17 Mar 2024

Emerald Synergy Uke Harp Ukulele - REVIEW

Well it IS St Patrick's Day after all! With this weeks ukulele we hop over to Ireland to look at the 'Synergy Uke' Harp Ukulele from Emerald Guitars. Hold on to your hats.. there's a lot to get through here!

Synergy Uke Harp Ukulele

Emerald Guitars are instrument makers based in Donegal, Ireland set up by luthier Alastair Hay and well known for their carbon fibre instruments and out of the ordinary designs. That material choice seems to run deep with Alastair who originally worked with his father in his fibreglass engineering company. That led to Alastair doing a work exchange to St Louis in which he worked with carbon fibre making F1 racing boats from the same material. That set a spark to him wanting to develop carbon fibre instruments from which he built his first, an acoustic guitar in the late 1990's. Emerald as a business started in the early 2000's and since has built up a staggering range of stunning looking acoustic guitars, basses, lap steels, harp guitars and, of course.. ukuleles. Well not regular ukuleles... Harp ukuleles in the form of this Synergy Uke. What is a harp ukulele? Well read on, but we are talking about a regular ukulele neck with the addition of four extra bass strings which float away from the fretboard to be plucked in harmonious accompaniment to the main uke. There are one or two other brands out there making these such as aNueNue, and players like Gracie Terzian have made them well known, but this is my first experience with one. And that, ladies and gentlemen means a challenge for me in playing it in the video!!


Like other Emerald instruments, the Synergy Uke is made pretty much solely from carbon fibre. And I must write a word or two on that concept in instruments. In the ukulele world the term is often used erroneously with many of the plastic ukes out there claiming they are carbon fibre but are actually just composite plastics with some carbon in the 'mix'. There are precious few real carbon fibre uke brands out there that use real woven carbon fibre sheets as the material, including Blackbird and Klös alongside Emerald. It's an immediately recognisable material known for it's great strength, light weight and resilience to elements, temperature and humidity. Think 'parts of a Formula 1 car'... This uses that material in the form of a beautifully moulded back sides and neck with a drop top that is so nicely put together with no harsh edges it looks like it was poured like treacle into the shape. Generally speaking it's a modern styled double bout with top shoulder cutaway, but obviously also has the harp extension on the bass side running to the second headstock. It's stunning. Somebody described the 'headstock' of the harp section as looking like an Irish 'Hurley' which also seems appropriate considering the provenance here! The scale length of the uke neck incidentally is 17.5 inches so that's pretty much a tenor ukulele at the core. The Synergy comes in two main flavours, either a full carbon fibre model or this one with a wooden veneer top with this one made from koa and other wood options also available - in fact the purchasing process is very much focussed on you customising your build on the website to what you want rather than them holding huge stocks off the peg. On the back and sides the carbon fibre weave is visible, but stained in a yellowy orange sunburst colour to work with the attractive wooden top veneer which is also finished in a sunburst. I just can't stop looking at this body as it's so stunning..

Synergy Uke Harp Ukulele body

The bridge is, naturally, out of the ordinary for a ukulele as it has to hold the regular four strings, plus the four harp strings. It's therefore elongated in an attractive fan shape. It's a tie bar style bridge made from a carbon fibre billet but with a different finishing that is also very attractive. It holds the two saddles which are compensated and made from Graphtech Black Tusq. Spacing at the regular uke strings comes in at 40mm and it's the same for the harp extension.

Synergy Uke Harp Ukulele bridge

The body is not decorated in other ways, but come on, why would it need to be? It's coated in a flawless poly finish which makes the colours pop and shine. On the side waist is a sound hole which looks organic and suits the instrument wonderfully. Elsewhere you will find the electronics control hatch on the back for the LR Baggs Element pickup system and a combo strap button / jack socket on the base. You also get a heel strap button too. More on the pickup later.

Synergy Uke Harp Ukulele finish

There isn't a great deal to see inside other than the interior of the carbon fibre weave. There is no bracing I can see to the top or back on account of the strength of the material in question. I can't get a picture other than on a weird angle on account of the sound hole location as you can see below. This is looking up in to the cutaway shoulder..

Synergy Uke Harp Ukulele inside

The neck and the harp neck are natural extensions to the body mould and on the ukulele neck this tapers to fairly chunky back profile yet with a 37mm nut with 30mm string spacing which is very comfortable. It's glossed in the same way which I kind of wish was more satin feeling, but it's a nice neck all the same.

Topping that is more carbon fibre for the fingerboard which has a radius they don't specify, but is noticeable and adds to the comfort. It's fitted with 19 frets, 12 to the start of the harp extension, and 16 to the base of the shoulder cutaway (i've never reported frets in that way!!). They are polished and dressed impeccably. The edges are bound in black. Outward position markers are in ring designs that look like a kind of glittery orange powder inlay at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th, 15th, 17th and 19th. There are side dots too but bear in mind they get a touch obscured by the harp extension. Obviously there is no fingerboard or frets to the harp part as these strings are designed to be played open.

Synergy Uke Harp Ukulele neck

Beyond the Graphtech nut is an attractive headstock shape formed out of the same carbon fibre and faced in more glossed wood veneer with a sunburst. I love the asymmetric shape here. The Emerald Guitars logo is placed under the gloss and looks to me like a Greyhound. I like that.

Synergy Uke Harp Ukulele headstocks

The tuners on the uke neck are sublime Gotoh UPT's in all black and you get more of the same on the harp headstock. These are as good as uke tuners get in my book so top marks here. A few people commented on early release pictures about the harp headstock as it has raised pins, harp style, to re-route the strings to give them some break angle (the posts being the pseudo 'nut' at this point).

