Back around three months ago, curiosity got the better of me and I got hold of a Schoenhut Ukulele for review to see what all the fuss was about. I had some issues with it and promised I would give it a longer term test to see how it stood up.If you didn't read the original review, you can find it here to see what bothered me.
Basically, the Schoenhut is a direct copy of a Magic Fluke Company 'Flea Ukulele' for a tiny fraction of the price of the original. Surprisingly too, when in tune, and some elements are sorted (cheap tuners and terrible strings), it sounds scarily close to a Flea in tone and volume. But after my review a couple of strange and rather worrying things happened.
Firstly, the review (being a negative one) brought out some folks who took great umbrage to my review and claimed I was looking for problems that were not that serious, particularly as it was so cheap compared to a Flea. Granted, I think the Flea is a touch over priced, but people need to bear in mind that the price includes development and design costs, and perhaps more importantly, its a price that reflects the fact it is made in the USA and not China like the Schoenhut. Should that matter? Was I really being harsh on the copy?
The second thing that happened was I started getting email from people saying they liked the idea of the Schoenhut and saw the concept of changing strings and tuners as a bit of a challenge to get themselves a close Flea copy that sounded good. I found myself re-reading my review to see if I had not been clear, as certainly it was never my intention to actually recommend one of these instruments. Far from it.
You see, aside from strings and tuners that can indeed be replaced cheaply, my bigger concern was one of build quality and the strength of the materials used. More particularly, how long was this thing going to last?
At the time of my review I played the uke on and off for a couple of weeks. In the life of a uke, even a £30 instrument, that is nothing. After the review I set it down and didn't touch it again. Recently though I have been out of the country on holiday and was debating what uke to take that didn't mind air transit, beaches, possibly getting knocked or worse, crushed or lost. I grabbed the Schoenhut. If it went astray - ah well, it was only £30 and a uke I didn't really care for - yet it DID have a good tone. Perfect choice?
During the course of the holiday it got played a handful of times, not a great deal, and really not adding much to playing hours in the life of a uke. Then I noticed something very worrying. In my original review I explained that I felt the plastic strength of the Schoenhut compared to the Flea left something to be desired. Sure, it looked very similar, but a test with the edge of a file on an out of the way part of the fingerboard led me to believe that the plastic was too soft. Incidentally, some people didn't buy that at all. But oh what a bit of play time delivers....
To my horror, after such a short space of time playing the Schoenhut I now have some fairly serious wear marks showing on frets 1-5 (and further down on the A string). They are not so deep as to cause playability issues, but I stress that they are not so deep YET.... With virtually no play (and I would estimate the equivalent of playing it daily for about three weeks) the frets are wearing away.
Frets... Pretty fundamental parts of an instrument wouldn't you say! Now, Flea fretboards have been reported to wear. I have a Flea of about 5 years in age, and it is showing 'some' minor wear. That is a uke I have probably played more than any other in my collection over the years, and yes it has some minor wear. I have a Fluke which is about one year younger and that isn't showing any at all. And then there is the Schoenhut - wear on every fret after about three weeks of play. Take a look at the pictures if you don't believe me.
Oh, and that bridge that I said was lifting on the original review - it's coming away more now. I can only guess which will render this unplayable first - a busted bridge or unplayable frets...
In the interests of fairness here, there is another factor I should mention and that is one of strings. I would wager that if I tried to take the wear up with Schoenhut they may argue that the string change voided the warranty (I am using Worth Browns, with a Clear on the A string). My response to that?
1. What is the point of a uke on which you cannot change strings?
2. If that is the way the Schoenhut works, then please please please, don't ship it with such terrible strings in the first place.
I considered going back to the original review and editing the score, but I don't like to re-write history on my reviews. If I were doing that though, this would pretty much be a zero now. Another month or so of play will render it obsolete as an instrument and that is just not acceptable at any price. They chose to copy, they chose to use the cheapest materials they could find, and it backfired badly. This is not an instrument, it's a novelty.
And as for the Flea? Yes, it is a bit expensive, but the old adage applies - you get what you pay for. And if my original review was not clear enough - please, please don't consider one of these, even as a bit of fun...
STOP PRESS - these are now being sold on Amazon with a changed description. Now using words like 'Children', 'Beginners' and 'Toy'. Take a look. Very sad!