Thursday, March 31, 2011
Zither Heaven Banjo Ukulele Review
I've been wanting two things for awhile now-a ukulele maker that will supply me with
ukuleles for Mandolin Babe's Pickin Parlour and a banjo ukulele. I found both thru Zither Heaven,who touts their instruments to be "toys". Let me assure you this is one seriously made for musicians banjo uke & the word "toy" doesn't belong here. Not for this. It's tenor/sized at nearly 25" in length and sports features I've seen on vintage ukes like a zero fret and borrowing from the old Harmony ukes that used plastic fingerboards & frets,the Zither Heaven has plastic frets. I raised an eyebrow on this till I remembered my Harmony uke.
I love the thru the body stringing and solid birch wood "skin". I don't have to worry about strings popping out while stringing,or the banjo "skin" on this splitting. The bridge isn't fixed,but comes set at the right spot. Harmonics at the 12th fret sound gorgeous.
Speaking of intonation,this is spot on. It's the most perfect intonation I've experienced except for my Savannah baritone.
Playing it is easy-I've never played a tenor before,so there was a little adjustment to make as far as the fingerboard went. It's made like the USS constitution-this is the most sturdy built uke I've ever seen in my life. The pot is black walnut,and there's nearly 1/4" clearance between the backside of the birch skin and the reinforcement brace you see on the back shot below:
And the tone? It's made to be played with a pick,thumbpick or fingerpicks,in my honest opinion. Playing with thumb alone wasn't personally impressive,but with a pick this little gem has a twangy banjo-ish tone about it. It's not a super loud uke,however. Great for a banjo feel or for playing bl-ukegrass on. The pot is app 1 3/4" wide.
Now on to the tuning. This doesn't sport the traditional tuners you're used to seeing on ukes-it uses the same type you see on autoharps,which requires the use of a "tuning wrench". Upside is you don't have to worry about tightening the screws that's on most vintage tuners. To be honest,on the banjo uke,two of the ones on mine were a bit tight in the beginning and I had to really crank it the first time or two to get them going. Zither Heaven says these can be replaced with traditional tuners at a luthier,but I'm not so sure on that as the headstock is app 1/2" thick,and I don't know if replacement tuners would work on that thickness. For this reason,I cannot recommend these instruments for small children-I feel having to use a tuning wrench and effort required would totally frustrate a small kid...and some adults.
But for a kid 11 years and up,esp one that's familiar with autoharps & the like,and for adults with an open mind & a little patience,I feel this is a well made,eclectic ukulele that may well end up being collectible down the road. A very inexpensive and good buy if you want a banjo uke and don't want to spend a lot of $$ as the vintage ones go thru the roof,and new ones are very high priced.
Other suggestions for Zither Heaven would be to put a strap pin in the end of the body as well as marking the 10th and 12th fret-I didn't realise how much I rely on that till I didn't have them as "roadsigns".
These ukes are made and assembled in the USA using sustainable woods. Perfect for the environmentally minded.
If any readers are interested in purchasing one,please contact me thru this blog as I am a Zither Heaven dealer.