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.

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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.

Review: Fender Paramount PM-2 AM

Looking back, only 20 years ago an instrument’s country of origin tended to tell you much about its quality. American, European and Japanese guitars were ruling the roost, while Chinese instruments were clearly only meant for the entry-level market.

But not anymore: These days it’s all about decisions regarding an instrument’s price point and specifications, while the country of origin seems to lose much of its importance. It’s all about building methods and quality control, and less about geography.

The brand-new, all-mahogany member of Fender’s Paramount-series – the Fender PM-2 All Mahogany (price approx. 580 €) – is made in China to the highest quality standards.

****

Fender’s Paramount PM-2 AM is a parlour-sized steel-string acoustic (similar in size to C.F. Martin’s size 00) with a 12th fret neck joint.

Many acoustic guitarists claim that a 12-fret neck makes a guitar sound fuller and warmer, compared to a similar 14-fret neck guitar. This is probably thanks to the ”unsupported” part of the neck being shorter, and the body being slightly longer.

The whole soundbox has been crafted from beautiful solid mahogany.

The PM-2 All Mahogany sports a traditional dovetail set neck joint. The mahogany neck is one solid piece, save for a little glued-on bit, used for the neck heel.

Fender has chosen high-quality replicas of vintage open tuning machines for this Paramount.

Genuine bone is used for the PM-2 AM’s top nut and compensated bridge saddle.

Fender’s new model comes with a very thin satin finish, which gives the whole instrument a sensuous, natural open pore feeling.

The Fender PM-2 AM is a very pretty little thing in a stylishly understated way:

There’s multiply binding around the headstock and fingerboard. The top’s binding – as well as the back centre line – uses a checkerboard motif made from different woods…

…and the checkerboard theme also continues in the guitar’s rosette.

Fender’s Paramount PM-2 AM is sold with a high quality case.

****

Even though this Paramount-parlour clearly draws a lot of inspiration from vintage guitars from the 1920s and 30s, Fender has luckily added modern playability into the mix.

The neck profile is modern – instead of a Thirties-style big V-neck the Paramount comes with a player-friendly, slightly flattened C-profile. The frets are narrow, and the fretwork is excellent.

Our review sample of the PM-2 All Mahogany came with a first rate set-up. The action at the 12th fret measured 2.1 mm (low-E) and 1.7 mm (treble-e). The guitar plays like a dream, without even the hint of annoying fret rattling.

Guitars with a smaller body than the ubiquitous Dreadnought have become increasingly popular over the last decade or so, and there’s a reason for this. The PM-2 AM’s tighter and cleaner bass response (compared to a Dreadnought) makes it the ideal instrument for fingerstyle players, because of its open and well-balanced sound. Parlours generally also record very well in the studio, because the lower bass content makes them much easier to place in a busy mix.

Don’t get me wrong, though: The Fender PM-2 All Mahogany doesn’t sound thin, or puny, or sharp – its voice is beautiful, well-balanced and warm. It’s just that the tidier bass response will keep the bass register from swamping everything else, unlike when using certain Dreadnought models.

****

In my opinion the Fender Paramount PM-2 All Mahogany is a cracking small-bodied acoustic guitar! The PM-2 AM is a fantastic player, and it offers you the warm, but open tones, you’d associated with a quality exponent of the 00-size guitar.

****

Fender Paramount PM-2 All Mahogany

Price approx. 580 € (case included)

Contact: Fender

A big thank you goes to DLX Music Helsinki for the loan of the review instrument!

Pros:

+ all-solid mahogany body

+ open pore satin finish

+ workmanship

+ soundSave

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Testipenkissä: Fender Paramount PM-2 AM

Vielä kaksikymmentä vuotta sitten kitaran alkuperä vaikutti hyvinkin selkeästi soittimen laatuun. USA:ssa, Euroopassa tai Japanissa tehdyt kitarat olivat silloinkin yleensä hyvin laadukkaita, kun taas kiinalaiset soittimet olivat selvää halpistavaraa.

Ajat ovat kuitenkin muuttuneet, ja nykyään valmistusmaata enemmän merkitystä on valmistajan (tai valmistuttajan) päätöksillä valmiin soittimen hintaluokasta ja ominaisuuksista, sekä kyseisen pajan laadunvalvonnalla ja valmistusmenetelmillä.

