The 'Magic' Ukulele Problem

Recently I re shared the list of ten things for ukulele players that sits at the top of my Beginners Tips page HERE. And something strange happened. One entry on that list seemed to cause the most consternation with ukulele fans. The one at number 8, in which I say that the ukulele is not magical - the music is.

magic ukulele

OK, permit me the image of a magician (for those in the USA not knowing this guy, I have something more US centric below!) - but I've seen people genuinely taking issue with the statement. Claiming that the ukulele is indeed the instrument that has special powers, that has 'that certain something'. Really? I still contend that what is actually moving you is the fact that you are making music. I'm no scientist but I am fairly sure that it is well proven that even listening to music affects the brain in positive ways. Surely that happiness you are feeling is from the music not the tool with which you use to make the music?

Before I picked up the ukulele about ten years ago, I had been playing the guitar (badly) for about 20 years before that. And I loved it. I still do. I picked up the ukulele and I love that too. You see it's acceptable to like both. I play a bit of piano, terribly, but when I tinker with one occasionally something drops out that uplifts me and makes me smile.  To suggest that the ukulele is 'the only one' the 'magical one' that really brings the most pleasure would be suggesting to me that the 20 years I had previous with guitar were not really up to matching it. And they were. I enjoy the guitar immensely. It's the music I have enjoyed.

Of course a common response to my statement was 'but it is magical to me'. A statement that is, on the face of it somewhat hard to challenge because it is so personal. And I'm happy it makes you feel that way, but who is to say that there is not another instrument out there that may do the same thing for you? Let's look at it another way. If you think that the ukulele is the absolute key to magical musical happiness, then think of an instrument that you have never even played in your life. Be it a violin, a trumpet, a harp, a flugelhorn, anything really. Those instruments also have their players that love them dearly and there must be a reason for that.. Because they bring them pleasure. It is also completely impossible for you to know (having never played one) whether you would get as much enjoyment from them, or even more, than you do from the ukulele. It's entirely possible because it is the MUSIC you are experiencing.

And if the ukulele is really the answer to all things 'happy' and 'magical' in the world of music, then why isn't every single musician on the planet playing one? Here's the reality check - they aren't. In fact the ukulele is still by far a minority instrument worldwide. Despite a boom in sales, I think you will find that more people by a large margin play the guitar.

Please don't get me wrong, I love the ukulele. I think it is accessible, portable and huge amounts of fun. Heck, I have spent the last few years of my life dedicated to this website and not one about flugelhorns or violins for a reason. It's a great instrument. But please don't mistake the 'fun' of the 'community' or the relative 'ease of play' (or even the relatively low costs involved in getting started on the instrument) as reasons to suggest it is some sort of magic wand that no other instrument can match. To do so would be to suggest that everyone on the planet who takes pleasure from the guitar, the piano, the violin is in some way missing out or is sub-standard. Frankly I think that smacks of tribalism and is not a particularly nice trait. In fact, that is exactly why I titled this piece 'The Magic Ukulele Problem'. I think it is a passion that actually gets taken too seriously and too far at times. And as a person who plays a few instruments and frequents discussions that are not ukulele centric, I do sometimes find myself looking at the ukulele community and thinking.. well... that it's a bit kooky. Sorry. But I do.

Nor, of course am I saying that the ukulele is a lesser instrument and I am not writing this as a means of dumbing it down. I am however writing this as a means of trying to calm the evangelical nature of ukulele passions down a little for a very simple reason. The ukulele, like so many other devices invented by mankind for the purpose, is a tool. A tool with which to make music. Some people choose only one tool in their lifetime and get pleasure from it. It may be the ukulele, it may not. Some choose several and take pleasure from them all in different ways. It's all good!

Passion for any hobby is a great thing. It's perfectly understandable and quite uplifting to note in itself. But let's be realising about things?

At risk of repeating myself, it is actually the music that is uplifting you and making you happy, content and pleased. Be proud of that. It's a wonderful thing you are part of and if you choose the ukulele to gain that happiness, I am immensely thrilled for you. Just bear in mind I get immensely thrilled by people who are passionate and take pleasure from other instruments too. That's because my immense passion lies with music. In all its forms.

Keep playing - whatever device you choose!


