22.7.14

iUke Piccolo Mini Ukulele REVIEW

Back with another ukulele review, and an instrument that has actually been around for a little while now - the iUke Piccolo mini ukulele.


iUke Piccolo Mini Ukulele


A little while ago I reviewed another piccolo uke (the John Daniel Pixie) and in that made reference to the iUke and the fact that I didn't really like it that much. That was based on me having played a couple briefly at uke festivals and nothing more. The UK distributor, Stones Music, got in touch and (rightly) suggested that I actually test one for a while and write up a fuller review. So here we go.

The iUke is a solid topped piccolo or sopranino scale instrument developed by iUke in conjunction with Aquila strings. It is a solid topped instrument and designed primarily for beginners on account of the fact that it is designed to be tuned to standard GCEA tuning but one whole octave above a soprano uke. The strings were developed specifically for the uke to allow this tuning to work, but this was actually one of the things I didn't like about it.

The ukulele retails at around £79 in the UK which is pretty terrific value for any instrument, particularly one with a solid wood top like this one has. This one has a solid cedar top and hardwood laminate back and sides, and is in a pineapple shape and plain finish. They are also available in traditional figure of eight shape and with different top finishes.

Looking at the build at this one, it really is nicely put together. The grain on the solid top is simple, but nicely lined up with the top of the uke, and the laminate sides too are nicely lined up. The sides are, incidentally, a single piece of wood with no join at the base.

iUke Piccolo Mini Ukulele body


The bridge is a rosewood slotted style for easy re-stringing and it appears to be screwed to the top of the uke. Looking inside, all is nice and tidy, with fairly minimal bracing on account of the size of the uke (in fact, I think there is just a single brace on the top and nothing on the back on account of the extra strength in laminate. Kerfing is un-notched but well applied, and the makers label shows both the Aquila and iUke logos, and the fact it is made in China. The label actually says 'Mini Uke' not Piccolo, but there you go, its still a piccolo.

iUke Piccolo Mini Ukulele bridge


The edges of the body are unbound, and that means you see the uke top and back in section, with the top clearly showing off the solid wood. The back though shows off the laminate and looks a little scruffy and I wonder if binding would have been a nice addition. The whole body is finished in satin.

iUke Piccolo Mini Ukulele sides


Moving on to the hardwood neck, this is made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and one halfway down the neck which is unusual. For such a small instrument I would have thought it would be easy to shape this out of a single neck block, but presume this is cost saving. The profile and finish on the neck is very nice though.

iUke Piccolo Mini Ukulele neck


The fingerboard is also very nicely finished and impressed me. Its topped with rosewood which is uniform and dark in colour. The edges of the fingerboard are not bound, but stained so you can hardly see the fret edges. Best of all, the edges of the fingerboard are rolled / shaped meaning you feel no hard edges which is a really nice touch. The frets too, all 12 of them in nickel silver, are really nicely finished with no sharp edges.

Fret position markers are provided on the fingerboard at five, seven and ten in pearloid inlays, but no markers are provided for the player.  Perhaps not essential for a very short scale instrument, but it really wouldn't have been a big deal to add one or two.

iUke Piccolo Mini Ukulele fingerboard


My first gripe with the instrument comes with the width of the nut which I find VERY narrow.  Sure, I get that it is naturally a small instrument, but it is at least 3mm narrower than my John Daniel Piccolo of the same scale. This means a cramped playing area that could easily have been resolved by making that neck a touch wider for virtually no extra cost. As an instrument aimed at the beginner (mainly) I found this a surprise.

Up to the headstock and we have a nice unique design for the iUke with friction pegs fitted in a diamond configuration which I like a lot. The headstock is not faced, but finished in satin and the iUke logo is etched into the wood on an angle.

iUke Piccolo Mini Ukulele headstock


Those tuners are really cheap though, yet they do the job, even with a fair amount of tension on those strings. The washers though are cardboard, and I found that having set the uke down for a day or two, when adjusting tuning they kind of stick on the first turn and need loosening a touch. Still, when tuned these are holding just fine and you could upgrade them easily.

iUke Piccolo Mini Ukulele tuners


And that is about it, bar the specific iUke Aquila strings and a rather nice padded gig bag with an embroidered iUke logo. Not a bad bundle for £79.

