Keiki K2 Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

29 Jan 2022

Keiki K2 Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

When a particular ukulele concept does well on the market, you can be sure that other brands will look to capitalise with their own take on the same theme. This is the Keiki K2 soprano ukulele from Ortega.

keiki k2 soprano ukulele


There's nothing wrong with development of a concept of course, and the fairly recent uke that I am referring to here is probably the Flight Travel. That of course was an update of an instrument already brought to market by both Alic and Mahilele, with those inspired by the great Magic Fluke instruments that are still some of my favourites to this day. You could even argue that that Magic Fluke took their nod from Ovation guitars. That 'concept' is a plastic bowl back and sides onto which a wooden top is placed. They provide a certain extra level of ruggedness, but work remarkably well on tone. I loved the Flight, I love the Flea - will it be the same here?

Keiki K2 Soprano Uke


Keiki is not the model here, but is actually the name of a sub-brand / line of Ortega. You may recall I looked at the Keiki K1 Sopranino ukulele (but didn't much care for it). This is the Keiki K2 soprano though, and quite a different instrument altogether.  There is also a K3 line which seems identical to this bar the tops - whilst the  K2's are largely made of laminate agathis wood the K3's use laminate exotic woods like white ebony  and spalted maple. They are all laminates though.  The K2's come in a dizzying range of finishes including imagery like this 'El Muerto' Day of the Dead design, though many others, wood finishes and flat colours. It's fair to say, much like Flight's offering there is probably something for everyone though as designs go I find this one quite naive and not actually that well done.

In the body this reminds me very much of the Flight travel too both in shape and the general way it's put together. The back and sides in the bowl feel quite different though to the point of having a rough outer that one of my readers said looked like 'Asphalt...'.  However, I am not so sure the rough finish is a totally bad thing. If there is one common gripe I see about plastic backed ukuleles it's that they can be slippy if played without a strap against a sweater. Sure enough - this has lots of grip so I won't criticise it for that save for saying it does look damn ugly! It also avoids the fairly ugly injection moulding point on the Flight and indeed, the Flea and is uniform across the back. The agathis top doesn't look too thick and whilst the design is not for me, as I say, you get a lot of choice. That top is dropped onto the bowl back, but in a positive over both the Flight AND the Flea, there is no lip to irritate the forearm - rather it sits flush.

Keiki K2 Soprano Ukulele body


The bridge is a departure from the Flight and not in a good way in my view. Rather than an easy change slot style bridge they have gone with a plain, simple tie bar made from ABS and fitted with a white plastic saddle. It's screwed on to the top and not only looks quite ugly but I really think that a slot style would make more sense. I suspect these are plainly aimed at beginners and younger players so why go with the most challenging bridge style? Flight wins that round for me. String spacing is 40mm.

Keiki K2 Soprano Ukulele bridge


There isn't much to say about 'finish' as the back and sides don't need one. The top has a kind of satin I guess, but that could just be the print of the design. One thing I can state is that top print is not thick and overly heavy so shouldn't be affecting the top too much. In fact, I think it's a fairly light screen print.

Inside doesn't have a lot going on on the back and sides, being a moulded bowl. It's interesting to see the top attached to the sides with notched kerfing, presumably on account of that flush top edge. The top is braced too and the bridge supported by a plate.

keiki k2 soprano ukulele inside


The neck is more of a nod to Magic Fluke than Flight as they go with a wooden neck piece made of Okoume which is bolted on to the body. It's made of three pieces with fairly well hidden joints. That may please people who didn't like the Flight plastic neck, though personally I had no problem with it.  I prefer the shallower profile of the Flight though (this is quite round) though the spacing is similar at a smidge under 35mm and 28mm G to A. It's average I guess, but I'm not a fan of that profile. As ever - that is my subjective view - your mileage will vary. Flight edges this one for me though as comfort is more important to me than what is made from. Interestingly the scale length on this is about 13.5 inches so certainly a soprano (though a slightly long one) - yet the Ortega website has it listed at 14.3 inches. That would be nearer a concert scale. It's definitely NOT 14.3 inch scale.

Then we have the real difference over both the Flight and the Magic Fluke instruments. Topping the neck is a board they say is made from ABS, but if it is that, they've done a great job of making it feel more natural. This feels (and looks) to me like Richlite. But the big change is the use of metal frets. I see a lot of people concerned about plastic frets and whilst, personally I have no wear on them (including on a Flea of about 15 years old) it DOES rule out using wound strings or even compound strings like Aquila Reds. Metal frets are a game changer for those people I guess. It has a soprano standard 12 frets to the body and whilst they are quite skinny they are on the verge of having sharp edges. Considering this was not a loan instrument rather one bought blind I would be concerned about QC on that point. Position dots face out at the 5th, 7th and 10th and those are repeated on the side. For those seeing a need for a plastic backed uke but are put off by metal frets, this will be of interest to you over the Flight.

Keiki K2 Soprano Ukulele neck


Beyond the plastic nut (and, for info, there is no zero fret which seems an omission) is a headstock shape I thought looked silly on the small Keiki K1 (for being too large), but think it works here. It reminds me of the headstocks on old Vox guitars. That carries more of the same design work on the top with a black edging trim and looks good.

Keiki K2 Soprano Ukulele headstock


The tuners are unbranded open gears but are not too large and clearly use better quality mechanisms. They work ok too.

