Risa LP Tenor Electric Ukulele - REVIEW

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10 Mar 2019

Risa LP Tenor Electric Ukulele - REVIEW

Well this ukulele has been a while coming and was starting to look notable by its absence on the Got A Ukulele reviews page. It's the Risa LP Tenor Electric.

Risa LP Tenor Electric Ukulele

I should point out that there is no sinister reason why this instrument has not featured until now.  I've known about it for ages, and, in fact, used to perform in a ukulele band where one of our number played one of these on stage so i've played it before personally. It's just a mix of them being quite limited in number coupled with very strong demand that meant, well, maybe they don't 'need' a review. That's cool. Anyway we sorted one!

Let us begin...  Drool.... Can I just leave the review at that word and pack up? Can I? Because honestly, this one is a real looker. No? You want to know more? Oh go on then. (more seriously, I want to tell you more!)

A  quick word about the brand first. Risa are a German company with a reputation for what I think is fair to say 'the more unusual but extremely good quality' when it comes to ukuleles. You may recall I looked at the Risa Uke Solid (stick) uke which for my mind still knocks pretty most other nylon strung solid electrics out of the park. Sure it has unconventional looks, but that belies the quality and amazing playability. With the LP (not, I am not using the name 'Les Paul' which this is based on - because that is trademarked by Gibson) you have another form of electric, this time, steel strung. They are made in the Czech Republic as opposed to a rebadge from a Chinese factory.

Risa LP Tenor Electric Ukulele body

This is their tenor model which comes in both this Cherry Sunburst colour but also a browner 'Tobacco Sunburst' colour. (I am partial to both actually). They also make a long neck soprano version, but this one is apparently the most popular. Based on that classic Les Paul electric guitar shape (to a tee!), it's a solid mahogany body with an arched top, much like the Gibson. That body is then stained and rubbed into a gorgeous sunburst on the top and a deep red back, set off with a great quality gloss finish. I think the arched tops on these are laid on top of the solid body which holds the cavities for the electrics, and you can see it's in two pieces, nicely matched. You will note that there are a couple of small wood knots on this example which wouldn't have made it through on a AAA grade top on a Gibson, but that's a minor point. The shape is typically Les Paul with a double bout and a cutaway on the upper shoulder.  I've said many times that I am not a fan of ukuleles trying to look like guitars, but that is partly down to the fact they are often done for the looks at expense of the actual playability of the instrument. The Epiphone Les Paul ukulele is a prime example of that mistake. Equally, a lot of them actually 'look' a bit shonky too and have almost tried too hard. On the looks front though this is really quite wonderful and done REALLY well.

For decoration you get cream binding around the top edge, which is honestly all you need here. I'm also pleased to see they didn't go with the faux scratch plate that looks just odd on a uke - another case in point with the Epiphone version.

Being a steel strung electric, that allows the use of magnetic coil pickups for amplification and this comes with a pair of cream faced four pole humbuckers made specially for Risa. Again, very much like the guitar version, giving you the option of a brighter bridge pickup sound, a warmer neck pickup, or indeed, both. They are set in black plastic surrounds rather than just dropped in a hole and look great. Naturally they are adjustable for height on both the treble and bass side to adjust distance from the strings. For those that are new to this electric fashion in ukuleles a magnetic pickup like these relies on steel strings as the electromagnet 'picks up' the steel vibration. These pickups don't work with nylon strings and that's why those kind of electrics rely on a 'piezo crystal' pickup under the top or saddle which amplifies vibration. Very different things. And very different sounds.

Risa LP Tenor Electric Ukulele pickups

The bridge is a standard chrome 'Fender style' hard tail with micro adjustable saddles for scale length and height. For authenticity I would have preferred a Gibson style 'Tune-o-matic' bridge here running to a separate hard tail, but I suspect space would be the issue to make that work. Either way, these individual saddle bridges work great and are infinitely adjustable.


Risa LP Tenor Electric Ukulele bridge

Controlling those are four small brushed aluminium pots, two for individual tone control and two for individual volume control. I rather like the aluminium look and thankfully they didn't just reach for the guitar parts bin and fit overly large knobs. These suit the instrument well. And of course the pickups can be switched using the three way toggle on the upper shoulder.

