BugsGear Aqulele Ukulele REVIEW

30 Apr 2014

BugsGear Aqulele Ukulele REVIEW

It's seems that the plastic fantastic revolution is gathering some pace as yet another crossed my path recently - the BugsGear Aqulele, sent to me to have a look at by Normans Music.

BugsGear Aqulele Ukulele

There is, as they say, nothing new under the sun, and the last ukulele boom saw its share of plastic instruments come along, such as TV Pals and Maccaferris which these days have become collectors items. The current surge in plastic seems to have been mainly pushed by the much hyped (though in my opinion much over-rated) 'Outdoor Uke' (discounting the plastic backed Fleas and Flukes of course), and more recently you may have seen my review of the Korala Explore - an instrument I really quite liked for the price, albeit one with some issues.

The BugsGear name may mean something to you as being the brand behind the Eleuke range of solid body electric ukes, and this plastic foray is something Philip at BG has been working on for some time. In other words, this is not an instrument they just grabbed from a Chinese factory and silk screened their name on, rather something they have been experimenting with and working on for some time. How does it stand up?

The Aqulele is based on the BugsGear range of entry level laminate wooden ukes, and whilst generally traditional in shape feature some rather eye catching design features we will come on to a little later. That Aqulele name comes from the fact that the uke is waterproof. Well, yes, insofar as wood is not really waterproof, it is, but a few dunks of the metal tuners in the drink will soon see those rust and deteriorate. But I will let that pass. Metal tuners are employed on the Korala too, and whilst Outdoor offered a totally waterproof peg design on the original uke, I have not yet found someone who thought they worked.

The whole uke apart from the tuners though is plastic, with the back sides and back of the neck made of one piece of plastic (or, more accurately, polycarbonate) with the top of the body, fingerboard and facing of the headstock applied as separate pieces. And that plastic is thick and also unexpectedly heavy. The Korala in comparison is thin and light as a feather, but that seemed to have come at a trade off with build stability with a dipping bridge and bendy neck. Not on the Aqulele - this thing is solid as a rock, and that solidity can be further seen inside where the inside of the instrument is braced with further strips of black plastic. It gives the instrument a nice solid feel in the hands, with more of a matte finish than the Korala, and I prefer that. That said - there are some rough spots where it has come out of the injection mould, leaving some sharp edges.

BugsGear Aqulele Ukulele body

Generally speaking, the body shape is a traditional double bout shape, but things start to get freaky near the top of the body. We have a significant cutaway to the body (which I quite like, but more on that later) and an offset sound hole. I've stared at it from all angles and from all distances, and sorry, no. I don't like it at all. I get that it keeps in line with their wooden ukes, but I don't like those either. It seems that it is just to allow the large cutaway and strange end of the fingerboard arrangement and I think it just looks odd. Purely personal opinion of course, and I would have no issue with anyone liking it.

Apart from a black silk screened rosette around said sound hole, the body is otherwise unadorned over its orange (ish) finish. A word about the colour. This reviewer is extremely thankful that these also come in pink and purple as this orange colour is not to my tastes at all. Don't get me wrong, I like the colour orange, but if you are going to build a uke in such a standout colour, make it BRIGHT! This on the other hand looks muddy, as if something else got into the colouring pigment of the polycarbonate mix and made it go a little 'off'...

The bridge arrangement is interesting. Its a one piece affair, incorporating the saddle, and has some idiot proof notches for attaching the knotted string ends which I think is both different and clever. The fixed saddle would make taking down the action a little tricky. I think it could be sanded, but it could end up looking a little rough. Thankfully though, whilst the action at the 12th fret is a little high, its acceptable and I wouldn't bother tweaking this one.

BugsGear Aqulele Ukulele bridge

Moving on to the neck, it has a nice profile, but is a little on the thin side at the nut width. The frets are moulded into the fretboard meaning intonation should be very accurate, and there are black painted fret markers at the fifth, seventh and tenth frets (with, sadly, no markers on the side for the player.

