Risa Uke Solid Concert Review

stevepetergal

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 4, 2010
Messages
2,927
Reaction score
8
Location
Oak Park, Illinois
I received my Risa Uke Solid Concert about a month ago and now think a review is in order.
First of all it is just what it looks like; a very interesting concept and design. Many conventions in ukulele building were intentionally disregarded and even turned on their heads to make these instruments. The list of course includes the lack of a body or headstock, the zero fret, the placement of the tuners, the saddle mounted on a metal bar.... The list goes on.
Before I bought, I read all I could find about the "strictly electric" ukes out there. I consistently read the same things about the Uke Solid; good intonation, well made, attention to detail, problems with tuning. It seemed that nearly every review I read on competitor ukuleles said something about "great for the price." That turns me off like a switch. I'd rather spend 25% to 50% more, and not have to return, re-sell, replace, regret. I've bought LOTS of ukuleles over the last four years and gotten rid of most. I have found that factory-built ukes never live up to my expectations. Even the biggest, most widely available instruments (you fill in the names) though they may be beautiful to look at, leave much to be desired when it comes to what I want.
I will be keeping my Uke Solid. Here's why.
Risa has found the right balance of factory type building and attention to the fact that these are musical instruments. After twenty five years of rebuilding pianos, I am impressed with the design of the Uke Solid. Upon inspection, it's easy to see how being cut out of a block of solid lumber, routing or machine shaping the neck and the tail end, the "bridge" design, the rod behind the "bridge", the shape of the hole, no need to bend wood or glue parts together, and many other innovations are used to make the manufacturing process simple. Factory-built is fast and cheap. But, these features cause practically no compromise to the quality of the instrument. In fact the design eliminates some problems with ukuleles. No thin wood to split or move, no glue joints to break down over time. Consequently, Risa is able to concentrate time and effort on making the uke play well and sound good.
And they succeed!!
Because of my background in pianos, the most important factor, for me, is intonation. Intonation is a very complex issue and better discussed elsewhere. In reality, there is no such thing as "perfect" intonation in a fretted instrument. (Ask your piano tuner.) What is possible is good, acceptable, or well balanced intonation. Even $200,000 pianos are tuned to a "tempered" scale which is a compromise for balanced intonation in any key.
The Risa Uke Solid has excellent intonation. Playing unisons or octaves on different strings, they line up beautifully. Chords don't jangle. A scale sounds like a scale, not just a string of rising (or descending) notes. I'm very impressed. I have one hand-made Myamoe ukulele and a Koaloha (which I bought over the Kamakas I tried because of its intonation) The intonation on my Risa Uke Solid is every bit as good as any uke I've played. No exceptions.
Upon first look, you can see that the frets on the Uke Solid were leveled before delivery. The setup has been done by hand and done expertly. The action is very low, lower than any other I've ever seen and the frets are perfectly level. It's like the best Luthier-built fretboard. My only issue with the neck is the shape. The neck is rather square compared to conventional ukes. For me, this is no problem at all. I can understand that some people might find it more problematic. It's different. It's something one has to get used to. But the same can be said about going from any uke to any other. I've grown accustomed to it. It was much harder to get used to the lack of a headstock, and I knew it would be before I bought it. Risa has been very responsive. They addressed a problem with tuners that their customers found difficult. (This problem has been solved. The tuners on mine work fine.) It's possible they will one day change the cutting tool or bit on the machine that shapes the neck, and make it more conventional. My guess is they will receive few or no complaints, though.
Here's another issue I anticipated. Tuning the Uke Solid is a little different than tuning any other ukulele. For rather technical reasons, it requires some learning. It's not a problem or difficult. It's just different. The non-speaking part of the strings at the tuning end is comparatively long and it passes over a rod which has a slot for each string. Going through the slot and the length of the non-speaking portion of the string combine to make it a little more of a challenge to equalize the tension over the entire length of the string. But after a few days of familiarization, it's just as easy as tuning any other uke. One has to develop a feel for it. Hardly different to adjustments we make buying any new instrument. But, the instrument is very unconventional. It should be assumed that it would require a little adjustment. It tunes fast and easily, and holds a tuning as well as any other ukulele. Risa might be able to design a system using hitch pins to position the strings instead of the slots in the rod. It would probably reduce the friction, but this would be harder and more expensive to build. Almost certainly not worth the change.
I play often without amplification. This works great for me. When I amplify, I usually just amplify. I don't know anything about effects. I believe that any effects you use with a guitar can be used with the Uke Solid. But, simply amplified, it sounds like a very good conventional ukulele played over a speaker. Quite a feat when one considers that it doesn't even have a uke body!! Plus, the sound is very even from top to bottom. Plenty of color. Not hard or brittle sounding.
One other thing that surprises me is the sustain. Every review I read said the Risa Uke Solid had great sustain. Believe it. Ukuleles are inherently lacking in sustain because of the short strings. But this little instrument rivals a guitar. It sings and sings. This makes scales and runs sound smoother, makes chords ring longer, gives the solo player more options, not having to fill in by playing more notes than needed. Amazing.
Last, I'd like to consider cost. My Risa Uke Solid Concert was about $300, delivered. But My Koaloha was almost $700, and my Myamoe was around $1500. These are the only instruments I would never trade.
In summation, the Risa Uke Solid plays easily and evenly, sounds very good, has excellent intonation, and is very well thought-out in its design. The finish on mine is flawless, too. (And I am unreasonably picky.) So, if you don't mind an unconventional style, it looks great. If, as I suspect, the Soprano and Tenor models are as high-quality as my Concert, these instruments are among the best ukuleles you can buy. They stack up with the best Hawaiian and hand-made ukuleles out there.
Does it take some getting used to? Sure, a little. But, who cares! It has everything and does it all very, very well.
I would say to anyone looking for a strictly electric ukulele that the only reason to buy anything other that the Uke Solid would be that you cannot afford it. (I'd recommend adding a pick-up to your best acoustic, rather than put out the money for something cheaper.)
 
