Beltona Super Baritone Ukulele - REVIEW

27 Nov 2022

Beltona Super Baritone Ukulele - REVIEW

Something very special and very different in the ukulele world this week. I'm delighted to have Beltona back on the site with the Beltona Super Baritone Ukulele.


Beltona Super Baritone Ukulele




I've seen a few Beltona's in my time, but have only reviewed one, the Style 2 Tenor, and that was way back in 2015. For those unaware of the brand, Beltona is the business of West Yorkshire based Steve Evans who has been hand building instruments, largely resonators since about 1990 in both the UK and New Zealand. They are highly sought after and revered and his instruments have been played by the likes of Tiny Tim (now owned by Tim Smithies of Dead Man's Uke) and Mark Knopfler. And the interest comes in the type of construction he opts for.

This one is certainly one of the big guns and has been labelled a 'super baritone' by Steve. That is to say the body size, scale (20.5 inches compared to a more common 19 for a regular bari) and cone are all bigger than his standard baritone making for a real beast of an instrument. 'Big' doesn't do it justice! The shape though is the same modern swoopy look of his other baritones which has an almost Les Paul style to it with the cutaway. But it's all about the construction. Resonators can be HEAVY instruments, particularly those with bell brass bodies. With Beltona though, Steve largely uses a a fibre-glass resin for the bodies which is still incredibly tough, but much lighter than metal (apparently about 35% lighter than the equivalent in metal). Don't get me wrong, this is still a hefty beast, but not as hefty as it would be if made from brass!

Beltona Super Baritone Ukulele body


For the bridge tail, this one departs from the usual choice of a wooden fixed bridge screwed onto the cover plate and uses a chrome finished tail piece that wraps around the bottom of the body for hooking the strings into. It gives it a whole enhanced 'old time' look I think and looks great.

Beltona Super Baritone Ukulele tail and cone


Being a resonator it projects its sound from a spun cone inside the body topped with a biscuit saddle over which the strings pass. (For those unfamiliar with resonators, the biscuit is a wooden hockey puck type affair with a saddle placed on top of it that sits on top of the cone. The saddle has grooves notched into it to space the strings and the string tension presses the whole thing down into the cone.) The being a bigger body this carries a larger 8.5 inch cone under an aluminium cover plate with attractive mesh finishing in the sound holes. Bigger cone means bigger projection! (A tenor resonator uke will tend to be about six inches.)

Beltona Super Baritone Ukulele shoulders


The finishes on the Beltona's are done with automotive car paint which is extremely resilient and shiny. Being hand applied they can have some minor bubbles and finish lines, but that's normal and all part of telling you this was made by a person not a robot. I've seen some people pick up on these with Beltona before, but I think people should remember you will never get factory 'perfection' with any luthier build instrument.  Colour choice varies to literally 'what  you want', but this example comes in a rather attractive 'Pelham Blue'. It's lovely, as is the contouring in the moulding of the fibre-glass on the back.

The neck is made from solid mahogany in a single piece, finished in a gloss and complete with a maple heel cap. It tapers down to a shallow back profile and a roomy 36mm nut with 32mm between the bass and treble strings. It's extremely comfortable, though I think on balance I'd prefer satin (which I expect Steve could do if asked).

The neck is topped with a rosewood fingerboard in sublime condition and with a radius to the top (sorry specs don't tell me the radius figure) for comfort. It's also edge bound with what looks like more rosewood, but sharp ends were never going to be a problem as these are hand shaped semi hemi frets that are fitted to not reach the binding meaning zero fret sprout. Unlike the fashion for semi hemi ends we are seeing on some Chinese instruments now that are all identical and likely done on a machine before fitting, these look hand dressed that way on the instrument. That's real craft right there! There are 19 of those joined at the 12th.

Beltona Super Baritone Ukulele neck


Beyond the wonderfully dressed nut is a very nicely shaped headstock faced in attractive flamed maple. Sitting square in the top face is the Beltona logo - without a doubt my favourite ukulele logo of all time!

Beltona Super Baritone Ukulele headstock


Tuners here are Kluson deluxe gears. Whilst I don't normally like guitar style tuners on a ukulele this is a big old beast and they suit it perfectly. These tuners are extremely good and the sort of thing you would see on high end Gibson electrics. Wonderful.

Beltona Super Baritone Ukulele tuners


Finishing things off are a set of all steel strings (no nylon here!) and a K&K pickup fitted into the body (for stage use or merely for sadists who want to make a resonator even louder to annoy the family). Being fully handmade and likely to have taken quite some time to finish, this is not a cheap instrument and is priced at £1,999. A significant sum, but then this is a significant instrument! It doesn't come with a case though which I think is an omission on account of it's unusual size.

So, i've loved all that I've seen so far. It's a hefty instrument, naturally in view of that metalwork in the body, but at 1.53kg comes in lighter than a bell brass body resonator would. Still, I suspect you'll always want to use a strap here though.

Tone wise it's always a challenge to review resonators because they sound nothing like a wooden ukulele. A such my 'compare and contrast' song pieces used in each video are a bit misleading and I end up with people saying 'that sounds metallic / thin / bright'. But of course they do, they are resonators not regular acoustics. Add in the bigger body and cone here and the steel strings and you get a resonator on steroids.

Beltona Super Baritone Ukulele back


The volume is absolutely terrific as I thought it would be. If you think the video doesn't show that I had to place the microphone much further back for this one. It punches like a cannon! Sustain too is wonderfully long on account of those steel strings and has a real harmonic shimmer that warbles in and out. It's a joy.

The tone is metallic resonator in sound for sure, but there is a breadth here too. As I say I don't think the usual pieces I play suit this instrument, and it's probably better for slide, blues, ragtime type stuff. But you get the idea. The clarity of the tone is superb whether picked or strummed and is immediately appealing IF YOU LIKE RESONATORS!  Compared to cheaper reso's this has another level of class and depth of tone that you simply don't get with the the bargain basement end which can often sound muddy. 'Thin' is quite often a term used with cheaper reso's too, but I don't think that applies here - it's got bags of tone. Ignore my shonky playing, in the right hands I can tell that there is an awful lot going on with the sound here!

What a joy to be able to look at this one (and my eternal thanks to Southern Ukulele Store for the loan as these are extremely rare!). It you want something largely unique, hand made in the UK with looks to die for I can see exactly where all that money has gone and why it will bring you joy in the right hands.

Wonderful.


UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Beltona Super Baritone
Scale: 20.5 inches
Body: Hand formed fiber-glass
Bridge: Resonator style biscuit saddle with strings terminating to chrome tail piece
Spacing at saddle: 42mm
Cone: 8.5 inch spun aluminium
Finish: Automotive gloss
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Rosewood, radiused
Frets: 19, 12 to body, semi hemi dressed, edge bound
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 36mm, 32mm D to E
Headstock face: Maple
Tuners: Kluson Deluxe gears
Strings: Steel guitar strings
Extras: Two strap buttons, K&K pickup
Weight: 1.53kg
Country of origin: UK
Price: £1,999

UKULELE PROS

Staggeringly good looking
Superb build and deep finish
Wonderful feeling neck
Love that logo
Wonderful tuners
Startling volume and sustain
Great breadth of tone

UKULELE CONS

Not much really (so long as you like resonators)
Needs to come with a case / bag

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 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.3 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



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