RISA Uke-Solid Electric Tenor Ukulele Review

The RISA solid ukulele isn’t like any other ukulele out there: it’s shaped like a hollowed out cricket bat, the tuning pegs are at the wrong end, it doesn’t have a head, its bridge is aluminium. Obviously, I had to have one.

Stats

Construction: Solid walnut.
Fretboard: Walnut 17 frets.
Neck: Solid walnut.
Bridge: Aluminium.
Tuners: Friction
Pickups: Passive Piezo.

Sound

The sound of an electric ukulele is going to have more to do with what you run it through than the uke itself. But here are a few clips of it through a Boss GT-10 to give you an idea.

Clean Tone

 
MP3

First time: as it comes out of the ukulele. Second time: through pre-amp. Third time: pre-amp, EQ and a bit of reverb. Fourth time: cheesed up (pre-amp, EQ, a bit of reverb, quite a lot of chorus).

Country Slapback

 
MP3

Rocked Out Widdle-Fest

 
MP3

Maximum Effects

Link

All sorts in there: looper, slicer, wah, delay.

The Good Stuff

- It’s very easy to play: The neck feels very slick. The action is low. It’s very light. Unlike a lot of ukuleles that pack on useless frets, all the frets are playable with any finger. Because the body and neck are all one piece you can also do a bit of fretless playing above the top fret.

- Design: It’s not just a ukulele with pickups on. RISA have obviously given a lot of thought to what is required of an electric ukulele and designed towards that. It’s also pleasing as an object – to look at and hold (it’s very light).

My only grumble is the big RISA logo slapped on it. There’s a reason you don’t see chairs with ‘THOMAS CHIPPENDALE’ scrawled across the front of them. The design of it says it’s a RISA more clearly than the logo.

- It’s well made: No flaws in mine. And the intonation is spot on.

- It’s solid: Not just in the sense that it’s not hollow. It’s also very sturdy. As the shape suggests, you could play cricket with it.

The Not So Good Stuff

- It takes a lot of getting used to: It’s very different from any ukulele you’re used to. I found myself falling off the end of the neck a few times. The tuning pegs are on the body and it took me a while to get used to which tuning peg goes with which string and which way to turn them. You need to buy a strap to play it comfortably.

- The tuning pegs: This is the main drawback of the ukulele as far as I’m concerned. Even after getting used to the system there are problems. Like a lot of friction tuners, it’s hard to tune them accurately and they’re placed too close together for comfortable tuning.

- Aaaargh, the string is jammed: During some over-enthusiastic widdling I broke the A string. I went to take it off to find that the string was jammed in the hole at the nut end. There’s no way of getting direct access to it either. I had to bash a pin through the hole to free it. Even after setting it free, the rest of the string changing experience was also a pain in the arse.

I haven’t heard about this happening to anyone else, but the fact it can happen seems like a pretty big design floor to me.

- Passive pickups: That means you don’t get the on-board kajiggers like tone and volume controls. Not necessarily a big disadvantage. But you don’t get a headphone socket like you do with the EleUke which comes in handy for quiet practice.

Overall

I enjoy playing the RISA. The string jamming incident has soured me against it a little, but it’s a way better ukulele than the EleUke.

RISA Uke-Solid on eBay UK and on UkeSurfer.

View Comments

44 Comments

  1. cardboardfrog November 11th, 2009 6:22 pm

    good review woodshed,
    i’ve never played one but it strikes me it would play like a steinberger bass where you compensate for the lack of a headstock by thinking the zero fret is the third, i recently bought one of the new kala/eleukes the ftcj100 (with the F holes) and i have to say i’m pretty pleased with it as an electric uke although i’m starting to think the whole electric uke concept is a little bit silly.

  2. Armelle November 11th, 2009 6:49 pm

    Good to hear your experiments with an electric uke, Al.

    I prefer the good old non-electric ukes though.

