Sawtooth STUKEMPS Mahogany Pineapple Soprano Ukulele Review
I have had the pleasure to get to know a number of ukulele players in the Twin Cities area (Minnesota), and one of my ukulele friends contacted me on Ukulele Underground to let me know that there was a ukulele at Walmart.com that I might be interested in buying.
Don’t get me wrong–I love my handful of expensive ukuleles, which I would grab if the house was on fire. That said, I love bargain ukuleles. I like having them because I don’t have to worry about them, and when I find them, I like being able to recommend them to others who would buy one as a first instrument. Not all budget ukuleles are worth it for a first purchase. Admittedly, reviews by others do impact my opinion. I still like the Caramel brand, but since Barry Maz of gotukulele.com reviewed a Caramel and hated it, I have shied away from recommending it to others.
One of the cheapest ways to get into ukulele is to buy online…Amazon, eBay, and yes, even Wal-Mart. There is a danger in doing so, as none of these budget retailers are going to sell a ukulele that has been set up for you. There is a strong chance that there will be problems on a budget ukulele–problems that will have to be fixed at a later time if you keep playing the instrument. What are those challenges?
- High action at the nut and/or saddle, resulting in having to press harder to make chords, and to cause the strings to bend down so much that the instrument is not able to be played in tune
- A dry instrument, particularly the fretboard and bridge, which causes the fretboard to shrink, resulting in fret ends being exposed to the player
- Buzzing of the instrument
- Low quality imitation strings (some identifying themselves as something they are not)
If you buy a ukulele from one of the proven online retailers, set-up is included that makes sure that you are buying a quality instrument that has been set-up properly for you. A professional player may have additional requirements for set-up, but most of us aren’t pro players, are we?
The Sawtooth ukulele is found by searching for “Sawtooth Ukulele” and then choosing “pineapple” in the options. The instrument is normally $40, but was on rollback for $17.08. At the moment, there are only three left in inventory, so if the $17.08 price is no longer available when you read this post, please do not get mad at me.
I chose to have to the instrument to my closest Wal-Mart to avoid shipping costs, and the final bill with Minnesota tax was $18.08. The instrument took about a week to arrive at my Wal-Mart, and came well packed as a box within a box.
Unlike many of the budget ukuleles on Amazon, all that comes with the Sawtooth Mahogany Pineapple Soprano Ukulele is the ukulele (with strings, of course). There is no gig bag, so if you want a gig bag for the instrument, you’ll have to buy that separately.
Some basics about the ukulele:
- Soprano Scale (13.5″)
- 21″ long, 7″ wide, 2.75″ deep (including saddle)
- Laminate mahogany pineapple-style body
- A unique headstock (Not your Martin crown clone)
- 15 frets
- Front markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, and 15th frets
- No side marker dots
- Plastic saddle and nut
- 34mm nut (34.72mm)
- Spacing of strings is 8.65mm at the first fret
- Rosewood fretboard and bridge (shows old stock, as new ukuleles do not use Rosewood due to CITIES restrictions)
- The bridge is glued and screwed to the body (common practice on inexpensive ukuleles)
- The bridge is a standard tie-bar bridge
- Large button, geared tuners
- Aquila Super Nylgut strings
- Notched perfling inside the ukulele
- A rough satin finish
- A unique headstock shape
- A neck made of 3 pieces (Mahogany? Okumue?)
- A laser engraved logo around the soundhole
Pineapple ukuleles are an interesting body shape. I believe that Kamaka began the idea of a pineapple ukulele. The pineapple supposedly offers more surface area, which should result in more tone than a traditional ukulele of a similar size.
The build, overall, seems very nice-with notched perfling inside and standard bracing, as well as top and bottom blocks.
The sound of the ukulele is acceptable. I think Aquila Super Nylgut strings are a mismatch on many laminate ukuleles. Laminate ukuleles tend to have a tone that emphasizes lower parts of the harmonic overtone series–and Super Nylgut Strings tend to bring out those qualities. I would suggest immediately switching to Aquila Sugar Strings or fluorocarbon strings (such as the Martin 600 strings), as those strings help bring out the higher overtones of the ukulele…creating a bright sound.
As you take off the strings, you will need to address the two biggest problems with this ukulele: the fretboard was bone dry, and as a result, the fret ends were exposed. I didn’t hurt myself playing the Sawtooth Pineapple, but it wasn’t comfortable, either. I invested in a fret end file, as exposed frets are a issue with any wood-based ukulele (laminate or solid wood, as fretboards are still wood) and I have a number of ukuleles that need some fretboard work. Having to work on fretboard ends is not an unusual thing–but you shouldn’t have to file fret ends on a ukulele when it is new.
I also don’t know why the manufacturers of these instruments don’t ship the ukuleles with a healthy dose of lemon oil on the fretboard in the first place.
I checked the action on the ukulele—which arrived almost in tune (someone might have bought it and sent it back), and the action was excellent (2.5mm) at the 12th fret, and possibly a touch high at the nut. I did not do anything to the action of the ukulele and left it as I bought it.
I replaced the strings (Martin 600), filed the fret ends, and oiled the fretboard (and the rest of the instrument). I’d recommend StewMac’s lemon oil or Dunlop 65 lemon oil. I also added strap buttons. The strings are about $6, the fret end file is $25, and lemon oil is $8. You don’t need to buy strap buttons, but if you do, they are relatively inexpensive on eBay (you just have to wait for a long time). If you buy this ukulele, you’ll want to invest in the same accessories (maybe not the strap). Add in the time factor to do this work, and you will at least match the cost of the ukulele–making the purchase of a entry level ukulele from an online dealer such as Mim’s Ukes or The Uke Republic (who deal with entry level ukuleles) a better economic purchase, as the ukulele will arrive ready to be tuned and play (suggestion: if you are buying a laminate from these stores, ask for fluorocarbon strings like Martin 600).
The mahogany laminate is thin, but unremarkable in pattern (My Makala MK-CE has a much prettier pattern). The only negative about the pattern is on the bottom of the ukulele where an “eye” appears in the wood. Thankfully it is on the bottom, but there is no need for such a bad piece of laminate to be used. The tuners also leave something to be desired–and one of them has already become harder to turn than the others. I may eventually replace the tuners, but doing so will match or exceed the cost of the ukulele–so what is the point?
Ultimately, if you are looking for a cheap ukulele of a decent build quality, and there are still some of these left at $17.08, consider buying one. Know that there will be some work to do when it arrives. At its non-rollback $40 cost, it is less of a bargain, as you can buy a better ukulele that is set-up from a reputable online dealer with set-up included. And if you have to buy online, I’d suggest looking at some Enya laminates (not the HPL compared in the video) or the Aklot solid top ukuleles, which come in a kit (although you’ll want to change the strings on those ukuleles, too, particularly the Enya). As for me, this won’t be my last cheap ukulele…and it is a good enough of instrument that I won’t be looking to burn it any time soon.
- Posted in: Ukulele Review