A first on the Got A Ukulele reviews page for this brand, and it's a brand that will be well known to guitar makers - the Ibanez UKS 10 Soprano.
Regular readers of this site will know that I am not usually a big fan of guitar makers ukuleles. That is to say the ukuleles that are made by very well known guitar brands and tend to come across as afterthoughts, or bandwagon jumping. The Epiphone Les Paul ukulele is a prime example. As a guitar brand, I adore them and own several, but their ukulele offering really should never have seen the light of day. I've played several Fender brand ukuleles that fall in the same category. Ibanez themselves are probably best known for electric guitars on the rock end of the scale, and they are admired in those circles. I don't consider them to be as well loved in making acoustic instruments so do we have another bandwagon jumper here?
The UKS 10 is the entry level ukulele from Ibanez, but at an RRP about £70 - £75, it's far from the cheapest ukulele on the block. First confusions come with the product description that on some sites has this as all mahogany laminate, and on others as all sapele laminate. Even more confusing is one site that lists the name as a mahogany ukulele but then the sub specs list it as sapele. Sapele is often used as a cheaper substitute for mahogany, but it ISN'T mahogany. Oh well, whatever it is, perhaps it doesn't matter as it's only the outer veneer that indicates that wood as the rest of is laminated. Mahogany laminate, sapele laminate, either way it looks like wood, is orangey brown and generally pretty plain looking but classy enough.
It's a standard double bout shaped soprano in the standard soprano scale, with a slightly rounded base to the body. The laminate body is finished in an open pore satin and is otherwise undecorated. That is to say there is no body binding to the edges, and no sound hole rosette. You know, I don't mind that so much, as there is one thing I really don't like it's over done decoration on a cheap ukulele. A look at the edge of the sound hole shows that this laminate is extremely thin and that really is a good sign. Laminate, by it's very nature can be thin, and thin means resonance and volume. Usually cheap laminate ukes tend to be made like tanks out of thick plywood, but this one is pleasing. It actually reminds me of the sort of thinner laminate you will see on a Baton Rouge or something like the Kala KA-S. Trust me, these are good comparisons, not bad.
The back and sides on this one appear to be made from two pieces, whereas the top seems to be a single piece of laminate. The back incidentally is completely flat.
Bridge wise we have a slotted style bridge for easy string changes, with a plate made from rosewood and nicely shaped. It's always nice to see something different from the bog standard in this area, and this shaping is very reminiscent of Taylor guitars bridges. Set in the bridge is a compensated saddle that appears to be made from NuBone composite or similar. The bridge plate also has a couple of plugged holes which indicate that it is screwed in place. That is not unusual at this price, and in fact is not actually unusual at much higher prices, contrary to popular belief.
A look inside shows a tidy build, with no glue drips and notched kerfing. The braces sadly seem to be on the heavy side which is a shame considering that it uses thin laminate for the build. Lighter braces would make it even more resonant.
On the whole though, no huge complaints with the body, which, although plain is put together well and has no build or finish issues.
Up to the neck this is made of mahogany and also finished in satin. It's constructed from three pieces with a joint at the heel and a nicely hidden joint at the headstock. Profile wise it's quite a chunky C shape, but the width is standard narrow Chinese at about 34mm.
Topping the neck is a rosewood fingeboard which is in good condition and evenly dark all over. We have pearloid inlaid position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th spaces with the 12th being a double spot. Thankfully these are repeated on the side. And yes, I did say 15th space and yes, this is a soprano. This one is really generous with the frets with 17 in total and 12 to the body joint. It's really nice to see that on a soprano rather than the usual measly 12. They are nickel silver, but sadly the fret ends are sharp and need much better dressing. They are also unhidden as the fingerboard edges are not bound so you see the fret ends showing on the edges. Worse still the edges are stained, but not quite enough so you see a variable attempt to hide them. Either hide them or don't I say. The halfway house looks cheap.
Beyond the NuBone nut we have an interestingly shaped headstock, complete with the Ibanez logo. Sadly this is an extremely cheap looking gold silk screen affair and just looks nasty.
Tuning is provided by unbranded open gears in chrome. At least the buttons are small, but they still look too big on a soprano. They work reasonably well though and are decorated if that matters to you. Pretty generic though.
Completing the deal is a thin gig bag with the Ibanez logo. Sadly this is one of those that is so thin it would only serve to protect the instrument from dust and very minor scratches. When they are this thin, I tend to ignore that they are even included. As you know I also don't tend to mark ukuleles down on string choices on the basis that most players will change them anyway. That only applies though when the supplied string choice is of a good standard in the first place and a change would really only serve to suit different tastes. Sadly this comes with those black nylon, GHS type strings that I thought we had seen the back of. I have been around ukuleles long enough to remember when most instruments came with these as stock, and hoped they had been phased out. I say that because they are simply horrible. Stretchy, slippy, dead sounding things. Trust me, you WILL want to change the strings on this one from the off. So that £75 ukulele now becomes an £80 plus ukulele.. Even the absolute cheapest Chinese ukuleles these days come with better string that this.
On the whole though, generally well made with one or two issues, but not massive problems. Certainly a far cry from the absolute cheapest on the market, but then perhaps it should be at this sort of price.
To hold, this one is light in the hands and nicely balanced too. A rap of the soundboard shows that it is indeed resonant, so that thin laminate is doing it's job. It feels lively. Out of the box setup is less impressive though with a saddle that clearly needs taking down but also a nut that is too high. That nut is bound to cause intonation issues at frets 1-3 and certainly needs work. Perhaps you will get that checked if you buy this from a ukulele specialist, but there's the rub. I am not actually seeing this model at any ukulele specialists. In fact I am only seeing it at the big box online stores like Amazon and Thomann. The simple fact here is that you WON'T get a setup when you buy one... Bear that in mind. If it comes like this, it will need more work.
Sound wise, it's impressively loud and punchy like good soprano should be. It's got a bark that I like. No complaints there and clearly that resonant body is doing its job.
But otherwise those strings just make it sound pretty poor. It's one dimensional, plinky, lacking in sustain and the intonation is woeful too. A telltale sign of these cheap strings is a really dull thudding C string, and we certainly have that here. I have absolutely no doubt that this would sound much better with decent quality strings fitted and a nut setup, but like I say, take a careful note of that price. As it comes though, it sounds like a loud version of the the very cheapest ukulele examples out there. So it has the punch and volume that many are lacking, but the tone is a let down. Like my review of the Les Paul I will get people commenting on this saying 'yeah, but if you change the strings it will be brilliant'. Perhaps it will, but I always review instruments on Got A Ukulele as stock for obvious reasons. And to repeat, a string change will add to the price which I think is already too expensive.
Don't get me wrong, there is much to like here, and I really thought I would dislike this one more than I did. The build is generally good and the thin resonant laminate is great to see. But for me the price and QC is all wrong. Bear in mind that for £15 less than the list price for this you can get a Baton Rouge V1 or a Kala KA-15S and neither of these will need a string change from the off as they come with Aquila brand. Adding in a string change on this one and the price difference from the obvious competition is even bigger. Why would you?
It's certainly not the worst example of a guitar makers ukulele I have come across, but once again my quest for a decent one continues. Close but no cigar.
Light thin build
Generous fret number
Sharp fret edges
Uncompetitive price point
Looks - 8 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7 out of 10
Sound - 6 out of 10
Value for money - 7 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7 out of 10
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© Barry Maz