RISA Koa Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

6 Nov 2022

RISA Koa Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

A ukulele model that has been intriguing me for years this week. This is the RISA Koa Soprano!

Risa Koa Soprano Ukulele

Why the intrigue? Well I have known RISA for about as long as I have been writing this website, and have also owned ukuleles made by them. But that applies to their ELECTRIC ukuleles. Years ago when I was gigging I always took a RISA Uke Solid Stick with me as a back up (which saved my bacon on more than one occasion) and I love them. The RISA LP steel strung solid has become something of a legend too and is highly sought after. Heck, I know the UK RISA dealer personally, yet I was always aware that they had some acoustic instruments too - it's just that we don't see them on UK shores (and really not sure why)... So... I imported this one from the continent! RISA electrics are made in Europe, but I am not sure where the acoustics are made. Perhaps it's the same, but the specs or makers logo are silent on that. Answers on a postcard! Oh, and this is available in concert and tenor too, and also in mahogany or mango.

This is an all solid soprano ukulele built with what looks to be very traditional looks and layout, though with one or two elements that surprised me. Oh, and it just so happens to be all solid Hawaiian Koa too. Now, whilst I don't go in for the theory that Koa is some sort of holy grail (I do like it but I also like mahogany on sopranos), there is no doubt that it is considered to be a 'special wood', and perhaps the preserve of the higher end. The grain here is not the curliest or with the most stripe, but it's still attractive with a deep chocolate hue. Interestingly for a soprano this is made with two pieces on the top, back and sides, each book-matched nicely and with the tail joint coming with a thin inlay stripe. The top and back edges are also chamfered off meaning there are no jarring sharp edges.

Risa Koa Soprano Ukulele body

The bridge is made of ebony in a traditional Martin style slot design. It's very tidy and nicely finished. Sitting in that is a compensated bone saddle which seems to be sitting rather high to me, so we shall have to see how the action is at the 12th. Spacing here is 42mm which is above average.

Risa Koa Soprano Ukulele bridge

The only decoration to the body are some laser etched 'waves' in the sound-hole ring. I really don't like laser etching, think it's rather lazy and can look cheap. It's the case here and the other issue with it is that it can harbour polish remnants which you can see in some of the review pictures. The rest of the body is finished in a thin satin which feels great on the hands and comes with no flaws I can see.

Risa Koa Soprano Ukulele decor

Inside is extremely tidy with no mess. The braces are thin and tapered, and the kerfing is notched.

Risa Koa Soprano ukulele inside

The neck is made from mahogany and appears to be a single piece with a koa heel cap. It too is satin coated and tapers to a shallower than normal profile and a wider than average soprano nut at 35mm, 28mm G to A. Nice.

That is topped with more ebony for the fingerboard which is a deep black, but does have some annoying finishing marks in some of the fret spaces. There are 17 of those, joined at the 12th and being edge bound in black you cannot see or feel the ends. One thing I WILL say about the fingerboard is it is quite the hunk of wood sitting on top. I much prefer thinner boards myself and hope that wood above the sound-hole won't hinder the resonance. And in another surprise for a soprano, this has a shallow radius on the top. I don't think i've ever seen a radiused soprano before but indeed it does have one (albeit a slight one at 25.5 inches. I'm not complaining though! Perhaps that radius explains the need for a thick board. Position dots are fitted at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th  and 15th and these are repeated on the side.

Risa Koa Soprano Ukulele  neck

Beyond the bone nut is a crown shaped headstock, faced in more koa and complete with the RISA logo laser etched into the top face. Again, that looks cheap. Heck, I'd prefer a transfer..

Risa Koa Soprano Ukulele headstock

Tuners are good quality Der Jung gears with wooden buttons, but not the sort of thing I ever want to see on a soprano myself. Ugly ears! They work great and are not cheap quality, but just not for me on looks.

Risa Koa Soprano Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off are a set of Aquila strings and that comes in at an RRP of €499 from the RISA store though can be found cheaper in some of the drop shippers. I suspect pricing may vary depending on where you are as my searches have only shown this being available from Europe so VAT will vary on location (and the UK don't fare well here). That comes in about the UK price that you would pay for a Martin S1 Soprano and cheaper than the Kiwaya solid sopranos (Mahogany ukes, not koa), so probably about right if not good value. I know people assume sopranos should automatically be cheap, but there are some very professional models out there.

All in all a rather curious one this. It clearly has some high appointments like the use of koa and ebony (though let down by laser etching), the neck is nice (bar the scruffiness) and the finish is good on the whole. One thing that immediately struck me is that it feels very solid and almost hefty. The actual weight belies that at 475g, but it still feels substantial - let's call it 're-assuring'. Balance is good too. Setup too is just fine despite that tall looking saddle as it's only 2.5mm above the 12th and the nut is spot on as well although I am getting some intonation issues with play up the neck which you may sense in the video. 

Basics first and I always say the same thing about sopranos - that first and foremost they need to have a good bark when played strummed as they are designed to be rhythmical, forthright instruments first and foremost. A limp soprano with no life is not a good thing. Thankfully the volume and bark here are really very good indeed. It's like a cannon going off if you give it some welly.  Because of that rhythmical heritage and smaller body, I don't tend to get too put off by sopranos with low sustain as I like the staccato strums, but to have some is a nice addition (and the higher end sopranos tend to - meaning chord melody can be made more interesting). Thankfully again this is not too bad on the RISA either. In fact on both of these measures this is up there with some of the great sopranos I have reviewed.

Risa Koa Soprano Ukulele back

The tone itself is a little brighter than I would like from a soprano (hence my love of Mahogany in sops), and no doubt being created by the use of Koa, but it's not all that bad and there's some range to the tone if you listen for it. Strummed it has a great soprano jangle and bounce which is very nice although played that way I am noticing some overtones in the sound, almost like the uke is echoing with itself. I am putting that down to Aquila strings which have a knack of almost being too powerful on solid woods as this can sound a little overdriven when played hard. I find Aquila does the same thing to Magic Fluke Flea's making them boom.

Fingerpicking is chimey, but I am having some intonation issues up the neck which, considering the action being ok is either down to the strings or the break point at nut or saddle being off. Again, with some of these notes I'm getting echoey overtones too. I do not wish that to sound too negative as there is clearly a good tone in this instrument with terrific projection, but it's noticeably over-driven to my ears.

All in all a curious one from a very well respected builder. It oozes quality in most areas (bar the etching) and doesn't feel 'factory production line built. The volume is superb and there is a nice tone in there which I just think needs calming down with some string experimentation. Still it will suit many just as it is and it's clearly a very good uke. Recommended!


Model: RISA Koa Soprano
Scale: Soprano
Body: Solid Hawaiian Koa
Bridge:  Ebony, slot style
Saddle: Bone, compensated
Spacing at saddle: 42mm
Finish: Satin
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Ebony, 25.5" radius
Frets: 17, joined at 12th
Nut: Bone
Nut Width: 35mm, 28mm G to A
Tuners: Der Jung sealed gears
Strings: Aquila
Country of origin: Europe? China? Asia? Somebody tell me!
Weight: 475g
Price: €499


Very good build and finish (on the whole)
Attractive wood
High end appointments and woods
Very comfortable neck
Great volume
Good sustain


Slightly overdriven sound (string issue?)
Ugly eared tuners
Laser etching!!


Looks - 8.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10









  1. That rosette is most unfortunate...kinda ruins a nice looking uke. Why??? Who does that to koa??! From the video the tuners looks to be installed unevenly, sticking out more on one side.. but it's something mfgers almost never get right.


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