Kala MK-S Makala Soprano Ukulele Review

The Makala MK-S, along with it’s colourful cousins, the Makala Dolphin family offer truly outstanding value for money and without doubt are one of the best ukulele in it’s price range.  For less than £35 you get a laminate ukulele that sounds like a real instrument, many of the sub £35 don’t, some are unplayable, but more on that later.

I have been a guitarist and bass player for several years and recently bought a ukulele to help my children learn to play alongside their school music lessons. There are a whole lot of cheaper end ukulele’s aimed at the school/beginner market from Mahalo, Stagg, Vintage, Brunswick, Pro-Tone etc.. but none of them compare to the versatility, and playability of the Makala. This is a ukulele that will take you well beyond the beginner stages and you’ll still be playing in years to come.

People assume ukulele’s are cheap, and they can be, but cheap can also be bad. Very, Very bad. Some cheap ukuleles will not stay in tune, can not be intonated and are likely to make a great player sound awful. Starting of with an instrument just because it is cheap, could be enough to put someone off of the instrument for life.

mk-s-soprano (1)

The Makala is cheap BUT it is very well built, nicely finished and has a very low action making it very easy to fret chords, which can be a great help for a beginner. It looks great, simple but classic and stylish with no garish transfers and no thick layer of gloss, just a simple matt wood laminate.

Apart from being easy on the eye and a dream to play, it really does sound great too. I immediately changed to Aquila strings as they have a dramatically better sound than the stock strings found on almost all lower end ukuleles. The sound is rich, glossy and surprisingly loud. Warm and gentle when strummed softly, bright and chirpy when strummed sharply, it gives a great range of tones depending on the style you adopt. The intonation was excellent across the whole fretboard and after the initial week or two settling in period for the strings (*see footnote below), it now holds tune session after session and rarely has to be retuned.

I can’t rate this highly enough. I was expecting a toy for this price (and believe me, many of them are just that) but this really is a great instrument that holds its own against many higher priced ukulele’s. In fact I’d suggest that this is the best you’ll get until you start to look at the £100+ range of solid wood Uke’s like the well respected Bruko No6 or the Ohana SK35.

(* A note for anyone completely new to the ukulele – the nylon strings have a large amount of stretch in them. When you buy a new ukulele or put new strings on, it will take a week or two before the strings fully stretch and settle. Until the strings have settled, expect to retune the ukulele every time you play, this can be as often as every song or two at the beginning. This is not a fault with the ukulele, the strings or the tuners, it is just the natural behaviour of the strings.)


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Tonerider pickups Vs Squier Classic Vibe Pickups

Quite rightly, the Squier Classic Vibe range of guitars and basses have received universal praise since their release, the build quality, look and tonal qualities far exceed expectations for their modest price and are regularly compared favourably to higher priced Fender models.

For some time there has been rumours that the Classic Vibe series use pickups made by a company called Tonerider.  Tonerider produce high quality pickups retailing at around £80 per set, a price that is half that of many of their competitors. Just like the Classic Vibe guitars themselves, Tonerider pickups have also received almost universal praise and compare favourably to much higher priced ’boutique’ pickups.

It’s hard to get a straight answer on this but rumours vary from them just being made in the same factory to them actually being exactly the same pickups. If Squier Classic Vibe’s do use Tonerider pickups it would go a long way to explaining why they sound so good and makes them an even bigger bargain.

I have done lots of reading and research on this with the help of several guitar forums.  This is what I found:

To all intents and purposes the CV pickups are Toneriders but that will never be confirmed due to legal issues etc..

I’ve done a lot of reading around this and bought some CV pickups for my strat, they look and sound EXACTLY like Toneriders.

The similarities that have been confirmed on various threads (some of it coming directly from Tonerider themselves) between Tonerider and CV pickups are:

They are made in the same factory
They are made by the same OEM producer
They look the same
They sound the same
They have the same product numbers
The measured output is the same.

The only perceivable difference is the Toneriders have vintage cloth cable, the CV only have plastic covered cable. There are clearly many similarities but the fact they share the same product/model numbers is the most telling factor for me, that’s just too much of a coincidence for them not to be the same product. For example the product code for the Classic Blues pickups is TRS3, oddly enough the sticker on the underside of the Classic Vibe 60’s pickups also says ‘TRS3’. I can see no reason for this other than them actually being the same pickups. According to several posts the TRS in the product name stands for ToneRider Stratocaster (followed by model number), an understandable naming convention for TR to use. If they aren’t the same product made by ToneRider, why would the CV pickups have the same model number and naming convention?

