By Adam Perlmutter
The ukulele has earned its status as a serious concert instrument, but it’s really a cheerful instrument at heart. That’s what makes the whimsical design of Ortega’s Lizard-CC-GB so appropriate. Hanging out on the fretboard, with its head in eighth position, is an inlaid lizard whose eight laser-engraved counterparts form the soundhole rosette. Meanwhile, the headstock’s asymmetric silhouette suggests that a creature has taken a bite out of it.
The soundboard of this concert-sized uke is made from laminated dao, as are the back and sides. This Southeast Asian species is seldom used for musical instruments but often as a veneer for furniture, cabinetry, and flooring. With its striking grain pattern, it’s nice to look at. The neck and fingerboard are made of the more conventional combo of mahogany and rosewood, the latter also used for the bridge.
Though the main draw of the Lizard-CC-GB for some will be its onboard preamp system, the uke fares well when played acoustically. It doesn’t have the responsiveness of a high-end solid-wood model, but the projection and clarity are strong. The overall tone can be described as dulcet, and the instrument responds equally well to strumming basic open chords and fingerpicking tricky pieces (like the arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” that appears in the Winter 2015 issue of Ukulele magazine).
The Lizard-CC-GB plays smoothly up and down the length of its 16-fret neck. With a 380-millimeter (just shy of 15 inches) scale length and a 35-millimeter (about 1.38 inches) nut, the neck feels roomy enough, and the action and intonation are spot-on.
The test model is superbly built as well, inside and out. The kerfing and bracing are cleanly assembled and the fretwork impeccable; the satin finish is faultless and the decorative touches are rendered with precision.
Shadow Electronics makes the onboard preamp, branded Ortega MagusUke, that comes standard on the Lizard-CC-GB. The system includes an under-saddle pickup and a preamp, mounted on the upper left bout, with a tone and volume control and onboard electronic tuner. The preamp’s output is muted when the tuner is called into service.
Plugged into a new amp, Fender’s 200-watt Acoustic Pro, the Lizard-CC-GB sounds huge, like a hyper ukulele. The tone is organic, without the boxy quality that sometimes afflicts an amplified acoustic instrument, and the electronics generate no unwanted noise.
Though the Lizard-CC-GB has a playful appearance, it’s a reputable acoustic-electric uke with a lovely unplugged sound and rich amplified tone.
The instrument—and no doubt its soprano and tenor companions, the SO-GB and TE-GB— recommends itself to any player in the market for a ukulele that’s a little out of the ordinary.
Concert size with dao top, back, and sides
Mahogany neck with rosewood fretboard
Die-cast Ortega gold tuners
Ortega MagusUke preamp system with built-in tuner
Aquila Nylgut strings
Deluxe gig bag included
$534 list; $399.99 street