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besley
07-03-2017, 06:02 PM
NUD – Magic Fluke TENOR Firefly Banjo Uke

So I had the opportunity to play a Duke 10 Banjo Uke at a spring gathering here in Minnesota, and was smitten. Enough so that when the Duke 10 Kickstarter campaign looked to fail I went searching for something comparable. I had seen the new Tenor Firefly Banjo Uke in NAMM 2017 videos, and it looked to be just the ticket. A quick phone call to Massachusetts and a three week wait for construction, and it arrived a few days ago. (In the interim I committed to the purchase of a Duke 10 too, but only if they reach their threshold of 160 units. If they do I’ll be adding a second banjo uke to the stable this fall, and I’ll worry about it then.)

https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4231/34966245284_4b9411e606_c.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/VgR9w1)

I don’t think anyone on this board has mentioned the new Tenor Firefly Banjo Uke yet. Like its soprano and concert siblings, the tenor has an 8” head, but unlike the other two this one is tunable and replaceable.

http://www.magicfluke.com/Firefly-Banjo-Ukulele-p/fireflytenor.htm

The pot is made of laminated maple, with a diameter of 9.75”. Weight of mine is just under 2 lbs. So in size and weight the it’s about the same as the Duke 10. But the Tenor Firefly doesn’t have the traditional hooks holding the head on. Instead it has an interesting wood design that is similar to the Keech banjoleles of the 1920s, but without the resonator back.

As for how it sounds, here is a clip from Hawaii Music Supply:

https://vimeo.com/220917113

And another from Uke Republic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hmYVTUnfH8

I decided to splurge on the optional Peghed tuners (@ $69). I also had them add a strap button to the tailpiece (@ $2.95) and put on side dot markers on the neck too (@ $12.50).

https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4263/35417978570_c4c1416d7e_z.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/VXLp5W)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (https://flic.kr/p/VXLp5W) by Stevebesley (https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevebesley/), on Flickr

The result is pretty much all that I expected. In spite of being double the weight of the smaller Fireflys it feels light when you pick it up. (Probably because it looks as if it should weigh much more.) And the lack of outside hooks to dig into your arms and legs makes it incredibly comfortable to both hold and play. The neck is typical of Magic Fluke, with excellent fret work and no sharp ends. The sound is punchy, with short sustain. It makes you want to look up arrangements for swing tunes like Summertime, Avalon, and All of Me using closed chord voicings. Definitely quite a change from the mellow tones of my Blackbird Farallon!

It’s certainly quite loud, especially if you use a pick as I often do. But having the open back allows you to mute the sound as much as you like with foam, old socks (preferably clean), or in my case leftover quilt batting from my wife’s 11 sewing machines.

As received the action was adjusted to as low as it goes, but was still a tad over 7/64” or 0.110”, which may be fine for most, but I prefer a bit lower. So I was able to quickly get a replacement 4 string banjo bridge from Amazon and file it down to get to an action of 0.090”. (The banjo purists will say you NEVER file down a banjo bridge to adjust action, but I only took about 0.040” off, or 8%, so I figured the volume wouldn’t suffer too much.) While the head is adjustable, there aren’t any instructions to help decide when to adjust it, or what to look for. For that matter it would also have been nice if they had included the required 3/32” hex key with the uke, much as guitars usually come with a truss rod tool.

A tag with the Uke says it is strung with DaAddario strings (Nyltech?) but they have a fairly rough and sticky surface, so I’d like to try something else. Any advice on strings for a tenor banjo uke? Anybody try Living Waters strings on a banjo uke? The standard seems to be Aquila 42U, but I’ve come to really like fluorocarbon strings on my Farallon. On the other hand, what type of strings do “punchy” the best?

One nagging problem has been the use of a clip on tuner with this uke. No matter where I put one, it often has trouble picking up the A string.

