Millar Custom All Solid Sapele Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

22 Oct 2023

Millar Custom All Solid Sapele Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

Sometimes a ukulele just looks 'right up my street' at Got A Ukulele towers. This is the Millar Custom All Solid Sapele Soprano.

Millar Custom Solid Sapele Soprano Ukulele

That intro is loaded with bias for an independent review site, but I can't hide that fact that a no-nonsense soprano is always high on my list. The Millar brand too are ukulele makers that have only ever impressed me when I have reviewed them. So when I saw World of Ukes put a post up about this one I made my views clear. When they then offered for me to take a look, I was hardly going to say no. But did I get it wrong? Are first impressions dangerous? Let's delve in.


Rather than an 'off the peg' Millar, this is a custom offering made in Taiwan by their head luthier, Eric. And despite being otherwise undecorated there was something I saw in the photos Matt posted that just made my jaw drop. When I looked into it further I was also surprised. This is a double bout soprano in a very traditional shape with a skinny waist and much narrower upper bout that I really like. It harks more to the earliest Hawaiian shapes (but not quite) more than the more modern swoopy curves of some instruments today. The surprise came when I learned that this is made from solid sapele. When I see sapele I, perhaps unfairly, assume that it's a cheaper material than some others and it is usually also quite plain. Here though is a set of woods that really quite beautiful and I believe it's 'birds eye sapele'. It reminds me of the sort of burl finish that you would see on a glossy cigar humidor in a businessman's office... (Matt went with the dashboard of a sports car, but I didn't want to steal his thunder..) . It's not massively over the top but more subtle and shows it's colours in different lighting angles. It's swirly in places and looks almost quilted and flamed. I absolutely adore it. The build is using two pieces for the top back and sides - not totally necessary on a soprano but nice to see as you get some bookmatching.

Millar Custom Solid Sapele Soprano Ukulele body

The bridge material is not specified, but is a very simple tidy slot bridge that looks to me like it is rosewood. Sitting in that is a straight topped bone saddle. Spacing here is 38mm.

Millar Custom Solid Sapele Soprano Ukulele bridge

As I say, there is no other decoration on the instrument, but with woods like this and an interesting shape I am pleased about that. Let the wood do the talking. It's finished in a deep gloss which is like a mirror and makes the swirls in the wood grain really pop and shine. It's largely done well but a slight touch heavy around the end of the fingerboard. The top and back edges are also chamfered off so they feel smooth against the arm which is also good to see.

Millar Custom Solid Sapele Soprano Ukulele finish

Inside is nice and tidy with small braces and notched linings. The usual paper label is replaced by a numbered wooden label and the Millar logo is also stamped on the neck block.

Millar Custom Solid Sapele Soprano Ukulele inside

The neck wood is not specified but could also be sapele or mahogany. It's jointed at the heel and headstock but they are extremely well hidden and at first I didn't even think there was a heel joint. It's glossed like the body which I would prefer to be satin myself. It tapers to a generic 35mm nut width with 27mm string spacing, but the back profile is flattened and shallow which makes up for that with my hands.

It's topped with what looks like more rosewood with slightly rolled edges for comfort and is all in well oiled condition. It's also edge bound with dark wood to hide the fret ends of which you get 17 joined a the 12th.  They are dressed extremely well and very shallow with almost slightly flattened tops to them.  That with the low action makes for a very comfortable fretting experience that's edging toward a fretless feel! Simple pearl dots face out at the 5th, 7th and 10th and you get dots on the side too.

Millar Custom Solid Sapele Soprano Ukulele neck

The headstock is a three pointed crown affair, though I was disappointed to see that the colour differs quite markedly from the body or even the back of the neck. It's very pale and i'm not sure works aesthetically for me. Maybe it's been done specifically to create a contrast, but I think that would work better the other way through the use of a darker face plate. The Millar logo is a pearly screen print under the gloss.

Millar Custom Solid Sapele Soprano Ukulele headstock

The tuners are sublime Gotoh UPT planetary gears which are, quite simply, about as good as they get on ukuleles. These have the classy gold trim rather than the more agricultural silver and come with black buttons.

Millar Custom Solid Sapele Soprano Ukulele tuners

It is finished off with what the World of Ukes site says are Fremont Blackline strings, but to my eye these look like Worth Browns (Matt? I thought blacklines were less brown?). No matter either way, they are both great string sets. It comes with nothing else though I think a hard case should feature in the price. And when these are available (rarely I guess being a custom shop instrument!) would set you back £599. That's a bit of money for something so simple, but it's a serious instrument. Still something feels a little expensive for me when you could get something like a Pono solid soprano for a bit less or even the Millar Phil Doleman for considerably less. Custom shop stuff costs I guess...

Millar Custom Solid Sapele Soprano Ukulele back

So much to like here with a very good build and lovely finish / look. It's a teeny little thing that is very comfortable to hold at only 425g and feels great. I very much like the neck. Setup is good too but i'd expect that from World of Ukes.

Matt says in his product spec that he didn't think it was the loudest ukulele and whilst I kind of get that with fingerpicking, when strummed it's got enough bark to keep me happy. No, perhaps not the loudest soprano I have heard, but it's really no slouch for me. Sustain is absolutely brilliant here which goes on and on with a nice harmonic warble. With a soprano that's a real boon as the small bodies can often be staccato in sound. No gripes on that score.

The tone has a real warm richness to it that again belies the small scale and diminutive body. It has bags of character and harmonises with itself very nicely. It's foremost a woody tone to my ears but with a kind of fizzy edge on top that adds a zing on top. It's a really classy grown up sound that I am very taken with. Strummed the notes are clear and punchy enough for traditional rhythmical play with tonnes of character and that zingy finish. Fingerpicked, as I say, does seem to require a little more effort to get the volume up, but the tone is charming and rich. It's a compelling sound that I have been going back to all day since it arrived.

So, I think I was right to say it was 'right up my street' when I first saw it. The looks for me are just great and whilst i'd make a change to the neck finish and headstock facing, i'm being really picky. The sound is anything but one dimensional and almost sounds different with each piece of music you play as it has complexity and character. I personally think it's a touch heavy on the price, but I appreciate costs are rising and now I have played it, I could easily see me paying for something like this. I believe more may be coming, but not with this birds eye wood which is a shame. Though if the build and tone are anything like this I will be keeping an eye open regardless!

Very highly recommended.


Model: Millar Custom All Solid Sapele
Scale: Soprano
Body: Solid Sapele
Bridge: Rosewood (?) Slot style
Saddle: Bone
Spacing at saddle: 38mm
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Unspecified
Fingerboard: Rosewood?
Frets: 17, 12 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 35mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Gotoh UPT in gold and black
Strings: Fremont Blackline 
Country of origin: Taiwan
Weight: 425g
Price: £599


Wonderfully simple yet interesting look
Beautiful wood and body shape
Great build and finish in every department
Superb tuners
Great sustain
Warm rich yet zingy tone with lots of character


Why the pale headstock?
A case would be nice for the asking price


Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9.5 out of 10
Sound - 9.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10









Post a Comment

Please leave me a comment!

Help Support Got A Ukulele

Please Help Keep This Site Going!

If you enjoy this blog, donations are welcomed to allow me to invest more time in bringing you ukulele articles. Aside from the Google ads, I don't get paid to write this blog and for reasons of impartiality a not sponsored by brands or stores. Your donations all go back into the site to allow me to keep bringing you reviews, and in the end the ukuleles acquired are given to local schools and charities.