Welcome to Kitarablogi.com’s ukulele round-up! Summer’s just around the corner, and the uke is the perfect little instrument to take along to the beach or to a BBQ party.
Originally, I had hoped to flesh out a more tightly defined round-up of ukuleles of a certain price and/or size. The new additions to the CITES-treaty, which deal with rosewood (among other things), and the still-growing popularity of the uke here in Finland, have forced me to make concessions, taking into account current availability.
This is a round-up of affordable ukuleles between 80 and 290 €. The aim of this article is not to find the ”best” or ”worst” instrument, but rather to give you a cross-section of currently available brands and models in this price segment in Finland.
We will proceed alphabetically…
Baton Rouge is a relatively young brand from Germany, specialising in ukuleles and steel-string guitars. Baton Rouge do their R&D and final quality control in Germany, but the instruments are actually made in their own factory in China.
We received our review instruments from Vantaan Musiikki.
Baton Rouge’s V4 Sun model range comes with gorgeous looking bodies made from curly mahogany. The very thin satin finish gives these ukes a satisfying tactile feel.
V4 Sun instruments come with bodies that are deeper than standard. They also feature arched laminated backs. The sun-moniker is a nod to the beautiful laser-engraved soundhole rosette.
The concert-sized V4-C Sun plays really well. The neck profile is a very soft V.
Thanks to its deep body the V4-C Sun has a louder and deeper voice than you’d might expect from a concert uke in this price range.
If anything, the review sample of the Baton Rouge V4-T Sun looks even more luxurious than its smaller sibling.
Tenor ukuleles often find their way into the hands of fingerpickers, many of whom prefer slightly wider nut widths, like 38 or 40 mm. Despite its regular nut width of 35 mm the V4-T Sun’s neck never feels cramped.
Sadly, our review instrument suffered from a slightly too sharp neck angle, making the action impossibly low. I shimmed the bridge saddle for a much more manageable string height of a little over two millimetres, which put an end to string buzz and rattling. I’ve played a number of Baton Rouge guitars and ukes and have never before noticed any neck angle problems, so I’d write this off as ”the one that got away”.
The V4-T Sun’s neck profile is a rounded D.
With the shimmed bridge saddle the V4-T Sun displayed a healthy, warm and big tone.
Flight is a Chinese guitar and ukulele brand that is still quite new in Finland. In addition to its standard models Flight also offers aged ukuleles, as well as officially licensed Elvis Presley models.
The guitalele (also often spelled guitarlele) is the newest trend on the ukulele market, and marks something of a return to the uke’s roots. European immigrants brought their ”travel guitars” with them to their new home of Hawaii. Those instruments then became the forefathers of the modern ukulele. A guitalele is a tenor-sized six-string instrument, which is tuned to A (A-a), like a guitar with a capo on the fifth fret.
The Flight GUT350SP is a pretty and well made instrument. Despite its low price it even sports binding on the body and the fingerboard, as well as a neck with an adjustable truss rod.
The GUT350SP’s neck has been crafted from okoume (often called Gabon mahogany). The soundbox features a laminated spruce top and laminated back and sides made of sapele. The workmanship is crisp and clean.
The neck profile is reminiscent of a classical guitar – flattish and a bit angular. The instrument plays very well.
Flight’s GUT350SP maybe isn’t the loudest guitalele I’ve ever played, but it wins you over with its pretty voice and spot-on intonation.
The Flight NUS310 is an affordable soprano uke, and it even comes in its own stylish tweed bag.
The NUS310’s body is clearly wider than on most sopranos, in order to add a smidgen more bottom end to proceedings.
This is a well-made little instrument with effortless playability. The neck profile is a rounded C.
In my opinion the Flight NUS310 is a cool little soprano uke, offering a vintage-type sound and good intonation.
The Koki’o brand belongs to German uke-specialists RISA, who are best known for their electric and travel ukuleles. Koki’o is the Hawaiian name for the islands’ national flower the Hawaiian hibiscus. The brand offers a wide variety of different models.
