Caramel CT102A Tenor Zebrawood Laminate Ukulele Details

Caramel CT102A Tenor Zebrawood Laminate Ukulele Details

Note: if you choose to buy a Caramel CT102A Tenor Ukulele, a Caramel CC102A Concert Ukulele, or a Donner Concert Ukulele, I would always appreciate it if you could use a referral link for Amazon–which sends a portion of Amazon’s profits my direction (links above).

This evening I brought a few of our school ukuleles home to restring them for left-handed players, and I thought I would add a few details about these ukuleles. Please ignore the string colors/gauges as they are configured for left handed players.

The first ukulele is the Caramel CT102A, available from eBay, Amazon, or http://www.caramelukulele.com. At the time of writing (8/21/2017), this ukulele is available from Caramel for $39 and Amazon for $40 without a case. Shipping can take up to 4 weeks in the United States, although the company has talked about building inventory in the United States and shipping domestically. It arrives in a cardboard box which has a layer of styrofoam, with the ukulele in a clear plastic bag. Multiple ukuleles are shipped taped together as one larger box.

Caramel’s Statistics, along with my notes:

  • Model: CT102A
  • Tenor size
  • Zebra wood body NOTE: Also a headstock Zebrawood layer–Caramel Logo can be lasered or sticker. The wood itself is 1.87mm thick, and the Zebrawood seems to have a lot of pockmarks, the print DOES show through on the back side of the laminate, 2 piece construction on sides, front, and back.
  • Rosewood fretboard & bridge NOTE: This should change with CITIES restrictions, very square bottom of the fretboard, and the fretboard does not have a radius (curved) as should be expected.
  • Buffalo bone nut & saddle
  • Neck: Unknown wood, 3 joints
  • 17 frets NOTE: I count 18, 14 to the body, nickel silver frets
  • ABS binding
  • Headstock: Not a copy of a Martin “crown”
  • Open geared tuners NOTE: Some turn easier than others, but none have failed
  • Frosted tuning pegs(not plastic) NOTE: Rubberized tuner heads
  • Aquila Super Nylgut String
  • Fretboard markers: 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th (2), 15th frets
  • Side markers: None
  • Rosette: laser etched sun
  • Kerfing: notchedLabel: Identifies manufacturer and model

Size:

  • 17 Tenor Scale
  • 26 Overall body length
  • 11-3/5 Body length
  • 2-3/4 Body depth NOTE: 2.67 inches deep
  • 1-3/8 At Nut NOTE: 35.35mm nut, 8.6mm spacing between strings at the 1st fret
  • Weight 1 pound 1.8oz, seems to be well balanced between body and neck

Some Observations:

Barry Maz at gotaukulele.com reviewed a concert scale Caramel and didn’t like it at all. He had major concerns about finish, sound, and that there might be structural concerns with the fretboard sinking into the top of the ukulele. His concerns should be noted.

In my opinion, Caramels have average to louder volume, and limited sustain. The CT102A doesn’t have a remarkable tone–it is rather standard. I think it may have something to do with Zebrawood laminate…it may just be a very limited tone wood. You MAY have to set up a Caramel ukulele to play more optimally. In general, set-up has improved since we started buying the instruments, and the nut height (1mm or lower is generally held to be “right”) is usually good; however, some saddles have been unnecessarily high. Fret edges have been better lately…but a Minnesota winter makes the fret ends stick out. Considering the cost, I just attack them with a sanding block, and the problem is solved. Saddles are easy enough to adjust, and some sand paper and some time may well make this worth the purchase as a school instrument. We have 50 Caramels in total, and I personally own a Caramel sopranino ukulele. They are extremely rugged and have handled a lot of abuse from middle school students. One student managed to scratch the back of a ukulele–but otherwise they show nearly no signs of being played by over 350 students.

Caramel keeps adjusting its build quality and does respond to customer feedback. Some new Caramel concerts have a new pin bridge. I was told that Caramel plans to add side fret marker dots.

Pros: Great Price, Rugged, Loud. The tuners have been good for us, whereas we have had to replace some tuners on other instruments.

Negatives: Can develop sharp fret ends, saddle may need adjustment, very basic tone, no side markers, no case included in the price, Zebrawood is a love it or hate it type of laminate, the same with the sun motif

Conclusion: When Barry Maz gave the concert sized Caramel such a negative review, I had to question my support of the brand–but I find myself still supporting Caramel. These are fantastic “beater” ukuleles for the school setting, where ukuleles may not be taken care of (I think a bit of Toy Story 3, how the toys found themselves at a day care facility). I think they are also great for beginners who don’t know if they want to continue with ukulele. $39 or $40 for a tenor ukulele is almost nothing–and the laminate wood will not require much care at all. That said, fret ends and action can be an issue, so if you recommend a Caramel, make sure you can help someone with it if necessary. Yes, you can spend $30 more and get accessories and a gig bag (A Donner concert, for example). However, $30 can make a big difference to a starter–and to be honest, there are far worse instruments out there in a much higher price range. We could not have replaced our Mahalo MK1 ukuleles with Caramels if each cost nearly double what we paid for each instrument. While there is much to be said for buying from a well known dealer who sets up each ukulele, checking action and fret ends, you are only going to find these online.

