Time for another review of an ukulele sent to me by Riptide to take a look at. I have seen these ukes on shop listings but never had one in my hands before. So here we go with the Riptide EUC-5NS electro concert model.
Now before I get into the bones of the review I have an admission to make. When I had seen these ukes in stores I was not of the impression that they were going to be much good. Wrong of me to misjudge, of course, but was I right? When you read on you will see that I was very wrong! And keep in mind, these ukes retail for a shade over £150.
The EUC-5NS is a standard shaped concert ukulele, made in China, but with a striking difference to 99% of ukes on the market. Just where you expect to see a sound hole, you don't! It's up on the top left of the top of the instrument, and comes paired with a second sound hole on the side of the body that faces the player. It's a technique borrowed from their parent company Boulder Creeks guitar line. Gimmick or helpful feature? Read on!
The body is made from laminated mahogany and is stained a chocolate brown colour. It is very nicely finished all over with no drips or runs, but I think it would have been nicer to let the grain of the wood laminate show through a little more. That isn't to say the finish is overly thick, it isn't but to my eyes it looks a little flat and plain (it may be the lack of traditional sound hole I suppose - as it creates a LOT of wood to look at on the top).
The rosewood bridge is nicely shaped though on the bottom side and it holds what looks like a Tusq saddle (a synthetic bone material). There is nothing else on the top of the instrument at all except the small sound hole at the top left which is nicely edged with a white binding strip.
The sides of the instrument are in two pieces, with the side facing the top when played holding both the pickup controls and the second soundhole - again edged with white binding.
The pickup system is an under saddle variety and the controls are labelled as a Boulder Creek UK300T (which I think is a rebadged Belcat pickup). There are pickup controls for volume, tone and bass which is nice to see, and it also has an integral tuner with a full bypass which is a cool feature. At the press of a button, the uke mutes to the output and the tuner turns on. The whole thing runs on two cell batteries to save weight, but saying that it does look like quite a chunky unit.
The jack socket for the instrument is on the base, but just off centre meaning it comes with no strap button. I'd prefer it fitted in the middle with an integral button, but it's not a big issue as the uke has a tailblock so fitting a strap button is a simple and cheap affair.
The back is pretty plain looking and not arched, but as I said, finished very well.
That side soundhole is handy for letting you see what is going on inside the instrument, and I must say it all looks very tidy, with no glue spots and notched kerfling neatly applied. Some instruments with off centre sound holes are built that way to allow the luthier to use an alternative bracing system such as Kasha. That isn't employed on this uke, and it uses two traditional top braces, although one runs across the upper bout (under where a traditional sound hole would lie).
On to the neck, and the wood is not specified, but it may be mahogany. It's nicely finished also and made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and at the headstock. The fingerboard is rosewood with a nice bit of colour variation and stripe in it. We have 18 nickel frets with 14 to the body and they are all very nicely finished without a hint of a sharp edge. There are no fretboard markers to add to the minimalist look, but thankfully they have included side markers in white mother of pearl at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th frets. The nut appears to be Tusq also.
The headstock has an appealing look to my eyes, with a striking angular design I am quite taken with. Certainly nice to see somebody doing something a bit different to the standard three pointed crown that so many ukuleles sport. The Riptide logo is a transfer in silver, but is applied well and looks great.
Tuning is provided by sealed brandless geared tuners with nice looking amber buttons. I do think though that the buttons are too big for a ukulele and smaller ones would have looked far better. Still, they are smooth and work very well.
Completing the package, it comes strung with Aquila strings... what else?
So looks and finish wise I think it's very good indeed. No flaws at all and those sound holes, I think, look great. Setup too is extremely good and this arrived with action at the nut and saddle just how I like them so no adjustments needed. That leads to an accurate playing experience. One thing I would point out is the uke is a little on the heavy side, perhaps on account of that chunky pickup. That is not to say it's a pain to hold (it isn't, its nicely balanced too) but it just feels heavier to me than a concert normally would.
So, what about those sound holes? Gimmick? I don't think so. The first thing that struck me when I played this was how loud it is. That side sound hole does a fabulous job of projecting sound to the player. However, and importantly, none of the volume out front is sacrificed. This really does have a good clear sound that I am impressed with. And remember, this is a laminate ukulele. And what about the tone - well again, this surprised me too. This instrument has a tone that belies both its price and its construction - its clear, good separation between the strings when strummed and seems capable of both giving a bark when you want it to and delivering a sweet tone when plucked too. It's not a Hawaiian tone, sure - its a laminate £150 instrument, but I must say it has a voice that sounds far better to my ears than some ukes I have played costing MUCH more, solid wood ukes included. Not quite sure what is contributing to that, and perhaps it is the sound holes or the lack of a brace on the top on the lower bout, but whatever it is, it works.
I would be tempted to experiment with strings ( I am no fan of Aquilas) although being a laminate uke, Aquila strings may be helping getting the volume out of this. Can't be sure, but would be intriguing to try something else.
Plugged in things are pretty good also. It's a fairly cheap pickup that helps with the price of the instrument. As such, you are not getting LR Baggs or Fishman acoustic tone - it sounds more like an electric guitar, as many pickups in this price bracket do, but it is well fitted, the strings play in equal volume and is clear as a bell. It also needs little gain from the mixer or amp so is running quite hot on it's own which makes for an easy plugged in experience. The tuner is a nice addition, but be aware that it is more of a guide tuner to get you close due to the fact there is no needle. For complete accuracy I wouldn't ditch a good clip on tuner for this instrument, but it's a handy addition. As a first ukulele, that tuner will work just fine for most people.
So quite a package really and for a decent price too. The sound holes work, and also add to giving it a look you just don't see with other instruments. I have been impressed with the few weeks I have been playing it and would give it my recommendation. Funny how you can be wrong about things some times eh?
Looks - 8.5
Fit and finish - 9
Sound - 9
Value for money - 8.5
OVERALL - 8.8 out of 10