Blackwater YWUK-27FMEQ Tenor - REVIEW

6 Feb 2022

Blackwater YWUK-27FMEQ Tenor - REVIEW

A first outing for this British based uke brand on Got A Ukulele. This is the Blackwater YWUK-27FMEQ Spalted Maple Tenor.

Blackwater Spalted Maple Tenor Ukulele


Blackwater are a home grown outfit run by Ian Collins and Steve Ruck who have ukes made for them in the far east and sell in the UK and Europe. A few readers had asked me to take a look at them and a bit of digging showed me that one of my more respected UK dealers carried them. So it's a thanks to Matt Stead at The Uke Room for loaning me this to look at. Matt's choice of ukes is not to be sniffed at so I was intrigued.

This one, complete with it's ridiculously garbled model name is in the tenor scale, though I think it's also available in concert. It's an all laminate instrument that takes advantage of the cost saving in laminate to throw in decoration elements that you may not normally see at this price point. The laminate here is spalted and slightly flamed maple which is always a favourite with uke buyers.  As I always say with spalted maple, unless you are dealing with a very well respected luthier I would stay away from solid wood - so laminate is just fine for me here. Another gripe I can have with it is where the spalting lines are not matched properly in the construction giving them a busy and unbalanced look. With this example the spalting isn't over done and on the top at least it's very evenly balanced. On the back and sides we have a slight touch of mis-match, but I have seen much worse. It's a pretty standard tenor shape, but a word must be said about the back which is extremely arched. We are not talking just a slight curve here, but it has a real bow to it. That's a construction point usually used to help volume projection so we shall see how this fares. Overall though, whilst spalted maple ukuleles are not really to my taste I think this example is quite subtle and rather attractive.

Blackwater Spalted Maple Tenor Uke

The bridge is a tie bar style made of rosewood, fitted with what looks like a bone straight topped saddle.  It's not overly large and very tidily finished. I suspect it's screwed in place but thankfully rather than leaving screw heads there is a wooden plate which acts as a decorative trim. String spacing here is just shy of 40mm.

Blackwater Spalted Maple Tenor Ukulele bridge


The decoration isn't to my normal tastes either, but I know a great many people like abalone on a ukulele. Because the maple here is slightly dark in colour on this example though I find that the top trim isn't too stark and kind of blends into the 'look'. That abalone, edged with black purfling surrounds the soundhole too. Around the top and back you also have cream binding edge. The body is then finished in a gloss which is smooth and even without any dull patches. It doesn't seem over done with no signs of pooling around the usual area at the end of the fingerboard.

Blackwater Spalted Maple Tenor Ukulele decor

Also on the body is the inclusion of an active pickup system with controls on the side and a jack socket in the base. No, I don't like them, not a bit. I've ranted enough about this in the past, and it's purely my subjective view, but just give me a passive system with less wiring, less to go wrong, less weight and less ugly control panels.. On the plus side, at least it uses cell batteries rather than uber heavy 9 volt blocks and, objectively, I realise this will be the right thing for a lot of players new to amplification to get going.

Blackwater Spalted Maple Tenor Ukulele pickup



Inside is tidy, bar the ugly wiring. The top is vertically braced and there is no back bracing at all on account of the serious arching.

Blackwater Spalted Maple Tenor Ukulele inside


The neck is made of mahogany in three pieces with pretty well hidden joints. It's glossed too and tapers to nut profile that is really not for me. Here it measures 35mm across and 28mm G to A.. on a tenor.. It's rounded on the back but not overly so which is the slight saving grace, but for my hands this just isn't going to be as comfortable as I would like. A shame.

That is topped with a rosewood fingerboard which is in great condition and even in colour all over. That is also edge bound in more cream binding which both hides the fret ends and helps remove any sharpness. There are 18 of those joined at the 14th and the end dressing is extremely good.  Pearl position dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th, 15th and 17th but there are no side dots at all. A really silly omission. Arrghhh!