Vox Ukelectric 33 - Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

I suspect that this may be another review that raises eyebrows with some. There we go. Time to look at the Vox Ukelelectric 33 series concert ukulele!

Vox Ukelectric 33 concert ukulele

Let me say a couple of things from the off. I said in my review of the Les Paul ukulele that I was not a fan of ukes that are built to look like electric guitars. I still hold that view, but if ever there was a model to make me change my mind, it would be this Vox. I mean.. just look at it! (probably because I am such a fan of the original Vox electric guitars, and it just looks... so... damn different!). Second, these cost around £150, but being late to the party I am advised that Vox have discontinued them now. There are still some in dealers for sale, but I don't think there will me any more. No matter, there is still the used market so I hope that this review comes in handy for that.

So what we have here is a concert scale electro ukulele branded with the Vox name. If you think that these are handcrafted by Vox in Kent, you would be wrong. Of course, these are made in China and have the Vox logo slapped on them. Still, they are modelled on a classic teardrop shape guitar and something about it screams Vox idiosyncrasy. Technically, it is a solid body and not an acoustic, but it does have an unusual trick up its sleeve in the form of an onboard amplifier and speaker. More on that later.

The Vox Ukulelectric comes in a range of colours, including white (like this one), a couple of browns (one being a sunburst) and a harder to find red colour. It's concert scale, though I did read rumours that they had made a tenor. Saying that, I have never seen one for sale on these shores, so the concert it is.

The body is made from an unspecified hardwood and covered in a satin flat white finish which is quite satisfying to both look at and touch. That teardrop shape is improved upon with a chamfered edge around the top which both looks good and adds to comfort on the strumming arm when in play.

Vox Ukelectric 33 concert ukulele body

On the top, we have a white pearloid pick guard that covers both the speaker and runs down behind the jack socket and controls. It's held in place with cross head screws and has a black edging that looks quite nice. The grille for the speaker is messy as you like with lots of shavings of plastic residue still hanging off it from the cutting process.

Vox Ukelectric 33 concert ukulele controls

Controls wise we have a standard ¼ jack input, a toggle on/off switch, an indicator light and a chicken head volume control. There are no tone controls at all.

The bridge is an unspecified hardwood in a slotted style (nice easy string changes) with an uncompensated plastic saddle.

On the butt of the instrument is a strap button and flipping it over and we see a hunk of black plastic covering the back and housing the access door for a 9v battery. Surely the back panel could have been smaller? It was also covered in that protective plastic for shipping that you are suppose to peel off. I say 'supposed to' as this stuff was sticky and a pain to remove without leaving traces. Perhaps it was meant to stay, but it looked dull, scratched and pretty horrible really.

Vox Ukelectric 33 concert ukulele back

Intrigued, I took the screws out of the back to see what we have inside and boy is it messy. The cavity is routed straight into the wood and about as rough as you can imagine. We have a simple circuit board that is connected on one side to the 9v battery and on the other to a cheap looking 2W speaker. I'd certainly have preferred a passive set up myself, but with the inbuilt speaker there needed to be some sort of active system in place.

Vox Ukelectric 33 concert ukulele insides

At the top of the back we have a second strap button and then we move on to the neck, the back of which is finished in the same flat white as the body.  The neck feels nice in the hand and is topped with a neat rosewood fingerboard. We have 16 nickel silver frets with 12 to the body. They are on the fat side (if that matters to you) and the fret edges are quite sharp on this example. Position markers are inlaid in the form of pearloid dots at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th 12th and 15th with the 10th being a double spot. I've never seen the need for a position marker at the 3rd on a ukulele but there you go! Thankfully these are repeated on the side of the neck too. Nut width is fairly average, but I did find the profile assisted with comfort.

Vox Ukelectric 33 concert ukulele neck

Past the plastic nut we have the teardrop shaped headstock emblazoned with the Vox logo in gold screen print. Tuning is provided by unbranded open geared tuners with white plastic buttons. Sadly the angles these are set look odd, and that is not helped by one of them not being quite in line with the others either. They work reasonably well I suppose, but the tuner for the first string is noticeably stiffer than all the others. They scream 'cheap' I guess.

Vox Ukelectric 33 concert ukulele headstock

Completing the deal are Aquila strings and a padded and branded gig bag which is actually of reasonably good quality. The instrument certainly looks like nothing else and on the whole is reasonably well put together. But how does it play?