I’m of the belief that they are the same pickups but for various business/legal/marketing reasons that can’t be officially stated. I remember one post where someone contacted tonerider to ask if they’re the same and was told “if you like the sound of the CV 50’s pickups then you’ll be VERY, VERY satisfied with the Tonerider Surfari’s”

I don’t know about the Telecaster parallels but as I understand it the CV 50’s strat uses Tonerider Surfari’s, the CV 60’s strat uses Tonerider Classic Blues and the CV signature strats use Tonerider Vintage Classics.

I was going to buy some Classic Blues for my MIM strat but ended up getting CV 60’s pickups for a 1/3 of the price. They sound fantastic, were considerably better than the stock MIM pickups and compared to my friends CV 60’s strat, neither of us can tell the slightest difference between them.


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Yamaha THR10 Amplifier review

I’ll just cut straight to the point. The Yamaha THR10 is amazing. There, I said it. This is a truly outstanding, and dare I say essential, piece of kit for any musician.

I set out to write a brief 250 word review to give readers an idea of what to expect of it sonically. As it turns out, a review that short just wouldn’t do this unit justice, there are just so many good things to say about it that it really deserves a complete and thorough investigation.

I was previously asked to review the Orange Micro Crush mini amp and I had a lot of fun with it, it was small, battery powered, good looking and had a surprisingly well rounded sound for it’s size. The THR10 is also a small battery powered amp but that’s where the similarity ends. The Yamaha THR10 is in a different price bracket, and sonically, is in a totally different league. Apart from the immediately obvious difference in sound quality what does the Yamaha offer that the Orange Crush doesn’t?

Versatility. I’m also a bass player and was looking for a small, portable battery powered amp that could handle my bass for home practice without having to wheel in a 300 watt window shaking stack. The THR10 is as comfortable with a bass as it is with a six string and despite it’s tiny 3” speakers it produces a wonderfully deep and full sound.

Built on Yamaha’s VCM (Virtual Circuit Modelling) technology and using the same effects technology found in Yamaha’s high end mixing desks, the THR10 is a multi voiced tube amp emulator. It offers five different amp simulations based on some of the worlds best selling amps, in fact if you’ve heard the sound on record, you’ll find it here. Alongside bass, acoustic and flat inputs, you’ll find remarkably accurate representaions of amps from the likes of Fender, Marshall, Vox and Mesa Boogie.

Whatever you play and however you play it, there will almost certainly be a sound to suit your style. Playing clean with a touch of chorus and reverb gives the most rich jazz tones, reach for the crunch setting for searing blues solo’s and dial up the Modern setting for crisp, overdriven metal tones. I can’t think of a single style of music that can’t be faithfully replicated with one of the five main settings.

Yamaha have really have gone to town with the modelling on the THR, with the dials reacting differently from one amp model to the next just like they would on their real life counterpart. Cutting the tone back on one model may kill the sound completely yet be almost redundant on another. Likewise, a slight tweak of the gain on the Modern (Mesa style) setting results in huge overdrive, something you’ll not achieve on the clean models. It takes some time to get used to but if you’re familiar with how, say a Vox or Marshall, responds in real life, you’ll feel instantly at home.

The quality of the sounds really are second to none. I’m not a huge fan of amp simulations and have been disappointed in the past with products from the likes of Line 6 which while they offer huge variety and certainly have their place, they can have a slightly cold digital edge to them. The THR10 has changed my view, each model has a real tubelike warmth to it, always sounding lively and full. The effects are also in a different class, the reverb’s and delay’s create an incredible amount of space and the chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo are all superb replications, which when used in moderation, can make a dramatic difference to your tone. Delve deeper into the THR Editor software on a PC or Mac and you also gain access to a compressor and noise gate as well as significantly improved control of effects and a selection of different cabinet simulations. The software also gives you 50 presets created by Yamaha as well as the ability to save, and share, your own creations.

So, we’ve got a variety of amp models, some high end effects and a fistful of reverb’s and delays but it doesn’t end there. An aux input allows you to plug in your mp3 player and either play along or simply use it as a portable speaker system. The sound quality of mp3 playback is exemplary, never boxy, well defined with a remarkable wide sounding stereo effect. Bass is well handled without becoming woolly and the top end is sharp and defined without ever threatening to split. This really does provide hifi quality playback that beats a number of similar priced dedicated iPod docks.