Risa LP Tenor Electric Ukulele controls

Elsewhere on the instrument are the access panels on the back for getting to the wiring, the ferules through which you feed the strings (needed because of that bridge style - the strings tie off through the body as opposed to at the tail - just like a Fender) an offset jack socket on the base and a strap button at the tail and upper shoulder.

Risa LP Tenor Electric Ukulele back

Moving on , the mahogany neck is a 'set neck' style, meaning it's not bolted on. It's stained in the same deep red and glossed too and is narrow at 34mm whilst rounded on the back. It's very comfortable though and being steel strung that narrower nut is really no issue at all, in fact it's arguably preferable. Because of those thin strings you are still getting about 27mm between G and A.

That is topped with a dark hardwood fingerboard (they don't specify with what) into which pearloid block inlays are fitted, rather excessively at the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, 15th, 17th and 19th. I say excessively perhaps a little unfairly because it would look wrong without them and they are very much about the look of the Les Paul. On the other side of that coin though, I do find them confusing when finding my place on the fretboard. It does have side markers to be fair but I think i'd still have fewer inlays. It comes with 19 frets and joins at the 15th. You will also spy a zero fret to control the action nicely at the nut. That's good to see because with steel strings you want them low at the nut and setting nut slot heights can be a bit of a pain on these thin gauges.  Also nice to see on both comfort and looks grounds is the edge binding in cream which means no sharp edges and the radius on the top of the fingerboard meaning the frets are very slightly curved. Lovely.

Risa LP Tenor Electric Ukulele fingerboard

The headstock fans out into a 'Gibson-esque' shape with a scroll detail at the top and is faced in glossy black. The shape is done far better than the Epiphone offerings which look far too narrow for me. The Risa logo is screen printed in silver under the gloss and the headstock also holds the cover for the neck truss rod. Being steel strung with more tension, I'm pleased to see a truss rod for once!

Risa LP Tenor Electric Ukulele headstock

Tuners are sealed chrome gears made by Grover with kidney shaped buttons. These are superb tuners and no complaints from me here.

Risa LP Tenor Electric Ukulele tuners

With that comes Risa's own blend of steel strings. They are actually the middle strings from an electric guitar set of 10's gauged for low G. For those interested, the gauges are 13, 17, 26, 36. If you wanted a high G you would swap out the fattest for another 13.  You also get a padded gig bag, but they offer a hard case as an option. Without that option you are looking at a price in stores of about £560. That's signifcantly more than the Epiphone Les Paul, but then I think it's clear from the description above that you are getting considerably more ukulele for the price.

As you can tell I am rather taken with this and that extends to overall build quality too rather than just looks. It's extremely well put together in every department and reeks of quality wherever you look. It's a heavy beast to be fair but I struggle to critisise it for that because it's a solid electric, and the Les Paul itself is renowned to be a titan on the weight scale. That's not to say it's uncomfortable either and most people buying these are going to use a strap in any case. But there is more to comfort than weight and this is a very nice thing to hold in the hands regardless. It just feels nice.

One gripe I have with a lot of steel strung ukes is playability on account of the thin steel strings. What I mean to say is, the setup at the nut and saddle may well be textbook perferct but they can have a habit of being a chore to play because of the lightness of the strings. Unless you play with a very precise and light touch it is extremely easy to pull the strings out of tune with a slightly angled or heavy fretting hand making them sound badly off. First impressions here though is that this has an incredibly light and forgiving action. It's most likely on account of that zero fret, but also because the fret crowns are low making play rather effortlessly. Put simply it means that when you fret a note you actually get the note you wanted.  This is where so many cheaper steel strung ukes let me down. In fact I have played actual Gibson Les Paul guitars that have let me down on that front! There is one minor thing though that niggled me in the play, and that is the position of the selector switch. It's in exactly the right position for a guitar Les Paul, but I tend to pick and play a ukulele near the end of the neck which is not where you tend to play a guitar. That's more a critisism of me to be fair, but old habits meant that I naturally started playing in the viscinity of the switch and found myself catching it. Another minor point that anyone could overcome very quickly and isn't a deal breaker.

