Pono MGC Solid Mango Concert Ukulele - REVIEW
It's been a while since I looked at a ukulele from this brand, so it's good to be looking at Pono once again. This is the Pono MGC Solid Mango Concert Ukulele.
Pono are a much admired 'higher intermediate' level (my categorisation) brand that represent Indonesian made instruments from the Hawaiian based parent company Ko'olau. They were probably the first 'step up to serious' ukulele brand I ever personally acquired and have owned several over the years. All their instruments are solid wood made to the exacting standards of the revered Ko'olau brand and come in a range of scales and finishes from the plain to some more highly decorated models. I don't recall one getting a bad review on Got A Ukulele, but it has been a while and several other brands have appeared with similarly specced instruments for less money since I last looked at one. As Got A Ukulele is time sensitive we shall have to see how this Pono now stands up.
This is a double bout instrument with what I consider to be a more modern shape with a lot of curve around the bouts and is made from all solid wood. In this case it's the first solid mango wood ukulele I have seen from Pono - a tone wood that is rapidly becoming a favourite with many, both for its looks and also the richness of tone. It's certainly the case that in recent years some very high scores have been given by Got A Ukulele to mango instruments. The top back and sides here are all in two pieces and I think that both the wavy grain patterns and overall colour on this example are absolutely wonderful. I would stress, mango is highly variable and I have seen several examples online of the same instrument with much paler wood that are not so much to my taste. This is orangey warm and interesting to look at. This also doesn't display much of that black sooty look that some mango woods can display with only a bit evident on the top in a certain light. I really like the looks here.
The bridge is the usual Pono tie bar made from ebony. It's extremely tidy and the carving is neat and crisp. Sitting in that is a bone straight topped saddle. Spacing here is 45mm. I would prefer the ebony here to be darker though and am not a fan of paler examples.
Decoration here is extremely simple but effective. All you get is a wooden inlay around the sound hole that is both obvious, but yet also blends with the colour of the body wood so as to not be ostentatious. It's extremely neat. The edges of the top and back are not bound but slightly chamfered off for comfort. The whole body is then finished in a smooth satin which is very neat all over the body. Gloss lovers will be pleased to know that the MGCD is available which is identical bar the gloss finish. Personally speaking I think i'd prefer this.
Inside is extremely tidy with no mess I can see. The braces are extremely thin and the linings are notched.
The neck is made from mahogany in an excessive number of pieces - there is a joint at the headstock and two stacks on the heel. It's finished in satin with an ebony heel plate to add a little more interest. It's extremely smooth to hold, but does bring me on to one point about Pono where my views have changed over time. All Pono instruments I have ever looked at have gone with a very standard overly rounded profile and average nut width. And so it is here, with a 35mm nut and 27mm G to A. Now, as I always point out, this is a very personal thing, but over time my move has been away from nuts like this as I prefer either a flatter profile or a wider nut (or even both). It shows how my views have changed as I used to buy Pono instruments and in fact, performed with one for a year - so I clearly CAN play them. But these days the choice is much greater and for me it's now a case of do I WANT to play them? And I am not sure I do. I'm making far more of that than is probably necessary for a uke review - but my readers know what my views are on neck widths and it would be wrong to avoid talking about it here. It's why when you go back some years to my earlier Pono reviews that you will see that I never thought it was such a big deal. Times change though.
Topping that is an ebony fingerboard in great condition. Like the bridge though it's also paler than I would like. It's edge bound in black hiding the ends of the 20 frets which, sadly, are looking rather tarnished to the point of corrosion. That's highly unusual for Pono, but I have to mention it. In all likelihood the blame here is not actually Pono, but the shop selling it for not storing it well enough. It's easily sorted with wire wool, but not right. Position markers are small and subtle facing out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th and are repeated with dots on the side.
The headstock is the usual subtle Pono shape with an ebony face plate. The Pono logo is inlaid in the top and is a logo I have always thought looks classy.
The tuners are Pono branded open gears in chrome. The gearing system is very good quality, as normal for Pono, but sadly these are tarnished too. Again, easily fixed with some metal polish, but should never have shipped like this.
It doesn't come with anything else bar the Ko'olau branded strings, and has a retail price of around £350. That's pretty reasonable for a Pono.
And it's largely a solid showing here for the brand. I can't find much wrong, but those metalwork issues are highly irritating. Whilst I have pointed out that is more likely the fault of the dealer rather than Pono - (I bought this blind from a high street music store online - I do that quite often to ensure that the reviews are more randomised than just relying on distributors to send me good examples) but, Pono as a brand, needs to be sure their dealers are not sending out instruments that have not been looked after. For me, the dealer is as much part of the 'ukulele brand' as the distributor and maker are. They are the public face and final connection to the player. As such, the fit and finish element of the score gets a chip on the points. (IMPORTANT NOTE - this did NOT come from any of the ukulele stores I recommend and list on this page).
Still, the rest of the build is sound and re-assuring. It's not heavy at 525g and balances well too. The finish also feels great in the hands.
The volume and sustain here are both excellent and it projects with minimal effort on the strumming or plucking hand. This is certainly a lively uke and not a let down in those departments. That's all down to the resonance created by the lightness of the build.
The tone is very much what I expected from a concert in mango too. It's a peppy jangly sound that many concerts display that is more on the soprano rhythmical end of the scale than 'guitar-esque' and is a lot of fun. The mango wood provides a richness to the sound right across the dynamic range in the same way good koa or acacia does. Neither bright nor dark, it's a bit of everything. That jangle comes from the clarity of the individual strings in the mix harmonising together and is a joy. It's a very precise instrument and never sounds muddy or choked.
Fingerpicking is similarly pretty with rich clear notes pinging out of the instrument wherever you play and no volume drop off. This instrument has a beautiful tone I think and excels in whatever style of play you throw at it.
So as is usual for Pono this one does very well indeed. In fact it could have been a stellar review score if it wasn't for the minor snags, which is a shame. Still, this may just be a one off. Do bear in mind the colour variations with mango and try to see what you are getting rather than relying on a stock image though. Tone wise though I think this is wonderful and is very highly recommended!
UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP
Model: Pono MGC
Body: Solid mango
Bridge: Ebony, tie bar
Saddle spacing: 45mm
Frets: 20, 14 to body
Nut width: 35mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Pono branded open chrome gears
Country of origin: Indonesia
Great wood look
Sound instrument build
Very good volume and sustain
Clear rich tone
Good price for a Pono
Would prefer darker ebony
Nut width / profile not for me
Looks 9 out of 10
Fit and finish: 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.9 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz
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