It's here and I still have no idea where it came from? There is no "Made In China" label but there is no made in anywhere label just a Bryce BUK08 label but that was probably added by the distributor. From the build It really doesn't look Chinese made? The Spanish heel (yes slot head and a Spanish heel!!) the golpeador the fretboard, (or lack of even a pretence of one) the brass frets the finish; Everything! This certainly comes from a different factory from any of my other Ukuleles, and the overall slightly less machine made quality of the build makes me think a slightly a slightly less modern industrial nation that China. maybe India? Maybe Venezuela? Is very good for the money though... - Well I asked and it IS made in China but clearly from none of the factories I have Ukuleles from already
On to a full review… Let’s start with the basic facts and measurements. It has a scale length of 550mm (21 2/3 in), so a Baritone. A total length of 815mm (28 in) and a nut width of 44mm (1 3/4 in) There are 14 frets to the body on a fretboard that is flush to the golpeador and has no fret markers on the top or on the side. While I'm on the golpeador I should point out that it is a proper golpeador made from an extra wood layer and not just a different staining; also on the “proper” front it has a proper “Spanish heel” too. It was made in mainland China in 2013 or 14 but not by one of the usual factories, (hence the heel and golpeador - but I don't know exactly who did make it?) and branded as Bryce for the UK based Internet resellers Instruments4music.
There is no avoiding the fact that when you first look it, it looks like a Venezuelan Cuatro. It's quite narrow body, the slot head, the 14 fret flush fretboard, the golpeador, even the Spanish heel! I can't help thinking that it was built to be one apart from the fact that the makers assured me it was made in China and with the amount of luthiery firms in Venezuela and the cost of locally produced ones I don't see a market for it as one from China?
Up close it is a little more artisan and less factory looking than a lot of the Chinese fair. The finish is a satin staining applied nicely across the front and back but there are some missed patches on the sides. Yes the body is laminate and the publicity says its a nato top with a basswood back and sides. From the unstained edges I would say the golpeador is made for the same wood and just given a darker coating that hides any graining to give a solid on colour look. This staining is extended up the front of the neck to give the appearance of a fretboard; I would call it “ebonising” but the stain is brown not black. There is no edge binding but there is a fairly subtle decal sound hole rosette and a small decorated plaque on the bridge, (that unfortunately hasn't been put on centrally so you can still see the screw top that it was suppose to hide)
Away from the body and the bridge appears a different wood, though the publicity says its nato again. It’s a fairly standard tie design but is screwed as well as glued and has the little decorated bit on top that is suppose to hide the screws, (but wouldn't completely even if it was applied properly). Quite what this is made of, again I'm not sure but it’s a kind of coloured fibre over a thin splint of wood not plastic; and it adds to the Latin American feel of the instrument. The nut is made from the same wood as the bridge and is set into a cut slot on the neck, (on mine it is a millimetre or so out from true so the is a slight protuberance one side and slight dip the other), but the saddle is the standard hard plastic affair. The neck is quite a light wood, (if I had to guess I would say birch? the publicity doesn't say), and one piece from the headstock to the heel, with a three piece heel section. It is quite lightly stained but it has been stained darker though you can still see knots and blemishes through the stain. It is however very smooth and tactile, with a very substantial, and wide, D profile. The headstock is slotted with the front stained very dark to match the body and the back and sides matching the rest of the neck The frets themselves are well fitted, with no protuberances or sharp bits, well finished ends and an interesting brass colouration. I’m not sure if they are brass or its just they were in place when the fretboard “ebonising” was done so they have just picked up some of the stain? So far there is no sign of any wearing though so I'll not try steel strings with this. All in all the neck has a very vintage feel, like on old Hawaiian Ukuleles that don’t have separate fretboards, and I quite like this. Finally the tuners; and with the slot head they are 2x2 side mounted open geared ones with a little bit of etching on the flat parts and some decorative cutting of the ends. Not great when adjusting but they hold firm and don't let the Ukulele go out of tune once you get it there, (and the strings finish stretching)
On to the sound and it has a very, very nice full tone, perhaps a little louder on the D string, though this might just be my playing style(?) and it does add to the overall bass. It does have a surprisingly warm tone too for a laminate and has all of the volume you need from an acoustic instrument.
Intonation down the fretboard is a bit off being about 30-40% sharp at the 12th fret (with the B string being worst). Some of this is down to a high factory setup so it does go out a bit at the first fret. You could take the action down at both the nut and saddle, which would probably improve this but you would need to be very careful to keep everything even and not to go to low and introduce a buzz. Another thing that may help is a change of strings; the ones it comes with are all nylon and took a lot of stretching before they settled. I don't know how much science went into the choice of gauges but you may get better intonation from better quality strings? All that said though I really like the strings now they have settled, they tune at a nice easy tension and are easy to hold down for chords. I have taken to the compromise of tuning it 5-10% flat on the open string because I like the vintage feel the high actions gives and it is a good height for finger picking for me.
To sum up then, it’s not the greatest Ukulele on the planet but it is distinctive, interesting and surprisingly tuneful. Given its price point it’s an easy one to fit into any collection that doesn't have a Baritone and would like to have a go, or if you want a real beater Baritone, and the tone is so good you would have to pay a LOT of money to get better. I would almost certainly get another one if I lost this one and possibly another one so I can try it out as a Venezuelan Cuatro, (as I've said I really like the “in theory” bad set up and don't want to mess about with it if I don't have to)