Last edited:
great review stevepetergal, very informative and in depth, i am just startin to go electric and will certainly have a look at these later on next year thanx for the review
 
Hi, Stevepetergal. WOnderful review! I'm in Geneva/St Charles, IL. I own a RISA solid soprano. Love it! All precisely as you say in your excellent review. Mine has the old friction tuners, and while I don;t at all mind friction tuners in general (two other of my ukes also have them), they take a lot of work to turn on the RISA. Ouch! Most key, though, on mine--and this is my only real knock--is that turning the tuner does NOT always change the pitch of the string. It sticks, if you will, at the metal saddle rod. I must pull the string each time to get it to go, or else there's a whale of a tension on the string. Hard to explain, but a chronic issue with these. The snapping "A" string is well documented on UU, and I have snapped one myself. There's just a load of tension on it, not only if the metal saddle doesn;t roll, but becuase of the obtuse angle off the straight grooves in the roller.

There's a RISA post right now on UU with a snapped A string and the knot stuck in the hole (see TEch Support threads--interesting reading). I can see that happening also, although never to me. So the knot will have to be big, or else eventually it will work its way through the neck completely (as happens sometimes to those with through-body ukes).

Cheers@!
 
Last edited:
Hey Coolkayaker, Yeah, I'm really glad they changed the tuners. I would have been pretty unhappy with the friction tuners so close together.
I wonder why the A strings break. In my experience, there's always a reason. One factor that I'm sure figures in is the fact that that particular string veers off the slot at the sharpest angle of all the strings. You'll notice that the G string comes off the slot almost perfectly straight, surely causing the least friction. This is most obvious if you look from the back. So, where it kinks to make that turn, the string must weaken and might create enough friction-induced heat, when you move it, to make the string fail (like bending a piece of soft metal back and forth). Obviously, care must be taken when tuning the A especially. I make sure to turn the tuner as smoothly and slowly as possible. And if a significant change must be made in tension, give it a break, making only small changes, allowing the bend to cool down between turns. Hopefully, this can reduce the problem. And maybe the soprano has sharper angles than the concert or tenor.
But, they are really great instruments, aren't they?!
Enjoy,
Steve
Oak Park, IL
 
Hi, Steve. Yes, it's partly the obtuse angle, as you and I have both documented (I replied to the TEch thread, too).. But, it's also the sticking roller saddle, which is not remedied by the new geared tuners.

Plug it into the amp, turn it up to good volume, then tune and listen. Does your sting pitch change every single time you turn the tuning peg?

Mine does not. And decidedly so. I don;t know if they're all like that, but someone else on UU with same RISA solids like us also tried it and agreed with me. So, like you say, tune a little and let it cool down. But, I've found that I have to gently (very gently, or else lose an eye if it snaps...lol) pull the string after each small peg turn. The pulling turns the roller saddle. I'd be curious for you to plug it in while you tune and see if yours, a concert but basically same roller, does the same--sticks. Steve aka coolkayaker. Thus, Steve in Geneva to Steve in Oak Park, both RISA guys. lol

PS tuning smoothly and slowly on your end only translates to more sticking on the roller end. Tryit, and see if yours i more smooth. But, I think it's a ubiquitous roller saddle issue, and thus the threads on UU about RISA snapping A sting syndrome.
 