Upouusi, kokonaan mahongista veistetty Fender Paramount -sarjan parlor-kokoinen edustaja – Fender PM-2 All Mahogany (hintaluokka noin 580 €) – on Kiinassa valmistettu, mutta korkeaan laatuun tähtäävä teräskielinen kitara.

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Fender Paramount PM-2 AM on pienikokoinen teräskielinen (verrattavissa C.F. Martinin 00-kokoon), jossa on kaulaliitos 12. nauhan kohdalla.

Monet akustisten kitaroiden ystävät väittävät, että vanhanaikaisempi liitoskohta (12. Nauhan kohdalla) tekee soittimen soundista lämpimämmän, koska lyhyempi osa kaulaa on irrallaan kopasta, modernimpaan 14. nauhan liitokseen verrattuna.

Koppa on tehty yksinomaan mahongista (kokopuusta).

PM-2 All Mahagony -mallissa kaula on liitetty runkoon perinteiseen tapaan liimaamalla (lohenpyrstöliitoksella). Mahonkikaula on yksiosainen kaulan korkoa lukuun ottamatta.

Fender käyttää tässä Paramount-kitarassa laadukkaita uusintapainoksia avoimista vintage-virittimistä.

Sekä PM-2 AM:n yläsatula, että kitaran kompensoitu tallaluu on tehty aidosta naudanluusta.

Uutuuskitaran mattaviimeistely on hyvin ohut, minkä ansiosta puun syyt on tunnettavissa (ns. open pore finish), antaen kitaralle mukavan luonnollisen tuntuman.

Fender PM-2 AM:ssä on tyylikäs, muttei yliampuva koristelu:

Viritinlavan ja ruusupuisen otelaudan reunoissa on käytetty monikerroksista reunalistoitusta. Kopan kannen reunalistoituksessa on valkoisen muovin lisäksi puusta tehty šakkilautakuvio, ja sama motiivi toistuu myös pohjan keskiviivassa…

…sekä kaikuaukon rosetissa.

Fender Paramount PM-2 AM myydään omassa laadukkaassa kotelossa.

****

Vaikka tämän Paramount-parlorin inspiraatio on selkeästi vanhoissa 1920/30-luvun kitaroissa, on kitaran soitettavuus onneksi silkkaa nykypäivää.

Kaulan profiili on nykyaikainen, hiukan madallettu D, eikä 30-luvulla yleensä käytetty – mutta nykyään mielipiteitä jakava – jyrkkä V. Nauhat ovat kapeaa sorttia ja nauhoituksen työnjälki erittäin siistiä.

Testissä käyneen PM-2 All Mahagony -mallin trimmi on ensiluokkainen – 12. nauhan kohdalla kielten korkeudet ovat 2,1 mm (matala-E) ja 1,7 mm (diskantti-e) – ja kitara soi kauttaaltaan puhtaasti ja rämisemättä.

Dreadnought-kokoa pienemmät kitarat ovat viime vuosina kasvattaneet selvästi suosiotaan, ja siihen on syynsä. PM-2 AM:n hieman vähemmän korostettu bassoalue (dreadnoughtiin verrattuna) sopii monille sormisoittajille kuin nakutettu, koska kitaran yleissointi on avoimempi ja tasapainoisempi. Tällaisesta soundista on myös studiossa paljon iloa, koska tiheässä bändisovituksessa häiritseviä ylimääräisiä bassotaajuuksia ei tarvitse vaimentaa, minkä ansiosta pienikoppainen teräskielinen istuu usein heti kättelyssä hyvin miksiin.

Väärinkäsitysten välttämiseksi: Fender PM-2 All Mahogany ei ole missään nimessä laihasti, ponnettomasti tai terävästi soiva kitara, vaan sen soundi on hyvin miellyttävä ja lämmin. Tällaisen parlor-kitaran soinnissa vain bassotaajuudet eivät kumise samalla tavoin kuin monissa dreadnoughteissa.

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Minun mielestäni Fender Paramount PM-2 All Mahogany on todella laadukas pienikoppainen kitara. PM-2 AM on helpposoittoinen ja se tarjoaa 00-kokoiselle kitaralle tyypillisen lämpimän, mutta avoimen soundin.

