Outdoor Ukulele Nickel Tenor - REVIEW

12 Feb 2020

Outdoor Ukulele Nickel Tenor - REVIEW

Well here's a ukulele brand that has been a long time coming on Got A Ukulele... and I wondered if it ever would. Say hello to the Outdoor Ukulele Tenor.

Outdoor Nickel Tenor Ukulele


Outdoor Ukuleles first came to my attention back in around 2013 when I first saw their original soprano model. They are makers of what are ostensibly plastic ukuleles, set up by Scott Seelye in Bend Oregon USA, and, perhaps unusually for a plastic ukulele, that is also where they are made. Regular readers of Got A Ukulele will know that I was quite open about the fact that the first soprano of these I played I thought was rather dreadful. It felt bad in the hands and played badly too. In fact I played about three of them and they were all the same on that front. Still, that was seven years ago and since then I have heard a lot of buzz about how much they improved with their subsequent generations, including positive views from players I place a lot of trust in. But being US based, I always found the shipping and duty costs to get one into the UK for review were wholly restrictive and that cost together with the fact that Outdoor didn't want to send a loan model over are the main reasons why they haven't featured on GAU... Until now. We got there in the end. But more on that pricing later.

So this is an injection moulded plastic ukulele (polycarbonate to be precise), but with some additions that set them apart from most other plastic ukes. It comes in soprano or tenor flavours. You also get a choice of colours and material types. In the case of this blue model (and indeed the white (called Moonshine), brown and green models, the plastic here is impregnated with glass fibre strands to give it some grain and supposedly to  increase the strength. They also make a black model called the Carbon, which uses a percentage of carbon fibre strands in place of the glass to make it stronger still (and supposedly brighter in tone as well). Straight up lunchbox plastic this is NOT. Does that make it unique? Well, I suppose it was initially, but readers will now be well aware of the Enya Nova U which also uses a polycarbonate with a similar addition of carbon fibre and the new Lava U  does the same. Other brands always catch up with your ideas and I guess you should take the fact that Enya and Lava are doing it as flattery. It's no longer unique though.

The real deal here of course is the clue of the name. "Outdoor". Since they launched, the brand have billed these as being rugged, take anywhere instruments. Ukuleles for all elements, rain or shine. And to be fair to them on that score they do also provide you with test specs for how they will stand up and claim these will survive temperatures from -40 Celsius to 120 Celsius. That's impressive and I know many owners who keep these in their cars with no problems at all. Of course that is not to say that other plastic ukuleles will NOT stand up to the same treatment, but Outdoor are the only brand I know of who went to the trouble of testing them and making the claim on their site. Plastic is also more resiliant to bumps and knocks too, and considerably more resiliant to humidity changes, so it's not just about heat. As for water... we will come on to that later..

Outdoor Nickel Tenor Ukulele body

So with this tenor model you get a traditional double bout shape and standard tenor scale with a very attractive curvy outlise and a rounded base. I do like ukuleles that are shaped like this so was immediately taken with it. Clearly this one is blue with a capital B, (it really is VERY blue!) but as I say above you get a choice of some other colours too. I like this though. They are all, with the exception of the black model, a semi transparent colour which I also think works well. Rather than the outer being slippy and shiny it has a pleasant matte texture which feels nice on the hands. Something about the moulding process though means that it comes with some finish marks that kind of look like scuffs or clouds but are more the grain marks in the surface of the polycarbonate. It gives parts of the body an almost white appearance in places  which looks really untidy. I've seen pictures of the Carbon model where these marks are much more noticeable, but you can still see them on the blue too. No doubt they won't be noticeable on the white model, but still. You can see them on the photos here as well as the fingerprints it easily picks up.  Like many other plastic ukes, it's essentially made from two pieces - a moulded body back and sides which runs into the back of the neck and headstock in one piece, and a top, fingerboard and front of headstock dropped onto the body to create a two piece sandwich. It's a sensible way to work with plastic of course as the less joints you have to deal with the better. One thing that plastic construction can't avoid is the injection moulding point on the top of the back. I think it looks ugly, but at least it's on the rear. so nobody else sees it.