A rear facing USB port turns the Yamaha THR10 from a near perfect practice amp to the perfect recording tool and soundcard. Fire up your favourite DAW (or use the included version of Cubase) and you can record hiss free, digitally perfect guitar tracks. You can also record both wet and dry signals simultaneously so you can preserve the raw sound of your guitar as well as the effected, modelled amp sound. It’s totally fuss free, once the driver was installed, the amp was instantly recognised by my version of Logic and the recordings were some of the clearest and best results I’ve ever had. It can also be used as a foldback device, and if home recording isn’t your thing, it still makes a great laptop soundcard and is a world away from the tinny inbuilt speakers you’ve become used to.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the speakers are too small to make a serious sound. One look at the specs sheet is enough to ring alarm bells for most people. How can a guitar and bass amp produce any kind of usable tone from just 3 inch speakers? Well, Yamaha have designed this amp for a specific purpose, to sound good at low volumes. Most guitar amps can’t reach their best tone at low volume and Yamaha have approached this differently from any other lower wattage practice amp. What Yamaha set out to do was present you with a HIFi quality, stereo guitar tone representing the final master track from a recording. And it it works. Just plug in your guitar, choose your sound and you’re gifted that dream tone that studio engineers work tirelessly to achieve. It’s more than loud enough for the home but it’s also rich, deep and expansive.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to me, the Yamaha THR10 truly is a thing of beauty. It’s retro styling sits perfectly in the lounge or studio and will almost certainly meet with the approval of the non guitar players in your household.

In short, the Yamaha THR10 is a HiFi quality stereo speaker system for your mp3 player, laptop or PC. It’s also a pro quality audio interface, and a truly outstanding practice amp. I was intrigued by Yamaha’s promotional hype but I also expected to be disapointed. I wasn’t. The THR10 truly is the best home practice amp I’ve ever heard and it’s a product that continually excites me. It really does have to be experienced to be believed, it fulfills many roles and achieves them all flawlessly.

Yamaha THR5 vs THR10

Although I reviewed the THR10 model here, there is also the Yamaha THR5 to consider.  It has the same power output but with a slightly smaller footprint and a few crucial omissions.  The features you’ll miss if you opt for the cheaper THR5 are the 5 User Memory Presets found on the THR10 and it is also missing the Bass, Acoustic and Flat settings (the THR5 is strictly guitar only, bassists and vocalists will need the larger model).  They both have exactly the same speakers and wattage but I have seen it mentioned that the larger cabinet size of the THR10 helps create a slightly louder and larger sound than the smaller model.  You’ll also have just a single tone knob rather than the Bass, Middle and Treble controls found on the THR10 and there is also no option to adjust the mix between guitar and aux input.  Whether these things matter to you will be down to personal choice but being a bass player the larger model was the only choice for me. Having now used it extensively I’m not sure I could cope without the memory presets or the full tone control.  Certainly, to my mind at least, the THR10 is the model to buy if versatility and tone control are high on your list.


The Yamaha THR10 and it’s smaller sibling, the THR5, were both launched at the end of 2011 in a small initial run.  These early units were plagued with a widely reported issue that caused a loud audible hum on some of the higher gain settings, the hum being so loud on some units that is actually smothered the output.  Luckily Yamaha listened to customer feedback and it appears withdrew the unit from sale so the issue could be fixed.  New stock started to arrive in UK stores late in February 2012.  The issue was due to the power adapter and all units are now being shipped the with improved PSU which I’m happy to confirm has fixed the fault.  There is no hum, hiss or feedback to be heard.  If you’re one of the unlucky early adopters and have one with a faulty PSU please contact Yamaha, they are currently in the process of replacing all the affected faulty units with the new improved power supply.

See it in action here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWjUVQbHLnM

See how to record with the Yamaha THR10 here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzKOzppQi6k


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Orange Micro Crush CR6 Stereo guitar amp

Well, Christmas is over, the recycling bins are full and my children have already broken some of their toys. One thing that certainly isn’t over yet is my love affair for this micro amp from UK company Orange. This was a gift from my parents and even though I’m on the wrong side of 30 I was truly excited when I opened the box and my excitement just grew as I started to play with it.

