Luna High Tide Exotic Mahogany Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

18 Jul 2021

Luna High Tide Exotic Mahogany Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

A return, with trepidation on my part, for this ukulele brand. This week I am looking at the High Tide Exotic Mahogany Concert from Luna Guitars. The UKE-HTC-EXM to be precise.

Luna High Tide Exotic Mahogany Concert Ukulele

And there is trepidation because I have reviewed a couple of Luna ukuleles on this site over the years, played several more and never yet have they impressed me. In fact some have downright annoyed me. The ones I reviewed 'looked' like good value, but I actually thought they are expensive for what you were getting, used cheap materials and were more about the decor. I've also seen some woeful quality control and complete instrument failures at the bridge - in fact far too many to be one off's. Still, a few readers pointed out that things were a touch skewed as I was only looking at the cheap end of the scale. In an attempt to redress the balance, I grabbed this one from their hugely popular High Tide series.

The High Tide ukes are a range of models that come in all of the usual scales, each made from a different laminate wood body. This one is made of exotic mahogany laminate in the concert scale, but they also offer laminate koa and laminate zebrawood (but of course..). There are also pickup options. These differ from the other Luna ukes I have looked at because decoration wise, out goes the ugly laser etching (thank goodness) and in comes more traditional decor in the form of binding and inlays. I much prefer that. Like all of their ukes, this is made in China.

Luna High Tide Exotic Mahogany Concert Ukulele body

This is a standard scaled and shaped concert uke with an attractive rounded lower bout and a staggered shoulder creating a cutaway. The laminate here is 'exotic mahogany' which is to say flamed. It's made of two pieces on the top, back and sides and they are put together to create attractive book matching with the flame stripes. I actually think it looks great, but subject to my comments on the finish below. Out of the box it genuinely surprised me. It's a pretty ukulele.

The bridge is made of walnut and is a tie bar style with a more unique shape than with many brands. It's tidy and is fitted with a straight topped plastic saddle. For a model looking to be a 'step above' their others, I really think this should be made from bone or synthetic bone for better sustain. Plastic reeks of 'cheap' to me and such a small thing to upgrade. String spacing here is 39mm.

Luna High Tide Exotic Mahogany Concert Ukulele bridge

Decoration consists of dark walnut edge binding to the top and back together with a central back stripe and one on the tail. Around the top binding this is paired with two thin purfling strips of maple which really set it off. I think the binding looks classy and works with the colour of the wood well, but sadly there are a few scruffy patches which stand out to my eyes made more obvious due to the dark colouring.  Around the soundhole is an abalone ring with black purfling edges. The body is then finished in a very smooth grain filled satin. Whilst it's been done well enough I can't help think that a gloss finish would have really made the flamed out pop and shine. The satin leaves it all looking a bit flat. A subjective gripe that.

Luna High Tide Exotic Mahogany Concert Ukulele decor

Inside is generally tidy save for a touch of excess glue. The kerfing is notched and the braces don't look overly heavy. I would say though that looking at the edge of the soundhole the top laminate looks to be on the thick side.

Luna High Tide Concert Ukulele inside

The neck is made of mahogany in three very obvious pieces. It also has a slight tiger stripe flame to the wood which is very attractive. The joint at the headstock is downright ugly with a touch of what looks like filler in it. It has a walnut heel cap to add to the decoration and tapers to a round profile at the nut and a very disappointing 34mm width with 27mm G to A. That might be ok for you if you like the narrow stuff, but I'd never select that size neck.

That is topped with more walnut for the fingerboard which I think looks far too pale and is lighter in colour than any other use of walnut on the instrument which makes it even more obvious.  It's edge bound in black paint to hide the edges of the generous 20 frets, joined at the 14th. There are no sharp fret ends on this example, but they are very close! The position markers are intriguing. Firstly we have a dot at the first, for reasons that are completely beyond me. Then at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th we have abalone inlays of a sea wave. I'm quite fussy about inlays in fretboards, but surprisingly I rather like these and think they work well. I think they would stand out far better on a darker board though. Thankfully, there are white side dots in addition.

Luna High Tide Exotic Mahogany Concert Ukulele neck

Beyond the plastic nut is the usual Luna headstock which is interesting enough but I think still looks too skinny. The Luna logo is a pearly white screen print on the face, but I think it's too pale against the pale wood and is lost. It's hardly offensive though.

