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Thread: Review: Bark Cloth Concert Flea

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2009
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    South Florida
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    Thumbs up Review: Bark Cloth Concert Flea

    I've been playing my new Flea for over a month now, and thought it would be nice to post a review.

    Features: 9

    This is a new Flea with a concert-scale neck. I went with the standard plastic fretboard, because I play outside a lot, and wanted a ukulele that could handle the hot, humid South Florida climate. One aspect of the concert Flea that I really like is that unlike a conventional-shaped uke, the body of a concert Flea is no larger than the body of a soprano Flea. I'm a big fan of the size and sound of a conventional soprano ukulele, but I find a soprano neck is challenging for my thick fingers to navigate, so this basically gives me a soprano-sized uke with a concert-sized neck. At 22", the concert Flea is less than an inch longer than my tiny Lanikai LU21 soprano!

    The body of the Flea is ABS plastic with fiberglass reinforcement; the soundboard is laminated Australian pine, and the neck is walnut (they use maple on other models, and seem to choose the wood based on the color of the soundboard). The soundboard is finished in the "Bark Cloth" design, which looks like a rough, Tiki-themed fabric, but it is actually very smooth to the touch. I assume it's some sort of decal, but it is bonded to the body extremely well, and I would think it makes it very moisture resistant. The Flea uses friction tuners, and after reading a bunch of threads here I was worried about that. But I got used to them within a day, and now they are absolutely no big deal. However, I do think a clip-on tuner is an essential accessory.

    The plastic fretboard feels great, and it looks cool, too. But the one unexpected downside of the all-black fretboard that I never saw anybody mention at UU is that the frets are very hard to see in anything other than bright light. I'm a newbie, so that makes it a little harder to play, but I'm quickly getting used to it. The walnut neck feels very "natural" - it does not have a shiny glossy appearance, and it is not silky smooth like some necks. You can feel some of the vertical grain of the wood when you run your fingers down the neck. It's not rough or unpleasant, but if you're used to ultra-smooth necks it might take a brief moment to get used to.

    The Flea comes with a denim gig bag that fits it nicely, offering moderate protection. I had it strung with Aquila strings for a slight extra charge - the stock Flea comes with Hilos. Oh, and the whole stand-on-its-end thing? That is SO cool. Way cooler than you would think. I love that feature!

    Sound: 8

    The sound of the Flea is not as bright as a conventional soprano ukulele. It's louder, yet less cutting, if that makes any sense. It's a mellower, slightly more dry sound than a conventional soprano with Aquilas. I notice this particularly on my up-strums, when the strings are strummed by the fleshy parts of my fingers, as opposed to the sound created by the nail of my index finger on down-strums, which yields significantly more high end. There's a strong midrange to this instrument - sometimes the C and E strings can begin to dominate the sound of the chords you're playing. But I now own three ukes, and I've found each has its secrets to discover in terms of how best to play it, so I consider this part of the Flea's personality rather than a problem. I tend to intuitively adjust my playing to whatever instrument I'm using, and over all, I really like the sound of the Flea.


    Action, Fit & Finish: 9 (average of two component scores described below)

    The Flea feels very well built and rugged. It's very light in weight (much lighter than a plastic-back Applause uke, for instance), but feels nice and solid. As I stated, the walnut neck is not the smoothest one out there, but it's quite comfortable to play. I don't think a Flea really appeals to the kind of person who obsesses over curly woods, roping, inlays, etc. so I don't look for the same kind of fit-and-finish details that I'd expect from a Hawaiian K. But I do think the instrument, which is made in the USA, is very nicely put together. I give it an 8, with a separate score for the action.

    The action is low and easy, and the intonation is fabulous. That is a key strength of Fleas and Flukes, and is one of the reasons I chose the plastic neck. I really like having a uke that is so in tune with itself. Many of the wood ukes I've played or listened to are not nearly as accurate with their intonation. On the Flea, the sound of the strings is extremely consistent from fret to fret, with no dead spots or honking strings. I give it a 10 for action and intonation.


    Reliability/Durability: 10

    This is another core strength of the Flea/Fluke product line - they are made to be abused. As I said, I play outside a lot, and I also travel a lot, and I specifically chose this as my travel axe, since it can fit in a conventional carry-on bag. The Bark Cloth finish seems very durable. I thump the soundboard a lot when I play, and it is not showing any wear (unlike other wood-body ukes I have, which have developed shiny spots where my thumb hits them).