What about playability? Well, the uke is light and, naturally very small. I found it easy enough to hold though new players may find it a bit of a fiddle. That is hardly a complaint though as the size is what it is. It's balanced though, and the neck feels good in the hand.

Playing though, that narrow neck does present issues to me with lack of space (though I do have big hands). Some may say that is the challenge of piccolo ukes, but others I have played, including both the John Daniel and the Ohana just felt more natural.

It is loud enough when strummed below fret five, but beyond that it gets so shrill and the sustain goes too. This though is perhaps more a feature of the tuning it has been designed for and more on that now.

I totally GET the thinking behind keeping it GCEA, as that allows beginners to jump to it from a standard soprano with ease as the chord shapes are the same. This too allows a club player to immediately join in with others without transposing at all. What I find though is that the soprano naturally high pitched and shrill enough (especially where several are playing together) and to take that up one more octave again just starts getting into irritating territory for me on sound.  However... strings are there to be changed, and I would be really interested to try some standard Piccolo strings on the iUke to try to find a lower tuning that suited the build. Ukes tend to have a natural sweet spot on tuning and I found that on my John Daniel with CFAD tuning which really gave it a nice balance and richer tone. I see no reason why that cannot work on this as otherwise the uke is built well. As such, I am not going to run scores down on this review for the fact it is tuned GCEA as that can be changed. As for the concept of learning to transpose - its really not that hard, and you would need to do it with a Baritone too. Remember, in doing so, the chord shapes remain the same just the chords they play will differ. I would certainly recommend anyone buying one of these tries that.

iUke Piccolo Mini Ukulele gig bag


At GCEA though, I think this is just too shrill for my ears. The build though is good and the price extremely attractive and am happy to say that my original views have been changed a little.

As usual, here is a video review, and below that the PROs CONs and the scores.

VIDEO REVIEW



PROS

Price
Build quality
Neck finish

CONS

Neck width
Cheap tuners
Anything but high GCEA, please!!


SCORES

Looks - 8
Fit and Finish - 7.5
Sound - 7
Value For Money - 9

OVERALL - 7.9 out of 10

16.7.14

Stop With The Ukulele Rules

Just some things to mull over for you... Was merely considering the beauty that has been created by variances in the use of instruments to make music. Often it seems that people don't want that for the ukulele...


The Guitar









The Violin






The Piano







Drums





Stop telling people that you MUST play the ukulele this way or that. It's just a musical instrument.... Play what YOU like and what YOU want. Without development and variety on musical instruments I for one think the world of music would be a very one dimensional place.

Thank you!

15.7.14

The Biddulph Ukulele Day 2014!

I love a ukulele event, especially a new one - and Biddulph Ukulele Day in the UK on July 12 was just that.

Held at two locations in Biddulph town, the event was organised by the Biddulph Ukulele group and was aimed at bringing some tuition, guidance and plain good old fun to the town.

Things kicked off with workshops from two of the UK's finest players and teachers - Phil Doleman and Peter Moss, and the day then developed into an open mic, mass jam session at the Biddulph Town Hall. Phil and Peter then took to the open mic stage later on in the day to perform a blistering and unrehearsed set that blew the audience away.

The evening had booked our band The N'Ukes, and we can say that the stage was one of the nicest we have performed on. Many thanks to John Hayley for the sound and lighting rig. Take a look!



and



We loved it and reports from the full day was that the audience were thrilled with it too. I do hope they repeat it as they have the makings of something great going on.

11.7.14

Comic Book Hero - Mike Hind / Uncle Elvis

Now this is a great song - written and performed by Mike Hind - also known as Uncle Elvis, a much loved player in the ukulele world and beyond.




( DIRECT LINK )

7.7.14

Schoenhut Ukulele - Long Term Test - And It's Not Looking Good

Back around three months ago, curiosity got the better of me and I got hold of a Schoenhut Ukulele for review to see what all the fuss was about. I had some issues with it and promised I would give it a longer term test to see how it stood up.

