Donner Rainbow Series Soprano Ukulele Starter Kit - REVIEW

17 Apr 2022

Donner Rainbow Series Soprano Ukulele Starter Kit - REVIEW

There have been a couple of outings for this ukulele brand on Got A Ukulele before, but this one moves to the real entry level. This is the Rainbow Series Soprano Starter Kit from Donner.


Donner Rainbow Soprano Ukulele


At first look I know everyone will be thinking 'ubiquitous / cheap / toy / awful'. Whilst I don't like to recommend many ukuleles at this price point and always suggest people saving more, the fact remains that some people struggle to live as it is and the concept of finding a spare £100+ for an instrument simply isn't an option. For people in that position, particularly those wanting to give a gift to a child they will naturally be drawn to the low prices on Amazon, and it's only right that Got A Ukulele features models from across the spectrum to help them out too. Therefore, I am always on the lookout for models like this that 'buck the trend' and represent something that does it quite well.  Sadly it doesn't happen often. The Makala Dolphin springs to mind (though regularly need some setup work), and so does the Octopus Soprano and the Bumblebee - all very cheap and all very passable.  Sadly, with this sort of uke there are far more misses than hits though, with models like the Ready Ace, the Ashton the Martin Smith and this Gear 4 Music monstrosity amongst some of the worst 'instruments' I have ever seen. Donner did fairly well with their earlier Got A Ukulele reviews though, so can they buck the trend with this one and give me another more positive option? Let's see.

The Rainbow Series sopranos (rainbow.. come in lots of colours... but of course..) are sold as beginner kits on Amazon with lots of use of words like 'starter' and 'child' in the product description. It's quite clear therefore who they are marketing these at and it is, for sure, ubiquitous in looks and design like some of those I mentioned above. Very generic, brightly painted, no frills.

Donner Rainbow Soprano Ukulele body


This is a standard sized and shaped double bout soprano. The product description makes things confusing for a review from the off as one part of the description says the back and sides are mahogany and another says maple. Both say the top is spruce though. With the paint there is no way I can really check which it is, but it's obviously a case of laminate woods in both. Whilst confusing, if they are accurate with their description that's still actually a step in a positive direction as usually these brightly coloured ukes are made from cheap rough basswood plywood or linden. Hmmm.

The bridge wood is not specified, but is likely a generic hardwood stained black. It's a bit rough on the finishing yet is not the worst example I have seen at even higher prices, and at least it's not thickly painted or made of plastic. It's a tie bar, which considering the target market would be far better as a slot style. Sitting in that is a straight topped plastic saddle which is also a bit scruffy. It's screwed down (not actually the bad issue people think it to be - some high end instrument screw them down - it's secure). String spacing here is 42mm.

Donner Rainbow Soprano Ukulele bridge


The finishes on these painted ukuleles are usually highly variable and often very thickly applied. Whilst this is not a thin finish by any stretch of the imagination, I have seen much worse with only a small bit of pooling around the fingerboard end on this one. Still there are some scruffy patches and due to the rushed application it has given it an 'orange peel' ripple rather than a smooth shine, but it's not a total horror show. There is no other decoration bar a sound-hole rosette transfer.

Donner Rainbow Soprano Ukulele decor


Inside is a mixed bag, but on the positive side it's actually lined and braced! That may sound like a strange comment but many of these are made from such thick top and side woods that they don't even bother with kerfing and braces as there is no need. If you are making your uke so thick that it doesn't need them that's bad news for resonance of course. The top is also not what I would call thin, but I've seen much thicker. There are a lot of scruffy wood shavings in it though and when I first picked it up it was rattling. I shook it an out dropped a lot of strips of a Chinese newspaper - presumably remnants to what they stuffed it with when it was being painted... Ughh.. There is no tail block, but the bridge is strengthened with a plate.

Donner Rainbow Soprano Ukulele inside



The neck is listed as Mahogany, but again, due to the paint I would have no clue on that nor how it is made (i'm guessing three pieces). It's as round as I expected it to be in profile at the nut and a narrow (if generic) 35mm wide (27mm G to A). Not for me at all, but considering the target market, kids will likely do just fine.

That is topped with a composite wood fingerboard, evident from the thin vertical 'stratabond' stripes running the length of it, stained black. Surprisingly the edges are bound in black to cover the very standard 12 fret ends, and even more surprisingly, they are dressed well on this example with no sharpness at all. In fact the dressing of the face of the board is pretty tidy too and even in colour even if the edge binding is very scruffy.  Colour me astounded!  Position dots face out at the 5th, 7th and 10th though sadly there are no side markers.

Donner Rainbow Soprano Ukulele neck


Beyond the plastic nut is a curvy crown headstock which is also a bit scruffy in the finish around the edges. The Donner logo is in a silver transfer under the sheen on the top face.

