RISA Uke-Solid Ukulele Review

I think we can all agree that a ukulele is a really small instrument. But If you enjoy traveling and are also obsessed with packing as lightly as possible, even a soprano sized ukulele in its case can require too much room in your luggage. Not to worry though, I have a great solution for you. It’s the RISA Uke-Solid Ukulele from the Uke Surfer Shop in Germany.

The Uke-Solid is a solid wood electric ukulele that is available in soprano, concert and tenor sizes. I was sent the concert size for this review. Here are some specs:

Size 19.7“ x 4.3“ x 1.2” (50 cm x 11 cm x 3 cm)
Scale length 15.2“ (385 mm)
Tuning G-C-E-A or A-D-F#-B
Strings RISA Fluoro-Carbon
Finish Satin clear coat
Frets 15
Neck Maple, width 1.38“ (35 mm) at zero fret

Body

Solid maple body
Fingerboard One-piece (neck, body, fingerboard)
Pickup Passive Shadow Piezo

Tuners

Non-geared, Grover 4W
Weight 16 ounces / 450 g

When the Uke-Solid arrived, the first thing I noticed was the small zippered Black canvas carrying case.

The case is soft, so it isn’t overly protective. But, the Uke-Solid isn’t a typical thin acoustic ukulele, so it doesn’t really need all that much protection – as long as you aren’t going to run over it with a car or something.

The interior of the case has a satin material, that looks really nice. Included is an adjustable woven strap that can be clipped to the plastic loops on the carrying case, or on the strap buttons on the ukulele.

The Uke-Solid is made of one piece of Maple that has a smooth satin finish. The design / shape of this instrument is definitely not traditional.

It looks like an instrument that you’d see someone on stage at a rock concert playing.

The concert sized Uke-Solid has 15 frets, not including the first fret, which is a 0 fret.

The 0 fret is used instead of a nut. The Uke-Solid doesn’t even have a peg head. When I saw this, I was a little worried that my favorite tuner (Intelli IMT-500) wouldn’t be able to clip to the top. My worries were unjustified, it works fine.

Each string is fed through a small hole above the 0 fret…

…and is held in place with a knot.

As you can see, there is a metal bridge, with what appears to be a faux bone saddle. The strings rest against this and then proceed around a grooved metal rod. From there, they are attached to the tuners.

The tuners are friction style. That means that they have no gears and do require some extra effort in order to accurately tune each string.

The only problem that I had with the Uke-Solid has to do with these tuners. I’m just not a big fan of the non-geared style. I know that tradionalists prefer them, and that’s fine… For one thing, friction tuners often feel stiff and hard to turn. But the issue here is, that the tuners are quite close together and it is sometimes difficult to turn the tuner buttons with your fingers.. Luckily, once your strings are stretched and settled, you shouldn’t have to tune them every few minutes.

The action on the Uke-Solid is terrificly low. This instrument is really easy to play and feels like an electric guitar for that fact. Well, that’s not far from the truth, since it is an electric uke 🙂

You might notice from these pictures, that the the neck has a more square than rounded shape. The side edges are rounded though and it is comfortable to hold and play.

Because of its small size and shape, you will most likely want to use a strap with it. There is a strap button located at the bottom of the instrument and…

…another one on the back.

The included strap works well for playing while sitting and standing. For me, I rarely play standing up and have found that I don’t always use the strap. I can hold the instrument and play it without one. Playing the instrument did feel a bit awkward at first, but I was able to quickly adapt.

Because the Uke-Solid doesn’t have a peg head at the top, it seems a bit easier to play than a standard uke. You can get your fretting hand in angles that you’d otherwise be unable to do with a traditionally shaped ukulele.

This isn’t an acoustic instrument, it’s an electric instrument. What does that mean? Well, it doesn’t have its own sound chamber like an acoustic ukulele. That means that without some type of amplification, it can’t be heard very well. That can actually be a good feature though, because you can play the Uke-Solid without an amp, when you want to practice without bothering people. That said, it’s not silent… you can hear yourself play if you’re in a quiet room.

