Phil Davidson Spruce and Maple Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

16 Jul 2023

Phil Davidson Spruce and Maple Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Continuing the current run of the 'dream ukuleles', this week a first time in my hands for this ukulele maker. This is the Phil Davidson Spruce and Maple Tenor.

Phil Davidson Spruce Maple Tenor Ukulele

Phil is a British luthier based in the Forest of Dean who has been hand building various instruments (guitars, mandolins, banjos and ukuleles) for over thirty years. He's one of those luthiers that I hear lots of glowing plaudits about, but have never had in my own hands. Until now that is, courtesy of Phil and Matt Stead at The Uke Room who has let me borrow this one. Phil builds traditionally by hand with the only machines used being hand operated (so no CNC cutting of parts). And that goes for the core uke but also all the decoration. That means a LOT of work. And as with all luthier reviews, bear in mind Phil does not have 'product lines' - they all differ and you can work with him on what you want. This is just an 'example' of what he can do.


This is a traditional shaped double bout tenor that pairs a solid Sitka Spruce top with flamed maple back and sides. Naturally these are both solid tonewoods. It's a nice pairing and whilst you don't have a two toned look a darker wood back and sides would give you, the stripe on the maple gives you lots of interest to look at when you flip it over. The spruce is straight grained with one or two hints of 'bear claw' to stop it looking totally plain as a lot of spruce can. The finish also sets it off nicely, but more on that later.

Phil Davidson Spruce Maple Tenor Ukulele body

The bridge is a really nicely carved slot bridge made of ebony in a quite different shape. I really like to see small bridges on all scales of instrument as that means there is more of the top wood left untouched to do 'its thing' in the playing department. It's really tidy and fitted with a straight topped bone saddle. String spacing here is 43mm. I love this!

Phil Davidson Spruce Maple Tenor Ukulele bridge

Decoration is classy too with darker wooden binding strips around the top and back with the top complemented by a hand inlaid herringbone purfling strip. It's all very tidy and works well to blend with the body woods. Around the sound-hole is an abalone ring with black purfling edges. Again, this is not too gaudy and doesn't take over from the rest. The finish is a hand applied gloss which feels to me like it may be shellac or nitro-cellulose in a heritage stain colour which really tones down the spruce colour into a warm orange which is delightful. The finish is not mirror smooth but as I understand it Phil applies this all by hand using cloths and a lot of hand buffing. As such you can see and feel some finish marks, but this just reminds me that it's not done by a spray gun operated by machine. More importantly is just how thin it is (the reason I wondered if it was nitro). Looking across the top you can still see the ripples of the grain of the spruce where the thin gloss has sunk into the wood. The finish is doing 'just enough' which is great news on letting the body woods sing.

Phil Davidson Spruce Maple Tenor Ukulele decor

Inside is extremely tidy with thin tapered braces and notched linings. I can also see that the tonewoods, and the top in particular are extremely thin meaning it's a light build. Good news

Phil Davidson Tenor Ukulele inside

The neck is made of flamed maple, hand carved in one single piece. I love maple for a neck wood on account of how smooth it is, and the tiger striping along it is a bonus on top of that. Very nice indeed! It tapers to what is very much NOT a factory profile with a shallow back at the but end and a 36mm nut width (28mm G to A). Very much a hand made feel up at that end.

The fingerboard is ebony with some nice end shaping and a carved taper down to an incredibly thin overlap on the top of the body. It's bound in a paler wood down the sides. Like the body, there are one or two tooling and finish marks here where you can see where a hand has done the work. Like most luthier instruments, if you want robotic factory perfection, look elsewhere. It is fitted with 15 frets joined, very old school at the 12th. They are old style frets too with flat tops rather than crowns. Some people have issue with those on comfort so I mention it here. Being a luthier of course, I am sure you could specify what you like. Abalone position dots face out at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th and 15th and they are paired with white dots on the side. 

Phil Davidson Spruce Maple Tenor Ukulele neck

Beyond the bone nut is a crown shaped headstock faced in glossy dark maple with more paler wood binding with purfling around the edges. I think it looks beautiful, as does the hand cut abalone inlay which is a work of art in itself.

Phil Davidson Spruce Maple Tenor Ukulele tuners

The tuners gave me pause for thought though. Firstly I am really pleased Phil has chosen rear facing pegs on a tenor because you don't often see that, but he has gone with Graphtech Tune-a-lele planetary pegs. These work very nicely, but i've made it clear I think these look ugly. Actually though my bigger concern is that I am still seeing multiple reports about them failing (either internally or posts snapping). I have had it happen to me and people put it down to a 'poor batch'. The thing is - it happened to me the year they came out and it's still happening today. That's quite the poor batch! So I would never specify these and would ask Phil to use something else. All that said, Phil offers a lifetime warranty on this ukes, so if you had a set that snapped I am sure he would make good.