    The Clean Tone sounds quite nice but in the other MP3′s I feel the distinctive sound of a ukulele is a bit lost and it sounds more like an electric guitar.

  3. Anthony Coates November 11th, 2009 7:36 pm

    I’ve had a RISA Uke-Solid Tenor for a couple of years now (it’s the only uke I’ve ever had). I think it’s great! I use it with a battery-powered Danelectro Honeytone amp (http://www.hollywood-music.co.uk/products.php?product=Danelectro-N10-HoneyTone-Mini-Amp-).

    You can use the strap from the carry bag as a strap for the uke.

    I highly recommend this uke.

    Cheers, Tony.

  4. Woodshed November 11th, 2009 9:18 pm

    cbf: I disagree that it’s silly. It’s just that no one has quite worked out what to do with it yet. It hasn’t been an instrument for very long.

    Armelle: I agree with you about the third and fourth examples, but I’m not so sure about the second. It has the close harmony and notes ringing in that I associate with the ukulele. I don’t think the electric uke should sound like an acoustic uke any more than the electric guitar sounds like the acoustic guitar.

    Tony: Oh, so you can. Although it is a bit too nasty to be strap. Worth investing in a nice one I reckon.

  5. shawnb November 11th, 2009 10:08 pm

    you got some really great sounds out of that – I was thinking MIDI, but not so much, eh?

  6. Thomas November 11th, 2009 10:39 pm

    Actually, I think an electric uke is a great idea! Personally, I own a guitar that I can do little to nothing with, and a few ukes that I can play chords on. So I can basically sing songs and accompany myself (on uke). An electric uke would give me a lot more stuff to play around and have fun with, without the having to master a guitar. What I think is the greatest quality of the uke, is that it’s SO accessible. An electric uke gives you a whole range of new options (effects), whilst still having the accessibility. Or so it seems to me anyway. So even less then talented players like me can still buy massive amounts of effects and all kinds of other toys to fiddle with! Hooray! And, basically, have fun.

    I had a Flea on no.1 of my wishlist, but I’m wondering if a Risa Solid Concert might be a better option…

  7. Ron Hale November 12th, 2009 12:19 am

    Count me very solidly in the pro-electric uke camp; I’ll eventually get one that allows for headphone use, & I don’t mind even a tiny bit if they sound like guitars. The sound examples & the video were great.

    Maybe electrics are just the shot-in-the-arm the ukulele needs to
    extend the third-wave (or 4th, as George Hinchliffe would have it)
    & increase the uke’s popularity ala the way the electric guitar completely redefined that instrument & increased its popularity & number of fans/players. The purists were upset when Dylan went electric at Newport, but the impurists (count me as one) won out.

    When people think guitar, they don’t automatically think acoustic, quite the contrary. When people think uke, they do think acoustic. This might start to change as people inside the ukulele world
    begin to shift their thinking towards electrics, experimenting with them, discovering just how much the instrument can do.

    The electric uke’s guitar-like sound can be a huge plus in attracting new players, players who perhaps don’t want the traditional ukulele sound (or image), & find four strings easier to handle than six. Not to mention the fact that a number of new electric ukuleles, some of them shown here onsite, are extremely attractive & appealing instruments that easily could entice civilians into the fold.

    Should the electric become a powerful force in the uke world (& I think it will, rather than remaining on the fringe like acoustic-electrics) we’ll be in for an upheaval similar to the one undergone by pre- & post-Beatles popular music. Traditionalists won’t like it, they’ll think the ukulele is selling/losing its soul (some would say that’s already happening), but that won’t stop change. The day is coming when beginning players will consider the electric ukulele a viable option to the electric guitar, & after that, a superior option. The brave new world will have begun.

  8. Anne Marie November 12th, 2009 1:00 am

    What is the setup of an electric instrument, or this ukulele specifically I guess? I don’t understand how effects work. Isn’t it with a pedal? Can you use pedals made for guitars with this electric ukulele?