    Customer Support: 9

    I sent many questions back and forth to the nice folks at The Magic Fluke company, and they answered each one patiently and in detail. Their site clearly states their replacement policy for worn fretboards, and everything I've read at UU suggests they live up to their words. I could have picked up this instrument a little cheaper on Ebay, but I was so pleased with how they treated me that I chose to order directly from them. The only reason I gave them a 9 instead of a 10 is that they didn't send me a note when they shipped the uke, as they had said they would. I was starting to get cranky about not hearing from them, when suddenly instead of a note, the uke itself arrived - and ahead of schedule!


    Overall Rating: 9 (average of the above five scores)

    I've been playing less than three months, but I'm already a hardcore addict, playing my ukes daily. I'd heartily recommend a Flea to somebody who travels, has kids, or for whatever reason doesn't want a uke that needs to be babied. It's well built, sounds good, and is just plain fun. Less than a month after buying this, I ordered a tenor Fluke with a piezo pickup - that should tell you I'm happy with this company's instruments!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
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    Yorktown, NY
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    awesome review! i too am a newly obsessed flea owner

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    San Francisco, CA
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    Thanks for the great review! It really helps.
    KOA PILI KOKO Deluxe Soprano

    My Wishlist:
    **Mainland Mahogany Concert (gloss/gold tuners/undecided pegs)
    **Island Laser Fluke or Surf Fluke or Bark Cloth Flea
    **A Hawaiian "K" Uke...(one day!)

  4. #4
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    Apr 2008
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    Have you given up posting in the review section due to the backlog over there? Thank you for sharing your experiences.
    sigs disabled kthxbai

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
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    Quote Originally Posted by UkeNinja View Post
    Have you given up posting in the review section due to the backlog over there? Thank you for sharing your experiences.
    I think this subforum was made to take the burden off the review section. Seems to be well-moderated and organized.

    Great review. Are you still using the Aquilas? I recently switched back to them on my own concert Flea and can't believe I even tried anything else on it.

  6. #6
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    Apr 2008
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    Quote Originally Posted by haole View Post
    I think this subforum was made to take the burden off the review section. Seems to be well-moderated and organized.
    No kidding. I just posted in the review section. Oh well... then this must be the place to be.

    edit: I just found the sticky. So I guess the outsourcing didn't work out after all. I hope someone will retrieve my review some time, somewhere. The idea of a categorized database-ish review section was nice though.
    Last edited by UkeNinja; 07-17-2009 at 12:31 PM.
    sigs disabled kthxbai

  7. #7
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    May 2009
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    South Florida
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    Quote Originally Posted by haole View Post

    Great review. Are you still using the Aquilas? I recently switched back to them on my own concert Flea and can't believe I even tried anything else on it.

    Yes, still using Aquilas on my Flea. I got a Fluke a few weeks ago, and it came with Hilos, which I did not like at all. I put Worth clears on the Fluke, because of the great comparison Ken Middleton did on Youtube, and to make sure I became familiar with more types of strings. It was a big improvement over the Hilos, although I prefer the physical feel of the Aquilas. I also bought a set of Worth browns that I'll eventually try on one of these instruments. But so far, Aquilas are my favorites. The Worths are nice, though - a very clear, crystalline sound, great for things like mellow James Taylor tunes.

  8. #8

    Default Have you tried your flea with low G?

    Great Review Thumper. Very informative. I am considering a bark cloth uke flea. I am thinking a soprano for travel. Already have a Mele concert, but I am thinking I would like a uke with a low G to switch right away. Your review also got me thinking about getting a concert flea now. Any input re: low G string on the Fluke or Flea?

  9. #9
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    Pics?

    Remember Rule 2!
    -Alan (UKISOCIETY)

    My muse.

  10. #10
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    Great, detailed review! I am thinking that eventually I'm gonna want both a Flea and a Fluke--just not sure which yet...and when. Gotta save those pennies!

    CountryMouse
    Flukes: Island Design custom; Red Cowboy | Fleas: Denim concert; Grape soprano | Enterline CBU #7
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