Saturday, July 9, 2011

Is Les more???

Whoa, it has been 2 months since I last posted here.  Not sure if anyone is still checking this blog, but it's not dead.  I just got more busy as summer has finally rolled around in Minnesota.  Also, I've contracted some other "AS" so UAS is in remission, thus less stuff to post here.

Regardless, I had ordered an Epiphone Les Paul uke after it was announced at one of the NAMM shows.  I ordered it from Sam Ash, and it took quite a while until they finally had stock to ship around the middle of June.

So why would I even bother with something like this?  After all, it's more or less a novelty uke made with laminated wood.  Well, the reason is simple.  I've always been a fan of Les Pauls.  No, I can't play guitar, but I've always thought Les Pauls looked cool in the hands of guys like Slash.  I once bought a Kiwaya K-Wave ukulele because it resembled a Les Paul, and I've wanted an Earnest La Paula for the same reason.  A Les Paul shaped ukulele made by Epiphone, no matter how bad an instrument it turns out to be, would be an actual, genuine Les Paul, and that's enough for me to want to get one.  The fact that these sell for $99 made it a no brainer.

So now I've had this ukulele for a little while, I will do a quick review of it.  First off, the stock strings that came with it are complete garbage.  The ukulele sounded pretty bad and dead out of the box.  I don't know what those strings are, and frankly I don't care, as they probably sound worse than my dental floss would have sounded strung to this uke.  So my initial impression wasn't good.  I thought I had bought a $99 novelty.  At that point, I figure it wouldn't hurt to slap some Aquila strings onto this uke.  I'm not a fan of Aquila strings, and pretty much every uke I have that came strung with Aquilas got a string change in quick order.  So I had plenty of Aquila strings on hand.  I know Aquilas were at least good for bringing low end laminated ukes to life, so I gave it a shot.  I wasn't expecting much, but to my surprise, the Aquilas significantly improved the sound of this uke.  With the Aquila strings installed, the ukulele actually sounded pretty good.  In fact, I liked the sound better than some lower end solid wood ukes I've played before.  This was quite a pleasant surprise, and immediately made the ukulele worth the $99 and more.

The next thing I noted was the action.  It's setup probably on the high side of acceptability for me.  I have no problem strumming on it, but finger picking beyond say the first 3~5 frets takes a little bit of an effort.  Do keep in mind I'm pretty used to playing some custom ukes with very easy playing actions, so it's probably better than what I've described.  I've read that the nut and saddle are plastic and rather crudely finished, and that was the case on mine.  On the saddle, there is a mold line right on the edge where the strings contact the saddle.  Pretty terrible place for a mold line in my opinion.  So I took a sandpaper and sanded off that mold line.  The nut slots also looked a bit crude with some burrs on the sides of the slots.  However, other than looking bad, I didn't think there was enough of an issue for me to work on it.  The overall action was acceptable for me, so I didn't do anything to lower it.  It does have a bolt-on neck, so if needed, it should be rather easy to adjust the action.

Reviewing this backwards, let's talk a little bit about the package.  It comes packaged in a trapezoid box with Epiphone graphics on it.  Beside the ukulele, it comes with a very thin gig-bag and a chord to plug it into an amp.  The box also contained some Epiphone catalogs and an Epiphone bumper sticker.  Not a bad package for $99.

The Les Paul uke has an undersaddle pickup installed.  I only used it once so far, but I thought it worked really well.  The volume was pretty balanced from string to string, and it was fun playing it using various effects on my amp.  So as an electric uke, it seems to do the job.

While the sound, once the Aquilas were installed, surprised me, the looks was what I expected.  The sunburst on the body looked great, as is the curls in the laminated wood.  The workmanship besides the nut and saddle looked good to me.  The uke is on the heavy side, but that was expected as I've read that the body (besides the top) was routed from a block rather than glued together, making the sides and back fairly thick.  One quirk I found is that the normal ukulele position dot at the 10th fret is now at the 9th fret, which is where they place a dot on the guitar.  This does screw me up a bit because I usually look at the side markers (the Les Paul also have side markers) when I play, and having the one at 10th fret moved to 9th fret will take some mental adjustment.  It's not a huge deal, but it would have made the uke more playable for me if the dot was at the 10th fret.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the Epiphone Les Paul.  As long as you make sure to change out the crappy stock strings, I think it's a pretty fun ukulele that sounds surprisingly good.  I've actually played it a lot more than I thought I would.  I think it makes a good knock around ukulele, one that you don't need to worry too much about humidifying and can just leave anywhere in the house.  It looks cool, sounds pretty good, and is cheap.  In my book it's well worth the $99 price of admission.

