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The Story of the Lava U

At the 2020 NAMM Winter Convention, a new ukulele captured the attention of the ukulele word—the Lava U.  The Lava U is a modern-looking ukulele, closest in shape to a pineapple ukulele or like a small dreadnought ukulele.  It is injection molded, made of a mixture of polycarbonate and carbon fiber, and formed with a unique system of honeycombed internal bracing.   The design of and materials used in the ukulele are intended to lighten it, as well as to increase the physical strength and tonal qualities of the instrument.  The Lava U also includes metal frets, unlike other injection molded instruments on the market.

In addition to its physical construction, the Lava U is offered with an acoustic effects system designed with another company (Double), which Lava Music calls “FreeBoost”.  This system allows a a player to add reverb, chorus, and delay to the ukulele’s sound with or without amplification.  Several companies are offering similar systems—some also created in collaboration with Double. 

In addition to these high tech features, the ukulele has a thin, rounded, player friendly design in sparkling (literally) colors, and comes in what many are calling a “space case,” a white plastic case with a clear front panel, which really draws attention to the ukulele.  Simply put, no other ukulele shares all of these features, and there is nothing else quite like it on the market.  It is a ukulele unicorn that actually exisits.

So, who brought this unicorn of a ukulele to the market?  Lava Music.

Lava Music was started in 2013 by Louis Luk, who wanted to see more people introduced to the world of music.  The idea for the company was started in Los Angeles at the Musicians Institute, but the company itself is located Guangzhou, China (in the Southeast part of China, relatively close to Hong Kong).  The company originally built wood guitars in a traditional style, but Mr. Luk wanted to develop a unibody guitar with the goals of making it consistently responsive to the player and more comfortable to hold. Original efforts by the company were focused on making a guitar out of a single block of wood, routed by a CNC machine.  It took over forty hours to rout the body of the guitar alone, and the final product was heavy and did not sound good.

Learning from the process, Lava Music began to question the use of wood as a material for a unibody guitar and decided to explore the use of new materials.  The design team eventually decided to use a combination of carbon fiber and polycarbonate, which was later named “AirSonic.”  At the time that Lava Music developed “AirSonic,” the materials were only used by the automotive industry, and it took time for the company to find partners who were willing to work with a music company.  Lava Music believes the mixture of carbon fiber and polycarbonate is a good substitute for wood, and with continued development, may even be better than wood.  At the very least, the use of these new materials will spare the use of a lot of trees. 

In 2016, over a twelve week period of time, a six ton mold was created to form Lava’s first unibody guitar.  Research helped to decide how the instrument was braced, resulting in a honeycomb pattern, called  BreatheNet.  BreatheNet is used in all of the instruments made by Lava Music.  The Lava ME guitar was well-received.  Since 2017, Lava has already produced two versions of the Lava ME guitar, and is now shipping the Lava U ukulele.

Development of the Lava U began in 2017, shortly after Lava Music began production of the Lava ME guitar.  Mr. Luk recognized that some people struggle to learn guitar, and the ukulele represents an easier path for beginners—and it is a fun and happy instrument.  While guitars are generally large instruments, ukuleles are small enough that they can be easily transported and used in many settings.  Furthermore, after developing the Lava ME guitar, Lava Music believed that the technology used in creating the Lava ME could be applied to a ukulele.  In the process of designing the Lava U, the design team learned that building a ukulele was not the same as building a guitar—and they had to make adjustments to their design to best suit the smaller instrument.  The design of the Lava U was completed by the end of 2018, refined throughout 2019, and brought to the attention of the world at Winter NAMM 2020.

Two of the most striking features of the Lava U are the colors it comes in, as well as the “Space Case.”  Lava Music made sure that the ukuleles were offered in colors that would appeal to a wide range of buyers—with an particualr emphasis on their female customers.  Market research showed that up to 80% of the potential buyers of the Lava U would be female buyers.   The “Space Case,” which looks like a prop from a Star Wars movie, was a challenge for the company to create.  It required careful design choices and the creation of a special mold, as no one else has created such a case.  Great care was given to the choice of that materials that were used  as well as the final color of the case.  The case allows the owner of a Lava U to protect their investment and to show it off to the world, rather than hiding it in a bag or hard case.

As of May 2020, Lava Music is offering the Lava U in two sizes (Concert and Tenor) with or without the FreeBoost acoustic effects package, in six sparkle colors (black, blue, red, purple, pink, and gold), with the Space Case included.  The acoustic version is currently selling from $299 (concert) and ukuleles with the FreeBoost effects system sell for up to $399 (Tenor).

Lava Music can be found at https://lavamusic.com, and the Lava U can be purchased in the United States from The Uke Republic. A One Minute Review, a UkeGuide Review, and a written review of this ukulele will be available from ukestuff.info in the near future.

(5/15/2020)


Note: I received a Lava U for review purposes, but was not paid to review the instrument.  I was asked to write about the company—which I was happy to do with a focus on the development of the ukulele. I was also asked to write a written review in addition to my usual video reviews. There have been no other conditions placed on what I can write, and I feel I can objectively review the ukulele under these terms. The information in this article has been provided by Lava Music, as have the promotional photos used in this article (used with permission from Lava Music).

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