Flea Ukulele Review

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If you want to learn to play the ukulele, but you’re on a tight budget, which brand do you buy? While there are many inexpensive ukes on the market these days, you might spend your money on one, only to find out that it is hard to play or has issues with intonation. Today, I want to tell you about an instrument that has neither one of those problems. It’s the FLEA ukulele from the Magic Fluke Company. Made in the USA and sold through Flea Market Music, the entry level model of this ukulele retails for $169.00. I got mine for a little less through Ukulele4u. Let’s take a closer look…

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The basic model of the FLEA is currently available with an Australian Hoop Pine top in your choice of seven colors (Natural, Hibiscus, Mango, Poi-ple, Bubblegum Pink, Lava and Ukelyptus). It has a plastic fretboard, comes with a zippered gig bag and an 11 page “How to Play Ukulele” booklet.

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The sides and back are a one piece molded ‘bowl’ made of injection molded ABS plastic that is reinforced with fiber glass. You’ve probably seen Ovation and / or Applause guitars before right? The FLEA uses a similar design.

The neck is made of Maple. In the picture above, you can just make out the fact that the back of the neck has a somewhat flat surface. The sides are rounded, but the back is flat. This shape felt a bit odd to me at first, but I quickly became acclimated to it.

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The FLEA has a soprano sized body, but is available with either a soprano neck, or a concert neck. The soprano neck has a 14 inch scale with 14 frets and the concert sized neck has 15 frets and a 15.5 inch scale. I bought a FLEA with the concert sized neck, giving the ukulele a length of 22.25 inches, a width of 7.75 inches and a depth of about 2.25 inches.

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The molded shell has a flat bottom that allows you to stand this instrument up on the floor or table. No stand needed :)

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The bridge is a one piece molded glass filled polycarbonate slot style.

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The tuners are Grover non-geared (friction) 2B uke pegs. They use a 1-to-1 ratio like traditional ukulele pegs. That means that the slightest turn of the knob will have an immediate effect on the pitch of the string attached to it. Beginners sometimes have problems getting used to tuning with friction tuners. It does take a little practice, but it isn’t rocket science.

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The action on the FLEA that I received is very low, which makes playing quite comfortable. Action / setup on budget priced instruments tends to be spotty at best. I’ve only ever read good things about the FLEA in that regard.

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The basic model comes with an injection molded polycarbonate fretboard. That’s right, it has a plastic fretboard with plastic frets. The fret markers are also plastic. They are actually little raised dots painted white. I was very curious what it would feel like to play an instrument with a plastic fret board. It really doesn’t feel much at all different than playing a ukulele with a wooden fretboard. One very noticeable fact is that due to the molded fretboard, intonation up and down the neck is perfect. Not a bad note anywhere to be found.

The overall build quality of the FLEA is very good. I couldn’t find anything to complain about as far as that is concerned. No rough edges, finish problems, etc.

What about its sound? Well, I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that the FLEA does not sound as wonderful as my other ukes that cost from 2 to 4 times more and are made of solid wood. I will say that the FLEA has a vibrant and fun voice. I also think it has way more volume than my other instruments. So much so that I sometimes wish I had a volume knob for the times I’m playing strumming songs on it :) The plastic shell seems to amplify every sound. Even the sounds of your fingers make moving up and down the strings as you play. This can become a little annoying at times, but I have a feeling I’m being really picky here.

Here are a couple short sound samples to give you an idea of what this instrument sounds like. I’m still a beginner player, so don’t expect too much from these examples:

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flea-2.wav (9.3mb)

Bottom line… The entry level FLEA ukulele is a great instrument to consider for the budget minded beginning ukulele player. It is easy to play, has a good sound and will leave some pennies in your piggy bank so that you can buy some song books to go along with it. :)

If you’re a FLEA owner, please do share your thoughts and comments about the instrument.

25 Responses to “Flea Ukulele Review”

  1. [...] are the entries for the Play it forward video contest to win one of three FLEA ukulele [...]

  2. I have a Flea and agree with your comments. As to the sound and volume, I have found that this problem may be correctable by covering the sound hole. Yes, that sounds stupid. I tried plastic and wood; the plastic seemed to work better than the wood. The notes seemed to be more crisp and the volume reduced, but not muted. I personally believe that the Flea’s body capacity is too large esp. since it’s material is so reflective. It would sound better if it was an inch wide, maybe.

  3. [...] contest down to just 3 winners. I sure wish that I had a lot of money, because I would gladly buy a FLEA ukulele for everyone that entered. As it is, I have decided to donate the FLEA that I purchased for myself [...]

  4. Bought my first Flea this week from Germany. Being in the UK, Germany is a little closer and no export fees to pay – wey hay…

    Anyway, it was the cheapest model Flea with the same fretboard and strings as above. In fact the only difference was the color – mine is a sort of yellow. It came with a gigbag which is pretty good.

