Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

16 Oct 2021

Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

This week a return for a ukulele brand that's appeared a few times on the site and done 'reasonably' well before. This is the Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele.

Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele

Ashbury are a British based brand and something of a house brand for the Hobgoblin music shops across the UK though sometimes available in other outlets in Europe. Their instruments are, on the whole, very traditional (I say on the whole, as they also made this weird thing!), but usually double bout instruments and guitars made from more traditional woods. The last model I looked at was at the value end of the scale in the form of their AU-12S Soprano Ukulele, and it did 'fairly' well for a no frills simple laminate soprano - certainly not the worst I've ever seen. Like the AU-12S this model is also made in Vietnam, but is a more serious affair. And considering some of the excellent ukuleles I've seen come out of Vietnam of late, that could bode well.

The AU-24S steps away from the laminate construction and is made from all solid sapele in a double bout with a more modern swoopy lower end. It's also available in Concert through to Baritone.  It's a pretty looking wood with some bold darker grain in the wood though in some ways a little too bold as you will note one of the dark grain stripes on the top right side that is not matched on the left. The same happens on the slightly arched back and irritates me a little. It's made from two side pieces but the top and back are single sheets which would explain why the grain can't be book matched. I've no issue with single piece tops on sopranos, but I would prefer them to have used sheets without such obvious imbalance. Obviously individual models will differ, but you can see what arrived here.

Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele body

The bridge is a nicely shaped, small slot style bridge that is specified as 'hardwood'. Reading into the product description it's Vietnamese Sienna Siamea which is a hardwood from the Cassia family. It's neat and holds a very thin bone saddle tapered down at each end. What I don't like about the saddle is how it is sitting angled towards the nut in the slot. It's firmly in place and not loose so it's not a wrong size causing the dip (as I know because I changed the strings for reasons explained below), but it's still not right. I suppose if the scale length is set correctly because of that it may be ok, but we shall see. It immediately stood out to me.  The bridge itself is screwed in place which is not something that bothers me in itself (and you'd be surprised at some high end brands that do it), but... I do wish they chose something to make the screw hole covers less obvious. Spacing down here is 40mm.

Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele bridge

Decor is really simple to the point of... well... possibly being pointless? The soundhole gets a traditional and simple two colour transfer rosette under the gloss - no issue with that. Around the top, back and on the tail joint is a binding of.... more sapele. And it's actually the very same colour as the body meaning I could hardly see it. I mean.. why bother? Maybe it's meant to be subtle but when I first opened the case I didn't even know it was edge bound. The product spec calls the gloss 'high gloss' but actually I think it's a bit more rustic than that. I don't mean that in a bad way though as whilst there is a lot of shine to it, it reminds me more of shellac rubbed finishes on instruments like Wunderkammers. Maybe it is nitrocellulose as you can certainly see it dipping into the grain here and there which removes the mirror finish. That would be a good thing for me if true though I wonder - maybe it's just not grain filled and the final buffing was less than decent! It is also quite messy around the end of the fretboard and edges of the sound hole. Still, it has a kind of old time vintage vibe to the finish that I rather like and it feels nice compared to some artificial feeling poly coats you see on a lot of instruments, or those robotic factory satin finishes so ubiquitous on some household brands. In fact, coupled with the grain mismatch it all weirdly comes together for me to give the impression this is a home made vintage instrument. I like that.

Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele decor

Inside is simple and reasonably tidy. There's a bit of glue seepage, the braces are small and the kerfing is not notched. I've seen worse. The top also looks to be pretty thin.

Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele inside

The neck wood is unspecified but may also be sapele, and whilst not stacked at the heel is jointed along the length to create an attractive thin 'skunk stripe' running the full length to the headstock. I do like that build technique. The grain on the neck is really quite beautiful too, far nicer than on the body with some  nice swirls on the sides. It's glossed like the body but doesn't feel sticky. It tapers to a profile that is not overly round and is shaped nicely going into the headstock with a 'lip' which helps create a kind of stop point for the fretting hand in finding the first position. In terms of width, it's roomy for a soprano at 35mm, 27mm G to A which is just up my street.

Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele neck

Topping that is more Sienna Siamea for the fingerboard which also has some interesting grain and seems to be in good condition if a little pale compared to the bridge. The end of the board is shaped and tapered down to a very thin point which I like as a design cue, but seems to draw the eye to the gloss pooling. It's edge bound in black which hides the 12 fret ends, but they are extremely close to being sharp. Not quite though! Pearl position dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and these are repeated on the side.

Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the bone nut is simple headstock with very subtle shaping to the top. It's faced in a wood that is both unspecified, but also doesn't match anything else on the instrument. If it's sapele it's a completely different colour to the body and stands out. Oddly other press pictures of this instrument show a darker or completely dark headstock which I think I would prefer. The logo is just the motif part of the Ashbury logo inlaid in pearl which I much prefer to their cheaper screen print logos with the full name. There is a slight flaw next to it though which draws my eyes every time I look at it.

Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele headstock

Tuners are Ashbury branded open gears with small black buttons. I've used these before and find them of comparable quality to Grover tuners, but, as ever with a soprano... please put rear facing pegs on! I know that's subjective, but you'd call me out on it if I didn't say so. Still, they work really well. It seems an odd thing to say but the back of the headstock is prettier than the front!

Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off are a set of strings that the spec says are D'Addario Nyltech, but I would put my house on the fact that they were not. You won't see them in the picture as one snapped in pre-review playing, but they were not the right colour or feel for Nyltech. In fact they felt like rubber bands and the intonation was shocking. I'd have reviewed it with them on if it wasn't for the breakage (as I always do) and made that point - in fact you'd have heard it in the video! As it is, i've put some clear fluorocarbon on for the review and both the intonation dialled in and the feel is MUCH better. Methinks Ashbury dodged a bullet there! It also comes with a decent fully hard case and has an RRP of £239, sometimes discounted. I'd say that's fair, and, in fact, very good.

So it's a lot of positives so far and the negative issues i've raised are largely subjective or even immaterial. It seems like a sound build in core construction, with one or two minor niggles in finish that mean it's not quite the perfect job - but then.. Think of the price. It's certainly much more heavily weighted toward the positives than negatives.

Ashbury AU-24S Soprano Ukulele back

It's light too at only 470g and balances just fine at the 12th. That makes it comfortable to hold and coupled with the nut width makes it nice to play too. Let's do just that.

First the volume.. Crikey Moses it's got a punch to it! The volume is absolutely terrific and, without getting too ahead of myself here, the last soprano that impressed me with a punch like that was the Ken Timms Soprano. It's not quite at that level, but it's far closer than I feel comfortable admitting. Terrific!  Sustain too is far longer than you would normally hear on far eastern cheaper sopranos which bodes well. And finally despite my concern about that saddle angle it doesn't seem to be throwing intonation off as it's all pretty accurate. What with that and the string breakage saving the day on the intonation, I feel this ukulele is trolling me...

Tone is always the more difficult one to describe. The tone here is much brighter than I would expect as looking at the instrument by brain says 'mahogany' and I was expecting darker, woodier notes, but there is a real zing to the strum that reminds me more of an acacia instrument. Strum strokes create nice harmonics and jangles which is always what I want from a soprano. There is bags of character here with a serious punch. I have used the term 'scare the dog' before to describe the punchy sound when you strum hard on a well made soprano. I can attest to the fact this one DID indeed scare my dog who went on a crazy hyper loop of the ground floor and hid in her bed when I did some firm strums!  If I have one complaint it's an odd one, and that's that it's almost too resonant. I am not sure what I am getting at here but with some vigorous rhythmical play it almost, but not quite sounds like it is about to lose it's footing. It's not boomy, but just kind of on the edge of losing its way. No issue when strummed more casually though.

Fingerpicking is melt your face stuff. It really needs no effort at all to bang out zingy notes like bullets and that is seriously impressing me. That's not to say one trick pony stuff as it sounds decent lightly picked too but boy it can bark. Again though, give it too much and it's almost overpowered. I'm still considering that comment and whether it is right or fair for the review as it sounds like too much of a criticism - it isn't it's just something to note. But overall though it's pleasing to play in either style and it's ticking the soprano boxes for me.

Well that was all a bit of a surprise to be honest and whilst I don't ever try to approach reviews expecting to be underwhelmed it does happen. The original strings and poor intonation convinced me I had a poor one here, but i'm so glad one snapped. No, it's not perfect at all and there are some finish and design cues that trouble me. I'd certainly change the tuners too. But when I consider my 'checklist' for a decent soprano this has them pretty much there. Punch / bite / jangle. If I have one other gripe, it is that these are not widely available and my USA readers may certainly grumble for that. I think that is a crying shame as I think this is a hidden gem of a 'pocket rocket' ukulele. 

Nice work Ashbury - hope my readers badger you to make these more widely available!



UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Ashbury AU-24S
Scale: Soprano
Body: Solid Sapele
Bridge: Sienna Siamea - slot style
Saddle: Bone
Spacing at Saddle: 40mm
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Unspecified (sapele?)
Fingerboard: Sienna Siamea
Frets: 12
Nut: Bone
Nut Width: 35mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Ashbury brand open gears
Strings: D'Addario Nyltech (but I bet to differ)
Weight: 470g
Country of Origin: Vietnam
Price: £239

UKULELE PROS

Overall great vintage vibe to the look
Terrific volume
Great sustain
Jangly peppy tone strummed
Melt your face fingerpicked sound
Decent price

UKULELE CONS

Finish is not A1
Give me friction pegs
That saddle is not right
Change the strings

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW







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5 comments :

  1. My wife has a Phil Davidson designed sapele baritone which looks exactly like this model. It's an unbelievably good uke for the money and came with a hard case for just over £200.
    The Ashbury ukes with that headstock logo are certainly a big step up from the standard models with the full name on the headstock and in my experience are great value for money, the only problem was a slight rattle on one of the tuners but there is absolutely nothing to complain about the tone, sustain and overall build.
    I actually think the quirks in the grain look great on your model.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Barry, I don't understand why you think a 470g soprano should be light. From 400g a soprano is no longer a lightweight for me. I have several soprano ukuleles, the heaviest is my Martin OX (with HPL body) with 435g. All others weigh less than 400g.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Because i've played heavier - but also because in the hand it FEELS light - which is the important thing.

      Delete
  3. So, I cracked and ordered one from Hobgoblin (who got back to me to ask if I minded a couple of tiny nicks in the varnish because it was ex-display* -- of course not). It's just arrived, and it's every bit as good as you say -- thank you!
    *added bonus: it arrived in tune and with apparently decent fluorocarbon strings.

    ReplyDelete

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