Enya KUC-20 Review
If you want to buy a ukulele, where do you start? Most buyers will just go to Amazon, look up “ukulele” and buy the cheapest option they can find. They might read the reviews on Amazon–which may not be accurate.
I’ll be honest–my first ukulele was purchased in much the same way. I had done a little bit of research, so I knew that I wanted to stay away from friction tuners on inexpensive ukuleles…but that was about it. My first ukulele was a Mahalo MK1 series ukulele, and I eventually bought these for our school as our first set of ukuleles. Several years later (and wiser), I wouldn’t recommend this approach.
While price may seem to be the biggest factor in the purchase of a ukulele, what I have learned is that the playing experience is more important than anything else. As a result, I recommend a phone call or e-mail to Mim’s Ukes or The Use Republic (and no, I don’t get any kickback for referring them) to see what they would recommend as a first ukulele. These companies will set up the ukulele they sell you, regardless of price point, so that it is easier to play. On many ukuleles, string action (the height of the strings from the fretboard) is very high, making it more difficult to play notes at the first fret, and also forcing the ukulele out of tune (the amount you have to press results in enough force to make the string bend more than it should to stay in tune). You can get into an entry level Ohana or Kala from Mim’s Ukes or the Uke Republic in the $60 range (not including shipping)…which results in a $30 to $40 difference from the cheapest ukuleles you can find on Amazon. That $30 may seem a like a lot of money, but when it comes to an instrument, it really isn’t.
But what about the person that is going to buy from Amazon because of the issue of price? The ukulele I currently recommend for this purchase, more than any other, is the Enya KUC-20, which is their Sapele laminate concert ukulele kit. Concert is my favorite scale, personally, but I also like it because it isn’t as small as a soprano, nor as big as a tenor (“big” is relative, compared to a guitar). The kit comes with closed Enya tuners, Enya’s fluorocarbon strings (which seem improved to me), an extra set of strings, a tuner, a neck strap (more about that later), and a really nice gig bag. As I have suggested this ukulele, it has shifted up and down between $45 and $55 in price.
The teacher’s union in our district recently offered $500 mini-grants to members who drew up a proposal for a grant. I wanted to add ukuleles to our collection of ukuleles that I allow students to take home. I chose the Enya KUC-model. I don’t know how many mini-grants were applied for, but I received one, and the union treasure immediately ordered the ukuleles and they showed up yesterday!
You know you are a ukulele fanatic when you travel with a string action gauge…and each one of the Enya KUC-20 ukuleles came with action below .50mm at the 1st fret and 2.00mm at the 12th fret (really low action) and no buzzing. The quality standards of these Enya ukuleles–as well as the others I have bought and seen, are outstanding.*
The KUC-20 is concert scale, and comes with a manufactured ebony (I think it is really Richlite) fingerboard and bridge, with a Nu-Bone saddle. The strings are through-bridge, just as in the previous EUR-X1s that we bought two years ago during a ridiculous Amazon sale–$29 each at the time. There are no side markers on this generation of Enya ukuleles. The manufactured ebony is attractive, and I don’t know how it will react to severe temperatures and low humidity. I’m hoping our students take good enough care of them that things don’t go wrong, and we don’t have to charge them to replace them.
As it comes to the Enya gig bag, you aren’t going to find many gig bags that are as nice as Enya gig bags, particularly when included with the instrument. Sure, if you buy a $1200 Kamaka, it comes in a lovely case. Buy a $50 ukulele, and you usually have to buy a gig bag, and if you try to get a cheap gig bag ($20 or less), it is going to be a thin dust cover with a zipper. The Enya material is thick, with a single strap (you really don’t need two) and best of all, a hook on the back, which is ideal for storage…or to put on a wall hook or even a bathroom hook. There is also a small pocket. You would easily pay $25 to $35 for gig bag with similar features, such as the Kaces Concert Ukulele Bag (referral link on Amazon), effectively making the ukulele $25 or less by itself, not counting the tuner or extra strings.
I won’t say much about the Enya tuner…it is a clip-on tuner that works, and it comes with a battery.
I only have a few nitpicks about the KUC-20, and I’ll share them. All of them are meaningless as it comes to the instrument itself. First, I am not a fan of the rosette. It is a floral pattern, which in and of itself would be fine. That said, it has a place where there is a larger engraving as part of the design. I would prefer that the rosette be the same all the way around. Second, the ukulele comes with two strap buttons, but the included strap is the variety that goes under the instrument and clips into the sound hole. I love that a strap is included, but wouldn’t a two-hole strap (even made of the same material) be cheaper to make, and better with the instrument? And finally–and this is REALLY minor–the KUC box ships with yellow-discolored packaging tape, as if the instruments were stored with a chain smoker (no, the instrument doesn’t smell like smoke). The packaging tape should be clear.
Those are REALLY minor issues. I don’t think you can find a better starter ukulele package on the market at this time, unless you order a ukulele from Mim’s Ukes or The Uke Republic.** And the best part is that this is a ukulele you can keep around even after you have bought your second (and third, and fourth…) ukulele, or it could be a ukulele that you could later gift to another beginner.
In a recent article that I wrote for Bonanza Magazine, I indicated that I like to suggest ukuleles without wooden fretboards for schools. I stand behind that logic because of the challenges of dealing with a wooden fretboard. These instruments are more susceptible to damage, being wood (while laminate) and severe heat (e.g. locked in a car in summer) could hurt the instrument. I’m not sure if a lack of humidity will cause the fingerboard to shrink. As a result, I don’t recommend these 100% for classroom use like I would an Outdoor Ukulele. But for an instrument that a student could take come, knowing they were responsible for its care, or for a personal purchase–the KUC-20 is an incredible purchase. You can find it at Amazon here, which is a referral link (a small percentage of the purchase price would come back to my work here and on YouTube).
Barry Maz on Got a Ukulele just reviewed the Enya EUC-X1M, which is in the same price point, and it may also be worth considering. Check out that review (link). While the potential durability of the HPL is tempting (and I do like the looks of the X1M better than the KUC-20), the missing hanging loop on the back of the case might be a deal breaker for our use, as our storage solution for our rental ukuleles (in gig bags) is a hanging rack!
*I have now heard of two EUT-X1 (tenor model X1s) that experienced a warped neck…in fact, one of those two is in my possession. With 22 Enya ukuleles at school, one that I bought at home, and two others that I gave as gifts, I have not seen any issues like this. I’m guessing there was a bad batch of necks (or green) that went on a few X1 tenors.
**You might wonder why I don’t recommend buying from your local music store or even Guitar Center, Sam Ash, or whatever. Ultimately, if your local music store will sell you a ukulele with set-up at the same price or a competitive price, then by all means, do so. Unfortunately, the ukulele is a high volume item for many dealers (at least in the terms of music stores) and most local dealers unbox ukuleles and put them on the sales floor to sell…sometimes not even tuning them. Many stores will offer set-up as an additional charge, and then you have to hope they know what they are doing. It is not uncommon for a set-up to cost an additional $25 to $50, and people will skip the set-up, and try to play a ukulele that isn’t easy to play. As a result, many people stop playing–which could have been avoided by buying a well set-up ukulele in the first place. A set-up should be for a general player–advanced players will have specific requests. Therefore, support your local music store for strings, books, and accessories–but if set-up isn’t included or is really expensive, look at Mim’s Ukes and The Uke Republic. I have also heard that Elderly Music is good and The Ukulele Site is great, but they now only deal with mid-level and higher ukuleles with internet sales.
- Posted in: Ukulele Review