So like I say why? Well that can be a lot of fun visually, I love some of the patterns and the old marbling, faux wood effect makes me laugh every time. I also like that they gave up on pretending it looks like wood and realised it could be an attractive finish in its own right. Some parts of them can work very well; the back and sides for example, there are some very good sounding Ukuleles that have a plastic back and sides. The moulded plastic fretboard; these can be very accurate for intonation, (so long as you remember NEVER use steel strings on a plastic fretboard), especially on a budget model. Then of course there is the nuts, saddles and buttons...
Anyway, I digress, I’m quite a fan of Plastic Ukuleles so when Bugsgear announced they were going to start production of an all plastic acoustic Soprano branded the Aqulele I was interested in how it would be. Visually the first ones were one colour and all white or a light pastel shade, with the classic Bugsgear offset sound hole and part fret board running down the side, a look I have always thought distinctive, (I'm told there is some science behind it but I've also seen the “science” pooh poohed?) Then looking on Bugsgear's website, as I do occasionally, I saw they were looking for volunteers to review them so I thought "why not?" and applied. Bugsgear were kind enough to accept my application and had Normans Music, (their UK distributor), ship one to me for review. While I was waiting for it to arrive Bugsgear also sent me some design drawings of the next batch of Aquleles and these apparently will be much more colourful and two colours with the fret boards in a different colour to offset the body.
So it’s here now, and I’ve said thank you, (and done all of the sucking I that I feel appropriate to a manufacturer that gives me a Ukulele), I’m not going to give it back without a court order but everything I say from now on is guaranteed my unvarnished opinion with no bias because I got it for free, (I wouldn't have accepted it if I couldn't say what I honestly thought), I’ve given the back story so no skeletons can pop out of closets and I’d better get on with earning it.
The obvious first, mine is from the first batch 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 moulding with the soundboard stuck on as a separate piece and the nut/fretboard, (it a one piece moulding), 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 faceplate of the headstock also appears to be a separate moulding 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 “Curate's 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 that 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 woolliness 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, (as always), 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 finger picking 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 soundboard 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 predominately 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.