FROM THE SPRING 2018 ISSUE OF UKULELE | BY BILL LEIGH

Fender got its start in Southern California, and it’s with those roots in mind that the venerable musical instrument company has created the California Coast Series, a new ukulele line inspired by the relaxed vibe of SoCal beach culture. The five diverse instruments in the series are each named for different Southern California beaches, ranging from the entry-priced Venice and Seaside sopranos ($59 and $89 respectively) to two distinct and fuller-featured tenor ukes—the $199 Rincon and $249 Montecito.

Fender sent all but the $139 concert-size Zuma for review, and while the four we received vary significantly in material and tone, there are also commonalities. All four have player-friendly no-tie bridges for significantly easier string changes. All have handsome binding, slightly rounded backs, and no obvious construction flaws. Two have standard 2+2 headstocks, while the others feature mini-Telecaster-style four-in-line headstocks for a special Fender signature touch. They all feel similarly great to play, but their features and sounds differ.


VENICE

Famously bohemian Venice Beach is the inspiration behind Fender’s entry-level California Coast uke. Priced for a whim, the $59 Venice soprano comes in Black, Cherry, or a Natural wood tone, with a matching Fender Telecaster-style 4-in-line headstock. The top and body are built of laminated basswood, while the nato neck’s laminated hardwood fingerboard ends just beyond the body joint for a 12-fret octave range with no extra high notes extending toward the soundhole. For 60 bucks, do you really need those notes anyway? For an inexpensive instrument, the Venice is well built with no obvious fit or finish flaws or uncomfortable fret ends. The satin finish feels comfortable under my hands, but the action feels just a hair high for my taste. Once the strings are brought up to pitch, the open-back tuning machines keep things solidly in tune, essential for a beginner instrument. The Venice’s voice is bright, light, and clear, with pleasing strums and a strong midrange. Forget about beginners; this would be a fun instrument for anyone to throw in a backpack and take on the go.

Fender Venice

BODY Soprano size with laminated basswood top, back, and sides; satin finish
NECK 13.6″-scale nato neck with 12-fret laminated hardwood fingerboard; 1-3/8″-wide plastic nut
OTHER No-tie laminated hardwood bridge
MADE IN China
PRICE $59.99 street


SEASIDE


fender ukes california coast 2 seaside

 

A step up from the Venice uke is the Seaside soprano, named for a relaxing surf spot on the San Diego coastline. The laminated mahogany construction, along with the 2+2 headstock, gives the solidly built Seaside a more traditional ukulele appearance, along with a slight hand-feel improvement. There’s attractive cream binding on both the top and back, as well as along the fingerboard, which extends an additional four frets to the soundhole, for extended-range playing. Like the Venice, the Seaside also has a light, enjoyably traditional soprano ukulele voice, though it’s a touch mellower and has a bit more sustain for a more pleasing sound overall.


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Both California Coast sopranos are compact, comfy, easily portable, and very affordable. They both offer light, delightful sounds that are as classic as they are pleasant to the ear.

Fender Seaside

BODY Soprano size with laminated mahogany top; laminated mahogany back and sides; satin finish
NECK 13.6″-scale nato neck with 16-fret laminated hardwood fingerboard; 1.375″-wide plastic nut
OTHER No-tie laminated hardwood bridge
MADE IN China
PRICE $89.99 street


RINCON


fender ukes california coast 2 rincon

Named for one of Southern California’s most renowned surf spots, the Rincon is a full-featured tenor ukulele with a laid-back acoustic voice and a built-in pickup for the ability to plug in for amplified sounds. The latter is courtesy the Fishman Kula onboard pickup and preamp system, which includes a strikingly versatile three-band EQ and a handy built-in tuner/mute, all powered by a pair of CR2032 button batteries. A significant step up in the series, the eye-catching Rincon has a laminated ovangkol back and sides with a solid ovangkol top. The solid top is purportedly for increased volume, but our tester had a subdued acoustic output. The resulting aesthetic is handsome and refined. An attractive abalone inlay rosette surrounds the soundhole, and cream-colored binding lines the top and back, as well as the rosewood fingerboard. The 2+2 headstock has vintage-style closed-back tuning machines. The no-tie bridge is a handsome reddish-brown wood, sonokeling—also called Indian rosewood. 

The Rincon’s sonic signature is less forward acoustically but much more evenly distributed across the frequencies than its bright, trad-sounding soprano siblings, though without extending into guitar-like lows. The 19-fret tenor neck is comfortable throughout the fingerboard, with each single note ringing clear with ample sustain. Strummed, the Rincon puts out clear, chiming chords and pleasing percussive plunks. Amplified, it really comes alive, adding a touch of sparkle and richness to its natural voice. The three onboard EQ knobs have handy center detents, and together they make up a powerful tool for dialing in just the right sound for the occasion.

Fender Rincon

BODY Tenor size with solid ovangkol top; laminated ovangkol back and sides; satin finish; acrylic abalone rosette
NECK 17″-scale nato neck with 19-fret rosewood fingerboard; 1-3/8″-wide bone nut
ELECTRONICS Fishman Kula pickup/preamp system with built-in tuner
OTHER
No-tie sonokeling bridge; gig bag
MADE IN China
PRICE$199.99 street


MONTECITO

With some of the fanciest real estate in the nation, Montecito is a stunning beach community just down the coast from Santa Barbara. That makes it a suitable moniker for the crown jewel of Fender’s California Coast series. The gorgeous Montecito tenor ukulele features a solid koa top with laminated koa back and sides, complemented by a cream binding lined with striking acrylic abalone purfling, with a matching abalone rosette. The gloss finish on the body and nato neck felt as hospitable to my hand as it was pleasing to my eye. The 4-in-line Tele-style headstock has vintage-style closed-back tuners, which firmly held tuning through days of fickle weather changes. The Montecito sounds rich and bold, with an almost guitar-like roundness to its voice. It lacks electronics, but acoustically it’s significantly louder than the unplugged Rincon. A wound fourth string tuned to low-G only adds to its near-baritone bravado. I found the sound inspiring and gorgeous, but its guitar-like pretentions almost lift the Montecito out of the traditional ukulele sonic space.

Fender’s California Coast ukuleles are a diverse bunch, and the two tenors especially are quite different. They offer different things for different players, and there’s a good chance one of them will have the vibe that fits your playing style.

Fender Montecito

BODY Tenor size with solid koa top; laminated koa back and sides; gloss finish; acrylic abalone purfling and rosette
NECK 17″-scale nato neck with 19-fret rosewood fingerboard; 1-3/8″-wide bone nut
OTHER No-tie sonokeling bridge; gig bag
MADE IN China
PRICE  $249.99 street

fender.com

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