L Luthier Le Koa S Electro Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

10 Jul 2022

L Luthier Le Koa S Electro Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Naturally, I do keep an eye on trends with ukulele stores and this is a brand that I've seen a lot of buzz around lately. Say hello to the L Luthier Le Koa S Electro Tenor Ukulele.

L Luthier Le Koa S Tenor Ukulele


This one came on loan to me from Southern Ukulele Store who are the UK dealers for this Malaysian brand, and to say Alex appears hugely excited about them would be an understatement. Sure, Alex manages a uke store, it makes sense for him to be positive, but bear in mind a couple of things. Alex doesn't stock instruments he dislikes (why would he) and I also trust his judgement in ukes implicitly. Still, this is Got A Ukulele and I sit outside of all of that to be impartial so how will it fare?

The intriguingly named 'L Luthier' brand (what the L stands for I do not know, possibly the 'Lai' family name of the founder) are, as I say, Malaysian brand which make their instruments in China. And quite clearly from the looks and design cues alone you can see they are aiming at the more serious buyer. In fact, the term 'head turner' doesn't do it enough justice! It's a pretty, modern looking double bout with a fat rounded lower bout and softly curved sloping shoulder to create a 'cutaway'. It's a gorgeous shape.

L Luthier Le Koa S Tenor Ukulele body


It's made from all solid tone woods with solid European spruce for the top and (in my first gripe, and it's a biggie i'm afraid), solid 'Formosan Koa' for the back and sides. What's Formosan Koa? Well, it's Taiwanese Acacia. It's only fair that I say the same things here as I did about the Mr Mai Acacia ukulele - all koa is acacia, but not all acacia is koa. Koa is really the name given to the tree when grown and harvested in Hawaii, not elsewhere. Whilst there is a lot of debate as to whether that matters tonally (same tree, same wood) or even whether Hawaii has any rights to name something in that way as if it is theirs, one thing DOES still apply - and that's that the term 'koa' holds a mystique AND a price premium. I think this is naughty and they even use the word 'koa' in their naming. It's acacia - just call it that. Anyway moving on, the woods are clearly very good quality with wonderful tight straight grain on the top two pieces and wonderful grain patterns stripe and flame on the well bookmatched back and sides. I think it's stunning to look at.

The bridge is an ebony tie bar, reminiscent of those on Moonbirds and fitted with a compensated bone saddle. This comes with an interesting little inlaid paler wood detail / stripe too. Why? Well why not! But then as you will see this uke is loaded with lots of little touches like that! If I have one gripe it's why they didn't use ebony here to match with the fingerboard.

L Luthier Le Koa S Tenor Ukulele bridge


The main thing you spot when you look at this instrument face on is the unusual soundhole arrangement. It's a kind of divided semi circle set into the upper bout and offset from the middle and is not like anything I have seen before. You also get a nicely shaped side port in the upper bout side too. Flamed maple binding strips surround the top and back with black purfling to edge them and an added red (Padauk) strip around the top. Oh, and if you are looking at the image of the soundhole and thinking 'that top looks thick', it isn't - it's a strengthening piece under lip of the holes. The top is actually pretty thin. The whole body is then finished in a gloss which is flawless.

L Luthier Le Koa S Tenor Ukulele decor


Inside is tidy enough in terms of construction - notched kerfing and carved braces which are in an X pattern on the top. Because of the pickup (which I will come on to) there is a lot of wiring here and whilst I am not sensing any buzzing I'd want those better taped down inside myself.

L Luthier Le Koa S Electro Tenor Ukulele inside


It's nice to see that that the mahogany neck is finished in satin, not gloss. It's made from three pieces with fairly well hidden joints and tapers to a fairly flattened nut profile and a roomy 38mm width with 30mm from G to A. That's topped in ebony which is uniformly dark all over and has a nice taper at the bottom end to align with the angle of the soundhole. Down the sides are more flamed maple binding strips which hide the ends of the 20 frets joined at the 14th. They are all dressed extremely well too. There are no regular outward facing position markers save for an extract from the L Luthier logo at the seventh, but you will not get lost as it comes with full complement of side dots too. 

