Cort UKE-BWS Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW
Regular readers will know that I am a sucker for a traditional looking soprano ukulele - it's just my thing. So when I saw this one for sale I had to grab it for a review. This is the Cort UKE-BWS Soprano.
And I am going against one of my unwritten rules here because I try not to review ukuleles from the same series of models in different scales because there is so much repetition. But my soprano fetish got the better of me here and having seen an ad for this from World Of Ukes, I had to grab it. That first Cort model I looked at was the Cort UKE-BWC Concert Ukulele in the same series as this model, and you will see that it scored very well. Like this, it was a Chinese made instrument from a HUGE Korean instrument company that make guitars for the likes of Fender and Ibanez. Any fears that it was just 'a model from yet another guitar maker who doesn't know how to make a ukulele' were truly dashed. It was a very well made ukulele that played brilliantly.
This is the soprano flavour of the same and immediately ticked those fetish boxes of mine on the overall look of it. In fact I suspect quite a few soprano boxes will be ticked by this one. It's a standard shaped and very traditional looking double bout soprano made from all solid tone woods. At first glance the deep orangey brown colour may have you thinking it's solid mahogany, but it's actually solid blackwood. That's a relative of acacia, and therefore a relative of Koa, but in this example it's without any crazy stripes or flames that would tell you that. And I say that as a good thing because it is not at all ostentatious and does give the impression of an old mahogany instrument. It has a single piece top and flat back and two piece sides and I think it looks great.
The bridge is made from Ovangkol, a hardwood that is more sustainable than rosewood though you wouldn't tell it wasn't rosewood. I suspect though it has been dyed for reasons I will come on to, but that's not a show stopper for me. It's a slot style meaning the bridge doesn't take over the top (TICK!) of the small instrument and the bone straight topped saddle sits in its own self contained slot. It's all extremely tidy. String spacing here is 44mm.
Like the concert version the decoration consists of dark binding to the top and back with the addition of Martin-esque black and white purfling strips around the top edge. Around the sound hole is an inlaid black and white concentric ring. I commented that on the concert version it looked a little stark, but here it appears that it's under the body finish / stain and it blends better into the look of the top. The whole thing looks very vintage without trying too hard (TICK!) - unlike something like the Ohana SK-35 or the Ohana SK-39, both of which look a bit too 'new' and perfect for me. In fact when it comes to trad looking sopranos, it's perhaps no surprise that so many try to look like old Martin ukuleles. Some get it dead right, like Kiwaya, but some end up looking just too new and a bit artificial. Not here. It looks and feels much more older.
The body is finished in a smooth open pore satin, but the pores are more minimal and not like some you see that look like Swiss cheese (TICK!). It's very well applied everywhere with no scuffs or over application I can find. More like a Kiwaya finish than an Ohana which almost feel like they are coated in plastic.
Inside is extremely tidy. It has nicely fitted and shaped notched kerfing and braces that are not chunky at all. No mess either.
The neck is made from a single piece of mahogany and at the nut narrows to a pleasingly flattened profile and a roomy 35mm (just under 30mm G to A) in width. The neck is incredibly similar to something like a Martin S1 or, dare I say it, a higher end Kiwaya, is satin coated and is pretty much exactly how I would like a soprano ukulele neck to be. (TICK!). No complaints.
That is topped in more Ovangol with some Martin style end shaping at the bottom end. This wood is definitely dyed darker here as you can see the natural colour in the slightly unfinished tip at the end and in points down the sides. This is my first gripe with the instrument and whilst it's a minor cosmetic one, it is scruffy. I'm not against stained fretboards and you would be surprised how many mid level (and even some upper end) instruments do it. It did stand out to me though and the face of the fingerboard, despite being dark and even in colour has a look of being stained or painted. A bit of a shame, but of course this has no bearing on the playing or sound. It's edge stained too which largely, but not quite hides the fret ends of which you get a generous 17 with a traditional 12 to the body. These have no sharp edges at all and are not overly chunky either. The position marker layout is also very Martin 'style' traditional with outward pearl dots at the 5th, a double 7th and one at the 10th with extra side dots also at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th. Nice.
Beyond the well cut and set bone nut is the same sort of headstock shape as found on the Concert. That is to say, simple, plain and perhaps not knowing quite what it wants to be. I find it a bit bland myself though the grain in the wood is very nice to look at. The Cort logo is inlaid in pearl and is stark looking and perhaps too big for the small head?
