Tuesday, March 10, 2015

2014 Martin S1 Soprano Ukulele Review


As a Martin guitar fanboy, it is surprising that I have not reviewed any of their ukuleles yet. Over the next few months I am going to take care of this oversight, and today we are looking at one of the company’s more affordable models, the S1 soprano uke.

If you know anything about guitars, you are probably aware that Pennsylvania’s Martin Guitars is the premier mass-production luthiers in the world. Every major artist has played their instruments at one time or another, from Eric Clapton to Johnny Cash to Elvis. Well, they make other instruments too, and they have been in the ukulele business for a long time, and they currently make instruments that cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $5000 and more.

The S1 is a soprano uke, and it replaced the miserable S0 model a few years ago. The S0 had a slew of features, including a tinny sound, no fret markers, poor bracing, bridges that did not want to stay put, and a super-thin body that would crack if you looked at it funny. The S1 fixed all of that stuff!

It is a handsome little ukulele, with a clear satin finish over the all-mahogany body, that has more complete Spruce bracing than the model it replaces. There is a Spartan aesthetic with no binding to be found anywhere, and a simple white and black rosette. No electronics are available, and you can get one of these as a lefty, if you wish.

The neck is also mahogany and it has a rosewood (or is that Morado?) fretboard. The fretwork on this one excellent, and I cannot ever imagine wearing them out with nylon uke strings. The bridge is made of rosewood, and there is a Tusq nut and compensated saddle. The Grover tuners are basic straight pegs through the headstock, and they are adjustable for tension, fortunately.

The S1 ukuleles are made in Mexico, but the quality appears to be as Martin’s domestically produced instruments, which is not something I would say about the S0. The finish is clear and even, the joints are tight, and they come out of the box with a good set-up so they are ready to play. Don’t sniff at where they are made – there is no way Martin could hit this price point if these things were built in the America.

It plays very well, with good intonation, a sweet neck feel, and it is comfortable to hold. It also sounds very good, with nice projection and a sweet tone that makes it sound older than it is. Of course it is awfully small for a big guy like me, but this one is tiny so it is perfect for traveling, especially with the uber-nice TKL gig bag that it comes with. Let me also say that this is the lightest Martin instrument I have ever owned, coming in at round 13 ounces.

The Martin S1 is a good instrument that comes in at a reasonable price (list = $499, street = $379), and I am glad that Martin stepped up and made a better instrument this time around. But, it is not as good of a value as the horde of medium-grade ukuleles that are coming out of China by the container load. Those instruments are at least $100 cheaper, are often prettier, and sound almost as good. You will not go wrong with the Martin, but you might want to compare before you buy.


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