Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

5 Jan 2020

Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

After a recharging Christmas and New Year Break, Got A Ukulele reviews return for 2020. And it's always pleasing to feature a ukulele brand for the first time, so let's kick off the new decade with the RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele from Alvarez Guitars.

Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele

Alvarez are a well known (and regarded) instrument maker who were founded in the 1960's in St Louis, Missouri, and are played by some very impressive names. Guitars are their backbone of course, but their ukulele lines have been around for a little while too. Sadly though we just don't see a great many of them in the UK which probably explains why this is their first appearance here. Their ukulele range is fairly extensive, going from solid topped instruments (and a bass) through to more simple looking laminate ukes. Incidentally, Alvarez also made the range of Grateful Dead branded ukes, but sadly these too never reached the UK shores. A shame really as not only am I a Dead fan, but I thought they looked rather cool too!  The RU22SCE an all laminate instrument that isn't quite the entry level for Alvarez, but a little step up due to some design elements we will come on to. It forms part of what they call their 'Regent Series' which cover all bases from soprano to baritone, and also offer a choice of laminate mahogany on the top or laminate spruce.

Like others in the same series, this is an all laminate mahogany instrument with a normal double bout configuration. The 'C' in the naming here though indicates that this comes with a cutaway, as Alvarez also make a soprano in this series without one.  I must say that whilst I have no issue with cutaways per se, I have never really liked them on sopranos. The whole point of them is to allow easier access to upper frets, but I have never picked up a regular soprano where such access is difficult because the body is already so small. There is also another potential issue with 'cutting off' part of the top on a soprano and that is down to projection. The top of a soprano is already very small, and removing part of it that makes sound seems like a bad idea to me. Anyway we shall see when I play it. So it's a double bout, all laminate hog uke, with a  cutaway on the upper shoulder. The laminates are in two pieces on the top, back and sides.

Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele body

The bridge here is a slot style and is tidily made. They specify the wood as 'techwood' and I take that to mean chemically stained paler wood, or possibly a lamiante block. Looking at the grain I think it's a stained wood here. It's not something I recoil at to be honest and suspect that with pressure on more exotic wood resources continuing, such things should be encouraged. The saddle material is not specified, though looks like bone and is uncompensated. What I don't like about the bridge is the extra unncessary width on the side wings. When it comes to slot style bridges, they usually take advantage of their design to keep themselves as small as possible. A minor point but there is more wood on the vibrating top here than I think is needed.

Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele bridge

There is no decoration around the edges of the ukulele, but I rather like it for that as it's tidily put together and the joints don't look ugly. You do get an abalone 'look' soundhole rosette though, and I am rather taken with it despit it being a transfer. I think it's the double concentric rings in slightly different colours that do it for me and it has something of a Nunes look to it. Other than that, the whole body is finished in an open pore satin which is done tidily all over and feels nice on the hands.

Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele cutaway

And now for the elephant in the room.. The 'E' in the name - that pickup system. I know it's an age old bugbear of mine and I KNOW that beginners tend to like getting a pickup that comes as standard as it's no fuss, but unless you are at the boutique end of the ukulele market, these pre-fitted systems are never as good as a quality passive strip when it comes to sound. They also add extra weight and uncessary wiring (more to go wrong),  features that most people already own (a built in tuner) and just look plain ugly. Who wants a hole cut in the side of their uke?

Just... give... me.... a.... passive..... and.... a.... jack..... socket...... please..

Talking of jack sockets, this is off center mounted (not a strong place to hold something, and a location I have seen ripped out of a ukulele on stage leaving a hole) but does at least only rely on a couple of cell batteries rather than the extra weight of a 9v battery.

Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele pickup

Looking inside was something I was particularly interested in because on many shop descriptions they claim the ukulele is fan braced.... Aside from the fact that the enormous pickup and wiring makes it hard to have a look around, the internal camera came to the rescue. I can confirm that, on the soprano at least, there is no fan bracing. In fact it's very simply braced on the top with a regular lateral brace. To be fair though, the inside is tidy, and the linings are notched, but either Alvarez have changed the build or they need to update their product specs. To be fair though, the top wood here doesn't seem overly thick.

Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele inside

Up to the neck and this is made of mahogany in three pieces with joints at the heel and headstock. The heel is pleasingly chunky, presumably to create more strength in view of that cutwaway which it abuts nicely. But there is more strength going on here too as Alvarez state that the neck joint to the body is a dovetail. That's nice to see and something usually only found on higher end instruments. Martin for example use such a joint. They differ from screwed and glued neck joint, and are said to improve the transfer of energy between neck and body helping the whole instrument to resonate more. We shall see.. The neck width is only average at the nut with just shy of a 35mm width and 27mm from G to A, but on the plus side is flatter than many in the profile which, in my experience, can negate a narrower nut. It's finished in satin which feels nice too.

Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele neck

Topping this is more 'techwood' for the fingerboard, and it looks to be in good condition with some nice subtle stripe on the finish. It's not edgebound, but the sides are stained to hide the fret ends, of which you get 17 with 12 to the body joint. They are all dressed well too with no sharp edges at all. It comes with outward MOP dots at the 5th, 7th and 10th and these are repeated on the side too. Nice and tidy.

Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the bone nut is a very plainly shaped headstock which is unfaced and holds the Alvarez logo and motif in a pearly silver screen print. I think it looks a bit cheap myself, but I have seen much worse.

Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele headstock

Tuning is provided by generic unbranded sealed chrome gears with small plastic black buttons. They are ok if utterly unremarkable. One of them is installed on a wonky angle too.. OCD ALERT!!

Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele tuners

And there is nothing else to complete your deal here other than a set of Aquila strings. I have seen these about with gig bags, but not in all stores, and the one I grabbed came without one, so do check before you buy. And the prices in stores seem to vary a little, but they come in around £110 to £120 in the UK.  Considering the non-pickup version can be had for a fair bit less than that, it's clear that the pickup I don't care for is pushing the price up here. Still, it's not an eyewatering price really I guess.

The build overall is really very good with no issues in finish or construction that I can spot. I actually also like the looks despite me not caring for the cutaway on a soprano and the ugly as sin control panel whacked into the side. The wood looks nice for a simple uke and the sound hole rings set it off. I think it's pretty. Sadly the extra weight in the body of such a diminutive instrument makes it feel a bit hefty in the hands for a soprano. Compare this to something like a Martin soprano in a blidfold test on weight and you'd be convinced this was a bigger scale instrument. Worse still, the weight is very much in the body making it body heavy when balanced at the 12th. That's better than being neck heavy, but it's still uncomfortable to hold. Setup too is only reasonable and I would look to take both the saddle and nut action down. That's particularly relevant here as these instruments seem to be only available in the 'big store' music shops and not the smaller specialists. That means most will be bought online and will come from their warehouses without a setup. Still, to play it's comfortable on the neck, so I will give it that.

Sound wise and I am afraid to say that it's not a show stopper in this department. There's a strangled feel to the projection, no doubt impacted by the heaviness and all that gubbins inside. The volume is acceptable, but nothing more than that and so is the sustain. It performs in these regards, but is not knocking it out of the park and feels like it could give more if it was more lightly built. It's muted. To be fair of course, some people like that in a ukulele for quiet practice, but I would personally prefer an instrument you simply play more softly to quieten it down rather than one that can't get out of first gear. And that high setup is throwing off the intonation on a couple of strings too which you will hear in the video. That can be easily adjusted, but bear in mind my comments above about the kind of dealers selling these.

The tone itself isn't really all that stellar either though I'm afraid. Sure, once again, it performs, and certainly doesn't sound lousy, but it screams 'laminate' to me in ways that others at the price point (and below) don't quite so much. None of it is a 'let down' and playing it is pleasing enough for home practice, but it's really not a characterful tone. Strumming is more one dimensional here, probably not helped by the average projection as you find yourself begging it to do more.  Fingerpicking is a bit more pleasing with a chimey bright tone that rings well enough, but it's still a bit thin and lifeless with some echoey boxiness coming through. I'm afraid it just didn't raise a smile.

Alvarez RU22SCE Soprano Ukulele jack socket

All in all, a very mixed bag. I like the looks on the whole, but there are let downs. I like the build and finish on the whole too. And it performs as a ukulele and is a far cry from the poor QC of the 'cheap as chips' brigade. But I suppose it all comes down to the price here. At £120, whilst it's not a huge sum of money for a ukulele, it puts it alongside quite a few others that sound FAR better such as models from Baton Rouge, Kiwaya, Kala, Ohana, Flight, Islander etc. The pickup is certainly pushing the price up and skewing things, but like I say, it's not for me. The straight up acoustic version will be the better option here I think. Sure, you might like the pickup and make use of it, and that is fine of course. Just be aware that it is making it heavy, muted and I think you will do better on tone elsewhere for less. Go carefully.

https://www.alvarezguitars.com



UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Name: Alvarez RU22SCE
Scale: Soprano
Body: Laminate mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Bridge: Techwood
Saddle: Bone - uncompensated
Fingerboard: Techwood
Frets: 17, 12 to the body
Nut width: 35mm, 27mm G to A
Nut:Bone
Tuners: Unbranded sealed gears
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Active side mounted pickup system
Price: £120


UKULELE PROS

Nice looks
Good overall build and finish
Comfortable neck

UKULELE CONS

That pickup system
Hefty weight for a soprano and off balance
Cutaway on a soprano??
Needs a setup that the kind of stores selling these will likely not provide
Price of the non pickup version is far more sensible


UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.8 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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