Video Play Along Lists Updated!

While I will not post updated lists in a blog post, I will post when I have updated them.

I updated the lists today.

If you go to my Video Play Along page, you will find a list of videos I have created, a list of my 365 project, and three lists of the “universal” collection by title,

We’re up to 242 songs.  Please let me know if you ever find a broken link or a missing file.

My most recent videos include Grace VanderWaal’s Moonlight, Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years, and Bruno Mars’ Just the Way You Are.

This is my last month of freedom before the school year starts, so if you have a request, please let me know.  It would be helpful to know if you have a source video to work from, and any special requests (KIDS colored strings diagrams?  Simplified chords?  A different key?).  I found a new listing of easy songs today that I will be working through–so I do have some things to keep working on.

And again, these videos are fun for me to work on. They combine a love of the ukulele, a love of technology, music analysis, and creativity–and it is wonderful to end with a video that looks good and that can be used instructionally or in public play along venues.  So, please, if you have requests…let me know.

I will also keep working on the 365 project…much more slowly, although the next 4 to 5 songs are pretty easy.  As I look ahead, I don’t know some of these songs at all!

Ukulele Play Along…What do you need?

This summer, I have made a large number of ukulele play along videos, with three purposes:

  • Videos that I wanted to use with my own students, but were not available
  • Videos that specific people needed to use with a program (I had a list to work from)
  • Videos of music that we use in ukulele jams, or songs in the top 10 on ukutabs.com.

Occasionally a good song fell into my lap. Sometimes songs didn't work out so well. Other educators continue to add to the collection as well…Dr. Jill Reese just released a version of Uptown Funk (Kids Bop Version).

I have gone through all of the top two categories, and will keep my eye on the third…but with a few weeks of summer left (I won't have time to do much of this once school is back in session), I have a question…

What songs do you need made into ukulele play along videos? What would help you and your program? I can't promise anything, but if you let me know, I will try to start meeting those requests. Just send me an e-mail at my techinmusiced gmail address.

Bruce Wei Concert Ukulele

Bruce Wei Concert Ukulele

For some time, I have been watching Bruce Wei ukuleles on eBay. Bruce is a luthier in Vietnam, who sells on eBay. He makes solid wood instruments, and is also known for his inlay work on those instruments. He also sells parts to other luthiers. He can make custom ukuleles, and can do custom inlay work. Some of his instruments start on eBay (his main channel) for $0.99, other instruments list at other prices and sell for more than $400. Ultimately, it is very inexpensive way to purchase a ukulele made by a small shop.

The internet has had mixed opinions on Bruce's work, including some horror stories (instruments that split) from the past all the way to raving reviews. The general consensus seems to be: pretty ukuleles with thicker woods (thinner woods tend to resonate better), smaller bodies than other makes, and thus are pretty quiet. Most reviewers are happy with their purchases, although many gravitate towards other instruments in time.

I have been watching the mandolin-type ukuleles on Bruce's site…the "F Hole" design looks so attractive. Those F Hole instruments only seem to appear in mandolin and arch top ukulele designs. I am generally not drawn to fancy inlay work–particularly on the fretboard, which would distract me as I play. I admit that I do look at the fretboard from time to time and do no navigate just by the side marker dots.

My watching of Bruce Wei Ukuleles was further inspired by Ukulele Underground. There is one member there who has had Bruce custom make a few instruments–so he is always a champion for his products. Additionally, there was discussion about Bruce possibly stopping the construction of ukuleles–I am not sure where that stands (originally there was a statement about health concerns, but that sounds as if that were not the case). I don't know of any other "custom" manufacturer that sells ukuleles like this…so my interest was ignited.

The other week, Bruce listed a concert ukulele that had a very simply fretboard (no crazy inlay), F Holes, and a side sound port on a traditional ukulele body. It was $99 for the lowest bid, plus $65 shipping, so I bid–and won the item (the $0.99 instruments never sell for that little).

