Bonanza Ukuleles Ranchhand Personal Player Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

11 Sept 2021

Bonanza Ukuleles Ranchhand Personal Player Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

It's always a lot of fun when I get to review another model from this USA hand made brand. This is the new Ranchhand Personal Player Concert from Bonanza Ukuleles.

Bonanza Ranchhand Personal Player Concert Ukulele


Bonanza are the business of Pete and Shelley Mai in Minnesota, with ukuleles made by cabinet maker Pete by hand. And as I always say, they are 'fun' because Pete is a bit bonkers. I can get away with saying that because he knows I mean it in a very positive way. Pete has totally wacky and out there approaches to instrument making that each time leave me thinking 'that won't work' though never yet have I been proved correct on that. This new model is certainly different too.. in fact the 'sneak peek' pictures I put on line had a lot of people thinking it was a solid body electric. It's not... it's an acoustic.

The defining thing about this instrument is in the 'Personal Player' element of the name. Pete explained he wanted to make a very portable instrument that wasn't too loud and was for quiet time practice for the pleasure of the player. You heard that right... a ukulele designed to not have as much punch... How on earth do I score that?

Bonanza Ranchhand Personal Player Concert Ukulele body

And that design idea comes through in the build dimensions. Like many of Pete's ukes this is made of solid wood and is routed out of a piece and put together in a clamshell. Where this differs from something like the Oreo or the Homestead though is it's actually in reverse to what you would expect. Here the double bout body shape is routed from a block of solid mahogany that forms the TOP and sides. In fact the block also includes the neck too. That's all one piece. To create the sound chamber, the BACK is the piece that is applied as a separate sheet. Crazy! Like other Bonanza ukuleles the bracing and bridge plate are integral to the interior of the body rather than being separately applied. I've included a picture Pete sent over of one in part construction to show you - that's a shot looking at the inside of the top from the back. And because of that construction and the aim for it to be easily slipped away for transport, it is insanely thin front to back. Certainly the thinnest body depth ukulele I have ever seen at only 20mm! It's also worth pointing out that whilst that back is applied separately I can't see the join at all so the whole thing looks like it is one piece. You can also specify these in different woods to mahogany too, with aspen, walnut and cherry being on offer.

The bridge is the usual Bonanza design which I think is walnut, and is a through body design with a corian saddle. No fishing the strings out the soundhole here though, because you can access them through the open cavity in the back. Cool. Reminds me of stringing a Telecaster! String spacing here is 42mm.

Bonanza Ranchhand Personal Player Concert Ukulele bridge

The body on this example is otherwise undecorated and finished in an open pore satin which has been done very well. Of course, if you know Bonanza, you will realise that Pete can stain these in a range of colours and can also apply laser etching to your own design. So whilst this one is plain (which suits me), it doesn't have to be.  In fact I also have a soprano version here in a blue coloured finish that looks great!

Bonanza Ranchhand Personal Player Concert Ukulele finish

Inside is kind of irrelevant to the review due to how it is made with integral bracing.

Bonanza Ranchhand Personal Player Concert Ukulele inside
Credit - Pete Mai

The neck is, naturally, made of mahogany as it's all part of the same wood in the body It's kind of chunky in a way that reminds me of Magic Flukes, but does flatten off at the nut end where it's a roomy 38mm wide with 29mm G to A. It's topped in more walnut which is extremely smooth and well finished. I believe Pete has used his usual 'self binding fretboard' technique where the frets sit in slots that don't quite reach the edges, thereby giving no visible (or sharp!) fret ends.  You get 18 of those joined at the 14th. Pale wood position dots face out from the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and it also has small white plastic dots on the side.

Bonanza Ranchhand Personal Player Concert Ukulele neck

Beyond the Corian nut is the usual square topped Bonanza headstock with their logo laser etched. I've always liked it for the simplicity.

Bonanza Ranchhand Personal Player Concert Ukulele headstock


The tuners on this are Graphtec planetary pegs. Now, you may have seen me comment online about these because I had an example which snapped on the post (and saw several other reports of others doing the same). I therefore stopped recommending them. However... Pete tells me the design has been upgraded now and the post have a metal core, so my worries are gone (even if I DO still think they look like doorknobs!). Still - they are such lightweight tuners I can see the benefit on such a slight instrument as this. Pete does offer alternatives, but I would be concerned about them being neck heavy.

