Ibanez UEWT5 Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

2 Aug 2020

Ibanez UEWT5 Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

This week Got A Ukulele returns to a brand name well known in guitar circles, but perhaps less so in the world of ukulele. This is the UEWT5 Tenor from Ibanez.

Ibanez UEWT5 Tenor Ukulele

And it's not the first I've looked at for this Japanese origin brand. Back in 2017 I looked at the largely disappointing UKS10 Soprano Ukulele. The current Ibanez Ukulele line up is not huge and this Chinese made model is, in fact it's their only tenor offering as at the time of writing.  Let's dive in.

At first glance this is an attractive looking tenor, albeit one with a clumsy name.  It's a pleasingly swoopy double bout body shape with an overly rounded butt which works well with the pairing of the florentine cutaway on the upper shoulder.  That shaping coupled with the otherwise simply adorned body immediately resonated with me as matching my tastes.  The body is made from all laminate sapele wood with two pieces on the top, sides and dead flat back. It's a similar looking wood to mahogany and there is some nice distinct stripe in the deep orange brown outer veneer here which shimmers in the right light. I like it.

Ibanez UEWT5 Tenor Ukulele body

The bridge is a slot style shaped in a reverse moustache and made from purpleheart. And you certainly get to see the purple hue of this tropical hardwood on this one! It's screwed in place. The saddle is not specified, but looks like a composite material and it is heavily compensated on the 2nd and 3rd strings. All very tidy though I do think the purple wood hue looks a little odd against the body.

Ibanez UEWT5 Tenor Ukulele bridge

As I say above there is not much other decoration here, so the edges are unbound. You do get an abalone soundhole ring, but that is it. I like it for that fact. The body is then finished in an open pore satin which feels nice on the hands. What I really don't like about it is how severe the joints and edges are around the whole body (and particularly the cutaway). There is absolutely no chamfering or softening on any of the joints and it makes the instrument, frankly, horrible to hold. It's angular, it's sharp, it's..... ugh.. Really not nice on the strumming arm.

Ibanez UEWT5 Tenor Ukulele decor

Inside is very tidy. The kerfing is not notched, but neatly applied and the braces (including fan bracing on the top) are thin enough. You'll also see that the laminate top on this is extremely thin which is promising.

Ibanez UEWT5 Tenor Ukulele inside

The neck is made from okoume and in three pieces with very well hidden joints at the heel and headstock. One thing I do not like is the overly large heel with black end cap. Not sure why it needs to be that big or shaped like that. My gripe is purely aesthetic though as it's perfectly comfortable. The profile is typically far eastern rounded, but thankfully the nut is not too narrow at 37mm and 30mm G to A. I could live with that.

The fingerboard is made from purpleheart, though a piece with much less (if any at all) purple hues as  seen on the bridge. If anything, if it WAS more purple it would probably mean the bridge wouldn't stand out so much.  It's edge bound on all sides with black strips, but sadly these don't help the fact that the fret ends on this one are some of the sharpest and worst finished I think I have ever seen on a ukulele. They are abysmal and should never have left the factory like this. To be clear, as the edges are bound, this is not so much the result of 'fret sprout' caused by changes in humidity - they simply have not been end dressed properly and catch the hand when moving up the neck. Appalling. Incidentally you get 19 of those with 14 to the body. Outward pale dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th and i'm glad to see you also get them on the side too. Two other things to note about the neck is that the fingerboard here has a 15inch radius curve on the top. Some people adore those for comfort so will be pleased to see that here. It's therefore such a shame that comfort is completely ruined by the sharp frets, but there you go. You also have a truss rod in this model accessed via the sound hole. I remain firmly in the 'WHY?' camp when it comes to these on ukes. Truss rods on guitars are there to counter the significant tension from steel strings to create a 'bow' of relief in the fingerboard. You just don't have that tension in a ukulele so what is it countering? Added to which, the inclusion of them just leads to the ill-informed taking to social media groups and (wrongly!) claiming that a truss rod is for adjusting action. IT'S NOT!!! Think about it. Kamaka have been making some of the greatest ukes on the planet for 100 years. Do they feel they need a truss rod? No they don't.

