Donner Rising-U Crystal Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

27 Aug 2022

Donner Rising-U Crystal Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

A return for a ukulele brand that has had a few outings on Got A Ukulele, but the first of theirs I have seen that is a plastic uke. This is the Rising-U Crystal Soprano from Donner.


Donner Rising-U Crystal Soprano Ukulele

Donner are a Far Eastern brand that are mainly the preserve of the 'Amazon Recommended' deals that I usually shy away from. But to be fair to them a couple of the wooden instruments of theirs I looked at in the past really didn't too badly on my scores and I have recommended them.  And from the off I will state that I recognise that plastic ukuleles always divide opinion. That's cool, and it's ok NOT to like them. My views are split with some I've really NOT cared for, but some i've found to be quite a lot of fun. The reason for them? Well, durability really - that's it. They stand up to knocks and bashes better than wood and are far less prone to fluctuations in temperature and humidity.

The Rising-U Crystal though (no idea about that 'Rising' name, so don't ask!) is part of a small series in which the standard carbon version is all black and in concert scale whereas this is soprano and kind of semi transparent grey. A word about the materials here as like SO many other brands, Donner call their Rising Concert ukulele 'carbon fibre' when it ISN'T carbon fibre - it's plastic with some carbon in in the mix. Carbon fibre is highly expensive woven matting in a resin. For the Crystal version, they drop the carbon wording and say it's made of 'crystal fibre'.. which has me even more clueless. Come on.. it's plastic!

Donner Rising-U Crystal Soprano Ukulele body


Anyway, I rather like the modern almost dreadnought shape of the body here which is reminiscent of the Lava U instruments. Unlike the carbon Rising uke, this has no cutaway shoulder and is a regular double bout.  Like other plastic ukuleles the back, sides and back of the neck are moulded piece on to which the fingerboard and body top are dropped on to create the sound chamber. I do really like the chamfered edges on the body making it extremely tactile to hold and that is also helped by the 'thinbody' style too. I also really like the matte finish to the outer which feels nice and means it's more fingerprint resistant. 

The bridge is part of the top construction moulding and is a slot style for easy string changes. Sitting in that is a straight topped plastic saddle which looks to be removable meaning you can adjust action height. String spacing here is 42mm.

Donner Rising-U Crystal Soprano Ukulele bridge


There is no other decoration on the body, and you will spy that the sound hole is offset on the upper shoulder. But what you will see, because it's semi translucent is the interesting internal ribs / bracing that are in a kind of bubble patchwork I like how they show through on the top and presume this is part of the 'crystal' name. I'm sure there is all sorts of gobbledegook out there as to how this affects the tone, but come on... it's a plastic uke...  It looks mighty cool though.

Donner Rising-U Crystal Soprano Ukulele sound hole


There's not much point to an internal picture as you can see the construction through the plastic, not just in the body but everywhere. 

The neck is integral to the back and sides moulding and has the same nice feeling matte finish. It tapers to a rounded profile and a stupidly narrow 30mm nut width and only 24mm from G to A. I couldn't play this for any extended period with my hands and have no idea why they made it so small. Even those generic far eastern sopranos that cost $30 have nuts about 35mm wide.. I have NO idea who thought this was a good idea. Yes, I know that hand size / nut width is a very personal thing, but really? 30mm??

Topping that is a plastic fingerboard, also semi clear with 18 plastic frets joined at the 14th and tapered end shaping to dodge around the sound hole. The usual warning applies here on plastic frets - in the short time I have to review these I can't comment on longevity, but one thing is for sure - do NOT use compound strings or metal wound strings unless you want to destroy them!! Position dots are in the form of depressions in the plastic between the frets at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th (??) and a double 12th. A 9th marker is standard for guitar but not for ukulele and I suspect that could confuse a lot of people and is just silly. (I am not getting into the reasoning as there are multiple conflicting reasons as to why they differ - but differ they do - and THAT is the worry. If a first timer buys this they will get foxed if they then play another uke and if a regular uke player buys this they will be foxed by the 9th!). Crazy. They are also hard to see and there are no side dots. I'm not impressed with this element at all.

Donner Rising-U Crystal Soprano Ukulele neck


Beyond the integral nut (setup incidentally is within acceptable limits on this one) is a really dinky headstock in a shape I rather like. The logo is a screen print and doesn't look out of place here and looks like a newer design for Donner.  

Donner Rising-U Crystal Soprano Ukulele headstock


The tuners are sealed chrome gears with tulip shaped buttons. Whilst I like the diminutive size of the actual gearing parts (which are clearly 'mini')  I think they are then let down by the size of the buttons themselves. You know me and sopranos, but these look huge  on the tiny headstock! They mainly work ok, but one of them has a weird clicking sound and feel when de-tuning, so there is something not right with it.