The bridge is moulded into the body top and the saddle is integral too. It's worth noting that this means that in the event you did want to change the action, it's going to be a real pain as you have no saddle to remove.  That means you need to sand the top of the saddle down and there is no way to raise it. It's basically a slot style bridge with what Outdoor call 'horn shaped slots' (what kind of horn, I really don't know!). It's a nice idea and really simple. Tie a large enough knot in the end of the string, push it in the hole and pull it tight.

Outdoor Nickel Tenor Ukulele bridge

There is no other decoration to the body and nor would I want there to be. Being plastic, that likely involve paint or transfers and they will only rub off. I like it unadorned.

Inside there is, naturally, not much to see. Due to the construction there is no need for kerfing linings, and there is no back bracing either. The top bracing is a fan affair running down from the soundhole to the bridge area. You also get the Outdoor makers sticker on the inside on the back whch is cool looking.

Outdoor Nickel Tenor Ukulele inside


Up to the neck, and as I say this is integral to the body. The profile is still square-ish, reminding me of the first soprano model, but much more subdued than I remember the original being.  The nut is a really pleasing 38mm ( and just over 29mm G to A). I actually find this a very comfortable neck and like it.

Naturally the fingerboard is plastic too with integral moulded frets which means every instrument is as accurate as any other. You get 19 of those with 14 to the body. Unlike some other plastic ukuleles there is no zero fret so you are relying on good setup by Outdoor for the nut. Position markers in the form of indented dots painted white face out at the 5th, 7th, double 12th and 15th, but sadly there are no side dots at all. A silly omission in my opinion.  Plastic frets are often a worry for people and lately there has been something of a bit of noise online reporting fret wear on some other plastic ukulele brands. I've seen one comment online about something similar with Outdoor, but it may be a one off. Do also note that their one year warranty will not cover you if you use wound strings or indeed strings with copper powder added (i.e. Aquila Red). That seems a fair and sensible caution to me, but I am conscious that a snapshot review like this cannot tell you how these frets will stand up over a couple of years. I may report back, and certainly will if I see any more reports about wear.

Outdoor Nickel Tenor Ukulele neck

Beyond the moulded in nut (which seems to be cut ok to be fair) is a simple but nice looking square topped headstock. I like it for that, and also like that it is stamped on the back with the model and the notification it was made in the USA. I'm not sure why but it gives it a sense of quality in the way the rear stamp on old Martin's would. What I like less is the front logo which is a sticker on the front of the headstock. I'd much prefer if that was painted on, or possibly etched. I know some people who own this model who have removed theirs and I can see why. Stickers + clip on tuners + time... No thanks.

Outdoor Nickel Tenor Ukulele headstock

Tuners are Outdoor branded open gears with what I think are stupidly large tulip shaped black buttons. They look to be great quality tuners in themselves and are very much like Grovers but the buttons are too big for my tastes. Whilst I can just about live with them on a tenor, it's a shame to see they fit them to the soprano too where they really do look like big ears! The metalwork here is nickel plated (hence the nickel in the name) but they also offer this model with gold plated tuners for a bit more money.  Interestingly, I believe Outdoor used to fit actual Grover's with smaller oval buttons to earlier models which annoys me as I would much prefer them. I would like them to go back to the smaller buttons.  As an aside, at the beginning of the review I said I would come back to water.  Metal tuners on plastic ukuleles, particularly those that extol the virtues of 'take them anywhere ruggedness', always confuse and amuse me. Metal tuners are NOT waterproof, and will lose their oil / grease if they are perpetually wet. They will also rust if they are not dried off or exposed to salt water in particular. Fair play to Outdoor though as their website advise fully drying them off if you use the instrument in water. Still, you should be wary, though why you would want to play a ukulele in water, I have no idea! Everything else is waterproof of course.

