31 Mar 2024

Martin Beck Spruce and Mahogany Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

A ukulele hop back over to North America, and once again I am blessed to look at something from this Canadian Luthier. This is a Martin Beck Spruce and Mahogany Concert Ukulele.

Martin Beck Spruce Mahogany Concert Ukulele

Martin is Martin van Humbeck from Vancouver Island who builds under the name 'Martin Beck'. I've been very lucky to see his work before as I say, and they were two different tenors I looked at in 2021 and 2022 which both went on to receive the highest scores i've ever given in ukulele reviews (do go and refresh your memory for more background on Martin). Sublime was not the word. So when World of Ukes in the UK (who partner with him to bring his instruments to these shores) asked me if I wanted to look at a Concert variety I jumped at the chance. As I've been saying lately, my like for concerts has been growing a lot. I wonder if he can turn those same tenor skills to good use here?


This is an all hand made double bout concert with a pleasing narrow overall profile that has a hint of vintage to me, like the oldest Hawaiian sopranos whilst still looking modern on the lower bout. Naturally it's made from all solid tone woods which, being a luthier build, can vary to suit what you want so this is just an 'example'. Here Martin has paired a top of AAAA grade sitka spruce with 'Ribbon Grain' mahogany back and sides. That top wood is superb quality and interestingly, both the top and back are made from single sheets with no jointing. I presume that is achievable due to the skinnier side to side measurement as this is something you more commonly see on a soprano. It's all delightful and of course the darker wood back and sides pair with the top wonderfully, both in visual contrast, but also tonally with a darker wood taking the edge of the bright spruce. A classic combination.

Martin Beck Spruce Mahogany Concert Ukulele body

The bridge is a pin style made from Amazonian rosewood and is flawlessly tidy in the finish. When I first saw pictures of these concerts I was not sure that pins would work on a diminutive concert body but can say that in the flesh this doesn't take over the instrument in the slightest. In fact, it makes me think of the Portuguese Machete instrument which commonly come with pins and they have much skinnier bodies! The pins here are made from tintul wood which is tamarind. Sitting in that is a hand carved bone saddle and a string spacing here of 45mm. This is all flawless.

Martin Beck Spruce Mahogany Concert Ukulele bridge

The decoration and finishing here really go to show what a craftsman Martin is, as there's a fair bit of it, but nothing that looks ostentatious or out of place. Every bit of it is studiously applied with no flaws or marks I can see anywhere. Around the top and back are bindings made from bloodwood each with an added purfling strip to edge it. This isn't just flat binding slapped on the side, rather it's been rounded off on the edges leaving a very nice feel on the arm. Around the sound hole is a wide rosette made from burled camphor and bloodwood set slightly offset / asymmetrically and looks great for it. On the tail stripe is a keystone shaped inlay of more burled camphor and sitting in that is a wooden strap button. One side upper bout is his usual style side sound port which is really a case of 'ports' in the plural, cut into the wood in a kind of organic shape. The body is then finished in hand rubbed tru-oil which is flawless too. On the spruce this leaves a glassy smooth finish, and it's a touch more open pore and natural on the mahogany which makes it feel a bit more 'real' - like a good piece of furniture. It's not a thick mirror and nor would I want it to be, but it has a wonderful glossy sheen all the same.

Martin Beck Spruce Mahogany Concert Ukulele decor

Inside is extremely tidy with notched linings and thin, scalloped and tuned braces made from more sitka spruce. The top is X braced on the lower bout.

Martin Beck Spruce Mahogany Concert Ukulele inside

The neck is made from a single piece of mahogany with a carbon fibre rod encased in a central channel.  It's open pore glossed too and tapers to a fairly squashed profile with comfortable veloute 'stopper' at the headstock. Width here is a roomy 38mm with 30mm G to A. Great.

Topping that is more Amazon rosewood for the fingerboard which is in delightful condition and ultra smooth. Its nice to see that, whilst 99% of rosewood you see on instruments is stained dark, this (like the bridge) is well... 'Rose' coloured. It's very pretty.  The fingerboard (and saddle) here are set to a 16" radius for comfort which pairs with the wide nut really nicely. The frets are made from the Gold Evo alloy material that Martin has used before. It's an extremely hard gold coloured material that polishes up like stainless steel and is extremely high end on any fretted instrument. Naturally, the dressing is impeccable here. Small mother of pearl position dots face out at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th and 15th and you get more of those on the side.

