Plastic ukuleles can be considered to be both retro and modern. They were really popular back in the 1950’s with plastic ukes from Maccaferri and other brands. Over 60 years later, plastic instruments are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Why would you even want a plastic ukulele? Because it’s an instrument that you won’t have to worry about. You can throw it on the couch, leave it in the back seat of your car, give it to a child to play with, take it camping, etc. All things you might not what to do with a nice solid wood ukulele. I’ve only tried three plastic ukuleles, so I’m not an expert on them by any means. But I do have a real interest in owning one, so when the opportunity was presented, I volunteered to review the new BugsGear Aqulele plastic ukulele from EleUke.
Note: Images can be clicked to view a larger size.
As mentioned above, plastic ukes from the 50’s were very popular and those instruments are still highly sough after today. I know, because I bought one from eBay not long ago, when I felt that I just had to have a plastic ukulele in my collection. My plan was to have a uke that I could leave out on my desk so I’d always have an instrument within easy reach. One that wouldn’t be bothered by low humidity. I also thought a plastic uke would be perfect as a travel companion. But when I opened the box holding the 60 year old TV Land ukulele, I found that sometimes vintage ukes might not be all they are cracked up to be – literally. First of all, it looked fragile and felt brittle. It wouldn’t stay in tune either. So I returned it and started looking for a new plastic ukulele. Next I tried an Outdoor Ukulele which felt much more rugged, but the neck was uncomfortably square and there were obvious intonation problems. That one went back too. Next I tried a Magic Fluke Flea ukulele, which was a huge improvement over the other two, but I didn’t like the shape, so I sold it. Are we sensing a pattern here? Then I tried the least expensive uke I’ve ever purchased, a Makala Dolphin. Like the Flea, it also had a wood (laminate) top, but the back and sides were made of plastic. With a change of strings, it’s turned out to be a pretty decent little beater ukulele, which is what I wanted in the first place.
And then I was offered the chance to review a brand new all plastic ukulele – the BugsGear Aqulele.
The BugsGear Aqulele ukulele is made entirely (except for the strings and tuners) out of ABS plastic and was prototyped using 3D scanned models of wooden ukueles on a CNC machine. The back and neck are all one piece of plastic with the top and fret board separate pieces.
Besides the color, I was sent the purple version, the first thing you notice about this ukulele is the offset sound hole. This is a style feature that has been inherited from Eleuke’s other ukulele models. Also available in pink and natural colors, the Aqulele has a very solid / robust feel to it. BugsGear plans to make this ukulele available in other colors at some point.
The Aqulele is a soprano sized ukulele with 18 frets. In the image above, you see it side by side with a Makala Dolphin.
The Aqulele has a deeper body than the Dolphin, which really helps to give it a full loud voice. More about that in a minute.
The Aqulele uses open geared tuners with plastic pearl buttons. From the short time that I’ve been testing this uke, I’ve found that the tuners turn smoothly and work well.
The bridge is all one piece of plastic that has been glued to the top of the uke. It has slots for the strings that make it really easy to when you need to install a new set of strings. Just tie a knot in the end of the string and slide it through the slot. Done!
I liked the BugsGear Aqulele from the first time I strummed the strings. I was really impressed with how loud the ukulele was able to project the sound and how nice the tone was. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much from a plastic ukulele, but was pleasantly surprised by it. Here are a few sound samples using the stock strings tuned to GCEA.
You probably would not be able to tell that the Aqulele was ukulele made of plastic just from listening to these sound samples.
The only issue I have with the Aqulele is that the action is too high once you get past the 4th or 5th fret. Click the image above to get a better view of the string height. The problem is that the bridge and the nut are both molded into the plastic body and can’t easily be adjusted like a traditional wooden ukulele. That said, I like this ukulele so much that I might experiment with trying to lower the bridge a bit with some sand paper… Even with the high action, it’s not difficult to play if you normally don’t go past the 5th fret. Some of my favorite tunes go up to the 10th fret though, so the action is very noticeable to me.
The BugsGear Aqulele plastic ukulele is a well made, good sounding, solid ukulele that should stand up to a lot of every day abuse much better than a wooden ukulele ever could. With plastic, you don’t have to worry about it drying out and cracking due to low humidity. The Aqulele is priced at $90, which includes a clip-on tuner, strap, padded zippered gig bag and worldwide shipping.
I was sent an updated version of the BugsGear Aqulele plastic ukulele which has a couple changes from the original.
The latest version is the red uke on the left. The original one is the pink uke on the right. A quick glance doesn’t reveal any differences other than the obvious color difference. Otherwise, the ukuleles have the same shape, feel, weight, design, tuning gears, strings and tone. The BugsGear is now available in 10 different colors.
My biggest complaint about the original version of the Aqulele was the high action past the 5th fret. Here can see that the action at the 12th fret is .110 inches.
I’m happy to say that the updated Aquele has a lower action at the same location. At the 12th fret the action is .080 inches which improves playability quite a bit.
The only other noticeable difference is with the fretboard itself. Instead of matching the color of the body it’s made of black plastic. Like the Flea ukulele, I find an all black fretboard makes it hard to see where to fret. Maybe my eyes are getting old, but It’s hard to see the frets when they are the same color as the fretboard.
Side fret markers have been added, which does help, but they removed the markers on fretboard itself. There are indentations for the 3rd, 5th and 7th frets, but since they aren’t painted, it makes it difficult to see them.
They are making good progress with the BugsGear Aqulele plastic ukulele. At this point I would like to see the action lowered just a little bit more and add paint to the frets and fretboard markers.
You can now buy this uke for $59.95 (no case) from Bugsgear.com.
Source: The samples from this review were provided by the BugsGear. Please visit their site for more info.