Straight up with another review of a very affordable uke, and perhaps a viewpoint that may put the cat amongst the pigeons (again!). Say hello to the Alic Soprano ukulele.
Remind you of anything? You know, when I first saw these I immediately thought 'Flea' - what with the moulded plastic back, wooden neck and plastic fingerboard and all. But somewhat surprisingly found that there are people who totally disagree with that. Hmmm. Maybe, maybe not, but if you agree this is not the first uke I have seen to borrow ideas from the Flea concept. Some say its just the same concept as the Applause Ovation system of bowl backed ukes, but I think the plastic fingerboard is really the giveaway here - the Ovations don't have those. Either way, its lazy to me.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER - I am NOT saying that Alic have deliberately set out to copy to the Flea directly. I am saying that the concept is very similar and seems to me to be lazy in its inception...read on...
Regular readers may remember that rather woeful Schoenhut... Worth a read for comparison with this one.
The Alic is a low priced offering from a company I had not heard of before, and this comes in at a shade under £50. I bought this one myself wanting to see what the fuss was about, and for the first time it comes from a music shop I have not used before - Sounds Great in Cheshire. (I do like to keep my reviews from as many sources as I can to maintain impartiality).
So as I say, sorry, but to me it smacks of Flea all over it. Sure it might not have the same body or headstock shape - but really... Wooden neck attached to plastic lunchbox and a separate plastic moulded fretboard? All the key features are there as I see it. And I will say from the off that I don't like that. I know some may say all is fair in business, but I just think it's lazy and irritating when a firm decides to just use somebody elses idea. The Fleas are made by a family business led by a very nice guy in Jim Beloff - the Alics are made in Chinese factories. What happened to innovation and people having fresh ideas of their own?
So lets take a closer look. We have a more traditional body shape on this one with a double bout. The back and sides are one moulded piece of ABS type plastic and into that is dropped a laminate wood top, in this case stained orange. In the range they either offer a selection of flat colours like this one or their range of "3D images". The 3D ones are, I don't mind admitting, some of the worst looking things I have yet come across. You may remember those lenticular coated postcards from the 1970's that gave an impression of 3D which was more a case of making the image shimmer... Well, that, basically. And that, on top of gaudy Hawaiian types scenes of beaches, palm trees and waterfalls. Note to the ukulele industry: We 'get' that the uke was originally from Hawaii, but not every player is from there or associates themselves with that place. I think the whole Hawaiian imagery thing is just a lazy attempt at cash in, but perhaps that is just me, and thankfully they do plain colours too. (Sorry to rant, but just covering everything in palm trees, beach scenes and tropical flowers does nothing to shake off the usual assumptions made about the uke).
The stain is not a high finish like on the Fleas, and is quite matte on the touch. You can just about make out some wood grain through it, but closer examination of the top shows it's just a fairly plain piece of plywood. Fleas too are made from laminate, but are much thinner woods and claim to be 'pure' Australian Hoop Pine laminate. This is unspecified and looking at the edge of the sound hole is pretty thick.
We have a plastic bridge mounting with moulded saddle. Unlike the Flea, the saddle is compensated. I've never totally bought the need for a massively compensated saddle on a soprano scale uke, but there you go. I don't suppose it can do any harm. It's also a slotted variety, so string changes will be a breeze.
The neck is hardwood finished with a light satin coating that shows the grain. Unfortunately it is made from three pieces with very obvious joints and changes in both the wood colour and the grain direction which looks messy and cheap. The satin finish is, however, nice to the touch and it feels more like a normal uke neck than the Flea does (the Flea has a quite angular neck). Then again, the Flea uses a single piece neck if such things matter to you.
On to the top of the neck is a one piece fingerboard complete with moulded frets and nut. The advantages of this system are well known - perfect accuracy in reproduction with every one, and the addition of a zero fret as on the Flea means action at the nut will always be pretty much perfect. We have a total of 15 frets with 12 to the body. Rather twee looking fret markers in the shape of flowers and butterflies (me not like!) are provided in white plastic inlays at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th. There are no side markers.