    It is a curious little thing and it looks like a bottle. I like it, I think it sounds nice.

  9. Tamster November 12th, 2009 4:26 am

    I bought my soprano one when it used to be called a ukestick, not a ukesolid. I find the name Ukestick makes more sense. It looks and feels basically like a stick. I too find the pegs too close together when trying to tune and I have small hands. I use mine for practice with (or without) a Dean pocket amp that I plug headphones into. I find it good for practicing quietly.
    And to Ron Hale, electric ukes have been out for a while now. I’m not so sure that they will increase the uke’s popularity the way the electric guitar did the guitar. They certainly haven’t yet anyway.

  10. Anthony Coates November 12th, 2009 6:25 am

    I’ve already mentioned that I’ve had a RISA Uke-Solid Tenor for a couple of years now. Like so many people in the UK, I bought it after seeing “A Concert For George”. I loved the idea of taking a uke with you, as he did, wherever you travel, to have something personal to do while staying in impersonal hotel rooms. The Uke-Solid is great for that, it’s flat enough to pack in my luggage, I pack my honeytone amp as well, and I’m all set when I travel.

    Too Anne Marie’s question, the output from the Uke-Solid is the same as the output from any electric guitar, so you can run it through any pedals or such that you want (not that I do myself).

    Cheers, Tony.

  11. andy November 12th, 2009 7:05 am

    I have often wondered why you can’t rent ukuleles and guitars and other musical instruments when in hotel rooms, especially when travelling light, or crap at packing. There must be a franchise/business opportunity in there somewhere.

  12. mictoboy November 12th, 2009 8:43 am

    Any idea if you can string them for left handed play? Looking at the video, i reckon having the pegs on the bottom might make things a bit more comfortable

    (i do not need another uke i do not need another uke i do not need another uke)

  13. alec - howtoplayalone November 12th, 2009 9:35 am

    Great review. I want one. Nothing silly about electric ukes in principle, and, as Woodshed said, they can only get better.

    “There’s a reason you don’t see chairs with ‘THOMAS CHIPPENDALE’ scrawled across the front of them.”

    Ha.

  14. Marcelo November 12th, 2009 12:00 pm

    Well, it seems a very good eletric uke to me. I`ve never tought of buiyng one, but I don`t know. Maybe they would sound nice with a full band… And this RISA have a pretty good soun to it!

    Thanks for the review!

  15. todd November 12th, 2009 4:30 pm

    loved the review….and loved this comment ha!

    ‘I have often wondered why you can’t rent ukuleles and guitars and other musical instruments when in hotel rooms, especially when travelling light, or crap at packing. There must be a franchise/business opportunity in there somewhere.’

    good thinking andy! love it….though i like to take my own ukes….what if you couldn’t or you forgot (crap at packing)

    next step, collect a small arsenal of instruments and hit up the hippy hostels and college town hotels for the ‘start up!’

  16. karl November 12th, 2009 7:17 pm

    Great review.

    The original name was ukestick, but Rigk had to change it after complaints by Emmet Chapman, who makes a guitar/bass tapping Stick.

    One extra drawback: no controls on the instrument itself.

    Two more advantages: if you really get used to the absent headstock, your hand goes round it. And if you press the butt against a table or a door, there’s some natural amplification that’s really neat (someone should make a detachable soundbox for it!)

    I had trouble getting mine through airport security, they thought it was some kind of weapon. In a way, it probably is.

  17. Olly November 12th, 2009 8:46 pm

    I nearly bought one of these, but got a flea instead in the end. Considering it again now! Cheers for the review and samples

  18. Ian Emmerson November 13th, 2009 7:30 pm

    I had the soprano one of these, and have had or tried pretty much every electric uke out there. That review is pretty spot on. I now favour the Risa Uke Ellie, which is a sort of upgrade on the ukesolid, in that it is more traditionally uke-shaped, with a headstock and a symmetrical oval body (and side dots on both sides for lefties). A little bit bigger, a fair bit more expensive, but it does resolve every one of the issues you raised in your review Al. And Risas are very well made.
    You could really hurt someone with one!
    I x

  19. Ron Hale November 14th, 2009 10:24 am

    The new Elderly Instruments catalog includes a nice toy for the electric ukulele owner – an Electric Kazoo, “…a kazoo paired with
    a pickup. Marshall stack sold separately,” $18.00US. Consider the possibilities.

