Horse HUK-23 Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

15 Nov 2020

Horse HUK-23 Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

It's another Amazon only special for you this time. This week I am looking at the Horse HUK-23 Concert Ukulele.

Horse HUK-23 Concert Ukulele

There was a time last year where I had taken a decision to move away from reviewing 'Amazon only' instruments as I don't think they are healthy in ensuring our bricks and mortar stores survive. Some readers rightly pointed out that if I don't feature them, they then get a 'free hall pass' on the Amazon behemoth and people will keep buying them anyway. So I have tried to dip my toe back in the water on a few this year, and in particular I have looked to feature those that get the 'Amazon's Choice' logo - being those that will likely get bought the most. That is to say, the models which, through whatever marketing magic the brands use, get a prominent banner on their item recommending them to people by Amazon. You have two on your wishlist.. one has an 'Amazon Choice' logo.. which are you gonna pick?

And this is one of the current crop recommended to you by the people at 'The Zon'. Is it recommended by Got A Ukulele though? We shall see...

The Horse brand is new to me and seems to be available via Amazon on both sides of the Atlantic. I think they are yet another variation on the stable that might include Kmise. Some friends commented that the accessories are the same as come with Hricane too. Personally find the endless re-badging of what is essentially the same thing irritating and tiresome. Please... just choose a damn brand name, build a reputation and stick to it eh? They appear to come in two main flavours of laminate - sapele and mahogany and cover a range of scales including the bass. That choice of distinct laminates seems a strange choice to me. Sapele and mahogany are very similar looking, largely plain brown woods, which are often used almost interchangeably. They even sound very similar. When you factor in that these are not solid tone woods, where the outer veneer could be literally anything, I have no idea why they chose two outer veneers which are so very similar to look at. Surely your other line would be something very different?

Anyway, this one is the sapele laminate version in Concert scale (that they define in that usual Chinese way of calling it '23 inches' being the whole instrument length - a pointless measurement - it's the scale length that matters). The mahogany version is about the same sort of price, and apart from some minor design superficial differences and very slight changes in the 'extras', looks to be largely the very same thing. I remain confused! It has a couple of pieces on the front, sides and slightly curved back and is honestly one of the dullest looking ukuleles I have come across. Really, there is very little to speak about here.  A very basic grain pattern (if you can call it that) and a very uniform orange colour. Hey, I like plain ukes, but this is nothing short of boring. Of course, looks don't matter above sound, but people do care about such things.

Horse HUK-23 Concert Ukulele body

The bridge is a tie bar style made from a wood they list as Peltogyne. That's actually 'purpleheart' or Amaranth, though the usual purple colouring is totally absent here. Is it really purpleheart? It looks like generic lumber that has been stained to me, though I can't be sure.  It's screwed in place and the finish is extremely scruffy with a wood that is rough to touch and some wood splinters on the edges as you can see. It's fitted with a compensated bone saddle. String spacing here clocks in at 41mm.

Horse HUK-23 Concert Ukulele bridge

You get no other decoration on the body, and whilst I personally like plain ukes, it's crying out for something else here. Just a rosette would do. It's finished in an open pore satin which is only fairly neatly done if very generic and has left some irritating black stains in parts of the top and back grain. There are also some unsightly gaps to the finish around the end of the fingerboard  The product description claims that the body edges have been chamfered, but if they have it's very subtle as they are still a little sharp to me.  Elsewhere on the body you will spy a couple of strap buttons too. That's a nice addition for those worried about fitting them.

Inside is very tidy to be fair with tapered braces, notched linings and little mess. The top is also pleasingly thin.

Horse HUK-23C Concert Ukulele inside

The neck wood is unspecified and is in three pieces with obvious joints at the heel and headstock.  I rather like the heel shape which has a nice curve to it. Unsurprisingly, the profile is typically rounded C in the far eastern style and couples with an average (for a concert) 35mm nut width and 27mm from G to A. Not a profile / space combination that suits me, but that's a purely personal take.

That is topped with more purpleheart (that isn't purple) and has the same rough outer feel as the bridge. It also looks in desperate need of some conditioning as parts are very dry. Looking closer there are some scuffs and small gouges here and there too. The edges are bound in black hiding the ends of the 18 frets joined at the 14th. Despite that edge binding, some of the ends are sharp. To quote Horse, they say..

"The fretwires ends can be a very troubling point of contact with inexpensive instruments.These frets have been manicured to a level that there is no sensation."

No.. Not on this one they haven't...

White pearloid position dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, 15th and 17th and these are repeated with dots on the side.

Horse HUK-23 Concert Ukulele neck

Beyond the bone nut (which, incidentally, is set well, as is the action all the way up the neck. I'd even suggest its a touch low for me which is a real surprise!) is a crown topped headstock with the Horse logo engraved in the face. I'm not sure what it is about using the horses head in place of the 'O' but whenever I glance at it I read the word 'Hearse', not 'Horse'....

Horse HUK-23 Concert Ukulele headstock

Tuners are generic unbranded sealed chrome gears. They are not the worst I have ever used though and feel smooth enough in use. What does annoy me, (though doesn't affect their use) is that they are fitted totally wonky!