    Can’t add anything to what Julie has said except maybe that if you want to splash out you can get them with a Rosewood Fretboard and Koa top. I can see the point of Rosewood Fretboard, but can’t see why anyone would bother getting one with a Koa top for virtually the same price as you can get an all solid Koa Uke.

    Anyway, I was more than pleasantly surprised at the action, sound, and overall quality from this Flea. It is easy to play and once it was tuned in (it came loose) I was a bit shocked to find that the sound is far better than I ever thought it would be. I have heard them on youtube but have never ever seen them in the flesh so to speak. No, they are not as good as a $500 all solid wood model, but they are pretty dam good.

    I would recommend them to anyone, and as they are set up to be mass produced, you would be very unlucky to get a bad one. If you wanted to upgrade it a bit you can put a better quality strings on, but in all fairness the ones they came with work very well.

  5. Hello, Julie. Some Flea comments: The noise fingers make on the Flea can be annoying, & may be simply a function of the strings. My other uke, a Kala Hawaiian mangowood soprano, is strung with different strings than the Flea & it is noiseless. I’ve simply gotten used to it. So you’re not being too picky here… Now it’s my turn to be picky. Why are uke makers so stingy when it comes to incorporating position markers on the neck? My Kala has dots on the 5th, 7th, & 10th frets, which to me is an improvement over the Flea’s dots on frets 5, 7, & 12 (it’s a long stretch of open unmarked space from 7 to 12). But still, why no marker on the 3rd
    fret? Why not on 3, 5, 7, 10, & 12. Picky, yes, but there are times when it does make a difference, & I cannot think of any reason not to have more markers. Esthetics? Cosmetics? Economics? Just how much is saved by cutting back on position markers? Guitar makers are more considerate in this regard…My day-in-day-out uke for practice & thrashing-about on is my Flea, so it’s volume has become my standard & the Kala (described by its maker as having a “sweet” sound & by me as having a sound which brings to mind cracking ice) sounds quieter than I prefer. It’s all a matter of perspective…I love the Flea’s neck which has more room between frets & more up-&-down room than my Kala, so not all sporano necks are created equal. But then, although advertised as a soprano, is the Flea really a soprano like other sopranos, or is it something else? Have you ever played a pineapple uke? I haven’t, but perhaps the Flea is really a variant of this sort of instrument…I don’t really like the way the Flea “fits” into the Flea hardshell case; I suppose it’s OK, but the fit is a little off-center for my taste. However, the Flea case & the Kala (smaller than the Flea) are a perfect combination…Random non-Flea comment: My favorite uke act of the moment is the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. As much a visual act as a musical one, UOGB must be seen as well as heard. Get their DVD, Anarchy in the Ukulele (from their website).

  6. Ron,

    I also like to have fret markers on the 3,5,7,10 and 12th frets. I think it’s just a matter of what the luthier likes as to what you get with non-custom instruments.

    As for the size of the Flea, it is available in 2 different neck sizes. Either soprano or concert (15 frets).

    No, I’ve not played a pineapple uke yet. I really do prefer the traditional shape over the more exotic variations.

  7. [...] far as instruments, they have a few Fluke and Flea ukuleles for [...]

  8. John Shepherd on May 22nd, 2009 at 4:51 am

    Julie,

    The standard Fleas are good value and are durable to say the least. To compensate for the volume, try some Worth brown strings. They tone it down a bit and improve the sound. The rosewood fret board option improves things as well. For the ultimate Flea experience, Flea Market Music offers a solid Koa sound board Flea with better tuners, rosewood fret board and Aquilla strings. This is not sold through their dealers but only direct. This is a wonderful instrument. I have two of these with the 15 fret concert necks. They are simply in another league from the standard laminate-top Fleas. These are really fine instruments. I looked a long time for a premium instrument and I am very happy with these.

    There is a fellow on U-Tube from Europe who plays a number of pieces, both popular tunes and classical music with his Koa concert Flea. Check it out.

    They also offer a Koa Fluke as well. There is an example of one of these being played on U-Tube as well.

    All in all, I am very pleased with my koa Fleas and I would recommend them to anyone looking for a premium yet different instrument.

  9. Personally, I would buy a Flea with a solid Koa top before a solid Koa ukulele. But that’s because I want my uke entirely USA-made, and as far as I know, Flea Market Music’s are the only ukes like this. But then again, as long as I have little ones around, the basic Flea is perfect and there’s no point to upgrading anything. :)

  10. To Crystal: most solid koa ukes are made in the USA: in Hawaii. Buying an all solid koa uke such as a Koaloha, Kamaka is buying a USA made uke.

  11. Anyone selling a used Flea?
    I prefer one in soprano, with rosewood fretboard, and K & K pickup.
    Please post offers here if so and I’ll reply.