Martin Beck Spruce Mahogany Concert Ukulele neck

Beyond the bone nut is the same narrow arrowhead headstock shape Martin has used before, faced in more burled camphor wood and tripped with pearl edging. It looks absolutely divine and like something you'd find on the dashboard of a vintage Jaguar. The Beck logo is inlaid in mother of pearl. Have a read of my previous Beck reviews for the rather amusing reason for this logo which still makes me smile!

Martin Beck Spruce Mahogany Concert Ukulele headstock

Tuner choice could not be better either. He's gone with Gotoh UPT pegs, rear facing planetary gears in gold with vintage style black buttons. Not a single complaint. Superb.

Martin Beck Spruce Mahogany Concert Ukulele tuners

Finishing things are a wooden tail strap button, a set of Worth clear strings in reentrant (with a noiseless thin would low G in the case if you prefer) and a superb quality tweed hard shell case with a Martin Beck name plate on the side, antique clasps and a great strong handle. And yes, it's a serious price, but there is a very serious amount of craftsmanship in this instrument at every turn. This will see you paying £2,199 in the UK.

Martin Beck Spruce Mahogany Concert Ukulele back

So far so stunning. The build and finishing here are just impeccable. I simply can't fault it. Yes, Spruce tops are personal choice but they work so well on strings and of course, being a luthier, you have other choices. But this is totally top draw. The setup is superb too and it's extremely light at only 515g. That combined with the perfect balance and roomy neck makes for a very comfortable instrument to play. It feels wonderful in the hands.

Martin Beck Spruce Mahogany Concert Ukulele sound port

Volume and sustain are both excellent for a concert with a real punch on the projection that is achieved with minimal effort on the playing hand. The bracing is clearly doing a great job here to let the instrument sing.

Martin Beck Spruce Mahogany Concert Ukulele tail

Then the tone.. well this really surprised me. Even with the use of mahogany I was expecting a spruce topped, small bodied concert to be very much on the bright side, but this has a breadth of tone that has really taken me aback. This honestly sounds like a much more complex wood choice rather than this classic combo with a range that is just a delight. It's a tone that immediately tells you that you are far away from factory line instruments and playing something special. You will find different character elements to the sound here each time you play it. There's an incredibly clever build at play here that is doing that and allowing you to coax sounds from the full range out of the instrument.

Strummed the instrument notes are clear in the mix but harmonise with each other creating a shimmery jangle and warble which is extremely pretty and carrying bags of character. Fingerpicking is sublime and has a beautiful chime no matter where you fret on the neck. And it's SO comfortable to just noodle and play this way with that neck. Honestly, my words in this part of the review don't matter. This is simply one of the nicest sounding ukuleles I have played.

So once again I couldn't give Martin anything but a very top score here. This is impeccable and a pretty flawless instrument with a glorious tone, look, finish, build, the lot. About as good as things get really. 

VERY highly recommended


Model: Martin Beck Spruce and Mahogany
Scale: Concert
Body: Solid AAAA spruce top, solid 'Ribbon Grain' mahogany back and sides
Bridge: Amazon rosewood pin bridge
Saddle: Bone
Spacing at saddle: 45mm
Finish: Tru Oil
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Amazon Rosewood with 16" radius
Frets: 20 Evo Gold Frets, joined at 14th
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 38mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: Gotoh UPT
Strings: Worth Clear (Noiseless wound low G also in case)
Extras: Tail strap button, tweed hard case
Country of origin: Canada
Weight: 515g
Price: £2,199


Impeccable build, decor and finish
Classy vintage style shape with a modern feel
Sublime neck and fingerboard
Impeccable fret finishing
Wonderful neck comfort
Superb tuners
Great volume and sustain
Impressive breadth of tone




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








1 comment:

  1. I’ve made a donation as I’ve bought the brother of this from World of Ukes based on this review. It’s got a different back wood so 🤞it’ll be as good.


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