Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

8 Apr 2017

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

Another new brand for Got A Ukulele with an instrument from Chinese musical instrument brand Donner and their DUC-3 Concert ukulele.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele

It dazzles me these days just how many new brands are coming out of China, and I must say, whilst there are some gems hidden in all the noise, the majority are either pretty much all the same thing and one or two are rather dreadful. We shall see how the Donner stacks up! The brand itself is one of those that put their name to a bewildering array of musical instruments and accessories, so it's fair to say they are not ukulele specialists..

This is a standard concert scale instrument with a traditional double bout shape. Topping the instrument is laminate spruce, which looks ok to me, but, being spruce, is nothing dazzling. The back and sides are made from two pieces each and present me with my first gripe about the instrument, and that is one of misleading product descriptions. You see Donner bill this as having a body made from 'grade AAA Mahogany'. Not only is this mahogany laminate (ie plywood), there is absolutely nothing to my eyes that suggests there is anything whatsoever grade AAA about this wood. For me, that would involve some shimmer, some rich browns and oranges, not what this actually is, which is a very dull and very pale mahogany that is... boring. Ho hum. Why do they do that? Well, they do it to try to make a plain instrument sound more special than it actually is. The back is, incidentally, also very slightly arched and the whole body is finished in a thin satin coat. But I repeat, grade AAA this is not.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele top

Decoration wise we have a dark brown edge binding around the top and back which is nice enough and works well to contrast the pale top. Around the soundhole we have a sun motif in laser etching. I'm not averse to this sort of decoration, and we saw it last week on the Baton Rouge I reviewed, but the motif on this one looks both far too large, and also has too much contrast against the pale top. I don't like it actually. You may beg to differ.

The bridge is made of rosewood and is a slotted style. It's also a nice shape, and I always find it pleasing when brands go a little different with the bridge plate rather than just using a generic 'parts bin' bridge. Set into this is a compensated saddle made from bone.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele bridge

Looking inside and we have a reasonably tidy build with no glue drips present. There are a few wood shavings though. The bracing looks a little on the heavy side and the kerfed linings are notched.

Also fitted to the body is a strap button at the base which is nice to see when you consider that these days so many people want to fit them and are worried about doing it.

Up to the neck, this is also made from mahogany and is in 3 pieces with the usual joint at the heel and headstock. It's a nice enough profile, but generically Chinese at the nut, meaning a narrow width compared to many higher end instrument. The heel holds the second strap button, which if you like the presence of the first one makes sense. Personally I tend to only fit one and tie the strap to the headstock, but I am certainly not complaining. Topping this is a rosewood fingerboard which seems to be in good condition and is evenly dark. Inlaid into this is a wooden cloud pattern design which means that outward facing fret markers wouldn't work (so you don't get any). Some will like the design, but it's not really to my tastes. I do however like the wavy curve to the end of the fingerboard. I will come back to this design later though for reasons you might not expect.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele fingerboard

The edges of the fingerboard are bound in black, hiding the fret ends and also holding the side position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th in small white dots. Annoyingly, the marker for the 7th on this one is not set centrally and the OCD in me would be mighty annoyed by this! File this complaint in the 'how hard can it actually be?' box.

Frets wise, these are nickel silver, fairly chunky but with no sharp fret ends. There are 18 in total with 14 to the body.

Beyond the bone nut we have an attactive shaped headstock in the same pale mahogany. The Donner logo is inlaid into this in pearl. No complaints here.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele headstock

Flipping it over and we have something I have never seen before. Unbranded generic geared tuners in chrome, but the back plates (which are normally chrome too) are clear plastic, meaning you can see the gear. I don't know why, but I really like the look of them. Of course it makes no difference to how they work and thankfully these work great anyway. Often at this sort of level of ukulele you get gears that grind or are all at different tensions to each other, but these are extremely smooth. The buttons are not overly large and are made of orange plastic, looking like faux amber.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele tuners

It comes strung with Donner's own brand clear fluorocarbon strings (which I would put good money on are fishing line) and a host of bundled extras. You get a reasonable quality padded bag with shoulder straps and front pocket, a spare set of strings, a strap and a clip on tuner. I'm seeing this 'bundling' happening more and more from China and usually I am usually of the opinion that it puts the instrument into a 'too good to be true' category, often where the instrument itself is useless, but your head is turned by the 'amazing bundle'. We shall see how the Donner fairs when I play it... For all of that you will pay around £50 in the UK and $69 in the USA at the time of writing. That's a pretty cheap ukulele.

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele extras

So, all in all, we have an instrument that presents a mix of things I do rather like and some things I don't. On the whole though the construction is good with no issues or marks I can see. It's light enough too, but sadly very slightly neck heavy meaning if you play without a strap, you can feel it trying to dive bomb a little.

Setup was mixed too. The nut, thankfully, is very well cut and would need no adjustment I think, but the saddle height is far too high. That is relatively easy to change, but it means that out of the box, this one has poor intonation at the 12th with every string reading consistently high.

On a more positive note the volume and sustain on this one really surprised me. It's got a bright bark typical of spruce, but a nice jangle to it as well. And it sustains far longer than most cheap laminates I have played. Very nice actually.

