Flight Pathfinder Electric Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

13 Dec 2020

Flight Pathfinder Electric Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

I've reviewed a lot of Flight ukuleles recently, but there is one that arrived at the end of the year that I just had to have a look at. This is the new Flight Pathfinder Electric Tenor ukulele.


Flight Pathfinder Ukulele

I've said in a few review videos that 2020 has been a heck of a year for ukulele buyers. Not only has the quality and variety been seriously good across the board, but we've had a good dose of the unusual and eye-catching too.  And in the last few weeks i've seen much talk online about just how eye-catching these are. Flight, the Slovenian brand have, up to now only dealt with acoustic or electro acoustic instruments. Recently they launched their new 'Rock Series' line which are a couple of tenor scale, solid body, steel strung ukuleles. It's patently clear when you look at them that they are something of a 'homage' to a couple of very famous electric guitars (this, the Pathfinder taking a nod from the Fender Stratocaster and the stablemate the Centurion based on the Gibson Les Paul) but.. of course, they are NOT guitars. I need to be careful in this review in comparing this one to the Strat, partly because they it's NOT, but also because it is not meant to be an authentic shrunk down version, and has some obvious departures. Whether those departures are for better of worse of course, we shall see. 

Solid electric ukes are not new of course and people will be interested in how this compares to either the cheaper instruments from the likes of Stagg and Vorson or the ever popular Risa LP ukulele I reviewed. Sorry to disappoint, but I won't be making a video comparison with the Risa for a couple of reasons. First, I don't own one, but also because I think that is better compared to the Centurion - this is a different configuration.

So as I say - solid body electric, steel strung in the tenor scale. The body here is made from chunk of basswood topped with a veneer of flamed maple in two pieces. The shape is very much Stratocaster, with offset horns on the double cutwaway, and even with the body contouring on the waist and lower bout. Nice.  Basswood (pronounced as in the fish, not the guitar!) is a lightweight tonewood at the cheaper end of the scale and used in many electric guitars. It's a divisive wood for guitars, but I find most things in the guitar world divisive and those naysayers should remember that guitarists like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani have basswood guitars...

Flight Pathfinder Ukulele body

Where this differs from a Strat is with the veneer top with edge binding. Strats tend to use one single piece of wood in which you can see the grain top to back. I like the effect of this though and how the edging sets it off. And that flamed maple looks just wonderful, not least on account of the colouring which runs from a deep blue at the base through a tropical sea blue to a sky blue to a cream at the upper bout. The back and sides are a straight up navy blue through which you can see the wood grain including some odd flaws in the back wood which show through. I also found this a little stark in contrast to the wonderful looking top and that it would have been nicer with some sort of burst on it or perhaps that it was paler. Still, you don't see the back when you hold it! I appreciate though that to have that wonderful drop top, you need to have a different back and sides (would be a heck of a job to continue that pattern right through), but still..  

The bridge is a Fender style micro saddle affair on a chrome plate. No whammy bar for this one, so the bridge is far more reminiscent of a Telecaster. That doesn't bother me as I suspect putting a whammy on a small scale would lead to headaches in intonation control. 

Flight Pathfinder Ukulele bridge



Moving on the the electrics, this is very Stratocaster-eque too, though with differences. The pickups are set into a pearly pick guard which works well with the top colour. You have two pickups in this, not three, presumably down to the lack of space. The bridge pickup is a humbucker and the neck pickup is a single coil. They can be played individually or together, but there is no coil tap switch on the humbucker which might have been a nice addition. I would prefer if the covers where white to match the scratch plate myself, as Fender do so they stand out a little. You select the two with the use of a chrome toggle switch in a slightly odd position compared to a Strat. This is my first usability gripe as the Strat uses a blade style swtich that is mounted along side the tone and volume controls making it easy to flick them without repositioning your hand too much. Not only do I find this to be in a more awkward place (to the point that when it is in the bridge position, it hard to use the upper control knob without knocking it), the toggle itself feels a bit feeble and wobbly. I'd prefer a much more sturdy switch considering how much it will be used. On the plus side, it's nice to see the volume and tone controls use scaled down knobs rather than 'guitar parts bin' knobs that would look far too large.

Flight Pathfinder Ukulele pickup



Other than that for the body you get a gloss finish which is very well done everywhere I can see, a jack output on the bottom bout and a strap button. You will also spy the ferrules that hold the ball ends of the strings. This is again more Tele style, as on the Strat these would terminate in the tremolo block inside the guitar.

