The Duke banjo uke review - WOW!

Ukulele Jim

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I just received a Duke banjo uke in the mail last night and have been playing with it all day. I think I'm in love with it.

I'd never heard of a Duke before. They're made in New Zealand, and I believe they're fairly new to market. But I have a feeling this is going to be a fairly popular brand in no time at all.

First, here are the specs: The Duke is a tenor with 18 frets to the drum. The neck is made of mahogany with a rosewood fretboard. The drum is made of a polyethelyne plastic and the drum head is mylar. It's got wonderful planetary tuners, and an aluminium arm rest. And my favorite part is the built-in Schatten Design pickup.

The quality of the Duke is impressive. I can tell that a lot of care went into the design of this instrument. It's incredibly sturdy, yet surprisingly lightweight. I was amazed at how light it is at just under 2 pounds. I expected it to be a lot heavier considering the amount of metal on it, what with the planetary tuners and arm rest. Perhaps it's the sturdy plastic drum that makes it so light.

It was ready to go right out of the box. I had to put the bridge in the right spot (the instruction sheet explained how) and I was set. The frets are dressed, the action is perfect, everything is spot on. I usually have to take new ukuleles to my local guitar shop to get a professional setup, but this is the first instrument I've purchased that didn't need any additional setup at all.

The Duke has a wonderful tone. The volume is loud, which is to be expected with any banjo uke, but it's not harsh at all.

It appears that all the machined parts were meticulously crafted to perfection. I particularly like the comfortable arm rest. The tuners are smooth like butter and hold the tuning perfectly, making minute pitch adjustments easy.

The pickup is a nice addition that captures the nuances of the instrument perfectly for performance on stage. It doesn't need a preamp if you're plugging directly into an amp, but if you're plugging into a mixer you may need an external preamp.

The accessories are well made, too. It comes with a colorful padded gig bag with shoulder straps and an outside zipper pocket. Also included is an adjustable shoulder strap and a plectrum pick. Even the setup instruction sheet is printed on high gloss paper. The attention to detail and thoughtful touches on every item in the box add more charm to an already nice instrument. It's apparent that a lot of heart went into every aspect of it.

The list price is around $500 but right now they're going for $297 direct from the dukeuke.com website. It comes with the gig bag, shoulder strap, pick, and shipping is free to anywhere in the world. I think if you order one right now they'll ship it around November.

I would recommend this to anyone who is in the market for an inexpensive banjo ukulele. I've played quite a few banjo ukes in my day but the Duke is by far my favorite now. :)

Here's a picture of it:

duke.jpg
 

Jim Hanks

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I just traded out a GoldTone BUT, but I have a feeling I haven't see the last banjolele. If the Duke could be strung with an unwound low G, it might have to go on the wish list.
 

Flymo

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You are probably right, Jim!
We bought a previous model of this banjulele (the Sidekick) from banjouke.kiwi as a gift for a family member who is a fellow uke enthusiast, and it was very thoroughly 'tested' before being handed over to its new owner, some months ago. Oh yes, very thoroughly....
Unwound low G worked quite well on it - both an Aquila Red set and Ken Middleton's fluorocarbon Living Water Strings set worked fine. Not quite as deep a resonance on the bass G as on our Tanglewood Tenor, but with good body to it.
The Aquila Reds are tricky, can break if bent too much, I usually marry them to a bit of thin string before attaching to anything that might be sharp - some Martin-style bridges can be that way inclined, and I think that I was concerned about the Sidekick tail-piece creasing the Aquilas, and used this string trick without problems.
No such problem with the LWS fluorocarbons, they are very tough indeed.
Noticed that a wonderfully smooth tail assembly is a feature of the new Duke.
Tone is so personal that I hesitate to make recommendations, both string sets sounded good to me.
But was that ever a loud instrument.
My wife was so impressed that she's forbidden me to have one of my own!
We'll see...
 
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