Ortega RUSWB-TE Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

25 Sept 2022

Ortega RUSWB-TE Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

This week another return for the well known ukulele brand with a dizzying array of instruments on offer. This is the Ortega RUSWB-TE Tenor Ukulele.

Ortega RUSWB-TE Tenor Ukulele


This is another bamboo ukulele but one with an extremely striking, and I must say 'marmite' look to it. I will nail my colours to the mast early on in this review - I think this is possibly one the ugliest ukuleles I have EVER seen. I appreciate that such things are highly subjective, but I feel like the guy putting the design together on this one clearly did it solo, with nobody to put a hand on the shoulder to say 'are you sure about this mate?'. I used the term 'Marmite' though as I put a sneak peek picture of this on Social Media and a fair few people said they thought it was beautiful.. Divisive for sure! It's not that I dislike bamboo ukuleles, I've reviewed several and like them a lot. It's not that I dislike coloured painted ukes, and I've positively reviewed several which I loved too. Heck, it's not that I dislike painted bamboo, as the Martin OX Bamboo was a blue coloured bamboo outer. It's just that they went SO FULL ON with the blue, literally everywhere, that I think it's a total headache. Initial rant over, let's take a closer look.

This is a regular double bout shaped instrument made of all solid bamboo, and part of a series which includes regular coloured bamboo instruments with pickups or this series called 'Stonewash' in blue. They each come in soprano through to tenor options, but the blue ones lose the pickup and cutaway. Of course, the term 'solid bamboo' is a bit of a misnomer as by its nature, sheets of bamboo are made up of lots of thin strips laid side by side. To be fair though, fully laminate bamboo does exist too which is a thin outer veneer of bamboo strips laid on top of a plywood backing. This is all bamboo though. As I say, I like the look of bamboo, and even painted bamboo but this 'stonewash' look here which creates dark and light streaks looks hideous to me. It reminds me of denim jeans from the 1980's and looks like it was painted by a primary school student. Ugh...

Ortega RUSWB-TE Tenor Ukulele body


The bridge is also made of bamboo in a tie bar style, screwed in place. It holds a straight topped black plastic saddle. I have no issue with it being made of bamboo but the idea to paint it in the same streaky blue is crazy in my view. A contrasting dark or light wood bridge would look SO much better. String spacing here is 43mm.

Ortega RUSWB-TE Tenor Ukulele bridge


Decoration here is a case of putting lipstick on a pig considering my thoughts on the looks. The top and back are finished with black plastic edge binding which I think looks nice enough, and around the sound-hole is a laser etched engraving. You know my thoughts on laser etching! The body is then finished in a satin which feels a little TOO matte for me giving it an almost unfinished quality. To be fair to it though, it's extremely thin so won't be hampering the resonance of the instrument.

Ortega RUSWB-TE Tenor Ukulele decor


Inside is tidy and mess free. Notched linings and thin braces. Interestingly they stained the inside the same blue colour.... They clearly had a glut of the paint and I'm surprised they didn't go the whole hog and stain the braces blue too..

Ortega bamboo tenor ukulele inside


The neck is wood isn't specified, but is finished in the same streaky blue, complete with the knots as seen on the body making it look like bamboo. Answers on a postcard on this one, but I didn't think you could get bamboo that thick (am I wrong?). Anyway, it's jointed quite obviously with a double stack in the heel and a join at the headstock. I dislike the blue here too and think natural wood would make a better contrast. It tapers to a slightly flattened profile which is a bonus considering the very average nut width of 35mm (27mm G to A).

Topping that is more bamboo, finished in (yes, you guessed it) yet more stonewashed blue. Things are getting silly now and like the bridge I think a more conventional dark wood finish would look better here. I think this part looks particularly awful. It's bound down the sides with black strips to hide the frets ends of which you get 18, joined at the 14th. None of them are sharp which is a plus point. The only outward facing dot markers are three black dots at the 12th, but you get white side dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th. I can live with that as it gives it a different look and it's the side dots I refer to.

