Mainland Ukuleles Mahogany Tenor Slotted Headstock Ukulele - REVIEW

7 Feb 2021

Mainland Ukuleles Mahogany Tenor Slotted Headstock Ukulele - REVIEW

Next up - a brand I have reviewed before and one that creates a special place in a lot of ukulele players hearts. This is the Mainland Ukulele Mahogany Tenor Slotted Headstock model.

Mainland Mahogany Tenor Slot Head Ukulele

I have to be careful with this one, not least with an intro like that. This site has to stay impartial, but I too have a soft spot for Mainland. Mainland Ukuleles, based out of Nashville Indiana in the USA are the company run by by Mike Hater and his partner Tootka, names well known in ukulele circles as the driving force behind things like the Ukulele World Congress in Indiana every year (pre-Covid of course). It's not an event I have been to (though plan to) but Mainland also hold a place in my heart as being the first 'proper' solid wood ukulele I bought when this site was in it's infancy. In fact, my first is one of the very first 'reviews' I wrote when it arrived. I say 'reviews' in quotes because it was back before I knew what I was doing and looking back it's more just a post of me saying 'HEY EVERYONE - LOOK AT THIS NEW UKE - I LOVE IT'... Still, I've liked the brand to this day and reviewed another Mainland soprano since which also did well. I've never reviewed a tenor though...

To digress even further with my memories, that Mainland Concert I owned I sold on. Not because I didn't like it, but the ukulele band I was pulling together at the time needed me to have a stage ukulele and I didn't have the time to put a pickup in the Mainland. I sold it to a band-mate to fund to help fund a uke quickly that I could plug in. I also can pinpoint the first time I ever saw one of these tenors. It was on the Eagle Music stand at the first Grand Northern Ukulele Festival, that year held in Pontefract in 2013. (In fact here's my diary from that very event). I remember seeing it and being intrigued that it didn't carry the 'trademark' Mainland rope marquetry on the binding. But more of that later. Sheeeeesh.. this is like a Got A Ukulele 'All Our Yesteryears'.. Forgive me.

So.. yes, the first Mainland Tenor I have looked at. It's a standard shaped double bout tenor, and like all Mainland ukuleles is largely made in China, but then sent over to Mike in the USA for final finishing, setup and assembly of things like tuners and strings. This way he gets to cast an eye over everything he sells rather than drop shipping from the factory. Where this differs from the 'classic' Mainland ukuleles is that the slot head models (like this one) come without the rope marquetry around the top of the body and around the headstock. I really like that rope look and, originally, the slot head models came with it too (like my 2010 Concert model did).  Whilst I think it's something of a shame that you don't get the option of the slot head WITH the rope finishing, I must say, I really do like the clean, unadorned look of this one too. It's very simple, but still very classy. I bang on enough about liking plain ukuleles so it stands to reason I like this too. The wood here is all solid mahogany and is positively GLOWING a rich orange / red with some really nice shimmery flame in the grain in certain lights. It has two pieces on the top and very slightly curved back and, surprisingly for a tenor, single piece sides. Where the top and back meets the sides it looks thicker than the sound hole edge, but I think that's actually a very well hidden and low key binding strip.  It's very pretty. Incidentally this model also comes with the option of a cutaway and also with an under saddle MiSi pickup, but this is the 'vanilla' version.

Mainland Mahogany Tenor Slot Head Ukulele body

The bridge is made of rosewood and is a very standard looking tie bar style with a straight topped bone saddle. I don't tend to like bridges with large wings on the sides, but on a tenor they are ok with me and either way, this is not the largest I have ever seen. String spacing here is a fairly skinny 42mm.

Mainland Mahogany Tenor Slot Head Ukulele bridge

There is no other decoration on the slot head model other than the outer finish which is a nicely done mirror finish gloss.  If you want a matte finish you have to go for the 'Classic' line as all the slot heads are glossed. I did notice a couple of faint marks on the top of this one though. I thought I had managed to scratch it somehow, but it's actually marked on the wood under the gloss. I hadn't noticed it at all in two weeks of playing it and it only shows up in bright sunlight, as it did when I took the pictures - I couldn't even find it on the 4K camera. A little annoying but not life and death and I struggle to see it playing indoors. To be completely open, there is also a touch of excess pooling around the end of the fingerboard too that I should mention. So it's not quite full marks for the outer finish.

Mainland Mahogany Tenor Slot Head Ukulele sound hole

Inside is extremely tidy though. The braces are small and tapered and the notched kerfing is neat an without a hint of excess glue. The lower bout has an interesting pair of offset braces too, set on an angle for strength. The pins you see in the bridge plate are not screws, but rather dowel pieces use to accurately place and hold the bridge in construction.