Horse HUK-23 Concert Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off are a set of Aquila strings and the ubiquitous 'goodie bag'. In that you get a clip on tuner, a strap and a spare set of strings. It's worth noting that I have seen direct comment from Aquila themselves that they NEVER sell Aquila strings packaged like that so whether these are genuine is a question mark for me. You also get something else that left me scratching my head - a small thin piece of sandpaper. The nicest thought I had was that this was for tidying your nails, but for a beginner ukulele brand I would be amazed if they had that thought in mind. What I suspect is that they have provided this for lowering the saddle or tidying fret ends or the fret spaces. But... not only is the piece far too small for keeping a sanded saddle base flat, it would seriously mess up the neck if taken to the frets or fretboard. If this IS a case of encouraging you to adjust things, I find that rather sad, as it comes across as a cop out from quality control at the factory. Hmmmm. (By the way - this is not a one off - I know another reviewer who also had some sandpaper included).  You also get a rather nice padded gig bag also branded Hearse, (sorry, Horse...) and that comes in at the date of review for £39.99 or $59.99 in the USA.  Certainly the bargain price point, though it's not hard to find a plethora of alternatives at this level. (And yes, I know Amazon now list these at £42.99, but at the time of purchase and writing this it was £39.99... Dynamic pricing...)

Horse HUK-23 Concert Ukulele extras

Generally speaking, the construction here is pretty sound in the main areas and the body feels well built without any obvious flaws, gaps or errors. It looks far too plain for me and we do have some QC issues in the scruffy bridge, fingerboard and sharp fret ends to bear in mind, but I have seen much worse. The string setup surprised me too, though because these come direct I suspect that is more a case of pot luck... Still - it deserves credit on this example. It's not massively heavy either at 530g and is balanced at the 12th.

The volume here is pretty reasonable to be honest. It's not 'wake the dead' stuff, but not quiet either and you won't have an issue being heard in a jam session. Sadly, sustain is very much lacking, dying off very quickly after a strum and particularly up the neck. That makes for a very staccato sound and not much to work with to add some character frills to your playing. 

The tone isn't horrible, but is as generic as the looks and rather basic. It's hampered by that lack of sustain, and sounds very one dimensional, 'bands on a shoebox' and without much character. It's better for rhythmical strumming than it is for picking, where it sounds far too basic / simple to be enjoyable. It's passable I guess, but I have heard more character from a brightly painted Makala Dolphin. Some people may be screaming at the screen here and saying 'but it's only forty quid', but I think that misses the point. 10 years ago I would be agreeing that for the money this would be remarkable, but these days there is now so much good choice out there that if you want to fill this price point gap (and there is certainly a lot of interest at this price) you really need to do something more that stands out. This doesn't. 


Horse HUK-23 Concert Ukulele back

I'm not really trying to be too hard on this one. Hey, it works as a uke and plays in tune. The build is not woeful and on this example at least the setup is actually pretty good - something that often will be the thing that can serve to put off a beginner before they even get started. But I am hampered by playing a lot of ukuleles at this price and think you can do far better on the tone. You might go ahead with this one and think ' I don't know what that chap on Got A Ukulele was talking about, this sounds fine' - but eventually you will play something else, maybe even something else at the same price and 'get it'. This is a generic sounding box that works for me on a basic level only. 

As I say, the market is mightily congested at this price point. So whilst this may be a low price, that doesn't necessarily mean good value when you consider the competition out there. I've scored it fairly highly there because it's so cheap, but do bear in mind alternatives. Some people say I am always hard on cheap instruments, but that is completely untrue and can think of lots at this sort of price which I would gladly recommend. And that's the point really -  It's hard for me to give this a recommendation over something like the similarly priced Flight Travel, or, for five quid more, the much nicer sounding Donner DUC-1 Concert.  Spend a little more and get an Enya or a Brunswick. There's lots more out there. 

No, it's not dreadful, but hardly a standout in the market either.

STOP PRESS - I have just been told by another player that Horse used the tactic with them of 'we will give you a free uke in return for a 5 star review'.   IF that is true - that only cements my view to not recommend them.  This sort of tactic is destroying the market and destroying the chances of real music shops surviving.



UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Horse HUK-23
Scale: Concert
Body: Laminate Sapele
Bridge: Peltogyne / Purpleheart
Saddle: Bone, compensated
Spacing at saddle: 41mm
Neck: Unspecified
Fingerboard: Purpleheart
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut Width: 35mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded sealed gears
Strings: Aquila (?)
Weight: 530g
Country of Origin: China
Extras: Bag, spare strings, clip on tuner, strap, sandpaper......
Price: £39.99 / $59.99

UKULELE PROS

Generally good core build
Reasonable volume
Good action setup (on this example at least)
Price (though lots of competition around)

UKULELE CONS

Very plain looks
Rough finishing to bridge and fingerboard
Sharp frets
Rather a basic, characterless tone compared to others at this price
Poor sustain
Wonky tuners

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 7 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 7 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.6 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
















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