What is the point of plastic ukes?

Brad Bordessa

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Don't we have enough plastic ?

This is an important discussion to have. Though, IMO (as someone who's very mindful about plastic usage), I think there are much more significant areas most folks can reduce their impact.

A uke contains far less plastic than just the average person's annual quota of disposable plastic water/soda bottles:

Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year, averaging about 13 bottles per month for every person in the U.S.! That means by using a reusable water bottle, you could save an average of 156 plastic bottles annually. Source (emphasis mine)

I imagine you could make at least several ukes with 156 bottles worth of plastic. So it seems like it's more of an environmental statement if someone converted to a reusable bottle full-time than avoided buying a uke because it's plastic.

Another way to look at it, if not for the Outdoor uke, I would have had to buy and throw away several cheap normal ukes. The carbon footprint from shipping and construction adds up quick. And it's not like you can just throw the average uke on your compost pile - synthetic nuts, saddles, electronics, chemical finishes, etc. You're still going to throw it away like a plastic uke.

Not at all to justify buying any kind of extra plastic. But "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" and all that. We can - and must - all do better, whether you go to the dump twice a week or twice a year.

Water bottles and plastic grocery bags are, IMO, the best and easiest place to start for the average person who wants to make an impact. Once you start paying attention, it's very easy to see where your plastic weak spots are and alter your habits step-by-step.
 

donboody

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I think that I want to say that I am, generally, in favor of trying to build or play any ukulele whether it's made of wood, plastic, ceramic, glass, etc. It would be interesting to see how many different materials could be made into ukes.
 

Tim E

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I bought a really cheap Kmise plastic uke, and it turned out to be the one I go to for pretty much all soprano playing. It was just good, intonation, sound, playability. The only thing I changed were the bizarre plastic geared tuners, with friction Grovers. The plastic gears didn't fail, just didn't inspire confidence. The uke survived fine in the car this last summer, and I played it during my lunch breaks, until it was stolen, along with the car, last week.

My Flight soprano was a lemon, though. Intonation way off from the factory (bridge somehow misplaced). Sounded nice tho.

I've been tempted to get a plastic Enya soprano. I'm definitely getting another Kmise.
 

richntacoma

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I bought a really cheap Kmise plastic uke, and it turned out to be the one I go to for pretty much all soprano playing. It was just good, intonation, sound, playability. The only thing I changed were the bizarre plastic geared tuners, with friction Grovers. The plastic gears didn't fail, just didn't inspire confidence. The uke survived fine in the car this last summer, and I played it during my lunch breaks, until it was stolen, along with the car, last week.

My Flight soprano was a lemon, though. Intonation way off from the factory (bridge somehow misplaced). Sounded nice tho.

I've been tempted to get a plastic Enya soprano. I'm definitely getting another Kmise.
Can you show us the Kimise you have, or even better, the link to a plastic one, if you don't mind? I want to bring along a cheap uke for a friend of mine on an upcoming trip--something super cheap that I will leave with him.
 

kypfer

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From the manufacturers' point of view, the enormous profitability of an assembly of a few plastic mouldings compared to the construction, however automated, of a wooden instrument, has got to be a major attraction ;)
 

Graham Greenbag

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From the manufacturers' point of view, the enormous profitability of an assembly of a few plastic mouldings compared to the construction, however automated, of a wooden instrument, has got to be a major attraction ;)

A moulded plastic Uke might be easier on assembly costs than a wooden instrument, but the ‘up front’ tooling costs are quite enormous.

This is an important discussion to have. Though, IMO (as someone who's very mindful about plastic usage), I think there are much more significant areas most folks can reduce their impact.

A uke contains far less plastic than just the average person's annual quota of disposable plastic water/soda bottles:

I imagine you could make at least several ukes with 156 bottles worth of plastic. So it seems like it's more of an environmental statement if someone converted to a reusable bottle full-time than avoided buying a uke because it's plastic.

Another way to look at it, if not for the Outdoor uke, I would have had to buy and throw away several cheap normal ukes. The carbon footprint from shipping and construction adds up quick. And it's not like you can just throw the average uke on your compost pile - synthetic nuts, saddles, electronics, chemical finishes, etc. You're still going to throw it away like a plastic uke.

Not at all to justify buying any kind of extra plastic. But "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" and all that. We can - and must - all do better, whether you go to the dump twice a week or twice a year.

Water bottles and plastic grocery bags are, IMO, the best and easiest place to start for the average person who wants to make an impact. Once you start paying attention, it's very easy to see where your plastic weak spots are and alter your habits step-by-step.

I’m surprised at the plastic bottle use figure but then I don’t buy bottled water (it comes out of a tap and into a reusable container). I do buy plastic bottled milk and the containers are recycled via local household collection of used materials - cans and glass are taken for recycling too.