Mainland Mahogany Tenor Slot Head Ukulele inside


The neck is made of mahogany, quite a bit paler than the body colour and in three pieces. As you can see the joint at the heel is very obvious. It tapers down to a slightly more rounded profile than I would like and an only average 36mm at the nut with about 28mm from G to A. It's not TOO narrow for me, but I do wonder if Mike should consider adjusting the widths of these now as so many other tenors are coming flatter on the back and wider on the width. I certainly tend to prefer them that way, but your mileage will vary.

Mainland Mahogany Tenor Slot Head Ukulele neck

The neck is topped with a rosewood fingerboard with end shaping at the body end. It's in extremely good condition, uniformly dark and is also edge bound in a darker wood / stain, hiding the fret ends of which you get 18 joined at the 14th. Thankfully they are also very well finished with no sharp edges at all. Pearly position dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th, but you get no side dots. I certainly think that Mike should consider specifying these now.

Mainland Mahogany Tenor Slot Head Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the bone nut is the slotted headstock - pretty much identical to that on my 2010 Concert. It's faced in a darker mahogany matching the body and giving it a nice sandwich effect. At the top end is the Mainland logo in a rope type script. As far back as 2010 I said that the logo on the concert looked a bit lost and it's the same here too. You'd possibly even not notice it was there. 'Lost' vs 'Understated' - you decide.

Mainland Mahogany Tenor Slot Head Ukulele headstock

Tuners are unbranded side mounted rear facing gears with small white pearly buttons. Again, very like the concert and decent quality too.

Mainland Mahogany Tenor Slot Head Ukulele tuners

Finishing off all Mainland ukes are a set of Aquila strings and this one comes in (in the UK at least) at £269.99. I do find the tenor pricing of Mainland a little strange to fathom as this comes in at more cost than the Classic. When you consider that the only real difference between the two is the headstock and the LACK of decoration here, I am not quite sure why this costs more. But there you go. Bear in mind that this is considerably cheaper than something like a solid glossed mahogany Pono which would cost you well over £400. Good value I say, though the Classic is even better value.

So far I am largely impressed. One or two minor niggles for sure, but nothing major. In fact that's long been the case with Mainland. You do see examples with very minor issues, but people should remember that these are not high end luthier or Hawaiian made instruments - they are factory made and not a huge amount of money. What's nice is that any issues WILL be minor as Mike checks them all over so it should be unlikely that a fatal error gets through. But the reason Mainland have a lot of fans around the world is that they have a reputation for their extremely pretty sound. That was certainly the case for the Concert I owned which sounded like a music box, so we shall see how the Tenor stands up.

General build and setup first and I can find no issues. It's all put together very well. It's not heavy at 635g and balances well in the hand too.

Mainland Mahogany Tenor Slot Head Ukulele back

The volume here is very good and the sustain is not bad either. I suspect the latter may be improved with some string experimentation, but it's really good enough for me as is to be honest. It feels like a lively instrument.

Strummed and it immediately takes me back to other Mainland ukuleles I have played. You may think that being fully mahogany that this is going to be a dark sounding instrument but it's really not. That's not to say it is overly bright either, but it has a really pretty chime to the sound that rings in a really pleasant way. Strummed notes are clear and don't get muddy and create a harmonisation which is jangly and very attractive to my ear. This is a tone that has really put a smile on my face.

Fingerpicking is a delight too. Firstly the volume and accuracy holds right up the neck meaning you are not going to find a drop off if you venture up to the higher frets. But it's like a music box in tone and a delight to listen to.  Perhaps I'd like a touch more breadth to the tone as it is more clearly on the treble side rather than the bass, but that could easily be sorted with a low G string. Yes, I'd also like a touch more width comfort on the neck for this style of play personally, but that won't apply to all and it's easy to adjust. 

I'm not entirely sure what it is in the build of Mainland ukuleles that makes them so pretty sounding, but they always have been and judging by this edition (built in 2019 the label tells me) they have not lost that charm.  Sure there are one or two very minor finish issues to note, and I think elements like the bridge style and fingerboard width are now looking at bit more old fashioned in view of how the market has changed, but these are all about the sound. It's a charming sounding tenor that can't NOT put a smile on the face. Very much recommended!



UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Name: Mainland Mahogany Tenor Slotted Head
Body: Solid Mahogany
Bridge: Rosewood tie bar
Saddle: Bone
Spacing at saddle: 42mm
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 36mm (28mm G to A)
Tuners: Side mounted, rear facing gears
Strings: Aquila
Finish: Gloss
Weight: 635g
Country of origin: China
Price: £270

UKULELE PROS

Very good general build
Deep coloured attractive woods in the body
Very tidy inside
Good volume and sustain
Very pretty, chimey characterful tone
Good volume and clarity up the neck
Good price, though the regular Classic is better value

UKULELE CONS

Minor marks in top
Some gloss pooling around end of fingerboard
Would prefer wider nut
No side dots


UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW









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