Islander MAT-4 Spalted Maple Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

17 Jan 2021

Islander MAT-4 Spalted Maple Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Seeing as Kanile'a are probably my all time favourite ukulele brand, I guess it's only natural that I like to feature their far eastern 'value' line of ukuleles - the Islander series from time to time. This is the Islander MAT-4 Spalted Maple Tenor, kindly sent to me by Nicolas at Uke Shop Barcelona.


Islander MAT-4 Tenor Ukulele


And first things first - this is one of the most striking looking ukuleles I have yet reviewed on account of the use of spalted maple in the body. In fact, we had some great fun in a 'sneak peek' photo I shared with people who suggested what they can see in the patterning like some sort of psycho-analysis test.

Spalting is caused by a fungal infection changing the pigmentation in the wood grain of a tree. This can either be a sign of the tree dying or something that brought about due the tree being stressed.  It can happen in maple (as is the case here) but also some other woods. The nature of the spalting means that it can weaken the wood, but the beautiful patterns it creates are prized by woodworkers for the looks.  But of course we are talking about a musical instrument here and strength is important. Thankfully this is a laminate ukulele with the spalted maple only appearing in the thin outer veneer.  Whilst I have seen arguments that spalted wood 'can' be used in solid wood instruments it seems that it needs extreme skill and care to use and probably best left to the very high end makers. Anyway, all that is irrelevant as this is a laminate!

It's a tenor scale laminate, overseen by the Hawaiian uke masters and part of a line I have looked at (and owned) before that have always impressed me. I must say, the spalting look is not something I really go in for personally, but looking at it objectively I have to admit it has been done very well with bookmatching that creates wonderful matching patterns against the pale coffee coloured wood. Some spalted wood ukes look thrown together with all the markings on one side as if they have come from different trees. The top, back and sides are all in two pieces and the sides have a touch of flaming to the veneer too. The back is far plainer on this example, but hey, when you are playing, nobody sees the back. Still it's very plain in comparison.

Islander MAT-4 Tenor Ukulele body

The bridge is the first of a few nods to the Kanile'a parentage, being a pin bridge made from walnut. It's extremely tidy and holds a straight topped NuBone synthetic bridge. Spacing here is 44mm from G to A.

Islander MAT-4 Tenor Ukulele bridge

Decoration is limited to an abalone sound hole ring which I don't really think is necessary and looks a little lost against the body. The body is then finished in a very smooth grain filled satin which almost feels like an oil rub coating you would see from a luthier build.  It's actually harder and more protective than that though. Dare I say it though - that spalting and side flaming would shine and pop even more with a full gloss finish.

Islander MAT-4 Tenor Ukulele decor

Inside is extremely tidy with tapered braces, notched linings and little mess. A first glance at the sound hole edge suggests the laminate is on the thick side, but a feel and look inside shows that the edges are strengthened and the rest of the top is actually not thick at all. You'll also see more natural wood grain on the inside because, as I say, that spalted wood is just the outer veneer.

Islander MAT-4 Tenor Ukulele inside

The neck is made of mahogany, also finished in satin from three pieces with well hidden joints. The colour looks a bit odd against the body. It has an almost pinkish hue which is not to my taste. Thankfully, in another not to the Kanile'a design, the profile is flattened slightly at the nut where it tapers to a roomy 38mm width and 30mm G to A.

It's topped with more walnut which is dark and even in colour. That's nice to see as I have seen some press shots of these where the walnut has come out quite pale.  It is, however, a bit scruffy and pale at the bottom end which is irritating. It's edge bound in dark wood to hide the ends of the 18 frets joined at the 14th, meaning they are also completely smooth. Pearloid position dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and these are repeated with white dots on the side.

Islander MAT-4 Tenor Ukulele neck

Beyond the NuBone nut is the final nod to Kanile'a as it uses the same headstock shape which you may recognise. It's faced in more dark wood and the Islander logo looks like a screen print under the satin. I have never much cared for the Islander logo myself, and think it looks a little childish, but there you are.

Islander MAT-4 Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners are generic open gears with small black buttons, but are decent enough quality.

