Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

25 Jan 2020

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

Back this week with another Amazon special, and another ukulele from a brand I have featured before. This is the Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele.

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele

I first looked at a Donner Ukulele that was actually a slight step up from this model in the form of their DUC-3 Concert Ukulele back in 2017. Whilst it didn't quite hit the heady heights of the 8 out of 10 scores, it was far from the worst value instrument I had come across and ticked a lot of the right boxes. Put simply, it came close to getting a G.A.U recommendation. This DUC-1 Model is a much plainer affair without any real decoration compared to that one, though there are a lot of core similarities in the build. Incidentally this '1 series' from Donner also comes in soprano and tenor too with identical appointments.

And yes, it's a laminate uke,  mahogany laminate to be precise, and also (naturally), the product description doesn't do the worlds best job of telling you that fact. In fact, reading it you would think there was some high quality tone wood at work here, with references to 'air dried woods' giving you the feel that this is something it really isn't. They also choose to call it AAA grade mahogany, something they did with the DUC-3, and again something that is total nonsense. It's laminate, and not particularly attractive laminate at that. I despise this sort of marketing spin at the lower end. It's always been there, but but i'd argue it gets worse every year. Also of interest is the fact that you will note that the product description wording in the Amazon post is, in places, word for word identical to that for the Hricane ukulele I recently reviewed. Whether that means they are actually the same company, one is a subsidiary of the other, or just that Chinese brands are lifting each others product descriptions without a care, I don't know. Either way, the whole product description annoys me. Oh, and yes, they also refer to it as a '23 inch', once again giving you a measurement that has no bearing on the ukulele scale whatsoever. Hmmmmph...

Anyway, a laminate mahogany concert it is, with a traditional double bout shape. The top, back and sides all seem to be made of two pieces and the back is almost completely flat. It's as plain as you like despite that ludicrous AAA tagline. Granted, mahogany is never the most strikng of wood grain, but I fail to see why this is AAA. Unlike the DUC-3 with it's striking spruce top with a sun etching, there is little variety in this model either in natural grain or added details, and the only decoration here is a wooden rope inlay around the soundhole. To be fair though, that has been done well and the two pieces on the back are bookmatched nicely on an angle. It's hardly ugly.

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele body

The bridge is the same as the DUC-3 ukulele, in an attractive (if overly large) shape and is an easy to use slot style affair. The product spec says this is made of rosewood, but I would be surprised and would guess this is stained hardwood. Either way though, I like it well enough, it's very tidy, and like the DUC-3 bridge and it's fitted with a compensated bone saddle.

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele bridge

The whole body is then finished in the usual (for this price) open pore satin which has been done very well too. In fact, despite the plain look, I much prefer this to the etched top on the DUC-3.

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele decoration

Looking inside and it is also neat and tidy in ths department. Notched kerfing, thin tapered bracing and no mess that I can see. Interestingly the top bracing is a cross pattern which is not what you normally see here. That top laminate is also really thin. Things are actually looking good here so far.

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele inside


The neck is made of mahogany (something they also claim is AAA grade, a statement that makes me laugh more than the AAA claim for the body.), is in three pieces (joint at the heel and headstock) though unlike many Chinese ukes, the profile is slightly flattened on the back which is nice.  Also nice is the 36mm nut width (29mm G to A) which coupled with the flatter profile should be comfortable to play. Do you wonder whether the far eastern factories are finally 'getting it'? I hope so.

Topping that is a dark wood fingerboard which is in decent condition. Again, this may be stained wood though. You may recall that one of my big gripes about the DUC-3 was the distracting inlays on the board on that model. Sure, they were something different, but they were a nightmare for finding fret positions. Thankfully they are absent on this version and it's all the better for it. We have a standard 18 frets with 14 to the body joint and the edges are stained in black to hide the ends. Sadly that didn't do a lot of good for the dressing as there are multiple sharp edges at play here that need work.  Outward facing dots are located at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and these are repeated with white side dots too.

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the bone nut is a headstock identical to the DUC-3. It's a 'not quite' crown shape which is different enough and rather likeable. The Donner logo is inlaid in pearl and looks good too.

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele headstock

We also have the same tuners as the DUC-3 - so they are sealed gears with amber buttons fitted with rather nifty clear covers so you can see the gear mechanism. I liked them on the DUC-3 for no other reason than they were a 'bit different' and the same applies here. The looks have no impact on how they work, but they are fun. Thankfully, like the DUC-3, the gears work well enough too.

