Review: Three Solid Mahogany Soprano Ukuleles – Flight MUS-2 + Ohana SK-38 + Sigma SUM-2S

The ukes have been recorded with a Citronic RM-06 ribbon microphone plugged into a Cranborne Audion Camden EC2 preamp. All EQ-settings were kept identical between the three models.

Alkuperäinen suomenkielinen juttu on ilmestynyt Rockway-blogissa.

Vintage C. F. Martin Style 2 soprano uke

Most of us will have started learning to play the uke with an affordable instrument, whose soundbox is probably made – at least in part – from laminated wood. Over time our playing will have improved, making us feel that it was maybe time to step up to a higher quality uke, which in most cases will mean an all-solid instrument.

If you’re interested in the history of this diminutive instrument you will have noticed that C. F. Martin & Co is a legendary maker of ukuleles. Even though Martin is a company based in Pennsylvania, they have started crafting ukes during the ukulele boom of the 1910s already. Not content making mere copies of Hawaiian instruments Martin almost singlehandedly developed the ukulele further, raising the benchmark for how a great uke should look and sound in the process. Martin also sold bucketloads of the little instruments – their ”economy model” alone, the Martin Style 0, sold almost 90,000 units between 1922 and 1994, when the original production run ended (temporarily).

The Martin Company originally introduced three soprano models in 1915, named Style 1, Style 2 and Style 3. The higher the Style’s number the more intricate the cosmetic features, like bindings and rosettes, would be.

My personal favourite is the dark brown all-mahogany Style 2, which is why I’ve chosen three all-solid Style 2-copies for this review.

A word about friction tuners

Most ukuleles these days are made with geared guitar tuners, which make tuning relatively easy for beginners. This is due to the so-called gear ratio, meaning the number of turns on a machine head’s knob relating to a full turn of the actual tuner post. This is normally somewhere between 14:1 and 18:1, meaning 14 or 18 turns of the knob shaft will give you one full turn of the tuner’s post.

Friction pegs aka patent tuners

Originally, all ukuleles came with simple wooden friction pegs that kept the strings in tune by simple friction between the hole in the headstock (aka peg head) and the wooden peg. This is exactly the same type of system that’s still in use on violins or cellos.

In 1920 Martin started introducing new-fangled friction pegs – first on more expensive models, but then across their whole uke range – which offered a much smoother tuning action. Friction tuners contain no gears, meaning their ”gear” ratio is 1:1 (like on a wooden peg), but here the friction is caused by metal washers, or plastic washers, or metal springs, that are forced against the front and back surfaces of the headstock. Their ”action” or stiffness can be adjusted with the screw at the top of the tuning button.

I would never recommend giving a beginner an instrument with patent pegs, because learning to tune your uke properly is hard enough in the beginning. But there is no reason to be afraid of friction pegs, either, once you know the basics of tuning your instrument. Just keep in mind that very little goes a long way with patent pegs, when it comes to hitting the correct pitch. You should also keep the right screwdriver handy for quick adjustments of the pegs’ stiffness, which can shift between summer and winter, due to the headstock wood expanding and contracting according to the relative humidity.

Nowadays friction tuners are mostly found on vintage-style ukuleles, like on the three instruments reviewed here.

****

Flight MUS-2

Flight is a Chinese brand concentrating mostly on ukuleles.

The Flight MUS-2 (current price in Finland: 199 €; incl. gig bag) is their version of a Martin Style 2 soprano ukulele. This is a beautiful instrument that invokes its vintage mojo with the help of a matte open-pore finish over a rich brown wood stain.

Flight’s own additions to the recipe include wooden body binding – instead of the celluloid plastic used on the original – as well as a cream rosette around the soundhole.

The Flight MUS-2’s neck is solid mahogany, too, but made of three parts, with the neck heel and the upper half of the peg head glued to the neck’s long main part. This way of doing things is both more economic and better for the environment than carving the neck out of a much larger wooden blank.