Ibanez UEWT5 Tenor Ukulele neck

Beyond the composite nut is a narrow and attractive shaped headstock which I think also works well with the body. The Ibanez logo is laser etched in the top face.

Ibanez UEWT5 Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners are unbranded open gears with slightly large chrome buttons. Whilst they don't look overly cheap on the metalwork quality, they are all very different tensions in use. Not the worst, but not the best either.

Ibanez UEWT5 Tenor Ukulele tuners

You get nothing else with it bar the strings. When I first opened the box my heart sank to see the black strings as I thought they were the same cheap black nylon i'd seen on their soprano. But no, these are Aquila Black Nylguts, called 'Nylblack' - a string line developed by the Italian makers specially for Ibanez. They are Nylguts... in black...  That's a better choice! And for that you are looking at a street price of around £100. At first glance that's a reasonable price I suppose, however it puts it in a very congested part of the market with a lot to stand up against.

Overall it's well put together, and save from those awful dressed frets and the sharp angular edges to the body joints I can't spot any other build issues to be massively worried about. It's also well balanced at the octave and not to heavy to hold at 660g / 1.45lb.

The volume here is good and sustain isn't too bad either. Yes, i've heard better on both fronts, but there's really not much to complain about here. Another complaint though is that the setup on the 3rd string is far too low and there is a noticeable fret buzz. It's not something that in isolation would affect my scoring and is relatively easily fixed, but it's another quality control 'fail' to add to the fret sharpness. Not good when the issues mount up.

The tone itself is inoffensive. It certainly has a touch of boxiness and you know you are playing a laminate, but it works. It's a touch too thin and bright for my tastes, but not the worst I have heard on that score either.  Strangely it's the fingerpicked sound I prefer here rather than the strummed. Strummed it comes across as a bit mangled and 'clicky'  to my ears, but it's prettier when picked I think. I am nitpicking though really because the tone really is passable and shouldn't really let anyone down. In fact some people like the zingier, more shrill sounding ukes. I just like a bit more warmth and balance. Play comfort is another matter of course!

Ibanez UEWT5 Tenor Ukulele back

But that term passable really highlights why it's tough for me to give this a hearty recommendation. At the price point you are really spoilt for choice for reliable brands, some making instruments that punch well above their weight. The Baton Rouge Sun series tenor springs to mind, but so do the cheaper laminates from VTAB. And of course, you have Kala and Snail in that mix. I've played many ukes from those brands and they not only sound decent, but have quality control largely in the bag. Yes, this could be a one off of course from Ibanez, but I can only review what is in front of me. And when it's more than one QC issue, and one of them was the exact same problem I saw on their Soprano (sharp frets), I start to wonder how well they are being checked. Then bear in mind these are not really sold in uke specialist stores who would weed this stuff out.. Not a good mix.  Still, if you like to tinker this can easily be setup better, and I could do so myself. The question is.. why would you do that when you have so many alternatives that seem to be more reliable?

Not a howler of course, but based on this example at least, it's something of a disappointment. Sure, it's probably easily tidied up, but when you have those alternatives, why would you? Be careful.

https://www.ibanez.com


UKULELE SPECS ROUND UP

Model: Ibanez UEWT5
Scale: Tenor
Body: Laminate Sapele
Bridge: Purpleheart
Saddle: Composite?
Neck: Okoume
Fingerboard: Purpleheart
Frets: 19, 14 to body
Nut: Composite
Nut Width: 37mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded open gears
Strings: Aquila Nylblack
Weight: 660g / 1.45lb
Price: Circa £100

UKULELE PROS

Nice clean looks and shape
'Generally' well built
Light and balanced
Resonant thin top
Radius fretboard
Good volume
Reasonable price, but against a LOT of competition

UKULELE CONS

Sharp angular edges to body joints
Woeful fret dressing
Cheap tuners
Thin brittle tone
QC issues to consider?

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6.5 out of 10
Sound - 7.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.9 out of 10

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