Vox Ukelectric 33 concert ukulele tuners

Well first of all, let us just say that acoustically there is little point in me writing much more. It is not acoustic at all and makes very little sound unless amplified. At best you might get away with it in the quietest of bedrooms, but really, this ukulele is about being powered.

What I will say though is that it feels nice in the hands. It's on the heavy side, but that is to be expected with a body which is basically a hunk of wood. The setup at both the saddle and nut are perfectly acceptable. There don't seem to be any fatal build flaws that I can spot. It feels nice to play and the neck is extremely comfortable apart from the sharp fret ends.

Powered, there are a couple of choices. First off, you can avoid plugging this in to an amplifier altogether and just hit the on off toggle switch and go. The internal gubbins power the small speaker and in amplifies itself. It's a neat idea, but I can't help feeling that it could have been implemented better. First of all, the volume. Well what volume? Even with a fresh battery you really have to have this turned up full to make any noticeable sound that could even begin to compete with others in a ukulele group or band. At 50% volume or less, it might as well be switched off. At full volume it is quieter than most acoustic instruments I have played. So that leads me to think 'what's the point'. For me it is pure novelty.

Vox Ukelectric 33 concert ukulele bag

Tone wise the in built speaker is a bit of let down also, with an almost overdriven sound when turned up and a quite harsh one at that. It's muddy and felt me feeling flat. Very much a piezo sound and an instrument that is crying out for some tone controls on board.

Plugged in to an amplifier and things are improved. The pickup sounds far nicer to me than, say, the strip used by Epiphone on the Les Paul. For a start, the volume across the strings is even... Something that is often a failing of pre-installed systems. Sure, it's not a high end pickup and it sounds very 'electric' but there is enough room on the output to tweak it and improve it with the simplest EQ. Even plugging it in to a basic Roland Mobile Cube and playing with the simple tone control improved it. With effects it is a hoot to play, and that may be where the instrument best shines. Classic pure tone is not what this is about.

One other gripe though that I think is worth mentioning. On a normal electric ukulele that uses a 9v battery, if you leave a jack lead plugged in to it, you will drain the battery. Unplug the lead and the battery is cut off. Makes sense right? With the Vox though, when you unplug the cable it reverts to the on board amplifier so it remains 'on' even when unplugged unless you hit the toggle switch. Why is that a problem Baz? Just turn it off? Well. I found that toggle switch is easy to knock and engage with the slightest movement. In fact on the first day I got this I inadvertently hit the switch putting it back in the gig bag. The next morning the battery was dead. A simple solution would be a switch that is harder to catch by mistake. Actually, a better solution for me would be for Vox to just have made a solid electric and avoided the on board amplifier altogether!

Vox Ukelectric 33 concert ukulele speaker grille

So mixed feelings on this on. It could have been something interesting. The shape is enough to sway me away from my 'ukes that look like guitar' phobia, and plugged in it's quite a nice instrument. Shame it is let down by that on board speaker that promises much but delivers very little. And for £150, I can't help thinking that it is somewhat overpriced for what it is. Perhaps a more stripped down version with a passive pickup would have done the trick whilst still keeping the looks?


Feel of the neck profile
Half decent solid electric pickup


Pointless onboard speaker
Too easy to turn on accidentally
Scruffy interior finish
Sharp fret edges


Looks - 8 out of 10
Fit and Finish - 7 out of 10
Sound - 7 out of 10
Value For Money 7 out of 10




Soprano Ukulele Shootout - Ohana SK-10s vs Lanikai LU-21 vs Kala KA-S - REVIEW

A ukulele review with a slight difference this time on Got A Ukulele. Three instruments that are so similar in almost every way that I thought it would be fun to pit them head to head in a single review. A soprano shootout! The fact that they are three household names should also make it interesting. The Ohana SK-10s, the Lanikai LU-21 and the Kala KA-S. 

Soprano ukulele shootout review

Three names there that are probably three of the most recognised names in the ukulele world. In fact I would wager that you will probably see more of these brands in the hands of players than any other. And all three have an entry level soprano ukulele that is extremely similar to the others. In fact, they are so similar, I will need to dig quite deep to pick them apart. I hope this review does that for you!