Here are two sound samples where I am playing the same song. One without an amp, and one with an amp. I recorded these samples using a BlueMic Snowflake USB microphone and Garageband on my iMac. In the non-amped sample, the microphone was located about 10 inches away from the strings. In the amped sample, I used a cheapo battery powered mini-amp from Hondo and had the microphone pointed at the amp approximately 5 inches away.

risa-non-amped (700kb .mp3)
risa-amped
– (696kb .mp3)

This little uke has good sustain even without amplification. It also has  excellent intonation thanks to that 0 fret.

The RISA Uke-Solid makes a terrific travel companion because you can stick it in your main luggage or use it as a carry-on item. You can use it as a practice uke unamped, or you can use it with an amp and wail on it. If you think traveling with an amp defeats the purpose of the small size, you can get a little Vox amPlug headphone amp like I did. 🙂 either way, this unique little ukulele is a keeper!

€ 179,00 EUR (US $227.00) – Soprano
€ 215,00 EUR (US $272.00) – Concert
€ 255,00 EUR (US $323.00) – Tenor

53 Responses to “RISA Uke-Solid Ukulele Review”

  1. For me, the extreme portability gained is then lost due to the need for amping. Being a nylon string electric, it can’t take just any old tiny portable amp. It needs an _acoustic_ amp to sound its best.

    This is the biggest mistake many electric uke players make – the wrong kind of amp. So many are playing on Microcubes and DA5s, because both of those have lots of effects on board, that they don’t pause and listen. It sounds wrong when you compare it to what it sounds like with a proper acoustic amp meant specifically for nylon strings and usually having a switch to switch between passive and active pickups.

    And I don’t know of any tiny acoustic amps.

    But it is portable, and darn near bullet proof. I found the neck uncomfortable to play on and the strings too far apart. It’s built great though.

    Electric uke players – if you’re not using steel strings with magnetic pickups or humbuckers, make sure you’re using an acoustic amp. They’re not any more expensive than the electric ones, just a little bigger.

  2. I’m curious, which size did you try? I didn’t find the strings to be too far apart at all.

  3. I had the concert, the same as you. I’ve switched from the Risa to a Howlett Uklectic, and a Kustom 30W acoustic amp.

    http://www.uklectic.com – be warned, it’s another custom. 😉

    You used to be a guitar player right? Yeah, you string instrument players probably won’t have any issues with it. I’ve always been string instrument-challenged so everything has to be right where my fingers want to go or else I’m hopeless.

    Like you, I found it tough to tune, but then you’re right, the strings settle in and you can leave it alone. I never did try to switch to any other string brand. I thought the Worths (the Risa branded strings are Worths. No stock strings from Risa!) suited nicely.

  4. I’ve seen some of Pete’s work in pictures that he’s posted in Ukulele Underground. Nice stuff! I’m not tempted by another electric though. Are you shocked? 😉 I’m an acoustic person all the way.

  5. Electric is awesome at 2am when there are some tabs you want to try (unplugged or using something like Garageband or a Line6 pod with headphones of course!).

    But I’m following you with a case of CUAS. I’ve got an MP concert on the way, and I’m thinking of letting a local luthier from Lottonen guitars have a uke commission. That’s a ways away yet, but other than a 6 or 8 string Kala just to say I have a 6 or 8 string uke, I can’t think of a production uke I want right now.