  12. Maggie's_Uke_Circus on April 28th, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Ok… so I’ve had a flea for a little over a year and LOVE it. Crisp, vibrant sound, easy entry-level Uke. HOWEVER, I recently noted that the string are buzzing -not fun while doing a gig.
    So… wondered it I needed new strings -but but noticed that the plastic fret boards have worn down where the string hits the fret, and have left little indentations in the plastic. A bummer, because I love my comfy flea and I don’t think this can be repaired. -Or can it? Does anyone know? The buzzing strings can’t be eleveated at the bridge because the bridge is one molded piece.
    On another note, Yes, it would be great to have more fret markers – not only on the fretboard, but fret indicators inlaid into the side of the neck as most models offer, for quick at-a-glance fret advancing for more complex chords.
    I would still highly recommend a flea as an entry-level uke. It just sings and I do appreciate the self-standing flat bottom feature. So…what say ye all?

  13. Maggie's_Uke_Circus on April 28th, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Duh… sorry … make that fret “bars” which are indented from wear.
    (not fret board. Shouldn’t type so quickly.

  14. they will replace the whole fretboard – I think it’s cheap or free – call the Magic Fluke Company and talk it over

  15. I too have been bummed out by lack of fret dots so I just took a bottle of white out and put small dots on the side of the neck at 3, 5, 7, & 10. It doesn’t hurt the finish or the fretboard & can easily be redone when the dots flake off. Works for me!

  16. I bought a Tenor sized Fluke for myself and I’m just about to buy my son a Flea for his Xmas present (I know I’m early). We tried it out in the music store and he loved it. I like the design of both the Fluke and the Flea and being able to stand it on a table means that my Fluke gets a lot of use in my home office.

  17. I have recently ordered a Flea Concert, and I´m willing to have in my hands.
    Thanks for all the good detailed photos, and the review.

  18. I have played a Flea for several years. Three things I don’t like: First, the rounded plastic body is slippery and I can lose control of the instrument. I compensate by using my forearm to hold it tighter to my body, but this causes the edges of the uke body to dig into my forearm too much. When wearing a Tee shirt it can be rather painful, especially when playing for a long amount of time, and I get welts and inflamed skin. Long sleeves help but it is still necessary to hold the uke’s rounded plastic body very tightly to keep it under control. Second, the plastic frets and fretboard are, like the body, too slippery. The nylon strings slip every so often against the board and the frets, sometimes causing inaccurate fingering. Annoying. And third, one day the bridge popped off and flew across the room! The bridge is also made of plastic, and is two pieces: the top piece is held by snapping it into place on the base piece, which is glued to the top of the uke. When mine popped off, one of the snap thingies broke so I couldn’t simply snap it back together. Contacting Fluke, they recommended crazy-gluing it back together. I did so, and it worked. All that said, I still enjoy playing it for the looks, the good loud tone, and the moderate price.

  19. The flea has been in my life for many years now. I saw these while randomly window shopping at a music shop in Perth. Picked it up and loved the tone so much and the look is funky too. I travelled with my flea all around Australia playing gigs and events and caught everybody’s eye.
    Easy to cart around, handy, beautiful and it certainly is an instrument to have if a uke fan like myself and I shall keep playing my flea for as long as I can.

  20. I don’t understand why these plastic ukes are so expensive, when a plastic Makala is 39 bucks which comes with a rosewood fingerboard and has dots on 5,7 & 10

    Seems like they would sell 10 times more ukes if the price were half. I don’t care how cool they look, 218 dollars for a stamped plastic uke is outrageous.

  21. The sample sound provided by the site above did not sound good compared to my wood TGM concert. And mine cost less than USD50. So i wonder why is this site “promoting” the Flea instead of others…

  22. My flea has been alive about 4 years, given to me as a hand me down from a friend it has not seen a bag and since it’s been mine. Iv’e taken it lots of places, spilt things on it, sat on it (on a soft car seat), let it get super hot for days in a car. It’s legit though, really durable. Maybe having lots of stickers quiets the sound down because I don’t have problems being too loud. As for marking of the frets, I used some nail polish once mine wore off. fairly easy. It’s the first real uke that I have owned and I’ve tried all kinds out. Lucked out to get one as a gift. I don’t think I will need to buy another uke for a while.

  23. @dylan I’d love to see a picture of your flea. From your description it sounds like it is well worn like a favorite pair of jeans. :)

  24. Unfortunately, the folks at the Magic Fluke Company in Sheffield, MA are not able to pay their employees the equivalent of $ .25 per hour to build their ukuleles, like many of the Asian manufacturers.
    Ironically, both the Fluke and the Flea have become wildly popular in countries like China, Japan, Korea and the Phillipines.
    Those musicians love affordable instruments that are made in the U.S.A.

  25. […] Magic Fluke Flea ukulele – I love this relatively inexpensive uke because it has a flat bottom allowing it to stand up on the desk. I find having it right next to me all the time causes me to pick it up and play it more often. It makes a great travel instrument because the back is made of plastic. […]

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