First things first, it looks great. It’s built from wood and uses the same authentic Orange grill that’s used on their larger cabs, it looks cute but serious. The wooden construction really adds to the tone and it doesn’t have that boxy sound you get from it’s plastic competitors. At 6 watts it’ll struggle to compete with other musicians but is more than loud enough to fill a room. It’s surprisingly versatile too, going from a nice clean acoustic tone to a muddy distortion with just a flick of the tone and gain controls. Plug in a pedal or effects unit and as you’d expect, the variety of tones is endless. I attached at Korg Pandora mini and was pleased to hear it didn’t generate any extra hum, hiss or background noise.

The inbuilt tuner is accurate and fast to respond making it a breeze to use and along with a headphone port you’ll also find a line out and aux in meaning you can connect an mp3 player to play along, or simply to use as a portable, battery powered stereo.

It’s such a small, well formed and attractive package it’s hard not to be charmed by it, when you plug in and hear just how good it sounds and how versatile it is the Orange CR6 micro crush should be at the top of any guitarists wish list.

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Squier Classic Vibe 60’s Precision Bass review

I’m downgrading.  If you’ve already read my review on the Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster you’ll know all about it (and if you haven’t read it yet, why not?).  I’m selling my expensive guitars and replacing them with cheaper models leaving me with just one guitar and one bass.  I need to release the equity held in my collection to top up my depleted Christmas coffers.

As a bass player and music lover I have built up quite a nice collection of kit and currently have some beautiful bottom ended, slap happy basses.  I have a Fender MIA Precision bass, a Fender MIJ fretless jazz bass, a Tokai 80’s P Bass, an Aria Pro 2 Mab40 active bass and a nice custom built acoustic bass.  Not a huge collection by any means but a tidy sum has been spent on them none the less, and they’re all being sold.

The Classic Vibe line got such great reviews it was already a given that one of the line would be my low budget replacement, and only, bass.  I chose the 60’s precision because the look of the 50’s model didn’t inspire me and although I love the design of the jazz bass and it’s served me well for some home recording, it just doesn’t have that rounded bottom end you get with a precision bass.  The only colour available in the UK now is fiesta red which would never be my first choice of colour but with the tortoise shell pickguard and the minimal, vintage styling, the colour is an apt choice and well suited.  It looks different in different lights, deep red, bright red, pink, you can never really tell what shade it actually is, but it’s what Pino Palladino used and that’s good enough for me.

So, the bass arrives, the box is torn open, and there it is, shiny and new but convincingly vintage.  Squier really have nailed the vintage look with the Classic Vibe line, I mean the precision bass hasn’t really changed in 50 years, but this really does look like it’s just walked in from 1960’s Carnaby street, understated yet cool and knowing.  It’s surprisingly light and just like the Classic Vibe Telecaster I got, it has a hang tag detailing action height and setup date showing just how much care and attention has gone into it.  The action is incredibly low and the faintest touch of fret buzz on the first couple of frets immediately disappeared when I restrung it with my favourite flatwounds.  The neck is a joy to behold, wider than a Jazz neck but slightly narrower and thinner than a normal Precision neck, it plays beautifully.  Shifting around the fretboard is a dream and it is easily the most enjoyable bass to play that I’ve owned.  As for the electrics and the sound, well, it doesn’t get any simpler.  A single coil pickup, volume and tone knob are all you need to effortless shift from a very round and dubby bottom end to a crisp top end capable of pleasing any modern day slapper.

The fit and finish is superb, no rough edges, no loose ends, the lacquer impeccably smooth and the electrics hum free.  The Precision bass is the original Motown machine and the Classic Vibe model delivers everything you’d expect and more. To my hands and ears this plays and sounds better than my MIJ Fender and is the equal to my MIA Precision, yes, there is a slight tone difference between them but the difference in sound is so minimal it would be lost once you throw some drums and a live environment into the mix.  There is no way I could deem such a small difference in tone as worthy of the £1000 difference in price tag, especially as the Classic Vibe Precision plays just as well as it’s American cousin.

Squier have created a fantastic range of guitars with the Classic Vibe series and I would choose one over the current line of Mexican built Fender’s every day of the week. The sound, feel, fit and finish are far beyond anything you would expect from it’s price and personally I think it out performs any of the basses I currently own. It’s a bold statement, but justified.  I really wouldn’t be surprised if this range becomes the stuff of legend and are still highly regarded and prized instruments in twenty years time. Without doubt the Classic Vibe 60’s Precision Bass is a high end instrument that belies it’s branding and budget price.

