Beltona Tenor #1 Resonator Uke Review
This entry was posted on August 11, 2017.
Beltona instruments are made by luthier Steve Evans a few miles from Leeds, UK. He's been making them since 1990, and you'll have seen them played by Tiny Tim, James Hill, Dead Man's Uke, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and yours truly. Since 2002 he has focussed on making his instruments from resin: That's where it gets interesting!
First of all, let’s have a quick look over the instrument. It's a fairly standard tenor size and shape (this being the #1 model, the #2 model is a more asymmetric shape) with a mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard. It's a resonator instrument, which, if you don't know, means that the sound is produced by a very thin metal 'speaker' cone inside the body that the bridge rests on. This is a mechanical amplification method that originated before the advent of the electric guitar, and makes these instruments considerably louder than wooden ones. The cover plate (the round bit on the front that protects the cone) is light-weight aluminium, and the body is the aforementioned resin. First of all, put out of your mind any idea that this is comparable to any plastic ukes you may have come across. These bodies are made by hand from a material that you could happily build a boat from! It's stiff, sturdy, and a really excellent vehicle for the cone. The thing about resonator instruments is that it's really not that crucial what the body is made of; wood, metal, resin, the important thing is that is forms a rigid place for the cone to sit, so the cone does the vibrating, not the body. Yes, the material will affect the sound, but to a much less degree than you might think. The resin body also means they are really quite light and easy to handle (especially if you compare it to a metal-bodied resonator).
So, let's get down to the nitty-gritty of the one I have here. The mahogany neck is one-piece, rather than glued together at the headstock and/or heel and has a really nice profile; not too slim, not to fat, and with a 'smoothed over' vintage V-shape. The headstock carries the very classy Beltona logo and the tuners are Grover friction pegs, which work really smoothly and hold the tuning really well.
The rosewood fingerboard is really well finished and the frets are an example as to how they should be dressed! No sharp edges, rough patches or high frets to be found, a really nice playing surface. There are 19 frets, 12 of them clear of the body.
The sturdy resin body is finished in a beautiful glossy red burst finish, which Steve describes as 'automotive', and it is indeed very much like the shiny, hard-wearing finish you'd expect to find on a car. There are two stylised 'f' holes which suit the look very well. As with all resonator instruments, the coverplate includes a hand rest over the bridge to stop the cone being damaged, and under there is a wooden saddle attached to the 'biscuit' (a wooden disc that sits atop the cone), all of which is neatly cut and fitted, and has been set to give a very good action. The strings terminate in a neat wooden string holder and there is a strap button on the base of the instrument. This actually screws into a 'pole' which is an extension of the neck, making the whole construction very solid and helping to direct those vibrations straight to the cone. Beltona make their cones in-house, which isn't the case with many other manufacturers who use generic cones. As this is such a big part of the tone it's nice to know that it was made to suit this instrument.
The playability is excellent; the comfortable neck and the high quality fretwork make it a really easy-playing instrument, and the light weight makes the prospect of playing a resonator uke much less daunting (there's no issue with playing this one standing up without a strap). Sound-wise, I found that I could coax quite a wide range of tones from the Beltona. Yes, it can quite happily do the dirty, bluesy stuff, but it can also sound very clean and pretty, deliver a crisp rhythm sound, and when strummed with the thumb, it has a mellow tone almost like that of a wooden uke. The tone seems to occupy a space somewhere between metal and wooden bodied resonators, whilst retaining it's own unique character. The volume is quite startling, and you could easily be heard whilst fingerpicking along with a group strum, and of course that's exactly what resonator instruments are for; being heard!
It's great to see a UK luthier making such a well thought out, unique instrument, that holds it's own against US made resonator instruments in both sound and playability, and doing with such style.
All the best,