Some words on this fretboard. As you may have learned with the Schoenhut, I did some tests on the durability of the frets. The Flea you see does eventually wear down, but mine is 5 years old and got loads of life left in it. The Schoenhut was very easy to mark, and I took it on holiday and played it each day for two weeks to find the frets were wearing down. What does that wear do? Well in the intermediate stages it creates click sounds as you fret and move the strings, but eventually will lead to strings 'bottoming out' on the fingerboard and buzzing. Useless.
So, I have tried the same test with this one. I'm sad to say that the edge of a screwdriver can easily mark the frets in a way that it won't on the Flea. I've also not had this one all that long but have noticed some wear marks on the lower frets. One thing about the Schoenhut was pointed out to me - it is IDENTICAL to the Flea so you could (I suppose) replace it with a spare. The Alic is not quite the same shape or design so that doesn't look possible. Now, I have mentioned this to a couple of owners who claim theirs shows no wear. I don't know if there is some variability in manufacture going on here, but I can only report what I have found and that is fret wear. And fret wear with very little play. I don't think that looks great for this one, but you mileage may vary I guess.
Up to the headstock and we have a real departure from the Flea with a fairly standard (plain) shaped headstock and geared tuners. The Alic logo is applied by a screen print, and mine is badly applied with a fault in it. The tuners look fairly generic, like those on a Makala Dolphin with open gears and pearloid buttons in white. They are cheap looking to me, but I suppose at £50 you get what you pay for. They work find though, with no grinding or uneven turning.
Completing the deal are what look at first glance to be Aquila strings, but I doubt they are (there are a LOT of copies about). Let us just say they are opaque white strings... (Hey, they MIGHT be Aquilas, but you rarely see any uke with Aquilas that don't come with a peg head tag saying so - this didn't. Somebody please correct me if I am wrong - it really doesn't change the review at all as the strings sound quite decent as you will see).
How does it play. Well, I have to admit it, it is scarily close to the Flea in every way. I think the Flea just edges it on breadth of tone, but really, there is little in it. The way it is built also means that the setup is pretty much spot on and it's just as easy to play as a Flea. In fact, as I say, I actually prefer the neck somewhat - I just wish it looked nicer!
The volume is great and it really does have a nice tone. In a market that is seeing yet more and more plastic ukes hitting shelves, this does sound closer to a 'real' uke to my ears than they do - much like the Flea does. As I say, scarily close.
Sure, there are some flaws on it which at £50 I can expect and are not the end of the world (no lifting bridge or dodgy tuners like on the Schoenhut for example) and it sounds great. I am however worried about long term effects on the fingerboard, and maybe I got a bad one. Either way, that worry is now there for me.
Writing this review put me in a dilemma. You see first of all I LOVE the Flea ukes - I know they are expensive, but you are paying for a family business in the USA not a Chinese factory uke. You are also paying for an original IDEA. Secondly, my reviews are all scored on the same basis, and I don't have a category for 'I think your design idea is just lazy'. As such, I can't score it down for that reason and have not done so. I am at liberty to say so here though! Alic - get your own ideas!
But I can't get over the good sound it makes - no question of it. Would I buy one for myself? Well, of course I actually DID do that, but I did that to get it on the reviews page of this site more than anything else. It now resides in the hands of my 5 year old daughter. If I had no daughter then, no, I doubt I would. Partly because I own a Flea and a Fluke original, but even if I didn't have those, I think I prefer the originals. Maybe that is me cutting my nose of to spite my face, but that is my choice. I'd rather support Jim Beloff with my money. But like everything else on Got A Ukulele, I don't like telling anyone what choices to make, I can only give my opinions.
I can see therefore how these will be a very attractive proposition to buyers. In fact I would go so far as saying it's refreshing to see ukes at this price that actually work and sound good - regular readers will know that is hardly the case in most cases. So, I won't shout at you if you buy one (much) ! Check out the fretboards though...
STOP PRESS! I have been alerted to the fact that the Alic parent company also make these under the 'Mahilele' brand for European shops - I believe Alic is the original factory brand.
Be sure to check out my other ukulele reviews here!
Sound almost identical to the Flea
Tough as old boots
Some finish flaws and cheap look (neck, headstock)
Worry about the resilience of the fretboard
Looks - 7
Fit and Finish 7
Sound - 8
Value For Money - 9
OVERALL - 7.8 out of 10
To understand my review scoring and see this result in context - visit my review page at