March 7, 2012 by Tim
Every so often I am asked to review ukuleles that are out of my normal price range ($400-$500 ukuleles), this one is only about $2000 above my $300 or less that I usually review. I could have said “No thank you”, but that would be irresponsible of me to do, right?
A little history; I had never heard of Lichty Guitars until I read an article on UkuleleReview.com, when he made a uke for Julie, who runs the site. From what I could tell the uke that Jay Lichty made for her was a super high end beast of a ukulele. The sound and build quality was out of this world high end . I never would have thought I would ever play one. Jay, of Lichty Guitars, contacted me not to long ago, just before I went to NAMM, and wondered if I would be interested in being a stop on a special ukulele’s tour around the country. I calmly said “Are you kidding me?!?! Hell yes I will review a high end uke!” Needless to say, I was excited that I would have the opportunity to review, let a lone to play a ukulele of this caliber. Then reality set in when someone pointed out that it is a $2300 ukulele. Am I able to be objective of a uke in that price range? Will I just be writing nothing but 5 for everything and basically be gushing over it like a schoolgirl at a Justin Beiber concert? So, I put on my big boy pants, told myself that I have played ukes that cost three or four times more than this, and I have had countless conversations with people who love, make, and obsess about ukuleles and what makes a “perfect” ukulele. I had high hopes that this ukulele would meet my every expectation of a high end ukulele.
Read on to see what I thought.
Tenor: 19 Frets
Tuners: Closed Gear Grover
Nut & saddle: Bone
Top: Solid Western Red Cedar
Sides: Solid Granadillo
Back: Solid Granadillo
String Attachment: String Through Body
First look: (5) Upon first inspection everyone has the same reaction that I did.The ukulele is beautiful and it draws you into it, and you have no choice but to grab it and say “Mine?” with a little glimmer of hope that maybe you get to keep it, at least for a little while before someone else sees it.
The wood used is very pretty and it has binding for the binding. If you look at the side of the neck it has binding under the bound fret board. The sides and back blow people away with the two tones of the granadillo. The fretboard goes past the sound hole with a sexy swoosh, and the little squares that adorn the sound hole make it sparkle. This ukulele looks custom and you know it is handmade with love. To top it all off it has a really luxurious wet looking high gloss finish. I would have to say that it has most of the bells and whistles of a high end uke.
Fit and Finish: (3) Let us start with the high points of this fine steed of a ukulele. As noted before the ukulele looks like a piece that may be at home hanging on the wall as a piece of art as much as it would be in someones loving arms as they played it. The finish is top quality. Not too thick or thin, just right, and a good choice for an instrument that may have to bare the abuses of a life on the road with a professional musician. With that the choice of woods set the stage for every other piece to shine. Working with a two tone wood can be tricky and getting them to match is sometimes impossible. Instead of man handling the colors to match Jay seemed to accentuate the beauty of the granadillo sides and back, then outlined every detail with layer after layer of binding and inlay, sparing almost no corner or seam. The Fretboard is bound like any other fretboard you see on higher end ukes, but he goes a step further by adding a few delicate lines where the fretboard meets the neck. This is a small detail, but shows a lot of style and craftsmanship. the amount of small detail work is something that I keep looking at and finding new things that blow me away. Over all the design and decoration is very subtle, but it can take your breathe away with one look.
Now, why did I give it a 3? Keep in mind this is a $2300 ukulele. Many of the issues I have I would forgive if it was an $1100 ukulele. Let us start with aesthetics; The L on the headstock is off center, and the little dots on the bridge are not lined up with the string holes making it look off. Some of the binding did not want to bend around the hip on the front and needed to be filled in and now it looks off and very noticeable, along with the tail block stripe, it is a little wonky with one side missing some gold and it goes crooked at the end.