****

Fender Paramount PM-2 All Mahogany

Hintaluokka noin 580 € (kova laukku kuuluu hintaan)

Lisätiedot: Fender

Kiitos DLX Musiikille testisoittimen lainaamisesta!

Plussat:

+ kokopuinen mahonkikoppa

+ mattaviimeistely

+ työnjälki

+ soundiSave

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Review: PRS SE Angelus Standard

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The SE Angelus Standard is a Grand Auditorium -sized steel-string acoustic from PRS Guitars’ brand-new SE Acoustic -range.

A special feature on all PRS SE steel-strings is their proprietary top bracing pattern which seamlessly combines the best bits of traditional x- and fan-bracing patterns. The end result should be a very dynamic and open-sounding acoustic tone.

****

The PRS SE Angelus Standard (current street price in Finland approx. 730 €) is a beautiful and stylish piece of work.

A Grand Auditorium’s body has about the same cubic content as a Dreadnought. Its rounder shape with a more slender waist makes it more comfortable to play, and also produces a different basic voicing. Grand Auditoriums tend to sound more open with added clarity in the lower midrange  (between 600 – 800 Hz) compared to a Dreadnought, making them easier to record.

The SE Angelus Standard is crafted from solid sitka spruce for the top and solid mahogany for the body’s back. The rims are pressed from mahogany plywood, adding a little sturdiness.

Mahogany is also the material of choice for the Angelus’ neck.

It’s surprising to see how well PRS’ traditional headstock looks on an acoustic guitar. In the SE Angelus’ case the headstock features a rosewood veneer, as well as white binding.

The top nut has been carved from genuine bovine bone.

The tuners are the same quality units PRS also uses for their SE electrics.

The SE Angelus’ neck is a three-piece affair, with a long piece making up the bulk of the neck, and two small added pieces for the headstock and the neck heel, respectively.

The bound rosewood fingerboard sports beautiful bird-inlays and well-finished narrow frets.

The mahogany used for body construction is gorgeous – the honey-hued wood looks good enough to eat underneath the thinly applied transparent lacquer.

By the way: A second strap button comes as standard on the SE Angelus.

Here’s a view of the Angelus’ rounded cutaway – a typical feature on many Grand Auditorium sized instruments.

The top’s black and white binding looks very crisp.

A rosewood rosette adds a tad of understated charm to proceedings.

The SE Angelus displays extremely clean workmanship throughout – even on the inside!

The compensated saddle in the guitar’s rosewood bridge is made from tone-enhancing genuine bone.

****

But the PRS SE Angelus Standard isn’t just nice to look at, this guitar is also a sheer joy to play!

The instrument is lightweight, and just touching it already gives you a sense of this guitar’s eagerness to resonate.

PRS have made a wise decision in my opinion, when it came to choosing a neck profile for the Angelus: This neck is an unabashedly steel-string acoustic type of neck. No foul compromises to win over electric players – the Angelus’ neck profile is a chunky affair somewhere between a D- and a U-shaped cross-section.

If you’re new to steel-string acoustics – or just used to the feel of many electroacoustic guitars – the first impression might be a slight bit disconcerting, but fear not! In the long run a big neck will help your left-hand technique, and it’s the right choice for big tone as well.

And what a tone it is! I can only heap praise upon the Angelus’ tone, sustain and dynamics – what a beautiful open sound!

String-to-string balance is outstanding, regardless of playing style or chosen register. It’s not often that you find a brand-new guitar with such a mature voice from the get-go – especially in this price bracket!

I also recorded the SE Angelus with different recording set-ups, and can only report that it is almost impossible to get a bad (or muddy) sound out of this instrument.

This is what the Angelus sounds like when recorded with a Zoom Q2HD:

SE Angelus – plectrum – Q2HD

…and here are two clips, which I recorded using an AKG C3000 condenser mic close to the guitar, pointing at the 14. fret, paired with a Samson C02 at shoulder height facing towards the bridge (–> Focusrite Saffire 6 USB –> Apple Garageband):

SE Angelus – fingerstyle

SE Angelus – plectrum

****

PRS SE Angelus Standard

current street price in Finland approx. 730 €

Distributor: EM Nordic

Thanks to DLX Music Helsinki  for the loan of the review instrument!

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Pros:

+ solid top and back

+ chunky neck profile

+ playability

+ open and dynamic tone

+ workmanship

+ bang-for-the-Euro

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