From the Summer 2016 Issue | BY ADAM PERLMUTTER
The hazards of traveling with a cherished instrument are well documented—see “United Breaks Guitars” on YouTube, for example—as are the deleterious effects of water and humidity on wooden instruments. This presents quite a problem for the ukulele player on summer vacation.
Or does it?
I tested a trio of plastic ukuleles impervious to water, two of them costing not much more than an extra carry-on bag on most airlines. All fared well when subjected to a beach day and a mountain hike, respectively, in Los Angeles, and even when played outside on an all-too-rare rainy day here.
In advance of your summer vacation, pick up one of these ukes—or all three—and travel without worry.
KALA MAKALA WATERMAN SOPRANO
THE LOOK: Kala’s Makala Waterman is a loving tribute to Maccaferri’s plastic Islander ukulele, which debuted in 1949, so it’s got a cool mid-century modern vibe. Like its benchmark, the Waterman is available in a range of eye-catching finishes. Our two-tone test model has an aqua top and black neck, back and sides: a pleasing combo.
THE FEEL: It’s a joy to hold the Waterman. Despite an action that could be a little lower, it plays very well along the length of its medium-sized neck. The instrument’s injection-molded plastic body removes the anxiety that can arise when traveling with a fine wooden instrument.
THE SOUND: The Waterman has a warm, smooth tone that belies its plastic construction. Like the others in this roundup, its molded frets make it intonate perfectly, and a zero fret seems to lend evenness in sound between the open strings and the fretted notes.
THE IDEAL DESTINATION: A Big Island Hawaiian getaway, where you can ski and surf in the same day.
- Polycarbonate construction
- 12 frets
- Made in China
- $56.99 MSRP/$40 street
OUTDOOR UKULELE TENOR
THE LOOK: The Outdoor Ukulele Tenor is available in brown, green, gold, or silver. Our test model came in translucent green and looks a little like an old-fashioned Coke bottle. A close inspection of the plastic instrument reveals an attractive texture mimicking wood grain, a pattern formed by the fiberglass strands that add strength to the instrument.
THE FEEL: Made entirely of composite polycarbonate—even the frets—the Outdoor seems toy-like at first blush. But in hand it feels no less substantial than a traditional wooden tenor. And, with its slim U-shaped neck, it plays extremely well.
THE SOUND: It doesn’t necessarily sound like a fine solid-wood uke, but the Outdoor has a pleasant voice and a good amount of volume and projection. It’s an excellent choice for an outdoor strum-along in any kind of weather.
THE IDEAL DESTINATION: From the North Pole to the South Pole.
- Composite polycarbonate construction
- 19 frets
- Made in the USA
- $145 direct
BUGSGEAR FLAMINGO TRAVEL UKULELE
THE LOOK: If Hello Kitty were to take up the ukulele, she’d probably pick up a BugsGear Flamingo Travel Ukulele, a.k.a. Aqulele, with its bright pink neck and body, pearloid machine heads, and profiterole-like tuner bushings. This cute design could’ve been better executed—the soundboard isn’t totally flush with the sides, and there’s evidence of excess adhesive inside the instrument—but, hey, it costs only 40 bucks.
THE FEEL: The Aqulele, which is constructed of ABS polymer, feels solid and its thin neck and low action make it fun and easy to play. The instrument’s cutaway encourages ventures up to the 18th fret on the first string, but the notes in this region aren’t particularly strong.
THE SOUND: Thanks to its deep body—2.5 inches thick—and large, offset soundhole, the Aqulele is loud for a plastic soprano. A molded fingerboard promotes accurate intonation up and down the neck, and while the uke could have better sustain, its percussive sound makes it great for strumming.
THE IDEAL DESTINATION: Comic-Con International in San Diego, followed by a trip to Pacific Beach.
- Soprano with cutaway
- ABS plastic construction
- 18 frets
- Made in China
- $39.95 direct