Magic Fluke Co. Firefly Banjo Uke Full Review

11

April 24, 2011 by Tim


 

 At NAMM this past January this was the ukulele that everyone was talking about. Sure there were some really nice high end ones and K-brands that got a ton of buzz, but this was the one that I kept hearing “Did you stop by the Magic Fluke booth yet?” At NAMM it did not have a name yet, we just called it the fluke banjo uke. Also there were several different one, so watch for more (Here is the NAMM coverage I did on them)

Move forward 4 months and the firefly is being shipped to great fan fare, and they cannot make them fast enough, and people are raving about them. I was lucky to get one for a few weeks for banjo uke week, and I would be remiss if I did not have it in the lineup since it is so unique.

I do have a nagging question that I can’t stop thinking about and others have asked. Is the firefly worth $229? You can buy the hand drum for $15 on Amazon, and a maple bridge is $4. is the fluke neck, wood coordinator, and tail piece worth $210?

Read on to find out.

Specs:

The Magic Fluke co. Firefly Banjo Ukulele
Soprano: 16
Tuners: Friction with Black Buttons
Maple & Ebony  3-Leg Bridge
Nut: Plastic, but it is a zero fret
Head Material: Synthetic skin
Head Size” 8″
Rim: Acousticon pot?
Tone ring: no
Back: Open
Neck: Walnut, Wood Fretboard
String attachment: Knot in a hole
# of J-Hooks: 0
Coordinator: Wood
Finish: Matte
Weight: 1 LB
Case: Denim bag
Full Specs:
http://www.fleamarketmusic.com/store/Scripts/prodView.asp?idproduct=263

Looks

First look: (5)although plain it is striking in its sparseness. It looks like an alien when it is near other banjo ukes since it has no j-hooks. You know it is a banjo uke right from the get go, but it is missing stuff. I think that is what attracts people to it. Also the signature fluke/flea head makes it that much more interesting to look at since it is so different than most ukes out there.

Look MA! No J-Hooks!!

Fit and Finish: (4)Some will look at the rim (Hand drum) and say “How cheap” but that is not the reason for the point deduction at all. I expect The Magic Fluke co. to use innovative materials to make their ukes, that is why we buy them. Yes the rim is a weird hardboard laminate of some kind that has the markings of a cardboard tube on the inside, but I did some research into it and it is cardboard, but a high pressure laminate for Remo for these hand drums to make them acoustically work. If you just use a cardboard tube the drum would sound dead. But the reason for the point deduction is for the way the fretboard joins the neck and the nut. On close inspection it is a little off near the body, also since they round the corners before gluing the fret board on it leaves a ridge that I feel makes it feel strange to play. The nut is just plastic looking and a bit wavy but does nothing to the sound since it is a zero fret, which I prefer in all my instruments.

Hmmm, is that a cardboard tube?

Sound:

Sound Type: Mellow but clear. This will not be the uke that gets you kicked out of a uke jam, I think it would blend in nicely, but add the banjo sound.

Intonation: (5) If the intonation is off, it is your own fault for the most part. most banjo ukes are shipped with the bridge laying down and you have to set it up, or find someone to do it for you. This one didn’t come setup and ready to play, it was very easy to setup.

Volume: (4)  As I said in the sound part, it is not super loud, and that is fine for playing with regular uke players, but I expect banjo ukes to be loud and stand out a little more..

Sustain: (4)  Same as a regular uke, nothing special, It would be a 5 on an all wood uke.

Feel:

String Height: (Me-Low) Not low but not high either. just right..

Neck Radius Depth: (3/4″) Same as any fluke or flea with the flat back to the neck.

Frets: (5) Perfect. Well dressed. no frets sticking out.

Tuning: (3) I found that I had to keep them really stiff to keep it in tune, but it made it really hard to tune.

Comfort: (5)  1 LB Banjo uke!! And no metal j-hooks to jab you makes it really nice to hold without any straps or having to sit to play it. I would say that is one of its big selling points.

Sound Hole Smell: What sound hole? Hint of Varnish

Final Thoughts

Right now this is the new shinny thing that is fueling many people UAS (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome) and many people are buying them, even if they have no clue if they like banjo ukes at all. I don’t see that as a bad thing at all. It is one of the cheapest ones on the market today. For some this will be what starts them down the banjo ukulele path and they may go and explore others like a Gold Tone or one made by Aaron Keim (Bean Sprout), while others will sell them in a few months because they are not banjo uke people, and that happen all the time.

