BY GREG OLWELL | FROM THE FALL 2023 ISSUE OF UKULELE
The minute I learned that Martin released a new soprano made with sinker mahogany, I really wanted to review it. I’ve played a few of their recent guitars made with this wood and they’ve all been exceptional, so I had to find out how the new 0 Soprano sounded and played. Without spoiling the ending, I can tell you that it’s an excellent instrument and quickly turned out to be my favorite uke in Martin’s current lineup.
Up From the Depths
Martin has a long and important legacy with the uke, but their new instruments face much competition from the thousands of vintage instruments on the market at any given time, not to mention the many modern makers who offer very fine ukes at all prices. All this is to say there’s some history—and maybe a little baggage—when Martin releases a new ukulele. Still, the esteemed company offers a new instrument that combines many of the best features of the old and the new with this high-end 0 Soprano model.
Let’s start with the old. In this case, it’s the old-growth wood Martin uses for the 0 Soprano’s body and neck. This soprano is made with sinker mahogany salvaged from a river in Belize. This wood, which was cut between 1880 and 1920, is the same species used on Martin’s “Golden Era” prewar instruments and is now being offered as a premium tonewood choice. It’s denser and darker than regular mahogany, which some say contributes to a richer, more complex tone. It’s paired with a rosewood fingerboard and bridge, and a black Tusq nut and compensated saddle. The interior has spruce braces in Martin’s basic yet tried-and-true bracing pattern.
Old Soul, New Tricks
I wanted to draw comparisons between this modern ukulele and a similar vintage one, but there are enough differences that it’s not fair to compare the two models. Still, the current 0 Soprano is clearly a descendant of the plain and humble Style 0 produced from 1921 until 1994.
Like its predecessor, this 0 Soprano is plainly ornamented—just a simple rosette, black tuners, and mother-of-pearl position markers at frets 5, 7, and 10, and no body binding. Just like the old ukes, the attention here isn’t on flash; the focus is on quality materials and precise execution.
The 0 Soprano uses modern production techniques, which rely on CNC machines for precise shape and fit, unlike the handmade ukes of yore. As a nod to the classics, the inside of the soundhole and the back of the headstock are stamped with a “C.F. Martin & Co. Nazareth, PA” logo. In contrast, the neck block is stamped in Martin’s modern fashion with the company name, model name, and serial number.
As you’d expect with a uke in this price range, the fit and finish are exemplary. The fretwork is nothing short of perfect, with nicely crowned level frets and no sharp edges. It had a superb setup that was silky smooth for effortless playability. The body is stained dark mahogany with a satin lacquer finish. It’s lovely, and I liked the satin look. If there is one criticism of my review model, it is that there was a small gap in the finish leaving a lighter-colored strip between the nut and the dark stain on the rest of the headstock.
For players and tone aficionados, a significant difference between a classic Style 0 and this 0 Soprano is the extended fingerboard that goes to the soundhole. This is a feature of all modern Martin ukuleles. Some players feel like it changes the tone of the uke, while others love the look and the ability to play way up high.
The 0 Soprano’s compensated bridge saddle improves intonation, and the Graph Tech Ratio geared tuners are a breeze to use, making it easy keep this uke in tune. While that slightly out-of-tune sound is part of the charm of an old uke, the joy can wear thin when your chords sound a little sour, so these modern features are a welcome addition.
Though many prefer the spacious feel of a larger instrument, a good soprano can be a wonderous little thing, and this Martin is a good soprano. It has a nice, clear bark that really cuts through the noise of a group but also has a deep, warm tone. There’s no harshness to be found anywhere, just chocolatey warmth that made me want to play it endlessly.
While not featherweight like some old Style 0s can be, this 0 Soprano is light, and it sings when played, churning out a nearly idyllic soprano sound from gentle fingerpicking to regular strumming. When I dug in a bit more with some harder strumming, I felt like I was like tapping into more horsepower; it kept getting louder instead of compressing into a narrower sound the way many ukes do under heavier strums. And throughout, the Martin kept its natural warmth and sweetness.
At just under $1,600, the 0 Soprano costs nearly twice as much as a vintage Style 0 soprano in excellent condition. While there is much to like about a vintage instrument, an old ukulele is still an old ukulele, and it can have some issues like dodgy intonation that might keep it from being a reliable playing partner. A new ukulele can offer some peace of mind that you’re not taking a historic instrument on gigs or trips where it might be damaged, while at the same time delivering modern features and dependability.
The Martin 0 Soprano sounds as good as you’d hope and plays effortlessly, and for the price players get a new ukulele made from vintage wood with an immaculate setup and accurate intonation; reliable tuners; a full-length fingerboard; and a limited lifetime warranty. The more I consider all the benefits of a new instrument made with this old wood, the more it looks like a good value.
Martin 0 Soprano Ukulele Specs
BODY Soprano-size with solid Belize sinker mahogany top, back, and sides; non-scalloped 1/4″ spruce bracing; multi-stripe rosette; black strip endpiece; satin finish
NECK 13-5/8″-scale mahogany neck with standard taper; applied dovetail neck joint; 17-fret rosewood fingerboard with flat radius; mother-of-pearl fingerboard inlays; 1-13/32″-wide black Graph Tech Tusq nut; Graph Tech Ratio tuners; “Old-Style Script” logo overlay; satin finish
OTHER Rosewood slotted bridge with compensated, black Graph Tech Tusq saddle, Martin/Aquila Ukulele Premium Polygut Strings, padded TKL gig bag; limited lifetime warranty
MADE IN USA