Why buy a plastic ukulele? The question should be, why not? Plastic ukuleles are durable, waterproof, and make a perfect travel companion. Whether you’re out on the beach, on a hike, in a boat, or even in the pool, you can take them anywhere!
After a fad in the 50s and 60s, plastic ukuleles are becoming popular again. Nowadays, you can find them in all sorts of fun colors and patterns. But which plastic ukulele is the best? Well, read on for our picks!
Summary: Unique design and loud tone makes this a great travel companion
Best For: Someone who needs a louder plastic ukulele
The BugsGear Aqualele is certainly eye-popping in its design. Rather than opting for the traditional ukulele look, BugsGear has given its plastic ukulele bold colors, an offset soundhole, and a cutaway. But even with the unconventional look, it still feels and plays like a regular soprano ukulele. In fact, to my ears it’s got the least plasticky sound of the bunch!
One thing you may notice is that the body is a little deeper than your standard soprano ukulele. This is one of the keys to getting a good sound out of a plastic ukulele. Since the ABS used in these ukes isn’t as resonant as wood, the bigger body helps compensate. What you end up with is a fairly loud, punchy ukulele, louder than many wood sopranos I’ve tried!
Many soprano ukuleles sound better tuned a step above the usual gCEA tuning, to aDF#B. I’ve found that the BugsGear really sings in this tuning. If you’d like to play around a bit, I’d highly recommend tuning up. But don’t worry; it still sounds good in standard tuning.
It’s also very playable, with great intonation. The cutaway and offset soundhole means that you can play all the way up to the 18th fret. The intonation is surprisingly still OK up there, although overall it’s more of a gimmick or “nice to have” than something you’ll likely be using a lot.
The one issue I have with the BugsGear Aqualele is the fit and finish. Some of the seams aren’t quite fully joined together, and you can still see some of the glue. For a ukulele with such a distinctive look, it’s too bad. But, all of this is cosmetic, and only really visible if you’re taking a very close look. From normal distances, you won’t notice a thing.
- Distinctive look
- Great playability and intonation up to the 18th fret
- Fit and finish leaves a little to be desired
Vorson ABS Ukulele
Summary: A plastic concert ukulele with a killer value
Best for: Anyone who finds soprano ukuleles a little too small
Most plastic ukuleles are sopranos, made to be a compact grab-and-go uke. If you’d like a little more space on the fretboard, the Vorson ABS ukulele is concert-sized and a great value. While Makala has expanded their Waterman line to include a concert version, for a while the Vorson was the only one on the market. It still holds up nicely against its plastic concert cousins.
The bigger body of the Vorson plastic ukulele does give it a bit more volume and resonance. It will hold its own in a small ukulele jam. However, it still very much sounds like a plastic ukulele. Overall, it’s a little quieter than your average wooden concert. Not bad for something you can dunk in the water.
One thing to keep in mind with the Vorson ukulele is that the ABS used to make it is fairly soft. It is more prone to neck warpage than the other plastic ukuleles on this list. Be sure to keep it out of direct sunlight, hot cars, etc., and you should be OK. I’ve heard of people re-straightening a warped plastic neck with a hairdryer, but I think it’s better to not have to try in the first place!
That flexibility in the neck poses a few intonation problems, especially as new strings get settled. I found it frustrating to tune the ukulele for the first week or so that i had it. Once the strings settled down, the intonation was very good. If you do get this uke, be aware that it can take a bit of time to reach the right equilibrium.
Otherwise, the Vorson ABS ukulele is designed more or less like a standard concert ukulele. Vorson makes it in a range of colors and patterns, including one with an American flag and eagle and another with flames. Some of them are too over-the-top for my tastes, but hey, whatever floats your boat.
Summary: A perfect cross between a traditional wood and plastic ukulele
Best for: Someone who still wants wood tone, but with plastic durability
If you’re not sure you want to go full plastic ukulele, the Makala Dolphin is the one for you. It has a durable plastic back and sides that makes it great for travel. Unlike the others on this list, though, it has a laminate wooden top. This gives it an edge sound-wise over the others on this list. If you just want a more durable, regular-sounding ukulele, the Dolphin is a great fit.