Blackwater Spalted Maple Tenor Ukulele neck


Beyond the bone nut is a crown headstock shape faced in more spalted maple. I like the hint of spalting here which ties the design together with the body, but my OCD alarm is ringing at the fact it's not really central. The Blackwater logo is inlaid in pearl.

Blackwater Spalted Maple Tenor Ukulele headstock

Tuners are unbranded sealed gears in chrome with black buttons. The buttons here look too big for me, but they do work ok. Oh, and to answer a question i've been asked a couple of times - those white circles on the back are just protective covers to stop scratches before sale. They are supposed to peel off, but this is a loan instrument, so it's not for me to do that!

Blackwater Spalted Maple Tenor Ukulele tuners

Finishing things off are a set of Aquila strings and a decent branded soft gig bag. And for that you are looking at a price of £189. I was trying to think of an obvious alternative to benchmark the price, and recall that I looked at the Islander MAT-4, a laminate spalted maple tenor, with no pickup and no gig bag. Those are £220 so I think the Blackwater does very well on value for money all things considered.

Blackwater Spalted Maple Tenor Ukulele back


So there isn't a huge amount wrong here and the build seems very sound as does the finish. The neck profile is not to my tastes and the lack of side dots irritates me, as does the ugly pre-amp system, but the core ukulele seems sound. Despite that pickup it doesn't feel overly heavy to me and comes in at 665g. It's well balanced too and feels nice in the hands. 

I had hoped that arched back would help with projection and I was not wrong as this has great volume. The sustain is pleasing too and the whole instrument is very responsive without needing to dig in too much on the strings. It's lively!

Much like the Islander I referred to above, the tone here is very bright and crisp. I prefer my tenors to be more woody sounding, but appreciate many like a zingy sounding ukulele.  Strummed, this sounds peppy and has a real jangle to the tone as the strings harmonise together. It's not muddy played this way and the notes are clear in the mix. It's a laminate of course so doesn't have tonnes of wood character, but it equally doesn't suffer from that echoey lunchbox quality some poorer laminates display. In fact this one certainly goes in my category of what a good laminate can sound like.

Blackwater Spalted Maple Tenor Ukulele body

That projection and sustain does no harm to the fingerpicked tone either with almost piercing notes firing out even when played high up the neck. It's a responsive instrument indeed and a very pretty sounding if you like the brightness.

Overall, I already knew that Matt Stead was unlikely to stock and instrument that didn't live up to his standards, and so it is here. It's not a lot of money really for what you are getting, is very well put together and performs well on the tone stakes. It's a shame about the gripes I mention, but you will need to work out for yourselves whether any of them are show-stoppers for you. Ultimately though it's another of the laminates out there that I would happily recommend over some poorer 'solid wood for the sake of it' offerings. Worth a look i'd say.



UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Blackwater YWUK-27FM EQ
Scale: Tenor
Body: All laminate spalted maple
Bridge: Rosewood, tie bar
Saddle: Bone?
Spacing at saddle: 39mm
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: Bone?
Nut width: 35mm, 28mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded sealed gears
Strings: Aquila
Weight: 665g
Country of origin: Far East?
Price: £189

UKULELE PROS

Good core build and finish
Not too garish looks
Great volume and sustain
Clear harmonic tone
Good price

UKULELE CONS

No side markers
Nut width not for me
Ugly tuner buttons
Pickup - no thanks!

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 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 - 8.9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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4 comments :

  1. Once I had seen the bearded face of the Old Man of the Woods in the maple on the top, I couldn't unsee it. Slightly spooky!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've been looking at these on The Uke Room site for a while as I'm contemplating buying a ukulele with a pickup. As someone who knows nothing about pickups, am I right in saying that, if I buy a uke with a passive pickup, I cannot plug that straight into an amp, but I could if I buy one with an active pickup?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You will be fine plugging into an amp as the amp does the job of the preamp. Where you will benefit from a pre amp is plugging into a mixing desk or similar as the output can be low

      Delete
    2. Thanks for clearing that up for me, and all of your great reviews.

      Delete

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