A new brand for me, and quite a looker. Brought to you by Snail Ukuleles, this is their UKS-220 Rosewood Laminate Soprano.
Snail brand ukuleles are fairly new to me. In fact I have been aware of them for a couple of years, but don't think they were being widely distributed in the UK. That now seems to have changed, and this is available from Omega Music where this one is on loan to me from.
The UKS-220 is a pretty standard shaped and sized soprano ukulele built from laminate wood with a rosewood outer veneer. It comes in at about £99 and includes a gig bag (more on that later).
First things first - this one has, in my opinion, looks to die for. Sure it's a laminate so not solid Rosewood, but the darkness of the outer veneer is not only something slightly unusual in the world of ukuleles, but it contrasts so perfectly with the lighter coloured edge binding that I think it just looks extremely classy.
The body is finished in a satin coating which allows some of the grain pores in the outer veneer to show through the finish. This is a good thing in my view as I am not a fan of laminates that are finished so thoroughly that they almost look fake. This looks like wood. And the finish is pretty flawless too. There isn't a mark or rough spot on it anywhere that I can see.
But let's look at that binding first of all. I must say, it comes as something of a surprise at this price point to see that it is not plastic. It's actually made of individual pieces of contrasting lighter woods set in place. It appears on both the top and back edges and I think looks really, really smart and reminiscent of something from a much higher end instrument.
Around the sound hole too, we have wooden inlay, and not a transfer. It's interesting to see a normal round sound hole here as on some other Snail instruments I have seen, the sound hole has been Snail shaped. I must say, I think this is better for the normal sound hole. I think the snail shaped ones were overly quirky and also looked a little fragile to me.
Otherwise on the top, we have a rosewood tie bar style bridge mount which is very neat and tidy and fitted with a plastic saddle piece. I'd expect plastic at this price, but to be honest I never think they make all that much difference.
The back is very slightly arched, and the sides are made from two pieces.
The quality of construction can also be seen when looking inside the instrument. The bracing and kerfing is neat and thin and a look at the edge of the soundboard shows that this is NOT an over built instrument. That should mean for a light body, better resonance and projection. I particularly liked the makers label inside which is not printed on a paper sticker, but rather is a piece of wood that has the details burned into it in pyrographics.
The neck is made from hardwood and I suppose a little bit of a let down on the looks department when compared to the body. It's made from three pieces, with a joint at the heel and the headstock, but thankfully it is topped with a very nice uniform piece of rosewood for the fingerboard. It's not a bound fingerboard, but fitted very neatly, as are the 14 nickel silver frets which have no rough edges at all.
We have pearloid finger position markers set into the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces, but sadly there are no side markers for the player. Why do they continue to miss those off?
The nut is neat and looks easily removable for adjustment. That's a bonus that I don't think you see enough of on ukuleles and I despise nuts that are layered with loads of gloss and finish as removing them is likely to mess up the finish on the headstock. Not here.
I adore the headstock for a couple of reasons. First, it's faced in that same dark rosewood, but also because it eschews the 'easy' choice of a Martin headstock copy and goes with a shape of it's own. I also like the logo as they didn't go for a transfer, but rather an engraved Snail logo. Flip the headstock over and you have another logo and the serial number, also engraved. Nice.
Tuners seem decent quality and smooth. They are silver sealed but unbranded tuners, but the buttons are small enough and finished in a black rubberised coating which feels nice on the fingers.
Finishing the deal are a set of Aquila New Nylgut strings and a padded gig bag with shoulder straps and a Snail logo. As gig bags go, this is a nice one and a far cry from some of the nylon things you see with cheaper instruments (and better than no bag at all).
So there we have a it. A great price, striking looks, really nice looking construction. How does it sound though?
Well first of all, that light construction makes for a nice balanced light weight instrument. This bodes well.
The first thing that strikes you is an impressive volume for a small laminate instrument. It really does have a good bite to it (a good thing with a soprano) and some reasonable sustain too.
In fact it has a voice that is what you would expect a typical soprano to sound like. Bright, punchy, jumpy and really rather impressive. The setup on this helps, as do the Aquila strings no doubt, but I do think the light construction and thin laminate is coming in to play here. It's resonant, responsive and a lot of fun to play.
Sure, it's not going to win in a contest against a high end solid Hawaiian soprano, but it's not trying to be that sort of instrument. It doesn't have the complex harmonics that those instruments will provide, but it's not a bad tone at all. In fact I've heard worse on more expensive solid wood sopranos which sounded dead. What it is, is a very well made, nice sounding and looking instrument at a great price.
I am finding it hard to fault for the price. Yes, for £100 -£125 ish you can just about get into solid wood ukuleles, but it won't look as nice as this and really, there is nothing wrong with the tone of this. Another fine example of what really can be done with laminates if a company puts the effort and quality control in.
In fact I'll be bolder. Whilst I know that money is tight for many people, I think the days of me recommending £30 ukes are really gone. I mean, £99 for an instrument that plays as well as this does, looks this nice, comes with a gig bag - well really - it's not a huge amount of money for a musical instrument is it?
Highly recommended. Good choice Omega!
Be sure to check out my other ukulele reviews here!
No side markers
Looks - 9.5
Fit and Finish - 9
Sound - 8
Value For Money - 9
OVERALL - 8.9 Out of 10
To understand my review scoring and see this result in context - visit my review page at
© Barry Maz