That wood top does mean that unlike the others on this list, you can’t get the Dolphin ukulele too wet. A splash of water, especially on its plastic back and sides, won’t hurt it. But the front will warp if submerged. If you’re planning on taking your uke out on the water, this may not be the one for you. The name’s a little ironic, isn’t it?
Speaking of that name, Makala calls it a Dolphin because of the fun dolphin-shaped bridge. It’s cute, and the tuners have little dolphin shapes to match. If you’re more of a shark person, they’ve got a “Shark” ukulele as well, which is exactly the same, just with a different sea creature. Like the other ukes on this list, there are a bunch of fun, bright colors to choose from. It’s easy to see why the Makala Dolphin has become such a hit with ukulele beginners and children.
And easy to hear, too. This uke punches above its price range, and has a remarkably traditional ukulele sound even with its plastic body. There is very little “plastic” in its tone, and both high and low notes sound full and balanced. It’s also louder than most of the other plastic ukuleles, thanks to the wooden top. Playability and intonation are very good, and easier to adjust than on molded plastic ukuleles.
Woodi USA Ukulele
Summary: Inventive looks on a traditional body makes a bold statement
Best for: Someone who really wants to customize their uke’s looks without compromising sound or playability
Part of the fun of plastic is the fun patterns and colors you can get on your ukulele. So long, boring wood grain! Hello, well, pretty much whatever you want! And no one embraces that more than Woodi USA, who makes their plastic ukuleles in a variety of eye-catching designs.
The actual shape of the body of the ukulele is very traditional. What distinguishes Woodi from the rest is the wonderful array of patterns you can get printed on the plastic. Floral, psychedelic, and rainbow prints are featured alongside the usual bright neon colors, giving pretty much everyone a chance to find one that they like.
But, of course, looking good doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t sound good. The Woodi won’t win any competitions against a solid wood ukulele anytime soon, but it’s actually fairly respectable. Like a lot of the plastic ukuleles on this list, the tone is a bit hollow, without a ton of sustain. It’s got some punch, and it’s not completely devoid of resonance. Overall, if you’re a casual strummer, it’ll do the job quite well.
The Woodi ukulele is very playable, with respectable action and intonation. Things get a little spottier as you go up the fretboard, but it’s well-suited to what most people will be buying it for. Take it camping, boating, swimming, whatever, and you’ll have a ukulele more than capable of playing a tune. If you’re playing Carnegie Hall, well… I’d pack another uke.
- Fun patterns and designs
- Good playability
- Intonation is spotty up the neck
Summary: A classic-looking plastic ukulele from a trusted maker
Best for: Makala fans who want to try out a plastic ukulele
Makala is one of the industry leaders in affordable ukuleles, so it makes sense that they’d add a plastic one to their lienup. The Makala Waterman has become one of their most popular products, and for good reason. It has a wonderful look to it, blending the traditional with a fun set of colors and patterns. And it sounds pretty good for a plastic ukulele!
The Makala Waterman is based at least in part on the classic Maccaferri plastic ukuleles, and doesn’t necessarily strive to sound like a traditional uke. It’s not a dead or unpleasant sound by any means, but it has less sustain and a bit more punch than your usual soprano. This is perfect for strumming; for fingerpicking, you might want to go with a Dolphin or the BugsGear. Most of them feel quite nice under the fingers, and intonation is spot on.
The biggest issue I’ve had with Makala Waterman ukuleles, though, is quality control. Because they’re entirely made of molded plastic, it’s hard to adjust much after the fact. If a regular ukulele’s high action is pushing things sharp, the nut and/or saddle can be brought down. It’s also possible to swap out normal bridges for compensated ones which can help intonation. On the Waterman, everything’s pretty much set as is.
This is all well and good when everything is set up properly. But I’ve played multiple Waterman ukes that had spotty intonation or action problems. Makala customer service is very good, and if you get a lemon they’ll make it right. It would be nice, though, to just get it right the first time, and I’ve had issues with the Waterman more than any of the other ukuleles on this list.
Again, most are fine, I just wish that Makala spent a tiny bit more time weeding out the duds. They’re fun little ukuleles, and Makala is such a great maker that it’s hard to go too far wrong.
- Nice blend of traditional and fun looks
- Decent volume
- Spotty quality control means some duds get through