Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Recording King U25 Madison Banjolele Review


I recently had the chance to try out a pretty cool Recording King Madison banjo ukulele, or banjolele, and it is a pretty neat piece of work. If you are not sure what one of these is, it is a ukulele neck that is stuck to a banjo body. According to Wikipedia (yay!), this instrument was invented in the 1910s, and it gained popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. What is the point? Well, they pretty much play like a ukulele and have the sharper tone of a banjo, with an appreciable louder sound. This made them popular with vaudeville performers back in the day.

Recording King was originally a house brand of instruments for Montgomery Ward in the 1930’s. The re-introduction of this brand builds on this legacy by using vintage designs and hand-assembled parts to obtain the look, feel and sound of the older models.

The U25 model we are looking at here has the same scale length as a soprano ukulele, with an overall length between the soprano and concert sizes (22 inches), and a body width of a tenor (6 ½ inches). It weighs around 2 ½ pounds, so it is heavier than any standard ukulele I have ever played.

This banjolele has a maple neck and rim, with a rosewood fretboard and a 6-inch Remo head. There are 19 fairly huge frets, pearloid dots, and a 1 5/16-inch bone nut worked into the fretboard. The hardware is all nickel-plated, including the hoop, the geared tuners, and the bent metal tailpiece. The bridge is a relatively massive chunk of maple and ebony, and it come dismounted, so the user has to figure out where to put it. This is not too hard of a task – it pretty much goes on the head the same distance from the 12th fret as the nut is. Overall, it is a very smart looking instrument

Craftsmanship on this one is very good, the joints are clean, and the fretwork is ok with no sharp edges. The set-up and string height were fine right out of the box, though the nylon strings that it came with are cheap and sounded pretty lousy, so I put a new set of Aquilas on it, which greatly improved the sound and the instrument’s ability to stay in tune.

It took a bit of an adjustment to play this banjolele, as it is a lot heavier than other ukuleles, and I do not use a strap. But, this was not too big of a deal. I was amazed with how much more volume I was able to get out of it with just normal strumming. The tone is much brighter and edgy than the usual ukulele sound, and I could see how this would be much more useful for live performances. Also, its beefier construction would make we worry a lot less about jamming it into a crowded overhead bin on an airplane.

The Recording King U25 Madison banjolele comes in at a price point that is right around where most of the good beginner ukuleles are, as everybody online seems to be selling these for $199.99. This does not come with a case, so you will want to factor that into your budget. Overall, it is a solid instrument and I think it is worth the cash. If you get a chance, try one and see what you think!


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