Martin Beck Handmade Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

28 Nov 2021

Martin Beck Handmade Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

In what is, I think, the first Canadian Ukulele I have ever reviewed, this week I am looking at a handmade tenor from luthier Martin Beck.

Martin Beck Tenor Ukulele

And just based on a first glance, this appears to be a heck of a way for Got A Ukulele to kick off with first uke made in Canada! The luthier is actually called Martin van Humbeck, which he shortens to Martin Beck for the ukulele builds because, as he says, 'van Humbeck' doesn't fit so well on a headstock. He's a member of the Guild of American Luthiers and has been building instruments (including guitars) for over 25 years. He's based at Sproat Lake on Vancouver Island and this one came to me on loan because World of Ukes in Carlisle have agreed to carry some of them.

And as I say, this is quite the looker. It's handmade from all solid tonewoods (naturally) with two pieces of Master Grade Engelmann Spruce for the soundboard and two pieces if Indian Rosewood on each of the back and sides. That's such a classic combination of brighter and darker sounding woods that go together extremely well. It would be easy to pair a spruce top with something more common like mahogany, but rosewood adds a real sense of flair and luxury. Tonally it is darker too so should balance off the brightness of spruce very well. The woods are clearly top grade with arrow straight tight grains on the spruce and anything but plain grains on the very well book matched rosewood. It looks so classy!

Martin Beck Tenor Ukulele body

The bridge is a pin bridge style, kind of reminiscent of the Taylor shape, but with a more unique curved shaping to the wings. That is made of Amazon Rosewood which has a wonderful reddish colour you don't normally see with rosewood. It's wonderfully carved and flawless in the finish. The pins are not plastic but made from Tamarind wood which adds yet more class and interest. The saddle is made of bone and the string spacing here is 45mm.

Martin Beck Tenor Ukulele bridge

Decoration wise there is a fair amount to get through as this is far from the 'norm'. Around the top and back is edge binding made of Pomelle Bubinga. On either side of this is a very thin edging of black and white purfling. On the base of the ukulele is a 'cornerstone' shaped tail strip made of Figured Pacific Yew, again edged with more purfling. This also holds a Tamarind wood strap button. Then around the sound hole is an asymmetrical 'swirl' of a ring, the inner part made from Indian Rosewood and then flanked with more Figured Pacific Yew and a delicate strip of Abalone. There is also a side sound port cut in Martin's signature style. The whole body is then finished in a hand rubbed Tru-Oil finish leaving the back more open grained to allow it to resonate more. Looks and decoration are a highly subjective thing and regular readers will know that I don't go in for bling. Yet, whilst there is a lot going on with this instrument, I don't find it 'blingy' at all. There's a difference between bling and class and I think this is firmly in the latter camp. It's simply beautiful and hangs together well.

Martin Beck Tenor Ukulele decor

Inside is extremely tidy with no mess at all. The braces are thin and smooth and the kerfing is neat and notched. As you can see on this example the top is fan braced down from sound hole to tail, though I believe he also makes these with X bracing.

Martin Beck Tenor Ukulele inside

Moving up to the neck, this carved from a single piece of Honduran Mahogany with dead straight grain. The heel is capped with more Figured Pacific Yew and the carving up at the headstock end uses the technique of a very slight 'lip' around the nut area which I always like and find useful as a stopper for going back to first position. This too is a lovely thing. The profile is not chunky at all and at 36.5mm wide (30mm G to A), i'd normally like the overall width to be a little wider, though the shallow profile and good string spacing make that up for me. It's extremely comfortable. Saying all that, a look on Martin's website shows me that he can carve the nut width to what you want anyway!

That is topped in more Amazon Rosewood which, like the bridge, has a reddish glow which I find really attractive and 'different'. It also looks (and feels) very slightly rolled down the edges so there is nothing jarring on the edge of the wood. It's not edge bound, but there are no sharp ends on the 20 frets joined at the 14th. There's yet more classy interest with these too as they are made from a material called EVO Gold. They don't contain any gold, that would be far too soft, but are a copper alloy that looks golden and contains no nickel so are hypoallergenic. They are also harder than regular nickel silver frets. This material is used by some seriously high end guitar builders so is great to see here. Position dots are tiny and Martin-esque at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th and 15th and are paired with white side dots. Oh, and it also looks like it might have a very slight radius on the top (but that could be my eyes!).

Martin Beck Tenor Ukulele neck

Beyond the bone nut is another head-turner. The headstock is really diminutive in size and I think that's nice to see. A lot of tenors out there have quite chunky headstocks to hold chunky tuners, but not here. I love the shape of this. That too is faced in Figured Pacific Yew, framed with another purfling strip. The Beck logo is inlaid in pearl. 

Martin Beck Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners are some serious quality too. Martin has used Gotoh 510 Super Mini gears in gold with tulip shaped black buttons. These are seriously high end tuners that work wonderfully and because they take up little space allow that smaller headstock footprint.

Martin Beck Tenor Ukulele Gotoh Tuners

The ukulele comes with Worth fluorocarbon strings and a wound low G and a superb quality tweed hard case that is very much not a 'Stagg' or Amazon cheapie..  And I don't think you will be surprised by the price either way because this review so far has been high end appointment after high end appointment. So, no, it's not cheap, but you know what? I wondered if it was going to be higher. Matt has this one on sale for £1,799. It's cheaper than a Manako or a Kamaka Deluxe tenor after all.