Sometimes you have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand their challenges. I honestly can’t imagine treating an instrument so badly that it would break ‘on tour’ and wonder how musicians of yesteryear managed. Whatever, such extreme use must be quite rare.

What’s the Carbon Footprint for manufacture and shipping of a wooden Uke? Well doesn’t that rather depend on the source of the energy used in manufacture and shipping? Admittedly Ships, Lorries and Trains usually run on Fossil fuel but Ukes are light and small so I’d have thought that the energy use was mostly on manufacture. Throw a wooden Uke onto a compost heap or into landfill and it will (the greater part by far) eventually disintegrate whereas a plastic Uke will still be there indefinitely - specialist recycling might be available but the last users has to both know of it and use it.
 
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UkingViking

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Having said that, it can be a slippery bar of soap depending on what I'm wearing. Anybody know if the Enya, or even the Flea, has a different, more grippy texture, or does anyone put dots of black silicone on the back of theirs to help with this?
As an owner of a Magic Fluke and an Enya Nova, branded as something else in Thomann but same build, I can say that the nova is easier to hold.

I never tried to hold them traditionally, so It I cannot speak for that. But the shape of the nova allows you to rest it on you knee without it sliding side to side, and the flat back also makes it easier to get a grip. If you want a strap, the nova comes with strap button attached from new, easier than getting a special strap for attaching to a plastic body.
That being said, the Fluke sounds better, and have wider string spacing.

I bought the nova for a car trip this summer, where I would need to leave it in a hot car while hiking.
 

Voran

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A moulded plastic Uke might be easier on assembly costs than a wooden instrument, but the ‘up front’ tooling costs are quite enormous.



I’m surprised at the plastic bottle use figure but then I don’t buy bottled water (it comes out of a tap and into a reusable container). I do buy plastic bottled milk and the containers are recycled via local household collection of used materials - cans and glass are taken for recycling too.

Sometimes you have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand their challenges. I honestly can’t imagine treating an instrument so badly that it would break ‘on tour’ and wonder how musicians of yesteryear managed. Whatever, such extreme use must be quite rare.
Yeah, I absolutely hate when musicians smash guitars.
 

Voran

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Yes, I rather think that we do.
I understand but one of my favorite activities is walking for miles on the country roads and playing my uke and singing my head off. I can't do that with a wooden uke in volatile weather.
 

chris667

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I understand but one of my favorite activities is walking for miles on the country roads and playing my uke and singing my head off. I can't do that with a wooden uke in volatile weather.
Why not?

It will get wet, then dry out again. So long as you don't leave it underwater for a week I can't see there being a problem.

Not that I wish to challenge your UAS! If you want a plastic uke get one, but you don't "need" one.
 

Voran

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Why not?

It will get wet, then dry out again. So long as you don't leave it underwater for a week I can't see there being a problem.

Not that I wish to challenge your UAS! If you want a plastic uke get one, but you don't "need" one.
Are you sure about that? I'd hate to warp the wood...
 

chris667

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Yeah. Ukes like yours are designed mostly for children to take to school.

They have to be OK with being abused.

Your uke won't warp if it gets wet and dries out again. If you left it outside for a winter, that's different.

Don't let your worries stop you enjoying it.
 

John Colter

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I had one of the early 'Waterman' plastic ukes. Didn't like the sound and it started to deform within days, so I passed it on.

A cheap HPL uke is my choice for outdoor use. The body is impervious to water and in the unlikely event of the solid wooden bits (neck, bridge etc) getting damaged, just buy another uke.

Oh, and HPL ukes can sound very decent, too.
 

Kenn2018

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Why not?

It will get wet, then dry out again. So long as you don't leave it underwater for a week I can't see there being a problem.

Not that I wish to challenge your UAS! If you want a plastic uke get one, but you don't "need" one.
Depends on the wooden uke. The inside of the body is not finished. It's raw wood. As are most fretboards and bridges. The thin soundboard is the most vulnerable part of a ukulele. If it gets a little damp on the outside and you wipe it off quickly, most lkely there won't be a problem. If it gets "wet" Most likely it will. Wood swells as it gains moisture, and shrinks as it dries. Water can cause the wood to warp. Your top can belly and cause the bridge to tilt or lift. The braces will absorb and dry at a different rate than the top. Plus, the water can affect the glues holding it together. Especially hide glues. A poly finish will be more water resistant than a thin lacquer. But it's only on the outside. Laminates resist moisture better than solid woods. Still, you don't want to get them wet.

If your wooden uke gets caught in a downpour, you'll want to wipe it off and try to soak up any water that got inside. Hopefully the fretboard didn't get really wet. Then get some silica gel or other water-absorption materials and pack them in a box for a few days to slowly dry the uke out. There's no guarantee that it will dry to its original state. But that will give you a good chance.

