Epiphone EpiLani Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

17 May 2020

Epiphone EpiLani Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

This week it's a ukulele model that really did go under the radar with me. In fact I didn't even know it had launched! This is the Epiphone EpiLani Soprano.

Epiphone EpiLani Soprano Ukulele

There was certainly little fanfare on social media and I don't recall seeing any press releases or marketing from Epiphone on this one, but I believe they launched earlier this year at NAMM.  It also marks something of a departure from Epiphone's ukulele offerings of recent years. Regular readers will see the name of the brand here and expect me to automatically take issue with it. That's perhaps understandable since my review of the Epiphone Les Paul ukulele went on to be hugely divisive but it's also unfair. I simply thought that uke was not very good and dared to say so. They followed that up with their Hummingbird ukulele which, whilst not perfect had some redeeming qualities to be fair. Yet people take that first review to mean I dislike Epiphone full stop. One person actually claimed I was trying to destroy their business. Utter nonsense. I have owned several Epiphone guitars and adored them. I just didn't like the Les Paul uke!! What I also find sad looking at the Epiphone website is not only do they seem to have dropped the (far better) Hummingbird, they have put the price up on the Les Paul too. Sheeeeesh...

But the departure here comes down to the fact that those last two Epi ukuleles were designed to look like guitars. Either the Les Paul electric or the Hummingbird Dreadnought acoustic guitar. The EpiLani differs as it looks like.... well, it looks like a ukulele. Very traditionally too. Dare I say, even 'Hawaiian' looking. And that also comes through in the name as well. I don't believe they are in partnership with Lanikai, but rather the word 'Lani' in Hawaiian means 'heaven', and they went with something 'island sounding'. (Lanikai incidentally is both the name of a beach and a girls name, but translates as 'heavenly sea'.).

Before we get into it, a couple of side points that really made me giggle.. The box claims that the ukulele was 'designed by Epiphone luthiers in Nashville'.... Hmmmmm there's nothing particularly new in the design here as you can see, and they are made in China.  Secondly, the box also says that this is 'every uke players favourite size'.. Now... Soprano is certainly my favourite size, but I can think of many people who would disagree! Marketing departments eh?

Traditional looking indeed, this is a standard soprano scale with a typical double bout body. It's made of all laminate woods, though not only is it hard to find a reference to that on product specs, I even found it hard to find out what type of wood it is. Even Epiphone's own website is silent on the subject for reasons that are completely beyond me. It looks like mahogany vener and the Thomann shop website confirms it is. It's made from two pieces on the top, sides and slightly curved back and looks rather nice actually. The top woods are far more attractive than the sides with the veneer showing some nice stripe and shimmer in the grains. It's rather pretty!

Epiphone EpiLani Soprano Ukulele body

The bridge is made from an unspecified material (you will notice a theme in that regard with this uke...) and is a tie bar style. Looking at it more closely it's made from laminated thin strips of wood which I assume have then been stained black. It's a method I have seen before and is a cost saving measure. It's not something that offends me though. The saddle is straight topped and 'looks' like Graphtec TUSQ, but again, Epiphone make no reference to that. If you are using a proprietary material like that you would almost certainly say so on your specs, but as they don't it could well be black plastic. The whole thing is glued and screwed in place. One thing that does stand out to me though, and it could be an optical illusion, is that the bridge seems to be low on the body. That is to say there is not a lot of room between the back of the bridge and the base of the ukulele. That usually worries me a little as it pushes the bridge down and off the most resonant part of the top. That can affect volume, so we shall see.

Epiphone EpiLani Soprano Ukulele bridge

Decoration is provided by black edge biding to the top and back, and inlaid wooden rope marquetry around the top edge. It's very traditional and I think it looks great. It's a shame that they didn't repeat it around the sound hole, but still, it's nicely done. The body is finished in a simple satin which is tidy, if a little factory / artificial feeling.

Epiphone EpiLani Soprano Ukulele decor

Inside is extremely tidy with simple, very thin braces and notched kerfing. I can see no mess. The profile of the top also reveals that it is not overly thick laminate either. That bodes well too.

epiphone epilani soprano ukulele inside


The neck is, naturally, unspecified, but looks like a sapele or similar pale hardwood. There is an obvious joint in the heel and a hard to spot one at the headstock.  The profile on the back is a bit too round for me and it's also a very far eastern 34mm at the nut with 28mm G to A. That's too narrow for this player.

