Ovation Celebrity UCS10P KOAE Soprano - REVIEW

11 Oct 2020

Ovation Celebrity UCS10P KOAE Soprano - REVIEW

Here's a ukulele model that has floated about in various similar guises since I started playing ukulele, but never quite made it to the site. This is the UCS10P KOAE Soprano from Ovation Guitars.

Ovation UCS10p Soprano Ukulele

There's quite a lot to unpack in the introduction to this review so please bear with me. Ovation are an interesting, and dare I say it, somewhat revered USA based guitar brand who largely made their name making bowl back guitars, perhaps most famously played by the likes of Glen Campbell. Their bowlbacks used a proprietary fibreglass material, were initially called the Balladeer and were much loved. Lennon played one, Cat Stevens, Joan Armatradting, even Bob Marley. The list goes on. These days though, they seem harder to find and perhaps have fallen out of favour a little on style. There is a lot of crossover history with the ukulele world too. Not only must it be said that the likes of the Magic Fluke Flea (and later derivatives such as the Flight Travel) used the 'plastic bowl' concept on their instruments in what seemed to be a 'nod' to Ovation, but the same idea has been used on larger ukes such as the Ohana and Clearwater bowlbacks too (with good results). Until recently though, the 'Ovation' ukes were mainly the preserve of their budget far eastern line 'Applause' who put out a soprano ukulele some ten years or so back that was like a miniature Ovation guitar, complete with fig leaf sound-hole motif offset on the upper bout. One of those was actually on my list as a potential ukulele many years back. There were also some Ovation branded models released in the early 2000's too but they seemed short lived. It now seems though that the Applause ukes have been discontinued and Ovation have reverted to a couple of ukes (including this one) under their main brand name. Yet.... these are made in China.. We shall see if that reversion to the main brand name has changed things. Still awake? Let's move on.

This is a fairly recent line by Ovation that keeps with the bowlback system, but changes the top to a more traditional sound-hole option and away from the leaf motif that has been copied by every man and his dog. Here we have a standard scaled and double bout shaped soprano with a single piece wooden top dropped onto a bowl back. It's very reminiscent of the Flea and the Flight Travel for that reason (or should that be other way around?), and the same sort of build as the Ohana and Clearwater bowlbacks. The top here is made from laminate Koa wood, and fair play to Ovation for making it clear on their website that the top is laminate even if the limited stores that stock these (and even some reviewers!) don't always do the same. This doesn't bother me - the Flea ukes are largely laminate tops and they work really well with the plastic backs. What I will say though is something i've said before - if you are going down the laminate route and using a koa veneer, surely you would choose some koa that looks more interesting? A bit of curl or flame? This is quite dull and not well balanced in the striping. A bit boring in fact.

The one piece back and sides form a bowl into something that looks familiar but deserves some more discussion. Firstly, whilst Fleas and Flight travel ukes describe their back and sides as polycarbonate, Ovation here stick with their trademarked material they call 'Lyrachord'. It's essentially still a plastic, though has glass fibre added to it. Whether that makes a sound difference is probably hard to test, but it does come with a MUCH more grippy textured outer finish than any bowl back Flea (or similar) I have played. Many people who own Fleas complain about how slippy they are to hold and Flea even sell grippy strips to apply to the back to counteract this. The texture here is far better on that score. The whole thing feels a lot more substantial too.

Ovation UCS10p Soprano Ukulele body

The bridge is made of Ovangkol wood, an African relative of rosewood and is a slot style.  The saddle isn't specified but looks like plastic and is straight topped. Things are all very tidy here. String spacing at the bridge comes in at about 44mm G  to A. A neat little bridge.

Ovation UCS10p Soprano Ukulele bridge

Decoration to the body consists of a simple cream binding edge with a black purfling strip and an abalone style sound hole rosette.  It's nice to see that, unlike the Flea, the top here is not dropped within the outer lip of the bowl back, and the binding smooths the edge. On the Flea, many people complain at how the lip of the plastic digs into the forearm when playing. Not here. The wooden top is then finished in a satin which is very tidy but not pore filled, for those who dislike open grain on the wood. I don't usually mind it IF it looks more natural but this is like a half and half and the pores are wide, random and give it a look like it has a touch of woodworm!