The Koki’o Mahogany Concert is a well-made affordable concert ukulele.
The fretboard sports black binding. The rosette is made up of koki’o flowers, which have been laser-engraved into the uke’s mahogany top.
The Mahogany Concert comes with a deeper-than-standard body with an arched back. All Koki’o ukuleles come with two strap buttons installed. A very decent gig bag also comes with the instrument.
The neck profile is a comparatively thin, oval C.
The Koki’o Mahogany Concert sings with a beautiful and strong voice.
The Koki’o Mahogany Tenor is the Concert’s larger brother.
In terms of features, the Mahogany Tenor is virtually identical to the Concert, save for a slightly wider neck.
Our review sample must have slipped through quality control, because it comes with a strange cosmetic quirk. The body’s sides look like they’ve been bandsawed to a regular ukulele rim depth, before the worker realised his (or her) mistake, and then glued the pieces back on. The result is a very clean and thin saw/glue line all around the body. Structurally, there’s nothing wrong with this uke, it plays very well, but it just looks funny.
The Koki’o Mahogany Tenor has a chunky sound with a slightly husky mid-range.
Ortega is a large maker of acoustic string instruments, combining German engineering and quality control with Chinese production.
Ortega’s RU5 is the cheapest instrument in this round-up, but this isn’t borne out by its high standard of workmanship.
This is a surprisingly well-made and well-playing little instrument.
There’s black binding around the fretboard, while the body has received tasty looking binding in faux tortoise shell. The graphics in the lower bout of the spruce top have been made with a laser.
The RU5’s neck profile is a rounded D. The playability of this affordable concert model is great.
The Ortega RU5 has a strong and open voice with a nice dose of clarity.
Ortega’s new model, the RUMG, is a concert-sized uke with a reverse ”electric” headstock, and a body made from laminated mango. Mango may seem an interesting choice, but the woodgrain looks a lot like very light koa.
For the slightly higher price tag of the RUMG, you will get wooden binding and the nicest gig bag in this round-up, too.
The neck feels great with its profile being a mix of soft V and oval C.
Ortega’s RUMG is a real shouter with a warm, full-bodied mid-range, punching well above its price bracket.
Tanglewood is Britain’s best-selling brand with a huge range of affordable to mid-price string instruments, which are built in the Far East. Tanglewood’s portfolio includes four different ukulele model ranges, of which Cove Creek is probably the most vintage-inspired.
Tanglewood’s Cove Creek TU-2ST is the only gloss-finished uke in this round-up. This soprano’s basic design stays true to the classics, save for the wood choices for the soundbox. There’s a solid spruce top, coupled with back and sides made of laminated bubinga.
The workmanship on the TU-2ST is extremely crisp. This soprano looks and plays great.
The neck profile on this Cove Creek is comfortably round and clubby.
A solid wood top naturally requires some playing in before ”opening up”, but I can state that the Cove Creek TU-2ST sounded great right out of the box. For a delicious vintage-inspired soprano sound you need not look any further.
Tanglewood’s Cove Creek TU-10 is the only all-solid wood ukulele in this round-up, and it comes with its own case.
Even though the TU-10 is clearly the most ”expensive” uke in this round-up, it actually is quite a steal, if you take into account the professional features of this instrument, like its one-piece mahogany neck.
The Cove Creek TU-10 clearly is an homage to the classic period of the ukulele with its open headstock, its maple binding, its pearl rosette, and its rich satin finish.
The neck profile is a medium-thick U.
The Tanglewood Cove Creek TU-10 offers you warm clarity and dynamic punch straight out of the box. As it is an all-solid uke its sound will only get better the more you play it.
Looks like it’s a great time for buying your first ukulele. You can find decent instruments even in the sub-100 € price bracket that will play and sound well. There’s also a wide variety of different brands and different uke sizes available in Finland these days. What are you waiting for?