That's topped with more of the laminated and stained hardwood in which you can clearly see the strips of wood on the fingerboard. It's nice and even in colour though and has a touch of shaping at the dusty end. It's fitted with 15 frets joined at the 12th and edge bound in black, but sadly they are in need of edge dressing as they are mostly sharp. To be fair to Epiphone, that is the first QC issue I have noted with it and such things can be fixed. It's just that most big box shipper sellers of these are unlikely to even open the box. Position dots are inlaid in pearl at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th (guitar company mentality!!), a double at the 12th and at the 15th. Sadly there are no side dots at all. Grrrr..

Epiphone EpiLani Soprano Ukulele neck

Beyond the nut (same material as saddle - looks like TUSQ but probably isn't) is the usual Epiphone ukulele headstock. I still think it looks skinny but it's hardly offensive. It's faced with more mahogany and has the Epiphone logo and motif inlaid neatly in pearl. Sadly there is what looks like a 'ding' in the top edge, but is actually caused by the mahogany veneer being too thin at the edge.

Epiphone EpiLani Soprano Ukulele headstock

Tuners are unbranded sealed gears in black. They work ok and despite me much preferring friction pegs on a soprano, I love the look of the black metalwork here.

Epiphone EpiLani Soprano Ukulele tuners

You get nothing else with the package apart from Aquila strings, which will set this apart from other models at this price point that offer much more. And these can be had for around £79 or $79. That's still a pretty keen price and now a good $100 less than the Les Paul RRP...

So, all in all a well put together instrument and one I very much like the look of. It's light enough too and the balance is ok. The setup is also pretty good with this example with the nut in particular being far better cut than most 'out of the box' cheaper ukes.

Epiphone EpiLani Soprano Ukulele back

Volume first and this is where you find it is only average. It's not ultra quiet, but it's not going to wake the dead either. Very much middle ground on this point and that is a bit of a shame. Sustain is much better though and actually surprised me. Not achingly long of course, but not short. That will make for more character in the playing.

Tone wise I have to say it's somewhat generic and has a certain boxiness when strummed that many cheaper laminate ukuleles can tend to display. It's not a poor sound though and I have heard MUCH worse, but equally you can find more rounded laminate tones at a similar price. To be fair, it doesn't lose much footing when strummed but it's still a touch echoey and 'rubber bands on a box' at times. I could live with it I suppose, and it is far nicer than (for example) the uke I looked at last week, but still..

Fingerpicked though it is much nicer and actually has a bit of chime to it, helped no doubt by the better than average sustain. I found this sort of play really nice and really only hampered by the combination of narrow round neck with my large hands. Still, many will find it comfortable enough.

All in all on tone it's a mixed bag for me, but certainly with nothing that I would say means it should be avoided at all costs. It's just that I can easily come up with other recommendations which I think sound nicer. Still, it's a very good looking uke and for many the name will be another deciding factor.  Whilst it doesn't quite tick all the boxes correctly, there isn't a huge amount to really dislike here. I like the looks and the build is very good in most areas. No, it's not high end and sure, some things irritate like the sharp fret ends and lack of side dots, but it's not a howler. The price is cheap enough too (though the lack of any extras may expose it in a very congested end of the market). The the sustain is decent though the volume only average, and whilst the tone is a bit boxy, it's hardly unpleasant to listen to. Like I say - mixed bag.

Most of all though, I can't help but thinking that THIS is the sort of ukulele Epiphone should have put their efforts into when they launched the LP and wanted to get on the ukulele bandwagon. But then, Got A Ukulele would never have had the 'years of fun and laughter*' that followed with blog and video comments.... (* joke)

No this one doesn't stand out like a bright beacon in the uke world, but for me it's still another good choice at the beginner end and one I think may well be worth adding to your list of choices if you are shopping for a first uke.

https://www.epiphone.com

UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Name: Epiphone Epilani
Scale: Soprano
Body: Laminate Mahogany
Bridge: Laminate hardwood, tie bar
Saddle: TUSQ? or black plastic
Neck: Unspecified
Fingerboard: Laminate hardwood
Frets: 15, 12 to body
Nut: As per saddle
Nut Width: 34mm, 28mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded black sealed gears
Strings: Aquila
Price: £79 / $79

UKULELE PROS

Generally sound build
Nice classy decor
Good finish
Decent tuners
Good sustain
Good price (though no extras)
Chimey sound fingerpicked

UKULELE CONS

Narrow nut
Sharp frets
No side markers
Only average volume
Slightly 'boxy' tone

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.6 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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