BY GREG OLWELL | FROM THE WINTER 2020 ISSUE OF UKULELE
Through more movies and series than I can count, the entertainment biz has inundated us with stories of people discovering hidden superpowers and grappling with these new abilities. Many of us seem to revel in these metaphors and how they might relate to our own untapped potential and lead to fun conversations with friends about “What would you do if you uncovered a superpower or three?”
While you’re not about to read a review about a ukulele possessing powers of invisibility or mind-reading, I did find unexpected powers in this handsome Flight tenor. Under its attractive yet mild-mannered exterior is an electronics system that delivers sounds and features not commonly heard from electric or acoustic ukuleles. Like other ukuleles equipped with a pickup and preamp, the Flight Sophia Soundwave Tenor Electro-Acoustic ukulele can plug into a PA or amp and deliver classic sunshine-hued ukulele tones to an audience. But where it really blows the minds of players and listeners alike is when the Sophia Soundwave is played acoustically.
Well, maybe augmented acoustically might be a more accurate way to describe the tonal wizardry that this uke is capable of conjuring. The Soundwave versions of Flight ukes feature electronics that allow you to blend in onboard digital effects including reverb, chorus, and delay not only to your plugged-in sound, but also to your acoustic sound. How is this possible? The Soundwave’s undersaddle pickup and onboard preamp send an electric current to a device that attaches to the inside of the ukulele’s back. This small actuator mechanically drives the ukulele’s body and makes it act like a big speaker cone. Or more simply put, you can amplify your ukulele without using an amplifier and you can add reverb, chorus, or delay to that acoustic sound. This type of system has been available on a number of guitars over the last few years as a built-in system—like Yamaha’s TransAcoustic series, or as a removable device, as in the case of the ToneWoodAmp—but this is the first time I can recall seeing it on a factory-made ukulele.
Flight is a Slovenian company that specializes in ukuleles, and the Sophia is a part of its Princess series, which merges some high-end features like gold hardware, solid tops, and Worth strings at more affordable price points. Straight out of the bright-red gig bag that comes with every Sophia, my tester gave off a woodsy, high-end vibe with its neck and body of attractive, unstained woods and tasteful appointments like an open headstock and wood binding. The body had a creamy-colored, tight-grained solid spruce top over a light-chocolate colored laminated walnut body. The okoume neck features 14 frets to the body and has a medium-slender C shape with a purpleheart fingerboard. Sometimes known as amaranth, purpleheart has many similarities to rosewood and its availability makes it a good substitute.
As a uke with a solid top and laminated back and sides, the Sophia is a hybrid instrument. It’s a popular middle ground between fully laminated and all-solid ukuleles, and proponents single-out hybrids for mixing the richer tones of a solid wood top with the powerful projection and stability that comes from the stiffer back and sides of a laminated instrument. All construction and finishing were of the high quality you would expect at this price. The frets were smoothly shaped and the uke was set up for easy playing with a medium-low action.
This all makes for a pleasant playing experience and the Sophia Soundwave creates a nice tone—a crispness I often associate with stiff woods like my tester’s walnut back and sides—and bell-like highs. The acoustic volume was pretty good, and it had the sort of bright tone that could make itself heard in a group, but pressing the Trans button on the preamp turns on the Soundwave system and that’s when the real fun begins. If you’re plugged into an amplification system, the signal is sent to the amp, but if you’re not, the onboard actuator allows you to add some amplification, which you can adjust with the volume control. You start to notice the effect when the volume control is at about 2, and it’s useful up to about 7 or 8 before the system starts to drive the body so much that the body begins to feed back. Maxing out the volume control allows for some Jimi Hendrix- or Sonic Youth-style feedback fun and some singing sustain, but the Soundwave was most effective just below the feedback threshold—which I was also able to control somewhat by holding the uke closer to my body. Then, I could blend in some reverb to add a little spaciousness to strums and fingerpicked parts or a touch of delay for a mild echo effect. I had a lot of fun soaking the tone in reverb, using the delay to mimic U2 guitar parts, or using the swirly chorus to make everything I played sound very ’80s. But like most effect usage, a little bit goes a long way, so I employed the effects lightly for nearly all of my time with the Flight.
I wasn’t able to take the Sophia on a gig because of ongoing shelter-in-place restrictions, but I was able to plug it into a Boss Acoustic Singer Pro acoustic combo amp and was impressed with its accurate and full amplified tone. I’d feel very comfortable relying on it for a gig and I never missed not having onboard EQ controls, because I feel that my hands and how I hold the uke are better tone controls than an EQ.
For a little over $400, the Flight Sophia Soundwave Tenor Electro-Acoustic offers several unique and joyful features that are bound to appeal to gigging players and fun-loving homebodies, too. It’s a nicely built, handsome instrument that’s set up nicely and delivers a snappy sound. Even if you don’t think you’d ever want an effects-laden uke in your collection, you might want to check this out for yourself because the Flight Sophia is good, affordable, and a blast to play. The Soundwave system is also available in Flight’s solid cedar-topped Diana model.
BODY Solid spruce top; laminated walnut back and sides; rosewood and black/white thin-line rosette; mahogany binding and rear center strip; gloss finish
NECK 17″ scale okoume neck with open headstock; 18-fret purpleheart fingerboard; 1.38″- wide bone nut; rosewood fretboard binding; acrylic position markers on the fingerboard and side of the neck; gold open-gear tuners
ELECTRONICS Soundwave system with undersaddle pickup and preamp with volume and controls for reverb, chorus, and delay effects
OTHER Purpleheart bridge with compensated bone saddle; Worth Brown fluorocarbon strings; padded gig bag
MADE IN China
From the Winter 2020 issue of Ukulele magazine