Sunday, June 25, 2017

Outdoor Ukulele

There are many reasons to use alternative materials in the construction of musical instruments. Sometimes it is because traditional ones have become too expensive or restricted (like Brazillian Rosewood since the late 60's). Sometimes it is a pure cost savings measure like the use of laminates. Other times, it is to achieve specific performance goals.

Rainsong first made carbon fiber guitars to avoid the problem of very high humidity and wooden instruments. Those of us who live in the desert southwest value them for their ability to handle LOW humidity. In Phoenix a humid day means we use two digits.

This brings us to one of the newer players in alternative materials. Polycarbonate. Yes the same plastic used for fighter jet canopies and bullet-proof "glass".

I'm going to call this one GHOST...

Why polycarb?

Well for one it's immune to humidity, and it has a melting point just under 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and this is Phoenix. Not quite the surface of the sun even if it does sometimes feel that way.  It was not quite 120 degrees out when I took that picture.

Outdoor Ukulele is a Father/Daughter team up in Bend Oregon, the actual injection molding is done in Idaho, that makes the Outdoor Uke Made in the USA.

Mine is a tenor.

I paid an extra 5 bucks to have a strap button installed where an endpin would go on a guitar. The polycarb is not quite clear, there is some glass fiber in the mix to give it a nice frosted effect. Size wise it is slightly smaller than a Kala, and about 1/2 inch less body depth.

Since it is assembled using cyanoacrylate glues from two pieces, there is a seam between the top and body, and between the fretboard and the neck. This seam is actually recessed a bit. You can feel it with your fretting thumb, but it's not sharp or anything like this. Feels somewhat like a bound fretboard. Pinless bridge design similar to the old Tacoma guitars. In this case one ties a figure 8 knot in the end of the string and drops it through a hole in the molded in bridge.

 Everything is molded in. Frets, nut, saddle. So, nothing is adjustable whatsoever.

Outdoor Uke is using actual Grover open backed geared tuners. Bonus points for nice tuners. I'd prefer sealed ones, but open back are all the rage these days, and name brand tuners are a nice touch. Mine are nickel with black buttons. These nicely match the black dots on the fretboard. Note, there are no side markers. So we have to assign a few negative points for that. I normally don't use markers on the fretboard since you normally can't see them when holding an instrument, that's why they are normally on the side. I might add one at the 3rd and 5th fret.

How does it sound? Aye, that's the rub.

It's fairly quiet. Sustain seems to be about the same as my wife's spruce topped Kala. But it definitely quieter, and does not project as well. I don't have a mahogany topped uke to compare it with, but it definitely has fewer overtones than spruce. Several on-line reviews have stated that these sound considerably better once one changes out the stock fluorocarbon strings to Aquila Nylgut (possibly the new Reds). Aquila would be my preferred strings anyway, so once these wear out I'll switch.

So while it's not quite as good sounding as a wooden uke, it's also impervious to heat to roughly 240 F, and you can take it and leave it places that would utterly destroy a wooden instrument. Of course, a carbon fiber uke would do the same thing. Those are well over $1000 bucks though, which is always relevant.

This was a bit of a lark, and if I stick with the Uke I will probably get a Kala for playing out and use this one for more outdoorsy stuff, which is of course, what this type of uke was made for in the first place.  

Bottom line: Great instrument for camping, backpacking, or singing around the campfire. You probably want an actual wooden one for recording or gigging.

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