In the world of ukuleles, as we all know it's not all expensive instruments. The market is flooded with cheap offerings, many of which are more 'ukulele shaped objects' and less so 'musical instruments'. At the bargain end of the scale comes the UKE7 model from Tiger. Can this little soprano tip the scales?
The Tiger brand of instruments and accessories is a British based company that brand a lot of equipment that ends up in schools, from tambourines to piano stools. It comes as no surprise therefore that they have a ukulele offering. Whilst they offer some slightly more expensive instruments under the Theodore brand name, the UKE7 range are a selection of brightly coloured beginner sopranos with a retail price of about £28 (although they can easily be found online for £20).
Occasional readers assume I am always down on cheap instruments (regular readers will know that I am not, and if you dont believe me - take a look at the reviews listing). But what I DO say is that at this sort of price point the chances of you getting an instrument that is fundamentally flawed in it's build are much, much greater. In other words your buying checks need to be a little more thorough. Let's see how the Tiger stands up.
Made in China, this instrument at first glance makes it clear that it is from the ultra cheap stable, being offered in a range of bright colours. It's a very simple construction - typical double bout soprano shape, all laminate wood, coated in a thick coloured poly coating. It's not my thing, but will certainly put a smile on the face of a child considering learning. But fair play to Tiger - unlike so many brightly coloured instruments at this price point, the coloured coating is actually rather nicely applied. So often these types of finish are heavily applied, full of pooling, bubbles and bare patches, but this one is uniform, glossy and pretty flawless. It also has a kind of silver glitter in the paint giving it a sparkle.
The body is otherwise unadorned, with no edge binding or inlay. We have a fairly generic sound hole rosette applied as a transfer, but it appears to be under the gloss so I suspect it wont be rubbed off.
The back is flat (no arch) and it's impossible to tell if the sides are two pieces or a single piece. It does however have an internal tail block.
The bridge appears to be rosewood and is a tie bar style, meaning not quite as easy string changes for the beginner. At appears to be screwed in place, and the saddle is white plastic and uncompensated.
Before we move on, a look inside the body shows a pretty basic construction. No bracing at all (on account of the all laminate body) and un-notched kerfing. This certainly doesn't surprise me at this price point, and to be fair it is far neater than most I have seen at £20. A look at the edge of the sound hole also reveals that the laminate is not overly thick either. Sure, it's not super thin professional grade laminate, but I have seen many bargain ukuleles like this with woods about twice as thick. That just kills the tone and projection.
Moving on we have a fairly generic soprano neck both in terms of profile and nut width, also coated in the same glittery yellow paint. Topping it is a rosewood fingerboard with 12 nickel silver frets to the body. Again - fairly standard. The rosewood seems a little dry, but it is uniform enough in colour. Edges of the fingerboard are unbound and glossed, and unfortunately the gloss appears to be cracking on some fret ends giving an unsightly look. That said, the fret ends are dressed and in no way sharp at all.
We have pearloid outward facing position markers at the 5th, 7th and 10th fret spaces, but no markers on the side for the player.
Up to the nut, this too is plastic but does look removeable. This is unusual at this price as more often than not they are heavily glued in place or are under the finish, meaning changing the nut will damage the finish on the headstock. I would wager this would pop out easily though.
The heastock is also coated in the same yellow finish and is a standard three pointed crown shape. The Tiger logo is screen printed on in a kind of uninspiring grey paint and looks quite tacky.
Tuners are generic open geared pegs (think Makala or Mahalo) but thankfully the buttons are not overly huge and look quite classy. I'd certainly prefer friction pegs (this being a soprano) but as cheap geared pegs go, these really are not too bad. The bushing covers on the front of the headstock for instance are chrome and not (as is often the case) cheap white plastic.
Completing the deal are what look like Nylgut strings and a zippered but very thin carry case.
So all in all, nothing that is immediately jumping out at me to scream 'great deal' for the price, but equally there are no absolute howlers either. In fact it seems pretty well put together to me.
When considering an ultra cheap ukulele though, there are a number of points that I see more often than not causing problems, ultimately letting the instrument down. I will go through some of those now.
First of all the weight. Being laminate, it's not the lightest soprano I have ever played, but equally not the heaviest either. It's nicely balanced and certainly a touch lighter than a Makala Dolphin (although, to be fair, its a close call). No real complaints here. It makes it nice to hold and play.
Next up is the setup. Ultra cheap ukes I have seen have suffered from problems with the adjustable parts (saddle and nut) through to the unadjustable (bridges in the wrong place, mis set frets, wonky necks). In terms of the adjustable setup on this one, this arrived out of the box pretty much perfect. It was particularly pleasing to see the nut slots cut at about the right height, but equally the saddle is set to give an action above the 12th fret pretty much bang in the middle of acceptable levels. Impressive. Added to that, no other issues seem to be evident. The bridge is correctly placed, the neck is straight as are the frets. In fact one of the best setup ultra cheap sopranos I have come across. Saying that, I do find these cheap ukuleles always sound very slightly off and this one does too (as do most Makalas to be fair). Nothing major though - just not a high end accuracy. Acceptable though.
And of course, finally, the issue that can plague the cheap instruments is an uninspriring, dead and flat sound caused by overly thick and heavy construction. Of course this is a very subjective part of the review, but I do get amazed by people saying this 'doesn't matter' for a beginner. Of COURSE it matters - the ear is a very sensitive thing and it can tell between a pleasing sound and a 'clunker' easily. Add to that the fact that you CAN get pleasing sounds from some cheap instruments, the assumption that they naturally will all sound bad worries me greatly. It need not be like that! The drive to cheap mediocrity is not what musical instruments should be about.
The Tiger certainly doesn't lose out on volume compared to something like a Dolphin - in fact I would say it is a touch louder and with a little more sustain. It does however lose out in terms of the quality of that tone. It's a bright jangly sound, but does sound to me on the boxy and thin side. Something like the Dolphin has more roundness to the tone when strummed and that is particularly more evident when picked. Dont get me wrong, the Tiger is streets ahead of some of the £20 competition out there, but it kind of sounds more like I expected it to, rather than what I hoped it would sound like. Perfectly useable, accurate enough in tuning, playable and loud enough. Just not a match for something like the Dolphin in terms of the quality of the tone. It's certainly not a complex tone (but then, neither is the Dolphin) though of course it is a £20 ukulele!!
Still - you could do a LOT worse and nobody should scoff at you if you grab one of these. And it certainly deserves a place alongside the Dolphin and the Octopus as 'bargain priced ukuleles that are not monumentally terrible' section on Got A Ukulele!
UKULELE PROSWell put together
Nicely finished and setup
Decent enough tuners
UKULELE CONSTone on the thin side
UKULELE SCORESLooks - 7.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 7 out of 10
Value For Money - 9 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.8 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz