21″ Mini Size Ukulele Exquisite Workmanship Spruce Ukelele [sic] Ultrathin M3K9
This was an ebay purchase and was listed as a Buy Me Now at $35.58, with free Economy Shipping. The pictures on line were very attractive, I figured for the price, let’s give it a shot. It is listed as unbranded, but has an IZ (ZI?) in a crescent logo on the head. The top is listed as Spruce and the back and sides are listed a Sapele, an African wood often substituted for mahogany. The neck is supposedly mahogany, but as it is completely covered in paint there is no way to tell for sure. The label inside simply has Model No: LA03-21 on it. It showed 15 frets with markers at 5, 7, 10, 12 and 15. Ox bone nut and saddle with rosewood bridge and fingerboard. My biggest reservation was that it was listed as ultrathin and the diagram indicated it was 4 cm thick.
I placed my order on a Friday. I received it eight days later, with a holiday included. It was shipped in the standard soft cardboard ukulele shaped box, wrapped in a soft thinly padded plastic bag and a bit of extra cardboard over the sound hole area. The box was banged up and there was a noticeable crush tear over where the extra cardboard had been placed, obviously a known issue. Despite the lack of packaging material, it arrived intact.
First impression was very good, the instrument matched the pictures very well, the biggest difference being that the finish is glossy and not the matte you see in the listing photographs, though the descriptions says the ‘resonator’ is glossy. The other is that the neck is fully painted, without the ‘binding’ look shown in the photographs. What doesn’t show is that the back of the instrument is actually arched! The length of the string from nut to bridge is 13.5 inches, nothing mini about this! It is a full sized soprano ukulele.
The glossy finish is clean and smooth over everything, no skips with just a few very minor flaws. The black paint is pretty clean, with a few tiny skips and misses that can’t be seen from a foot away. There are a couple of small places on the corners where there is a bit of discoloration, perhaps due to a knock or hit, or being the lowest place when the over coat was put on.
The first issue I found was that it rattled. It only took a minute to determine that it was one of the tuner pegs not being fully seated, and a quick push with my pliers resolved that. I cannot tell if the binding is actually binding, I suspect that it is simply a lack of black paint on the edges to give it that look. But the look of it on the body, front and back is very attractive.
The fret board was very dry, it did not appear to have been oiled. I loosened the strings and gave it a quick hit with some fret board oil. It soaked in quickly and gave the fret board the rich wood look you expect. Rather than being plain wood at the edges of the fret board, it was painted. The neck was very smooth and not even a hint of any frets as you slide up and down the neck. Not sure what material the inlays on the fret board are, probably plastic, but they are cleanly set in and flush with the surface. It took a jeweler’s loop to see any gaps in the inlay.
The nut and saddle have the smooth clean look of plastic, but a quick look through the loop revealed the expected grain of bone. Matte finish nylon strings tuned up quickly, the tuners working well without any slop in them, though one needed a quick hit with the screwdriver to hold properly.
The sound, as might be expected, is rather thin. While the thickness at the bottom strap peg is 4 cm, it narrows to a bit over 3 cm at the neck. The tone is good, but it is not going to carry in a large room. For playing for a few people, or practicing without driving the household crazy, this is a good instrument. I believe the value for what you get is spot on and would suggest it for a beginning instrument for a youngster, or for practicing on your own.
I’ve completed a video of sound samples and you can watch it on my YouTube channel at 21-inch Mini Ukulele Review.