Flight Vanguard Tenor Electric Ukulele - REVIEW

8 May 2022

Flight Vanguard Tenor Electric Ukulele - REVIEW

"For those about to rock..."  Got A Ukulele returns to steel strung electric territory this week with the Flight Vanguard Tenor. KERRANNNNNG!

Flight Vanguard Tenor Electric Ukulele


At the end of 2020, Flight Ukuleles stepped into the world of steel strung electric ukuleles and they went down a storm. Supply issues caused by the pandemic aside (meaning they were pretty hard to find at times and still are) they sold like hotcakes as not only has there been a big market rush to this sort of uke, they were considerably cheaper than the much sought after Risa instruments that do the same thing. Flight released the Centurion in Gibson Les Paul styling and the Pathfinder tenor ukulele I took a look at in Stratocaster styling. It did very well in the review. So I was intrigued to see them bring two more models to the party,  a model based on a Gibson SG and this one, the Vanguard, which is clearly based on a PRS guitar.

An early word of disclosure here. I have always been very impressed with Flight though I am conscious that most if not all models loaned to me have either come from Flight direct or a specialist ukulele dealer.  It's the same with some other brands too. I noted that both Southern Ukulele Store and World of Ukes have made no bones about the fact that they have to put a lot of work into them to improve the setup before sale. The Pathfinder came direct to me from Flight and needed no work... So... I bought this one - and bought it from a big box drop shipper, blind.. This is something I do as often as I can to keep brands on their toes.. so we shall see how it fares - no specialist has had their hands on this!

Flight Vanguard Tenor Electric Ukulele body


As I say, the Vanguard is based on a PRS style electric guitar with the same sort of scalloped double cut offset horns and swoopy curved top body shape. They even re-created the attractive depressions in which the controls sit on the top of the body. It's a very striking look I must say and I immediately fell for it when I saw the press shots. The Vanguard comes in two colours of flamed maple on the top, the transparent black (which looks dark blue to me) and this one, the transparent purple. The two pieces of flamed maple are nicely bookmatched and sit as a curved 'drop-top' on a solid mahogany body. I like how the top stops on the scalloped cutaways revealing a look of the rear mahogany when you view it face on.

The bridge is a four string Fender style with adjustable micro saddles, so if there is any intonation or action adjustment needed this style affords pretty straightforward and logical adjustment with little more than a screwdriver and an allen key. They are not the highest quality saddles, but what I expected for the price. String spacing here is 30mm.

Flight Vanguard Tenor Electric Ukulele bridge

The controls are, as I say, recessed in attractive dips in the top wood like PRS guitars. They are not overly large either so they didn't just go in the guitar parts bin. There are two chrome domed controls for volume and tone and a small selector to choose between bridge and neck pickup (or both). Like the toggle switch on the Pathfinder I find it a bit feeble and fragile, but sitting in the depression means it's less likely to get knocked. These control two four string humbucker pickups which are black with a cream surround ring. I think the surrounds are two large for the scale of the body and stand out too much. All of that gubbins (technical term) runs to a jack plate on the bottom bout. The controls are accessible though a panel on the back in case anything goes awry.

Flight Vanguard Tenor Electric Ukulele controls


The body is finished with a cream binding strip that runs round 90% of the body top (leaving the cutaways clear) which works really nicely between the purple and brown. That is then finished in a gloss which really sets off the colours of the maple. It doesn't look overly thick or gloopy and I can't find any flaws in the body. It comes with a couple of regular strap buttons in the tail and top left horn.

The neck is made of mahogany in three pieces with a joint at the small heel and an ugly, obvious joint half way up the neck. Unlike the Fender style bolt-on with the Pathfinder, this is a set neck. There is always a divisive debate in the guitar world as to which is better (together with some spurious claims about tone on both sides), but there is no avoiding the fact that a bolt on is less fragile and easier to service (i.e - you can take it off!).  It tapers down to a more narrow nut than you would see on an acoustic uke, but with thin steel strings that's more acceptable for me. It's 33mm wide and 27mm from G to A.