L Luthier Le Koa S Tenor Ukulele neck


Beyond the bone nut is another one of the little details on this ukulele which set it apart. It's a simple rectangular headstock, faced in dark wood and holding the L Luthier logo in a wooden inlay. On the top edge is a chamfered off angular detail which I think looks smart.

L Luthier Le Koa S Tenor Ukulele headstock


The tuners are open gears by Der Jung in an antique brushed brass finish which are super quality. For my eyes though I think they are too big for the instrument, certainly in the posts running to the buttons. Whilst I have no issue with the quality and the colouring, something about them is irritating me.

L Luthier Le Koa S Tenor Ukulele tuners


Finishing it off are a set of Savarez fluorocarbon strings and a dual active pickup system. I don't normally go with active systems, but this omits chunky side controls (rather gives you control dials inside the soundhole) and a 9v battery and I 'think' charges through the jack socket. But there is more going on here as that 'dual' means this employs both a saddle piezo AND a microphonic pickup with a blend control. Piezo's can sound very quacky and need a lot of EQ to sound natural and microphones sound much sweeter but can cause feedback issues. This gives the best of both worlds and the ability to mix the two to suit your environment. Nice.  It also comes with a great quality branded padded gig bag.

And price wise is where the real surprise comes in here. This is clearly an instrument built in the sort of quality as the higher end aNueNue instruments and Rebels, but can be yours for £639. That's getting on to half the price of a Moonbird and is quite remarkable.

L Luthier Le Koa S Tenor Ukulele back


I've absolutely loved pretty much everything about this one and the looks are to die for (bar those big tuners which let it down in my opinion). It's not heavy at 800g and is a joy to hold and balance.

Volume here is excellent with sustain being good too. Both of those combine mean it will make for a characterful tone that you can add frills to with ease.

When strummed the balance between the brighter spruce and more complex acacia really comes through in a fizzy, peppy jangle which is extremely pleasing. I wouldn't say it sounds like a smaller instrument as there is a clear rounded resonance from that bigger body, but it certainly has more of the character of the ukulele sound than some tenors out there that can get almost guitar like in tone. It's a cracker and a lot of fun to listen to.

Fingerpicking is the star of the show for me with bell like highs no matter where you play on the extremely comfortable neck. It sounds like a music box and is incredibly pretty. The clarity is excellent and it's responsive too meaning you don't need to give it a massive amount of welly to make it sing.

Oh boy, what an instrument. Superb build and finish and with enough 'quirks' in the design to set it apart without it being crazy looking for the sake of it. Add to that the great tone and I remain staggered at the asking price. In my view this sits at the table with many instruments costing considerably more. I totally get where the positive comments are coming from.

Very highly recommended!



UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: L Luthier Le Koa A
Scale: Tenor
Body: Solid European Spruce Top, Solid Pacific Islands Acacia back and sides
Bridge: Rosewood
Saddle: Bone
Spacing at saddle: 45mm
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Mahogany (satin)
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 20, 14 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 38mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: Der Jung open gears - antique finish
Strings: Savarez Fluorocarbon
Weight: 800g
Extras: Gig bag
Country of origin: China
Price: £639

UKULELE PROS

Superb build and finish
Nice 'quirks' 
Great volume and good sustain
Chimey clear crisp tone
Best of both worlds pickup
Knockout price

UKULELE CONS

Shrink those tuners down!
Untidy internal wiring

UKULELE SCORES


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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.4 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



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2 comments :

  1. I know what you're thinking: it's got sticking-out ears!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very thorough review. Thanks. It sounds quite nice indeed. Although these comments may be persnickety to many we all have our opinions. Beauty can be somewhat subjective and for my tastes as a woodworker, there's too much of the luthier's "signature" that's visually obvious in the instrument. There's the odd-shaped soundhole, the forward cant of the top soundhole, the insert through one side of the bridge, the one angled corner of the headstock, the odd shade of antique gold tuners, the excerpt of the logo as a solitary fret marker and the angled fretboard over the soundboard. I would have preferred a little more subtlety but it surely doesn't diminish it's lovely sound or its value.

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