You don't have to be paranoid about playing your uke outdoors. Or freak out if you get a little liquid refreshment on the front. Wipe it off and carry on. But you do not want to play your wooden uke, unprotected in the rain.

I think Voran has the right idea. Get an inexpensive plastic uke. Take it on hikes in any kind of weather. And enjoy it. (You might want to wipe off the tuners and metal frets if it has them.)

I have a solid wood Fred Shields Backpacker concert uke. I've taken it on picnics and even to the beach. I can still smell the smoke from a couple of cookouts on it. I cover it up if it starts to rain.
 

Tim E

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Can you show us the Kimise you have, or even better, the link to a plastic one, if you don't mind? I want to bring along a cheap uke for a friend of mine on an upcoming trip--something super cheap that I will leave with him.
This appears to be the same one. They're also sold in black, though they seem to cost a few bucks more.

They're also branded as Aklot sometimes. More info: the fretboard markers are decals that lie in shallow moulded depressions. I removed them and made side dots with white paint. The saddle is held in place by string tension, but also has two tabs that protrude into the bridge keeping it from sliding sideways. I filed the saddle down about a mm. The whole instrument is very lightweight with a hollow neck made of simple rigid thermoplastic. While it survived the hot car this last summer, it almost certainly can warp if hot enough. I also tuned low G monofilament. The sound might be called plastic-y, but more than that, I'd describe it as resonant. Unlike any wooden uke, certainly in any comparable price range.
 

PTOEguy

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I bought a really cheap Kmise plastic uke, and it turned out to be the one I go to for pretty much all soprano playing. It was just good, intonation, sound, playability. The only thing I changed were the bizarre plastic geared tuners, with friction Grovers. The plastic gears didn't fail, just didn't inspire confidence. The uke survived fine in the car this last summer, and I played it during my lunch breaks, until it was stolen, along with the car, last week.

My Flight soprano was a lemon, though. Intonation way off from the factory (bridge somehow misplaced). Sounded nice tho.

I've been tempted to get a plastic Enya soprano. I'm definitely getting another Kmise.
Interesting on your Flight - I had a chance to try out a batch bought for my kids school and some were definitely better set up than others. The one I bought randomly from Amazon for $40 is absolutely perfect - right on the ragged edge of action too low so it plays incredibly easily.
 

Voran

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Depends on the wooden uke. The inside of the body is not finished. It's raw wood. As are most fretboards and bridges. The thin soundboard is the most vulnerable part of a ukulele. If it gets a little damp on the outside and you wipe it off quickly, most lkely there won't be a problem. If it gets "wet" Most likely it will. Wood swells as it gains moisture, and shrinks as it dries. Water can cause the wood to warp. Your top can belly and cause the bridge to tilt or lift. The braces will absorb and dry at a different rate than the top. Plus, the water can affect the glues holding it together. Especially hide glues. A poly finish will be more water resistant than a thin lacquer. But it's only on the outside. Laminates resist moisture better than solid woods. Still, you don't want to get them wet.

If your wooden uke gets caught in a downpour, you'll want to wipe it off and try to soak up any water that got inside. Hopefully the fretboard didn't get really wet. Then get some silica gel or other water-absorption materials and pack them in a box for a few days to slowly dry the uke out. There's no guarantee that it will dry to its original state. But that will give you a good chance.

You don't have to be paranoid about playing your uke outdoors. Or freak out if you get a little liquid refreshment on the front. Wipe it off and carry on. But you do not want to play your wooden uke, unprotected in the rain.

I think Voran has the right idea. Get an inexpensive plastic uke. Take it on hikes in any kind of weather. And enjoy it. (You might want to wipe off the tuners and metal frets if it has them.)

I have a solid wood Fred Shields Backpacker concert uke. I've taken it on picnics and even to the beach. I can still smell the smoke from a couple of cookouts on it. I cover it up if it starts to rain.
Yes that's my worry - A few raindrops is not a big deal, but I hike for miles and enjoy singing while walking. If it starts peeing down, the inside is not protected.
 

Tim E

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Interesting on your Flight - I had a chance to try out a batch bought for my kids school and some were definitely better set up than others. The one I bought randomly from Amazon for $40 is absolutely perfect - right on the ragged edge of action too low so it plays incredibly easily.
Indeed. One reason I bought it was the reputation. Was terribly disappointed, despite its low cost. It's puzzling how the bridge ended up being placed about 1/8" too close to the fingerboard. The action was also too high. Even if the intonation had been perfect, it was impossible to lower the saddle enough without shaving down the bridge.

Needless to say, these flaws would make the instrument irredeemable for playing for most people. I did manage to make it playable, but it took a significant effort and understanding to do. But still leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, probably because of expectations.

All that said, the plastic Kmise I think was a better sounding player.