Islander MAT-4 Tenor Ukulele tuners

You get nothing else with it bar some Aquila strings. I say 'nothing else', but of course what you ARE getting is the fact that one of the worlds greatest pro ukulele brands has put their name and faith in these. That counts for a lot as it would be commercial suicide for them to put out a piece of junk. And sure enough, bar one or two minor design cues and a slightly scruffy fingerboard end, I can find little wrong here in the build or finish.  It is very well done. All of that is yours for about €265 in the EU or about £220 in UK stores.

Islander MAT-4 Tenor Ukulele back


It's set up well too and not heavy to hold at 610g. It balances well at the 12th as well.

Volume and sustain first. Both are ok, but I would not say 'stellar'. The volume is good to very good and will not leave you wanting or lost in a uke jam. I would like a touch more sustain though, particularly for fingerpicking as I did find it die off a little quickly. Perhaps a string change could liven things up here, but do note my comments on tone first.

The tone really surprised me as it was not what I was expecting (or prefer personally) from a tenor. It has an extremely crisp and bright tone that came across to me more like a concert. This is purely a subjective thing of course as some people like bright sounding ukuleles, but I prefer a woodier / darker tone. Still it's accurate and the neck is a joy to play.  Strummed it's really jangly and peppy (again, not what I associate with a tenor), but that is not a bad thing and will suit a great many people. Fingerpicking is chimey and bell like in tone, but I think a little let down by the sustain which could allow it to be a touch more expressive. I am nit picking though, it's a very nice instrument to play and has a pretty tone if you like a bit of zing. Yes, string experimentation would be fun, but personally I'd hate to make it any brighter!

I didn't really expect much else due to the Kanile'a connection. If you want a head turner, that is very well put together for not a lot of money I can see why these have proved so popular. The tone is not for me, but then neither is spalting but I have to be objective. It's a striking look, a very pretty tone and is supremely playable.  Gets a recommendation then!

And thanks again to Nicolas at Uke Shop Barcelona - a new shop for me, but one with a very nice range. Also check out his great Uke Tabs too!




UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Islander MAT-4
Scale: Tenor
Body: Laminate Spalted Maple
Bridge: Walnut pin bridge
Saddle: NuBone
Saddle Spacing: 44mm
Finish: Satin
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: NuBone
Nut width: 38mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: Generic chrome open gears
Weight: 610g
Country of origin: China
Price: £220 / €265

UKULELE PROS

Very good general build and finish
Head turning looks
Extremely comfortable neck
Kanile'a quality control
Bell like tone with jangle
Good price

UKULELE CONS

Don't think it needs the abalone
Some scruffy finishing on fingerboard
Tone is too jangly for my tastes

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.8 out of 10

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7 comments :

  1. Looks like a lovely instrument and nice to play Barry but you're right that it does sound very bright and jangly - not a bad thing but not really a tenor sound. Wonder what it would sound like with different strings such as Worth Browns or Fremont Blacklines (I know you don't ever change strings for these reviews) or with a low-G?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Derek, if that were my uke, those Aquila strings would come right off. I'd replace them with Worth brown mediums.
    Islander should have figured that out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Completely disagree with you. Not because of the Aquilas (I don't like them either) but the 'Islander should have figured that out' comment. String choice is totally personal and subjective. I know more people who like Aquila strings than don't so if Islander went with an alternative - more people would then be let down rather than pleased.

      Most of all - strings are cheap and easy to change. Experiment!

      Delete
  3. Thanks. The most of us appreciate your revieves. The rest can just play kazoos.

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  4. This Ukulele is definitely not balanced at the 12th. It's balance point is right in the middle of the 15thπŸ‘

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  5. I'm very new to playing the uke, I picked up a brunswick bu6c and after a week or so decided I wanted a wider nut. I searched and searched and it seems not many are stocked in the UK. I then watch this review and personally I love the spalted maple. I ordered one on Tuesday from Southern Ukulele Store and it has arrived today. I am more than happy with it. It does have a similar sound to my concert but better sustain and volume. I have put some black fluro strings on and although they haven't really stretch fully yet while they are in tune they sound great.
    Thanks for all your videos and impartial views. They have made shopping for my uke so much easier. However they have also made me want to spend some serious money. That beltona resonator is a gorgeous thing.
    Stay safe and take care.

    ReplyDelete

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