The neck is topped with a rosewood fingerboard which is variable in colour and when I look more closely has some very scruffy finishing between some frets and curious blocks of totally uneven colour. Between some frets is a gunk that has not been polished out too. The fingerboard is all over the place and I'd argue that this makes this 'B-Stock' from the off, but, of course, was not sold to me as B stock! Seeing images of other examples they look better, so again, maybe a good dealer would weed this one out, but it shouldn't have reached me like this without a discount. It's fitted with 19 frets plus a zero fret with 17 frets to the body joint. They are tidy to look at on the ends and also edge bound in cream ABS to hide them, and whilst the frets are not sharp there is some scruffy finishing on the binding and in one place it's split from the heavy application of a fret.  Position markers face out in offset cream rectangles (is EVERYTHING going offset these days??) at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, 15th, 17th and 19th and these are paired with black dots down the side.

Flight Vanguard Tenor Electric Ukulele fingerboard


Beyond the bone nut (which is dealing with spacing only as height is dictated by the zero fret - A good idea as intonation with thin steel strings can be VERY finicky at the nut) is a rectangular headstock with clipped top corners which I rather like. That is faced in black and has the Flight 'F' logo inlaid in abalone in the top. I find the logo is a bit lost to be honest. You'll also spy a screwed down cover which hides the truss rod access for applying or removing relief to the neck. 

Flight Vanguard Tenor Electric Ukulele headstock


The tuners are sealed chrome gears which, whilst unremarkable, work just fine.

Flight Vanguard Tenor Electric Ukulele tuners


Finishing it off is a nice quality Flight branded gig bag with neck support and steel electric guitar strings.  Flight only specify the string gauge as 10-46 but not the brand of string. That is six string naming from a guitar pack so I am not sure if they are using the top four strings or four from the middle. Anyway, that's for your own experimentation, but I do note that Southern Ukulele Store swap them out for a different set as they don't rate them (I think they go with 11's and I agree with them for being more forgiving on finger pressure - though do bear in mind the review video below is with the stock strings). And that comes in at a price of around £270- £300 in the UK which is an attractive price I think compared to the Risa offerings. Incidentally, that higher price is what you will pay to buy from the specialists to account for the setup work they put in, and I'd say it's worth that premium rather than buying from a store that doesn't open the box.  Yet that's still quite a chunk more than the Pathfinder which can be had for circa £230/240. You be the judge if whether that uplift is worth it.

Flight Vanguard Tenor Electric Ukulele back


So it's largely positives here with the core build and most of the finish, but I can't take my mind off that neck. That leaves me concerned about the other setup issue that I think often needs work on these and that is intonation. Surprisingly the intonation on this one is pretty darn good. I checked at the harmonic 12th for each string and there is little out here, bar possibly a very minor tweak on the C string. String height is good too, and naturally much lower than nylon strings. It's coming in at 1mm on the 1st string and 1.5mm at the 12th which, using my electric guitar setup knowledge is certainly decent. Checking the neck relief this looks to be in order too so no need to go playing with the truss rod with these strings. I do know, however, that some stores need to put work in here so be careful where you buy if you are not comfortable with adjusting micro saddles and neck relief yourself. 

Weight is also something that is unfair to compare to an acoustic instrument as it's a solid block of wood with a metal bridge and a lot of other tech. It's 1.925kg and balances ok. The Pathfinder is 1.79kg. I suspect with either you will be using a strap.


Flight Vanguard Tenor Electric Ukulele decor

So let's have a play. And I will say from the off that I really don't like making reviews of electric instruments full stop, and certainly less so steel strung electrics. First and foremost the tone you will hear on a video will depend on the amplifier used. I am using a decent Blackstar amp designed for electric guitars, but if you buy one of these and plug into a small Honeytone you will have a far worse experience. Secondly with steel strung ukes they don't suit the usual tunes I always use so you can compare and contrast. They also require a very different style of fingering on the fretting hand and if you press like on a regular uke you will bend strings sharp. It can be overcome with practice, but I mainly play nylon uke and acoustic guitar so even for me I find myself forgetting. These are really designed for shredding up the neck which is a style I don't really play!