  20. Woodshed November 14th, 2009 3:26 pm

    shawnb: It’s all done with the Boss GT-10.

    Thomas: The toys are a lot of fun to play with. Have to agree with that.

    Ron: I think it could happen if an act came along that used the electric ukulele extensively. Even so, I’m not sure it would overhaul the acoustic uke – I think it will stay a more fringe thing.

    Anne Marie: Like Tony said, it’s just the same output as an electric guitar so you can use any effects you like. I’m using one of these – which is like a whole bunch of pedals in one. You plug the uke into that, it does all the fancy stuff and you plug that into your amp/headphones/recording device.

    Tamster: It is good for practicing – but it would be even better if it had an active pickup so you could plug straight in rather than going through an amp.

    Tony: I agree, good uke for travelling. Particularly since it’s very sturdy.

    andy: Damn good idea if you ask me!

    mictoboy: The only issue I can see with playing it left handed is that you’d have the lead coming out of the top – it might get in the way when you’re strumming.

    alec: Thanks.

    Marcelo: They do sound good with a full band – Toy Horses use a RISA.

    todd: You’ll make a fortune!

    karl: Thanks for the info. I didn’t know that’s why they changed the name.

    Olly: Once a uke is on the to-buy list it never entirely gets off it.

    Ian: The only problem I have with the Uke Ellie is that I can’t stand the way it looks – even the ones that aren’t covered in glitter.

  21. Olly November 14th, 2009 9:41 pm

    haha! yeah, it just stays on there until payday…

  22. John December 2nd, 2009 4:22 am

    mictoboy,

    I’ve been playing my Risa soprano left-handed for a couple of years, and you’re right. Having the pegs on the bottom is not only more comfortable, but it’s much easier to tune with them in this position.

    Tony C.,
    Try running your Risa through a Roland MicroCube. I had a HoneyTone ofr the first two years, and the Roland is a WHOLE NEW WORLD!

    More generally… am I missing something or does the reviewer fault the instrument because a string broke??And because he had to use a simple tool to remove the string remnant? It doesn’t seem to me that string breakage is confined to Risa instruments, or that to be that demanding to push a pin or toothpick through a hole to get a string end out. I’ll grant that that is about the worst think I’d be able to say about my Risa; it’s a great little axe!

  23. Woodshed December 3rd, 2009 5:05 pm

    John: I did say “push a pin” I said “bash a pin” because that’s what I had to do. It was jammed fast. It’s a design fault. And a big one.