Phil Davidson Spruce Maple Tenor Ukulele tuners

It comes with a set of Aquila strings with a wound low G. Again, not a choice I would make, but as with other reviews I don't affect scores for string choices as they are easily changed. Fitted in the base is a strap button. And as for the price, I am advised that this one comes in at £2,500. That's a big number, but then I am always very careful when dealing with luthier instruments as the price is really up to them (and I was blamed by one person for causing Ken Timms prices to inflate!). Materials aside, when I consider the amount of man hours that must have gone into this, luthiers are really not working for very much per hour! On the other side of the coin though there is a market price out there for instruments, luthier builds included, and I feel that in the UK at least, this is sitting at the high end. Still, one persons 'expensive' is another persons 'reasonable'. Putting it another way - people DO buy Phil's ukes! 

Let's have a play..

Phil Davidson Spruce Maple Tenor Ukulele back

Firstly, I talk above about the finish and the tonewoods being very thin and this serves to create a very light instrument at only 625g. It's incredibly resonant if you even slightly tap the top. It's like a drum. It also balances nicely and feels great to hold. This bodes well.

The volume is superb and the sustain, well... the sustain is possibly the best I have heard from a nylon strung ukulele. It just goes on and on and on. It has a harmonic shimmer to it too as the notes ring on. It's quite amazing on that front. This is where you first see the benefit of that light build and finish. 

Tone wise I was expecting lots of brightness here on account of the mix of spruce and maple and in fact thought that was why the low G was chosen. But even ignoring the G string, the tone here is not overly bright at all. In fact it has a rich roundness across the range that would make you think you were playing a tonewood like koa or mango. It has great breadth of tone and is certainly not a one trick pony. 

Like other very high end tenors I am not convinced they are really for playing simple cowboy chord strums, but played that way it's still extremely pleasant and clear across the strings with some wonderful harmonising going on in the mix. Absolutely bags of character.

Fingerpicking is just dreamy with excellent projection with only the slightest effort. The notes are rich, clear, balanced and like a music box at the upper frets. It's an incredibly pretty sound that has knocked me for six and coupled with that extremely comfortable neck it's a joy to play this way. And it's clearly all down to the very light build which is allowing the woods to do their thing unobstructed. Remarkable.

So it seems the plaudits I have heard about Phil are justified as this is a quite stunning instrument to both look at and play. The pricing is certainly top table and will rule out a great many people, but as I say, Phil is not short of customers. And I can see why. Bear in mind this is just an example, and like some other luthier instruments you will see the signs that it is hand made. The tone and sustain though are what it's all about and this is out of the park.

Highly recommended.


Model: Phil Davidson Spruce and Maple
Scale: Tenor
Body: Solid Sitka spruce top, flamed maple back and sides
Bridge: Ebony, slot style
Saddle: Bone
Spacing at saddle: 43mm
Finish: Hand rubbed gloss
Neck: Flamed maple
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 15, 12 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 36mm, 28mm G to A
Tuners: Graphtech Tune-a-lele planetary
Strings: Aquila with low G
Country of origin: UK
Weight: 625g
Price: £2,500


Great classy looks and decor
Sublime light and thin build
Thin finish
Nice neck profile and feel
Incredibly resonant
Terrific volume
Superb sustain
Wonderful clear balanced tone


Some 'hand made' finish marks in various areas
Wouldn't want those tuners myself!


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









  1. Beautiful and worth the money if it sounds that good too. But you are too right about the £25 tuners. Would be like buying a Ferrari and finding Ekonome Ditchfinder Special tyres on it.

    1. They are extremely light, accurate smooth and efficient. I have never had a failure.

    2. They are extremely light, smooth and efficient, I have never had a failure with them.

  2. Indeed, I cannot afford this, but I am so pleased it exists.

  3. Price: 2,500=$2,800 US is about where most of the K brands are on their step up (deluxe) models, so not at all out of line (IMHO). But the search for the Holy Grail of tone is often in the details, light and resonant. After all a musical instrument should be all about its tone / sound, pretty should be icing on the cake. Sadly, or ironically must Ukes are bought with the eye's not the ears. Keep up the great work Baz.

  4. I guess I’m fortunate that the Graph-Tech tuners I installed on my baritone uke a year ago have performed flawlessly. At the time, it was a more affordable alternative to Gotoh planetary tuners as well as a step up from the Grover baritone pegs I had installed earlier. Hopefully, I got ones from the good batch.

    1. My concern though is it's not just one batch - it's been happening for a few years now

    2. I got a set of Graph-Tech tuners and put them on my tenor Islander and two of the posts snapped off while I was stringing it!! They told me "Oh yeah, we've made some improvements in the post material to fix that" Good to know after the fact eh? They did send me a new set and they have been fine but my confidence level in them is nil at this point.

    3. Thing is - I heard the same - that they had changed the material - but that was back in 2020. In 2022 Martin started using them - so why then have I seen Martin owners having the same issue two or three years later. I don't buy there was anything changed at all, or if so, not enough changed

  5. Here I thought you were going to review a ukulele from our Virginia Phil Davidson!

    (But I'm not disappointed that you reviewed one from the other guy...)


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