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View Full Version : Blackbird Clara continues on its way to parts unknown...



bborzell
12-16-2014, 11:28 AM
Actually, to Santa Monica. Should be there on Wednesday after leaving my place having left a very positive impression around here.

First things first; I will not buy one. But, the reason for that decision is simply the fact that my hands are too big to form chords beyond the 9th or tenth fret. And, that is true of virtually all concert scale ukes I have picked up.

But, for every other quality I consider important in a uke, the Clara hit the mark. Playability closer to the nut is very smooth. I even like the fact that the fretboard is fashioned from the same material (and color) as my kitchen countertops. The rounded back reminded me of the Ovation guitar I kept for several years before finally succumbing to the reality that I was tired of it rolling off my leg. The Clara is nowhere near as bad (probably because it has so little physical mass compared to the large body guitar), but I was sometimes aware of having to make "holding" adjstments while sitting without a strap.

Tone is different from my two solid wood tenors, but that is not a good or bad statement. The Clara sounds very much like the top is made from solid wood. Tone is balanced and the volume is considerable.

Fit and finish are top notch and the uke does not seem anywhere near as "vulnerable" as similarly priced solid instruments.

My thanks to MacNichol Guitars for sending this uke around the country for us to try.

M3Ukulele
12-16-2014, 11:46 AM
Would you buy it if it was tenor size? Shape could be the same or could be even a different cutaway than their current tenor! I like sound samples but am a tenor guy for many of the same reasons you state. I love the idea of Clara and the warmth everyone keeps commenting on with Clara sound - over current tenor. Just another "hint" to Joe for a tenor based with new material and technology. Thanks for sharing.

katysax
12-16-2014, 11:52 AM
Your comment about the Ovation guitar is funny because I had the exact same reaction. I also had an Ovation guitar that I loved at first but then sold because it was hard to hold. The Clara very much reminded me of that although because of the size it was not as much of a problem. There was a lot I liked about the Clara. One concern I had was that the top, while not as likely to crack or warp seemed to me to be susceptible to marring more than a wood top, and I also think it might actually shatter or break under some circumstances (though I don't have an evidence of that).

I'll add that I was very taken with the sound at first, but over the week that I had it, I started to change my opinion. I thought the sound was somewhat boomy and artificial albeit warm. They may have some difficulty taming the bass with a tenor model which may be one of the reasons why they started with a concert. Also the concert is very loud, a tenor has the potential to be overwhelming.

bborzell
12-16-2014, 12:26 PM
If Blackbird made an Ekoa tenor, I would seriously consider it.

The question of the durability of the top is interesting. None of my instruments get their tops touched by me in the course of typical playing. So, my guess is that anything that whacks the Ekoa top inadvertently is likely to cause similar insult to a comparable spruce or cedar top; hard to say.

I have read comments about boominess and fully expected to be put off by the sort of unbalance that would have to be present in order for the low G, for example, to boom out over the other strings. I did not experience that during my time with the Clara. Given that I had a bit of boom to deal with early in my ownership of my MP tenor, I''m thinking that this is a string matching issue. Once I found and settled on the right strings for the MP, the boom was gone. To be truthful,
I don't know what strings came on the Clara, but it sounded very good to me.

I played the Blackbird tenor (CF) in Reno and felt that the material in a uke tenor size would never work for me. Too bright and almost brittle for the sound that I seek in a uke. My guess is that Ekoa in a tenor holds much promise.

billten
12-16-2014, 03:27 PM
If Blackbird made an Ekoa tenor, I would seriously consider it.

I also would love to have a blackbird in a tenor, being a lefty makes the current shape one impossible. The concept of a clara with a tenor neck is intriguing, an comments about that idea?

M3Ukulele
12-16-2014, 04:59 PM
I like the idea of a long neck Clara but suspect Blackbird would be more original than that. They have a graphite tenor that is asymmetrical that a lot of folks like. They have the Clara that is getting good reviews. With Ekoa getting good reviews for tone....... I would think they would design another new product, tenor scale with Ekoa. My vote would be a different cutaway because I like that style.. I did play the graphite tenor in Hawaii two years ago but was so new at it all I could play was a c,f and g chord! I'd love to get my hands on one now but none in my part,of the world. I say "bring on a new Ekoa tenor that is unique" like all the blackbird products......

SailingUke
12-16-2014, 06:10 PM
I have a Clara, but prefer a tenor scale. I just played a tenor where the stock Oasis strings have been replaced with a set of flouro carbons, amazing difference. It has the same strings as DaSilva uses. I would encourage anyone considering a Blackbird tenor to explore different strings.

