View Full Version : Review: Cedar/Walnut Tenor BlueGrass Ukulele by Tom Guy

09-30-2010, 08:09 AM
Hi everyone,

Now that I've had my BlueGrass Ukulele tenor by Tom Guy for a few months now, I thought that I'd share a review of this awesome instrument with the underground.

Features: 9/10
Made in early 2010 in Kentucky, USA
18 frets (16 to the sound board)
Solid cedar top
No electronics
Back and sides are walnut, neck is Tom's excellent design in what I believe is walnut and maple
The finish is very matte: the top has a few imperfections (very minor and only seen on very close inspection), the walnut back and sides are beautifully finished.
The body is tenor size, though i might consider calling it a super-tenor as it is slightly larger than a typical tenor.
The bridge is a typical one – not a string-thru body type.
It has Gotoh 'Gold' tuners. Very good quality – no slippage.
The neck is pretty substantial – as is the whole instrument; very solidly built.
Came strung with Aquilas (wound low-g) but is now strung with heavy gauge SouthCoastUke strings (re-entrent)

Sound: 9/10
I play a mix of finger-picking and chord melody stuff. I find that the uke is well suited to everything from Renaissance lute music (like Jamie Holding's arrangements), to folk (Ken Middleton's “Sally Garden”), to 80s fingerpicking (I lifted Jon Prown's arrangement of “Beth” by KISS).
This uke has a pretty distinctive sound. It has some banjo-like twang but can also be beautiful and mellow. I always have a really hard time describing the sound – I guess you'll have to listen to the sound clips to find out!
I very much enjoy the sound, however the upper register on the A string is sometimes a little too bright and twangy – you can really hear the sound bouncing off the hard walnut back and sides.

Action (10/10), Fit and Finish: 8/10
the uke was set up perfectly (at least to my tastes). The action was reasonably low – lower than on an MGM set-up Kala – and very easy to play.
The top is nicely book-matched – it is hard to see the seem.
Not sure what a properly routed bridge is but everything there looks solid and cleanly finished.
There are several very minor flaws in the finish. There is evidence in the finish of the top of glue being wiped from around the bridge. Also, there are one or two minute blemishes in the finish of the top. On the bottom of the body, I had Tom install a strap button – there is a slight mark where he scored the wood to centre the button.
The nut and saddle are very nice (ebony and bone, I believe) and have no flaws.

Reliability/Durability 9.5/10
This uke will withstand much. It is very solidly built and I would have no qualms using this a my performance uke without any back-up. My only concern would be the soft cedar top – but, I wanted a cedar top, so i'll have to live with being careful or maybe a few nicks an dings.
I feel that the finish, though with occasional imperfections, is solid enough to last for many years. Even with intense playing over the last several months, no finish has worn off anywhere.

Customer Support: 10/10
I dealt directly with Tom over email. He was a pleasure to speak with and had good suggestions regarding shipping. He was very prompt to post a video online so that I could hear a sound sample.
I would recommend Tom as a luthier without reservation.
This ukulele comes with no warrantee as such – however, I am confident that if there was an issue with the construction, Tom would be on side to help repair it.

Overall Rating: 9/10
I've been playing a little more than a year
I own a Kala Acacia Tenor (for sale as of Sept 2010), an Ohana Sopranino, and a bunch of cheap ukes and kit-built ukes
I wish I had been careful to get the measurements correct for fitting this uke to a case. Tom does not supply cases so I ordered a nice tweed one from Mainland and had it sent to Tom so the uke would have protecting when being shipped. Unfortunately, because of the slightly-larger than usual body, it did not fit well in the case. The case could not be fully closed and Tom had to remove the strap button to fit it in even partially. Once the ukulele arrived, I picked up a hard Uke Crazy case in which the uke fits no problem.
If this uke were lost or stolen, i would likely want to replace it.
I love that this instrument is so lovely and easy to play and that it has such a sweet, bewitching sound. Sometimes, I am blown away by it as I play.
There isn't much I dislike about this instrument except that there is a slight tuning issue above the 10th fret on the A string. I did not notice this when it was strung with Aquilas, so perhaps it is an issue with the SouthCoastUke strings...?
I haven't been able to compare the BlueGrassUkulele to many other luthier built intruments. However, when compared to factory made ukes like Kala's and Lanikai's, the BlueGrassUkuelel blows the other out of the water. The build, sound, playability; everything is better.
I chose this instrument because I really liked the style and sound of the other of Tom's ukes that I had heard. Also, I was so motivated to play when I got my Kala (after having a Mahalo) and found everything so much easier and better sounding, I wanted to see how moving to a luthier built instrument would affect my music making.

This ukulele cost me $500 US before shipping, which for me was a very substantial investment. I think that it was worth every penny. Furthermore, I feel that Tom's prices are very reasonable and that I got more than I paid for.
I am looking forward to years of making music with this ukulele, and can't wait to hear the sound develop as the wood continues to 'open up.'

here are some photos (something funny is happening with the site hosting the photos and videos; sometimes the files load sometimes not. Try again if they don't load for you)
http://www.box.net/shared/s58l59usjn (size comparison with a Kala Acacia Tenor)

here are some sound samples:

The Sally Gardens

Ein Niderlendisch tentzlein (Renaissance Lute music) http://www.box.net/shared/hx6cjasjx2

Beth by KISS (Jon Prown's arrangement)

A little bit of Jazz James Hill taught me

Arpeggios/chord progression

Thanks everyone for reading my first review. Please let me know what you think.


09-30-2010, 08:14 AM
Very informative review - thanks.

09-30-2010, 12:35 PM
Hey jamie, i shot you a PM regarding the Acacia.. :)

09-30-2010, 11:14 PM
Beautiful uke, thorough and informative review, especially enjoyed hearing a variety of sound samples. Great sounding uke, too.

10-01-2010, 12:42 AM
Thanks Mandarb, I'm happy you enjoyed it. (love the name - I can't wait for the next books to come out in a couple of weeks!)

Lexxy - I got you PM and have responded.

ADD - Thank you kindly. It was a fun review to do. Thanks for listening too! (that was a rhyme!)

10-01-2010, 05:02 AM
Very nice review and a great uke!! Also, it sounds really good as well. Congrats!!

10-01-2010, 07:21 AM
Thanks Mandarb, I'm happy you enjoyed it. (love the name - I can't wait for the next books to come out in a couple of weeks!)

Lexxy - I got you PM and have responded.

ADD - Thank you kindly. It was a fun review to do. Thanks for listening too! (that was a rhyme!)

Thanks! Glad to hear you know the reference - as you can guess, most people don't.