What about the build? One big no-no in building a wood instrument is that you do not finish the inside. I asked several builders to confirm this. By putting finish on the inside it will seal the wood completely and not let it breathe. Along with that the headstock is so thick that it weighs the uke down and I had an issue when changing the strings with one of the collars around the tuners coming undone and I had a hell of a time getting it to screw in since the head stock is way too thick (1/2” thick!!). Along the lines of thickness, I think the top could be thinned by 1/3 of what it is. It is a ukulele, not a guitar, and that is a common thing for guitar makers to do. The over braced top could benefit from it being thinned and it would sound even better if he could trust that it will not crack if he goes thinner. My last issue is the fact it has a bolt on neck. Yes it is a mechanical joint and it helps keep it together. Many builders like to glue and screw. a bolt on neck is the kind of thing I expect of a builder who does not trust that they have made a good enough joint to hold the neck joint.
Sound Type: Mellow with a lot of mid and lows. The cedar top tends to give it the mellow tones. It can be a little cutting with the highs, they seem crisp, but the mid-tones, and lows win by coming forward more than anything else.
Intonation: (5) Perfect. Jay has a slightly askew saddle to help with the intonation and as expected it is perfect all the way up and down.
Volume: (4) louder than most ukes in part because it is a tenor. There is more sound coming out of the side sound hole than the front, and with a pickup that could be a good thing. Over all it projects and gets the sound out. it could be better with a thinner top and less bracing.
Sustain: (5) One thing I was amazed with was how long each note could just sing. Has to be the longest sustain I have ever witnessed on a ukulele. Maybe it is the glass beads that are tied to the ends of the strings, or that it is a very resonate piece of red cedar. I have found that when the builder lets the top float, instead of being anchored down to the sides with glue, it creates more sustain. Playing this uke it is evident that Jay knows how to make an instrument sing.
String Height: (medium-low) Nothing crazy..It is where it should be. I think it could have been lower, but that is a preference.
Neck Radius Depth: (7/8″) C shaped neck. A very thick neck for a ukulele, but that can be good if you want to put higher tension strings on. Also the thicker neck can be more comfortable for people with bigger hands
Frets: (4) You can feel some of them from the sides. Nothing sharp, but still there. One of the advantages of binding a fretboard is that you can hide the frets in them if done right.
Tuning: (4) The tuners are high end, but nothing special. If I were to spend the money on this uke I would expect PegHeds or super blinged out friction tuners with wood buttons. A closed gear tuner is bulky and not needed and takes away form the look and adds unneeded weight.
Comfort: (4) The only downfall of this uke is that it is heavy. Every other part makes it comfortable to play.
Sound Hole Smell: Like a Martin. I mean that in the best way. I would wear a cologne that smelled like that.
My job is to be critical of the ukuleles that people send me and to be honest. To be honest if I bought this uke I would have sent it back. I have played Moore Bettahs in this price range and they had beautiful inlay and played with such ease, and weighed half as much as this one does.
That being said, all artists are trying to make the best thing they can, and also learning as they go. I am hoping that this all can be taken in the spirit of a critique of the instrument and not of the person. I know that with a few changes that Lichty ukuleles could be one of the premiere uke builders. The wood choices,sound, craftsmanship, and the wow factor are all there.
Thank you so much Jay for letting me play this lovely instrument, and I hope to see more in the future.
Jay Lichty Response:
“I respect a man who writes as he sees it, however I would like to defend a couple of points that are up for debate. As you know there are more ways to skin a cat and just because one builder does it another way does not always make it wrong. I speak of the finish on the inside. That is up for debate and my studies show that there are benefits to this practice, hence why I do it. Here are two links to a discussion on this very topic. http://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-202066.html and http://theunofficialmartinguitarforum.yuku.com/topic/88630#.T1bDkZghxWg Regarding the bolt on neck…most of the high end guitar builders are doing this now. I’m not sure about the uke folks. I think it makes a great joint and so does Taylor guitars among a bunch of others. http://www.taylorguitars.com/global/pdfs/bolt_on_neck.pdf”
All Rating on a scale of 1-5
Click here for an explanation of reviews
|Fit and Finish||3|
|Sound Type||Mellow with a lot of mids and lows|
|String Height||Medium -Low|
|Neck Radius Depth||7/8″|
|Sound Hole Smell||Like a Martin guitar|
Places to buy on the web:
HD Audio Samples: