25 Feb 2024

Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Elite Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

It's always nice to get a ukulele brand that surprised me out of the blue back on the site with another offering. This is the Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Concert Elite Ukulele.

Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Concert Ukulele

Caravelle Kitchen is the home made brand of Matthieu Theuret from the south west coast of France, and if you want to know more about the intriguing back story (and name) take a look a the Monoxyl Mezzo Soprano of his I looked at recently. I liked that one a great deal so was excited when he offered to lend me another style of his he has become well known for. And striking it is - a gypsy jazz guitar inspired ukulele in the concert scale. That inspiration is, in fact, directly taken from the Selmer- Maccaferri collaboration guitars made from the 1930's - 1950's, and most famously associated with Django Reinhardt. It's a look that is immediately recognisable with it's sound hole and square-ish bouts, but not so much with the ukulele.


He builds these in concert scale from a range of solid woods. The top here is made of grade AA spruce and the back with a nice contrast of solid mango from the Philippines. The top is in two pieces and looks to be great quality with dead straight tight grains. The sides are in two pieces, whereas the back is a single sheet which surprises me for this body shape, even if it is just a concert. The grain is typically mango with a lot of variation which I think book matching would improve, but it's a minor point. The whole shape is very much Selmer with the square, fat lower bout and staggered shoulder cutway on the upper bout. Incidentally, I think the 'Elite' tag here denotes this being made traditionally from solid sheets as opposed to the less decorated 'non Elite' version with back and sides routed from a single block of mahogany.

Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Concert Ukulele body

The bridge, naturally, follows the Selmer Jazz look with a gold plated tail piece anchoring the strings with surgeons loops. You will probably want to consult your 'Boy Scouts Book of Knots' for string changes here. The strings then pass over a floating bridge made of rosewood that is compensated and notched to hold the string spacing. Floating bridges are normally the preserve of arch tops, but the Selmer models were flat tops like this and used them so this seems authentic. As I understand it the 'floating' part is the middle section the ends of which notch into the fixed side moustache ends. It all looks great. Spacing here is 45mm.

Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Concert Ukulele bridge

Decoration is simple but effective. Around the top edge is a dark wood binding strip and around the sound hole is a laser etched concentric ring affair which, if you look closely also has an engraving of a sailing boat in the bottom section - a nod to the 'Caravelle' name. I don't normally go for laser etching but I think it works here for the effect he is going for and looks authentic again. A word on the sound hole too. This is a D shaped sound hole or 'Grande Bouche' which were made famous by the original Selmer Maccaferri instruments. As I understand it when the Maccaferri connection stopped, Selmer offered a version with a small round sound hole too. Matthieu makes both and explains that the D hole is more for chord work whereas the smaller sound hole offers a tighter sound more suited to melody. Nice. The whole body is finished in a Rubio oil, a non-toxic alternative to Tru Oil i've seen a few consvicencious builders use. It's all very tidy.

Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Concert Ukulele decor

Inside is fairly tidy with notched linings and regular back and upper braces. There is a bit of glue mess though if such things bother you. The top is vertically braced whereas original Selmers were ladder braced, though this is only a small concert uke! There are also side braces either side of the sound hole to strengthen that big gap.

Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Concert Ukulele inside

The neck is made from Khaya with what seems to be a single joint only in the heel which is very well hidden. It's finished in satin too and is glassy smooth. That tapers to a fairly standard (for a concert) 35mm nut with 27mm from G to A. The Selmers were noted for their wide necks so might have been nicer to have a wider nut here too. It's fairly round on the back but not overly so, but this reviewer would just like a touch more space here.

The fingerboard is made of ebony with a touch of colour variation, but generally dark and in great condition. I don't believe it is edge bound, but it doesn't need to be as these are semi hemi frets that are dressed and rounded before fitting so don't reach the edge of the board and are glassy smooth. You get a huge 22 of those joined at the 14th, PLUS a zero fret to hold the action height. Also authentic to the originals is that the board hangs over the sound hole with an extension which looks great. Position dots in pearly are placed facing out at the 5th, 7th, and 12th with very subtle companions on the side too.

