16 Jun 2024

Ortega RUGH-BKT Ghost Series Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Sometimes I tend to think there is nothing new under the sun in the ukulele world. This is the Ortega RUGH-BKT Ghost Series Tenor.

Ortega Ghost Tenor Ukulele

Look familiar? Well, my thoughts on that before we get into the detail. I've talked before about ukulele brands taking existing designs and labelling them as their own. I regularly then get people saying 'that's not new - Fenders have been copied for donkeys years and even original Martin ukes arguably lifted their famous uke headstock from existing old Hawaiian ukes'. This much is true of course - it's always happened, though I still think it's lazy. But then sometimes the comparisons are so stark I question where that line is drawn. The similarity here is clearly with the Flight Iris Series. When I reviewed that one I did point out that Flight themselves were clearly following a trend for the 'painted tops / quirky pick guard' style uke first brought to market by aNueNue in their Color series. Perhaps they were doing just the same, though to be fair to Flight with that one they made it quite clear in their own marketing that they said the Iris was 'their take' on the concept, and the colour choices with those were a mile away from the pastel shades of the aNueNue.  Then the Ghost series arrived from Ortega. Is this too a case of it being 'their take' on the aNueNue, or is the Flight the focus here? You tell me. I personally think it's clearly derived from the Iris and goes way beyond it being their 'take' (it's THE SAME), though I have no idea how I can reflect that in the scoring.


On to the details though as there are differences as well as the startling similarities. The Ghost Series are a range of Tenors (the Iris comes in concert, tenor and baritone) which uses a similar 'flat colour painted top with wood coloured back and sides'. The top here is made from solid spruce like the Iris, and whilst the back and sides are similarly laminate, here we have laminate rosewood not mahogany. I like the look of rosewood on back and sides of an instrument (and it's very nice here), but must say I liked the contrast of the aNueNue and Iris in using a paler mahogany choice as I did on the aNueNue. I'll come on to more details on the decoration further below but this one is in flat gloss black on the top and also comes in red, a kind of minty green and a type of seafoam blue (The Iris comes in black, red and dark blue). It's otherwise a fairly standard looking double bout tenor with a familiar rounded shape. Incidentally, it looks like the other Ghost colours are a little more translucent but on this black is example it's completely black under the gloss.

Ortega Ghost Tenor Ukulele body

The bridge is a similar tie bar shape used by Ortega in some of their other instruments and is made from rosewood. It's far tidier than the Flight Iris I looked at to be fair though holds a straight topped black ABS saddle rather than bone. String spacing here is 41mm.

Ortega Ghost Tenor Ukulele bridge

But it's the core decor that is where the similarity is so striking. One difference here is that the overall body finish is a gloss. The gloss is an absolute devil on the black for showing fingerprints and I prefer the satins of the Iris and the aNueNue with these flat colours. It's also quite heavily done particularly around the heel and fretboard end where there is a lot of pooling. It has the same white ABS bindings to the top and back which are quite scruffy in places, particularly at the neck joint. Then the main event. The pick guard. The pearly pick guard. The pearly BLUE pick guard.... I mean, come on... Heck, I didn't like the contrast on the Iris all that much and I don't like it here (even if it is a bit smaller), but why go with the exact same colour on the black? And oddly, whilst the Iris switches the pick guard colour to white on their other finishes, Ortega stick with this blue on all of them. I'm not a fan and this is where the similarity with the Iris gets really silly. One final point on decor - around the sound hole edge is a white trim. That's actually an old vintage style uke design cue which I don't mind, but I do mind how scruffy it is!

Ortega Ghost Tenor Ukulele decor

Inside is pretty standard in construction with notched kerfing and regular bracing an a vertically braced top. It's quite messy though with glue splatter around the sides.

Flight Ghost Tenor Ukulele inside

The neck is made from mahogany and in three obvious pieces. It's finished in a kind of halfway house between gloss and satin so not super shiny, but not totally smooth either with the Iris being much slicker. The profile and nut width are not for me at all with a broom handle back shape and a very skinny (for a tenor) 34mm nut with 27mm spacing. The edges of the nut are also high and sharp which, coupled with the skinny width, is painful on the hands in first position. The Iris neck comfort wins hands down for me.

The fingerboard is made of rosewood and in decent condition. Unlike the Flight this is edge bound in white ABS and I think that dominates too much for me and is also scruffy in places. The Iris gives you wonderfully smooth semi hemi frets, but here the 18 frets joined at the 14th are regularly finished and despite that white binding one or two are sharp on the hands. The fret markers mimic the Iris insofar as they are offset, but whilst the Iris had regular dots, this uses offset lozenge shapes that are.. well... very reminiscent of the Flight Carabao! These are in a blue that matches the pick guard and are placed at the 5th, 8th, 10th, 12th and.... 14th..... 14th? Look there are no real rules on marker positions and I don't ever find myself needing to use them this high up for positioning, but 15th is the norm and this seems very odd and possibly a mistake? Whilst I find the blue on the pick guard far too much, it looks quite nice here. They are paired with side dots in black.

