FROM THE FALL 2020 ISSUE OF UKULELE | BY EDDIE SCHER
Two months into quarantine, just as my surroundings were becoming particularly monotonous, I had the good fortune to receive a box of ukuleles from Enya to review. Enya has literally dozens of ukulele models available for sale online. Here are my impressions of three of them.
Nova U Carbon Orange Concert
The color of the satin orange Nova U Carbon Orange concert ukulele, a polycarbonate plastic and carbon fiber offering from Enya, is so rich you can almost taste it. Plastic has been used for ukuleles since the famous Maccaferri plastic ukes of the 1950s and ’60s. Carbon fiber is a light space-age material known for its strength and is also increasingly recognized for its resonance in music instrument applications. The mix of carbon fiber and plastic will mean you never have to mind the weather, temperature, or humidity, much less the occasional ding, bong, or bang. This uke is built for the beach, and not only because the highly saturated colors—blue, pink, black, white, and this creamy blossom orange—will be right at home under a baking sun. The Nova U is marketed as a travel instrument and this uke is going to be as close to indestructible as you’re going to find.
Enya took advantage of the new materials to incorporate some unconventional design into the Nova. The body, neck, bridge, fretboard, and even the frets are molded in two pieces, one top and one back and sides, glued together to form the uke. The saddle—which sits on the bridge and holds the strings over the body—is one of the few separate pieces. Made of the same material as the body, it is compensated, or carved, so the scale length of each string is slightly different to ensure accurate intonation despite the different thicknesses of each string. Given the stability of the materials, I suspect it will never need adjustment, but if it did, a luthier or anyone with determination and a file could adjust it or replace it.
The neck is a full, rounded C shape. The neck width, which also determines the spacing between strings, is on the narrow side for a concert at 1-3/8 inches, about the same width as my old Martin soprano. The 16-inch scale of the Nova is also unusual—an inch longer than a traditional concert ukulele, and an inch shy of a traditional tenor. I found the Nova intonated well and stayed musical all the way up to the 18th and final fret. This ukulele will be good for smaller hands and beginners, but nothing is limiting it to them.
Part of the trick is that the neck sports a slight radius, something that is relatively uncommon on any ukulele, and unheard of in this price range. It makes for very comfortable play on the fretboard. The body of the Nova is a narrow 1.5 inches at the top of the upper bout, growing slightly wider to just over 2 inches at the bottom of the lower bout. The hollow neck and headstock—something that is not possible on a wood instrument—helps with balance and weight, as well as tone. The back is arched, a cool feature that contributes to the comfort of holding the uke, adds strength, and also helps sound projection.
The headstock and the end of the fretboard sport asymmetrical shapes and, with its Florentine cutaway the Nova looks a lot like a Les Paul guitar. I can’t see any reason why that isn’t a great idea. The Nova soundhole is cut to resemble a leaf or grass motif and takes advantage of the strength of the materials, and an oval sound port on the side of the upper bout directs the full volume of the sound up to the player’s ears. I’ve always wondered if these sound ports really work, so I compared the sound with the port closed (by stuffing my hand in) and found it makes a huge difference.
Acoustically, I would put this ukulele on the quiet side of the spectrum, with a throaty tone that sounds almost like it’s slightly compressed. I don’t expect a complex tone from an instrument that’s not made out of wood, but this is no toy. It’s probably not surprising to hear that the tone is not woody, but it does deliver a resonant and musical sound, along with a surprising amount of sustain. The more I played it, the less I thought about the materials and just enjoyed what I heard.
But the pure acoustic tone was just the beginning of the fun. My Nova came equipped with the optional AcousticPlus pickup system. Turning on the system allows you to add reverb and chorus to the acoustic sound to achieve the wet, lush tone you’re used to hearing on recordings. The reverb gives you a slight slapback—think of playing in a medieval church or concrete staircase. Chorus is the secret weapon used by every funk, prog, and heavy metal guitarist since about 1975 to increase the body and presence of a single instrument into, well, a chorus.
The system doesn’t amplify the overall volume of the uke, but it adds in the effects, coloring the tone after the initial attack from your fingers on the strings, stretching out the decay of notes, and smoothing out the overall sound into a ukulele wall of sound.
The bag of goodies that comes with the ukulele includes a spare set of Enya strings, a strap, a capo, and a slim padded case. It also comes with an activation code for OKMUSICIAN, a free online class.
Overall, I am pretty amazed by the technology and performance of the Nova U, especially given that you can pick one up online for $189, only $89 for the acoustic version.