Synergy Uke Harp Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off are a set of un-named flouro uke strings, and four metal wound nylon strings for the harp (two low E strings and two low A's). The uke neck is tuned in standard re-entrant GCEA and the sub strings in FGAC. This model is fitted with an optional LR Baggs Element pickup system with twin saddle strips with sound hole controls, which, like the tuners is about as good as things get for amplification of an instrument so more top marks from me. It also comes with a beautiful padded and branded gig bag, which it really needs on account of the less than usual shape. And the asking price in this spec comes in at €3,685 though you get a lot of options on specs and can take that down to about €3,035 for a standard, non veneer plain acoustic carbon fibre model. Quite honestly, looking at the build, fit and finish, neither price surprised me and I was expecting more. Yes it's a lump of dough, but.. just look at it!

Synergy Uke Harp Ukulele back

I get to test a LOT of ukuleles from the trashy to the sublime, but I can honestly say this is one of the most stunning instruments i've had come through my hands, both in looks and build. The harp element will not be for everyone if course, but for a musician looking for a statement, a new challenge or an addition to their tone, it's bound to be of interest. I've given it some very high sub scores below for that reason as I can't find any issues wrong here so far. Though I have to say, that harp element does indeed present a challenge for me as I have to play it.... And i've never played a harp uke before, so that's a criticism of me and not the instrument of course! Here goes... Please do bear that in mind and check their website for some far better sound samples!

Basics first. The volume here is ok, though acoustically I have heard louder instruments. It's a more laid back affair, but then I wouldn't ever really consider this to be the sort of instrument you would buy for busking unaccompanied, rather you would close mic it or order it with the pickup (like here) and either use that or blend it. Incidentally, as usual I have not recorded a plugged in sample on the review video because there are too many variables in the amp you are using. I have, however plugged it in to a decent acoustic amp and, as expected for LR Baggs it sounds sublimely faithful on tone. Just bear in mind that if you are going straight acoustic that I don't think this to be an acoustic only performance ukulele. Sustain is wonderful and utterly insane when you add the harp bass strings which go on and on like a drone. No complaints there. It's also a comfortable neck with great setup and I believe Emerald have a PLEK system in house which scans individual frets and the strings to ensure pin point accurate adjustments all over it. Nice. It does take a bit of getting used to when it comes to holding it though, but am sure that will come with practice. Considering how much of it there actually is,  it's a somewhat hefty beast at 1.24kg, but balances beautifully and actually doesn't feel overbearing.

Synergy Uke Harp Ukulele sound hole

Tone wise it's something of an odd one to review as this is not a regular ukulele. Turning to the uke neck first, the sound here is extremely clear and 'high end' to my ears. It is certainly on the bright side, and perhaps a touch too bright for me on these strings alone, but that totally misses the rest of the instrument and how this is intended to be played. As I say above this is not an instrument for bashing out three chord pop songs in the uke club, but a much more sophisticated thing. In fact it's not that straightforward to play 'just as a uke' either as I found myself catching the harp strings. Practice may improve that, but I think that misses the point too - they are MEANT to be played. So yes, a bright uke sound, but absolutely crystal clear all over the neck and an extremely pretty tone that is like the ringing sweet notes of a wind up music box. It's clearly meant for fingerpicking to my mind and on this front it's very accomplished. Yes it can be played strummed too, but really, would you other than adding some elements to melodic work?

But then you add in the bass notes and the breadth of tone increases massively. I'd need a lot more time with this to become accustomed to bringing in the right notes to the piece of music, but I can see how this will add a whole layer of tone to a piece of music that a regular ukulele will never be capable of. The warm longing sustain of these harp strings is just on another level to what you will hear from a regular uke. It's compelling to play though would need some practice (though doesn't everything?)

I mean, what more can I say? I think this instrument is something else and very special indeed. It's flawless on the build and looks I think and sounds incredibly pretty when played. But of course this is very much a 'special interest' instrument and not something a casual uke strummer starting out is going to go for. But it would be unfair of me to knock this one down on that basis because I can TOTALLY see how the skilled performer wanting to expand their tonal palette could make some very wonderful music with one of these. If you are performing with melody pieces on the ukulele I can see how this will open up a whole new avenue if you put the work in. I suppose all I WOULD say to Emerald is this.. why not consider making a regular single neck uke as your build on this is a thing of wonder! I think you would clean up!

But we are not here to review the 'what might be', so back to the instrument in hand.... 

Just utterly sublime. VERY highly recommended indeed. How could it not be? 

I need a lie down!


Model: Emerald Synergy Uke
Scale: Tenor / Harp ukulele
Body: All carbon fibre with koa veneer drop top
Bridge: Twin carbon fibre tie bar
Saddle: Two Graphtech Black Tusq
Spacing at saddle: 40mm for each
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Integral, plus harp extension
Fingerboard: Carbon Fibre
Frets: 19, 12 to harp extension, 16 to cutaway.
Nut: Graphtech Black Tusq
Nut width: 37mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: Gotoh UPT (black)
Extras: LR Baggs Element pickup, strap buttons, branded gig bag
Country of origin: Ireland
Weight: 1.24kg
Price: €3,685 in this spec


Stunning looks
Flawless finish
Wonderful neck
Great tuners
Excellent sustain
Clear, high end tone


Nothing I can think of


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








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