Yes this is a take on the DIY banjo uke that you could make for $50, but would it be half as good as this one, I doubt it. Making a neck, figuring out the coordinator so it does not implode, and making a nice tail piece like this one takes a lot of skill and investment to make it right and playable. That is one of the things I applaud Dale at Magic Fluke for, he finds some of the coolest ways to make ukuleles, and the Firefly is just another example of that ingenuity that he has, and the vision of the whole company to sell it.

If you are looking for a light playable banjo uke that is not starting at $300, then this is it and you will be happy with it for a long time, but I guarantee that if you like this, you will be on the path to exploring others out there. This is a true gateway banjo uke, and you will have BUAS (Banjo Uke Acquisition Syndrome) in no time.

I will not have this one at the Mighty MO Ukulele Fest, they will want it back since there is such high demand.

 Review 6 done, WHOOO, No more banjo ukes to review, at least for now.

All Rating on a scale of 1-5
Click here for an explanation of reviews

First Look 5
Fit and Finish 4
Sound Type Mellow and clear
Intonation 5
Volume 4
Sustain 4
String Height Med-Low
Neck Radius Depth 3/4″
Frets 5
Tuning 3
Comfort 5
Sound Hole Smell What sound Hole? Paint? Faint varnish

 

HD Audio Clips:

 

Places to buy on the web:

Flea Market Music - $229

Gallery:

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11 thoughts on “Magic Fluke Co. Firefly Banjo Uke Full Review

  1. Robert P. says:

    I have BUAS thanks to your all your awesome banjo-uke posts.

  2. ksiegel says:

    I’ve got one of the firefly banjo ukes. I was lucky enough to play a couple of the prototypes back in March at the Magic Fluke production facility (Factory just doesn’t describe that place!). I wasn’t in the market for a banjo uke, then Dale brought the instruments out. After about 1/2 hour of playing, I ordered one.

    I got mine with Peghed tuners, rather than the standard Grover 2B tuners, and what a difference! It would have definitely brought the rating to a 5. The upgrade is well worth the $69.

    The other thing I noticed was the setup. My string height is low all the way – no buzzing at all, but I use a fairly percussive thumb technique when I play some tunes, and I tend to hit the fretboard. The sound doesn’t suffer at all, but I measured the height at about 3-4 mm at the 12th fret.

    As I’ve said before, if you’re a Formby style, or very aggressive strummer, the Firefly may not be the banjo uke for you. This is an instrument for the rest of us, however. Light, comfortable, wide neck, and the standard Fluke neck, which is slightly longer scale than true soprano.

    Thanks for the reviews this week – they were very informative!

  3. pepamahina says:

    I also got the Peghed tuner upgrade, thanks to a heads up from ksiegel and others on the ukulele underground forum. I have been wondering if it was overkill. After reading this, I’m confident I made the right choice! Thanks for the review, the Firefly is my first and only BU, so it is nice to hear how it measures up to others I might have chosen. Great Banjo week, thanks!

  4. Brad says:

    Thanks for all of the great reviews. Look forward to meeting you at the Mighty Mo Uke Fest.

  5. Great review again. FYI you need to put a “not’ in the section about Fit and finish where it says its “not” cardboard. You left out the not. I can’t wait to try one. How will they handle head replacement if you get a hole in it?

  6. john says:

    I just bought one, and the E and A strings continuously go out of tune. Every five minutes I have to tune it. I will probably return it for this reason and ask for the upgraded pegs, or look into a different banjo uke. The thing is cool otherwise, so it’s a real shame.

  7. Cyndi craven says:

    I got one for my b-day in May … got the Peghed tuners, well worth it. I ADORE this thing. Take it to a weekly jam where I usually play ukulele (sometimes guitar). People are loving the sound (and the looks) of the Firefly, and now everyone wants one, too! Even folks who don’t play uke. This is my fav instrument right now (out of multiple great ukes and guitars). Very happy camper.

  8. Andy says:

    was able to get a gold tone tenor ukulele new for $199 on amazon. looks to be a lot more uke for the money. really loud but can be mutes with a rag. the Firefly look pretty cool though.

  9. JohnM says:

    One thing I don’t understand about this instrument, given that it has no J hooks, is how do you adjust the tension in the head as it inevitably stretches and how do you go about replacing the head? It doesn’t actually look replaceable at all!

    • Tim says:

      No adjustments. the head and rim are one unit, and if anything happens they say they will replace it. to my knowledge many people do not replace heads ever in the life of most banjo ukes. Al lot of times when we get ukes in that need fixing they have a broken head, but a well maintained banjo ukes head should last its lifetime

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