GEWA Manoa M-CO Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

24 Sept 2023

GEWA Manoa M-CO Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

My first time with this European ukulele brand that i've been meaning to get around to for a while. This is the GEWA Manoa M-CO Concert Ukulele.

GEWA Manoa M-CO Concert Ukulele

GEWA are a German musical instrument brand that have been around since the 1920's and are still carrying a range of instruments from strings to drums, keys and wind instruments. I believe these days they are largely (if not solely) marketing far eastern instruments under their own brand name, but as a name they are well known in Germany and widely available in European stores. They also seem to be the European parent now to some other well known brands like Ovation guitars and DW drums. Their ukulele offerings are numerous and range from the less serious models with printed design tops to more standard looking instruments like this one. 


The Manoa series are a range of solid spruce top instruments that come in soprano through to tenor with a couple of electro versions added to the mix. This is the straight acoustic concert version and at first glance it's standard and classy even if it isn't going to win any awards for individuality. As I say, this has a solid spruce top which is clearly not an AAA grade tonewood selection as there is a bit of wavering in the chubby grain lines, but it's hardly unattractive to look at. The back and sides are made of laminate Sapele which provides that classic contrast with the pale yellow top. The Sapele is much less interesting, and whilst it has a nice enough orange / brown stain but not a lot else going on to speak of. This has a two piece top and back, but interestingly a single side piece. It's all rather generic for me, but they are not the only brand to have something looking like this in their stable.

GEWA Manoa M-CO Concert Ukulele body

The bridge is made from walnut and is a tie bar style, screwed in place. It's pretty shabby on the wood finishing with some noticeable burrs and shavings hanging off various places. The saddle is made of NuBone and has a straight top. Spacing here is 39mm. Something about the whole bridge looks a little large to me too.

GEWA Manoa M-CO Concert Ukulele bridge

The decoration is low key but effective enough and thankfully not big on the bling. Around the top edge  is a white / cream edge binding strip and this is paired with some herringbone wood inlay marquetry around the top face. This same inlay is repeated around the sound hole. Sadly the finishing here is scruffy in several places where the finish looks to have blown out the delicate wood pieces. They are not noticeable from a distance, but they are when you look more closely and with a repeating geometric design, stand out. The body is then finished in an open pore satin which, apart from those inlay flaws is not gloopy or over done. In fact it's very light and thin.

GEWA Manoa M-CO Concert Ukulele decor

Inside is fairly standard with thin braces, notched linings and not a lot of mess. The top is X braced too. What I do notice though is just how monumentally thick the top wood is. Sure, it's solid, but I can't help feeling that they've over cooked it for fear of splits and returns. This looks chunky to me. One of those where I say I would take a good thin laminate top over a top that is 'solid for the sake of it'.

GEWA Manoa M-CO Concert Ukulele inside

The neck wood is not specified, so will be a generic hardwood like okoume or nato. There are multiple stacks on the very visible heel joint and an equally noticeable headstock joint which isn't straight. Thankfully it's finished in satin. Less happily I see it has a very far eastern rounded back profile and generic 34mm nut with 27mm G to A. Not for me personally. Where the neck joins the body there are more flaws in the finish too.

That is topped with more walnut for the fingerboard which looks to be in good condition. It's also edge bound in more similarly coloured wood and, surprisingly, the side edges are 'rolled' for comfort. That's nice and surprising for the price. It comes with 18 frets, joined at the 14th which are all dressed well with not a hint of any sharp edges. Sadly though a couple of the upper frets are tarnished on this example and need polishing. Pearl position dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th and 15th and these are paired with dots down the side.

GEWA Manoa M-CO Concert Ukulele neck

Beyond the NuBone nut is an asymmetric headstock that reminds me of the look of those on Kremona ukuleles. It's faced in a reddish darker wood and looks rather plain, particularly with the bore-fest of the GEWA screen print 'logo' which is just a basic font in black. A word here though, as I see there seem to be various versions of this headstock including a dark faced version with gold lettering and one with a more stylised logo which looks better still. This is the worst of the bunch and bear in mind I didn't get a choice! I think this is cheap and tatty looking.

GEWA Manoa M-CO Concert Ukulele headstock

The tuners are unbranded open gears in gold with small black buttons. They look like they are trying to be Grover, but the quality is not quite at that level. Still, they seem to work ok if a little gaudy.

GEWA Manoa M-CO Concert Ukulele tuners

It comes finished with a set of Aquila strings and a basic branded padded bag. And the RRP on these in UK pricing comes in at about £160. Whilst that's not a lot of money in the scheme of things, it does place it in a very congested point in the market so will need to shine to stand out, particularly with these generic looks and QC issues.

GEWA Manoa M-CO Concert Ukulele back

So it's not one that has set my heart racing so far, partly because of the generic look, but also the irritating finish scruffs. On the other side of the coin the core build seems ok and it doesn't 'feel' like cheap junk to hold. The setup though needs work. Whilst the nut is only a touch high it's not too bad but the 12th fret action is right at the top end at 3mm (possibly a touch more). That needs taking down. It's not overly heavy though at 490g and balances ok.

In basic terms the volume here is ok. It's not the loudest ukulele I have played, but it's not going to let you down in a group and is reasonably good. Sadly the sustain is too low for my tastes and that dies off rather quickly meaning characterful play is going to be more difficult.

A spruce top you would expect to be bright and whilst they can be tempered by darker back and side woods, I find that works less well with laminate back and sides. And so it is here as this is just far too 'one trick pony' on the brightness stakes for my ears. It's certainly a crisp sound when strummed, but I find the brightness turns a little confused and muddy with some strums rather than producing a cut glass sound. Hey, it works as a uke sound, but it's as generic when played as it is on looks.

Fingerpicking is a touch nicer as spruce gives a clear bell like chime to the notes which, despite the poor setup, seem to deliver higher up the neck too. The lack of sustain though brings me back to the 'one trick pony' reference as it's not delivering a great deal more played this way. Not much character here either. It plays notes, but not much more.

All in all, this is not a terrible ukulele and had I looked at something like this fifteen years ago it would probably stand out more than it does today. Nowadays though, ukes like this are ten a penny and many I have seen (including the Amazon only stuff) not only look like this but beat it on tone, play AND price. So, no, it's not a huge sum of money, but when you are up against such a wide range of alternatives it's hard to give it a recommendation. 

That doesn't mean you made a mistake if you bought one, as it does work as a core uke. Just easily beaten. 

Time has moved on.


Model: GEWA Manoa M-CO
Scale: Concert
Body: Solid spruce top, laminate sapele back and sides
Bridge: Walnut, tie bar
Saddle: NuBone
Spacing at saddle: 39mm
Finish: Satin
Neck: Unspecified
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: NuBone
Nut width: 34mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded open gears
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Gig bag
Weight: 490g
Country of origin: China?
Price: Circa £160


Generally sound build
Nice fingerboard edges
Decent enough tuners
Reasonable volume


Very generic looks
Several finish QC and setup issues
Thick top
Neck is not for my hands
Headstock looks cheap
Low sustain
Confused overly bright tone
Easily beaten on price


Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 7.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8 out of 10 









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