The ukulele arrived last week while I was on vacation–so I picked it up yesterday. The ukulele includes:

  • Acacia wood
  • Minimal inlay on the fretboard
  • Bound fretboard with side markers at 5, 7, 10, 12, and 15
  • F Holes with minor inlay
  • Side sound-port with a a checkerboard
  • The body and back are made of two pieces of wood, book matched
  • The sides are made of two pieces of wood
  • No edge binding on this ukulele
  • A rather dark, unadorned headstock (Bruce can customize this with your name, logo, etc).
  • Very standard tuners that work, but do not feel very smooth
  • Aquila Super Nylgut strings
  • Very nice action, under 2.5mm at the 12th fret and less than 1mm at the 1st fret. No buzzing.
  • 20 nickel silver frets, 14 to the body. All are finished well…no sharp edges.
  • Bone saddle and nut, and the nut is nicely shaped with no sharp edges.
  • The neck is straight, no cracks in the wood and the finish is a flat satin that feels nice to the touch
  • The neck seems to be made of two pieces…with a joint at the heel.
  • The headstock departs from the crown motif on so many ukuleles
  • Came with a soft case (which is a little silly, as it will need a solid case for the Midwest winter that is right around the corner, even in August)

There is no doubt that the thickness of the wood is much greater than my solid wood Martin S1 Soprano and KoAloha Opio Tenor. The top, in particular, might benefit a lot from a thinner sound board, but I would have to guess that Bruce's process is based on trial and error. The sound with the Aquilas was pleasant, but muffled. I put Martin 600 strings on the instrument (what I normally use), and the ukulele sounds richer and fuller to me–but it will never be a "screamer" like the Martin can be, or the Opio is.

On the inside, things look fine. I can see some areas where the glue seeped past the purfling, but not to excess. I don't see any significant mess in there. There is a Bruce Wei label in there, but no one will ever be able to read it without dismantling the ukulele.

I have three other Concert scaler instruments at the current time…a Makala MK-CE (my first ukulele), a Lanikai LU-21CE/BK, and a Kala Concert Banjolele. I really like the Concert size, and a future purchase will be a KoAloha Concert or a KoAloha Opio Concert. The Bruce Wei size is smaller than the Makala, and even smaller than the Lanikai. Both the Makala and Lanikai drive significantly more sound than the Bruce Wei (all use Martin strings). However, that isn't to say that the Bruce Wei is a super soprano…it is significantly larger than my Martin S1. That said, the top of the Martin appears to be 1/2 to 1/3 the thickness of the Bruce Wei. It makes me wonder what this ukulele could sound like with a much thinner top (I can see leaving thickness on the sides and back)! That said, the Bruce Wei sells for 1/3 of the cost of the Martin (new).

All that said, the Bruce Wei doesn't sound unpleasant, and has a nice warm, clear sound with the Martin 600 strings–although is just isn't going to be loud. I have no problem playing harmonics at the 12th, 7th, and 5th frets. Another factor may be the F Holes and the lack of a traditional sound hole. The Kala arch tops that I have played (all laminate) leave me unimpressed in terms of sound as well. I would say–from memory–that I like the sound of the Bruce Wei better than the Kala arch top–but I haven't played an arch top with fluorocarbon strings, either.

In summary, the negative aspects of the ukulele are:

  • Very marginal tuners, which work and look nice–but could be better
  • A very thick sound board
  • A body that is smaller in terms of length and depth than other Concert ukuleles
  • A rather quiet ukulele
  • In truth, I would prefer the F Holes without the inlay around them

The positives, for me, are:

  • A unique F Hole design that appeals to me as a classical musician
  • Solid acacia instrument that may open up more over time…the finish feels nice to the touch
  • Bound fretboard
  • Limited fretboard inlay (for a Bruce Wei ukulele)
  • Side Sound Port
  • Warm, pleasing tone

For a $163 ukulele that is relatively "custom" I think I am pleased–I can buy a louder ukulele in the same price range (or lower, such as my Makala MK-CE, which was $85). If I could buy another solid wood ukulele from another manufacturer with some of the same design features, I might consider it–but I don't know of other ukuleles like this.

I have only been working with this ukulele for 28 hours or so…and thus I will attempt to follow up in the future.

Here is a video review, including a demonstration with the stock Aquila strings and the Martin 600 strings:

https://youtu.be/4KGwvGAYXdk

Some Enya EUR-X1 Videos


I have been working on two new ukuleles today, but the real show stopper is the Enya EUR-X1 that I blogged about earlier today. I simply cannot believe that the Enya costs as little as it does and that it comes with everything that it has.

  • HPL Laminate (same as Martin laminate instruments)
  • Removable neck (potentially, you could swap a Concert or Tenor neck)
  • Radius fretboard
  • Truss Rod
  • Smooth fret edges
  • Compensated saddle
  • Pull-through bridge
  • Strap buttons
  • Really nice feeling tuners
  • Incredibly nice action (string height)
  • Good intonation
  • Gig Bag
  • Strap (ukulele)
  • Cleaning Cloth
  • Capo
  • Tuner
  • Finger shaker (?)
  • Picks (?)
  • Extra Strings (don't use them)

The negatives?