Let's start off with the similarities between them so I don't end up repeating myself. As I say, all are soprano scale instruments, and all are made from laminate wood with a mahogany outer veneer (and in each case the laminate is the same sort of thickness). All have rosewood necks and all have 12 frets in nickel silver. None of the fretboard edges are bound and all have frets that are nicely dressed. All have the same sort of open geared tuners with plastic buttons (all of them looking too large for a soprano, but that is a personal gripe). All cost the same sort of money at about £60 each or thereabouts. All are strung with Aquila Super Nylguts. All have their makers logos screen printed on the headstocks. Inside all are neat and tidy with no glue blobs and each uses un-notched kerfing where the top and back meet the sides. All are built reasonably welly and all arrived with a perfectly acceptable setup. Very little between them as you can see. In fact the Kala and the Lanikai are so similar that you wonder if they are from the same factory line. The Ohana on the other hand is ever so slightly smaller and has a different shaping to the end of the fingerboard.

Lanikai LU21, Ohana SK-10, Kala KA-S
L-R - Lanikai LU21, Ohana SK-10, Kala KA-S

So let's look closer at some of the differences. Starting off with the Ohana SK-10, the first thing you will notice is a slightly different finish on the body. Compared to the Kala and the Lanikai, the Ohana has a kind of semi gloss that is extremely smooth. It's finished very well, but I actually prefer the more open grain finish of the other two and think this feels a little artificial.

It also differs from the others in the bridge arrangement as it has as slotted bridge as opposed to a tie bar bridge on the other two. I think this is a nicer thing to have for a beginner as it makes string changes an absolute breeze. Fewer knots to worry about - just tie a granny knot in the end and slot it

Ohana SK-10 Ukulele bridge
Ohana SK-10 Slotted Bridge

The edges of the body where the top and back meets the sides are unbound on the Ohana, so you see the edge of the laminate wood. I know that binding doesn't make a blind bit of difference to the  sound, but I do think it leaves the edges of this instrument looking a little messier than the others. Not a big thing but considering it is the same price as the others you end up feeling shortchanged I guess. Elsewhere on the top the Ohana differs from the others as the only model with a sound hole rosette in the form of a gold and black transfer.

The neck of the Ohana is made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and one just below the headstock. The fingerboard is nicely finished and whilst there are outward facing fret markers there are no side markers.

The headstock differs slightly from the others, as whilst they all employ a fairly generic shape, the Ohana has a rather attractive chamfer to the top edge which is nice.

Moving on to the Lanikai LU21 - this looks remarkably similar to the Kala KA-S and differs from the Ohana in having edge binding in white plastic. I think the binding improves the looks but the white appears a little too stark to my eyes. Still, it hides the edge of the laminate wood and sets it off nicer than the Ohana for me.

Ukulele edge binding
Different edge finishes, top to bottom Kala, Ohana, Lanikai

The neck on the Lanikai is actually made of four pieces with two joints at the heel and one halfway down the neck. The fingerboard is the worst finished of the three with some very rough finishing on the lower fret spaces. It also looks quite dry. Like the Ohana it has outward fret markers but no side markers.

Lanikai LU21 ukulele Fingerboard
That rough fingerboard on the Lanikai

Otherwise it seems as equally well made and as I say, I prefer the more open grain finish to the wood on the body.

And moving on to the Kala KA-S, this model is also finished with edge binding but it is in a cream colour which I think looks far classier than the Lanikai. It's just not as stark but does the job of hiding the edges and providing a visual contrast.

The bridge and saddle on the Kala also differs from the others as it is made from NuBone by Graphtec as opposed to plastic. This is intended to improve sustain and bass response, but more on that later.

Nubone on Kala Ukulele

The Kala neck is made from three pieces with a  joint at the heel and one half way down the neck. It is also the only instrument to come complete with side fret markers - a nice touch at this price. The Kala also has the darkest and most uniform looking rosewood on the fingerboard.

Side markers on Kala KA-S ukulele
Side markers on the Kala

The Kala tuners are the same as the other instruments, but the buttons are stark white and I really think it would do better to use cream buttons like the Ohana if only to mirror the cream edge binding. Otherwise there is on difference between any of the tuners on offer.

geared ukulele tuners
All the tuners are pretty much identical

So those are the key specs. Very similar in many ways but with some subtle differences. Differences that many players may not even take notice of, but there you go. But the sound was always going to be harder to judge .... And let's remember, that these are all entry level laminate instruments so none are going to set the world on fire in any great way.

