Comparison of three tenor ukuleles. The 1-10 scale is based on 1 being total junk, 5 being a entry-level Makala, and 10 being Martin 5K/Kamaka custom quality.
First is a Cordoba 20TM-CE, which is an excellent value at around $200 USD street. It's acoustic electric and sounds good either way. Features a solid mahogany top and laminate back in sides. The playability is pretty decent, and the intonation is fair and gets a bit wonky past the 12th fret. I believe it's made in Portugal. This is the tenor uke I recommend to any serious beginner. It has Aquila strings. I'd score this as a 6/10 for appearance, 7/10 for sound (acoustic), 7/10 for playability, and 9/10 for overall value. Despite the slight intonation issues, unless you're getting into serious playing, it's perfectly serviceable.
The second is a Kala ASAC-T all-solid Acaia. This is a beautiful instrument with the best feature being the slotted headstock. The woodgrain is beautiful and it looks a lot like Koa without the reddish tint. It sounds incredibly full and has a wonderful dynamic range. At around $350 USD street price it's steep for a beginner, but it's a no brainer for someone looking to upgrade from their starter tenor. Unfortunately at present, there's simply not much in the $350-1000 "pre-K brands" price range. In my opinion, this uke competes well with the low-end Martin tenor, the Ponos, and the Anuenue I've played. One huge advantage is that Kala is relatively easy to come by vs. the other brands. This is made in China and features D'Addario Titanium strings. I found that the D'Addarios allow for a much better dynamic range and just sound more natural on this uke. The intonation is spot-on and I had the action/nut set-up at Fan Guitar and Ukulele in Richmond, VA, so it plays very well. I'd score this as a 8/10 for appearance, 8/10 for sound (acoustic), 8/10 for playability, and 8/10 for overall value. It's a solid 8!
Last is the first tenor I purchased, the Fender Koa Nohea. "Nohea" means lovely and I have to agree. It's all laminate Koa, but has a nice grain overall that really pops with the gloss finish. The abalone inlays and neck binding are also very nice-looking. I'm not a huge fan of the tele-style headstock, but it IS a Fender, after all. So reality sets in once you play it next to a decent-sounding uke (like the Kala). Due to all-laminate body combined with the gloss finish, you don't really get any resonance or bass. You can feel the Kala against your chest (like a Martin guitar), but the Fender is completely dead. It literally sounds a bit like a toy after playing a more resonant uke. I know the guy from Train uses this uke as his primary instrument, so perhaps when fitted with a pick-up it would be serviceable. The playability is decent after lowering the action a bit and the intonation is pretty good. As for the craftsmanship, there is a glob of finish on the neck that I had to sand down and a fret was placed where the tip was crooked at about a 30 degree angle. Fender's only made these a little while, so the factory is probably still trying to work out quality control. If they can pull off for their ukes what they've done with their Squier line, we're in for a treat. Right now, I can't recommend this uke, unless you want something pretty to hang on the wall :) At a street price of around $180-200 USD, that's an expensive wall ornament. I'd score this as a 8/10 for appearance, 4/10 for sound (acoustic), 7/10 for playability, and 6/10 for overall value.
Song is segment of "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the style of Jake Shimabukuro.
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this is excellent work!
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