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).
In my series of ukulele reviews, the next review instrument is the Caramel CC102A Concert Zebrawood Ukulele.
At the time of writing (8/23/2017), this ukulele is available from Caramel for $36 and Amazon for $37 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 in bold:
- Model: CC102A
- Concert Scale
- Zebra wood body NOTE: Also a headstock Zebrawood layer–Caramel Logo can be lasered or sticker. The wood itself is 2.35mm 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
- 18 frets NOTE: 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: notched
- Label: Identifies manufacturer and model
- 15″ Concert Scale
- 24″ Overall length
- 10 7/8 Body length
- 2-3/4 Body depth NOTE: 2.72 inches deep
- 1-3/8 At Nut NOTE: 35.64mm nut, 8.87mm spacing between strings at the 1st fret
- Weight 1 pound 0.7oz, seems to be a bit balanced towards the body
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 CC102A 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. Some had sharp ends on the nut that needed filing.
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. $36 or $37 for a concert 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.