Outdoor Nickel Tenor Ukulele tuners

Other than that you get a set of D'Addario Fluorocarbon strings, and that brings me on to the price. In the USA these retail at $155. That's a fair bit of money I guess for a plastic ukulele, especially if you compare it to things like the Waterman at £40. But, to be fair, I must say, it's clearly a much more competent beast than the Waterman! Much more. But still, it's not cheap.  But of course the 'value for money' element depends of course on how it plays. The problem of cost is exacerbated for those of us in the UK even if it is not really the fault of Outdoor. As I said above though, it IS the reason I have not been able to get one. Shipping one to the UK will take the price to $213. But that is not all. There is every chance it would get stung by customs charges adding both 20% VAT to the total, import duty of 2.5% and probable post office handling charges too. The worst case for us Brits is you could be looking at a total of over $250 ( £190) to get one over here. I think that's far too much no matter how good it plays. Thankfully, a chap called Steve Kyle at Ukeshop in Tyne and Wear managed to arrange to be the only UK dealer for the Outdoor on these shores. Better still, I picked this up from him at £160 - so that's pretty much pound / dollar parity (the norm with ukes for us Brits) and no import taxes to worry about either! That's excellent and now provides a fair opportunity for those of us in the UK to get one without selling a vital organ. My comment about price still applies though. It's still a fair bit of money for a plastic uke! Accordingly, it's important to note that the scoring on 'value for money' in this review is based on the $155 / £160 price. (Incidentally, for those of you in the UK - I don't think Steve has lots of these in stock, but he advises he can back order them and turn that around in a pretty quick timeframe.)

All in all there is much to like here so far with only one or two gripes. It IS put together well with a decent build (bar those annoying marks in the plastic) giving it a tactile feel and no obvious seams / gaps / rough edges which plague so many plastic ukes.  It's quite a bit heavier than you would expect it to be, but hardly a real lump and is rather nice to hold, almost re-assuring. It is, however, body heavy. That's a much lesser issue to me than a ukulele being neck heavy, but I should still mention it as it's so obvious when you hold it that the base of the uke is pulling down. That might be even more pertinent if you take Outdoor up on their offering of installing a pickup too as that will put more weight in the butt. It's annoying.

Another gripe comes with the fact that these don't come with strap buttons as standard either, leaving you with the conundrum of how to attach a screw to a plastic body, or pay Outdoor for them. (You read that right. They charge for strap buttons). Now, when you get them fitted by Outdoor they use a nut and bolt rather than a tapping screw which is sensible as it won't stress the plastic. All well and good, but you couldn't do that yourself. Well, you could probably just about fit one in the tail, but the neck button that Outdoor fit is put in the heel before the instrument is constructed. So be wary of that. I have seen photos from people who have fitted buttons to these using tapping screws and have created minor cracks in the plastic. I can't believe I am writing so much about strap buttons, but there really is an easy way for Outdoor to deal with this. Just fit them as standard. Please.

Anyway, lets have a play. The first thing I can confirm is that it is very comfortable in the hands, and particularly the fretting hand. Fretting hand comfort is, of course, subjective and depends on hand size, finger length and dexterity, but for this six foot four guy with large hands, it feels really nice. Talking of that neck, I always test plastic ukulele necks for rigidity since I reviewed the Korala Explore Ukulele which had a neck that bent like rubber. I can confirm that here you can just about move the neck a touch, but only if you really give it some welly. You'd never bend it playing it in my opinion.

The volume here is also very good, as is the sustain. It's a very clear and balanced projection and one I am quite happy with.

Outdoor Nickel Tenor Ukulele back

The tone also surprised me to be fair. Unlike some plastic ukuleles this really doesn't sound like one. No, it doesn't sound like a wooden ukulele, of course it doesn't, but equally it doesn't fall down with the usual plastic, echoey sound that so many ABS ukuleles suffer from. There's more roundness here and, dare I say it, some rich character. Of course, if you have brought yourself up on sweet tone woods you may still dislike the tone, but it has a tone of it's own and works as a musical instrument for me. Strumming is easy to get rhythmical and it doesn't seem to lose footing or get muddy. Fingerpickng is really rather sweet and assisted by the comfortable neck. I really rather like the tone. It's interesting to note that they claim the Carbon is brighter. I would not want it brighter than this myself.