Fingerpicked it's nice and clear and very enjoyable, but it's the strumming that I liked the most. It's not the most complex tone in the world, but it was never going to be, but there is 'something' about it that made me feel it was punching above it's weight. Quite an enjoyable instrument to sit and play in the sunshine - as I did most of the day today!

Donner DUC-3 Concert Ukulele back

One odd observation though - those markinsg on the fretboard I found to be really off putting during play. They are not position markers, but I found my eye being drawn to them as if they were and was playing some picked runs and fretting in the wrong spaces. Maybe that's just me, but I found it increasingly irritating.

So a mixed bag this one I think and perhaps it was a little 'too good to be true' but not totally. It's got a good build quality, a very pleasant tone, good sustain, but it's let down by some odd design choices and poor setup. And on that setup, considering I think you can ONLY purchase these via Amazon, that means you will need to get it sorted yourself.. at extra cost or hassle. With that done though, I guess it's not a bad ukulele for a very attractive price.


Generally good construction
Great price
Funky tuners
Clear strident voice with good sustain
Pre-installed strap buttons


Poor bridge setup
Dislike the decorations, particularly the fingerboard
Misleading product descriptions
Very plain woods and certainly not AAA grade


Looks - 7 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10






  1. Although I dislike the rosette and fretboard - the sound is really very good. Excellent review as always.

  2. I have to admit I was drawn to this review hoping for a Donner DUC / Donald Duck joke hidden in there somewhere, but this uke has some interesting details. I sort of like the fretboard patterns. It's just too bad they don't correlate to fret positions. The clear gear covers are pretty cool.

  3. Thank you for all your efforts with the reviews you do. If you believe in such things, please pray for me. I have just purchased the "zebrawood" concert version of this "yook" through Amazon. Yes, I hear you groaning from across the pond. Once upon a time, my parents bought me a guitar. The project of learning to play was a miserable failure. The neck was uncomfortably thick, the strings were like barbed wire, the action was incredibly stiff. After 3 months and with calluses that completely dulled the sensation in my fingertips, I gave up and passed it on to my younger brother, he had much more success with it. Of course his hands are twice the size and twice the strength of mine. Now that we are both retired, he suggested that I try again. Thus, the ukulele. Nylon strings, check. Smaller neck than an economy priced guitar, check. Less strings to keep track of than that nasty guitar, check. Price point low enough that I won't feel bad if I smash it in frustration, check. Small storage footprint, check. I do play the piano , accordion and lap harp and I know an excellent guitar tech should I have intonation problems (my late husbands guitar tech) who will fix and adjust for ridiculously little money because my husband was one of his best friends. So, pray for me. If you hear screaming from across the ocean, it's just me getting splinters from smashing the thing. Once again, thank you for all the reviews that made it possible to make an informed decision on what to buy for my little musical adventure.

  4. I've purchased a Kala MK-S out of the blue for myself for Christmas 2015. I fell in love and have worn divets into the fretboard after only a year. I was shopping for a new uke and I'm told it will not be my last. I purchased a tenor from a Canadian company (I'm Canadian) on Turns out they are Canadian but the uke was Chinese. It was a disaster. The customer service was awesome but the uke was poorly manufactured. I sent it back then I found your youtube channel and watched probably every review you put out. This one stood out because I'd seen this uke on at a cheap price and you gave it a good mark. After some deliberation I decided that the price and concidering my ability it was worth o go. Then I saw the Donner DUC-4E. At less than the price of the one I returned. It came with all the same goodies and was advertised as a solid wood top. (As far as I can tell it is solid)
    I could go on and on because I just love this uke. I want to thank you for your unbiased opinions and if you have the opportunity to review the DUC-4E I think you would be pleasantly surprised

  5. I test-bought a Donner recently: a tenor. All in all not bad but the intonation was way out to the point that bridge compensation would never fix. I count that as a fault so Amazon paid the return.

    I'd say pay a little and get a Snail.

  6. Thanks for your Donner review and all your great reviews! I have a Donner DUC-1, the all-mahogany-laminate sister to the DUC-3. The wood has the shimmer and rich browns and oranges that you found lacking in the DUC-3 -- in fact I find it richer and more beautiful than most of the dark-stained mahogany that is so prevalent. It has a simple rope rosette, which I much prefer to laser engraving. There's no edge binding, but I'm fine with that. It has inlaid dots for fret markers. The side position markers are better centered than on yours. I really like the shape of the bridge and the headstock. I would prefer it if the curved end of the fretboard better matched the shape of the soundhole, but I like the rich rosewood, especially after I lightly oiled it. While my DUC-1 doesn't have the exuberant spruce tone, it has a friendly warm tone and holds its own. With new Aquila Super Nylgut strings it is quite loud, though I think it lost some of the musicality it had with the original "advanced carbon nylon" strings, so I'll try different strings next time. I can't stand plunky, restrained-sounding ukes, and I've never felt that about this instrument. The intonation seems to be good. The tuners are very smooth, as you described. The extras were useful: the gig bag is nice, the tuner is excellent, it was good to have an extra set of strings, and while the strap is quite narrow, it gets the job done. Overall, I'm very happy with it and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it as a first ukulele.


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