Ortega RUSWB-TE Tenor Ukulele neck


Beyond the plastic nut is an asymmetric headstock shape that I rather like. Of course, it's finished in yet more blue and has the Ortega "O" logo in a black print.

Ortega RUSWB-TE Tenor Ukulele headstock


Tuners are Graph Tech Ratio Tune-a-lele planetary tuners. Ortega list them on their site as being friction pegs, but they are not as they have small helical gears inside. I've seen these on several ukes, including most recently, Martin and always say the same thing. They work very well and smoothly but I think they look like doorknobs. I've also seen too many reports of posts snapping to be comfortable with them myself. Beware.

Ortega RUSWB-TE Tenor Ukulele tuners


Finishing things off are a set of 'custom made Ortega strings made for them by Aquila, a tail strap button and a rudimentary padded gig bag.  And the price is coming in at about €155 or about £135 in the UK. Not a lot of money I guess.

Ortega RUSWB-TE Tenor Ukulele back


Despite those looks and the somewhat industrial finishing there isn't much else wrong here. The build is good and tidy. It's not heavy at 530g and balances ok. The setup out of the box is good too.

Let's have a play. Firstly, the volume and projection is seriously good with this instrument with a very powerful bark with minimal effort - it's like a cannon! Sustain too is long and satisfying so things are certainly looking up.

Other bamboo instruments I have reviewed share a common tonal character of terrific brightness and it is no different here. It's incredibly crisp and direct in its voice with a sound that could cut glass. It's too bright for my own tastes, I must say, as I prefer woodier sounding instruments, but that kind of tone has its fans. The clarity and accuracy when strummed is really very good, if, dare I say it, a little 'one trick pony'. It's not the most characterful or nuanced tone I've ever heard - it just does that 'very bright and crisp' thing well.  Yet it left me longing for something else in the mix. Strummed though it's extremely jangly and rhythmical I just wish it had a bit more depth.

Fingerpicking, oddly seems a bit more muted to my ears, particularly up the neck. It's still bright but not quite as clear and direct. More of a strummers instrument than a picker methinks, but it's not a huge criticism and if the strummed tone was a little more muted perhaps I'd find that a bit more characterful!

All in all, underneath the looks is something that is not a howler of a ukulele by any means. It's well put together, has terrific volume and plays pretty well too. The tone is a little 'one trick pony' for me and perhaps a little too bright, but the volume, clarity and projection are all very good. But those looks. Oh.. those looks. I totally GET that this is massively subjective and you may love it - and that is absolutely fine - we can't all like the same things, but I'd be lying to you if I scored it higher on looks from my personal position. Maybe there is something to be said for it being 'different' I suppose.. You can of course strip out the low score I gave it on that front from the scoring and see that the overall score would be very decent. 

For me though, it makes me queasy..


UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Ortega RUSWB-TE 
Scale: Tenor
Body: Solid bamboo
Bridge: Bamboo tie bar
Saddle: Black plastic
Spacing at saddle: 43mm
Finish: Stonewash blue paint with satin coat
Neck: Unspecified
Fingerboard: Bamboo
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: Plastic
Nut width: 35mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Graph Tech Ratio Tune-a-lele
Strings: Ortega by Aquila
Extras: Tail strap button, gig bag
Weight: 530g
Country of origin: China
Price: Circa €155

UKULELE PROS

Generally a sound build
Great volume and sustain
Crisp bright tone
Low price


UKULELE CONS

Slightly thin 'one trick' tone
Hideous looks in several departments
Cheap feeling satin
Beware those tuners

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 3 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Price - 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.3 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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2 comments :

  1. Yeah, that's stonewashed blue overload. It actually looks cheap although it's a decent instrument. A shame. Your points about contrasting elements are spot on.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Baz - agree with you on the colour (sorry) - I’m old school and prefer wood (solid or laminate)

    ReplyDelete

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