With simple décor, including a plain laser-engraved logo but no rosette or binding, the new UKC100 concert and UKS100 soprano ukuleles from Ibanez go for a straightforward appearance. Both instruments use a stick-to-the basics approach of good build quality and materials, easy playability, and tasteful looks at a bargain price. Besides the size differences between the concert and soprano bodies and necks—and one extra fret on the concert—the two ukes are identical, right down to the pricing. In addition, each comes with a gig bag, making an attractive package for new and experienced players alike.
As someone with a preference for plainer instruments, I liked the look of these ukes. There’s a simplicity to them that’s at once refined and a little raw. Both have a light open-pore finish on a laminated sapele body that shows off the striped figuring in the wood. They’re tastefully unadorned, with just small white fingerboard position markers and a few laser-engraved details, including the body’s side soundport. Rather than a large hole in the instrument’s side, the Ibanez soundport has a lattice of small circles surrounded by diamond-shaped quartets of smaller circles. It’s a lovely feature that helps set these ukes apart while also giving the player a direct hit of the instrument’s sound. To see if the many holes in the side affected its structure, I applied a pretty good amount of pressure to the lattice, and it barely flexed. So I feel safe saying it is strong enough to withstand anything short of a severe blow.
The rest of the uke is made with woods that are now so common we might have to stop calling them “alternative tonewoods” and just embrace them as a normal part of the ukulele landscape. These Ibanez instruments eschew the rosewood traditionally used for bridges and fingerboards in favor of purpleheart, a tropical hardwood from Central and South America. Also known as amaranth, this wood can have a purplish tinge, and indeed, my test ukes had fingerboards with faint streaks. However, there was no noticeable difference in the feel of fingerboards made from more familiar woods. The neck is made from okoume, a lightweight African wood that is somewhat close to mahogany but known for its maple-like tone. Despite the differences in scale lengths between the soprano and concert, both necks had a similar shape: a comfortable C profile with a flat fingerboard radius, and a wide, flat neck heel. At 1.45 inches wide at the nut, the neck was also roomy enough for fretting-hand comfort, so even the soprano felt spacious and easy to play. The open-gear chrome-plated tuners gave off a nice vintage vibe and made tuning easy. Also lovely is that both ukes come with an endpin strap button, even the wee soprano, for folks who want to employ a strap for playing ease.
Both ukes delivered a good tone that sits on the high-end of average for a soprano or concert in this price range. Not surprisingly, the larger concert size produced a little more low-end emphasis, which may have led to a sense that it was louder. But in reality, they were both nicely capable instruments, with the soprano having the classic projection and bark that these small ukes excel at creating. In contrast, thanks to its larger body and more extended scale, the concert’s tone had a bit more warmth and sweetness. I also liked the feel and sound of the black nylon strings, which almost seem like a throwback in this age of pearly nylon strings, but helped to give these ukes a pleasing warm sound. A compensated bridge saddle was a nice touch that helped me stay in tune as I played higher up the neck.
At $120 street, these new Ibanez ukuleles skip past the mega-popular sub-$100 price point. Still, for anyone from a beginner to someone needing a camping uke, the greater refinement, good sound, and handsome appearance of the UKS100 and UKC100 help make them worth the extra $20. Each features a comfortable neck with slightly wide spacing for fretting hands, plus an artistic side soundport for playing pleasure. With the other player-friendly features and a focus on the basics, Ibanez made a pair of ukuleles that give players as much or more in return than most other options in this price range.
IBANEZ UKC100 & UKS100
BODY Soprano- or concert-size laminated sapele body; laser-cut side soundport; open pore finish
NECK Okoume neck with C-shape profile; 15″-scale (concert), 13.85″-scale (soprano); 1.45″-wide nut; purpleheart fingerboard with white dot inlays and flat radius; 14 frets clear of the body, with tall frets; chrome open-gear tuners
OTHER Purpleheart bridge with a bone saddle and .60″ spacing, single strap button, gig bag
PRICE $120 (street)
MADE IN China
The Ukulele Owner’s Manual is the book that belongs in every ukulele player’s instrument case. Each chapter was written by the experts and performers at Ukulele Magazine, with topics ranging from commonsense instrument care to fixing rattles and buzzes to a pictorial history of the instrument. Book owners can also download how-to videos with step-by-step guidance on common set-up and maintenance topics.