I’ve not posted a review for a while and I’m afraid my Italian hasn’t improved since my last post so I will have to post in English again.
The people at BugsGear asked if I would do a review of their new plastic soprano Ukulele that have called Aqulele I said yes, so long as I could be honest and they said that was what they wanted so here is what I honestly think of it. (As ever this review can also be found at Ukulele Corner with a sound clip and some pictures – http://home.ukulelecorner.co.uk/home/in-the-corner/soprano-or-standard/bugsgear-aqulele)
My Aqulele came in a pastel orange, (so burned sienna, that’s the posh description for pastel orange), with three black printed fret markers (at 5, 7 and 10), and two subtle black rings around the sound hole, apart from the bit where the fret board meets the sound hole. It is a Soprano with a 34¾cm (13¾ in) scale length and no zero fret. The neck meets the body mid way between the 11th and 12th fret with the fret board extending on the 14 full frets and 4 further partial frets down the side of the offset sound hole, the cutaway body shape provides easy access to all of the full frets, and though they do function I’m not sure the extra 4 are good for much other than decoration. The Ukulele is all plastic in construction except for the very reasonable metal geared tuners. The back, sides and neck appear to be a single molding with the soundboard stuck on as a separate piece and the nut/fretboard, (it a one piece molding), stuck on over that. The bridge and saddle is also a single block, so not easily adjustable, is stuck onto the sound board and the face plate of the headstock also appears to be a separate molding but I’m not sure why this would be because the neck and headstock is quite heavy and doesn’t feel hollow? The final piece is internal and is a strange, very thick piece of black bracing, kind of cross of Lorraine style stuck to the inside of the back. The joining together of all of these is a bit of a “Curates Egg” (good in parts for those that don’t know the saying) the headstock front plate and bridge/saddle are quite nicely done, the sound board, which has very little bracing, is ok; you can feel a little bit of a ridge in places where it isn’t quite lined up but not too bad. The parts that really let it down in the build are the funny black bracing thing, that appears to have a lot of extraneous glue around it and the fretboard which is quite dreadfully attached, with a large noticeable join, erratic gluing and some of the injection burrs still noticeable! This poor workmanship really lets the look of the whole ukulele down, it’s very much the kind of thing that would put you off buying one if you saw it in a shop. On the whole though, for all its gluing faults it feels quite solidly put together and I don’t think any of it is going to come apart on you. I feel I should say a little more about the bridge and stringing method though as this apparently have a special new patent. It’s a through the soundboard special slot affair that is simple, neat, works well and of course means the bridge will never lift due to string tension.
On to the sound and here my ghast was completely flabbered and my gob was well and truly smacked!! This sounds way way… way better than any other plastic ukulele I own, it has a much better sustain too. The tone has plenty of bass, (for a Ukulele), the middle is a bit woolly and not a huge amount of treble, which contributes to the woollyness but overall it’s a full resonant sound with a reasonable amount of volume and good sustain. If you heard it without seeing to or knowing it was plastic there is no way you would think this was any sort of toy. I don’t know what the funny black bracing thing inside is? But if that is what is responsible for the tone than that is the thing that needs patenting because it does a very good job.
For playability, the intonation is pretty much spot on, even on the little bit by the sound hole. The C string is the one that show the most compromise but even here war a less than half a tone off at the 10th fret (now I’m told mine came straight from the factory with no prior setting up and this is probably true because there is not a lot you can do to alter the setup; but it did stay in tune very well from right out of the box, like the strings had already been stretched and allowed to settle?) The action is good and if anything a little low, certainly too low for fingerpicking and the built in saddle means this is difficult to alter especially if you wanted to raise it. This lowness can lead, if you are not careful to some percussive clicking whilst playing when the strings and the fret board collide so it’s not a very forgiving player so maybe not the best one for beginners, (though this may just be my style of playing and using a feltrum certainly overcomes a lot of this). The tuners keep it in tune very well and the strings it came with are very good and feel like Aquilas though it doesn’t say they are One thing I did find was that it didn’t work as well if given a D tuning and this is unusual for a plastic Ukulele.
So do I think it will last? Yes, it is solidly if not carefully built and all of the components themselves are solid. The through the sound board string arrangement means there is no chance of the bridge lifting and as a fairly minimalist design there is no decoration to come off. Gigging would be difficult and you couldn’t easily fit a pickup but it would work well for Ukulele clubs and picnics. Being predominantly plastic it would be fairly easy to keep clean too especially if you were playing it while eating a jam sandwich, (which of course is something I never do). Would I get another one if I lost it? Yes it’s the best uke ever for playing while eating jam sandwiches; and it’s a good utilitarian player with an interesting design.
So to sum up (as I probably written too much) It’s not the most beautiful, finely crafted instrument, it’s not even particularly well made but I do think it’s good and would say if you are only going to get one plastic Ukulele get this one, it’s the best one for doing all of the things you want a plastic ukulele for. I do hope they sort out the gluing issues with the next batch because then it will be even better, and, (and I’ve managed to go up to now without even mentioning it), it comes with a reasonable padded gigbag.
Lardy ( http://home.ukulelecorner.co.uk)