9 Jun 2024

Bonanza Millennium Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Back this week with a ukulele builder who I thought had stopped production. But they are back. This is the new Bonanza Millennium series Tenor Ukulele!

Bonanza Millennium Tenor Ukulele

Bonanza have featured many times on this website and have always charmed me with their quirky designs, even quirkier build techniques yet always turning out sounding great. They are the brainchild of Pete Mai in the USA, a cabinet maker by trade who has had quite the run of Bonanza instruments over recent years. In fact, this new series is called the Millennium as it marked his 1,000th build! Not long after one my last Bonanza review of the Oakridge Tenor (a great uke!) I read that Pete was hanging up his tools and retiring. This was partly due to him needing eye surgery on cataracts which ended up knocking him for six in a difficult recovery that didn't go to plan. In fact he wasn't even sure he'd be able to start again as his vision was so impaired. I'm glad to say that things have improved and he's back in the saddle for now with these new models.


What I've always liked about Bonanza is not just their innovative building methods, but also that with each one I see, Pete has introduced another 'trick' or 'idea' into the process. I've often said that Bonanza ukes are the ones I first look at and think 'that's not going to work' and then I find they DO work. And work very well! So the Millennium takes some of the build techniques he's used before but also adds some more. In terms of the core build, like several Bonanza ukes going back to the Oreo, this is made from two routed blocks of wood (front and back) which are then put together in a clamshell to create a thin sound chamber. That is to say we are not talking a top and back glued on to separate sides, but a top and back that also form the sides as part of the same piece, carved out like an ashtray to create a chamber. It's worked well for Bonanza but the difference here is both the combination of wood strips glued together to create the stripes before routing out, but even more so with the fact that the neck is integral to the top section rather than the neck being bolted on.  As such there are literally only two pieces to most of this uke - the top and integral neck and the back (also a combination of woods in stripes to match the front). That's extremely cool and reminds me of those through body necks on bass guitars. The woods here are the paler Aspen wood with the stripes made from black walnut, but other combinations can be used on request. Personally I love this look and the contrast - kind of 'go faster stripes'! This is in a more standard double bout with sloping cutaway on the top shoulder but Pete can offer other shapes too. Oh and whilst this is a tenor, it's also available in baritone. Talk about different!

Bonanza Millennium Tenor Ukulele body

The bridge is a through style that Pete has used before made from walnut with star engravings for the string holes. That holds a straight topped Corian saddle (a material regularly used by Pete) with string spacing of 43mm

Bonanza Millennium Tenor Ukulele bridge

There is no other decoration here, but with those stripes why would you even need anything? That being said, Pete is famous for offering all sorts of personal customisation by way of engravings on the top and back if you want them. The finish is a rubbed satin which is pretty decent all over. A word I usually say about all luthier built instruments though is that you will tend to see tooling marks here and there. It's the case here, but I always say that's cool with me as it shows it was finished by hand. It's quite noticeable around the heel area and upper bouts though..

Bonanza Millennium Tenor Ukulele decor

Inside is not worth me photographing as Pete has sent the picture below to show you how this works . In a new development he has employed 'Falcate bracing' to this one which are the curved braces you can see. This is a technique that I think was developed by an Australian luthier which uses the extra strength you get with curves to allow a luthier to use smaller braces and still get the same tension. It's an interesting idea but when I consider that Pete routs the braces on these to be integral to the body rather than applying them afterwards i'm not sure how that impacts in this case. Still, they look cool! You'll also see in the other pictures that the sound hole edge looks thick which implies the whole top is, but as you can see that is a ring around the edge left by the routing to strengthen it.  You'll also see from the picture the reason I made that 'that won't work' comment as there are some chunky wood pieces here.. but go back through my Bonanza reviews to see my repeated surprises!

Bonanza Millennium Tenor Ukulele inside
Credit - Pete Mai

The neck as I say is integral to the top section with one of the black walnut stripes continuing along its length which looks great. The profile is a bit 'Magic Fluke' like which is a feel my hands enjoy and tapers to a very roomy 40mm nut with 31mm from G to A.

The fingerboard is made of more walnut and is in great shape. Pete has used his 'self healing' technique for the frets which means they are seated in slots that don't reach the ends. This means no sharp ends or any need for binding as they don't reach that far. They are also really skinny almost bar frets. You get 18 of those joined at the 15th. The markers are inlaid in pale wood in offsets at the 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th and 15th and these 'cut through to create side dots too. Bonanza are not unique with these, but it's a technique I like. I will say thought that the finishing of the frets needs a bit of work on this one with a bit of polish residue hanging around on the upper frets.