Luna High Tide Exotic Mahogany Concert Ukulele headstock

The tuners are a real surprise for a Luna as they have gone with open gears by Grover with small black plastic buttons. They are not the higher end Grovers, but still.. any Grover tuners will be a step up to the usual parts bin tuners you see on some ukuleles. Good job Luna.

Luna High Tide Exotic Mahogany Concert Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off are a set of Aquila strings and a Luna branded bag. And that can be yours for a not unreasonable £150 or thereabouts. That's a good price for a decorated uke like this I would say and competitive with the obvious competition.

So... on the whole I have been pleasantly surprised so far for a brand that I've not been impressed with in the past. Sure, I have some gripes with the finishing but they are fairly minor. I couldn't live with the nut width myself, but your mileage may vary. What is a real let down though is the out of the box setup. The nut is seriously high here and so is the saddle clocking in at well over 3mm at the 12th fret. This needs work. I was once told that specialist uke stores don't tend to carry Luna due to a combination of failure returns and the work they need to make them sellable. I didn't buy this from a specialist store who check such things and it shows. This should not have been sold in this state.

Luna High Tide Exotic Mahogany Concert Ukulele back

To hold, it doesn't feel heavy at 490g but it is very slightly neck heavy. Not so bad that you'd really notice it in play, but it's there.

The volume is not too bad here I don't think, though I feel like the sustain could be better. That affects the overall enjoyability as I say below. Still it works as a ukulele.

The tone is inoffensive, but that lack of sustain means there isn't a great deal of character or the ability to add frills to your play. On the plus side it isn't overly bright and isn't too dark either giving it a balanced tone which is nice. My gripe though is that it sounds rather strangled and muted, almost like there is more in the instrument wanting to get out, but even firmer strumming won't coax it. It's a similar complaint I tend to have with Fender ukuleles. They sound reasonable enough, but just don't have much life or 'zing' to them. Picking is similarly pretty enough, but again it just doesn't have enough bite or projection to lift it above the competition. I'm trying not to be too hard here, because it does work as a ukulele and is a much nicer offering than previous Luna instruments I looked at, but there is an awful lot around at this price point to compete with, and I don't think it stands out. It's not a significant amount of money of course, but I have played many instruments that cost less that have more body to their sound. It's a tricky one to pin down because it's not heavy and doesn't seem to be over built (save for the thickish top). It just doesn't have much pizazz or life to the sound. Hey, these are just words - listen to the video and you tell me. You'll see it doesn't make my eyes light up though.

Overall, as I say, this one has been something of a pleasant surprise. Its a significantly nicer instrument than some of their laser etched models and with one or two small gripes the build is decent all round. The nut width is certainly not for me, but the tuners are great. I wouldn't say the tone was particularly surprising or standout though and it does feel somewhat strangled.  This should be borne in mind in view of the large amount of competition at this price. Still, it's the first Luna I am not saying 'be careful' with if you are choosing. Not a howler, but not a standout either.


UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Luna High Tide Exotic Mahogany
Scale: Concert
Body: Laminate Exotic Mahogany
Bridge: Walnut
Saddle: Plastic
Spacing at Saddle: 39mm
Finish: Satin
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 20, joined at 14th
Nut: Plastic
Nut Width: 34mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Grover open gears
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Gig bag
Weight: 490g
Country of origin: China
Price: Circa £150

UKULELE PROS

Nice looks to the exotic wood
Generally good overall build
Like the fret markers
Great tuners
Good ish volume
Good price

UKULELE CONS

Some scruffiness in binding
Gloss would set off the flame better
Fingerboard walnut out of keeping with the other walnut
Nut far too narrow for me
Average sustain
Sound feels constrained and boxed in


UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 7.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.5 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



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6 comments :

  1. I found myself wondering, the other day, if some manufacturers see the ukulele as a children's instrument given how narrow so many seem to be at the nut?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've heard that the dot on the first position marker represents the full moon (to go with the high tide motif).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's correct. On the Luna site it saya: This beautiful series of Ukes takes it's inspiration from the full moon at the first fret which causes the abalone wave fret markers below it to "rise" as they make their way up the fretboard towards the moon's pull.

      Delete
    2. Great review, uke sounds horrid, imo.

      Delete
  3. Thank you for the review!
    I own the Luna High Tide 8 string Tenor. The tenor has better looks 😀
    » https://www.lunaguitars.com/product?id=ukehtt8
    The body (Mahogany laminate) is darker than shown on the website.

    ReplyDelete

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