Barnes and Mullins BMUK5C Concert - REVIEW

25 Apr 2021

Barnes and Mullins BMUK5C Concert - REVIEW

Here's a return for a ukulele brand I have not looked at for a few years. This is the Barnes and Mullins BMUK5C Concert Ukulele.

Barnes Mullins BMUK5C Concert Ukulele

Barnes and Mullins actually started out many years ago as a London based musical goods manufacturer, but such is life it's only the name that has survived now and is used by the distributor of largely chinese imported ukes and other instruments.  Still, I've looked at a couple of their models before and they were pretty pleasing on the whole. They both had quirky looks, though it must be said, were a bit more of a let down on the finishing. I first looked at a concert of theirs called the Calthorpe back in 2013, and then more recently the seriously old timey looking Bowley Soprano. This one does away with the quirky naming convention and is merely called the BMUK5C Concert. Hmmph... boring name..

It's less boring to look at though as your first glances at the pictures may suggest. This is a traditionally shaped double bout concert made from all walnut laminate. It's a couple of pieces of laminate on each face and, to be fair, I really do like the look of the wood grain and the real chocolate colouring. The back here is largely flat.

Barnes Mullins BMUK5C Concert Ukulele body

The bridge is a slot style made from what they call 'composite wood'. I take that to mean reconstituted rosewood, which is made from a bunch of offcuts glued together and then cut into a new piece. I actually wonder which factory are doing the core build as the bridge here looks shaped like one or two others, including Snail (though this is not a through body). It's reasonably tidy and is fitted with a straight topped  saddle that looks to be something like NuBone.

Barnes Mullins BMUK5C Concert Ukulele bridge

Decor wise things are a mixed bag. You get wooden edge binding to the top and back complemented by a thin black purfling stripe. Around the top and the soundhole are inlaid wooden pieces in a kind of 'rope' style marquetry. And then completely spoiling the look for me is the most hideous looking arm rest in the lower bout in a pale maple. It totally jars with the rest of the looks and reminds me of either sticking plaster or window glaziers putty. I hate it. The body is then finished in a gloss which, sadly, has been heavily done and is horribly pooled around the end of the fingerboard. Ugh..

Barnes Mullins BMUK5C Concert Ukulele arm rest

Looking inside and it's much tidier here than the outside. The braces are kind of heavy though the edge linings are notched. There is a bit of glue excess on the bridge plate, but nowhere else. What did surprise me was how tidily done the arm rest is. With some examples of these when you look inside it looks like they were bodged in place, yet here it's hardly noticeable and the kerfing runs around it tidily. It's just a shame it looks so much better here than it does on the part you actually look at! You will also note that the laminate top on this model is pretty thin which should bode well.

Barnes Mullins BMUK5C Concert Ukulele interior

The neck is unspecified, but it's a pale hardwood, probably something like Okoume. It has reasonably well hidden joints in the heel and headstock. The profile at the nut is far more rounded than I would like and it finishes in a less than average 34mm at the nut and only 26mm from G to A. Not to my taste at all. It's also  glossed.

That is topped with more constituted wood for the fingerboard and here the quality control takes another nose-dive.  It's scruffy along the edges with bits of unfinished wood on the edge binding, scuffs in the fret spaces and gouges in some of the frets. You get 18 of those with 14 to the body and despite the ends being hidden a fair few of them are sharp. Outward dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, 15th and 17th and these too are scruffy on the edges. They are repeated on the side too. The whole neck is a real let down.

Barnes Mullins BMUK5C Concert Ukulele neck

Beyond the NuBone nut is the usual B and M headstock which is an old timey banjo style I really like. Saying that, a headstock like this would really benefit from rear facing pegs as I think the side facing tuners look even odder on this shape than on a regular crown headstock. It's faced in more walnut and the logo is a silver screen print under the gloss.

Barnes Mullins BMUK5C Concert Ukulele headstock

The tuners themselves are unbranded sealed gears in all matte black. They work ok and are fine for what they are, but as I say, this would look SO much better with rear facing pegs. Even having them in chrome may look better as the all black looks too modern for the old time look of the head.

Barnes Mullins BMUK5C Concert Ukulele tuners

Finishing of the deal are a couple of strap buttons in black and a set of Aquila strings. You will get these at a variety of prices, but the average on the street seems to be about £100. That's not a lot of money for a glossed ukulele with decor appointments to be fair. You can also get one of these with a pickup system in it for a touch more money.

It's just such a shame that certain elements of that finish let it down. I despise the ugly arm rest, and the heavy gloss pooling irritates me. The finishing on the fingerboard is atrocious, but, I suppose not totally life and death, particularly when you note that the rest of the build looks and feels pretty sound. The thin top is a bonus and I do like the look of the walnut. It's not a heavy instrument either at 590g and balances well in the hands without a strap.

Barnes Mullins BMUK5C Concert Ukulele back

And that light build makes itself known in the playing as the volume here is really very good. It has a real bark when played with some force. The sustain too is not too shabby and the instrument does feel very resonant in the arms. I DO find the fingerboard uncomfortable for hands like mine, but I appreciate that is a personal thing.

The tone is surprisingly clear for a cheap laminate instrument. It's very chimey when strummed with a pleasant harmonic jangle going on that is pleasant. The notes are not muddy and everything sounds crisp and clear here.  That punch comes though in spades when fingerpicked as it projects like a rocket with even the lightest pluck of a string. It's a very responsive uke that doesn't take a lot of effort to create projection. I much prefer it picked.  

I don't wish to get ahead of myself here though because whilst it's a pretty enough sound I would not say it was 'characterful'. Also letting it down is a touch of the 'boxiness' echo that you often get with simpler laminate instruments. It's not as bad as some I have played that can sound like rubber bands on a tissue box, but it's certainly not one of those laminates where you would fool somebody in a blindfold test that it was solid wood. You can plainly tell that it is. I think that what is going on here is that the lightness of build is almost too much for the laminate wood sheets they've used and it is echoing against itself. Still, like I say, far from the worst i've heard, and I still rather like the sound overall.

Barnes Mullins BMUK5C Concert Ukulele decor

So it's all a bit of a mixed bag really. The looks could be nice here, but are totally let down by the arm rest that dominates the top. The build is thin, light and generally good, but let down by over use of gloss and an awfully finished fingerboard. The volume is great, and whilst it's patently a laminate tone, is pleasant enough and very clear and crisp. And I suppose you really can't argue with the price as that is extremely keen considering the decoration elements. It's not for me personally, but if you can put up with the looks and scruffiness it could be for you.




UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Barnes and Mullinw BMUK5C
Scale: Concert
Body: Laminate walnut
Bridge: Reconstituted rosewood
Saddle: NuBone?
Saddle string spacing: 40mm
Body finish: Gloss
Neck: Unspecified (Okoume?)
Fingerboard: Reconstituted rosewood
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: NuBone?
Nut Width: 34mm, 26mm G to A
Tuners: Black sealed gears
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Strap buttons
Weight: 590g
Country of origin: China
Price: Circa £100

UKULELE PROS

Generally good light build
Nice looking walnut
Great volume
Sustain not bad
Clear, bright tone
Good price

UKULELE CONS

Hideous arm rest
Gloss over applied
Terribly scruffy neck
Sharp fret ends
Too narrow at nut for me
Slightly boxy laminate tone

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.1 out of 10

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