Anyway, with that out of the way it's a comfortable ukulele to hold and feels reliable and well built. The nut width, despite those thinner strings is a bit difficult for my large hands, but again, practice would get over that. I can absolutely see why SUS put a heavier string set on as I found it far too easy to bend notes unintentionally. Obviously, volume is not a factor here as that depends on your amp, and sustain is, naturally, much MUCH longer than on a regular uke because of the strings. So the basics I need to consider this time around are the controls. There is a touch of crackle on the volume control which can be fixed with some anti static spray but isn't right. The tone pot though is cheap and has a very short sweep that does most of the work in the first third of a turn and very little else beyond that. That's useable, but annoying. The different pickups are distinctly different with the warmer jazzier tones you'd expect from a neck pickup and a brighter attacking sound from the bridge. And, of course, you can play them together for the best of both worlds. I do think though that the neck pickup needs raising on the treble side because the volume is noticeably lower on the first string. That's a very easy adjustment though achieved simply by turning the screw on that side of the pup.

I found the Pathfinder was a little constrained in tone, but the twin humbucker choice here means there is bags of life even at low volumes. The cleans are very clean and chimey and it screams and growls when you dirty up the tone with some overdrive. Exactly what you'd expect from a pair of humbuckers. I must say though, the harmonics in some chords get a little warbly and muddy when driven harder which is a sign of a cheaper pickup. Still, it does what it says on the tin I guess. I think I prefer the range it has overall to the Pathfinder, but to be honest, if you are sticking effects pedals before either of them you will have a ball.

All in all whilst this wasn't as bad in QC as I thought it possibly could be there are still some issues here that would have been addressed by a specialist uke dealer. The fingerboard wood alone would have me returning it or asking for a discount and I think a heavier string set would suit it better. Still, the setup is pretty decent and I absolutely adore the overall look of it. In fact it's my favourite of the four from Flight. It's good to know that Flight ARE carried by proper uke specialists who will weed these models out, but I'm afraid that does not exonerate them. They choose who sells their instruments and I think that if they can't get their factory QC absolutely nailed on then they should stick to only selling through shops that will sort it for them on their behalf. It's a shame as I have to say that as I've liked everything i've seen from Flight so far. Maybe i'm making too much of that, you tell me. 

This is still a cracking looking ukulele that I could just sit and stare at all day... so long as you put a cloth over the neck. 

Choose your dealer wisely!



UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Flight Vanguard
Scale: Tenor
Body: Solid mahogany, flamed maple drop top
Bridge: Fender style micro saddles
Spacing at bridge: 30mm
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 19, 17 to body, plus zero fret
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 33mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded sealed gears
Extras: Twin humbuckers with tone, volume and selector controls. Padded gig bag
Country of origin: China
Weight: 1.925kg
Price: Circa £270 - £300

UKULELE PROS

Drop dead gorgeous looks
Decent finish on body
Good string setup on this example
Easy to drive the volume
Very clear and bell like when played clean


UKULELE CONS

Pickup surrounds look too big
Scruffy neck binding
Horrid looking fingerboard wood
Crackly volume pot on this one
Sweep on the tone pot is poor


UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 8.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.6 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



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3 comments :

  1. Excellent, honest and very helpful review, Baz. Your buying it under the radar is an eye-opener as to what one MIGHT get in the box from online and big box retailers as opposed to bonafide music instrument stores. It's a fine looking instrument, sounds quite good and I'm going to look into getting one here in the States. Thank you!

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  2. As do many others, I have electric and acoustic guitars, tube and solid state amps, an assortment of pedals and numerous ukuleles. Naturally, to each his or her own and I suppose one can never have enough of them. But I'm not convinced there's a genuine void to be filled by a 17-inch scale solid body electric guitar with only four strings and tuned as though it was capoed up at the 5th fret. The chances of it sounding like a real ukulele are obviously slim and, sans the two lower strings, the throaty growls and grunts of a six-string will not be there. A 20" scale baritone version with single coil pickups instead of humbuckers might make more sense. Perhaps this instrument is more of a conversation piece aimed at a niche market. Still, it is quite attractive, seems nicely made for what it is and is very reasonably priced.

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    Replies
    1. The market would disagree with you though - stores stocking these and the Risa ukes simply can't get hold of them fast enough to keep up with demand!

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