Many of you know that Fender owns other brands, one of them being Gretsch, and that Gretsch released an ukulele line a few years ago as part of their “Roots Series” which models vintage Gretsch instruments along with a few new designs with a similar “vintage” style. If you follow our blog and website you also know that we have loved this new Gretsch line from the moment we played them at NAMM 2012 where we claimed them to be the best new ukulele line. There were dozens of new makers that year but these had great tone, even on the really affordable laminate models. The reason they were great right off the bat was because the Gretsch roots line was headed by Mike Lewis. Mike’s a musician, historian, engineer and one of the key visionaries at Fender for many years.
In the early 90’s he revived their classic tube amps. Richard McDonald, vide president of Fender said “Mike did an incredible job of getting us back on track by taking a step back with the historical element of our legacy and making it right, with the Vibro-King, Blues Deluxe, Blues Deville and so on” . Mike then went to the guitar department at Fender, then Guild (when Fender bought them), and of course Gretsch.
The Gretsch ukulele line has been a big seller for us. Last year our Fender rep asked me why the Gretsch ukes outsell the Fender ones. My reply was something like, “The Gretsch ukes just sound so good. When people play them in the store they love the tone.” Considering the continuing popularity of the ukulele, Fender did the obvious and asked Mike Lewis to revamp their Fender ukulele lineup.
Mike certainly succeeded at this task. We just received a shipment of these newly upgraded models and they sound and play significantly better. They have new bracing patterns, arched backs, thicker fingerboards, thinner headstocks, compensated saddles, and a thinner finish. The tone is more articulate and they project much more. They are now among my favorite affordable ukes and I give them my top recommendation.
Are they more like the Gretsch ukes now since Mike Lewis headed both projects? No they are both very unique. The Gretsch line was patterned after the original Gretsch ukes. The necks are thicker giving a different feel and the look is more of a vintage replica. The Fender’s have slimmer necks along with more modern features like geared tuners on all models, compensated saddles, and Tele headstocks. They are also made in different factories. Fender ukes are made in Indonesia and Gretsch in China. Basically the only thing they share in common is that they both sound good and offer a great value to the ukulele community. Big mahalo to Mike Lewis (pictured below) for his excellent work on both lines.
In the next week I will be redoing the sound samples and photos for all Fender models at our website -TheUkuleleSite-Fender- But here’s a few images and sound samples from new models that just arrived.
Aloha friends. A hui ho!