If you didn't read the original review, you can find it here to see what bothered me.

http://www.gotaukulele.com/2014/03/schoenhut-oak-mahogany-ukulele-review.html

Basically, the Schoenhut is a direct copy of a Magic Fluke Company 'Flea Ukulele' for a tiny fraction of the price of the original. Surprisingly too, when in tune, and some elements are sorted (cheap tuners and terrible strings), it sounds scarily close to a Flea in tone and volume. But after my review a couple of strange and rather worrying things happened.

Schoenhut Ukulele


Firstly, the review (being a negative one) brought out some folks who took great umbrage to my review and claimed I was looking for problems that were not that serious, particularly as it was so cheap compared to a Flea. Granted, I think the Flea is a touch over priced, but people need to bear in mind that the price includes development and design costs, and perhaps more importantly, its a price that reflects the fact it is made in the USA and not China like the Schoenhut. Should that matter? Was I really being harsh on the copy?

The second thing that happened was I started getting email from people saying they liked the idea of the Schoenhut and saw the concept of changing strings and tuners as a bit of a challenge to get themselves a close Flea copy that sounded good. I found myself re-reading my review to see if I had not been clear, as certainly it was never my intention to actually recommend one of these instruments. Far from it.

You see, aside from strings and tuners that can indeed be replaced cheaply, my bigger concern was one of build quality and the strength of the materials used. More particularly, how long was this thing going to last?

At the time of my review I played the uke on and off for a couple of weeks. In the life of a uke, even a £30 instrument, that is nothing. After the review I set it down and didn't touch it again. Recently though I have been out of the country on holiday and was debating what uke to take that didn't mind air transit, beaches, possibly getting knocked or worse, crushed or lost. I grabbed the Schoenhut. If it went astray - ah well, it was only £30 and a uke I didn't really care for - yet it DID have a good tone. Perfect choice?

During the course of the holiday it got played a handful of times, not a great deal, and really not adding much to playing hours in the life of a uke. Then I noticed something very worrying. In my original review I explained that I felt the plastic strength of the Schoenhut compared to the Flea left something to be desired. Sure, it looked very similar, but a test with the edge of a file on an out of the way part of the fingerboard led me to believe that the plastic was too soft. Incidentally, some people didn't buy that at all. But oh what a bit of play time delivers....

To my horror, after such a short space of time playing the Schoenhut I now have some fairly serious wear marks showing on frets 1-5 (and further down on the A string). They are not so deep as to cause playability issues, but I stress that they are not so deep YET.... With virtually no play (and I would estimate the equivalent of playing it daily for about three weeks) the frets are wearing away.

Schoenhut Ukulele fret wear


Frets... Pretty fundamental parts of an instrument wouldn't you say!  Now, Flea fretboards have been reported to wear. I have a Flea of about 5 years in age, and it is showing 'some' minor wear. That is a uke I have probably played more than any other in my collection over the years, and yes it has some minor wear. I have a Fluke which is about one year younger and that isn't showing any at all. And then there is the Schoenhut - wear on every fret after about three weeks of play. Take a look at the pictures if you don't believe me.

Schoenhut Ukulele bad fret wear


Oh, and that bridge that I said was lifting on the original review - it's coming away more now. I can only guess which will render this unplayable first - a busted bridge or unplayable frets...

Schoenhut Ukulele lifting bridge


In the interests of fairness here, there is another factor I should mention and that is one of strings. I would wager that if I tried to take the wear up with Schoenhut they may argue that the string change voided the warranty (I am using Worth Browns, with a Clear on the A string). My response to that?

1. What is the point of a uke on which you cannot change strings?
2. If that is the way the Schoenhut works, then please please please, don't ship it with such terrible strings in the first place.

I considered going back to the original review and editing the score, but I don't like to re-write history on my reviews. If I were doing that though, this would pretty much be a zero now. Another month or so of play will render it obsolete as an instrument and that is just not acceptable at any price.  They chose to copy, they chose to use the cheapest materials they could find, and it backfired badly. This is not an instrument, it's a novelty.

And as for the Flea? Yes, it is a bit expensive, but the old adage applies - you get what you pay for. And if my original review was not clear enough - please, please don't consider one of these, even as a bit of fun...