Magic Fluke offer a softshell gigbag to fit the Tenor Firefly, but it’s basically just a padded sleeve. I noticed that Uke Republic offer the Tenor Firefly bundled with a RBX Reunion Blues semi rigid case – the exact same case I received with my Farallon, and that I’m no longer using since I bought a Crossrock fiberglass case to get better protection. So I passed on the padded sleeve and decided to use the RBX instead. As you can see from the photo the fit in this case is reasonably good, but I’d be a lot happier with a regular hard case of some type. If you like using a strap (as I do) you can easily tie one end to the cross bar inside the pot and avoid having to add a second strap button.

https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4280/34966294354_685426e450_z.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/VgRp73)
https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4261/34966326884_940c8799d1_z.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/VgRyLU)

In the end I expect that the larger pots on the Duke 10 or the Deerings would indeed give them a fuller sound than the 8” head of this Tenor Firefly. But where this uke shines is in comfort and what I’ll call “approachability”. The design is nowhere near as imposing as a more traditional banjo uke, with all those hooks and 4 to 6 lbs of metal to support. Anyway, I hope someone with more experience like Baz will get a chance to review one soon. In the meantime, I can highly recommend that anyone tempted by banjo ukuleles give this model a serious look.

Gammo
07-03-2017, 11:51 PM
I've still got my fingers crossed for the Duke 10.

Jim Hanks
07-04-2017, 02:24 AM
Nice! Very good review. I would have wanted alll the upgrades you got as well. Put me on the list for when you get your Duke and want to sell this guy. Wait, did I say that out loud?

Booli
07-04-2017, 03:08 AM
Nice! Very good review. I would have wanted alll the upgrades you got as well. Put me on the list for when you get your Duke and want to sell this guy. Wait, did I say that out loud?

LOL - ditto to what Jim said. These look nice. I look forward to being able to demo one in person some day. :)

Jim Hanks
07-04-2017, 07:21 AM
The website has standard options for low G, low D (!), and fifths (CGDA). I would love to hear how those latter two sound on this guy.

Booli
07-04-2017, 07:54 AM
The website has standard options for low G, low D (!), and fifths (CGDA). I would love to hear how those latter two sound on this guy.

Aye Jim, CGDA fifths tuning would be my primary interest on one of these. :)

Lori
07-04-2017, 07:58 AM
I found using an electronic clip-on turner for tuning the banjo uke is easier if your tuner has a mic mode. The microphone seems to be less confused when tuning a banjo uke. I think the red Snark has a mic mode.

Nice review, and thanks for posting. I feel I need one.

–Lori

Camsuke
07-04-2017, 11:17 AM
Congratulations Besley. :D

igorthebarbarian
07-04-2017, 12:45 PM
Awesome! Glad you got yours. Thanks for the long writeup review too. It's on my list for sure.

Recovering Bassist
07-04-2017, 02:46 PM
Congrats! Looks awesome, the tuning options are really cool. I love my Firefly concert, which I put a low G on, but I'm a tenor player foremost, which is partly why the Duke 10 interested me.

Ukulele Eddie
07-04-2017, 04:45 PM
Congrats on a fine addition. I was impressed by these at NAMM. I'm not really a banjo guy, but think these are super values. BTW, for the brief period I did have a banjo uke, I could not get clip-on tuners to work. I tried head stock, the pot, etc. Nothing worked. Had to use an app on my phone to tune it.

Nickie
07-05-2017, 04:38 PM
Congratulations! It looks so cool nestled in all that electric blue padding.
My Peterson strobe tuner works just fine on my Duke. It never occurred to me that there'd be an issue.

DownUpDave
07-06-2017, 12:42 AM
Congratulations and thanks for the very informative and detailed review. I prefer a tenor length neck and I am glad Magic Fluke has made one. I had one of the original 8" Duke banjoleles gifted to me or I would consider this one.

Lori
07-07-2017, 07:11 AM
Well, I have ordered one! Love the look and sound, and I have enjoyed my concert neck Flea, so the neck should be similar. Ordered directly from Magic Fluke, and it will be a couple of weeks before shipping. Something to look forward to, and close enough to my birthday to consider it a birthday uke. I am going with Peghead tuners and low G tuning.
–Lori

besley
07-07-2017, 12:53 PM
Well, I have ordered one! Love the look and sound, and I have enjoyed my concert neck Flea, so the neck should be similar. Ordered directly from Magic Fluke, and it will be a couple of weeks before shipping. Something to look forward to, and close enough to my birthday to consider it a birthday uke. I am going with Peghead tuners and low G tuning.
–Lori

Wow - that' didn't take you long! Do let us know what you think when you get yours. I thought about low G too, but thought I would try the traditional banjo uke high G first. The nice thing about the design is that there isn't really any surgery required to switch from high to low G, as with a zero fret the nut only controls the spacing, not the string height.