  • The strings are low tension, and have very little difference in gauge for the different pitches.
  • It is a softer ukulele, even with different strings. It doesn't punch like a Martin laminate soprano. That doesn't mean it sounds bad.
  • The nut is a little sharp on the edges for my preference
  • The lower body presses against my arm and hurts a little as I play it

Those negatives are REALLY minor for a less than $30 ukulele. Want to buy one? Consider using my Amazon referral link (click here) and send a small percentage of Amazon's profits my way!

Some videos:

A review:

https://youtu.be/1SPaF59Laxo

A demonstration on how to change the strings on a pull-through bridge:

https://youtu.be/gidUUzoHabk

A comparison of the stock strings and Martin 600 fluorocarbon strings. I don't hear much difference in the final sound, but there is a difference in feeling as you play.

https://youtu.be/wbsevBkDGDU

It is too good to be true…but it isn’t false…

I just took delivery on two new ukuleles. One is a "custom" Bruce Wei concert ukulele that was $99 plus $65 shipping from Vietnam. The strings are still settling, and I will be removing those strings anyway…so I'm leaving that for now.

The other is an Enya Soprano Camp Ukulele. It is currently under $29, and comes with the ukulele, gig bag, tuner, cleaning cloth, truss rod adjuster, strap, extra strings (will say more about this later), picks (?), and a capo. Mine was $30.99 and the price has gone DOWN since I ordered it last week.

The ukulele is made of High Pressure Laminate…a higher quality and thinner (thinner usually equals more resonance)…apparently the same as Martin OX model ukuleles. The ukulele also has a radius fretboard (something only my high level Pono has), a truss rod (again, something only my Pono has), strap buttons (only my Bonanza came with these), and the neck is removable.

Right now, the uke is quiet, but easy to play…clearly high quality and completely insane that it is $29. Insane.

If you have been looking for a travel ukulele, or ukuleles for your school…and can get "in" on this deal…do it. You will need to replace the strings, which are junk…I prefer Martin fluorocarbon strings on all of my ukuleles (except my Banjolele), which are inexpensive…but strings are a subjective matter.

We still had some fundraising money at school, so I immediately ordered 10 for our program. That is less than $300 for 10 ukuleles. I was considering buying Outdoor Ukuleles (at a school cost, would still be $50 each) plus a gig bag ($15) for students to have access to ukuleles at school. I decided to get these instead with existing funds. We already have KIDS Ukulele Strings to put on them.

I'll post a video or two about this ukulele later…I'll try to record with the crummy strings, and then to later record with the Martins.

Oh…want a link? This is a referral which sends some of Amazon's profit my way:

Enya Soprano Camp Ukulele

Martin 600 strings (Soprano/Concert)

Want to get KIDS Ukulele Strings? Individual Packs are slightly more expensive than other strings, but the cost includes a donated set to a charity like Ukulele Kids Club; sets of 20 can be ordered directly from Aquila.

Slowing Down & Speeding Up YouTube Videos

I am starting to work on a wickedly hard ukulele play along (I’m not saying what it is yet), and I realize that even the best players are going to need to stop and take a look at some of the chord before being successful. Most elementary programs will not be able to tackle this song (on ukulele), but that’s okay…their teacher can play it, or a few of the ukulele superstars can work on it at home.

But here’s the question: how can you slow down a YouTube video and maintain the pitch? Or, how can you speed up a YouTube video and maintain the pitch?

You can save a video, open it in iMovie, and alter the speed, saving the pitch.

But if you don’t want to do all that…YouTube has speed controls with “preserve pitch” built in. Perhaps you knew that already. I did not. I figure that if I don’t know something, there is a chance that others do not as well.

As a warning, this would mean that you would need to open the video in YouTube, having internet access, and you may want to prepare ahead of time with a service such as safeyoutube.net that does not show all of the other YouTube “clutter.” (And yes, your class will react if they see something on a video sidebar that isn’t appropriate). In fact, it might be smart to share ALL YouTube links as safeyoutube.net links in school settings (regardless of the age of the student).

How do you slow down or speed up a video (this also works on safeyoutube.net)?

Step 1: Click the “gear” in the lower right hand corner of the screen.


Step 2: Choose the “Speed Option”

Step 3: Choose the speed of your choice

Step 4: Restart the video (movie the Play head back to the beginning…don’t reload the website)

Can you believe how easy that is? A few of the music teachers that have been making these videos have been doing so with multiple speed formats, which may be helpful if they are trying to download the files locally to use in a presentation (See note below). However…every person watching a YouTube video can take advantage of this feature for any reason. I can see a number of musical reasons to use this feature–ukulele just brought it to my attention.

Note: I always encourage presenters, such as at music conventions, to make sure that all of their media is on their device and embedded in a presentation. Never rely on wi-fi at a convention–you have been warned!

This post will also be available on techinmusiced.com