When I was contacted by UkuTune a few months ago to ask if I wanted to review one of their newest ukuleles, I didn’t hesitate. That’s because the first one I’ve reviewed, the UKE1 solid spruce concert ukulele, ticked all the right boxes for a mid-range budget ukulele. This UKD90 one is however in a different league. Can it compete with the high end Hawaiian ukulele brands?
I was provided with this ukulele for review by UkuTune which as of writing is listed at $399.98 MSRP. Only a tenor sized ukulele of this configuration is available but several other types are available in different styles. 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 well packed in a study cardboard box. Inside the box you’ll find an unbranded black gig bag and an extra string set. The bag is well padded compared to other gig bags included “for free” with the ukulele like for example the Strong Wind ukuleles. On the other hand, at the price point it’s currently set ($399), a good gig bag should be no surprise.
Let’s get the facts out of the way first. This is a 26″ tenor sized ukulele made out of solid flamed koa wood. The fingerboard and bridge are constructed out of black walnut. The neck and headstock out of Okoumé. Everything is finished with a premium glossy finish. The headstock is slotted and comes with Aquila Super Nylgut® strings. It has an Ox bone nut and saddle.
Build quality and looks
I’m a big fan of how this one looks. It reminds me a little bit off the limited edition Taylor Guitars ukulele which is one of my all time favorite ukuleles. The beautiful natural grain of the koa wood shines through the glossy finish not only at the top, but also back and sides. The UKD90 ukulele by UkuTune does have a bit more flair though as it features abalone inlay around the top and an abalone rosette.
There are no fret markers on the fretboard, instead there is a natural flowing vine inlayed with abalone. While I generally find inlays like this on the fretboard a bit too much, this one strikes a very nice balance without being over the top. I do miss some kind of fret markers though, especially when it’s not present on the fretboard itself, it should be present on the side of the neck with some small dots.
I couldn’t find any rough edges or glue squees-out on the unit that I’ve received. One small finish imperfection where the neck touches the top around the rosette, but that’s it and hardly noticeable unless you’re looking for it.
To conclude, this ukulele is quite the looker in all of its flamed koa wood glory and has a very premium feel. Combined with a very good construction, manufactured by a professional luthier with more than 10+ years experience, this ukulele promises to be some heavy competition to some of the much more expensive ukuleles in this segment.
Setup and playability
Straight out of the box and after a quick first tuning it sounded great. All notes across the fretboard sounded perfect without any buzz and the intonation was spot on. Action is a bit on the high side for me, but nothing compared to lower end ukuleles. It stays in tune for each playing session, but I do find the need to retune it every so often before starting a new session. Tenor has always been my go-to ukulele size and this one features 19 nice wide frets which makes it very comfortable to play. Strap buttons on the body would’ve been nice.
Due to the anatomy of koa wood, instruments constructed out of it should sound warm and rich. Luckily this is the case. It has a very full tone with some nice bass, however still sounding clear. Don’t expect much treble and stingy sounds from this one. If that’s more your preference, take a look at their UKR15 ukulele made out of spruce. Combine the beautiful sounding flamed koa wood with the tenor size and you have an amazing acoustic projection as well.
Strings & Tuners
Like all UkuTune ukuleles, the UKD90 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.
The tuning machines are open back placed on a slotted headstock, just like the UKE1. They did not need any tightening at all and have proven to be quite accurate. They stay very well in tune during a playing session. You can learn more about how to properly tune your ukulele in this article. The tuning heads are made out of some kind of glossy orange material giving the ukulele a nice accent.
Nut & Saddle
As expected in this price range, no plastic bridge or nut, but Ox bone. Plastic ones are relatively soft and don’t do a good job in transferring the vibrations of the string to the body. You can easily take out the bridge and sand it down a bit if you’d like to lower the action. The strings go through the body and are held down with pegs. This gives the ukulele a more premium look instead of the knot-tie variant.
While the glossy finish might attract quite a lot of fingerprints, I’m sure that it will attract quite a lot of ukulele players as well. This ukulele looks the part, but fortunately it also plays the part. It’s definitely not cheap at $399, but when you compare this with a “true Hawaiian” ukulele with roughly the same specs it’s a steal. The AKK3 aNueNue immediately comes to mind as a competitor: solid koa wood body, tenor size, open back headstock and a nice gloss finish. The AKK3 does however have an ebony bridge, ebony fretboard and buffalo bone nut and saddle. Is that worth the price point of $1000 though?
While the abalone inlay trim around the body, the rosette and fretboard is at the edge of being a bit too much, I find that it looks nice especially due to its good construction and eye for detail. While some strap buttons on the body and fret markers on the neck might’ve been nice, the ukulele is hitting almost all boxes: it looks nice, has a premium feel, has a good build quality and above all, it sounds better than good.
If you’re serious about playing the ukulele and looking to upgrade your ukulele to a higher end model with that typical Hawaiian look, feel and koa sound, but don’t want to spend $1000+, this is the ukulele is for you. It is for sale directly from UkuTune at the link below.
For a limited time I’ve been provided with the promo code “20OFFUKE” which will give you a 20% site-wide discount.