  24. tony December 29th, 2009 2:43 pm

    Andy- your instrument rental ideas for hotels would be a total and complete dud, other than maybe (and that’s a huge maybe) hostels where young college kids would stay at. First off, most adults would never bother to rent an instrument in ther first place. There are two reasons you stay at a hotel- for two or three days on business trips, where you’re on meetings the whole day and come back too exhausted to want to do anything else other than hit the lobby bar, or for pleasure when you show up for a week with the wife and kids, and both adults will be too busy with the kids to play the instrument at night, and the kids’ll probably (more than likely) break it before the stay is over. Plus, being a hotel, a place designed and aimed for foreigners and tourists, just think of the ridiculously high hotel price they’ll charge to use a musical instrument! Hell you can’t get a Martini at a hotel bar for less than $10 bucks, and a 12oz beer’ll cost you $4, just imagine an instrument rental price! And Heaven forbid you break them during your stay (which will happen in several, several instances), then the bill added will be huge. Then guests will say that the instrument was like that when they got it just to try and get away from paying that huge bill, and the lobby will say otherwise, and then lawsuits and poor hotel reviews come around from that.
    Add to all that the huge cost of buying the instruments from a company, and maintaining the instruments, plus the cost of any insurance for them in case the guests break or steal them (small instrument such as ukes could EASILY be tucked in a suitcase. Sure u could ask for a valid Credit Card before the rental just in case of theft, but you’d still be out one uke- and in the case of Prom kids or Bachelor parties, you could be out several ukes, and it could be a while before your distributor sends in replacement ones).
    On top of all that, the hotels would then have a huge surge of noise complaints, because some clown with a reservation who walked in and rented a uke or what other instrument, thinking he was a GOD on it, would go into to his room and start unleashing horrible UNGodly noises from it, therefore waking up everyone in the rooms around his who have to wake up early in the morning to go to an important business meeting, or to take the family to Disney or whatever. The lobby couldn’t ask for the guy to turn it down, since he rented it fair and square, and he could play it however he wanted, and now you got a whole other assorted wave of complaints and people who’ll never be coming back to stay at your noisy joint ever again.
    So you see, a hotel manager or owner would never go for that, since it would be too much of a liability, and generally a usueless loss of money, especially nowadays when the economy’s so down the crapper every business is struggling just to stay afloat. Same liabilities would apply for hostels, but theft and damages would be triple the amount, and most of those kids pay in cash cuz college kids are always so piss-poor broke all the time (if they weren’t they wouldn’t be staying at a hostel to begin with), so they’d be pretty much either 1) be unanble to rent, or 2) be completely untraceable when they walk out with ukes stuffed in their sacks.
    So, while I give you points for the creativity, that idea is absolutely terrible, and would highly likely be a bigger disaster than the Hindenberg.

    -Later everyone!

  25. andy December 30th, 2009 2:05 am

    Bloody Hell tony, that’s some response ! Speaking as someone who spends a fair amount of time getting cabin fever in hotel rooms (the weekends are the worst), I disagree that it’s a “terrible idea”, but I completely agree that it’s not the most commercially viable idea that I’ve ever had :-)

  26. Woodshed December 30th, 2009 11:26 am

    Tony: I think it was more of an ‘in a perfect world’ suggestion than a pitch on Dragon’s Den.

  27. tony December 30th, 2009 11:27 pm

    Haha! You’re right! Sorry if I sounded like a bloody Simon Cowell there! I’m just a big ol’ Wordsmith about these things. Also am a little passionate about throwing in my 2 cents :) Happy 2010 everyone!!

  28. scott June 14th, 2010 12:16 pm

    I was actually about to purchase this model when I heard the new risa solids with geared tuners are coming out around september so just waiting for the arrival…

  29. PJB July 6th, 2010 2:49 am

    I love that song you’re playing on the first demo! Sounds like a great show-off piece. What is it?

  30. Woodshed July 8th, 2010 9:27 pm

    PJB: No song in particular. I was making it up as I went along.

  31. PJB July 16th, 2010 2:13 pm

    Ah. Thanks anyway!

  32. Pam Gleeson August 1st, 2010 12:02 am

    Trying to find a left Handed electric Ukelele for my son. Any ideas anyone.?

  33. Pam Gleeson August 9th, 2010 12:07 am

    Surely someone somewhere must have a left handed electric tenor ukelele? I can’t believe that there isn’t any around. Please contact me if you can assist.

  34. Josh Ward September 1st, 2010 4:15 pm

    I’m looking to buy one of these. Can someone please recommend which one? Is the Tenor really worth the £40 more than a Soprano? I have recently started learning Ukulele recently on a very cheap Mahalo. (I’d definitely recommend it for beginners, £15, if you don’t learn to play it then you still have one to muck around with. It had been sitting in my house for ages before I stumbled across this site and started learning) I’d like an electric uke, I love the idea. I’m not loaded so I want to make sure it’s a good decision. It’s buy this Uke or get an iPhone 4.

