Ortega Horizon Series RUHZ-MM Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

16 May 2021

Ortega Horizon Series RUHZ-MM Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

Back this week with Ortega Ukuleles, a brand with a dizzying number of instruments in their lineup. Last time it was the traditional with their archtop jazzbox, this time the more modern with the RUHZ-MM Concert Ukulele.

Ortega RUHZ-MM Concert Ukulele

My experience with Ortega Ukuleles thus far has been somewhat mixed. The first couple I reviewed I was rather let down by, but the RUSL-HSB Archtop Ukulele wasn't half bad and certainly kicked the Kala offering out of the park. Still, I find the size of their model range bewildering and wonder if they are spread a little too thinly. This week with the RUHZ-MM we have design appointments which are much more modern.

This is a double bout concert ukulele made from all laminate mahogany and part of their Horizon series. When I first reviewed an Ortega I gave them credit for their website making it absolutely clear whether an instrument is solid or laminate, but sadly they have chosen to stop doing that. In the same series you can also get the same shaped ukulele in bamboo, a black stained okoume, a mango and and a walnut. There are also options for a pickup and also left handed versions. That latter option is interesting not least because there are so few dedicated left handed ukes about, but also because of the layout of the headstock, so fair play to them for that. 

Ortega RUHZ-MM Concert Ukulele body

The laminate pieces on the top, sides and slightly curved back are in two pieces each. Mahogany is not the most striking wood (unless you have flamed, or fiddleback), but there is some nice grain going on here in the outer veneers. There's even some good book matching to the grain, such as it is. I like my plain mahogany looks and find this rather pretty.

The bridge is made from what they call 'tecwood' - that can mean a couple of things, either a composite block of wood made from scraps or another paler wood dyed or chemically treated to darken it. I'm not sure which this is, but the wood grain suggests the latter. It's in a shape I have not seen before which is interesting, but I think it looks too big for the body. It's a tie bar style bridge fitted with a straight topped unspecified dark grey saddle. It's possibly NuBone or similar. It's tidy too.

Ortega RUHZ-MM Concert Ukulele bridge

Decoration comes in the form of black ABS edge binding to the top and back and a black painted ring around the lip of the sound hole. I rather like the contrast of the black with the body colour and it hangs together with the dark colour of the bridge and saddle. The body is then finished in an open pore satin which I can find no obvious flaws with. Incidentally, painted rings on soundholes were often used to hide the laminate construction of a ukulele, but here the paint is only on the outside and not trying to cover anything up.

Ortega RUHZ-MM Concert Ukulele decor


Inside is pretty tidy. The braces are not too heavy, the linings notched and there isn't much glue excess. On the sneak peek pictures of this I shared on social media a lot of people noted that the wood edge of the sound hole is scruffy and it certainly is. That should have been sanded back. On the positive side though, looking at that sound hole edge you can see that the laminate top on this is extremely thin. Good news.

Ortega RUHZ-MM Ukulele inside


The neck is made from okoume wood jointed at heel and headstock with a black heel cap. My initial reaction to the joint at the headstock was that it was odd and looked like a straight glued flat ended joint. Looking closer though it is a scarf joint running up to the headstock. I still think it looks a bit odd though and very obvious! The neck tapers to a semi rounded profile and a disappointing 34mm nut width with string spacing of 37mm. Too narrow for my tastes.

Topping that is a fingerboard made of more 'tecwood'  which is even in colour and looks to be in good condition in terms of not being dry. There are, however a few ugly tooling marks in the face and at the fifth which looks like a knot of wood. Life and death? Of course not, but certainly irritating. You get 18 frets joined at the 14th and whilst the edges are edge bound in black the fret end dressing is only just good enough as they are on the verge of being sharp.  You don't get normal outward facing dot markers, but a row of three at the 12th for the octave. I rather like that look, and thankfully you also get side dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th.

Ortega RUHZ-MM Concert Ukulele neck

Moving past the grey nut we have an inline headstock shape which regular readers know I don't like on ukes. Call me irrational, but I think they look plain odd, yet understand that is purely subjective. When I point out I don't like them I can also guarantee that some will point out that such a layout is better for tuning as the strings don't bend off on an angle from the nut. I can't argue with that, other than pointing out that the likes of Kamaka and Martin have done just fine for many decades making some of the worlds finest ukuleles with the regular side by side arrangement! Anyway, the other thing to point out is this is a 'reverse' inline shape. That is to say, when you think of the most common use of this style (Fender) the headstock will dip the other way and the tuners will run along the top. I actually think this 'backwards' method make reaching for the pegs a little easier, so there is that. It's 'different' too I guess, though not new in the guitar world with several of them around, probably originally taking their cue from the reverse look of the guitar Jimi Hendrix played (though that's because he played a right handed uke left handed). The headstock is faced in Mahogany veneer and comes with the Ortega logo in a black screen print exclaiming they make... erm... Guitars... (why wouldn't the ukulele side of the business use the words 'Ortega Ukuleles'?)

