A few weeks ago I was contacted by Beryl from Donner with the question to review on of their ukuleles. Although I said to myself to no longer review budget ukuleles since they are basically all the same, this one did look interesting though offering a lot of features and promises for a very low price tag. So I went ahead and since I’m a tenor guy, I picked one of their tenor ukuleles. Spoiler alert, I was quite surprised. Read on to discover my findings.
I was provided with a DUT-1 Mahogany Tenor ukulele for review by Donner which as of writing is listed at $65.99 MSRP. A concert version is also available. This review is based on an “out of the box” ukulele with no tweaks or adjustments of any kind. All pictures are of the actual ukulele that I’ve received. All views and statements are honest and stem from my experience with the ukulele over several weeks. No form of payment was given in exchange for a positive review.
What’s in the box?
The ukulele comes very well packed. Inside the sturdy cardboard box you’ll find a Donner branded padded gig bag. The gig bag is definitely a good quality one compared to some others I’ve received for free with a ukulele. Strings are loosened for shipping and attached to them are some labels giving more information about the ukulele and used strings.
Being the starter bundle, it comes with a few accessories in the box. There is a nice fabric strap with a neutral pattern, four Donner guitar picks, a Donner branded electronic tuner, an alternative clear fluoro-carbon set of ukulele strings and a cleaning cloth. Honestly, this the best accessory package I’ve received with a ukulele this far. The tuner simply works, the strap is high quality and the fluoro-carbon strings are a very nice addition.
Build quality and looks
What was I expecting from a $65 ukulele? Not much really, but the build quality is surprisingly good. The classic designed body and neck are constructed out of African mahogany. The edges on the body are finished nicely. The bridge is firmly in place without glue squeezing out and I appreciate the fact that you can restring your ukulele without doing the special ukulele knot method. The neck is attached firmly to the body and has a nice “wave” cutout where it touches the sound hole which make it stand out.
Speaking of the sound hole, it is encircled with a subtle wood inlayed rosetta which looks quite nice in my opinion. It’s nice to see something other than yet again an abalone inlay. Donner uses high density real cattle bone nuts and bridge saddles which should have better sound transmissions than plastic nuts.
Something that is highly underrated and typically only found on higher end ukuleles are the strap pegs on the ukulele. There is one at the bottom of the body and just above the neck on the body. This allows you to easily put a ukulele on your strap instead of struggling with strings and knots or straps that hook into the sound hole potentially damaging your ukulele.
Strings & Tuners
Like all Donner ukuleles, the DUT-1 comes from the factory with Aquila Nylgut strings. These strings are widely accepted to be the best-sounding ukulele strings you can get. They produce a warm harp-like sound and will complement the sound of every instrument. Donner however also includes clear fluoro-carbon ukulele strings if you want a different sound or if you play your ukulele a lot outside.
The tuning machines are quite unique and patented by Donner. They call it “quasi-closed” tuning pegs and has an 18:1 gear ratio compared to the standard 14:1 ratio. This should increase tuning accuracy and keep they ukulele in tune better. They did not need any tightening at all and have proven to be quite accurate. A few retunings were necessary but after the strings were broken in, it stayed perfectly in tune. You can learn more about how to properly tune your ukulele in this article.
Setup, Playability and Tone
While most entry-level ukuleles have issues with strings being too high off the neck (i.e. too high action), I was expecting it on this one with its $65 MSRP price tag. Although it could be a bit lower, definitely when you’re playing higher up the fretboard but it’s perfectly acceptable. There is a very decent electronic tuner included in the bundle, or you can une the ukulele with our online ukulele tuner of course. No buzzing anywhere along the fretboard.
Although this is a tenor sized ukulele and it should have a decent volume, it is more than decent without being too loud or sharp and loosing its tonality. It’s definitely more on the treble side of sound due to its mahogany build and quite different when compared with koa which has a typical full and warm sound. That’s however completely a personal preference. In its price range it delivers a very decent sound with a clear tone and reasonable volume.
On the box this ukulele came in it says that Donner tries to bring “enjoyment of musical performance to many people all around the world“. They hit the nail on its head with this ukulele. This is the one that I am going to recommend to people who are starting to play ukulele on a budget. For $65 you get a good tenor ukulele with all the accessories you need: decent gig bag, tuner, strap, spare strings, picks and a cleaning cloth.