The Flight’s fretboard and bridge have been made from walnut, while the top nut and the bridge saddle are genuine bone.

The MUS-2 uses a set of Gotoh friction pegs, which employ plastic knobs, silicone washers and metal sleeves to build up the necessary friction for keeping the strings under tension.

Neck width at the saddle is 34 mm, which is the de facto standard for most modern soprano ukuleles, even though this is two to three millimetres narrower than on most vintage ukes. The MUS-2 has a scale length of 34.9 cm, which is three millimetres longer than on a Martin soprano.

The MUS-2 has a nicely rounded D neck profile.

The workmanship on the Flight is on a really high level. My only, tiny bit of criticism points to the matte finish which is something of a fingerprint magnet on the test sample.

The MUS-2’s string action is modern and low. I measured 2.4 mm at the 12th fret for the g-string and 2.1 mm for the a-string. The action and the nicely rounded neck make for a very comfortable playing feel. Despite the low action, the Flight offers a very good dynamic range without any string rattles.

The Flight MUS-2 has a surprisingly big and full-bodied voice that projects very well, both to the player and to his (or her) audience.

****

Ohana SK-38

Ohana is brand situated in the US, but with most of its production in China. Ohana is the Hawaiian word for ”family”.

Ohana’s 38 Series comprises of all-solid Style 2-copies in different body sizes, with the Ohana SK-38 (current price in Finland: 348 €) being the soprano model.

Cosmetically the SK-38 probably comes closest to the spirit of a vintage Martin Style 2, except for the slightly larger-than-vintage soundhole (about 2 mm more in diameter) and the position markers copied off a Style 1 instrument. Our test sample was a tiny bit heavier than the Flight ukulele, but still super-light compared to most string instruments.

In terms of colour and finishing the Ohana SK-38 is almost identical to the Flight, with the finish seeming even thinner here. Visually the SK-38 evokes the pre-1926 Martins that sported a brushed on cellulose-based finish. In 1926 Martin phased in spray finishes to speed up production.

The soundbox’ top sports three-ply plastic binding (b/w/b), while the back is single-ply. The vintage-type rosette is made up of alternating thin black and white rings.

The Ohana SK-38 sports a modern solid-mahogany neck with separate parts for the neck heel and the headstock’s top half. The Gotoh patent pegs are the same model found on the Flight, too.

The fretboard and bridge have been carved from ovangkol. The top nut and bridge saddle are both bovine bone.

Neck with at the nut is 34 mm on the SK-38, while the scale length is 34.9 cm.

I would call the Ohana SK-38’s neck profile a slightly flatted C-profile, which comes close in feel to modern Martin soprano uke necks. In terms of playing comfort there’s not much to divide the three reviewed sopranos.

The SK-38 displays a very high level of workmanship; I own an older version of this uke – one that sports a nut and bridge saddle carved from ebony – and I must say the build quality on the new version has clearly improved.

The very low string action on the test sample is a good indicator of the quality of the fretting. I measured 1.3 mm for the g-string and 1.4 mm for the a-string at the 12th fret. Despite this low action I experienced no problems whatsoever with fret rattle.

The Ohana SK-38 has a very balanced voice with a tiny bit less bottom end and a tad more sparkle, when compared to the Flight. The Ohana projects very well.

****

Sigma SUM-2S

Originally, Sigma Guitars was C. F. Martin’s far-eastern brand, founded to combat the ever-increasing flow of Japanese Martin-copies in 1970. In 2007 Martin sold the brand to German company AMI GmbH, who has done quite a lot to raise the brand’s profile. Apart from copies of Martin guitars Sigma’s model range now also includes several Gibson-style acoustic guitars. Sadly, Sigma’s ukulele range has been discontinued at the start of 2022, meaning that the current stock of Sigma ukes in shops now will be the last, at least for the foreseeable future.