First off, as I say, all are set up well. All feel the same in the hands on account of the almost identical construction. All feel like sopranos. All are balanced reasonably well and are comfortable to hold. All have similar nut widths and neck profiles.

The Ohana defintely has a warmer tone than the others, but seemed to me to be lacking in projection and power a little for my tastes.  It's a nice enough tone, and one I actually prefer to the Lanikai in many ways which has more volume but is almost overly bright. For a soprano though, I do like a bit of punch and the Ohana lags behind the others in that regard. A staccato should have a choppy punchy sound for me.

As I say, the Lanikai is certainly louder than the Ohana, but overly bright to my ears. Almost a bit too punchy and one dimensional. I could live with that for the projection it offers though.

The Kala seems to offer the best of both worlds. It has more projection than the Ohana, but a warmer tone than the Lanikai with it. It's a nicer combination for me and perhaps assisted by that different material on the nut and saddle (as everything else is comparable!). Whatever it is, it was the more pleasing sound for my ears.

laminate ukulele top

Of course, there is very little in it, and this is just one persons opinion (albeit one who has played a stupid amount of instruments). For me though, the mix of the tone coupled with extras on the Kala like the nicer binding, the side markers and the nubone saddle and nut mean it has done enough to earn the crown in this shootout. When things are as close as this, I suppose it is the little things that make the difference. I wouldn't overlook the others, and all three are better than the £30 no name cheap instrument you see in the charity shop but the review had to dig deep to look at the differences and the Kala edges it. Whichever of these you choose as a first instrument will be good for you though. Do take a look at the video and let me know your thoughts.

Ohana SK-10s Pros and Cons

Slotted bridge

Slightly muted sound
No edge binding
No side fret markers

Lanikai LU-21 Pros and Cons


Rough finishing on fingerboard
Stark white edge binding

Kala KA-S Pros and Cons

Side fret markers
Nubone nut and saddle
Most balanced tone of the three

Stark white tuner buttons

Ukulele Review Scores

Ohana SK-10s

Looks - 7.5
Fit and Finish - 8
Sound - 7.5
Value for money - 8.5

OVERALL - 7.9 out of 10

Lanikai LU-21

Looks - 7
Fit and finish - 7
Sound - 8
Value for money - 8.5

OVERALL - 7.6  out of 10

Kala KA-S

Looks - 8
Fit and finish - 8
Sound - 8.5
Value for money - 8.5

OVERALL - 8.3 out of 10



Jake Shimabukuro To Tour The UK!

I am probably a little bit late to this party, but I don't usually put up gig or tour announcements on Got A Ukulele. This one is a little special though. Jake Shimabukuro is touring the UK for the first time ever. You heard that right - THE Jake Shimabukuro.

Jake Shimabukuro To Tour The UK

That is pretty massive news actually, with Jake being probably one the most well known and highly regarded players of ukulele on the planet. And this is his first time in a proper tour of the UK.

He is playing four dates:

15 September - Liverpool - St Georges Hall
17th September - London - Kings Place
18th September - Leeds - Town Hall
19th September - Bath - The Forum

All great venues! The tour has been arranged by Grand Northern Events (yes, the very same Grand Northern folks behind the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival, so you know it is being organised with care and love) on a not for profit basis. Not long to go now - so time to grab your tickets!

For more details, visit - http://www.grandnorthernevents.com/jake-shimabukuro-first-ever-uk-tour/



Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele - REVIEW

Something of an 'about time' ukulele review this one. The Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele has been around for a few years now, and although I have played many of them, I just haven't seemed to have one long enough to write a detailed review up.  It must also be said, this instrument was probably the one that was most requested as a review on Got A Ukulele. Now is that time, and I suspect this one will divide opinions.

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele

The Epiphone Les Paul ukulele, as the name suggests, is an instrument designed to look like the iconic Gibson Les Paul shape guitar. I feel I should get one thing out of the way before getting into the meat of this review. I don't like the concept of making ukuleles look like famous guitars. They are not guitars. They are ukuleles. Why not come up with novel designs that are original? I get that this is going to be highly subjective, but it's just me. I mean, as ukulele players we all have to deal with the claptrap that is 'oh it's just a small toy guitar', so why play a uke that looks, well, like a small toy guitar? I think the style of it, whilst clearly 'Les Paul' in design looks a bit silly. It's not Les Paul guitar - Les Pauls are big heavy things. To me this is just a novelty. Glad to get that off my chest.