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele tuners

It comes fitted with their own brand strings, a couple of strap buttons, and the usual extras that come with so many Chinese instruments these days. That is to say you get a gig bag (a rather nice one too), a strap, a tuner and some spare strings. And the price for that is coming in (currently) at £50 or just under $70 US. They clearly alter their pricing to suit the market (as is their right), but it's interesting to note that this 'lesser' ukulele to the DUC-3, is currently £10 more expensive.  Still, it's a low priced ukulele whichever way you cut it though because of that dynamic pricing, the numbers listed here are only good for the date of this review - they will probably change many times going forward, so just bear that in mind. In fact, at the time of writing this they went out of stock!

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele extras

It's clearly well put together and finished too. I'm struggling to find much wrong here bar the sharp fret ends. I even like the strings well enough!  It's not overly heavy either, though whilst balanced along it's length at the 12th fret, it does have that habit of trying to fall back towards you. But still, thus far I am quite impressed with it.  It's comfortable enough to hold and that neck width and profile (bar the sharp frets!) is nice too.

The volume here is pretty decent and you will not struggle to be heard in a club jam, though the sustain is only average. That surprises me for such a thin top, but remember this is only a £50 ukulele. It's got a bark, but is not going to be so great for ringing melody lines.

But it's actually the tone that pleasantly surprised me the most. Before you think I am getting too carried away, sure, it sounds like a cheaper laminate and there is certainly a hint of the echoey boxiness that can plague cheaper lams going on here. But those cheaper ukes often also sound overly thin, dull and lifeless too. This one has a warmth to the sound that I rather like and it's quite rounded too. The dynamic range is good here too with the lows mids and highs not being lost in the mix and there is little muddiness. If anything I found the strumming a little TOO mellow and would like a bit more attack and 'in your face' tone, but again I am nitpickng.

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele back


Fingerpicking sounds brighter and is chimey and clear. It's clearly accurate too and plays precisely up the fretboard. It would be improved with more sustain, but it still handles this style well enough I suppose. For me though it's more of a strummer on account of that rhythmical quality the lower sustain provides.

I'm a bit taken aback by this one to be honest. Sure, it's plain looking, the product descriptions annoy the hell out of me and the fret ends should never have left the factory like this, but in all other departments it's ticking the boxes. And it's certainly ticking the boxes when you consider it cost £50. No it's not a high end tone, but it's competent, accurate and works well as a uke. You still need to bear in mind the warnings I give about Amazon buying though. This is clearly a 'better' one, but I can't speak for every instrument, and have seen enough bad Amazon examples to know that they DO slip through with pretty high regularity. Still, I can only review what I have in front of me. With just a bit of fret dressing this is a competent first ukulele and worthy of a recommendation.

It's nice to be surprised... and I have no doubt you thought I was going to be reviewing a monster here!

https://www.donnerdeal.com






UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Donner DUC-1
Scale: Concert
Body: Laminate mahogany
Bridge: Rosewood (?) Slot style
Saddle: Compensated bone
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Rosewood (?)
Frets: 18, 14 to the body
Nut: Bone
Nut Width: 36mm (29mm G to A)
Tuners: Clear back gears, unbranded
Strings: Carbon nylon
Extras: Gig bag, strap, tuner, spare strings
Price: Circa £50

UKULELE PROS

Good overall build and finish
Nice neck profile and comfort
Good volume
Round, warmer tone
Good price

UKULELE CONS

Please sack the product description writer!
Very plain looking
Average sustain
Sharp fret ends
Odd front to back balance
Touch of laminate boxiness

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8 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 - 8.5 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW






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3 comments :

  1. I have this Uke and love it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Had this uke for little over a month. Actually bought based on other reviews and didn't find this until I already owned it. Also pleasantly surprised with this instrument!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello,
    I bought it from Amazon recently (i know, better the local shop... but it's lockdown time in Italy!) and I have to say some quality details don't match the review, unfortunately. The pegs are hardly working. I had to send back the first copy because one peg was broken (from factory, no package damage) and on the second copy they are badly mounted. I have to tune it every 15 minutes approx (even if the strings are 1 month old). The armonic note is 3mm far from the 12th fret. Maybe I was just unlucky, or maybe the company is starting to save back the money they invested in the initial batches to build a good review basis. Still, the value for money is good enough.

    ReplyDelete

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