Fender’s Piha`ea ‘Red Hula’ Soprano sells for a song
- Soprano size, with all-laminated mahogany body; rosewood bridge
- Three-piece nato neck with rosewood fingerboard; D’Addario Nylatech EJ887 strings
- Synthetic bone nut and saddle
Ukuleles are kind of like the pork of stringed instruments. You can go for, say, a super-high-end braised Kurobuta pork-belly confit—a tantalizing, complex combination of flavors and textures. You can go bucatini with Italian sausage—rustic, savory, nothing too fancy. Perhaps you’d prefer a slab of baby back ribs—simple, straightforward, satisfying. Or you can opt for a crispy piece of bacon.
The Fender Piha`ea (which means “playful”) is that bacon. Sure, it will never match the richness and refinement of those other preparations, but who doesn’t love a strip of bacon from time to time?
There are definitely some attractive elements of this soprano. The rosewood fretboard feels comfortable and relatively smooth underneath your fingers. It also boasts vintage-style, open-geared tuners and a rosewood bridge with compensated saddle.
In terms of construction, the all-laminated mahogany body will not fool anyone into thinking that this is a solid-wood instrument; put another way, it feels very much like a cheap plywood uke in your hands. The review model had a little buzz on the C string, and you lose quite a bit of clarity when you gravitate to the upper frets. The overall sound is bright, too, lacking warmth or roundness.
That said, this instrument offers surprisingly powerful projection and reasonable tonal response, particularly in the open position. To be sure, this is a musical instrument, not a toy, and it is capable of generating some sweet tones, especially when strumming your basic chords. In the end, it sounds considerably better than you might think it would.
Perhaps my wife put it best when she heard me tinkering in the other room: “It sounds like what I expect a ukulele to sound like.” Considering the last uke I brought home was a glorious $1,800 all-koa Kanile`a KSTP tenor, I found her comment to be high praise indeed.
“Do you like it better than the Kanile`a?” I inquired. “Oh, definitely not—not even close—but it does sound like a uke.” Fair enough.
With its compact 1.31-inch nut width and narrow frets, the Fender may prove difficult for adult hands to maneuver. But as a beginner instrument, it certainly can provide plenty of hours of enjoyment and education—and it may even sound halfway decent to parents’ ears. The red screen-printed hula dancer on the uke’s top is kind of cute, too.
Plus, it’s about the price of a braised Kurobuta pork belly in one of San Francisco’s finest establishments. But make no mistake: Your kids will eat it up!