And of course this is pretty much silent until you plug it in and that's what I need to test. I don't much like these video tests because there is another significant variable to consider - the amplifer itself. In the review video I am running it into a Yamaha THR Blues portable amp in both clean and overdriven settings. A nice enough practice amp, but you will likely not have the same model. What I can tell from my tests is that the wiring is good as are the pickups, and being a steel / humbucker mix you will get good results from this through any amp with good feedback resistance. I think you would be wasted playing this through a cheap battery amp designed for a nylon uke (the Honeytones of this world), but at nearly six hundred quid for the instrument that is probably unlikely anyway. More importanly those hum resistant pickups would be ace through a full on Marshall stack pumping several hundred Watts. Perhaps that's overkill in the other direction... although.... I'd still love to try!! Anyway, what you hear from an instrument like this is shaped in a large part by the amp I am using. I have bigger amps, but they are acoustic stage models so I figured they too would not give this a fair crack of the whip. Importantly, I don't think this ukulele will limit you though if you wanted to go crazy with amps and effects.

Plugged in and played on a clean setting it sounds simply like any other steel strung instrument with little applied to it. It sounds electric and it sounds simple. Exactly the same as a Gibson Les Paul would sound if you plugged it into a clean channel. That said, many do use a clean setting and with some tone shaping and a the warmer sound from the neck pickup in particular you can get some nice jazzy tones from it. The sustain is, as expected from humbuckers, excellent. The pots are smooth to turn though do have a touch of static on this example (easily cured with a blast of antistat). The tone control sweep is wide from the dark an broody to bright and everything inbetween. The volume controls have far less sweep going from off to a rapid increase in volume and not a huge amount of control beyond that. About half of the rotation is doing very little at all. You can still control it with minor turns at the start of the sweep and you will be likely to control on the amplifier too but it's worth noting that I would like a bit more of a sweep here.

But being a rock style instrument the fun you can have with this really has no bounds and with bigger amps, effects pedals and the like you can really go to town and get some screaming overdrive out of this. I'm not actually going to say much more on the tone other than it's very versatile and takes overdrive and blues sounds very well. What you can get out of it will depend on your equipment of course.  Rest assured though, it plays accurately and smoothly and the pickups give you wealth of tone options. I love it.

All in all this is an excellent instrument. Sure it may divide those who don't like electrics or those that don't like guitar homages.  There are some very minor design cues which niggled with me, but it's not life and death stuff. There is no denying it is doing what it is designed to do very well indeed. From the looks to the build quality, from the playability to the tone... it's all good really. I get the price is not cheap, but that price has justification. The review may well be met with comments from those suggesting going for Chinese alternatives at a far lesser price.. but trust me... if you want a reliable electric - don't. People think these are easy to get right, yet it actually it takes a lot more thought and QC than those cheaper brands show to me. Not only does playability matter, but so does the internal stuff and the wiring and often those leave a lot to be desired at lower prices. Risa have clearly approached this one seriously and with an intention of taking a 'best in show' prize. I think it's clearly obvious that they achieved that. This has always been the only steel strung electric uke brand I recommend and having now looked at it closer, that isn't going to change. Very highly recommended!

Many many thanks to the UK distributor Stones Music for loaning me this one to take a look at. The Risa's are available from good ukulele specialists.


UKULELE PROS

Authentic and supremely classy looks
Flawless build in all departments
Really comfortable and accurate to play
Great sustain
Tone is good but of course your experience will depend a lot on your amplifier

UKULELE CONS

Minor design cues that I would change
Would like more sweep on the volume pots
Not much else!

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.1 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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7 comments :

  1. Thanks Barry for such a comprehensive review. Risa also make solid body electric ukes in the shape of strats and telecasters. I'm guessing the electrics, set up and overall quality will be the same? You mentioned cheaper Chinese alternatives... Clearwater? (You have been positive about their plastic round/bowl back in the past) Would it be worth reviewing one of these as a comparison to the Risa?

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  2. So, you've sold me on it, but where do they sell it? I've googled around and can't find it anywhere and don't see a link on your page.

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    Replies
    1. All Risa dealers should be able to get them. World of Ukes and southern Uke Store in the UK. Ukulele.de in Germany

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  3. I brought mine at Southern ukuleles around three weeks ago and cost £560.00 I think. You won't be disappointed

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  4. Agree with everything Baz had mine for over 2 years and absolutly love it originally purchasd mine from SUS. Only priblem was fittung a suitable hard case that supports in full, even ditect from RIsa was a Kala one and diesnt fit snug enough

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  5. Love the looks of this - such a shame they don't do left handed versions

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  6. Bought one of these a couple of years ago and love it. Trouble is don't get much opportunity to play it at the moment.

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