The Sigma SUM-2S (current price in Finland: 315 €; incl. gig bag) looks a bit more refined than the other two instruments in this review, due to its flat matte finish. The finish is very thin, but has been buffed to a flat matte sheen.

The SUM-2S is in the same weight class as the Ohana SK-38.

Anoraks would say that the Sigma SUM-2S is more of a ”Style 2.5” soprano, because it comes with the longer fretboard – offering 17 instead of 12 frets – of a Style 3 (and Style 5) uke.

In some respects, though, the SUM-2S comes closer to vintage Martin specifications than the other two contenders in this review:

Arguably the most important point here is the one-piece mahogany neck, which is a genuine rarity in this price range. Other features include a 36 mm wide neck at the nut, a smaller soundhole, the vintage-correct size and spacing of the position markers, as well as the original (shorter) Martin-scale of 34.6 cm.

The fretboard and the bridge have been made out of Indian rosewood, while the top nut and bridge saddle are genuine bone.

The Sigma SUM-2S uses Chinese Ping friction pegs, which produces the require friction by pressing the plastic tuner knobs into fat plastic washers. These pegs have been in for some criticism in a number of reviews, but to be fair, I haven’t had any tuning problems with the Ping pegs over the whole duration of testing the Sigma uke.

The neck profile on the Sigma SUM-2S is fatter than on the Ohana, but flatter than on the Flight, combining the best aspects of the two necks.

Even though the difference in neck width at the nut is only two millimetres, the Sigma’s neck feels roomier. This can make a huge difference in feel for people with large (or thick) fingers!

The Sigma’s set-up is very comfortable. I’ve measured an action of 2.1 mm for the g-string and 1.8 mm for the a-string at the 12th fret. The fretwork is excellent, meaning I’ve experienced no string rattles.

Like the other two instruments in this review the Sigma, too, came with Aquila Nylgut strings. Due to the slightly shorter scale length the strings feel maybe a little bit too slinky. I’d recommend trying fluorocarbon strings on the SUM-2S, which generally tend to feel a bit stiffer.

At first I thought the Sigma was quieter than the other two ukes, when in fact it even offers more of a vintage-style ”bark” for the audience (or a microphone). The smaller soundhole simply makes this ukulele project slightly less in the direction of the player himself (or herself). In terms of its sound the Sigma SUM-2S is the brightest sounding of the three reviewed models.

Tulossa Rockway-blogiin: Neljä Jet Guitars -mallia

Jet Guitars

JT-300 – perinteinen, Tele-tyylinen kitara

JS-300 – perinteinen, Strato-tyylinen kitara vintage-vibratallalla

JS-500 – Strato-tyylinen HH deluxe-malli nykyaikaisella vibralla ja lukkovirittimillä

JS-600 – Strato-tyylinen HSS deluxe-malli nykyaikaisella vibralla ja lukkovirittimillä

Kaikissa Jet-kitaroissa kaula on paahdettua vaahteraa.

Lisää infoa: Millbrook Musiikki

****

• Komppikitarat: JT-300 (vasen kanava), JS-300 EHX phaserilla (oikea kanava), JS-300 Morley-wahilla (keskellä)

• Soolokitarat (Mad Professor Simble -säröpedaalin läpi): JT-300 (tallamikki), JS-300 (kaulamikki), JS-500 (kaulamikki), JS-600 (tallamikki humbuckerina)

• Vahvistin: Bluetone Black Prince Reverb

• Mikrofoni: Shure SM57

• Mikrofonivahvistin: Cranborne Camden EC2

Review: Squier Affinity Bronco Bass & Höfner Ignition Violin Bass SE

This is a slightly shorter version of an article in Finnish published at Rockway.fi.

****

In 2021 short-scale basses are often seen as less desirable, as instruments purely for beginners, but not for ”serious” use.