Last edited:
Hi Steve,
Yes, mine does the same thing. But, I'm quite sure the roller is not supposed to turn when tuning. If it did it would change the tuning of all four strings when you turn one tuner. What you're experiencing is the friction of the slot sort of holding the string in place until a sufficient change in the tension on the non-speaking length of the string causes the slot to allow the string to slide through. It's like pulling a rope through someone gripping it in the center. One end may be tight, the other may be very slack. The difference is determined by how tight the grip. So, the sharp angle tends to grip the string a little more tightly than the ones where the angle is less.
Steve and Steve are both Risa solid guys and Koaloha guys. How 'bout THAT!
 
KOAloha, too. Jesus, WHo's your mama? This is too uncanny. lol

Steve, you make an excellent point about the gripping of the A string and that darned obtuse angle. You've nailed it, and I see your point about the twistiung saddle. and how it should not twist. I just think it odd to change the tuner and increase the tension on the string exponentially, and yet have no change in pitch. Should I wear protective eye goggles when I tune this RISA? When that A string goes, it'll be like Indiana Jones cracking a whip in my eyes.

When I first put Aquilas on this RISA, which are finicky and take a week or two to dial in on any uke, I thought I was going to go absolutley bughouse. It'd come out of tune with a few strums. Now not so much.

One of my sopranos has Worth Brown mediums, which is a low tension string. I wonder if that'd be better on the RISA>

Hey, by the way, if you're into 80s music (Depeche Mode, NEw Order, ABC, etc.), then we need to get a room. (figuratively, my wife, Cathy, need be involved.).
 
Last edited:
I'm pretty sure my Risa came with Worth browns. I will stick with the same ones. I don't think an electric needs all the drive you get with Aquilas. It's only my opinion, but I don't like the sound of Aquila strings. They seem to make them for no other purpose than to give your instrument as much punch as possible without regard to the character of the sound. I can add punch with the electronics. Can't add color. Plus, I've read from several sources that Aquilas tend to be among the most brittle strings and prone to breaking. (I haven't had any string break on an ukulele yet) You should see what it's like when a string breaks on a piano, though. They're under SO much tension, that they don't go flying so it's safe, but it's loud. You find yourself checking for bullet wounds!
When you turn the tuner on the Uke Stick, you are changing the tension (and the pitch) but only on the part of the string between the tuner and the slotted bar (the non-speaking length). When you've changed the tension enough, the grip the slot has on the string will then allow the change to transfer to the part of the string you hear (the speaking length). That's why it sounds as if you're not making any changes on the first turn or two (or three). It can be frustrating, but once you understand how this is happening your ability to control it will greatly improve.
 
I hear you about the strings. I seem to like Worth Browns, and have an extra set here, so perhaps I'll add them to the RISA.

I don't know that I agree about the tuning part, Steve. Yes, the string changes length at the tuner peg and not the saddle, but two things are noted (1) I'm using well adjusted strings (aquilas), fully stretched and six months old, so the string itself should have little o r no stretch left in it, and (2) mine is friction tuner. Both other Friction tuner ukes I have, turn even 1/10 of a turn, and boom, strings adjust to new pitch. Not so for the RISA.

As you said earlier, something about the RISA (and I agree, may be the obtuse angle and the hanging up of the string on the metal slot) makes the strings tough to tune, and especially the A string. This is, in my thought, a design flaw of the RISA (regardless of geared vs friction tuners). It's my biggest dislike about the RISA. The other is more minor, and it's as you say, the feel of the lack of a head. I guess I brace against the headstock more than I thought I did, b/c without it, it's weird how my hand goes right over the top sometimes when fretting.

I have to say, our posts here have ben helpful, or will be, if anyone searches RISA solid body info. I wish more people would search, frankly, becuase it was all started by your exemplary review, Steve.

Hey, I hope I never hear a piano wire snap, based on your description. lol Cheers, brother Steve
 
Yeah, the lack of headstock thing was interesting. Before I got my Uke Solid, I started paying attention to the way I hold the regular ukes. I could tell I was gonna have trouble. My technique was pretty bad. I support the neck using my left hand under the headstock all the time. I know proper technique would have the hand more up and down rather that the fingers at an angle like I have mine. I've spent a lot of this first month with the Risa re-learning how to hold the instrument. Sometimes I use the strap, but I almost always sit. When I started out, if I stood, the thing had a tendency to go flying!! Just lucky I haven't dropped it. (Yet) And I anticipated the problem! I seem to have mastered this issue, though. My hand has developed a little more finesse in supporting that tiny corner of the neck above fret #1. But, when I stand, I'll use the strap for sure.
When we get together, we'll talk about string tension. I find it very interesting because of my piano tech background.
 