    Unless it was a GString concert. I wouldn’t say no to one of those. 🙂

  6. plainsong:

    what are you having Michael at MP ukes build for you? He does a fantastic job! I love mine 🙂

  7. I lucked out really. I went there to browse what some of the options were, and then I went to the for sale page and saw uke #044. The only thing I’d usually change would be to go with geared tuners, but the Gotohs are very smooth. And I usually loose my hold on the uke when trying to play something cool and being in the moment, so he put on a strap peg for me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. You can’t see the maple binding too well in the pictures, but my uklectic has figured maple and it looks great, so I know this one will too. 🙂

    Mike has been awesome. He sent me higher res pictures, answered all my questions and sent me a sound sample. Maybe it’s not truly a custom because it was already built, but I can’t find any fault with what he already came up with. 🙂

    Now the struggle comes to try not to open it before Christmas. I’ll have my husband test it out while I walk the dog or something.

  8. Mike has been the absolute BEST of all the luthiers so far. You can email him and expect an answer before the end of the day. He has great ideas and is just an all around great guy.

  9. That’s been my personal experience too. He makes you wish you could buy more ukes from him.

  10. thanks julie! you helped me figure it out.

  11. Thanks for the review, I’ve been interested in this for a while.

    I won’t pretend to know much about what good sound is supposed to sound like, but I really do like my Microcube quite a bit.

  12. The Microcube probably sounds infinitely better than the extremely cheap mini amp that I have. 🙂 Since I very rarely play amplified, I’ve not had the desire to upgrade.

  13. I have a micro cube and it works well as a practice amp, not bad as a busker either. I have the soprano, so easy to carry and less annoying if you want to practice in public. I bought the Risa semi-hollow body strat style tenor, my first electric uke, awesome player, steel strings, very guitar like. I sold off all of my Eleukes and got a Ko’olau solid koa when they came out. The Ko’olau is semi-hollow body and is actually pretty loud unplugged, nylon strings, wonderful intonation. All of these ukeleles sound terrific through vintage tube amps. I prefer the warm sound of tube amps over the solid state amps, including the “acoustic” amps. Just add pedals and forget the clock.

  14. Here is a video sample of my Risa soprano played through a Kendrick “Champ” style tube amp, a few pedals were used too.

  15. A good amp option for the Risa Solid is the Roland Mobile Cube. It’s smaller than the Micro Cube, but I think it’s actually a bit heavier at 5 pounds. I have both. The Micro is really designed for steel stringed electrics and as mentioned earlier is not ideal for a nylon stringed electrics. However the Mobile Cube is a stereo amp designed for a wide variety of sources, all guitars, keyboards, and even iPods.

    You give up a few effects like flanging and phasing, but the Mobile has a REAL acoustic setting. (The Micro Cube’s acoustic setting is actually designed to make a steel stringed electric sound acoustic and not suited for use with an acoustic steel or nylon guitar.) The Mobile Cube’s Acoustic setting is solid. It also has settings for Clean electric setting (sounds jazzy with the Solid), Overdrive (The Hendrix/Van Halen Brown Sound) and Dist (Mesa Boogie Rectifier style, smooth but crunchy like chunky peanut butter and makes the Solid’s sustain shine). These all sound excellent with the Solid. You also have a stereo Chorus button (fairly pronounced but still in the range of sweet sound) and, like the Micro, a knob that can control the amount and speed of delay or the amount of reverb.

    The Mobile can be mounted on a mic stand and is loud enough for your uke and mic when performing at a small coffee house. I have been running mine for about 10 hours now on a set of Lithium AAs and there’s no sign they need replacing. I also use the Mic input and knob on the Mobile to add in the Korg Kaossilator to create rhythm tracks. Very nice combo for some techno tracks while composing.

    This amp is not cheap. At $150 it’s well above the $30 mini-practice amps. But then, the sound you get is way above that league as well.