BugsGear Aqulele Ukulele fingerboard

Things get a little odd, fret wise, further down the neck. There are around 11 or 12 frets to the body (hard to tell because of the cutaway, and a total of 14 full frets in all. There are however 18 frets in total, but frets 15-18 reduce in size quickly, with most of them only useable on the first string. I am sure it is just a design novelty, but I don't really like them. Further, such unnecessary detailing seems to be part of the reason the sound hole is off to one side. I would much rather see a central sound hole and get rid of the silly extra frets. One thing I will say about the neck though is, unlike the Korala, I suspect they have this strengthened in some was as it does not bend!

BugsGear Aqulele Ukulele sound hole and cutaway

A look at the nut shows that it doesn't use a zero fret like the outdoor, and it is cut for the strings. The cuts though look horribly narrow to me, and on a couple of strings look like the slots will cut into the strings in no time at all. I would want to widen these a touch, and whilst I am at it, would take them down as the action at the nut is too high.

BugsGear Aqulele Ukulele nut

The headstock is square and simple, with the BugsGear logo silk screened in black. The tuners are unbranded geared tuners with rather nice pearloid buttons.  They look, to my eyes, to be the same as those on a Makala Dolphin, complete with plastic cover rings on the outward face. So they are therefore extremely cheap, but actually the ones on this work just fine and do not grind or stick.

BugsGear Aqulele Ukulele headstock

The whole package is completed by a thinly padded gig bag of quite nice quality, a clip on tuner and strings that look like Aquila but I don't think they are. I don't believe they are in stores at the present time, but the people who asked me to look at this are considering stocking them in the UK. They are however available direct from the BugsGear / Eleuke website for a price of $90 with a clip on tuner and strap, or $69 without. More on that later.

BugsGear Aqulele Ukulele tuners

How does it play and sound? Well with any plastic ukulele, I am naturally not expecting pure solid wood tones, endless sustain and complex harmonics, and sure enough the Aqulele delivers none of those. It is pretty loud when strummed hard, but surprisingly short on sustain, even for a plastic. The Korala has quite a bit more, but otherwise the tone between the two is very similar. To my ears, the Korala is a touch sweeter. Another point I noted was the tightness of those nut slots seemed to be deadening notes at the lower frets. Perhaps that could be sorted by widening them a little, but that is how it came to me.

More positively it is solid and nice to hold, with no dipping or bending plastics. A check on intonation and accuracy shows that it is pretty much spot on right down the neck, as would be expected for a moulded fingerboard.

One other oddity though is back to that sound hole. I found it was playing the tone right into the palm of my hand due to its position. Sure, any sound hole ends up playing into the hand to some degree, but I found that this position exacerbated that. Perhaps that is just my strum technique though, and your mileage may vary.

But on the whole it has issues just as the Korala does, and the sum of the parts is still a good fun little instrument that would make a perfect camping / beach / trekking uke that you would not be overly worried about. Yet there is a final point. At $69 I think the uke is over priced.  That is about £50, whereas the Korala is about £29. I appreciate that the UK pricing has not been set, but if they are thinking of stocking, then there is no way this should be priced at £50. Perhaps £20, plus £10 for the tuner and maybe £5 for the gig bag, but no more than that.

So in summary I would suggest that if you are thinking of getting the indestructible plastic uke into your collection, I would wait to see on pricing for these in main dealers, and if they launch at $70, then look elsewhere. Video review and scores below!

STOP PRESS - I had quite a lot of feedback on this review suggesting they were available for far lower prices. That may be true, yet they are still selling at $69 too - take a look!


Solid build
Intonation Accuracy


Price (draft price!)
Soundhole looks
Badly cut nut
Unnecessary extra frets


Looks - 6
Fit and finish - 7.5
Sound - 7
Value For Money - 6 (based on draft pricing)

OVERALL - 6.6 out of 10

To understand my review scoring and see this result in context - visit my review page at



  1. The hole is so in the wrong place move it down and center it.

  2. Thanks for the fabulous review.

    Personally I like the almost Dali-esque asymmetry but not the colour. Unless they do a left-handed version though I'd never buy one.

