Big Island Uli-C Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

3 Apr 2022

Big Island Uli-C Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

Once again it's a case of a ukulele with striking yet, can I say, divisive looks. This week I am looking at the Big Island Uli-C Concert exclusive to Southern Ukulele Store.

Big Island Uli-C Concert Ukulele

Big Island ukuleles have made a couple of showings on Got A Ukulele over the years and each time they have fared very well indeed. As I previously pointed out, despite that 'Big Island' name and logo, these are not made in Hawaii, rather in Vietnam, but the company was founded in Hawaii. And that's no bad thing as there are some stellar instruments coming out of Vietnam at prices that are not as wallet busting as those from Hawaii.

The Uli-C is the concert version of an exclusive range to Southern Ukulele Store who paired with Big Island to develop these, and I had recently seen their videos about the tenor. 'Uli' has a variety of Hawaiian meanings, but the one SUS picked up on was 'the deepest part of the colour'. And coloured it is!  Now, by way of early disclosure because people may have seen me comment on them online, when I saw the video Alex made about the tenor, I really didn't like the back colour here...  How does that bode? Well, read on...

Big Island Uli-C Concert Ukulele body


Before we get to that, the basics. This is a standard double bout ukulele with a solid cedar top and a solid Hawaiian mango back and sides. It's two pieces of tonewood for each and is a nice modern swoopy shape with pretty thin sides front to back. The cedar grain here is wonderfully straight and even and exudes quality. It reminds me very much of the top on the SUS Kanile'a ukulele. The mango on the back and sides on this one have lots of interest and the bookmatching is spot on. We have grain variance, swirls and even a touch of flaming without any of the sooty smudges this wood can sometimes display. But it's all about the colour.. When I saw this arrive I didn't know what Alex was sending and when I saw the label, my heart sank.. Then I opened the case.... In the flesh I think it's absolutely stunning and I love how it pairs with the cedar top. Funny how your perception can change when you see something up close. The green here is actually a blue stain, but the colour of the mango tips it into a kind of seafoam green / turquoise without being too severe. It's more of a pastel colouring and it's really totally grown on me in a short space of time. I love the way the grain shows through and if someone was watching you from the front they may have no idea what the back looks like. Saying all that I am fully aware that this is a divisive looking uke - so your views may differ! My score below on 'looks' is clearly subjective.

The bridge is a slot style made of Indian rosewood and is impeccably tidy and well finished. That holds a bone saddle with a compensated top. Spacing here is 42mm.

Big Island Uli-C Concert Ukulele bridge

There is no other decoration on the body other than a very nicely applied gloss finish. I suppose when the star of the show is the contrast between the mango and cedar it doesn't need much, though I do think a sound hole ring would have set it off. The lack of binding extenuates that contrast all the more and I think works extremely well, particularly with the slight chamfering to the edges. Others may think it's plain. Each to their own. Everything about the body screams good quality though and reminds me very much of the finishing on instruments like The Rebel ukes and the Koaloha Opio's.

Big Island Uli-C Concert Ukulele decor

Inside is as tidy as the outside with notched linings, no mess and an X braced top.

Big Island Uli-C Ukulele inside


The neck is made of mahogany and appears to be a single piece with no joints. It's glossed and tapers down to a flattened off profile at the nut which I am pleased about as it's an average nut width of 36mm (28mm G to A). If that was a round broomhandle it would not work for me.

The fingerboard is made of more Indian rosewood and is in superb condition and super smooth (trust me - see the video - the picture below was in bright sunlight and doesn't do it justice). Whilst the sides are not edge bound so you see the frets there are no sharp ends at all as they are dressed impeccably. You get 20 of those with 14 to the body. Position dots in pearl sit on the face at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th and, thankfully, are repeated on the side with small white dots.

Big Island Uli-C Concert Ukulele neck


Beyond the bone nut is the interestingly shaped Honu style headstock. I think it's trying to look like a turtle (Honu is Hawaiian for turtle) and we have more turtle-ish-ness (that's a technical term..) in the logo that is inlaid in abalone on the wooden veneer facing it. I 'think' that face is made of more mango. I really like the 'old-timey' look of this.

Big Island Uli-C Concert Ukulele headstock


Tuners are chrome sealed gears with small wooden (mango?) buttons. These look the part too and work great. (STOP PRESS - They are Snakewood buttons).

Big Island Uli-C Concert Ukulele tuners


Finishing it all off are a set of un-named clear fluorocarbon strings and a great quality hard case with decent fitments and handle. And as I said in the intro paragraphs, being made in Vietnam means you are not paying Hawaiian prices. Sure enough there is a saving here as this comes in at £749. Whilst it's not a cheap ukulele for the level of quality here (which for me is comparable to K brands), that's a very good price. Cheaper than a Moonbird too!

Big Island Uli-C Concert Ukulele back



It's all impeccably well put together and finished wonderfully too. It's not heavy at 555g and balances at the 12th perfectly.

The volume is good whereas the sustain is excellent. That's not to say it's a quiet uke at all, and the word 'good' is important, but I've played louder. Saying that, the tension on the strings seems a bit lower than I would normally prefer so I wonder if a slightly higher set would make it punch more. That sustain though is lovely and long. It feels nice to hold and whilst I would still like the nut a little wider myself, I find this comfortable to fret.

The tone is always going to be an interesting one considering the use of cedar and mango. I find cedar can impart a warmer woodier tone whereas mango has a signature similar to koa for bringing a richness and to the tone, though a touch mellower. Strumming this there is certainly a zing and a jangle which is hugely characterful and always interesting but it's not in your face and I suspect being levelled out by the cedar.  It's a very percussive sound, extremely pretty and not in the slightest bit muddled. It shimmers. Job done on the strummed sound for me.

Fingerpicking is no disappointment either with real peppy bell like notes right up the neck. And of course that sustain means adding frills is a joy. I think you can tell by my reactions in the video that I loved the sound of this - it really is a great sounding ukulele that punches well above it's price point.

I'm glad my mind changed about the colour because this is a superb ukulele with excellent build, tone AND sound that I think is easily comparable to some much more expensive ukuleles. One that has genuinely put a smile on my face to play and listen to. Highly recommended!


UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Big Island Uli-C
Scale: Concert
Body: Solid cedar top, solid Hawaiian mango back and sides
Bridge: Indian rosewood, slot style
Saddle: Bone, compensated
Spacing at saddle: 42mm
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Indian Rosewood
Frets: 20, 14 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width 36mm, 28mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded sealed gears
Strings: Unbranded fluorocarbon
Extras: Hard case
Country of origin: Vietnam
Weight: 555g
Price: £749

UKULELE PROS

Wonderful build and finish
Clearly quality tone woods
Nice neck profile
Good volume
Great sustain
Rich but not overly rich jangly tone
Cheaper than a K brand (by far!)

UKULELE CONS

Divisive look?
Does it need a rosette?
Would still like slightly wider nut


UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.3 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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2 comments :

  1. What do you mean by "It's not heavy at 555g and balances at the 12th perfectly." I've often thought about what is "good/perfect" balance. I have a Kala that I feel is very head heavy. What do you look for with balance and is it the same with the different sizes?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I try to weigh all ukes and compared to most concert instruments, 555g is light. Balance is about how the uke sits held at the 12th. If the head or body dips that's a bad thing. Well made ukes sit perfectly at this point at all scales. This one does

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