Keiki K2 Soprano Ukulele tuners


Finishing it off are a set of 'Aquila for Ortega' nylgut strings, a tail strap button, a drawstring bag very much akin to that which comes with the Kala Waterman, some picks, a clip on tuner and a strap (which very bizarrely attaches to the soundhole and NOT the strap button... eh??) And that comes in at about £60 in the UK. That's not a lot of money for sure, but do bear in mind you can easily get the Flight travel for £40 on these shores. OK, there are extras in the package, but as I always say, I wouldn't attach too much value to these. It seems to me the question is whether you think the wooden neck and metal frets are worth £20.. Oh.. and how the sound compares too..

Keiki K2 Soprano Ukulele extras
Note: They are not 'free' accessories - nothing is ever 'free'!


Generally speaking the build here seems pretty sound as is the finish. I'm not a fan of the nut width and profile and those frets really are too close to sharp than they should be, but otherwise it feels well put together. Comparing weight of ukes with more unconventional build materials to wooden ukes isn't really fair, but it doesn't 'feel heavy to me and comes in at 480g. It balances ok too. Set up at the bridge is a touch high, but within tolerance (about 2.8mm).

Volume here is pretty good and you will easily make yourself heard. Sustain is less impressive though with the ringing notes falling off too quickly for my tastes. Very average which makes for quite a staccato sound.

Keiki K2 Soprano Ukulele back

And then there is the tone itself. Well.. I suppose it works as a ukulele should and the notes are clear enough but there is a real boxy echo to the sound which I don't find very pleasant. It's also a very thin sound. Of course I have, naturally, done a side by side with the Flight Travel in the video below so you can tell be what you get from the tone, but whilst I thought the Flight was closer than I liked admitting to the Flea (due to price differential), I don't think this comes close to the Flight. It just doesn't have the roundness and sounds (to coin an awful term) 'plinky plonky'. I actually found the strummed sound very cheap and basic, whereas the Flight Travel sound belies it's price.

Fingerpicking is still thin but hides some of the boxiness and it plays ok right up the neck, but then if you put in a little strum, the thin echoey tone comes back. It's really not for me, but I understand how sound is subjective. Have a listen to the video and you tell me.  Fo me, it seems obvious that the Flight has more roundness to the tone, more sparkle and more sustain.

I suppose that its defence is it's clearly designed to be a 'fun uke' and not wholly serious, but then I'm sure you could say that about the Flight too - and that is not only cheaper but sounds better to my ears. The inclusion of the metal frets is the thing that keeps jumping back to the forefront of my mind, and I can see there will be people who are drawn to them. How many people though?  And, bear in mind that you are sacrificing tone, and for me, that's the most important thing. I certainly wouldn't spend more to go down a step on tone.

Be careful



UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Keiki K2 
Scale: Soprano
Body: Plastic back and sides, laminate agathis top
Bridge: ABS tie bar
Saddle: Plastic
Spacing at saddle: 40mm
Finish: Plastic unfinished, satin top
Neck: Okoume
Fingerboard: ABS
Frets: 12 to body
Nut: Plastic
Nut width: 34mm, 28mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded open gears
Strings: Aquila for Ortega
Extras: Pouch bag, picks, strap, tuner
Weight: 480g
Country of origin: China
Price: Circa £60

UKULELE PROS

Generally decent build
Not overly built
Design choices for all tastes
Metal frets / wooden neck
Good volume

UKULELE CONS

Frets on edge of being sharp
Wrong bridge choice
Poor sustain
Thin boxy, echoey tone
Not really price competitive

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 6 out of 10
Value for money - 8 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.8 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW







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6 comments :

  1. Some days we just have trouble getting the fingers to work!

    I can't help but wonder what a mellower set of strings would sound like. Not a big fan of the stock Aquilas. I can't argue, as tested, the Flight seems to have a deeper sound, lower overtimes, while the Ortega is much brighter.

    I am also not a big fan of the plastic neck on my Flight (But then, I picked it up for $15 so how much complaining am I entitled to?)

    I was hoping that the Ortega might be a good replacement for my Flight.

    But OK, even though I'm a bit disappointed in the results, this one earned your a beer...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha ha - yes - been a long day and I never really get to focussed on playing when it's a uke I know I don't like much.

      String change may change it, but to be honest I already find Aquila too mellow for me - Fluorocarbon would send that thin tone into overdrive I think..

      Thanks for the support!

      Delete
  2. This one doesn't appear to be available in the US, or at least widely available. Too bad. Seems to have some advantages over the the Flight.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. eBay - $70 or $80. I got one for $60 last night because he accepted my offer. I bought it for the looks alone.

      Delete
  3. Enjoyed the review. Your face is so expressive that from the screen shot, I laughed as I knew the direction the review would take!

    Will the wooden neck change whether this can be left in the car overnight or on hot days like the other travel ukes? I have yet to leave my Flight Slovenia in the car as its too pretty (!), and I'm afraid of the wood breaking away from the bowl due to temps. I've never heard of a limit on temps for an Ovation style travel uke. Our Maine winters are -22.1C and summers are now in the 32.2-35C, and that's outside of the car! Do I worry too much or do they indeed have limits, too?

    Does a tie bar bridge vs other kinds of bridges change sting sound or projection?

    Finally, the design may be "school boyish", this 'Senior College Gal' uke class participant (as in seniorish citizen college) loves that design! I'm chanting "You don't need to buy it, just because its cute!", over and over!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I saw one of these on eBay last night, and I couldn't resist. I made an offer, and I got it for $60, delivered. I knew it wouldn't be something worthy of the recording studio, but that's not why I bought it. As you said, it's "a fun uke," and for the price, I couldn't go wrong. I have quite a few "character ukes," and this will be a good edition. I bought it before I found your review, but that wouldn't have dissuaded me. Your reviews have "forced" me to buy quite a few ukes. : )

    ReplyDelete

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