a pleasing vibration in your chest and fretting hand. Things are looking promising.
Being spruce topped I expected the sound to have a brightness and it certainly does. A real zing. But something about the ziricote is mellowing it and creating a more balanced tone. I'm pleased about that. What really stood out for me is the clarity of the notes and the harmonic shimmer it creates when strummed. The instrument harmonises with itself and creates a tone that has bags of character and interest. Of course you have the cedar option too which I suspect may sound a touch earthier, but I am really pleased with this one as it is. That zingy sound is bell like in character when fingerpicked which coupled with the sustain allows for some really pretty melodic play. It's like a music box. Matt explained to me that he experimented with various types of bracing pattern before settling on this one. I can see that it works very well!
I'm staggered by the price really considering the tone I am hearing. You are getting a seriously good sounding ukulele for this money. A tone that has put a smile on my face every time I've picked it up. This punches well above it's weight I think.
I have been worried about writing this one though. Because I know Matt personally i'd hate this to come across like an advert for his shop... but I am genuinely struggling to dislike much here (and if you think I missed something horrid - please do tell me.... I bet you can't though). But then I should hardly be surprised - Matt himself has an enviable personal ukulele collection (so I know he is demanding), but also is a fine musician for which those demands are justified. I couldn't see him putting his name to something he wasn't completely happy with - I just don't think he could live with that. And sure enough this one has turned out to be an extremely well made, well finished and terrific sounding ukulele. Whilst the price is not in impulse purchase territory, I still think it's more than worth it.
Won't someone send me something dreadful to review? But hey, ain't times good? Very highly recommended!
The Forest Ukuleles launch at The Uke Room next month. You'd best speak to Matt to find out when.
UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP
Model: Forest Ukuleles FUZZ-S
Body: Solid spruce top, solid ziricote back and sides
Bridge: Rosewood tie bar
String Spacing at Bridge: 43mm
Frets: 19 (14 to body)
Nut Width: 38mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: Gotoh UPTs
Strings: Worth Fluorocarbon
Extras: Gig bag
Country of Origin: China
Exemplary build and gloss finish
Classy looks - wonderful wood choices
Roomy comfortable neck
Fabulous tuner arrangement
Terrific volume and sustain
Shimmery tone with great clarity
Maybe consider a satin neck
Would prefer black or gold tuner parts
Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9 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
© Barry Maz
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