Ovation UCS10p Soprano Ukulele decor

The other thing you will spy on the body is that this comes with a pickup system. Whilst you may be looking at the side controls (with overly large tone and volume controls that stick out and look damn ugly) and thinking this is an active system, it's not. This is purely passive, but with a control panel. You see very few of these, but they do exist and also show that you CAN have controls without batteries. The output terminates to a jack socket on the lower bout. More on this later. It is ugly though.

Ovation UCS10p Soprano Ukulele pickup

Inside is hard to see due to the construction and lack of anything to spot on the bowl back. The top is regularly braced and kerfed with notched linings too. Interestingly there is a tail block too, painted black as the kerfing is, which I don't fully understand as it's not holding the jack socket for strength. Otherwise, not much to say other than a load of wiring!

Ovation UCS10p Soprano Ukulele inside



The neck is made from mahogany, carved in a single piece. Whilst the profile at the nut is a little too rounded for my tastes, the width at the nut is a more pleasing 36mm (29mm G to A) which is pretty roomy for a soprano. I could live with that. That is topped with more Ovangkol with some edge shaping though has one or two scruffy patches on the face. It has a generous 17 frets joined, traditionally for a soprano, at the 12th, and they are edge stained to largely hide the ends. Thankfully there are no sharp edges on this example. Outward position dots are simple pearl white inlays at the 5th, double 7th and 10th, but you get more on the side adding extra dots at the 3rd, 12th and 15th. I like that as it keeps the outward look less congested.

Ovation UCS10p Soprano Ukulele neck

Beyond the nut (which looks more like bone than the saddle does, not least because it's a different colour and finish) is the typical Ovation headstock shape. I have absolutely no clue how to describe it other than 'it's what Ovation headstocks look like....'. I like it and always have. It's faced in a darker wood over much of it, bar the tapered tip and holds the Ovation logo in silver screen print at the top. It looks cool I think and is certainly different in ukulele terms.

Ovation UCS10p Soprano Ukulele headstock

Tuners are unbranded open gears with black buttons though seem to be decent quality in the metalwork.  Like other Ovations, and their guitars they are set on slight offsets to each other which looks quirky. Also on the back is a script lettering screen print saying 'Crafted in China'. I am all for an instrument being clear  about where it has been made, but this seems completely over the top and rather odd! Surely a small sticker would suffice? It's like them adding a script saying 'made from laminate!'.

Ovation UCS10p Soprano Ukulele tuners

Finishing off the package are a set of Aquila strings and a good quality padded and branded gig bag. And, if you can find these, they are available for around £240. So in the UK at least, that is about the cost of a basic Flea which doesn't come with a pickup or bag. Good value on the face of it perhaps, though it's quite a lot more than their previous Applause version and massively inflated over something like the Flight Travel (though with that plastic neck, that's perhaps an unfair comparison).  I say 'if' you can find them. These seem to be very poorly stocked which seems strange for a large company like Ovation. You'll find them in stores like Thomann and some of the big high street sellers, but very few other places.

Overall things are pretty good here so far. I like the look of it (bar the ugly control panel and plain wood) and it's clearly put together very well and finished tidily. This example also arrived well setup at the saddle and nut. In the hands it feels solid as a rock, though perhaps a bit TOO sturdy. The weight here is really off putting, and somewhat surprising considering there is no large battery pack in the body. Bizarrely it's perfectly balanced, but it does feel like you are holding a club. It seems likely that control panel has more heft to it than I would like, but then again the body material could also be dense and weighty. Compared to the light feel of a Magic Fluke Flea, this feels like holding a traditional banjolele. I really don't like that. To put that in perspective, my Fluke Flea soprano weighs 440g and this comes in at 560g. OK, 560g is not overly heavy for a ukulele, but for a soprano it feels like it is, and it's 25% heavier than a Flea.