So, we have a Les Paul shape and this one is in Heritage Cherry Sunburst. They are also available in 'Vintage Sunburst' which loses the red colour and replaces it with brown. They come in at about £90 in the UK and are in concert scale.

But when we get in to the detail there are one or two things that just jar with me. First of all, let's look at that top. Shiny, sparkly and with a stripy flame that is, I admit, quite eye catching. Epiphone bill it as 'grade AAA flame maple' yet it is also laminate. Hang on...  As my readers will know, I am not one of those who sneers at laminate and to be fair to Epiphone, they do make it clear that it is laminate, but to call it grade AAA? I don't buy that. That sort of terminology should, in my opinion, be reserved for solid woods of the highest calibre. The fancy flamed outer of this instrument is just an extremely thin veneer stuck on to a piece of plywood. Grade AAA? And that laminate is thick thick thick. Sorry, just because the outer (which for all intents and purposes could be a photograph sticker) looks like flamed maple, that doesn't make this grade AAA tone wood in my book. What we have is a thick laminate top, but albeit one that looks pretty.

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele top

The top is attached to what Epiphone call a 'solid mahogany body'. Ah, that 'solid' word, but again, a misnomer here. The body is indeed made from mahogany, with a deep red colour, but it's made from various pieces of mahogany. Blocks of mahogany in fact as this body is not constructed in a traditional ukulele way. Like the top, I am not saying there is anything wrong with that, but I think the 'solid' word misleads. It's all marketing speak and I don't much care for it. There is nothing incorrect in the words Epiphone use but for 'grade AAA' and 'solid' read 'grade AAA veneer on plywood' and 'solid chunks of mahogany glued together into a guitar shape'.

So the body creates kind of a swimming pool type chamber on to which the laminate top is laid. And looking inside the sound hole the chamber actually isn't that big. The sides of this are not thin at all. Reaching in with my finger I would estimate they are about 1cm thick. The top and body are all finished in gloss and nicely done too with no flaws that I could find. The joint between the top and body is bound with a cream edge binding. Elsewhere on the top we have a rosewood looking slotted bridge with a plastic saddle, and a cream plastic 'pick guard'. I really don't like the pick guard. I know it's there to mimic the guitar, but Les Paul pick guards don't look like that and I think this one would look better without it.
Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele sound hole

Oh, and then we have a sound hole - not something you see on Les Paul guitars but more on that later!

On the base of the body we have a strap button and a jack socket mounting in an offset position and faced in chrome. That's right - this instrument has a pickup, and a passive one at that, meaning no need for batteries.

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele jack socket
At the top of the body we have another strap button on the top left shoulder and the top right shoulder has a cutaway to complete the Les Paul look. I must say the whole of the body is finished to a high standard.

Up to the neck, this is made of mahogany and also finished in a deep red gloss. The neck appears to be in two pieces, jointed about halfway along and has quite a chunky D shaped profile that I like. What I dislike though is that it's on the narrow side. The neck is joined to the body with four chrome bolts.

The fingerboard sits on the neck and is made of rosewood which is nice and even in colour. We have 19 nickel silver frets with 14 to the body and all are finished nicely with no rough edges. We have inlaid pearloid fret markers at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 17th and 19th spaces and these are repeated on the side. I found that an odd choice for marker positions myself, and certainly don't see a need for one at the 3rd. They are also dots, and think this would have looked far nicer if they were trapezoid markers like on higher end Gibson guitars, but we can't have everything...

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele neck

Past the plastic nut we have a typical Epiphone Les Paul shaped headstock (in a symmetrical scroll shape) faced in black gloss. The Epiphone logo and ubiquitous Les Paul signature are applied in gold transfer and look 'OK' but nothing special.

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele headstock

The tuners are open gears in chrome with vintage shaped buttons. They are nice enough but would have preferred something more akin to the Kluson Tulip shaped tuners on vintage Gibsons to really set this off.  On the back of the headstock are more stickers that you can shake a stick at  (serial number, QC check and the label stating proudly that it is Made In Indonesia). Completing the deal are some black unnamed glossy strings (GHS?) and a reasonable zippered gig bag with the Epiphone logo and front pocket.

