BY EDDIE SCHER | FROM THE FALL 2023 ISSUE OF UKULELE
Instruments that strive to do everything often achieve that goal by doing nothing particularly well, and can come across as lacking in personality. But sometimes instruments with strong personalities come with limitations. Working around those limitations, however, and leaning into an instrument’s strengths can inspire creativity and yield unexpected results.
Ok, that’s enough philosophy. So, what about this ukulele?
The Ibanez URGT100 has a strong personality. I might even say an urgent personality, for once you see it, it will not be unseen. With its deep double cutaways, angular body design, and bold paint job, this is a rock ukulele. It’s clear that this instrument is aimed at guitar players, and a specific subset of guitar players who are very likely to have an amplifier or two, and an array of pedals, already plugged in and warming up at home. This is a ukulele made for shredding.
The URGT100 is a solid wood tenor ukulele with a spruce top and okoume body and neck. Though this is not meant to look like an acoustic instrument, the soundports on the top side direct sound up towards the player’s ears.
My review instrument came in Sun Yellow High Gloss, a stunning bright finish with creamy white binding setting off the top. The URGT100 is also available in Sun Red High Gloss and Black High Gloss. The fretboard and bridge are made of strikingly dark straight-grained purpleheart, a hardwood from South America that is neither rare nor endangered. The headstock is black with a silver logo that looks downright mean and stage-ready over the yellow.
At two inches wide, the body of the uke is a standard ukulele width, which makes it quite a bit wider than a solidbody or even many semi-hollow electric guitars. The acoustic tone is not bright or punchy but gentle and slightly muted, emphasizing the mid frequencies. The thick finish and lack of a soundhole are not helping the acoustic tone. The volume and tone, however, are far from unpleasant, and are perfectly adequate for unplugged playing and practicing. In fact, they may be an asset your neighbors thank you for when you’re playing this ukulele acoustically for all those hours of practice.
Let ‘Er Rip
But this is not really an acoustic instrument, is it? As its first impression may not-so-subtly suggest, the URGT100 is meant to be plugged in.
This uke comes with an Ibanez undersaddle pickup and an AEQ2UT preamp, and it really roared to life when I plugged into a Fender Champ amplifier. The sound was crisp and full, the highs were bright, and the mids punchy and clear. Ibanez knows how to make electric instruments that scream, and this uke shows that prowess.
Picking up the URGT100 I found myself trying every Van Halen, Vernon Reid, and Randy Rhoads lick I could think of. They didn’t always work, but when they did, they provided proof positive that the only limit to this ukulele is the imagination and creativity of the player—and the volume of their amplifier!
The built-in Ibanez preamp includes volume, bass, and treble controls, as well as a chromatic tuner, with a small, easily accessible battery. Dialing up the volume on the instrument, I was able to find that musically delicious spot where vacuum tubes are pushed a little bit too hard and just start to feed back. Under these conditions the amplifier isn’t just sound reinforcement but a musical instrument in its own right. There’s a reason why the Champ is the most recorded amplifier of all time, but any decent tube amp, or any decent modern modeling amplifier for that matter, will make finding this tone a snap.
Speed and Comfort
The fantastic electric performance of this uke is remarkable, but not surprising. The RG in the name is a reference to Ibanez’s RG model electric guitar, introduced in 1987. These guitars dominated heavy metal for their sound, looks, and amazing playability. Steve Vai’s signature JEM and the RG were, and still are, two of Ibanez’s most iconic designs, and metal in the late 1980s and 1990s would not be the same without these loud, fast-playing guitars.
Speaking of fast, let’s talk about necks, setup, and overall playability. Why were guitar gods choosing Ibanez RGs in the first place? I have to believe it is, at least in part, because Ibanez knows how to build and set up these guitars to play effortlessly. And that is certainly the case with the ukulele RG.
The fretboard width leaves plenty of room for your fingers, and the neck is rounded on the edges and flattened at the back, making this one of the most comfortable tenors I’ve ever played. This is a really easy ukulele to get around on, including up the neck to reach all 24 frets. Even with my thick-ish fingers I could reach and fret every note, and every one of the notes up the neck rang true and clear. I’ve said in the past that anything above the 12th fret on a uke is vaudeville, but in this case anything above the 12th fret is Headbangers Ball and demands to be taken seriously.
In a blind, if very loud, comparison with other, more expensive traditional ukuleles in my collection, it was hard to name real differences in sound or tone when plugged in (though it’s worth noting that this is a relatively inexpensive instrument). But open your eyes, and there’s no doubt that this Ibanez is louder and meaner than just about any other ukulele out there.
Ibanez URGT100 Tenor Specs
BODY Solid RG tenor body with spruce top; okoume back and sides; white dot inlay; side sound port; high gloss finish
NECK 17″-scale okoume neck; 24-fret purpleheart fingerboard with 400mm radius; purpleheart bridge; chrome die-cast tuners
OTHER Ibanez AEQ-2UT preamp with onboard tuner; Ibanez undersaddle pickup; Aquila Nylblack tenor strings; padded gig bag included
MADE IN China
PRICE $250 street