UAS (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome) is a condition that once acquired can never be truly cured. I caught this disease very shortly after discovering the ukulele late last fall. In that time, I have purchased and reviewed instruments from several popular brands. But then something happened. I decided to have a custom instrument made – a Boat Paddle uke. Folks, if you think regular UAS is bad, CUAS (Custom Ukulele Aquisition Syndrome) is even worse…
I happened upon Mike DaSilva’s website even before I received my first custom uke from Jerry Hoffmann. It was the gallery of over 150 ukuleles that Mike had built that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I looked at those images over and over again, like I did as a kid, flipping through a Christmas catalog. Mike has built some incredibily beautiful instruments, but the one ukulele that I kept coming back to time and time again was #034. I loved the dark ribboned grain of the wood used for the back and sides and how it contrasted with the light striped wood of the top. I had no idea how the combination of those woods would sound, but I knew that I had to have one for myself, so I emailed Mike to find out how long it would take to receive an instrument after placing the order. He told me that he doesn’t have a strict queue like some luthiers, instead he quotes that upon payment of a deposit, you’ll receive your instrument within 12 weeks. That sounded great to me, so I placed my order (prices below were current as of February 2008):
Base price for concert size custom ukulele – $850
Fir and Ziricote wood upgrade – $100
Binding – $100
Pegheds tuners -$100
Total – $1150
Mike received my deposit on the last day of February and from there the 12 week wait began. Unfortunately for me, my wait ended up being 25 weeks to the date he received my payment.Twice as long as expected.
Mike is a great luthier and from the interaction that I’ve had with him, I can tell that he’s a super nice guy. But, I will say that my only criticism from working with him to get this custom built ukulele has been with his communication and follow-through skills. On more than one occasion after the 12 weeks had pasted, I emailed to ask about the status and he would respond that he would be finishing and shipping it to me that week. Each time, the week would come and go with no uke being shipped, causing me understandable disappointment. Does that mean that I wouldn’t order another custom uke from Mike or recommend him to others? Not at all. The wait was totally worth it. But, next time, I’ll know what to expect as far as the length of time from payment to delivery.
Now on to the ukulele review!
Can you say GORGEOUS? The combination of the vertical grained salvaged Fir top and the Ziricote back and sides, is really stunning.
Look at that beautiful wood grain. I had never heard of Ziricote before seeing it on Mike’s site. Some googling turned up the following info: Ziricote is the most dramatic member of the Cordia genus, which grows throughout Central and tropical South America.
Ziricote has also been used on the headplate. Paua abalone and Mother of Pearl were used to create the signature DaSilva Ukulele Company tree logo.
I asked for Pegheds tuners. I like these tuners because they are very smooth to use and light weight. They look like old school friction tuners, but have 4:1 gears hiding inside.
The wood used for the neck is Honduras Mahogany. There are fret markers on the side for the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th positions. The edge of the fret board is completely smooth, no jaggy edges.
The action on this ukulele is excellent, making it very easy to play. Mike strings his ukes with high quality flourocarbon fishing leader that he buys in bulk. Although they sounded great, I found them to be hard on my fingers, so I swapped them out for some Worth’s. I will probably end up swapping strings again soon as I don’t particularly like the sound of Worths. They seem a bit too bright and jangly to me. (note: the sound samples below were recorded with the original strings from Mike)
Rosewood has been used for the bridge. I sort of wish I would have gone with a more stylized bridge shape, as this one is a little generic looking, but it gets the job done.
The sound hole rosette is a combination of tortoise shell and Paua abalone. I think the Red of the tortoise shell helps to bring out the grain of the Fir top.
The fretboard is made of Madagascar ebony that has wonderful chocolatey stripes.
I didn’t want boring old dot fretboard markers, so Mike came up with a simple but elegant snowflake design made of abalone.
The heel cap is made of Mammoth ivory and the body is bound in ivoroid.
This uke has a UV cured Polyester hand-rubbed finish that is glossy without looking like it was dipped in plastic.
The overall workmanship on this ukulele is outstanding. I went over it with a fine toothed comb and couldn’t find any problems. Believe me, I’m super picky, so I the fact that I can’t find even the smallest detail to complain about is saying quite a lot.
A few sounds samples:
This ukulele has a bright voice that is extremely resonant and loud. I really enjoy playing it and I can’t wait to hear how it will mature over time. Mike DaSilva is a very talented luthier. I don’t think anyone could be disappointed with one of his instruments. I know I’m not.