Based on some very positive comments on the various ukulele forums about the Flea and Fluke, and the apparently rabid fan base they have, I was curious about the Fluke. It's an American-made instrument, with a plastic back and wooden top, similar in theory to the Ovation guitar (and their Applause ukulele - see my review), but with some significant differences. First, it has a plastic fretboard - you can get a rosewood fretboard, but it costs more. Owners spoke well of the plastic, with the exception that it can't take wound strings, which wear down the plastic frets.
Second, it's an unusual shape. The bottom is flat, so it can sit upright on a flat surface without a stand. I'm not sure how the shape affects the sound, but the general comment on the Fluke versus a traditional shape is that the Fluke sound is 'mellow.' The shape and plastic back creates a different sort of overtone than a traditional wooden instrument. It's different, neither better nor worse, and quite pleasant.
It's really nice to have the Fluke as an distinctly alternate sound to my other ukuleles. Compared to the Applause, it has a warmer sound, with better high-end tonal range.
The soundboard is wood: Australian hoop pine. I originally thought it was solid, but it seems it is a laminate. It's very thin for a laminate, however.
flukes come with many design and colour options, some quite attractive, others rather kitschy, all more expensive than the solid colours, most because they include custom artwork by Tiki King. Although I actually wanted a pale blue one - blueberry I think it's called - that colour is no longer available. I chose instead the unadorned 'natural' finish, a rather yellow wood, but I always presumed I might do some artwork on it myself, at a later date (see below for updates).
The flat bottom makes it easy to store the Fluke: just put it down on any reasonably flat surface. No stand or hook needed! I routinely leave mine on counters, tables or the sideboard, much to the annoyance of my much tidier (and long-suffering) wife. Plus the plastic back is very durable and weathers bumps and scuffs well (a definite plus in a house with animals, children or someone clumsy like me).
The slotted head is also interesting, and unlike any of the others I own. The friction tuners appear to hold quite well, although they do slip out of tune at times. I would have thought humidity and heat changes would not affect the Fluke as much as a solid wood uke, but they do.
The shape raises some eyebrows, but everyone seems to love it. It is a tiny bit more of a challenge to hold, and when playing doesn't rest as comfortably on a thigh as a traditional uke.
flukes really stand out. The custom painted models stand out even more and add a whole new, exciting look to the staid ukulele. However the plain, natural finish lends itself to creative thinking about custom paintwork of my own. The photo on the right shows some ideas I've been playing with - putting a blue agave decal and a rosette decal on my Fluke. Haven't tried it yet, but I did find some water-slide decals that should work, and I've played with several designs.
The plastic fretboard is actually quite good, and my fingers can't tell the difference from wood. Frets are low and thin, and comfortable to play. Flea Market Music should really consider adding fret markers on the side of the neck, but I did it myself with a silver, permanent marker (an idea from a member of the EZ-Folk forums).
The Flea is the soprano model. The Fluke is concert-sized, also available with a tenor neck at a higher price.
My first Fluke was the concert, and it came with thin (but bendable) Hilo strings. I was a bit unsure about the concert neck, because it's smaller than the tenor, and I didn't like it as much, but I got used to it. The thinner strings were both easy to play and quieter. I didn't find it difficult to play, but thought I would prefer a longer neck. So I found someone who was willing to trade my Ohana for one (see review).
I much prefer the Fluke with a tenor neck for the extra finger room. Only the neck is different from the concert: they share the same body size. However, the tenor came with thicker strings (gold) and is louder than the concert. I also find the thinner strings of the concert tend to get pulled off the edge of the fretboard more easily than the tighter tenor strings.
Both flukes came with their own padded gig bags with a shoulder strap. These are really bags: you put the uke in from the top and pull the drawstrings to close. The padding is concentrated on the bottom where the wood sound board is. The bag has an external pouch, but it's open and doesn't seal (a Velcro closer would a real help!). For travel (as in airline), you might want to consider a more protective hardshell case.
There are factory options for things like strap buttons and electric pickups, too, if you buy your Fluke from them. Mine came from other sellers, so I missed them. I recommend a strap button, however. Keep in mind: a strap button on the bottom means it won't stand upright.
Any future Fluke I get will come with a rosewood fretboard, so I can string it as a low-G or just use wound strings. Finding a non-wound low-G set is not as easy as finding wound-G strings.
Easy to carry, clean, play, funky looking, fun, durable - this is a great instrument all-round. Update: I've actually put decals on my tenor Fluke, as the photos above show. Still need to put on the rosette, but I can't do it with the strings on, so I need to wait until it's ready to restring. I LIKE the agave motif look!
Update: I sold the concert Fluke. I really didn't like the size as much as the tenor, although it was a fine little instrument. I'm in the mood for a six-string instead, but I am also seriously thinking about a tenor Fluke with a rosewood fretboard. This is my workhorse ukulele: it sits on a sideboard in the dining room and I pick it up top strum it almost every time I'm downstairs. It's the one I'll probably take with me when I travel, too.
Would I purchase another Fluke? Yes, another
tenor, with a rosewood fretboard.