Ortega Ghost Tenor Ukulele neck

Beyond the ABS nut is a quirky looking headstock as opposed to a slot head on the Iris. Slot heads are a mixed bag for me and I think i'd usually take a regular headstock in most cases. Here though, whilst a fun shape I am not sure it works with the look of the instrument, though that is purely subjective. It's faced in rosewood, but finished in satin not gloss and looks unfinished - and I don't think that IS subjective - it simply doesn't match the body. The Ortega logo in blue pearl is also lost in dimmer light.

Ortega Ghost Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners are unbranded open gears in gold with black buttons. The gearing is clearly decent quality though and I find they work very well and evenly. Decent tuners these.

Ortega Ghost Tenor Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off is a basic branded gig bag, a tail strap button and a set of strings made for Ortega by Aquila (that look like regular Nylguts to me). And the price is similarly keen to to the Iris with street figures between £120 and £150 depending where you buy. That's very decent pricing for a solid topped instrument with lots of decor like this.

So, as you can see we have a mix of the subjective (I don't like the look in the same way as I didn't on the Iris) and the objective (whilst the Iris had some scruffiness, this has much more of that). Pricing is similar and core build is too though the neck on the Iris beats this hands down. This was bought from a big box store (Thomann) and arrived with a desperate need for setup work too as the bridge action sees a string height at the 12th of above 3.25mm which I would say is beyond passable. Thankfully the nut isn't too bad.

Ortega Ghost Tenor Ukulele back

Let's have a play. It's not overly heavy to hold at 665g and balances ok too. I don't like the neck comfort at all personally and the fingerprints are really starting to get me down!

When it came to tone on the Iris I said that it was as decent as the aNueNue, but in a very different way. Where it lacked in the bright punch it made up for it in a rounder overall tone that would suit different people. It's similar here with the Ghost though I am not quite so enamoured. My immediate view with this one is it feels a lot more strangled and subdued. The overall volume is ok, but not stellar. The sustain too, whilst it has some dies off quite quickly, particularly for a tenor. The whole thing sounds a bit choked. I find it needs a lot of 'digging in' to get it to project and it's not as naturally resonant. It's certainly more rounded than the aNueNue's like the Iris, but I don't think it's making up enough ground to sit as a different alternative to the aNueNue. To be fair we are not talking huge differences here and it's still quite pretty, but it certainly sits in third place for me.

Strummed it's got a pretty tone, but again, with effort in your play. I don't find there is quite enough sustain for harmonics to get going and provide some character, but it's clear enough and pleasant I guess. Picked again this is quite rounded and pleasant sounding but I find you really need to dig at the strings to get them to ring (and for my hands, a pig to play due to the skinny neck). I stress with both of these that this is NOT a bad sounding ukulele, just a very laid back one to the point of it being a touch irritating. I suppose whilst it is a fairly pretty rounded tone what it's lacking for me is a huge amount of character. My words are quite short on this part of the review for the simple reason that I don't have a whole lot more to say. Not bad - but heard better!

All things considered this doesn't score massively differently from the Flight offering as both have plus and minus points. As I say I think the mimicry here is shabby and lazy, but not sure how that can affect the scores, so that really only features in my words rather than the numbers. All in all there is not a huge amount between the two I don't think. I'd personally take the Iris (and the aNueNue over both of them), but maybe something about that design laziness is swinging my viewpoint as the core ukes are pretty even. I think the Iris plays better though. And i'm very conscious, as I say, that Flight themselves are not free from criticism on taking on designs of others, but Ortega take the biscuit here for me. I'm just a bigger fan of original thought!

Not wholly bad, but doesn't win this contest.


Model: Ortega RUGH-BKT Ghost
Scale: Tenor
Body: Spruce top, laminate rosewood back and sides
Bridge: Rosewood tie bar
Saddle: ABS, straight top
Spacing at saddle: 41mm
Finish: Painted top, gloss body
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: ABS
Nut width: 34mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Open gears in gold with black buttons
Strings: Aquila 
Weight: 665g
Extras: Gig bag, tail strap button
Country of origin: China
Price: Up to about £150


Generally good build 
Decent tuners
Pretty core tone
Great price


Colour scheme not working for me like the Iris didn't
Scruffy QC issues and some gloopy finish
Nut width not for me
14th fret marker?
Lazy design
Poor setup
Strangled sustain and volume


Looks - 8 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8 out of 10
Sound - 8.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10









  1. I guess this is what happens when they all (many/most) come from the same bunch of factories.

    1. That does happen, but Ortega and Flight do not share factory lines. Which is arguably worse!


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