A few months ago I saw an Ortega banjolele online (OUBJ100-SBK) and I was wondering how they would sound because I always liked a full grown banjo. Google brought me to Ray Masters, commenting on it along with a little video he made. It was enough for me to buy one and I don’t regret it.
Ray wrote this in his well known style:
“Have seen these Ortega banjo ukes on a variety of websites for a while, and glad I finally got a chance to try one out! Love the sleek, black high-tech design! Was a bit weighty and action was high, but can easily be adjusted by changing out to a shorter removable bridge! Excellent tone and projection! Great player! Everything UKE would want in a banjolele! UKE-it UP!”
So I ordered one from Thomann in Germany (I’m from Belgium and we’re neighbours) and it came well packaged, gig bag included. Ortega is a German brand by the way although the name sounds more mediterranean. It also came with a little socket wrench/Philips screwdriver combo to tighten the head and a little folder with instructions for placing the bridge. After positioning the bridge I was ready to tune the D’Addario strings with the generic geared tuners. Nothing fancy and they get the job done without any hassle. Not everybody likes D’Addarios but they suit me fine because I mainly play clawhammer style. Like always the strings took a few days to settle. I took them off once and that’s why it looks a bit sloppy now
I have to agree with Ray. It’s heavy (1,4 kg and that’s twice the weight of my Ortega Horizon), sounds great, mellow, not too snappy and is pretty loud. I did stick a piezo pickup on the back of the head for recording purposes. I lowered the action to the height of a credit card by filing of the bottom of the nut and adjusting the tension rod in the pot. Removing the nut by lightly tapping it with a piece of wood with a little hammer went smoothly. I didn’t even glue it back on because it stays perfectly in place by the tension of the strings.
No intonation problems of course because you can adjust the bridge position.
I removed the back and stuffed the pot with a sponge to mute it a bit for the neighbour’s sake. I think it sounds even better with the stuffed pot because it kills some overtones although those are limited. The back is screwed to the plywood pot with some plain screws with felt spacers in between and removing it often will have an effect on the screw thread. Some holes are very badly drilled. I mostly keep it off…
Although I really like the semi satin black finish of the pot and neck, the glossy black Remo fiber skin head, held in place by twelve! stainless steel brackets, is very susceptible for smudging as you can see on the picture. The arm rest is both nice and handy
The headstock has the same design as an Ortega Lizard which looks like there’s a piece bitten out. It’s a nice detail and we all know where the devil is, don’t we? The back is plain ugly with a big “made in China” sticker and the type number.
The fretboard is made from good ol’ rosewood with pearloid-ish fret markers on the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th fret. High contrast sidemarkers. No sharp edges on the 18 frets and a nice ivory colored binding to top it all off. The same binding you can find on the rim of the back.
All in all a very fine banjo ukelele, banjouke, banjolele or whatever you like to call them. For me it’s a ukulejo 🙂
- beautiful semi gloss and stainless steel design, 12 brackets
- warm and not too snappy tone
- even projection
- high volume (but mutable with a stuffed pot)
- high action
- heavy (1,4 kg)
- head susceptible for smudging
- cheap fastening of the back
- messy back of the headstock
- maybe a bit overpriced