    Keep ukin’,

    Kevin

  16. TThis might be taking it to extremes but I’ve played one of these through a marshall stack and fender bassman. The bassman sounded better with a warmer ‘crunch’ overdrive while the marshall gave me full on pshycadelic distortion. But, as i can’t afoord any of those (they were at my dad’s mate’s house)I am sticking with the behringer ac108 vintager tube amp i have

  17. Hi Julie,

    I just picked up the Risa Tenor and was wondering how you like the Vox Amplug with yours. Have you tried it with the Amplug into Garageband to experiment with any of the effects(I’m assuming this is possible)? I’m mostly going to use it for travel and late night practice, but I love messing with tech:)

  18. @Jvann The Vox Amplug works very well. I haven’t tried it with Garageband though. That’s something that I’ve been meaning to do, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet 🙂

  19. grumpy sheep on May 2nd, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I have to thank and agree with the people above regarding the superiority of an accoustic amp to really preserve the nature of the ukulele sound. I took my new RISA solid to a huge professional music store today and started out in the electric guitar department with micro cubes etc. and later went to the accoustic department and tried out several amps there as well. In the end there was no comparison in terms of clarity and naturaleness and “cleanness” and I ended up with a Kustom Sierra 30, which is much bigger than I would have liked but was the only affordable amp with both a sound-signatur I liked and a good headphone output.

  20. Evil Con Carne on May 10th, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    Where can I buy one of these things?

  21. ukuleleworld.com is the only place in the states that I have seen them. But here is the cool thing: If you want a black soprano you have to order it from risa directly. I got one from risa and it came fine to Illinois, no issues. hope it helps

  22. Thanks Julie! Helpful review. I played such ukulele only once and since there is no peg head it was a bit inconvenient and I would say even difficult to play (especially on the first fret). Whereas you say it should be even easier to play it than a standard uke. So, is it just something which takes time to get used to such shape or I will always have this problem with my hand/fingers? or maybe I should hold it differently?

  23. Ivan, did you play the Risa uke or a different brand? I didn’t find the Risa to be inconvenient at all.

  24. Yes, it was Risa Solid Uke Soprano, just as one you reviewed but smaller. I used to play a standard uke, and when I tried that Risa it was a bit difficult (for chords closer to the top). I do hope it is not inconvenient at all, maybe it just takes some time to get used to this shape (?). Anyway, I played just for 10-15 mins and my level is quite low.. Probably I should try again..

  25. Julie
    I came across your review some months ago.
    I wanted to buy an electric Uke for “quiet” practise.
    As a pure beginner I have found no issue with the Risa Concert Stick that I bought – I love it.
    However I do have a question about its pickup. I have 2 amps, a Honeytone for when I am travelling and a Roland Micro Cube for home.
    When I use the Micro Cube (plugged into the mains) I get noticeable feedback when I place my hand to strum. If at the same time I touch the back of the amp this almost disappears.
    If I run it on batteries I still get a bit of feedback but it is hardly noticeable. With all the features turned off the feedback still happens on all “type” settings (MIC, Acoustic, etc) to a greater or lesser extent.
    Is this normal?
    I took the amp back and tried another Micro Cube but it was exactly the same, however the mail order shop I bought the Uke from said the ones they have in stock also showed some feedback. How much is acceptable and is there anything I can do about it. Or do I have a faulty Uke?
    Thanks in advance for any help.

  26. @Marco This isn’t something I’ve noticed with my Risa, so I would assume it’s a problem with the uke. I’ve only tested mine with a very cheap tiny amp though.

  27. Julie/Marco,
    it’s got to do with grounding. If you work with batteries, you won’t be bothered by hum, but as soon as you use a mains power supply it is very well possible it comes up with a nasty hum. If you touch the metal part on the side of the Stick it will dissappear. Rigk Sauer of RISA did mention something about in on the forum on his website ukulule.de, and he also had some ingenious solution.
    quote
    Nylon strings and grounding is always a problem. I use a wireless system. It works fine, because the receiver is grounded. You can also add a grounding cable to your connection cable. I also sometime use a little preamp with a metal cover, which I wear under the shirt to get ground contact.
    unquote
    For practice I use a Zoom A2 pedal which is dedicated for acoustics, works on batteries (and mains too), I have no issues at all with hum.
    kind greetings from Holland,
    Kees.

    ps love your reviews Julie!