  3. Aqulele soprano MSRP from USA is $69.95
    Price $90 on www.eleuke.com is including Clip tuner + Strap + International shipping cost

  4. The tight string spacing and high action bothers me. I find I can whammy the neck on mine still.

  5. I tried playing one these at UNPLUGTHEWOOD and found the hole is right where i rest my thumb and didnt like it, sounded great ok for a plastic uke

  6. Thanks for another very interesting review. I sure don't like the position of the soundd hole either or the useless frets.

  7. Thanks for the review - I agree with your view of the price. I'm keeping an eye out for a "'budget'-but-acceptable" soprano for my daughter (who says her class might all start learning the uke next term - wonder if it'll actually happen?), and after your review of the Octopus soprano, the O is currently at the top of my list.

    That said, if they can get the UK price of the Aqulele down to £30 or less, then the Octopus might well have a duel on its hands (neck? tuners?). If - somehow - the Aqulele gets down to £20, I might end up ordering one as well as my daughter's one... in that case, I hope they come in red!

    On that note: any news of a UK launch yet? :-)

  8. In my opinion, the Octopus beats it hands down!

  9. Go to www.normans.co.uk they are selling Aquleles at amazing low price @ GBP 21.5
    Normans doing direct importing and sells direct by cutting down any extra distribution channels.

  10. That $90 does include worldwide shipping though so not too bad.

  11. Still would struggle to recommend it

  12. I just got one delivered from Normans, for £21.50 inc P&P (signature account price). I notice part of why you didn't like these was the price at the time you reviewed it. Would the new lower price influence your decision?

    I like it. The strings are pretty decent too - the white nylon/plastic sort (bulk Aquila strings, presumably). I'm not so keen on having black fret markers on a black neck, but I can cope with fixing that.

    The one piece bridge would appear to make it next to impossible to fit a piezo bridge pickup, unfortunately. Maybe I'll electrify my concert sized plastic Korala instead.

  13. I think its a lot more attractive at a lower price - still, there are others in competition with it that I think are finished better and have a slightly less plastic sound to them.

    At a cheaper price therefore - better deal, but others I think can still beat it.

    The one to watch is going to be the Makala Waterman which launches later this year - I hope to be reviewing one on this blog.

  14. Fair enough. I think my "Redwood" S10 - cheap wooden soprano - has a nicer tone. I'm not sure if it's the same as the Stagg one you reviewed, with different branding. The bridge is the tie-through sort.

    There's something to be said for all terrain ukuleles though :) I'll look out for the Makala Waterman.

    I like my Korala (concert), but as you said, the neck ought to have been a bit stiffer. A soprano sized one would be more convenient if I actually wanted to take one somewhere too.

    Mostly, I just bought this one out of curiosity. I'm not disappointed though. I think it's definitely worth the money, whereas some of the cheaper wooden ones probably aren't.

  15. You raise some good points there - I must say though, I am not yet totally convinced by all terrain ukes. You see - I have played musical instruments for over 30 years and have never once thought 'oh, if only they were waterproof'... I just don't see them that way - its like wishing and hoping my television was waterproof... (or drop proof!) - they kind of come across as a marketing answer to a problem I am not sure actually existed.

    All of that said, the plastic uke is not new - they were around in the 50's and 60's - and I think that if they sound good - that should be all that matters. And yes - there are some shocking wooden ukes at this price point.

    My mind remains open - I think that something could come to the market that ticks all the boxes, but yet to see one that really delivers.

  16. I ordered a cobalt uk and was told they were out. Then I told the sales team that it was for my adopted little girls brother that she had just met (no kidding, his birthday even after he loved my little girls BugsGear)and they hustled up a slightly different blue combo for him and included a note from her. Excellent touch and excellent service. I am impressed!

  17. Neck is a bit narrow. I got the dark blue with a black fretboard. Action is fine if you stay in the top 6 or 7 frets. Action much better than the Waterman. Bought this for $32 shipped. Got it for travel so I can leave my $250 Flea at home.


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