The acoustic volume is, sadly, a real let down. It feels like it is fighting to do more, but even with an aggressive strum it sounds strangled and muted. Sustain is better to be fair which adds some character. I just wish there was more punch.

When it comes to tone I have to consider this review in two halves for reasons you will see. Unplugged the tone is... well... as disappointing as the volume. It's thin, echoey and uninspiring. It really surprised me just how lacking in character the tone is. Compared to the tone out of something like an acoustic Flea, there is really no contest. Sure, it sounds like a ukulele, but it's pretty insipid and lifeless. Fingerpicking is a touch better, but it's still not setting the world alight for me. Acoustically, I'd class this as nothing more than a practice / late night instrument. I just don't see how this would cut through any sort of acoustic jam with other players.

Plugged in it is a different story.  Being a passive it needs a little more welly from the amplifier, but honestly not as much as people who deride passive systems think - at the end of the day an amplifier DOES the amplification. Straight into a desk you will probably want to think about a DI box or a pre-amp, but into an amplifier will be fine. Naturally, a pickup can only amplify the signal it is given, and on a flat EQ the tone is  basic and very much a quacky piezo sound. But the beauty of being plugged in is that you can use your amps EQ section to shape your tone, or even apply effects to it. For that to be a pleasing experience the base signal needs to be clean and clear, something that many of the pre-built active systems let me down on. Thankfully the signal here is clear as a bell and a perfect base for experimentation on tone. Each string is clear equal in volume too which is pleasing.  It reminds me of the tone of the Risa Uke Solid - a straight up signal which is pretty non-descript on its own - but  thankfully clear meaning you can shape it to your hearts content without worrying about muddiness or noise getting in the way. What is a disappointing acoustic instrument turns into a great little uke when plugged in and would make a decent stage instrument I have no doubt. But.... that's really the only way I can recommend this one. Not a ukulele to be bought for acoustic duties.

So when it comes to scoring the sound I have had to do what I did with the Fender Fullerton, and that is to take an average of the score I gave for the acoustic tone (6) and the score I gave for the plugged in tone (8.5) giving it the overall, rounded down score of 7. But you really DO need to bear in mind that acoustic tone.  I could not recommend this ukulele if you have no plans to plug it in as I think you can do FAR better for tone for less money. As a stage uke though, it's going to be pretty reliable and sounds pretty decent too. It just makes me wonder with ukes like this (and the Fullerton) why they bother making them have an acoustic side at all? Why not make them a solid body with a 'nod' to the shapes they are trying to mimic? Just concentrate on that.

So a mixed bag overall. I really like the look and concept here, and the build and finish are, on the whole pretty good. The acoustic tone really lets it down for me, and limits who this would sensibly appeal to (plugged in players). The price is also quite a concern. Sure, it's the same price as a Flea, but it doesn't sound anywhere near as good and isn't made in the USA so i'm struggling to see the justification. It strikes me that if these were still branded 'Applause' you could knock £100 or more off the ticket for essentially the same uke. Still, it's a sturdy attractive little thing and for gigging might be just what you are after. Certainly different from the norm.

Needs some careful consideration of your needs this one!



UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Name: Ovation Celebrity UCS10P
Scale: Soprano
Body: Lyrachord bowl back, laminate koa top
Bridge: Ovangkol
Saddle: Plastic?
Spacing at saddle: 44mm
Finish: Open pore satin on top
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Ovangkol
Frets: 17, 12 to body
Nut: Bone?
Nut width: 36mm (29mm G to A)
Tuners: Unbranded gears
Weight: 560g
Country of origin: China
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Passive pickup, gig bag
Price: £240

UKULELE PROS

Well put together
Grippy back texture is a boon for this design
Attractive and quirky overall looks
Nice to see a passive pickup
Reasonably good sustain
Very clean and clear plugged in tone

UKULELE CONS

Very poor acoustic volume
Woefully thin acoustic tone
Uncomfortable weight
Price is questionable for what you are getting

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 7 out of 10
Value for money - 8 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.1 out of 10

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