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele tuners

So all in all, a nicely finished ukulele but one that I don't think is quite what you think it is. If you are a fan of the Les Paul guitar and absolutely must have a miniature version, then you probably already own one and nothing I write will matter. And, hey, it's £90. But that low price does make these very attractive to new players and I see this instrument named as a recommendation from many players to beginners. On that basis, I need to delve a bit deeper!

Setup and action at both the bridge and nut are good. It's a very playable instrument. The neck is too narrow for my tastes, but will be perfectly acceptable to many. It's not overly heavy (unlike the guitar equivalent!) and nicely balanced in the hands. It's a nice thing to hold.

Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele back

Let's try it unplugged first of all. And that is the first major disappointment. If they set out to make this sound like the proverbial toy guitar, then they succeeded. This has an incredibly thin tone, with very low volume and little sustain. In fact, exactly the sort of 'plinky' cheap sound that some people expect the ukulele to have. I really don't have much good to say about it in this department. I put it down to the overly thick top and relatively small sound chamber inside the body - there just isn't enough instrument to resonate.

Some people may say 'but it's great for quiet practice'. Perhaps, but why not ditch the sound hole altogether and make this a solid body? You could still have quiet practice or use a headphone amp plus the instrument would look more like a Les Paul, which as I say, don't have sound holes!  You would never be heard playing this at a jam session or club alongside other more traditional acoustic instruments, and what you can hear is very one dimensional. What staggers me is that I regularly see 'reviews' of these where people claim the acoustic tone is pretty good. No it really isn't. For me, they should have made this as a solid body and then I would have had no grounds to complain. For those who may say, 'but it's not designed to be an acoustic' I would reply with two things. 'Then why put a sound hole in it?' And, 'It better sound good plugged in then!'.

So, I could forgive it on the acoustic front if it then shines through an amplifier. Yet, I am afraid to say, it doesn't. Again, I see many people review these claiming that they have a great tone. I can only assume those people have not played anything better. And I am not talking high cost here, just better pickups generally.  The tone for me is muddy, slightly noisy and worst of all, uneven across the strings.  It's just a louder version of the acoustic tone and therefore totally lacking in sustain or character. And here is the thing. Over the years I have played a few of these and they all suffered in the same way. I have also had my hands on one and tried to adjust the pickup and that really showed me where the problem lay. The pickup Epiphone use in these is cheap cheap cheap. Basically the cheapest I have seen - a basic Piezo braid that is thick, doesn't sit well under the saddle (hence the uneven sound issue) and and just sounds plain nasty. Sure, through a 2.5W battery amp you may have some giggles, but I couldn't ever imagine performing with this though anything else and being pleased with the sound. Don't get me wrong, it makes a noise. It just doesn't make a particularly pleasing one. The tone of something like the Risa Uke Solid leaves this in the dust, and in reality those instruments are not hugely more expensive.

I've tried it through a variety of pre-amps, EQ's and into a couple of very nice acoustic amplifiers and whilst I can improve the tone with some tweaking it is still quite noisy, incoherent and uneven with a lack of any sustain. Perhaps you could change the pickup, but really, why would you?  And in reality, who is going to buy a £90 ukulele and then part with more money for a £200 EQ pre-amp and a £300 amplifier just to improve the tone? They missed an opportunity here and I just think it could have been so much more.

For me it is a classic case of Epiphone jumping on the ukulele bandwagon. I like the Epiphone brand and just think they could have done better here (or could have introduced a great acoustic ukulele of their own). It seems to trade only on the looks. 'All mouth and no trousers' as the saying goes. Style over substance. I can almost forgive it the lack of acoustic tone if it then did the one thing it needed to do, well. Yet it doesn't. Which leaves me with something of a novelty and nothing else.


Looks (if you like miniature guitars!)
General build and finish


Zero acoustic tone
Thick top
Terrible plugged in tone
Questionable product marketing speak


Looks - 8
Fit and Finish - 8
Sound - 5
Value For Money - 7


To understand my review scoring and see this result in context - visit my review page at


AND - Sound comparison against other beginner ukuleles

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