  28. Wood, pickups and setup. Those make an instrument.
    Re-entrant tuning makes a ukulele.
    All ukes have one thing in common, the first
    task is to play it without dropping it.

    When I play by electric uke, both hands touch it and
    my right forearm, the heel of my plam, my ribcage and my right side of my groin.

    All these are anchor points as I change chords.
    The RISA has one point of contact, the neck.
    Nice idea and OK for “bicycle built for two”.
    As for doing lead, no real point of contact/control.

    My solution; build your own. There’s plenty of high quality second hand hardware. I have a tele soprano and a strat tenor. Keep ukin’.
    Terry McNiff

  29. I keep coming to this site for about two years. I’m a beginning strummer and won’t have any use for this RISA until I can do my scales and some melody picking. It may be a while, meanwhile the price keeps going up. Or, maybe a Kala UBass (also rising – I first observed $399, and now lowest is $414 up to $600.) Keep ukin’ everyone!

  30. hey,
    can you possibly direct me to where I can find the tabs for the song you played for the demo for this? It sounds fun to play…
    Cheers

  31. @Emma it’s Love me Tender from Elvis. You can find the tab here: http://home.arcor.de/crazydawg/ukulele/love_me_tender_v2.txt

  32. Ozella Packebush on December 18th, 2012 at 6:26 am

    i usually use an external headphone amp for convenience..

    Our blog
    http://www.homeimprovementstuffs.com/computer-fan-types/

  33. I just recently purchased a Risa solid concert, like you did here. Just have a few questions for you, and for anyone else with the Risa solids that have posted here….

    Overall I love it, it’s super light weight, looks beautiful, unique, I have no issues figuring out how to tune it, etc, etc. However, I keep getting a buzzing sound from the strings hitting against the frets, no matter how far up or down on the frets I position my chords, nor how hard or soft I press. Has anyone else had this issue? While I’ve picked up electric guitars and what not in the past, I’m not super used to playing electric guitars or ukes yet. So I’m wondering if I’m just not used to the electric side of things quite yet? Maybe I just need more practice with it?

    The other thing I’ve noticed, is that everyone seemed to comment on how once you get it tuned, it stays tuned for a long time. Which is not the case for mine. But also some of tuners I’ll turn and turn and it seems like it’s not doing anything, until finally it goes, and suddenly I’ve over tuned. Does this mean I should tighten the screws on the tuners, perhaps? I am still fairly new to playing the uke, here, so even regular maintenance is still something I’m still figuring out.

    I love everything about the Risa Solid so much, that I am not giving up on it. But the buzzing thing is irking me quite a bit. I don’t want to jump to the conclusion that I got a defective one or something, as the seller told me he tuned it and made sure it was working great the morning he shipped it off. But then again, if something is wrong with it, I want to be able to exchange it for a different one while I still can. Or if I just suck at playing it, and need to keep working at it…

    (It also doesn’t help that I don’t have an amp for it yet…My birthday is next week, and since I’ve been hinting at one, I figured I better wait.)

    Any help/suggestions/comments/feedback/rants/verbal spew would be greatly appreciated!

  34. Hi Julie, I just bought exactly the same unit you have and I just have one thing in my mind with the headphone amp you are using, which (specifically) unit is it? Acoustic one I’m guessing?

  35. @Shaun Yes, I have the acoustic version from http://www.voxamps.com/amplug/

  36. Thanks Julie!

  37. Re:Geemonster’s post
    Late to this, I realise, but I’ve just bought a Risa concert stick, and also find the tuning tricky so far. I’ve seen that some people mention putting lube on the steel bar that the strings turn round. Haven’t tried that yet as I don’t know whether I need to take strings off first – hoping they will settle eventually without me fiddling with things.
    Any helpful suggestions very welcome. Otherwise I love this instrument.