Teek
12-16-2014, 10:22 PM
I'm watching the FedEx notice in my inbox, it's mine next! I got to play Eddie's when I was checking his Pono tenor over the weekend, he has Aquila Reds on it re-entrant and that was the first time I tried those strings. The Clara is supposed to have Oasis strings on it, I was sent out a set so am ready to restring it. The Reds were nice though and it is a cool little uke, though I agree about it being a bit slippery with the rounded sides. I'm hoping to get some good time in on it and will weigh in after. I am also a tenor person so echo the tenor enthusiasts in hoping that Blackbird will come up with a new tenor.

Andy Chen
12-16-2014, 10:42 PM
As owner of both the Blackbird carbon fibre tenor and ekoa Clara concert, I must say they are both excellent instruments but the Clara is by far my favorite among all my ukes despite me preferring tenor scale. It is not just awesome sounding but it is entirely unique in its voicing.

While I too would like a tenor Clara, I wonder if a longer scale and larger body might change certain sonic qualities. The current shorter scale makes it punchy yet has great sustain and even resembles a tenor in sound.

Might a tenor Clara sound more like a guitar than uke?

bborzell
12-17-2014, 06:17 AM
For my particular iuise (large hands), a long (tenor) scale with the current body size would have made my playing experience more practical. But, I am also of the opinion that the Blackbird folks know enough about body shaping for tone to be able to create a tenor sized body that will work well in Ekoa.

stevepetergal
12-17-2014, 07:02 AM
I found the round back pretty clumsy. No, I guess I was clumsy with it. But a player just has to get used to things like that. Everything else is so good about the Clara the slippery body is really nothing.

(Oh, if it was up to me,the headstock would be bigger to allow more room between the nut and the tuners.)

PereBourik
12-17-2014, 07:10 AM
Clara is meant to be great ukulele that can go places you wouldn't take your great wooden ukulele. It's a concert because it travels just that much better than a tenor. Making a tenor Clara would undercut their existing tenor uke, so that's probably not going to happen anytime soon. The next project after Clara was an ekoa guitar called El Capitan. I don't see those for sale yet on their website so Blackbird must be working hard to get that right.

I play both concert and tenor. I understand the sense of crowding. But that's a case of diminishing returns. The actual difference in the distance between frets of a 17" scale compared to a 15" scale above the tenth fret is vanishingly small. I've just measured the fret to fret distance at the tenth fret on my Pono tenor (1/2"); and on my Clara (15/32"). That's a difference of 1/32" (about the thickness of a credit card). You should be able to overcome that with very little practice. Don't blame Blackbird and don't blame the concert scale if you can't overcome that.

My biggest challenge with Clara has been finding the strings that sound best to me. My current leader is Kala Pearls (wound nylon) in Low G. Next stop is a Southcoast Acoustic set (their newly released all wound set). Don't mess with the strings on the road trip Clara. If you get a Clara of your own, then the string chase will give you some good times.

katysax
12-17-2014, 07:26 AM
Don't get my comments wrong. In totality I loved playing the Clara and would not rule out buying one. The Clara is brilliant, but not perfect.

As far as the durability of the top. It is quite impervious to normal strumming. But if you look at it closely you will see that there are hundreds of tiny chips in the surface. I think it is prone to flake. The finish on a cedar top tends to be more protective. My hypothesis that the top might shatter under some conditions is just an hypothesis and might be entirely wrong. It is based on my observation of the flaking. So I could be completely wrong about that. Also if my hypothesis were correct, it would only be under extreme conditions that it would happen.

PereBourik stated what seems to be correct and obvious reason for the smaller size. I'm sure if they made a longer necked version they would find a way to minimize the boominess. After I had it one day I felt like I "had" to have it, after a week I didn't and did not feel bad about sending it on. It was great fun to play and I completely understand why those who have them love them.

bborzell
12-17-2014, 07:42 AM
Clara is meant to be great ukulele that can go places you wouldn't take your great wooden ukulele. It's a concert because it travels just that much better than a tenor. Making a tenor Clara would undercut their existing tenor uke, so that's probably not going to happen anytime soon. The next project after Clara was an ekoa guitar called El Capitan. I don't see those for sale yet on their website so Blackbird must be working hard to get that right.

I play both concert and tenor. I understand the sense of crowding. But that's a case of diminishing returns. The actual difference in the distance between frets of a 17" scale compared to a 15" scale above the tenth fret is vanishingly small. I've just measured the fret to fret distance at the tenth fret on my Pono tenor (1/2"); and on my Clara (15/32"). That's a difference of 1/32" (about the thickness of a credit card). You should be able to overcome that with very little practice. Don't blame Blackbird and don't blame the concert scale if you can't overcome that.

My biggest challenge with Clara has been finding the strings that sound best to me. My current leader is Kala Pearls (wound nylon) in Low G. Next stop is a Southcoast Acoustic set (their newly released all wound set). Don't mess with the strings on the road trip Clara. If you get a Clara of your own, then the string chase will give you some good times.

