BY ADAM PERLMUTTER | FROM THE SPRING 2020 ISSUE OF UKULELE
In guitar circles, the name Breedlove is synonymous with forward-thinking designs, such as graduated soundboards and bridge truss systems, as well as the use of sustainable tonewoods. The company was founded in 1990, when luthiers Larry Breedlove and Steve Henderson set up a small workshop in the desert town of Bend, Oregon. Since then, Breedlove has grown from a small custom shop into one of the leading mid-sized makers, with offerings at all price points, built both in Oregon and in China.
For many years, Larry Breedlove’s brother, Kim, who joined the company in the mid-’90s as master luthier, made ukuleles in his home garage for fun, and the company has produced ukuleles now and then. Kim Breedlove is now retired, but Breedlove recently introduced a fresh range of his ukulele designs in concert and tenor sizes, with and without electronics, all of which sell for well under $500. I checked out a pair of these instruments—the Lu’au concert and tenor CE models, each with a cutaway and electronics—and found them to be sweet-sounding and highly playable.
Beautiful Design and Build
The Lu’au duo’s myrtlewood soundboards, backs, and sides make a smart first impression. Breedlove has made extensive use of this tonewood, which grows prolifically in the coastal regions of Southwestern Oregon. In terms of tonal properties, myrtlewood falls somewhere between rosewood and mahogany, and its coloring tends to be richly variegated. That’s certainly the case with our review models, on which the myrtlewood’s natural beauty is highlighted by Breedlove’s subtle sunburst finish and contrasted by tortoise binding.
Both ukes feel a little heavier than expected—no doubt due to their internal electronics—but they are very well built, which is hardly surprising coming from Breedlove, which has a longstanding reputation for quality instruments. Things are spick and span throughout, aside from just a hint of jaggedness at the fret edges. The finish on each instrument has been buffed to a faultless gloss, and things are similarly clean inside the soundboxes, where the bracing appears to have been carefully applied and there are no traces of excess glue to be found.
Good Fun to Play
Despite not coming with cases, both the concert and tenor Lu’aus were almost perfectly in tune when removed from their shipping cartons. Having comfortable, C-shaped necks and silky low action, they played exceptionally well. I explored both ukes for extended periods without experiencing anything in the way of hand fatigue, and I found these instruments fun and delightful to play in any context.
To assess the ukes’ sounds, I tried a range of pieces whose notation I had prepared for publication in this magazine— Daniel Ward’s etude “Arpeggio Meditations,” Cliff Edwards’ take on the Gershwin tune “Fascinating Rhythm,” and a chord-melody arrangement of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun”—and improvised a bit as well.
Both instruments sounded good unplugged, if just a bit thin, but they made up for this with their general sweetness of tone. I preferred the concert for strumming through “Fascinating Rhythm”—it had a certain chop that worked well for brisk chord work, whether with the fingers or a felt pick. But it’s worth noting that the concert’s clear and even voice also lent itself to a variety of different approaches.
For fingerstyle play, especially in the case of “Here Comes the Sun,” the tenor was a winner. It seemed to have a hint more resonance and sustain, giving it an advantage over its smaller counterpart, and the notes of arpeggiated chords cascaded together in a pleasing way. The tenor also had slightly more presence when I played single-note lines, and I appreciated that the cutaway on both ukes allowed me to easily visit the highest registers of the fretboard. Overall, I preferred the sound and feel of the tenor, but choosing the right uke size is definitely a personal thing.
Each Lu’au is outfitted with a Breedlove-branded electronics system, comprised of an undersaddle pickup and a preamp, with a 1/4-inch output jack on the lower treble bout, as on a Gibson ES-175 guitar. The preamp, with its large plastic enclosure, isn’t the prettiest thing, but it’s conveniently situated on the upper bass bout and has simple, intuitive controls—just tone and volume, as well as a handy built-in tuner. I plugged each uke into a Fender Acoustasonic amp and was quite impressed. The electronics system is hum-free, and it delivers an amplified tone that is more natural than expected. Both ukes would be excellent plug-in-and-play solutions for a gigging musician.
The Bottom Line
A fine ukulele could easily set you back several thousand dollars these days, but for well under a grand you could score both the Breedlove Lu’au concert and tenor. These beautiful acoustic-electric ukuleles have very good sound and playability and a style all their own. But best of all, they’re dialed in and ready for your next gig—and clearly built to last for many shows.
Breedlove Lu’au CE Ukes
BODY: Concert or tenor size with cutaway; solid myrtlewood top; myrtlewood back and sides; ovangkol bridge; Natural Shadow gloss finish (as reviewed)
NECK: Mahogany (nato) neck; ovangkol fretboard; 15″ scale length with 17 frets (concert) or 17″ scale length with 20 frets (tenor); 1.42″ nut; gold open-gear tuners; gloss finish
EXTRAS: Aquila Super Nylgut strings; Breedlove UK-T1 electronics
PRICE: $299 concert, $329 tenor (street)
MADE IN: China
The Ukulele Owner’s Manual is the book that belongs in every ukulele player’s instrument case. Each chapter was written by the experts and performers at Ukulele Magazine, with topics ranging from commonsense instrument care to fixing rattles and buzzes to a pictorial history of the instrument. Book owners can also download how-to videos with step-by-step guidance on common set-up and maintenance topics.