  38. I just now unwrapped a RISA tenor. It’s quite a disapointment. When I tried to tune it up the high “G” string tuner stopped having an effect, then the string popped. The tuner for the “A” string has a noticeable catch in it that I have to push hard to get through.

    The saddle leans at an angle when I tune the strings up.

    But worst of all is the buzzing: It buzzes like crazy, and in every position whether fingerpicked or strummed, no matter how softly or carefully I play. This one is going back. I’m still in the market for an electric ukulele. Ideas anyone?

  39. Liz I had some buzzing myself, then it stopped picking up on the amp entirely. Sent it back and got a replacement. After the replacement came everything was good, less buzzing. Though the buzzing is partially my crappy strumming/plucking abilities. I would definitely give it another chance. I love the fact that the frets aren’t out on the end, so that my small hands can wrap around the end of the bridge if need be.

    Sally: I don’t know about using lube or your strings settling. But I will highly stress this piece of info the guy who runs the online shop I got mine from told me… If you change the strings at all, do it ONE AT A TIME! Don’t remove them all, then put all the new ones on. He said the pickup area is very very sensitive, and shouldn’t be moved at all, if at all possible. I think that’s partially why my first one stopped working. However I didn’t change the strings or anything.

  40. Thanks so much for your reply, GeeMonster. I’m sad about this uke not working out. I had such high hopes. This one buzzes open and on the 2nd and 4th frets and has quite high action as you move up the neck. It also seems wrong that the saddle slants when the strings are tuned up.

    I may exchange this one on your recommendation though.

    I got mine through ukulele.pua2 on ebay. Is that who you used or is there somewhere else to get these?

  41. It’s interesting that this review is getting some action right now because I just took the Risa with me on vacation to Florida last week. It has been a very long time since I played one of my ukes, so I thought vacation would be a good time to get reacquainted. I didn’t take an amp with me because I thought I would still be able to hear it enough to play and not annoy anyone nearby. It is barely loud enough on its own. Mine doesn’t buzz, but it’s so difficult/awkward to tune. It went back in my pile of ukes when I got home and I doubt it will get much action. I prefer a normal bodied uke for daily playing.

  42. I got mine from ukuleleworld.com, they’re out of TX.

  43. I find it interesting that everyone’s having difficulties with tuning. After I got my replacement, I’ve had no trouble with the tuning on it, nor have I had any difficulties getting used to the tuning situation. Hmm…I guess maybe I’m one of the few?

  44. It’s really hard to turn the tuners both in getting my fingers to grip them and to actually physically turn them. It’s not impossible, but just awkward.

  45. Ahhh, then I guess my little fingers would explain why it hasn’t given me any difficulties.

  46. I’m glad this thread is getting some action right now, just when I took delivery on my Risa and need some help. Thanks to both of you.

    This ukulele looks high quality, but the buzzing is a deal-breaker for me. The awkwardness of the tuners is OK, but that one catches is not. I dont’ mind the shape either, as I play with a strap.

    Do either of you have the leaning saddle problem I mentioned? It’s pretty pronounced on the one I’m sending back.

  47. Can you take a picture of saddle? I’m not sure what you mean.

  48. If you’re talking about the white saddle piece sticking up/out higher on the one side than the other, it is supposed to be like that. Mine does the same thing, and when I had issues with my first solid, I questioned that as well. But the guy I got it from told me that’s how it was made.

  49. I can, but not until tomorrow. Have to head to an appointment now. More later.

  50. For instance on mine, it sticks out more on the G string side.

  51. Got to my appointment early enough to reply. The entire white saddle piece leans forward toward the nut. It’s not flat in the slot, or not perpendicular to it. I’ve never seen a saddle do that before.

  52. Here’s Liz’s image of her bridge. I forgot to check mine. Geemonster, maybe you can compare with yours.

  53. Sent my tenor RISA back without a problem. Thinking about seeing if the concert version would suit me better…

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