Ortega RUHZ-MM Concert Ukulele headstock

Tuners are unbranded sealed gears in matte black and work ok I suppose, but I have little else to say about them. At least the buttons are small. Some people saw the picture below as an early release and postured that the tuners are not set straight. It's actually something of an optical illusion. They are indeed slightly off, but not as much as the picture suggests as the fore-shortening effect of the photo angle appears to exaggerate it. Take a look at the video though to make your own mind up.

Ortega RUHZ-MM Concert Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off is a strap button in the base and Aquila strings as custom made for Ortega. I have no idea what makes them different as they look and feel like regular Nylguts to me. And you will get one of these for around £90 street in the UK and up to about $150 in the USA. Not a huge sum of money for a ukulele with decoration. For extra cash you can get a pickup version too and there are left handed options too as I say.

Ortega RUHZ-MM Concert Ukulele back

So on the whole there are parts I like here - I really do like the look of the body wood and binding. Yet, some scruffyness lets it down and I am not a fan of inline headstocks. It is, however, well put together otherwise and that thin top is pleasing. It's also light at 525g  and balances ok at the 12th. The setup is only reasonable and I would personally take both the nut and saddle down a touch. In fact at the nut it's causing the notes to play very slightly sharp. I don't like the nut width though with my fat fingers and find it hard to play.

The volume is really good here, no doubt helped by the light build on the top. It really does punch the sound out without much effort and put a smile on my face. Sadly, sustain, whilst not terrible by any means, is only average meaning it won't be the most expressive instrument to play. I've had much worse in my hands though but I still wish there was more.

Ortega RUHZ-MM Ukulele scruffy fingerboard

The tone itself is much brighter than I was expecting, though of course this is not a pure solid tonewood instrument, rather a laminate. It's not a characterful tone, but it will certainly cut through if you are playing with a club and is very crisp and clear. I suppose it caused a juxtaposition in my brain as looking at the warm body colour and wood you automatically expect a darker and woodier tone. It's not a criticism, just an observation and actually I still find it pleasant. There's a bit of harmonising going on meaning that you can get some jangly fun when strumming. Fingerpicked, and that crispness partly makes up for the lack of sustain giving off a musical box chime, albeit a more staccato one than I would like. Volume though is good and doesn't drop off much up the neck either. There is certainly liveliness to the uke.

Played in either style there is a touch of laminate echo in the tone, but not the worst I have encountered. Yes, I would like the sound a bit more rounded, but it's not bad by any means. Kind of what it would be expected to be at £100 I suppose. Not earth shattering, but really not terrible.

Mixed opinions for me, but on the whole it's a positive take. I like all of the looks bar the headstock. I like all the finishing bar the neck and soundhole. I like the fingerboard dots, but not the nut width. I like the tone, but it could be a bit rounder. I like the volume, but would like more sustain. But some of these are purely subjective points and looking at it impartially, this is a decent ukulele for not a lot of money. Plus you get a lot of options on wood types and the left handed are catered for which will be a big plus for many. 

Fair enough I say, and worth investigating!





UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Ortega Horizon Series RUHZ-MM
Scale: Concert
Body: Laminate mahogany
Bridge: Tecwood, tie bar
Saddle: Unspecified
Spacing at saddle: 40mm
Body finish: Open pore satin
Neck: Okoume
Fingerboard: Tekwood
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: Unspecified
Nut width: 34mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded black sealed gears
Extras: Strap button
Strings: Aquila for Ortega
Country of origin: China
Weight: 525g
Price: Circa £90

UKULELE PROS

Nicely finished body
Decor works well against the mahogany
Thin top
Good volume, both generally and up the neck
Clear crisp tone
Good value price
Options for lefties

UKULELE CONS

Some scruffy finishing (soundhole and fingerboard)
Sustain could be better
Not a massive amount of character to the tone
Frets on edge of being sharp
Nut too narrow for me
Not a fan of inline headstocks myself

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.6 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW








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