Full Specs Here 


Find out about the whole of the Squire Classic Vibe series on the official Fender website



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Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster Custom Review

I love to play music, well more accurately in the past, I used to love to play music.  Over the last 20 years I’ve been a gigging bass player in an avant garde D&B/Dub/Psycho rock band (needless ro say that in spite of label interest our sound was always a little too ‘leftfield’ to secure a deal), I’ve been a folksy guitar strummer of the most basic kind and have written countless PC made electronic ramblings and had a hand in several insanely popular but resolutely underground  ‘Mash Up’s’.

Over this time I have built up a collection of guitars and basses that rarely, if ever, got played.  In the current global economic downturn, time’s are hard, and I got an unnerving shock when I realised how much cold hard cash was tied up in my instruments.  A plan was hatched.  Sell them.  Sell them all.  I wanted to be left with just one guitar and one bass so I can still strum and noodle when the mood takes me but to make this cash generating idea work properly, they obviously needed to be cheaper than the ones I have.

A little research constantly turned up one piece of information, Squier guitars had released a line of vintage inspired instruments called the Squier Classic Vibe line, with each model receiving universal praise.  I ordered a Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster Custom in sunburst, sight unseen from a web retailer, something I would never recommend anyone doing with an instrument.  24 hours later it was in my hands and I had to blink hard a few times and rub my eyes to believe it.  It is beautiful.  The sunburst is rich, the lacquer deep and the Alder body has a beautiful grain peeping through from beneath the golden sheen.  It had a QC tag proudly hanging from a tuning peg detailing the action measurements, suggesting a factory setup.  Surely not on a sub £300 guitar…

In the hand its beautifully balanced with a thin, comfortable fast playing neck, the action is low and free of fret buzz, the intonation perfect.  The electrics are hum free, the cavities shielded, the pickups sound smooth, bright and spiky.  It had an almost perfect factory setup, plays beatifully and sounds as good as any other Telecaster I’ve played, did I mention it looks beautiful?  It tunes easily, and holds tune, regardless of how long or roughly I play.  Overall the standard of the fit and finish is very high, the frets are perfect and there’s no rough edges or corner cutting to be seen anywhere.

I love it. Not only is this a great guitar for the price, it’s a great guitar at any price.  I’ve had, and played, countless guitars in the past, with the Telecaster being my tool of choice and this really is up there with the best.  The neck and sound may not suit everyone but the Squier Classic Vibe line offer 3 different Tele’s, a couple of Strat’s and even a Duo Sonic so even if the Telecaster Custom isn’t for you then there is bound to be a Classic Vibe that is.

In short it’s a fantastic guitar that looks, plays and sounds as good, if not better than it’s more expensive counterparts.  It certainly beats the Made In Mexico (MIM) Fender Telecaster that I previously had.  Short of buying into the top of the line Fender Custom Shop models it’s hard to see how paying the extra for the Fender branded equivalent model will reap any noticeable rewards. When I first started playing all those years ago, Squier had a cheap and cheerful reputation and I’ve played some truly terrible Squier’s in the past so I didn’t consider the Classic Vibe’s as an option, but those are distant days and incomparable to today’s offerings.  If it hadn’t been for the knowledgable folks over at www.tdpri.com I wouldn’t have looked into these guitar’s any further, and I would have missed out in a big way.  Give this to any guitarist in a blindfold test and compare it with any sub £1000 Tele and I’d be surprised they picked the Squier out as the ‘cheap’ one. It really is that good.  I just wish I could have got my hands on instruments of this quality, at these prices, twenty years ago when I first started playing.

For the full lowdown, check the specs here


Check out the whole of the Classic Vibe line on the official Fender site


Squier Classic Vibe 60's Telecaster Custom


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Up and Running!

Well, this is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while and now the deed is done.  Another ill conceived blog has officially been  launched into the ether.

This is really just a place for me to purge some of the random things that delight, upset or enrage me during the day, the kind of things that someone, somewhere might be interested in, but probably not anybody that I actually know.

Well there’s one or two exceptions but generally this is just a sounding board for the kind of things my wife tells me to keep quiet about when we’re in polite company. Expect talk and mini reviews of music, guitars, watches, UK sport, technology, computing, writing and gadgets.  If it’s crossed my path, i’m sure I have something to say on it…

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