Martin Beck Tenor Ukulele back

So far, as I think you can see, I have yet to find a criticism. There is literally nothing wrong here and is, without a doubt, what I consider to be one of the nicest looking ukuleles i've seen. Hey, if I have to be picky, i'd specify a high G string, but am sure Martin or even World of Ukes could do that, and that, of course, is totally personal choice.  EDIT: I've since been told that Martin supplies these with a high G in the pocket of the hard case. Had I checked I would have seen it - and sure enough there is one in there - so this is a totally non-point!! Build and looks are only part of the picture though! It would be a crying shame if this one let me down..

Martin Beck Tenor Ukulele tail

Firstly, it's a delight to hold. It's not heavy at 645g and balances very well. Tru Oil finishes are always nice on the hands and this is no exception. A wonderful instrument to cradle.

Volume here is absolutely terrific with absolutely nothing sounding like it is being held back. It projects brilliantly. Even better is the sustain which is honestly about the best I have heard on a ukulele. It goes on and on and on. It's remarkable, and that bodes well for fingerpicking in particular. 

And then there is the tone. Oh boy the tone. This is a wonderfully balanced instrument with a perfect blend of highs, mids and lows that just come together in a really rich harmonic sound. The trebles sing like birds whilst the low G is bringing up the bottom end. But I don't think that means that a change to high G would make it too bright as I find there is terrific projection and sustain coming from the C and E strings too which keep it all in check. Every note has its place in the mix. Strumming this is huge fun and is peppy and bouncy.

Martin Beck Tenor Ukulele sound port

Fingerpicking is staggeringly good anywhere on the neck. It zings the sound out with ease and is impossibly pretty and chimes. That long sustain really comes into its own here allowing nuances in your play to come through rather than that 'plinky plonk' sound of cheaper ukes. This is anything but that. It's remarkable to listen to and I will say that as well as being one of the nicest looking and built instruments I have ever seen, it's also one of the nicest sounding.

So for that reason, the Martin Beck joins only one other instrument at the top table on Got A Ukulele with the score below. I adore everything about this ukulele. It's built impeccably well, looks great, but then doesn't let you down with the thing that matters the most - the sound of it. (And, no, before you ask, I doubt I will ever give a ukulele 10 out of 10 for sound because you never know what is around the corner!)

Pretty much flawless and extremely highly recommended... Now.. where's my credit card?


Model: Martin Beck (Martin van Humbeck) Spruce and Rosewood Tenor
Body: Solid Engelmann Spruce top, Solid Indian Rosewood back and sides
Bridge: Amazon Rosewood pin bridge
Saddle: Bone
Spacing at saddle: 45mm
Body finish: Tru Oil
Neck: Honduran Mahogany
Fingerboard: Amazon Rosewood
Frets: Gold EVO, 20 frets, 14 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 35.6mm (30mm G to A)
Tuners: Gotoh 510 Super Mini Gears
Strings: Worth Clear
Extras: Hard case, tail strap button
Weight: 645g
Country of origin: Canada
Price: £1,799


Classy looks
Impeccable build
Great decor and finish
Wonderfully comfortable neck
Great headstock
Great tuners
Great volume
Amazing sustain
Balanced clear tone




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









  1. Barry. This beats the lot I think. It has the highest Gotaukulele score and rightly so. Problem is, by the time I've saved up to buy one, they don't exist. Absolutely beautiful, worth putting it alongside the K brands

  2. Yay for a great introduction to Canadian Lutherie. This looks absolutely magnificent (as it should for that kind of price tag). Now to find a way to hear one ‘live’.

    I have a tenor built by Mark Rogers of Bytown Ukuleles (sadly, Mark doesn’t build ukes these days) that I absolutely adore.

    Love your reviews, Barry, the hymns of praise and the righteous indignation all alike!

  3. Wonderful! Not a uke player, I've been hearing about Martin's work from a friend. You've laid it all out with such a genuinely enthusiastic review. Stunning workmanship, brilliant presentation! Thank you very much

  4. I had only just begun playing Uke in 2019 when I went to "Guitars by Hand", a local luthier show/fair in Errington BC. Martin had about 4-5 of his ukes there. They were all stunning. I strummed a couple, but being an newbie I had NO IDEA how amazing they actually were. Lone Tree Guitars and Ukuleles, also from Vancouver Island crafts beautiful ukes as well.

  5. As far as I see, Martin Beck does with the ukulele what James D'aquito did with the Archtop guitar : he took a traditional design and "push" it into the future.
    This instrument is wonderful.

  6. After viewing your great review I got in touch with the luthier and ordered a replica. The waitlist is a year long, but I am very excited, so thank you for this review! My favorite at the moment is my Barron River Super Concert so I am looking forward to adding this to the fleet!

    1. I should add that Martin told me that since your review he has been answering e mails non stop, so your review reached many people!

  7. I have watched every single one of your video reviews, and that one just blew me away. Worth every penny in my opinion. Wow!


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