Bonanza Ranchhand Personal Player Concert Ukulele tuners


Finishing it off are a couple of black strap buttons and a set of Seaguar Blue Label fishing line strings.  The price of Pete's instruments are always pretty keen considering they are hand made in the USA, and this is no different at $279. In fact the soprano, concert and tenor are all the same price and only the baritone demands a modest $20 increase to the price. Pretty darn good.

Bonanza Ranchhand Personal Player Concert Ukulele back

So, quirky as you like, but then Bonanza ukes always are. They are always well made and finished too and this is no exception. In fact I can find nothing here that concerns me. It's extremely light at only 445g as you would imagine and balances perfectly. And because of how slight the body depth is it's remarkably comfortable to hold and play to the point that I think the strap buttons are overkill. I honestly don't see why you would need one (though of course your mileage may vary on that!).

I will fully admit that I approached this review, and particularly the scoring of this one with some trepidation. I've been reviewing for over ten years and played hundreds of instruments. The scoring matrix on Got A Ukulele may not be perfect, but it's the one I have.. But.. how do you score 'sound' on a review for an instrument that is actually DESIGNED to be quiet? That's usually a criticism I mention and to ignore it would mean that the score would be skewed against others on the site. More on that later though.

The first surprise is actually the volume, although only in part. When strummed firmly it has a surprising punch that I really wasn't expecting. It's certainly much quieter when fingerpicked though, but I could get a surprising kick out of it with a strum. Sustain is really not too bad either with some pleasing vibrations coming into your chest when played.

The tone is the difficult one as there is no getting away from the fact it has a thinner sound than a conventional ukulele. It kind of sounds like a ukulele playing on a mono A.M. radio with a small speaker. Though that is more obvious to me when strummed. But there is still a prettiness to the tone behind that and it works as a ukulele should. It's even got a bit of jangle and is a lot of fun for rhythmical play.

Fingerpicking is, I think, where the personal player element comes into it's own. The volume is certainly much less punchy played this way, but the tone sounds less thin and a bit more bell like. Chimey in fact. For porch picking or late night noodling, I totally get it played this way and it's extremely laid back and not 'in your face'.

As I say above, I had to adjust the score on the sound otherwise it would unfairly skew it, but I have done that with the explanation that it is SUPPOSED to sound that way. It's not like Pete is claiming it sounds like a Kanile'a and you get it home only to be disappointed. 

So Pete has done it again... It's certainly different and that is what he does well. No, it's not a full sounding traditional ukulele and may not be for everyone, but it's not trying to be. But it still has a pretty enough sound, an excellent build and a very keen price.  So for those reasons it gets a great score overall and a strong recommendation from Got A Ukulele.  The thing that boggles my mind is wondering what on earth he is going to come up with next!




UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Bonanza Ukuleles Ranchhand Personal Player
Scale: Concert
Body: Solid mahogany
Bridge: Walnut, through body
Saddle: Corian
Saddle Spacing: 42mm
Neck: Mahogany, integral to body
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: Corian
Nut width: 38mm, 29mm G to A
Tuners: Graphtech Tune-a-lele planetary
Strings: Seaguar Blue Label
Extras: Strap buttons
Country of origin: USA
Weight: 445g
Price: $279

UKULELE PROS

Excellent build and finish
Light weight
Extremely comfortable
Surprising volume when strummed and sustain
Totally get the late night picking benefit
Just the bonkers-ness of it
Great price

UKULELE CONS

Unsurprisingly thinner tone, but that's to be expected
Less punch when picked

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9.5 out of 10
Sound - 7.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

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3 comments :

  1. It seems that type of ukulele (one piece) doesn't need fretboard at all. It will be more soundy with frets installed on the neck. And more cheapy too! Just need to change angle for the headstock for that. Laminated fingerboard kills vibration of one piece thin wood.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Uh-oh... my UAS is kicking in again. I used to have one of those solid body peanut sopranos which I got for precisely this reason, but I didn't like the way it sounded and in the end I got rid of it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I kept waiting for you to talk about the electronics, Baz! I would love to hear an electric version.

    ReplyDelete

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