Back in the Fifties, Sixties and much of the Seventies, a wealth of great music has been recorded by bassists playing short-scale basses. To some degree this was out of pure necessity, as many guitar manufacturers didn’t regard the electric bass guitar as a serious instrument in the early days. Those companies simply used slight redesigns of their guitar models with longer necks and different pickups, in order to have something to sell to the public. Gibson, for example, only released its first long-scale basses – the Thunderbird II and IV models – in 1963, while Gretsch and Guild stuck to their ”modified guitars” well into the 1970s.

Other companies designed their short-scale basses from the ground up:

In 1956 a German luthier called Walter Höfner developed a comfortably light and compact semi-acoustic bass with a violin-shaped body. In keeping with the Höfner Company’s nomenclature this new bass received the rather uninspiring name Höfner 500/1.

This bass might have become a mere footnote in history, had it not been for a young British musician, who ordered a left-handed 500/1, while working in a nightclub in Hamburg (West Germany) with his band. This young bass player was, of course, none other than Paul McCartney, and the Beatles’ global fame from 1963 onwards catapulted the Höfner 500/1 right into the limelight.

Paul McCartney still uses his iconic Höfner bass.
Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads; Tom Tom Club) is regularly seen with her Höfner 500/1, as well as with Höfner 500/2 Club Basses (as in this picture).

The Fender Company, whose founder Leo Fender was the father of the electric bass, introduced its first short-scale bass in 1966. The Fender Mustang was based on their legendary Precision Bass, and was meant as a companion to the company’s Mustang Guitar.

Most classic Status Quo hits were recorded by Alan Lancaster playing his Mustang Bass.
The Rolling Stones’ original bass player Bill Wyman used his Mustang Bass on stage between 1968 and 1971.

Regardless of their affordable price tags, the models in this review are straight descendants of the Höfner 500/1 and Fender Mustang models.

****

When the Fender Musicmaster Bass was released in 1971 it was Fender’s most affordable electric bass, making it an ideal choice for beginners, music classes, and – in the late 70s and early 80s – for Punk or New Wave bands. The original Musicmaster Bass used the same body as the Mustang, but sported a redesigned scratchplate and bridge, cheaper machine heads, and a covered guitar (!) pickup.

The Squier Affinity Bronco Bass (current price in Finland around 200 €) has been the brand’s most-affordable bass for many years, until the very recent arrival of the Mini-P Bass, which is a few euros cheaper.

The Indonesian Bronco Bass is clearly based on the Musicmaster Bass from the Seventies:

The Bronco Bass sports the same Mustang-style body, and shares its predecessor’s simple, two-saddle bridge, as well as the 19-fret bolt-on neck. The new scratchplate design, which is clearly Strat/Precision-inspired is much prettier, though.

The satin finished maple neck is a one-piece affair, with the frets directly installed into its curved front, and it offers easy truss rod access next to the top nut. The tuning machines are improved versions of the originals.

Squier’s websites aren’t especially clear on the body material; some places state it is made from agathis, while others mention poplar. Be this as it may, our review sample comes finished in a beautiful Torino Red gloss finish. The bass is also very light in weight.

The single-ply scratchplate holds a powerful ceramic Stratocaster pickup, and the master volume and tone controls.

The quality of workmanship on the reviewed Squier Bronco Bass is simply amazing. I’m old enough to remember affordable instruments from the late Seventies, and this little bass is simply in a completely different league. Everything is clean and crisp. The neck profile is a very comfortable ”C” and the fretwork is very good. The playability of the bass is buttery and there are no annoying mechanical buzzes or rattles. You could basically grab this bass and do a gig.

Due to the very spartan bridge the Bronco’s intonation is never completely spot-on in the higher reaches of the fretboard, but I feel I can live with the small compromises required.

What the Squier Bronco offers is great playability, a healthy acoustic tone, and a surprisingly balanced and full-bodied performance from its single-coil guitar pickup. The Bronco Bass sounds like a ”real” bass played through a quality bass amp.

****

A German Höfner 500/1 ”Mersey”.