I also know that readers will be keen for me to compare this to the Enya Nova U plastic. I actually think that is a little unfair as they are different body shapes, depths and different scales (slightly). Still, I have done something in a bonus video below to answer that question but don't intend to go into that difference here. Have a listen for yourselves. You tell me..

To sum up, there is much to like about this one, but with some annoying niggles and gripes. It's generally very well made, I think it looks great and plays very well too. There is also no getting away from that ruggedness and the testing Outdoor have done on temperature resiliance. Some of the finish annoys but I understand that this is what moulding process delivers. I wonder though if they could find a way to smooth it off before sale. Things like strap buttons and side dots should come as standard in my view and I'd prefer the saddle to be removable in case I wanted to adjust the action or intonation.  Thankfully this arrived being  just fine. But you never know what will happen over time or with a string gauge change. The price is still on the high side for me, even with the route available to UK buyers which avoids duty charges, but maybe that is me unfairly comparing it to the usual ultra cheap plastic ukuleles on the market. It's not actually an expensive ukulele in the scheme of things. All in all though, I think this is an instrument well worth a look, particularly if you want that perfect 'take anywhere / leave in the car' ukulele that doesn't sound like a lunchbox.  I get that some people will never want a plastic ukulele and this review 'probably' won't change their mind, but as plastic ukes go, this sounds a plays better than you would imagine.  Overall, it's Got A Ukulele recommended and for those of you in the UK, would heartily recommend speaking to Steve!

And as a final bonus - Steve has let me know that he will knock £10 off the asking price of a Blue or Carbon if you use the code 'Gotaukulele' at the checkout!

https://www.outdoorukulele.com

UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Name: Outdoor Nickel
Scale: Tenor
Body: Polycarbonate with glass fibre addition
Bridge: Integral to body, slot style
Saddle: Integral to bridge
Neck: As per body
Fingerboard: As per body
Frets: 19 (14 to body)
Nut: Integral to fingerboard
Nut width: 38mm (29mm G to a)
Tuners: Outdoor branded open gears
Strings: D'Addario Clear Fluoro
Extras: None (cost extra items available from Outdoor)
Price: $155

UKULELE PROS

Great overall look
Rugged as you like, with some real world testing
Very comfortable neck
Nice tuners (but shame about the buttons!)
Great volume
Good sustain
Nice rounded, not wholly plastic tone

UKULELE CONS

Some annoying cloudy surface finish marks
Overly large tuner buttons
No side markers on neck
Fixed saddle and nut prevents easy setup changes
Charging for strap buttons is cynical
A touch expensive for what it is

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.6 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



OUTDOOR UKULELE COMPARED TO ENYA NOVA U





GOT A UKULELE IS NOT BRAND SPONSORED - DONATIONS KEEP THE SITE GOING!




THANKS!

11 comments :

  1. Hi Barry, interesting review. I'm impressed by the sound of the Outdoor, but still it's too much money for a plastic ukulele. I own a white version of the Enya which I bought from Amazon for £69-99. The Enya sound is a little thin in comparison but is a lot more aesthetically pleasing. At the price I'd still choose the Enya, but as you said it's not really a fair comparison. Keep up the good work, I always recommend the beginners at uke club visit your site.

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  2. I prefer the Outdoor tenor, but it would be interesting to compare it with an Enya tenor if they come out with one.

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  3. Difficult to compare tenor to concert(ish). I personally like the brightness and clarity of the enya (which I own) and think, in an ideal world, this would be the one to have as a 'take anywhere' portable option that can take a bit of abuse then come home to a more mellow, wooden (tenor for me) uke.

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  4. Barry, I just watched you Outdoor Ukulele review. I have Moonshine Tenor Gold. I put the Aquila REeds, Low G on it as soon as I got it. It give a very mellow tone and excellent sustain. Also added a Double K&K pickup with no regrets. I live in South Alabama along the Gulf Coast and my Uke lives in my car. Our temps here run from the 20"(f) to over 100(f) in the summer and the humidity is thru the roof all year long. I have used it while swimming hoping to see if Dolphins would come to it's tone...so far, not yet, but they will play with my boat from time to time... I now have lights in it and everybody seems to love it when I turn them on. Here in the USA<I find the price to be extremely fair considering the abuse our weather can dish out on a instrument left in the car. I doubt a wooden Ukulele would survive the summer here if treated like my Outdoor is. I find it's very stable in tuning regardless of where it is and only needing a minor adjustment one and a while. The Cloudy marks you mention I see them as the woodgrain of a wooden Ukulele. It's the "Character" of the thing and no two are alike, especially if you put lights in it... I also have their Carbon Banjolele with the white head. Very mello tones after I put on AQUILA wHITES, not overly loud as many of the wooden ones are that need muffeling or a well trained hand to keep them from overpowering everything else in the room. ( I lit it as well as the bracing in the back makes a beautiful pattern with the lights on... Wish they had a Gig bag for it though, mu only complaint on that one.

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    Replies
    1. Be careful with those Aquila Reds - they are specifically excluded from the Outdoor Warranty for fret wear.

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  5. Thanks for the comparison video - it was very informative. As you said, not quite fair as the Outdoor Uke is almost four-times the price of the Enya as well as physically larger. This looks like a really nice ukulele that's probably too much coin for what it is; if I were to spend that much money I'd probably rather add an extra c-note and get something nicer in wood.

    Have you thought about reviewing the new one from Lava music, with or without the fancy onboard electronics? That's another relatively high-cost plastic uke, but if there's one that doesn't SOUND like plastic it might be worth it. At least in pictures it looks more like a luxury product while the Outdoor Uke, as nice as it is, *looks* cheap to me, even though I know it isn't.

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    Replies
    1. Hiya - yes, keen to get the Lava on the site and trying to sort something out.

      (ps - the Outdoor is not 4x the price of the Enya - The Enya is £80, and the Outdoor is £165)

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    2. I meant double the price.

      Math is hard.

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  6. Based on the sound, I would definitely buy the Outdoor. The Enya sounds thin while the Outdoor sounds rich and mellow.

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  7. I would go for the Waterman if I was in the market for a plastic uke—which I'm not. First it's a tenor, my preferred size. I think the sound is more full and richer. And the neck width on the Enya is just too narrow. Both have a niche that they fill very well. The Enya id inexpensive. Sounds good and is compact. The Waterman is Larger, deeper and has a better sound to it. For the money, it's a pretty good instrument. If I lived on the water, or spent a lot of time on it, I'd seriously consider getting one. But I only go boating on the Mississippi once or twice a year. A car interior with closed windows here in Wisconsin, USA can get up to 140°F (60°C) and right now as I write this, it is -14°F (-25°C). If I was going to keep a uke in my car, I'd have to go with the Waterman as well. That heft in plastic would serve it well. Not sure about what strings would stand up to those temps though. Excellent review as always.

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    Replies
    1. IF you ever do decide to get an uke to leave in the car, I would shy away from the Waterman. I bought an abs plastic uke (Basically the Korala that Baz reviewed but sold under a different name) to have as a cheap take-anywhere option here in Maryland. One day while in the car the neck got soft in the heat and bent in the direction of the string tension. What was a reasonably nice utility uke became an unplayable mess in no time.
      What I learned -
      I LOVED having a go-anywhere (including the boat) plastic uke.
      The cheap cost I spent on an experiment was absolutely worth it.
      I will have a similar utility uke again, probably an Enya Nova U or, more likely, an Outdoor. The utility of such a beater combined with known temperature tolerances will be worth it for me.

      Delete

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