Donner Rainbow Soprano Ukulele headstock


The tuners are generic open gears that are unremarkable and, naturally, are all different tensions. None are loose though and the gearing looks half decent at first glance (though I am not convinced that gear is actually brass as a silver colour is showing through on the edges of the teeth). Oh, and the buttons are not huge monstrosities either!

Donner Rainbow Soprano Ukulele tuners


Finishing it off is what gives it the 'Kit' credentials. It is strung with what they claim are a set of Aquila strings (which I would wager good money are NOT Aquila strings - there is no swing tag and they are FAR too flabby), a cloth carry bag akin to what comes with a Kala Waterman, a clip on tuner, a strap that hooks on the soundhole, a set of unbranded strings that look like the set on the instrument (and also are not Aquila), some picks and a cleaning cloth. And that comes in (currently - dynamic Amazon pricing and all that) at £33.99 in the UK and $49.99 in the USA. OK, it's not ultra low bargain price territory but it's cheaper than a Dolphin.. It will certainly attract buyers on a budget.

Donner Rainbow Soprano Ukulele kit extras

I think you will sense that whilst I have a number of issues with this one on the cosmetics there are also quite a few surprises too compared to what you normally see with this sort of low priced uke.  Despite the scruffiness, the bridge and fingerboard are decent enough and the lack of sharp frets is a surprise. I really didn't expect it to be kerfed or braced and the finish is not the thickest coat I have seen either. Dare I say this one has a 'hint' of quality control?

But another negative from the off, and that's the action setup. This is far too high at the nut. I suspect this will affect intonation and considering most beginners play at first position this will make fretting much more uncomfortable than it needs to be. It needs work. The saddle though, surprisingly is ok with a string height of 2.5mm above the 12th. It doesn't feel to heavy though at 420g and is balanced ok. But, a word on those strings - as I said above I am sure they are not Aquila. I suspect they are cheap white nylon as they are stretchy like rubber bands so you'd want to swap those out too. All of a sudden a £33.99 instrument is going to cost a bit more to get right.

The volume is perfectly passable, and, in fact, pretty good. You will be heard. Sadly the sustain is really lacking making for a very staccato sound. Mixed bag once again.

Tone is always a tricky one to review on instruments like this considering their low price and basic construction. As such, you should consider the tone here in relative terms to other instruments in the same category. Overall though there is something to the tone of this that is not 'awful' here and actually pretty reasonable. For sure, the high nut makes it hard to judge on the video because of the intonation, but that can be adjusted. Yet there is 'something' to the sound that is ok. Strummed is very typically soprano because of the short sustain so it can be very rhythmical if a little boxy and echoey like many laminates are. Like the volume though, it's 'passable'. It shows where it lacks character more when fingerpicked though.  Clearly I should not get ahead of myself here - this is not a high end tone, but then why would it be? But compared to many other entry level sopranos of this ilk that I have played it is far from the worst. It beats most of them.

All in all my comments on this one need to be put in very clear perspective - no this is not a high end instrument, it's not even up there with many lower end instruments, but it sits in a category that for some people is their only entry into the ukulele world. In that category are a many very similar looking instruments that are utterly woeful in comparison to this one and I try to point those out when I find them. For sure, this still leaves me with lots of gripes, yet some positives too that surprised me considering the sort of instrument it is.  So I think it makes it into the very small range of the 'brightly coloured cheap sopranos' that I would probably name alongside the Dolphin, Bumblebee and Octopus if pushed. It's not quite up there with those ukes, but it's not the sort you want to smash with a hammer either. 

And whilst it's not the highest score - compare it to some others! It's all relative! Would I buy one? No, I wouldn't, but I am not the target market here.





UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Donner Rainbow Series
Scale: Soprano
Body: Laminate spruce top, laminate mahogany (?) maple (?) back and sides
Bridge: Unspecified wooden tie bar
Saddle: Plastic
Spacing at saddle: 42mm
Decor: Soundhole rosette
Finish: Glossy paint
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Wood composite
Frets: 12 to body
Nut: Plastic
Nut width: 35mm (27 G to A)
Tuners: Unbranded open gears
Strings: Aquila (no they are not...)
Extras: Cloth bag, clip on tuner, strap, spare strings, picks, cloth
Weight: 420g
Country of origin: China
Price: £33.99

UKULELE PROS

Not as bad a build and finish as some i've seen in this price category
Smooth, even fingerboard face
No sharp frets
Good volume
Tone that is not offensive
Not a lot of money

UKULELE CONS

Scruffy finishing in places
Slot bridge would make more sense
No side dots
Mis-matched tension on tuners
Awful strings
Poor setup
Limited sustain

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 7 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 7.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.5 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



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1 comments :

  1. Very nicely presented, Baz. Kudos. Not everyone can afford a better quality instrument and not every child or beginner will pursue the ukulele with any seriousness whatsoever. Some schools are on threadbare budgets with very little, if even any, wiggle room. As that old saying goes, you get what you paid for. But that's probably okay as long as one's expectations are realistic.

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