The neck is a bolt on, like the Strat and is made from a single piece of what Flight call 'roasted maple'. If that term means darkened it's certainly that and it looks just great to me with a kind of tobacco brown colour. Being a steel string it's naturally thin due to the thin string gauges. As such it's only 35mm (26mm G to A) at the nut. It also has a rounded back profile. But it doesn't get my normal criticism because of those thin strings. If it was fatter and wider it would feel odd. 

Flight Pathfinder Ukulele neck



The frets are not actually set direct into the maple as they may be on a maple necked Strat, but rather there appears to be a maple fingerboard dropped onto the neck. I am not sure of why it's made that way but the join is next to invisible. You get 22 of those in total with 16 to where it joins the body. Sadly one or two of these have slightly sharp edges that will need some dressing. Not major, but enough for me to notice. You will also spy an extra fret near the nut which is called a 'zero fret'. This sets the scale length and heigh more accurately and leaves the nut to just handle spacing. That's a real benefit on small scale instruments, particularly those with thin strings. Position dots in black are placed at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, 15th an 17th and these are repeated on the side.

The headstock is an inline type this is 'kinda, but not quite' Fender in style. It holds the Flight logo in what looks like an abalone finish transfer and the entry hole for the truss rod. I always say I don't see the point of a truss rod on nylon strung ukes as the tension is just not there to warrant it, but this is an important feature for steel strings for setting neck relief (NOT action!!!) The other thing you cannot fail to miss is the large round metal disk under which the 1st and 2nd strings pass. This is called a 'string tree' and is essential on Fender style headstocks which don't tilt back in order to create some down angle from the nut. So I am happy to see them use one, but why did it have to be so BIG? It looks damn ugly. When you consider that you can get tiny string trees that you hardly notice, I think this looks horrid.

Flight Pathfinder Ukulele headstock



The tuners are unbranded chrome gears, inline as I say, and work just fine.

Flight Pathfinder Ukulele tuners



Finishing it off is a very nice branded gig bag, small tool kit (for the neck adjustment and for the micro saddles) and a set of strings. These are electric guitar strings, but an interestingly light gauge compared to something like the Risa LP. These are 10, 13, 17, 26 for stings 1-4 respectively. The Risa uses 13, 17, 26, 36. I am not concerned with that and just noting it for interest. Because of the micro adjustable saddles, changing gauges and setting intonation will be straightforward. And that is on the market for about £222 in stores. I did a double take on the price when I learned about it because that is really keenly priced. Bear in mind the Risa equivalents will cost you about £450 or more. To be fair, it should be borne in mind that the Risa is made in Europe and not the far east.

So all in all there is a lot I like about this. The build is generally very good and I absolutely adore the looks of that top. There are one or two design cues that jar with me a little such as the back colour and pickup cover colour, and then some build points I would change / deal with (pickup selector switch, string tree, sharp fret ends). Still it's a league above the ultra cheap electrics on the market and has been done with some thought rather than just a rebadge. Being a solid electric it obviously has some heft to it at 1.79kg, but it doesn't feel cumbersome to hold and play.

Flight Pathfinder Ukulele back

When it comes to telling you about the sound, or more specifically, giving you a demo of the sound, this is where I never like doing electric reviews. You see, demos add in far too many variables that make them unreliable. Firstly, I am NOT a guitar shredder which others can demonstrate on something like this much more ably than me. But equipment wise how an electric will sound will change massively depending on whether it is run through a boutique tube amp with high end pedals or a small home amp with cheap effects. It helps me that I don't actually own a boutique amp currently, so I have no choice. But then on the other hand, i've always pointed out that the video channel is not about trying to make a uke sound like Jake Shimabukuro, but more like your average player in their bedroom. Therefore the video runs it through a Boss Katana micro amp - because this is likely to be  more like the sort of thing buyers of these will first plug them into. In other words, it's unlikely they have a Vintage Vox AC30 to work with or a Fender Princeton Reverb amp.. The other difficulty is that of effects and overdrive. Sure, any electric guitar or electric uke with mag pickups will work with a totally clean sound. In fact it makes for a very jazzy sound. But when you start applying distortions, delays, flangers, phasers, the sound of the core uke changes completely. So what effects get used take away from what you might be able to achieve at home. It's tough to sum up for me!