Nova U Carbon Orange Concert Specs
BODY 70% polycarbonate, 30% carbon fiber top, back, and sides
NECK Same composite, 18-fret; “open gold classic” tuners
OTHER Slot-style bridge; Enya Fluorocarbon strings; (optional) AcousticPlus electronics
EXTRAS Semi-hard case; strap; capo; spare strings
PRICE $89 street (acoustic); $189.99 street (with electronics)
Made in China
Shop for the Nova U Carbon Orange Concert on Amazon.
M6 Solid Mahogany
Next up is something much more conventional: the M6 solid Mahogany concert ukulele. The gloss-finished body is not bound, and sports only a simple abalone rosette that lets the beautiful and understated grain of the wood do the talking. This is a striking-looking instrument with its flowering vine motif across the fretboard, a dramatic swooping cutaway, and a sharp inline headstock. The inline headstock means the strings line up straight with the tuners after breaking over the nut, improving tuning stability. But with its hard-angled design, the headstock is reminiscent of the 1980s, which I find a bit jarring on a ukulele (or anywhere.)
Visuals aside, the first thing I really noticed about M6 is that it is lightly built—admirably light for a factory-built instrument. Tapping your finger anywhere on the top, sides, or back of the body you get a sense of how lively and resonant a soundbox can be when you keep it light and let the wood really speak. The light build translates into a rich, punchy tone that’s exactly what I’m looking for in a mahogany instrument. There’s a reason mahogany has long been the main choice of premier mainland ukulele builders and players. The M6 will work great for all styles, but if you’re going to be playing with others or you want to be able to play with the dynamics of volume, this ukulele gives you a lot to work with.
The neck on the M6 is full and comfortable at 15-1/8 inches, the scale and 1-1/2-inch neck width are conventional for a concert, and the radiused fretboard, which seems to be a feature of many Enya ukes, is downright luxurious.
The bridge, neck, and headstock veneer are a material called Richlite ebony. Made of pressed paper, Richlite is a substitute for rare, tropical ebony and is marketed and certified as a sustainable alternative. It’s a great substitute, with comparable durability and the same deep uniform color, and it performs just like the dense hardwood.
The M6 features strap buttons and quality tuners with great looking pink/amber abalone buttons, and is also available with built-in electronics, as a tenor or concert, and in a light translucent blue.
Solid Mahogany EUC/T-M6 Specs
BODY Solid mahogany top, back, and sides; gloss finish
NECK 15-1/8″ solid mahogany, 1.5″ width; radiused Richlite fingerboard; gold agate die-cast tuners
OTHER Richlite bridge; NuBone nut and saddle; Enya fluorocarbon/D’Addario EJ87T strings
EXTRAS Premium gig bag
PRICE $249.99 street
Made in China
K5 Solid Acacia Concert
Last up is the K5, a solid acacia concert ukulele with abalone binding and inlays and a glossy finish. I had to double-check that this was from the same company that built the Nova, even though they both arrived in the same box.
Acacia, which grows like a bush where I live in California, grows as a hardwood forest tree in the tropical South Pacific, making it a great substitute for endangered tropical hardwoods. It’s not a lightly built instrument, but the tone is woody, warm, and smooth—ringing clearly and evenly across the entire range of the instrument. It’s a tone that I associate with koa instruments. It’s not about volume, it’s about the beautiful balanced tone. Individually picked notes ring out, but when strummed the notes are blended.
The neck is mahogany with a radiused ebony fretboard, which is a comfortable full-shape and left unfinished, which I prefer to gloss or any other finish on a neck. This concert has the standard 15-inch scale and 1-1/2-inch width. The slotted headstock has a glossy Richlite ebony veneer with the inset Enya brand name; a classy touch. The fingerboard is a field of deep black, except for a single elegant hibiscus flower inset in white abalone with two green flowers at the 12th fret. This is my favorite feature of the K5. You won’t miss additional markings on the fretboard because this uke has dots on the side at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, and 14th frets. Colorful abalone is used as part of multilayer binding and the soundhole rosette. The bridge is carved Richlite ebony. The K5 is also available as a tenor, and both sizes are available with electronic pickups installed.
EUC-K5 Solid Acacia Concert Specs
BODY Solid acacia top, back, and sides; gloss finish
NECK 15″ mahogany concert-scale, 1.5″ width; radiused Richlite fingerboard with floral inlay; open headstock, black agate open tuning pegs; NuBone nut and saddle
OTHER Richlite bridge; rosewood and abalone binding and inlay; Enya fluorocarbon/D’Addario EJ87T strings
PRICE $419.99 street
Made in China
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