Sounds good about string tension discussion when we're together. And we can fiddle with mine; maybe there's something about mine being a soprano RISA that makes that A string at an even more obtuse angle than your concert or a tenor.

I'm amazed that you can play it without a strap at all. Maybe it's, again, b/c mine's a tiny soprano, but as this uke has less body that Jimmy Hoffa, I can't play it sitting or otherwise without a strap. I can't compress it well in the crotch of my arm. Of note, though, I'm one that prefers a strap or uke leash on all my ukes. I'm just not coordinated to hold them well and finger and strum. Perhaps, I'll develop that talent over the years,

Again, these comments and your review are pure gold for anyone considering a RISA solid (if they take the time to search this information) Well done!
 
First of all, thanks for this fantastic review. It was very informative and well written.

I've owned (and currently own) a fair amount of Risa's.
I've had the Concert (geared) and soprano (friction) Uke-Solids, their steel string tenor Les Paul model, and currently own their original ("kidney bean" shaped) tenor steel string and soprano Les Paul steel string.

Let me point out that the only reason that I ever sold my Risa's in the past was due to financial constraints (and they have OK resell value).
I loved each and every Risa I owned, and my heart broke when I had to let them go.
That said, the next time I have any available funds for uke, without a doubt I'll buy a Risa Uke-Solid soprano again.



Anyway, now that I've made my introduction, I would just like to chime into the strings/tuning issue that's been brought up here.
Yes, I've noticed it too on both my Soprano and Concert Uke-Solids.
It was more noticeable on my Soprano with the friction tuners. On my Concert with geared tuners, it only happened occasionally, and was less noticeable.

However, it was never a serious problem for me. Just stretch the strings a bit and it would get back on its course and tune up just fine.
And because good quality tuners were used (the friction tuners are Grovers, which are the same used for Fluke/Flea ukes, also renowned for quality), they didn't go out of tune all that much. I've never encountered any snapped string. Under normal circumstances in good hands, I don't think the Risa is any more likely of snapping a string than any other uke.


And like I said, it's definitely my next uke purchase, making it the third Uke-Solid I would've purchased (and 6th Risa purchase altogether!).
Risa truly makes great quality products. I like them because they don't compromise quality, but are still in an affordable price range.


PS - I think the rectangular neck design was borrowed from Flea/Fluke's. They have the same rectangular feel.
Personally I find it quite comfortable, but that is up to personal preference I guess.
 
Last edited:
kissing--I've always enjoyed your UU Forum posts, and this one is no exception. You certainly have a world of experience on the RISAs, and I appreciate your weighing in. Interesting comments on the tuners--thank you! Not only will future RISA searchers on UU Forums see this thread, but we can all find it and link it in any RISA conversations that pop up. Thanks, kissing.
 
I love mine for a couple reasons..plugged in the electonics are superb.. and the intonation.....yes they are well made...
 
I wish the guitar cable plug didn't stick straight out of the bottom like it does. Easy to bump, and even more have to use the strap. I know (and own) L-shaped ones. Does anyone know if there's a guitar cable with a teensy, weensy end--sort of like when I want a small congle on my wireless computer mouse.
 
Excellent review and discussion guys. Makes me really want a RISA concert even more. Thanks.

"One of us, one of us, gooble-gobble..."

Kayaker,

I've been on the lookout for a 45 degree plug or converter ever since I began noticing several performers onstage that had non-right-angle angled plugs coming out of their instruments. I'm starting to think it's a custom 6-in long extension/patch cable with a 90 degree plug, and a straight jack at the other end.
 
Last edited:
Interesting review. I'm thinking about getting something that is good while travelling and the Risa sure looks like a possibility. I have a couple of questions though. Are they loud enough to hear without amplification and what do people recommend as a source of amplification? I'd ideally like something that is compact while still sounding good.
 
I love my Risas for travel. Volume-wise, it's adequate for practice in a not-terribly noisy environment. I really like this mini amp (I got it years ago on Kissing's recommendation). It fits in the Risa's case and pumps up the volume to a level comparable to an acoustic instrument. Plus it has an MP3 input, and headphone jack.

ED38543C-BD85-4B4A-BABE-0A3EFCDF74F6-11623-000012A2F4F26C15.jpg
 
Top Bottom