One more thing to bear in mind I have seen some other reviews (rightly) point out. This is NOT a regular uke and plays more like an electric guitar (strikingly similar in fact). That means if you play first position chords on it with a uke players hands you will squeeze it out of tune. That's just what happens with steel strings on electric guitars as they are very sensitive to touch. That means if you play passages (such as my normal passages for my acoustic reviews) it's incredibly easy to make the notes sound off (as I do). That's not a fault of the instrument, it's just that they are not really designed to play staccato grippy fast chord transitions at the lower frets. Watch some videos of famous guitarists.. They play most of their stuff half way up the neck.

Anyway, get on with it Baz.. clean is nice enough. Jazzy in fact, as I say and the difference in sounds between the pickups is noticeably different. I don't like the toggle switch (but it works) and there is a bit of static in the knobs when up high, but I have played much worse for more money. I'd say the core sound is a little constrained and not as airy or free sounding as some pickups I have played. Not muted, just a touch  toned down, unless I have the tone right up. In fact with the tone all the way down I found it a little too muddy on anything other than the bridge pickup. The intonation is great all the way up the neck though and even if you did have an issue, those saddles allow that to be adjusted to the micro millimetre.

Add in some distortion and effects though and it really comes to life, which is what I think you would want this for. With heavy distortion, the humbucker in particular, screams on forever and ever meaning you could have some real fun with long solos. And as I say - throw some effects at this and you are in for a whole lot of fun exploring sounds. I think that is the 'nutshell' summing up from me. This instrument is a whole heap of fun for not a lot of money.

All in all, these sit in a very particular sales point that are not for everyone. In fact some uke purists hate this sort of thing. Is it actually a uke or a small guitar? I don't frankly care to be honest, it's patently a musical instrument and that is what matters. And despite the smaller grouping of naysayers, there is actually a massive market for these judging by how often solid electrics sell out (in fact I believe these are now fully sold out until the new year - sorry!). And whilst I think those with higher end uke collections and perhaps high end guitars may be more likely to go with Risa because 'they can', those Risa prices have put a lot of the electric curious ukers off. Sure, many of those buyers will still try to find something for under £100 (and be mighty disappointed), but I think what is clever here from Flight is the price positioning. This is an achievable 'I will try that' price, yet they clearly didn't choose to cut corners to make it work. This is a wonderful looking instrument and whilst I have some niggles they are not show stoppers. I would love to own one, which is about as good as you can hear from me. Very much recommended!



UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Flight Pathfinder
Scale: Tenor
Body: Basswood solid body with flamed maple veneer top
Bridge: Fender tele style micro saddles
Pickups: Neck single coil, bridge humbucker. Selectable individually or together.
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Roasted maple
Nut: Bone
Nut Width: 35mm (26mm G to A)
Frets: 22 (16 to body)
Tuners: Inline unbranded chrome gears
Strings: Electric guitar strings 10, 13, 17, 26
Weight: 1.79kg
Country of origin: Far east
Price: £222 street


UKULELE PROS 

Striking overall looks
Good core build
Wonderful top finish
Nice looking and feeling neck
Clean jazzy sound with tone up
Screaming sustain from the humbucker!
Superb price

UKULELE CONS

Some wood flaws on back showing through
Would swap the selector switch
White pickup covers please
Some slightly sharp fret ends
Ugly string tree

UKULELE SCORES

Looks 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound 8.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.9 out of 10

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THANKS!

5 comments :

  1. Thanks for the review. I have a Godin Mulituke but have been thinking about a steel string uke for a while. With amp and pedal effects the Godin can be a lot fun. I've looked long and hard at the Risa but the cost has kept my from buying, that and I already have a pretty darn good plug in uke. The Pathfinder and Centurion offerings from Flight would a more economical choice-as you said with amp and extra pedal configurations one can dial in the sound they are looking for. US prices look to be just around $300 for the Centurion and about $280 for Pathfinder from reputable shops with set up. Not sure they are widely available as you said--I did see a pre order offering.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Be interesting to see how this compares with the Fanner Pixelator Tenor Electric Ukulele with low G string.

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  3. This model has a string tree that looks like those found on a Precision Bass (I have a 1974 P Bass - one of the last out of Fullerton). Fender Strats I have played use a tiny figure of 8 type.

    Merry Christmas Baz!

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  4. Nice review thank you. You write: "The frets are not actually set directly into the maple as they may be on a maple necked Strat, but rather there appears to be a maple fingerboard dropped onto the neck. I am not sure of why it's made that way but the join is next to invisible.". Maybe I can shed some light on this. This is typical for instruments with a truss rod. Somehow the rod has to get into the wood. Therefore, a groove is often milled on the neck, the rod is inserted and then the fingerboard is glued on.
    Greetings, André

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