I had made up my mind to buy a used, upper-end tenor from an online seller, when one of the members of the Ukulele Underground offered several of his ukes at bargain prices, trying to reduce his collection size. Among them was a Boat Paddle tenor.
BP is a small output, custom manufacturer with some intriguingly different designs. The model up for sale looked, appropriately enough, like a boat paddle; a bit ungainly to look at, but all that soundboard seemed promising for the resulting sound.
I really knew nothing about BP ukes, except what I'd read on the forums. But the general appreciation level was high and several members recommended buying the BP instead of the uke I'd been looking at, as a better deal for a rarer instrument. So I made the transaction and waited anxiously while the instrument moved through the postal systems and Customs purveyors at the usual glacial speed (two weeks to arrive from a nearby US state - longer than it would take to walk there!).
When the uke arrived, it had suffered in transit from what seemed a lack of humidity. The glue joint at the neck had apparently dried out and the neck easily separated from the body. The rest of the instrument was intact, however.
While I'm not a luthier nor even a reasonably good carpenter (fences and decks are my strong points, making-things-wise), since nothing was broken, it seemed to me the problem could be easily repaired with a bit of care. I called BP ukes and Jerry gave me some advice on how to repair it. After a quick trip to the local hardware store for some clamps, glue and sandpaper, I was ready to start.
I removed the strings, separated the neck, sanded the old glue away, then applied a small amount of quick-set epoxy, and carefully replaced the neck and clamped it together. Two hours later it was as good as new (at least as far as I can see and feel when I play). It certainly plays beautifully, and the action and intonation are superb. Not a big cost, and not really a difficult job, even for a clumsy oaf like me. And I didn't have to return the instrument or send it off for repair.
That not only allowed me to enjoy the ukulele, it gave me a bit more confidence for tackling future repairs. And what might have been a crisis became an adventure in which I learned a bit about instrument construction and hone my own skills. (The seller, Deach, generously offered to refund my money, and even to allow me to keep the uke and still give me a refund - an honourable offer, but I declined and decided to keep it and make the repairs myself; I'm glad I did).
First thing you see when you look at this instrument is the non-traditional ('boat-paddle') shape. then you notice the odd placement of the sound hole. Instead of being in the middle, under the strings, as on traditional instruments, it's on the shoulder (upper right in the photos). But a careful examination shows a second, much smaller sound hole just to the left of the neck (see photo).
While the larger of the two is deliberate, the second strikes me as more a design artifact, created by the curve of the upper edge of the top board (it also exposes a bit of neck block). I'm not sure it really provides a function for sound, but think it is merely decorative. In any case, it's a bit odd and even unsettling - Susan really doesn't like it and says it looks like a flaw. I personally would have preferred that side of the neck be fully covered, too.
But wait, there's more! There is a third sound hole, this time located on the side of the uke, facing up towards the player when the uke is strummed. This one is very functional, and allows the player to hear the instrument in a way other traditional ukes don't.
It's quite amazing what a difference a side hole can make to your own perception of the instrument you're playing. This is definitely a good and welcome feature!
This uke came strung low-G. I decided to keep it in low-G because it seems to suit that tuning better than high-G, although I may experiment when it's time to change strings. The dreadnought-style design just seems to lend itself more to the bass of low-G (although the design also presents some challenges to finding a hard shell case!)
The BP has the largest top board/sound board in my collection. The top looks like a single, solid piece of cedar, but it's actually two - so well-matched that you have to look very closely to detect the seam. That large surface area gives this instrument a rich, warm sound and long sustain that make the BP almost guitar-like in tone. Plus the deep, large body allows more bass and added harmonics in the tone. It reminds me a bit of my old dreadnought Guild guitar, in that it brings a depth of sound my other instruments lacked.
The result is one of the best-sounding, richest-and-fullest-toned ukuleles I have. While it doesn't have the characteristic, chirpy brightness that many ukes have, this BP ukulele really stands out as different in a very positive way. This is a very nice addition to my collection, and one that will get a lot more play in the near future.
That sound, coupled with the low action, wide and comfortable neck, makes this uke a joy to play. Surprisingly, it is not as loud as many other ukes in the collection (the Mainland and Kala Cedar are much louder).
It has an under-saddle pickup, so I can play it through an amp for volume. That input jack is also a handy strap button. A brief experiment with it plugged in told me the pickup was good, but I needed to be more careful with the amp's volume controls - that large top encourages feedback easily. There are no volume or tone controls on the uke itself.
Another thing to notice is at the nut. BP puts small metal pegs (see picture to left) in the nut to separate the strings. This is a different approach - most manufacturers put groove in the nut to align and hold the strings. But this lets me use different string sets where grooved nuts sometimes require a little careful widening to properly accommodate heavier strings like Aquilas. And it means no sharp edges on the nut groove than can wear a string and possibly cause it to snap.
The uke is superbly well made: clean, smooth fret edges, nicely book-matched back pieces, a nice satin finish and no flaws anywhere I can see. There's even a little bit of design flourish on the saddle - an artistic cut rather than a mere block of wood. These touches add up to an aesthetic punch that makes the Boat Paddle ukulele very appealing in all aspects.
Sealed Gotoh geared tuners - thankfully not friction tuners. While the strings it came with are used, they still required tuning while the uke got played and became accustomed to the local heat and humidity. Geared tuners made it much easier.
A bit heavier than some, but not overly so (804g or 1.75 lb). The large body actually makes it easy to hold, even without a strap, because it provides a lot of surface for your forearm to grip. The top sound hole is a mixed blessing - I often pick the strings with my fingers anchored to the top around that location. I have to be careful to move them away from it, so as not to block the sound hole and muffle it. Perhaps that can be used to soften the sound when I'm playing at night and Susan's gone to bed.
Overall: I'm very pleased with this instrument. It's one I'll probably always keep. It has even impressed local music store staff who are not by nature ukulele aficionados.
Would I purchase another Boat Paddle? Yes.