Bonanza Millennium Tenor Ukulele neck

The headstock is the usual simple squared off Bonanza affair, but looks ultra cool on account of that integral walnut stripe running right through it. The Bonanza logo is the usual etching on the top face.

Bonanza Millennium Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners are sealed chrome gears with small black buttons that work ok. Sure, I would much prefer open gears, but not only does Pete give you choices on these, being a tenor these are carried well enough by the larger instrument.

Bonanza Millennium Tenor Ukulelet uners

And finishing it off are a couple of strap buttons and set of Seaguar fluorocarbon strings on 1-3 with a wound low G. I'm not a wound low G person myself, but I never adjust scores for this as it's not a 'forced choice' - you can tell Pete what you want. He also offers other options like pickups, cases and the wood choices. What has changed since I last looked at a Bonanza is the price as this comes in (in this spec) at $699. Now, I never like to dis a home made builder on the craft that makes their living and I also have to accept that the cost of living in most areas in the west has sky-rocketed. In addition Pete explains these take a lot more work on account of those composite stripes front and back and I can see that. Still, over the years we have gone from Bonanza ukes that were at more impulse prices to this which I think will take a bit more consideration. I can see WHY it is that price, but still - I have to compare it fairly to other Bonanza instruments.

Bonanza Millennium Tenor Ukulele back

All in all though another Bonanza that so far has put a huge smile on my face. More innovation here and for me what I think is an absolutely stellar look with those through neck stripes. Sure, some of the finishing is a little more 'hand done', but it's a real home made instrument from the USA not from a faceless production line. It's incredibly light at only 560g and the thin body is a delight to hold. Oh boy that neck is comfortable too.

Basics first on the play - the volume here makes you ask 'how the hell is it doing that'. Strummed this has a terrific punch and bark that belies the construction type and slim dimensions. It's like a cannon if you strum it hard. Sustain too is good and whilst the low G will be helping with that, even the treble strings ring on very well. It's one of those instruments where you can feel it vibrating in every part of your body that is touching it. Once again, an instrument you think shouldn't work defying the odds!

Tone wise the obvious first take is this is a bright sounding instrument. A little too bright for my personal taste with tenors which I like darker and woodier, so perhaps a different wood choice would changes things here (Pete has made darker sounding instruments). But we are in the subjective stakes here as I know a great many people love crisp bright sounding ukes. Strummed this one plays itself, projecting volume without a lot of effort. The notes played this way are all extremely clear and cut through and the feel of the sound is of a bouncier, peppier smaller instrument. Very rhythmical and jangly. It's like a concert sound.

Fingerpicking changes quite significantly. The tone is extremely pretty, but needs more effort to get the volume out and feels a bit softer in this style. That's not a complaint, it's just a much more laid back instrument used this way - a porch picker as I say in the video. It's very comfortable to play this way though with that neck that suits me down to the ground, just different on the ears. The clarity is still great too though, just more relaxed. All in all, as I keep saying, a ukulele that shouldn't work this well, but does. It kind of doesn't sound like 'what it is' (being a tenor uke) - more it's own thing, but all very pretty regardless and very comfortable to play.

I'm so glad Pete got back to building and hasn't lost his 'knack' of trying out new developments. I adore the look of this one and could happily lay back in the garden in the sun picking this. No, it's not akin to a factory uke, but why would it be - but just bear that in mind if you like smooth poly finishes. The tone is very crisp and it punches sound out in a way that is really surprising. It's a shame that costs have risen, but isn't that the case for most things these days?

Still, yet another Bonanza that you really should take a look at!


Model: Bonanza Millennium Series
Scale: Tenor
Body: Solid Aspen and black walnut clamshell
Bridge: Walnut, through bridge
Saddle: Corian
Spacing at saddle: 41mm
Neck: Integral to body top
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: Corian
Nut width: 40mm, 31mm G to A
Tuners: Chrome sealed gears
Strings: Seaguar fluorocarbon plus wound low G
Extras: Strap buttons (other options at cost)
Weight: 560g
Country of origin: USA
Price: $699


Fabulous looks
Yet more Bonanza innovation
Wonderful neck comfort
Excellent volume
Good sustain
Crisp clear tone


Some finishing marks
Would prefer open gears
A little bright for my taste in these woods
Not as cheap as they once were


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









  1. Fascinating! I love the integrated bracing, makes so much sense for a thin body boutique design such as this. The sound is as unique as the design, almost guitar in some sense; like at the end of a strum you get all these extra sounds!

  2. Thanks for the review Barry. A bit of a shame about the price, but still not bad for US-made under a grand. I've got a Bonanza Homestead Baritone that I love and their prices are only slightly higher than they were in '21 when I bought mine.


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