Sunday, May 18, 2008

Electicfying (sic)

I have always been intrigued by solid body electric 'ukuleles. They are something different and have the side benefit of being pretty silent when not plugged in, making them good late night practice ukes. The first such 'ukulele I learned about was the Risa Uke Solid. I bought one about a year ago. It was different and kind of cool, but I wasn't compelled to play it very often so I sold it. The next solid body uke I bought was a BugsGear Eleuke that had an active pickup and on-board volume & tone controls. It had some frets sticking out and wasn't very comfortable to play because of that. I eventually got a file to file those frets down and it was a lot better. Still, I didn't play it too much. When I saw a Pete Howlett Uklectic on the FMM Marketplace at an attractive price, I jumped at it and sold the BugsGear. I had known about the Uklectic for a while and have always been interested in it. It looked cool and is made by Pete Howlett, who is a well respected luthier based in the U.K. Now that I've owned it for a couple of months, it's time to review it.


  • Blister figure sapele top.
  • Rosewood fingerboard, bridge, & faceplate.
  • Pin type bridge.
  • Bone nut & saddle.
  • No-name gold friction tuners with pearloid buttons.
  • Spanish cedar semi-hollow body & neck.
  • 2 gold plated strap pins.
  • Plastic pickup jack w/unknown undersaddle pickup.
  • Finish is Minwax wipe on polyurethane from Home Depot applied by the previous owner.


The Uklectic is a very good looking uke. My particular one has a blister figure sapele top that stands out when light is reflected off the wood. The body is similar to the shape of a Les Paul guitar, which is probably my favorite guitar shape. The fingerboard comes to a point similar to Martin ukuleles at the body end, and that point is repeated at the headstock, making for an attractive and cohesive design. The uke just looks very classy and high quality with one notable exception, the plastic pickup jack. The black pickup jack doesn't really look cheap, but it doesn't really look very high end either. A gold plated jack would look a lot better. I believe all the Uklectic made now have the combo endpin & jack at the tail block, unlike mine, where the jack is off to the right lower bout.


This is a concert sized ukulele with a nut width of 1-3/8". I normally prefer 1-1/2" nut width, but this one doesn't really feel too narrow for me. Perhaps it has wider string spacing than typical ukes with 1-3/8" nut widths. The neck feels very comfortable to me. It's about medium thickness and has a flattened D profile. The uke is a little heavier than a normal concert acoustic 'ukulele, but not overly so. It's pretty easy to play it without a strap standing up. The action is setup about medium and fairly effortless to play with the Ko'olau concert strings I installed on it. This is better than both of the previous electric ukes I owned. For some reason, both the Risa and BugsGear felt a bit hard to play despite having relatively low tensioned Worth BM strings on them. Overall it is an easy and comfortable uke to play.


This uke has great workmanship. Every piece of wood is seamlessly joined and the fret work is very good, with no frets sticking out. The tuners are not Gotoh or Grover, but they work well enough. Again, the only thing that I have an issue with is the plastic pickup jack. I guess it will probably be durable enough, but I would feel a lot better if it was metal. I would feel better about that if the pickup itself performed a little better (see next section). The pickup jack is offset to the right of the lower bout. When standing, it works just fine with a cable hanging off it. But if you are sitting and plugging the uke to an amp, you will need an "L" shaped connector or it will interfere with putting the uke on your leg. I guess if you are getting a newer Uklectic, the combo endpin/pickup jack should alleviate this issue.

My particular Uklectic was ordered without finish by the original owner. As mentioned in the specs section, the finish is applied by the original owner using Minwax wipe on polyurethane. He only put on 2 coats so the uke almost feels unfinished. It's not bad though. Spanish cedar has a strong scent and you definitely smell it every time you open the case. If someday I feel like adding new coats of finish, it shouldn't be too difficult. Overall it feels like a quality instrument worthy of Pete Howlett's reputation.


The sound of this uke should probably be evaluated in 2 ways. Unplugged and plugged in. This uke has a surprisingly good sound when unplugged. Where the Risa Uke Solid and BugsGear Eleuke are pretty much true "silent" ukes when not plugged in, the Uklectic actually has a decent volume output. I guess that could be a negative if you're looking for a silent uke that outputs almost no volume for late night practice, but for me, I actually prefer being able to hear good sound when the uke is unplugged. It doesn't compete with the volume of a acoustic 'ukulele, but it's a lot louder than the aforementioned silent ukes. The acoustic sound of the Uklectic, with the Ko'loau Golds I installed, is trebly and complex sounding. I think the sound quality is pretty high in this regard.

When plugged in, the Uklectic does very little to distinguish it from the other electric ukes. I don't think the plugged in sound is any better than the BugsGear or Risa. In fact, the C & E strings seem to dominate the sound, making it a bit unbalanced. I think that was also the case with the BugsGear & Risa, but it seems a little worse with the Uklectic. I don't think the pickup is of very high quality based on the plugged in sound and the cheap plastic pickup jack. It's kind of a pity that a high quality instrument does not have a great pickup. But I understand that Pete Howlett was trying to keep the price of the Uklectics down, so that probably sacrificed the pickup a little bit. If I ever feel like doing the work, I might try to replace the stock pickup with a Mi-Si pickup or something like that. I do have a L.R. Baggs Para-acoustic D.I. (pre-amp) that allows me to adjust the sound coming from the pickup for treble, midrange, bass, and a couple of other things, and it does improve the sound a little bit.

So when it comes to sound quality, surprisingly I like the acoustic sound performance on the uke a lot more than the plugged in sound. In fact, for me, it's the nice acoustic sound that makes this uke superior to the electric ukes I've owned previously.


If you order a new Uklectic from Pete Howlett, the advertised price on his website is $495 + shipping for a basic concert sized instrument. Assuming this has not increased (the dollar is pretty weak so I'm not sure) I think that's a pretty good value. While it costs quite a bit more than a Risa or BugsGear, you do get a luthier made instrument that looks great and works well enough plugged in (maybe the current pickup used is better mine, which might be a prototype insturment) and has surprisingly good tone unplugged. If you have a higher budget, it's possible to order one up with a lot more options and bling. I paid $348 for mine used, which I think is a great value.


The Uklectic isn't perfect. I'm not completely satisfied with its plugged in sound. However, compared to the Risa Uke Solid and BugsGear Eleuke I owned previously, I think the Uklectic is the superior overall instrument. And since I pretty rarely plug in the uke at home, most of the time when I do play it, it is played acoustically. The superior acoustic sound makes playing this uke a pleasant experience unplugged. When I played the Risa or BugsGear unplugged, I usually don't play very long because it sounded uninteresting.

If you're looking for a solid or semi-solid body electric uke, the Uklectic is probably the top choice out there right now.

Here's a sound file of me playing "Me & Shirley T" (badly) with the uke plugged into the computer directly and recorded using Audacity.

Here are some more pictures:

The back of the Uklectic. The black plastic covers up the pickup jack and wires.

The sapele top of the Uklectic. Notice the blister figure.

The pickup jack is offset to the right. Newer models have the combo pin/jack at the tail block.

No comments:

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