The tuners are friction pegs (TICK!) in pale cream plastic, though very basic ones with plastic on plastic for the grip. They are easily changed of course, but to be honest with you I am finding these a pleasure to use without any hint of jumping around or over-shooting. Really surprised in fact, even if they do look rather cheap.
Finishing it off are a set of Aquila strings and a very nice quality embroidered padded gig bag. A ready to go soprano really. And for that you are looking at a street price of about £199. Bearing in mind this is all solid wood, that's a very good deal. It's a touch more in price than the Ohana SK-35 (the closest comparable, but comes with no bag and, in my opinion is nowhere near as nice to look at), less than the Ohana SK-39 and FAR less than a Martin S1. A fair price I would say.
You will be able to tell thus far that I rather like this one. It's very well put together (bar that scruffy fingerboard - really my only gripe) and most of all the trad looks have really taken me. As I say, above with Martin clones, ukuleles can look too 'artificial' or 'factory', yet this looks old and worn in. I like that. Yes, I'd like nicer friction pegs, but I stress, these do work fine. All in all I have been playing this a lot this week and am very taken with it.
It's very light too at 390g and very well balanced. Just as a soprano should be, you don't know it's there. The volume is very good and the sustain is surprisingly so for a soprano meaning it won't be a one trick pony that is only suited to rhythmic strumming. The whole instrument vibrates in your chest and hands when you play it.
I'm really pleased with the tone too for a £200 instrument. No, it's not up there at the giddy singing heights of the high end Kiwaya soprano ukuleles, but it's a fraction of that cost. There is a peppy jangle here when strummed which is just what you want from a soprano. Often though, I find they can be a little too brittle sounding or strident, even some of the higher priced models, but there is a more restrained mellow depth to the tone of this one that I am enjoying and find very pretty. Whether that is down to the Aquila strings (probably, I usually use light fluorocarbon gauges on my sopranos) or the blackwood body (possibly) I cannot be fully sure, but it's pretty without being too in your face. It's far nicer to my ears and memory than the Ohana Martin clones. Naturally, experimentation with strings will change things around here, but i'm surprisingly enjoying the Aquila string choice, of which I am not usually a fan.
Fingerpicking is fun too, not least down to the very comfortable roomy neck, but the sustain helps here meaning it doesn't stray into 'plinky plonky*' that many people associate with cheap sopranos. There is much more character to the tone than that. The mellower nature I mention in the strumming performance is still there, but a simple case of digging in to the strings on a note fires out a great clear punch when you need it. Lots of opportunities for expression here and this is again where I think it stands above other comparatively priced sopranos (and even some costing a fair bit more).
(* a technical term!)
As a final point ahead of the summing up.. I have an admission to make. Of late I have found myself playing ukulele for pleasure less and less (shock horror!). Sure I play them every week for reviews, but that's been about it for me. I was finding my mojo somewhat lost and uke playing something of a busman's holiday at times. But with no word of a lie, this one has made me pick one up again, regularly, just for fun. In fact I re-ordered my review calendar as I wanted to get these thoughts down as I was in the moment. That's got to be worth part of a recommendation huh?
All in all, if you are soprano shopping (or consider the soprano to not be a 'serious' instrument or hard to play) I think this really MUST be on your list for consideration. There's a lot of Martin clones out there and if your wallet doesn't stretch to a Kiwaya, it can be something of a minefield with the cheaper ones. Whilst it's not ultra high end in performance or build, and one or two minor issues let it down (for which I chipped the fit and finish score down, but they are not life and death) it's a £200 Chinese ukulele that punches well above it's weight on playability, tone and looks in my book. And if you have noticed all those 'TICKS', in this review, it's ticking the right boxes for this reviewer!
What's not to like? And, oh joy! We have another guitar maker who shows that some of them DO know how to make a ukulele properly!
UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP
Model: Cort UKE-BWS
Body: Solid Blackwood
Bridge: Ovangkol, slot style
Spacing at saddle: 44mm
Neck: One piece mahogany
Frets: 17, joined at 12th
Nut Width: 35mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: Basic friction pegs
Country of origin: China
Extras: Branded gig bag
Traditional looks without trying too hard
Very comfortable neck
Great volume and sustain
Characterful jangly tone without being too strident
Lots of room for expressive play when picking
A better looking and sounding Martin clone than many
Another guitar brand in the minority who know how to make a uke!
Scruffy finish to edges of fingerboard irritate me
Headstock logo looks stark and out of keeping with the rest
Would still prefer nicer friction pegs (though these do work fine!!)
Look - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money 9.5 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.1 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz
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