If the player's hands are large enough for crowded fingertips on a tenor scale, then any reduction in between fret real estate is an issue. Dismissing that concern by suggesting that more practice is needed is a bit off the mark. And further suggesting that I am "blaming" Blackbird for not overcoming the size of my hands is a bit thick in an other part of the anatomy.

Andy Chen
12-17-2014, 07:47 AM
I believe the tiny chips are due to the texture of the material, but it probably does not compromise strength and durability.

From my correspondence with Joe Luttwak of Blackbird, I'm given to understand that ekoa is stronger than wood but less so compared to carbon fiber, which the Blackbird tenor is made of.

PereBourik
12-17-2014, 07:51 AM
I was an early adopter of Clara. There was an issue with fibers on the top lifting where there is skin contact. It was really noticeable visually as well. On a trip out there I was able to have them buff and wax the top but the problem recurred in about 3 weeks. The longer fix was to send it back for a urethane sealer coat on top. That was a finishing step added to later production models. I assume (dangerous) that the road trip Clara has this seal coat. Wear and tear is going to be hard on an instrument. Especially when people only have a week to get the most out of it.

I doubt that the top could actually shatter. The fiber alignment is in multiple directions and will work to contain damage. Any impact hard enough to damage Clara's top would be the end of a wooden ukulele as well, rendering the point moot.

stevepetergal
12-19-2014, 04:53 AM
Clara is meant to be great ukulele that can go places you wouldn't take your great wooden ukulele.

I don't know. It is truly a great ukulele, but the price tells me it's actually more of a replacement for a wooden ukulele than a temporary substitute.

stevepetergal
12-19-2014, 04:57 AM
I was an early adopter of Clara. There was an issue with fibers on the top lifting where there is skin contact. It was really noticeable visually as well. On a trip out there I was able to have them buff and wax the top but the problem recurred in about 3 weeks. The longer fix was to send it back for a urethane sealer coat on top. That was a finishing step added to later production models. I assume (dangerous) that the road trip Clara has this seal coat. Wear and tear is going to be hard on an instrument. Especially when people only have a week to get the most out of it.

I doubt that the top could actually shatter. The fiber alignment is in multiple directions and will work to contain damage. Any impact hard enough to damage Clara's top would be the end of a wooden ukulele as well, rendering the point moot.

Yes, I noticed this issue on the traveling Clara and dinged them on it in my review. When MacNichol sent the Clara around for a second look, it had been given the coating by Blackbird. It looked and felt much better. They're aware of the problem and it is clearly on the surface only.

PereBourik
12-19-2014, 05:18 AM
I don't know. It is truly a great ukulele, but the price tells me it's actually more of a replacement for a wooden ukulele than a temporary substitute.

Didn't mean to imply that Clara is only for the risky situations. You'd play a great uke anytime you have a chance, right? This is one with a few more options for where you play.

Andy Chen
12-19-2014, 05:51 AM
To me, the Clara is way more than a replacement for any wooden uke. It is my favourite uke, above the Collings and even the extremely gorgeous sounding Boat Paddle.

katysax
12-19-2014, 06:09 AM
To me, the Clara is way more than a replacement for any wooden uke. It is my favourite uke, above the Collings and even the extremely gorgeous sounding Boat Paddle.

I liked the Clara much better than the Collings concert I used to own. The Collings was beautiful but I never "bonded" with it. Personally, I would without hesitation take a Clara over a Collings. Just a personal preference thing. Don't take this as a knock on Collings - I still have a Collings UT2 - and it's a fine uke. But I would take the Clara over a Collings, even if it were to be my only uke. I agree that the Clara stands on its own and not just as a travel instrument.

blowery
12-19-2014, 10:44 AM
If I could get one in a tenor I would by one. I just run out of space on a concert.

bonesigh
12-19-2014, 07:35 PM
I've been eying the Ekoa Clara for some time now and wish I hadn't bought a different upscale uke instead. Also wish I could try a model before I buy. Closest shop for upscale ukes is Mim's and she's 4 hours from me in Berryville, VA. ):

WestPhillyUke
02-13-2015, 08:35 AM
I had asked on the previous thread, but didn't see an answer: does anyone know if it's still possible to sign onto the road trip? I have been very interested in this uke, and have come close to buying several times. Trying one might be enough to push me into action.

thanks in advance,

John

katysax
02-13-2015, 09:14 AM
Contact MacNichol Guitars. They are the ones that sent it around.

Ukulele Eddie
02-13-2015, 09:20 AM
For those who cannot get on the list or don't want to wait, you can always buy from a reputable dealer that allows a 48-hour or similar approval period.