VTAB EL-55D Concert Ukulele - Review

3 May 2020

VTAB EL-55D Concert Ukulele - Review

I very welcome return this week to a ukulele brand I have not seen for a few years. This is the VTAB EL-55D Concert.

VTAB EL-55D Concert Ukulele


VTAB are a US company who have ukuleles made in China and I was first introduced to them direct back in 2017 when they strarted production. I was staggered by their quality at such low prices and at the end of 2017 gave them the credit of my brand of the year. Back then they were really only available direct from them, and sadly I've not seen any models since then. Things have been developing though and they are now represented by distributors which means they can be found in real bricks and mortar stores. That is a very good thing. In fact, this one has been loaned to me by the UK distributor, Red Chilli Audio, so thanks to Steve Helm for arranging this one.

The EL-55 Series are a range of entry level laminate mahogany concerts in a range of stained colours. The D on this model signifies the 'dark' colour, but there is a beetroot coloured one, a grey / blue and a natural wood finish. I stress the word 'stain' here as these are not gaudily painted or brightly coloured. They are actually nicely subdued and very much 'see through'. Consindering I am someone who doesn't like coloured ukuleles all that much, I really rather like the colour range here.

This concert is traditionally shaped with a double bout and we have two sheets of mahogany on the top, sides and slightly arched back.  Being mahogany veneer, it's largely unremarkable to look at though in some lights there is a touch of shimmer in the grain.  It's nice.

VTAB EL-55D Concert Ukulele body


The bridge is a through body style using a very funky zig zag shaped bridge plate made of walnut. I think it looks fun and different. That holds a compensated bone saddle. I would prefer them to revert to rosewood now the CITES restrictions are eased somewhat though.

VTAB EL-55D Concert Ukulele bridge


There is no other decoration on the body anywhere, and I like it for that fact too. You know me and plain ukuleles... It's finished in an open pore satin which is simple but flawless. In fact, much like the VTAB's I looked at in 2017, the build and finish on this one are very good indeed. I can't find a single issue.

Inside is tidy too with notched linings, thin braces and no mess that I can spot. Very tidy.

VTAB EL-55D Concert Ukulele inside


The neck is made of mahogany with a joint at the heel and one halfway up the neck. Whether the stain is helping here I don't know, but they are pretty well hidden. The profile on the back is not overly round or chunky, though it's only and average 35mm ( 28mm G to A) at the nut. I'd like that a bit wider myself.

That is topped with a walnut fingerboard which looks to be in great condition and is even in colour.  Even so, as with the bridge, I think it would look better in rosewood. It's edge bound in something dark too, hiding the ends of the 18 frets (14 to the body). It also means there are no sharp fret ends at all. You get outward pearly dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th, a double at the 12th and one at the 15th. Thankfully these are repeated on the side in the same places.

VTAB EL-55D Concert Ukulele neck


The headstock is not faced and is a pleasingly simple shape. It has the VTAB logo etched into the top end and is as tidy as the rest of the instrument. Not much more to say here!

VTAB EL-55D Concert Ukulele headstock


The tuners are unremarkable, sealed chrome gears with no branding. They work ok though and the buttons are small.

VTAB EL-55D Concert Ukulele tuners


Finishing it off are a set of Aquila strings, strap buttons in both the base and heel and a functional branded gig bag. But the hot take here is the RRP of £79.99. Sure, I know it's a laminate uke, but that is still a very good price and I can think of many which are comparable on build (and looks) that will cost you a bit more than that.

Thankfully that build and finish isn't the only nice thing to say here. It's also set up very well with nothing I would change, but of course, such things differ from instrument to instrument. In the hands it is light and balanced too, and just looking at the edge of the soundhole and how thin the top laminate is, I can tell it's going to be resonant.

And that certainly comes through in the volume which is really, really good here. This is no shy instrument and has a punch to it that reminds me of some of the best sopranos I have played. It's great. Sustain is pretty good too, and whilst not stellar is not something I found myself thinking negatively about.

VTAB EL-55D Concert Ukulele back


But I know that this is still just a laminate instrument. Should I expect much on the tone stakes? Well whilst I can't say it has a high end characterful tone, I really rather like the tone it has. Unlike many other cheap laminate instruments I don't find it boxy or echoey sounding. No it's not ultra rich in tone, but it does have character of it's own and a 'fun' and bouncy sound. Strummed there is a decent brightness on the higher notes coupled with some warmth in the background which rounds it out and I am not sensing any muddiness. It gives it a jangly sound that I really rather like. A lot of fun to play!

Fingerpicking really surprised me too with a nice chimey tone that really rings out right up the neck. You'd think I was describing something that cost several hundred pounds here, but no... it's an eighty quid laminate box. For me it certainly punches above it's weight and sits firmly alongside the likes of Baton Rouge's and Chinese Kiwaya's on sound and build quality for me - possibly even topping them on the latter. And.... it's a fair bit cheaper then both of them. What's not to like?

My gripes here are minor. Sure, some may find the plain finish a bit too austere (though do check out the beetroot coloured one!). I'd like the nut a 'touch' wider, and I suppose a bit more richness in the tone. But for £80 the build, finish and volume are all excellent and it plays very well.

Highly recommended and a perfect first ukulele!


http://www.vtabmusic.com
http://www.redchilliaudio.com

UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: VTAB EL-55D
Scale: Concert
Body: Laminate mahogany
Bridge: Walnut through body style
Saddle: Bone
Finish: Colour stain and open pore satin
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 18, joined at 14th
Nut: Bone
Nut Width: 35mm, 28mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded sealed chrome gears
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Strap Buttons, Gig bag
Price:£79.99

UKULELE PROS

Simple clean looks
Very good build and finish
Great volume
Bright, fun jangly tone
Great price

UKULELE CONS

Would like slightly wider nut
Some may find it 'too' plain
Not much else wrong here!

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9 out of 10
Sound - 8.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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2 comments :

  1. Minor grammatical error ...
    I think you meant to say "Thankfully that build and finish ISN'T the only nice thing to say here."

    Sounds like an absolute cracker.

    ReplyDelete

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