Today we take a closer look at the Ukutune UKD90 Solid Flamed Koa Wood Ukulele — the brand’s high-end natural wood tenor model. Last time around, we went hands-on with the far more affordable UKA1 model, but today we’re stepping it up a notch with solid Koa wood construction, a walnut fingerboard, and classic detailing. This one looks great in pictures, easily standing next to the big-name brands, but let’s dive in to see how it sounds and actually feels in your hands.
Ukutune UKD90 Flamed Koa Wood Ukulele
Ukutune UKD90 Solid Flamed Koa Wood Ukulele is a 26-inch tenor at the top end of the brand’s mostly quite affordable models. Measuring out at 26 inches, it features a slightly more specious design than the $140 Ukutune UKA1 Tenor we reviewed previously — they managed to get 19 frets instead of 18 across the neck while still allowing for a less cramped experience when trying get your fingers to land cleanly in between them. If you’re a beginner, the spacing here is probably a good size to get your muscle memory up to snuff, but might be more of a stretch at first than a UKA1-sized variant. Although most beginners will likely want to start with a ukulele for less than $400 anyway, the UKD90 is particularly comfortable in my lap and for my hands, even over long play sessions.
The Ukutune UKD90 model features a glossy-to-the-touch, solid striped flamed koa wood construction across the backside, on the soundboard, and the sides as well as for the headstock itself. It’s clearly enough of a bump up in quality from the previous model we reviewed to warrant the price jump here, and the black walnut fingerboard and bridge just magnify that sentiment even more. This model really feels like a proper instrument in your hands as opposed to just a casual beginner’s ukulele, which is to be expected with the more robust wooden build here and listing price.
While I personally prefer an acoustic instrument with more of a natural or matte finish, this is easily one of the prettiest models in the Ukutune lineup, and providing the special artistic touches suit your taste, it wouldn’t stand out all that much in a lineup of far pricier instruments from iconic brands.
The smooth finish on the backside of the neck as well as the fretting job here leaves the instrument with a pleasing feel on the hand, whether you’re casually sliding up and down the neck, really digging in, or just strumming through some relaxing progressions — another major enhancement over the brand’s more affordable offerings.
Tuners and headstock
Aesthetically speaking, the headstock is also a highlight for me with a classic-feeling open gold tuning peg setup and eye-catching orange agate buttons. While the color treatment might not be for everyone, the whole thing really comes together with the flame detailing across the fretboard and the mixture of light brown tones and deep, almost amber striping in the wood grain.
They don’t just look pretty either. While it really shouldn’t be much of a question in the $400 price range if you ask me, it does stay in tune once you get it there. Like most new organic instruments, once you tune her up and then give the strings a good beating a couple times, it generally holds its tuning quite well for long play sessions, and even for days at a time (or at least until I started bending the strings like an animal anyway).
How does the Ukutune Koa Wood Ukulele sound?
As is always the case with this entirely subjective category, it’s tough to convey how “good” something sounds in a way that can properly inform purchasing decisions. It doesn’t have quite as complex a tone as some of the more expensive models out there, but has been fun and pleasing experience every time I pick it up and play. It sounds much more true and professional than the Ukutune UKA1 as expected at $260 more.
In a quick head-to-head-to-head test with the Ukutune UKA1, a pricey tenor model, and another random, old tenor of dubious origins, three family members chose the Ukutune Koa Wood UKD90 model as sounding the best: “warmer and smoother sounding” and “sounds more like a ukulele” (whatever that means), “less twangy and more pleasing” to the ear. I for one tend to agree in most cases there, but then again, I almost always feel the tenor-sized model, especially when playing solo as opposed to in an arrangement with other instruments, sounds the best.
The Ukutune UKD90 Koa Wood Ukulele is certainly a more a traditional-looking instrument than the stark blue model we featured last time around. That will likely be more pleasing for most folks while also standing out from the pack with nice tortoise shell-like detailing, the classic headstock, and organic agate tuning buttons. I for one, really appreciate the design here, although I could have done without the flame artwork threaded across the fingerboard. Some folks will certainly be into that, but I would have preferred something artistic that also still denotes the third, fifth, seventh, and 12th frets, like traditional inlays — this is also something to keep in mind for new players that still rely on theses marking for fretboard navigation (whether you realize it or not). I don’t really need them these days, but still wish they were there and it required a bit of muscle memory for me to get my hand-eye coordination on point here when looking down at the flame design.
That brings up a final point here. This model is slightly too expensive for your average beginner that can just go on Amazon and score one for much less, but at $399.99, it’s also a bit to close to some of the brand names out there for those with penchant for an instrument that says Martin or Fender on it. In the end, it’s the look and feel of the instrument that will determine a purchasing decision, you likely won’t find something that looks quite this decorative from a larger brand in this price range, and sometimes the way an instrument looks and feels can determine how we approach it. So if this is an instrument you are drawn to, know that it sounds great, holds its tuning well, and will standout in your music room, living space, or home office/studio in the best way possible.
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