A quick word about zero frets too as I see some people get quite stuffy about them, calling them 'lazy'. The reality is that some very high end makers use them for consistent low action and tonality ensuring open strings sound the same as fretted notes. Players like Martin Carthy have specced them, and great builders like Fylde use them a lot. Oh.. and those original Selmer guitars? Yep, they had them too, though they were admittedly steel strung.

Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Concert Ukulele neck

The nut is made of bone and, because of the zero fret is just there to hold spacing. Beyond that is a simple tapered arrow head headstock which is nice and small. It seems to be faced in a darker wood and looks great without a logo (the branding is on the label inside the uke). Selmers had slot heads, but I am personally glad he wasn't tempted for that here on a concert.

Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Concert Ukulele headstock

The tuners are unbranded friction pegs, but looking at the mechanisms they are the sort I would buy and comparable with good Grovers. They look great and work just fine.

Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Concert Ukulele tuners

He's finished this off with Martin M600 strings and the asking price for this one is about €500. I say 'this one' as with all luthier things this is just an example. Some offerings will be more, some less. What I will say is that for the build, finish and the fact this is hand made, that price is more than fair I think.

Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Concert Ukulele back

So things are all pretty good here. The core build is great and the finish is pretty flawless for a hand made model. I can't get over how light it is at only 450g - it's like a feather! It balances well too! Setup is also decent, but the zero fret is helping here of course and the saddle is easily adjustable for scale.

Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Concert Ukulele D hole

So a light, thin topped resonant box.. So sure enough the volume here is terrific. It absolutely punches like a cannon with little effort. Sustain is there, but it's more subtle and you kind of have to listen for it. You can feel it throughout the instrument, but the main thing that hits you is that volume and crisp clear brightness caused by the combination of spruce and those strings.

I have to say, purely subjectively, that it's a bit too bright for my own tastes and I would experiment with strings, but the clarity is stunning. I find that the subtle sustain is not so obvious when strummed, but actually that's not necessarily a bad thing if you are wanting this for playing jazz chord rhythm pieces - after all, many jazz guitars are not known for their screaming sustain. It creates a bouncy staccato sort of sound played this way which I think is exactly what it is meant to be. Sure, for me, still a bit too much on the bright, but I think that could easily be tamed with a slightly warmer string set. It's clear to me though that played this way it can shine.

Fingerpicking for me finds that the brightness is a little too much and it almost lends it a resonator / banjo edge to the tone. Again, it's extremely clear though and with great volume, but a little too zingy for me. Again purely subjective as it's clear right up the neck, accurate and tuneful. In fact, it clearly has a pretty tone.

I'm very taken with this one and think the looks here are stunningly different for a ukulele. The build and finish are great and i've probably made too much of the bright tone thing (as it's subjective) as this is a very clear sounding, nicely voiced instrument that suits the style I think it is built for. And you certainly won't see many of these down the uke club! 

It's a joy to see what independent builders are doing and therefore pleased to give another recommendation to Caravelle Kitchen here - nice work!


Model: Caravelle Kitchen Jazz Manouche Elite
Scale: Concert
Body: Solid AA Spruce top, solid mango back and sides
Bridge: Metal tail, floating rosewood bridge
Spacing at saddle: 45mm
Finish: Rubio Oil
Neck: Khaya
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 22, 14 to the body, semi-hemi dressed
Nut: Bone, with zero fret
Nut spacing: 35mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded friction pegs
Strings: Martin Fluorocarbon
Weight: 450g
Country of origin: France
Price: €500


Killer looks
Good build and finish
VERY light
Terrific volume and clarity
Nice bouncy rhythmical strummed tone
Great fret dressing
Fair price


Bookmatched back would be nice
Would prefer 'slightly' wider nut
I'd experiment with strings


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








1 comment:

  1. An interesting wood combination I have not seen before. Both on the bright side. Would like to hear a solid mango version. Aesthetically interesting too. The spruce to me is too yellow. An all mango version would address that too.


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