The first this that strikes me about it is it is a lovely piece of wood! The acacia koa is beautifully but subtly grained and the colour changes as it hits the light varying from a light coffee brown to a vivid golden almost orange. It has a lovely forest smell too, kind of sitting on the porch of a log cabin in the woods; all in all quality. The quality wood doesn’t end with the koa though, the fret board is African blackwood and I’m guessing the bridge is too, though not spectacular it still has its charm and is a very hard deep black wood, darker, harder and better for fret boards than ebony or rosewood. The neck is mahogany, again not spectacular to look at but very tactile, very well finished and perfect for its job. All of this wood is finished off in a very light open pour satin finish that shows the wood to great effect. The fret board itself is flat, 16 frets long with 12 to the body, and the arc of the neck behind it is quite thin but its all beautifully smooth with well dressed frets and fret markers on the side as well as along the middle of the fret board. The nut and saddle are bone but the nut sits quite high (with quite deep groves cut in) so can catch you if you are not careful. The machine heads are open geared with a golden finish that very much suits the overall look. They do their job reasonably, (they are not the most accurate I have used), and hold fast. The buttons on the machine heads are plastic with a translucent pearl finish.
So its quality material and the fit and finish too is quality, though, and I find it hard to put my finger on exactly why I think this, I feel it could have been done better. Make no mistake this Ukulele was put together by a master craftsman, but it feels somehow that he was going through the motions and some of the love is missing?? The neck the fitted perfectly solidly and well, could have been done a little neater, (and no Spanish Heel, on a Spanish Ukulele!?). the bookmarking too, though good, I think could have been done more thoughtfully; niggling little things true but I am trying to be full and frank here. One thing that really is perfect though is the bridge. Beautifully made and with a very neat through the body stringing arrangement that I have not seen before but works really well and leads on to a very good factory set up and incredibly accurate intonation right the way to the 16th fret All my misgivings aside though, its quality knocks spots of anything else being made in the Iberian peninsula at the moment never mind just Spain
On to the sound, and the first thing that has to be said is its a little quiet. A very small sound hole and no side port mean not a lot of projection in any direction. This I don’t think is going to change but everything else is still improving and settling down as the newly made Ukulele settles so I may have to revise this in 6 months?
Along with the quietness the sound is a little dull. I’ve tried it with a C tuning and a D tuning and that didn’t resolve the dullness, (funnily enough though I also had a go at C# and that was definitely the best?) Its a good even tone with plenty of bass for a Soprano and has reasonable to good sustain, but it lacks a bit of punch, maybe not enough treble? and maybe the quietness again but to much string sound too. Playability? Well its not the most forgiving of Ukuleles, there is no rattles or sour noises if you do any duff chording, it just seems to make it sound duller and highlights the string sound. But everything is beautifully smooth and set up and spot on in the build so I have no excuses for duff chords only my lack of talent.
For live work it would be the quietness that was the problem not any issues with sturdiness or build quality letting you down. It probably would work well with a pickup but that not an option in the standard catalogue. If you did have a pickup fitted I would think it would be a great gigging Ukulele, the beautiful koa would really come alive under lights
If I lost it would I get another one? This is a difficult question and again time might change the answer, however the answer for now is, and I’m still hedging a bit – I certainly wouldn’t get one unseen on mail order again I would want to see, feel and hear it first . If something happened and I was replacing the collection I would certainly be looking to get a modern Soprano of this quality back into my new collection but I think I would probably look at something else first? Possibly just the novelty of the new and I would always be happy to have one in the collection, it is very nice, but it hasn’t (yet) grabbed me enough that it’s a must have
For Pictures and a Sound Clip go to http://www.ukulelecorner.org.uk/home/in-the-corner/soprano-or-standard/manuel-rodriguez-signature