Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

31 Dec 2022

Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

Following on from some comments just before Christmas, Got A Ukulele does keep trying to find diamonds in the rough at the cheaper end of the ukulele scale.  Could the Martin Smith Premium Soprano make my list of 'low cost recommendations'?


Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele


I've actually looked at the Martin Smith brand before in the form of their UK-212 Soprano Ukulele. That it went on to have one of the lowest scores I have given an instrument, means that the brand name doesn't fill me with high expectations here! That 212 model really was one of the worst finished and worst sounding sopranos I have ever seen. Naturally that was an Amazon model (and other stores that are not music specialists), just like this one is.

But hang on.. hang on - this one is called a 'Premium' version...

And so, in the land of all that is unhelpful about Amazon listings, this defines itself as being 'better than most' complete with an endless list of five star reviews.  But then, the UK-212 did the same thing which kind of demonstrates how useless product descriptions and reviews on Amazon really are. We will come on to their choice of product description at the end of this review to see how it squares up..

Let's take a step back because it sounds like I am judging it harshly before having a proper look. Unlike the 212 this is NOT one of those ubiquitous, thickly gloss painted sopranos that are ten a penny on Amazon, rather, it actually looks like a wooden ukulele. In this case it's made from laminate sapele with two pieces on the top, back and sides. Sapele is never the most interesting wood to look at, but I'd rather than than thick gloss paint to be honest with you. The wood is inoffensive I suppose and it looks like a real ukulele rather than a cheap toy.

Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele body


For the bridge they don't specify the wood, but it's something pale. It's a slot style and whilst the wood needs more sanding i've seen worse. It's also far better than the bridge on the 212 which is actually made of plastic... What is not tidy though is the way it's been half heartedly stuck down. Now, whilst I expect this to be screwed and glued, there is a visible gap on the bottom edge into which you could insert a business card. That does NOT bode well, and even with screws i've seen these bridges fail. In fact if it is relying solely on screws, my money is on the fact it WILL fail. That's a major negative. Sitting in that is a straight topped saddle that looks to be plastic and string spacing here is 45mm.

Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele bridge


Decoration... oh decoration... Firstly we have my pet hate of laser etching around the sound hole. It looks cheap though is not the most overly done etching job I have seen. Then we move on to the elements that I suspect they are hanging their 'Premium' name on. On the top shoulder we have a scalloped cutaway finished in a dark brown paint. These can be quite attractive things and one featured on the very lovely Fireball I looked at before Christmas, but here it looks like it has been applied by just pouring the paint into the scallop. It's uneven and scruffy as hell. Looking more closely there is a straight crack in the paint running right through it. I have no idea how long this will stay on before it chips away. Then on the bottom bout is a 'comfort edge'. That's another thing a lot of people like, but the application of the dark paint here looks like somebody just smeared it on with their finger - it's uneven and ugly and looks like a bad glaziers job on fitting a window pane. Just awful. For the rest of the body it get's an open pore satin finish, but there are plenty of scratches and uneven elements to that too. 'Premium'? Ugh, really.. just no.

Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele decor


Inside is reasonable with notched linings and reasonably thin braces. There is a bit of scruffiness and gloop though.

Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele inside


The neck is specified as sapele too and typically far-eastern and chunky both at the large heel and rounded nut profile. It's made from three pieces with joints in the usual places and tapers to a narrow 34mm nut with 27mm G to A. Generic, chunky and not for me though will suit other hands.

That is topped with more unspecified wood for the fingerboard which, to be fair, is in quite good condition if a little naturally too pale for my tastes. It's fitted with 15 frets, joined at the 12th and the sides are edge bound which is surprising. Sadly the edge binding does nothing for the poor fret finishing as several of them are sharp.  Position dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th, and 15th, but sadly there are no side dots at all.

Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele neck


Beyond the plastic nut is a 'to be expected' crown headstock shape. The Martin Smith logo is laser etched in the top. No comment..

Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele headstock


Tuners are generic sealed chrome gears, the sort that are all different tensions and one has an annoying 'grind' to it. They are also not attached evenly. Ho hum.

Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele tuners


Finishing it off are a set of Aquila strings, two large strap buttons (straight out of the guitar parts bin), a functional padded bag, strap, clip on tuner, cloth, beginners guide leaflet and a spare set of strings that they claim are Aquila, but Aquila themselves confirmed to me that they never allow to be sold loose that way. In fact they are unlabelled so you wouldn't know which string was which either. I'd assume they are NOT Aquila. And in the UK at least these can be picked up for about £55. Not a lot of money, and whilst it comes with extras, adding those into the package of even the cheapest ukes is hardly new these days and certainly doesn't turn this into a 'premium' model either.

Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele extras


So not a great start with this one. To be fair, as I say, it looks like a ukulele I guess and if you ignore the woeful decoration application, it's not that offensive really. In fact it's also put together reasonably well, but it's still certainly not 'Premium'. The setup out of the box is poor too with a nut height that needs taking down and a height above the 12th far too high for me and likely to cause finger tangles. It's not heavy at 414g and balances ok in the hands. Those tuners though are very fussy and annoying to work with, having lot's of play on some of them making it hard to dial the note in.

Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele comfort edge

Volume first and this is reasonably good. That's not quite the saving grace you may think it is though as a lot of cheap laminate ukuleles tend to have half decent volume. As such it's not a 'standout' feature. Sustain though is pretty poor to average leaving you with not very much to work with and a very staccato sound. Yes, I KNOW it's a soprano which tend towards that style, but I have played some other cheap sops that have more going on in this department.

Martin Smith Premium Soprano Ukulele back

Tone wise things are not great here though either. Like some of the very cheap laminate ukuleles this has a boxy echo to the tone which really grates on me. Being a soprano it kind of allows it to create a rhythmical sound, but there really isn't much else for me and it's very thin indeed and a bit muddy and confused. Fingerpicking is also let down by the lack of sustain, thin tone and the high action which is making the intonation issues more obvious on individual notes. It all sounds very generic, simple and cheap. To add to the woes there is a rattle coming from the inside indicating something is loose - it's not the strings as their height is far too high to make them bottom out, but it's certainly there (though could be just a bad example). That's making the strummed tone even more irritating for my ears.  I suppose with some setup this could play a little nicer and I guess it 'does' work in general as a ukulele. It's just very uninspiring. And no, it's not me 'hating' on cheaper ukes - take a look at my full reviews list - I can think of plenty for this money (or less) that sound (and look!) far better and fuller.

Before closing this review, let's also take a look at the Amazon product description which calls this:

'Everything you need to go from beginner to pro, this ukulele kit has been put together with no compromise on quality that will last you throughout your musical journey'

I'd very much beg to differ, both on the compromise on quality claim or on how long that bridge will last you! This is just a very generic cheap ukulele that they have chose to label 'Premium' because they stuck a comfort edge and cutaway on it very badly. And even if those elements were done well it's just still a generic echoey laminate box which are ten a penny on Amazon, many sounding better. If anything it's the 'Premium' nonsense that annoys me the most here. Still, it clearly does better than the first Martin Smith I looked at and whilst it's not a lot of money either, it just doesn't stand out from the very crowded field it's in.

Meh.. No thanks.






UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Martin Smith Premium
Scale: Soprano
Body: Laminate Sapele
Bridge: Unspecified slot bridge
Saddle: Plastic
Spacing at saddle: 45mm
Finish: Satin
Neck: Sapele
Fingerboard: Unspecified
Frets: 15, 12 to body
Nut: Plastic
Nut width: 34mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded sealed chrome gears
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Strap buttons, branded bag, strap, clip on tuner, cloth, spare strings (not Aquila!) beginners guide leaflet
Weight: 414g
Country of origin: China
Price: Circa £55

UKULELE PROS

Inoffensive general wood looks (bar the decoration)
Volume ok
Cheap

UKULELE CONS

Badly attached bridge
Very poor finishing in body wood and decor elements
Cheap looking laser etching
Chunky neck
Cheap tuners
Poor setup
No side markers
Sharp fret ends
Boxy thin generic tone with little sustain
Internal rattle on this one


UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 7 out of 10
Fit and finish - 4.5 out of 10
Sound - 6 out of 10
Value for money - 7 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 6.1 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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1 comments :

  1. What a sad way to end the year.... Hopefully a banger to begin 2023. Happy New Year!

    ReplyDelete

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