  35. Woodshed September 1st, 2010 8:44 pm

    Josh: Tenor vs. soprano is a matter of personal choice. A £40 difference is pretty reasonable – I think it’s very worth it.

  36. Josh Ward September 1st, 2010 11:31 pm

    Thanks for replying, do they sound different or is it just the size? I noticed the tenor is walnut, the other 2 are a different wood.

  37. John Noble April 1st, 2011 10:41 pm

    I have owned a Risa soprano Ukestick for all of two days now. It is an older style one with friction tuners. I have the same opinion about the tuning. It is kind of hard to fine tune. The new style geared tuners should solve this. It is very high quality though and sounds great. I have been playing through a Fender Mustang 1 amp. Sounds like a guitar when heavely distorted. I think I would prefer the tenor because the acoustic uke that I have been playing is a tenor. The soprano is what I came across on Ebay in the U.S., and you don’t see many of the here so I went with it… Anyway, having a blast with it!

  38. Woodshed April 2nd, 2011 9:28 am

    John: Thanks for the review, glad you’re enjoying it.

  39. Claudio May 20th, 2011 1:21 pm

    I’m thinking of buying an electric uke for when I need to plug it in on the stage. (Yes my journey on the Uke is about to hit the stage!!)

    I have played the soprano version of this. I know that Risa have a geared tuners option and that on the Tenor this is standard now I think.

    Al, you mention that this is better than the Eleuke you tried. I’m tempted to get this Risa thing.

  40. paulmoody August 2nd, 2011 5:22 pm

    I’ve looked into this uke a little, and I have found them done with geared tuners instead of friction tuners, does this sound to you like something that would make the string changing a better experience?

  41. Claudio August 2nd, 2011 6:44 pm

    Coincidence seeing your message Paul.

    I bought the Risa Solid Tenor late May. Now I’m selling it on E-bay (under my account claud-uk). Mine has the 4:1 banjo style geared tuners. I’m selling mine because I keep changing my collection and I’m not allowed to continue to acquire them – A 1 in and 1 out rule from the wife. It was a fun unique addition to the collection but I had to prioritise what I wanted to do next.

    The string changing issue Al raised is not affected by the geared tuners as Al’s problem was down at the other end of the neck where the strings disappear into holes in the wood. The strings are held by a knot that is hidden inside the wood. The hole in the back is bigger than the hole on the top and where these different diameters meet, is where the knot sits. Because a knot is an irregular shape, it can get a little jammed due to the tension but the solution is simply to poke something down the hole. I haven’t tried this out myself yet and don’t know if it is a recurring problem.

  42. paulmoody August 2nd, 2011 7:32 pm

    @Claudio

    Insane is more like it! I’m watching that item on eBay haha! I would be bidding top price but unfortunately at the moment I’m not in a position to purchase, I’m looking at getting my hands on one in October.

  43. ThomasGC October 16th, 2011 2:47 pm

    I’m developing UAS (ukulele acquisition syndrome) and I bought a Risa solid tenor recently. Enjoy playing it through my Marshall MS-2 micro amp (with belt clip). Although it can be played like any other uke, I find I play a different style, with more finger picking. I also love turning up the distorto and really letting rip.

    As you say, it’s good for walking around (with a strap) due to its small size… smaller than a normal soprano because of the body shape.

    I’m still a uke beginner (of 14 months) and the Risa has opened up enriching new styles for my acoustic uke playing. It goes both ways :)

    I have your Dummies book and I note a reference to “cricket bat-shaped” ukes (page 13). Given your enthusiasm for the Risa here and in an earlier review, I wondered why. I guess it’s not recommended for the absolute beginner :)

  44. Woodshed October 17th, 2011 5:20 pm

    ThomasGC: I wouldn’t say this review is ‘enthusiastic’ exactly. And my opinion of the RISA has gone down further since I did the review.

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