Donner Rising-U Crystal Soprano Ukulele tuners


Finishing it off are a set of un-named strings (which feel like clear nylon), a clear plastic gig bag (that some kids may like, but not something I'd be seen with!), a clip on tuner, picks, spare strings and a strap. Sadly the strap is a halter style which hooks on the sound-hole. I don't like those as they are merely a support not a hands free strap. Because of the sound-hole location here it's awkward to attach it too and I think it would have been nicer for them to fit a bolted on strap button as plastic ukes are notoriously tricky to drill into. And all of that is yours for reasonable asking price of about $69.99. I suppose it's priced in line with other plastic type ukes so I can understand it. Also, bear in mind that at the time of writing this, they are NOT available on UK Amazon. USA only this one I think. 

Donner Rising-U Crystal Soprano Ukulele bag


So something a little 'different' again in the world of plastic ukes, but of course making instruments from this material does give you a design freedom that is harder to achieve with wood. It kind of doesn't 'feel' like a soprano due to the body shape and maybe the slightly longer than average scale length. In fact, when I opened the box I genuinely thought it was a concert! The finish seems to be decent all round and I can't find any sharp edges or open seams. For a soprano it kind of 'feels' hefty and I suppose it is at 515g, but it does balance ok and feel good to hold.

The volume is distinctly average, and whilst not the quietest plastic uke I have played it's far from the loudest. It just gets by here. Sustain though is only distinctly poor meaning that it loses character, particularly when picked leaving it with a very one dimensional tone.


Donner Rising-U Crystal Soprano Ukulele back


You will see in the video though that my main gripe here is trying to play it. That nut width is ludicrously small which, when coupled with nylon strings which are much easier to bend, meant that to get my fingers on the frets in some chords left me with little choice other than to bend them. So of it sounds off despite the intonation being dialled in ok - that's the reason. It's a total flaw for my hand size, but I'd argue that 30mm is pushing it for anyone but the daintiest hand..  Maybe higher tension strings would help, but I am not convinced on that either.

Aside from all that the tone is not particularly entrancing either. Don't get me wrong, it has a bit of a bell like chime, and doesn't 'sound' like a plastic lunchbox as some of these can. But that lack of sustain and volume leaves it without much character or charm. Sure it sounds like a ukulele I suppose, but it's just that it's not any better (in fact worse to my ears) than some other plastic ukes out there. Again, it may be the strings, but it sounds a bit lifeless.

I think I wanted to like this one more than it turned out that I did. I fully admit that on opening the box (bag aside) I really liked the looks. It feels nice in the hands too. Yet then I spotted the niggles - the tuners, the lack of side dots, the guitar convention position marker which WILL throw people - and most of all the nut width. I always say this is totally personal and understand that whilst I don't like a 34mm many will. But 30mm is just nutty and suggests a lack of understanding of the instrument to me. I realise that sounds like 'bad workman blaming his tools' but playability for the majority of people really has to be an important point. I suppose I was then hoping that the tone would redeem it somewhat, but whilst it's not an appalling tone (i've heard worse in cheap laminate sopranos), it just doesn't beat several others out there that you could get for similar money. It can't give it a recommendation, unless I suppose, you have the tiniest hands on the planet...






UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Donner Rising-U Crystal
Scale: Soprano
Body: All 'crystal fiber' plastic
Bridge: Integral slot style
Saddle: Plastic
Spacing at saddle: 42mm
Fingerboard: Integral
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: Integral
Nut width: 30mm, 24mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded sealed gears
Strings: Unspecified nylon
Extras: Strap, Tuner, Spare strings, picks, bag
Weight: 515g
Country of origin: China
Price: $69.99

UKULELE PROS

Cool looks
Very tactile to hold
Well put together
Good price

UKULELE CONS

Poor sustain and little tonal character
FAR too narrow a nut
That odd fret marker
No side markers
Tuner button size
Dodgy tuner
Bag is silly, so is the strap
Not a fan of the strings

UKULELE SCORES

Looks 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 5.5 out of 10
Sound - 7 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.5 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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3 comments :

  1. My Enya is the least pleasing to my ear of my collection, but I can leave it in my car in 100+ degrees F, or outside overnight in the rain, without damage. Well worth having for practice, portability, bang for buck and just fun.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Looks, playability, and tonal quality aside, I don't buy plastic ukuleles. Why? The planet is glutted with plastic. The darn stuff never goes away. If they're building from RECYCLED plastic, that's probably ok, but Donner doesn't say that, now do they?
    On top of that, I hate Amazon. And Donner lies, calling it carbon fiber. That might warrant a visit from the US Federal Trade Commission, if enough people complain.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The true indisputable value of you, Baz, this website and your reviews is that you're not doing it to make a profit or hawk the sale of musical instruments. Hence, without a 'horse' in the race, your reviews reflect objectivity and carry greater weight. Plus, you openly and candidly admit that some of your observations are not criticisms but rather a matter of preference or individual taste. I can't tell you how many times I took a 'pass' on a ukulele that at first glance looked like a real winner because of what your review revealed. Keep up the fine work. You have nothing to prove or defend. And I like that you give an occasional shout out to the better luthiers and reliable dealers.

    ReplyDelete

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