Höfner’s Violin Basses are currently produced in three model ranges:

The Made-in-Germany range comprises several vintage reissues, reliced basses, and an ecologically-conscious Green Line-version.

Höfner’s mid-price range is called the Contemporary Series (HCT), and it is produced in China. The Contemporary Violin Bass models come equipped with genuine German pickups, but differ slightly in construction by adding a feedback-reducing centre block inside the body.

The most affordable instruments are the Höfner Ignition models (HI). These instruments are also made in China, but offer less painstakingly exact recreations of Höfner’s most famous models.

The Höfner Ignition Violin Bass SE (current price in Finland approx. 350 €) is the newest update of the McCartney-inspired Ignition-version of the Höfner, which adds a few features that have been requested by many fans:

The body’s bass-side shoulder is now adorned with a vintage-style Höfner-decal, while the previous Jazz Bass-style control knobs have been replaced with Höfner’s famous teacup knobs. Additionally, the bass now also comes with a replica of the famous BASSMAN-sticker in the box. During the making of the Beatles’ Get Back/Let It Be film and LP, Paul McCartney had peeled off the sticker from his new Fender Bassman amplifier stack and stuck it to the top of his bass. For some Beatles fans this sticker has since become a legendary piece of memorabilia, which has now been made available to buyers of the Ignition Violin Bass SE.

The Höfner Ignition is a beautifully made instrument that closely follows the most crucial aspects of the German original’s build:

The hollow body of the Violin Bass is made from an arched plywood spruce top and plywood flame maple for the rims and the arched back. The set neck is carved from rock maple, while the rosewood bridge is held in place on top of the body by the downward force of the strings in Jazz-guitar style.

The most obvious difference between German (and HCT) basses and the Ignition is the exact build of the neck. The original features a freestanding, so-called cantilever fingerboard between the neck joint and the neck pickup. The Ignition’s neck continues as a solid block of maple for the whole way, which actually even makes the neck joint a tiny bit stronger. Additionally, while German 500/1s come with (depending on the model) necks made from either two long strips of maple, or a central piece of beech sandwiched between two outer strips of maple, the Ignition’s neck is one-piece maple with a separate piece glued on for the headstock.

For environmental reasons Höfner now uses thermo-treated jatoba wood for the fingerboards on Ignition Violin Basses. The string trapeze is chromed, while the tuning heads are four separate units with pearloid knobs.

The Ignition pickups are actually reissues of rare Japanese Staple pickups, which were used on some ”New Special” models for the Japanese market back in the Eighties. They look similar to the classic Staple pickups on Paul McCartney’s 500/1, but are slightly wider, and – what’s more important – easier to adjust for height than the German originals.

* Click/tap the picture for a larger view *

Many players who are new to Höfner-basses have trouble with Walter Höfner’s classic ”Aggregat” control console that also comes installed on the Ignition Violin Bass SE. I hope the above picture will do its bit to clear up which component does what.

It looks like a Höfner, it’s built like a Höfner, and – surprise, surprise – the Ignition Violin Bass SE sounds like the genuine Höfner it is! This is a quality instrument, and very compact and light to wear on a strap. The set-up and playability of our review sample was spot on, making the Ignition SE a fast and comfortable player. The neck’s depth may be a bit chunkier than on many modern basses, but the relatively narrow U-profile means that a Höfner neck sits very nicely in the palm of your hand.

It is true that the Höfner 500/1 (aka Violin Bass aka Beatle Bass) will forever be associated with Paul McCartney and the Beatles, but that shouldn’t lead to the instrument being pidgeonholed as a ”Sixties music” bass. I know what I’m talking about, as I have been a very satisfied 500/1-owner since 1990, and I regularly use the Violin Bass in many different contexts. As long as you don’t need to play slap bass or high-gain Metal, a Höfner will handle anything you throw at it.

Pidä blogia WordPress.comissa.

Ylös ↑