Another look at a musical instrument brand I've featured a couple of times before, but this time something quite different for them. It's part of their new 'travel' series of ukulele, and this one is the TUS50.Alic / Mahilele Soprano. There are some differences though, one of them quite significant, but we will get to that in the detail. What it is though is a ukulele made in large part from plastic, with a wooden top - meaning it's tough and befitting of the 'travel' moniker.
Now looking back at the Alic review, I recall I did give it something of a bashing for being so similar to the Flea ukulele. On reflection I think I was overly harsh as there are really plenty of models that share plastic backs with the Flea, and of course, plastic ukes generally are pretty widespread now. (Plus, it didn't change the review score - I was just having a grumble). One other thing I didn't like about it was that the fingerboard on my review model was soft and the strings wore the frets easily. I was told that this must have been a temporary issue, as others were not experiencing the same - but hey ho - that's what you get with one off reviews. I can only review the one in front of me. What I DID like about it though was the sound and the price, both of which were terrific. So what differs here?
Well, first up, the body on this is identical to the Alic / Mahilele, and that's because Flight have sourced these from the same production line. These too come in a range of different top colours, but this walnut wood version, with an engraved soundhole rosette (salamanders, if you were wondering) is unique to Flight. I think it looks rather attractive and is certainly an improvement on the flat colour options to my eye. Otherwise though it's all the same, so we have a laminate wood top set into an ABS plastic rounded one piece back and sides. Very like a Flea, but with a figure of eight shape instead of a boat paddle. That top is very lightly satin finished, meaning you can see and feel the wood grain. The natural feel is a nice contrast to the plastic back.
The bridge is the same one piece ABS slotted style bridge as on the Alics, and like on that model, it's trouble free and works well. The integral saddle is compensated too.
There is not much to see inside of course as you are looking into a black plastic box. There are some strengthening ribs on the inside to stop it deforming, and whilst I can't see a top brace, I presume there is one. Like the Fleas, the back has a slightly dimpled outer finish to ensure it's not too slippy when held against a soft jumper or shirt. The whole thing is well put together too, with no issues I can spot.
Up to the neck and this departs from the Alic in a significant way. Whilst it's the same profile, it isn't wooden, rather a pale cream coloured plastic. I think it looks better than the wooden neck on the Alic all round, mainly because the Alic neck wood was rough as old boots and looked like a tree branch!. Being plastic this is uniform in colour though, and is textured with a wood grain effect. As I say above, there are an increasing number of plastic ukes out there that hold up pretty well, but there are one or two I have looked at where the neck was not strong enough and flexed easily with even light pressure. I can confirm no complaints on that score here from what I can feel.
Topping this is a plastic fingerboard with integral plastic frets and a zero fret, very reminiscent of the Flea. I have also tested the strength of the plastic as I do with all plastic frets by pushing a thin metal screwdriver down onto them to check on deformation. Nothing that I can see, leading me to think these will stand up at least was well as those on a Flea. We have 15 frets in total, with 12 to the body, and small butterfly and flower shapes as outward fret markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th. Whilst the outward markers are inlaid plastic shapes the side markers appear to be screen printed, and the fret crowns also appear to be painted. One wonders how long these will last, as you may recall the silver tops on the Makala Waterman that disappeared after about a day! Still, I would argue why there is any need to paint the fret tops at all. The Flea doesn't have them painted and nor did the Alic. I wouldn't miss them. Incidentally - that neck width is a comfortable 35mm at the nut. Nice.
Moving past that zero fret (to help with intonation) we have a really attractive shaped headstock that has been faced with more of the walnut wood. It's leagues nicer than the plain Alic headstock and looks classy and brings the walnut theme of the instrument together. Printed on this is the Flight logo in black.
Tuning is provided by unbranded open gears with chrome hardware and small black buttons. They work just fine, but are otherwise generic.
And finishing off the package are a set of (what else?) Aquila strings and a good quality padded gig bag (note - these were limited early supply and there will now be sales without - but from June all will come with bags..).. Price wise, this will set you back what I think is an entirely reasonable and tempting €49 (or about £40).. That works out at less than the Alic was in the UK back in 2015, and this one includes a gig bag on top. A really great price.
So things are pretty positive so far and in many ways, an improvement on the originals. Like those, and like the Flea, it's comfortable to hold too, not heavy and feels tactile. It's hard to describe, but whilst it doesn't feel like a wooden ukulele, it doesn't feel like a toy either despite the plastic. Setup is also just fine, which is a good job considering it would be hard to adjust the nut and saddle action due to the construction.
And also, like other ukes that have applied the Flea 'plastic back wooden top' style of build, these sound great too. Scarily close to a Flea in fact, which will set you back 4-5 times the price of this. And that really does make you think!
OK, like a Flea it doesn't sound like a solid wooden ukulele, but what it does have is great volume, a very nice warm tone, great sustain and great intonation. I know there are some people who just don't like the sound of plastic instruments, but believe me, whilst this doesn't sound like wood, it is also miles away from the sound of a full plastic uke which can sound what I call 'lunchboxy'. It kind of has it's own sound, and a nice one at that (as any players of Fleas will attest). One critisism I will level at it, is exactly the same as I say about the Flea - I think that Aquila strings overpower these style ukes and make them boom a little. I would immediately be swapping these for something a little sweeter.
It's immensely playable though because of that nice body feel, and you need not worry about the plastic neck as that feels good too. Not slippy, but not grippy either. I'm struggling to find much to dislike here as you can see.
And of course, let's come back to that 'travel' element. This is tough as nails, and seems to be a great option to sling into a rucksack and take off with. Sure, like the Flea you will want to protect the wooden top, but the rest of it will stand up fine to knocks and scrapes.
All in all, I think this is something of a no brainer instrument for the price. I think it improves on the looks of the originals I looked at, and sounds just as good for a little less money. Why wouldn't you?
Recommended. And thanks to the folks at Flight Music, they have very kindly offered my readers a 20% discount if you use the code GOTAUKULELE at the checkout on their site below! Can't say fairer than that! I believe that code works with anything else on their store too..
Great price and build
Loud, good sustain and 'playable'
Sound may not suit wooden uke purists
Plastic haters, look elsewhere...
Fret paint may wear away
Looks 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.6 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz
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