Front shot

Back shot

Hey, it's a Les Paul!

The bolted neck.

Bridge & saddle.

Pickup plug.

Back of the headstock.  It's made in Indonesia.

Notice the position dot at the 9th fret.


David said...

Good review George. It's good to hear about the strings improving things. Brian K played one at guitar center a couple weeks ago and said they played pretty dead.

GX9901 said...

Hey David,

Thanks for the comment! Yeah, it's pretty hard to describe how bad the stock strings are on this thing. I really did not expect to end up liking the sound of this ukulele because it sounded so terrible initially. I literally have never had a uke where a string change made such a big difference.

David said...

I see Musicians friend catalog has a black sunburst. Did you have the choice of colors? I see Ukeeku has a review on the Mahalo, but the epiphone is much cooler looking than the Mahalo.
(It's David again)

GX9901 said...

Hey David,

I didn't have a choice of colors when I ordered mine. I think I might have went for the black sunburst if I had a choice, but I've always like the cherry sunburst finish too, so it's not a big deal.

Yes, the fact that this ukulele is an Epiphone makes it cool because it can legitimately call itself a Les Paul! :D

ukulele-melee said...

I loved the looks of these at Guitar Center, might have to reconsider after reading your review. Like David mentioned it was pretty dead sounding. I've experienced the string revelation on a Kala Pineapple when it really woke up after switching to Worth's.
Thanks for the review!

mikeplaysukulele said...

That's one pretty uke. I don't often like ukuleles that remind me of guitars, but I'd make an exception for that one.

Anonymous said...

Why do you take so long between your posts! Why have a blog if you are not going to use it.

GX9901 said...

Why do you take so long between your posts! Why have a blog if you are not going to use it.

Well, I did start the blog over three years ago. Things change with time and you don't always end up doing the same things in life.

I still plan on keeping this blog going, but the posts will likely be few and far between because I just don't have as much time to devote to this blog, and since I'm more or less done with UAS now, I don't have a lot of material to post either.

I would like to think what's on the blog now is of some help to some people out there, regardless if I'm actively posting or not.

Anonymous said...

Twiddling fingers while awaiting new post from George. You realize you haven't posted in over a month, right?

Scott Stahlecker said...

Nice article. I've been looking for a better electric uke than the EleUke, and this one probably will not do. Looks great though.

Oscar smith said...


That Guy said...

That's a cool looking ukulele. I never knew that Epiphone makes those things too.

I don't play ukulele, only guitars. Only had an ukulele lesson once, and the only thing I remember from that lesson is how to play the chord C and G with ukulele. And yes, Les Paul guitars are cool. I'm quite a fan of that model, and I'd really want one if only it sounds a little bit lighter.

ukulele for beginners said...

That really is a beautiful ukulele. Actually it looks like a mini guitar. great review

WindaHart Apriani said...

whoa !! that's COOL !
I thought that was a guitar !
cuz i have never seen such cool ukulele in my country. LOL

Anonymous said...

You're 100% right. I just bought this uke and the strings are crap! I tuned it and everything but it still sounds like a dying cat!

Edward Hill said...

The strings are indeed nasty. I had already tried them in the shop, so as soon as I got home they got cut away like the cancer they were. Aquilas fixed most of the issue, but I eventually had the nut and saddle replaced with bone. A luthier near me did it for $60 and it made the action SO MUCH BETTER. Trust me- there's a great instrument in there just dying to get out! The whole thing- uke, strings, and nut/saddle replacement- cost a total of $170. Not a bad deal if you are willing to work with it :p

Which uke should I bring on my next trip to Oahu???

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If you could steal one of my ukes, which one would it be???

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Poll: How often do you play the ukulele???

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Poll: What's your favorite type of headstock???

Poll: The new basic Collings concert uke (UC-1) sells for about $1k, your reaction is: