Gear to Skip: 2018 Kmise Concert Banjo Ukulele

This type of concert-scale banjo ukulele can be had with a gigbag and tuner on eBay for $90 shipped to your door. That's just crazy. How does anyone compete with this import stuff? Like all the newer Gretsch-brand folk instruments, sub-$200 Kala-or-similar-brand wooden-bodied ukes, and other Asian-sourced, student-market gear, though, this instrument leaves a lot to be desired. 

A friend of mine bought this for his daughter (she has kids of her own) and at first glance it seems OK. It really is a lot of value for the money when you consider it has a ply rim, resonator back, geared tuners, 8" synthetic head, a coordinator-rod setup at the heel and in the rim, and fast, comfortable neck. It even sounds good!

When you try to play it with the "factory setup," however, it was just off. Not only was the action too high at both the bridge and nut, it had the thing that I detest most about the vast majority of cheaper import gear: a truly terrible fret job. The better import makers have accurate fretting that's more-or-less level with one another, but I've noticed almost every single sub-$200 uke (or sub-$400 guitar for that matter) has frets that look like they were put in the board by a crew of drunken penguins. Every few frets there's a bit of spot-leveling or seating-with-wicking-superglue job needing to be done and the whole lot of them could use a  full fret level/dress, too. If you add the work necessary to make this into a proper player, suddenly one's spent $100 of my time ironing it out... which I guess still leaves you with some good bang-for-your buck at ~$200 into a modern jo-uke.

Still, if you're a prospective buyer looking for something and you snag one of these and don't happen to have a friend who can turn one around and into a decent instrument, this is the sort of jo-uke that might totally turn you off from playing because of its faults. Even with the factory high action, it was fretting-out left and right as you moved up the neck as-is. It would be totally discouraging to a new player to have to deal with something like this.

So there you have it.

Another curious thing -- this came with a "resonator" backplate installed -- just a flat piece of ply similar to old 1920s jo-ukes. It was never installed with spacers to let the sound leak out of the edges, though, so the instrument was entirely "choked-up." I added some finish washers to space it back a bit and provide some venting.

It boggles the mind...