The Aklot banjo ukulele is priced right, and certainly looks the part. For a great-sounding, easy-playing banjolele, it’s a steal. But does it hold up under a microscope? I put it through the paces, and the answer is a resounding yes! Read on for my in-depth review of Aklot’s great new banjolele…
Note: I was not compensated for this review, but Aklot did send me the banjolele directly for review.
The Aklot banjolele, unlike some of Aklot’s other ukes, has a very traditional look and feel. The first important thing I noticed was the weight. A good banjolele needs to be heavy. Not only is that the sign of a sturdy instrument, the extra heft helps banjo ukes resonate better.
The maple neck, headstock, and rim are all finished nicely, giving it a pale tan shine. There are some fun accents, like the big star marker at the fifth fret. The headstock also has a funky shape reminiscent of the waisted headstocks of many banjo manufacturers. For a modern manufacturer out of China, Aklot did a great job of making something look like an updated version of an old-timey American instrument!
Quality control was very good on this banjo uke, something important when you’re ordering sight-unseen online. The tuners hold their tune well, the frets are comfortable and not sharp, and there were no blemishes or problems with the finish when I got it. I’ve already (unintentionally) knocked this around a few times, and while it has gained a few scratches, it has withstood the bumps and bruises well.
The Aklot banjo ukulele has a standard concert scale, and will feel very comfortable to any ukulele player. Because of the weight and somewhat awkward balance of banjoleles, I tend to like to use a strap. This is especially true with a hefty instrument like the Aklot. Luckily, Aklot has provided one, which I’ll talk about later.
Aklot also includes a plastic spacer to measure exactly where to put the bridge on their banjolele. This seems like a small touch, but it’s essential for intonation. Without it, you have to measure yourself, and it could take a lot of trial and error to get the perfect intonation. It’s a great sign that the company cares about the overall playability of their banjo ukulele.
Besides needing to set the bridge (standard on all banjoleles), the instrument comes well setup. The frets are finished nicely, and the fretboard is comfortable to play. Intonation up and down the neck is more or less perfect once you’ve got the bridge in the right place. I often need to adjust the action on ukuleles when they come in, but didn’t have to do it for the Aklot banjolele.
I did adjust the neck, though, just because I can! Aklot has provided both an adjustable truss rod and a special too to adjust it with. It’s easy to use carry it around with you, although you shouldn’t need to use it much. Not only does the truss rod help dial in exactly the action you want, it’ll also help the neck from getting warped. It’s nice to see what’s usually a premium feature on an inexpensive uke.
This banjolele comes with a bunch of accessories. The tool for adjusting the truss rod and head is the most essential, and should be kept with the banjo at all times. There’s also a clip-on tuner, which works well and is also worth keeping around. A few picks and a cloth for wiping down the fretboard are nice-to-haves, but I honestly don’t use them at all. The picks go straight to my guitar case; I don’t know many uke players who use them!
Like most of Aklot’s instruments, the banjo ukulele comes with a gig bag. It’s fairly standard, with a pocket in front for accessories and a strap on the back for slinging over your shoulder. Since the banjolele feels pretty sturdy, this case will do fine. It isn’t padded amazingly well, though, and I wouldn’t trust it to protect the banjolele too much. If you’re just throwing it in the car for jams or gigs, it’s fine. For rougher travel, a hard case or more padded bag would be better. The pocket is a little small, but more than big enough to fit the adjustment tool, tuner, and strap.
About that strap… First, I should say that it works great. It clips onto the brackets of the banjolele, and is comfortable to use. The clips are key, because while there’s a strap button at the heel of the neck, there’s none on the body. It’s a strange choice, but again, the strap has clips for a reason. The flame pattern just isn’t for me, though. I’d rather Aklot had sent a more generic-looking strap along, since this one is definitely a love-it-or-hate-it look. If you love it, great.
I’ll admit that I am not a fan of a lot of banjo ukuleles. There’s a very thin line that they need to walk, punchy but not hard, plunky but not hollow, not overly bright or thin. To my ears, the Aklot threads that needle nicely. It isn’t the loudest or the softest banjo ukulele out there, and manages to project while still producing a pleasant tone. Don’t get me wrong, there’s volume aplenty. But it doesn’t have the overbearing harshness that a lot of banjoleles are cursed with. Most people will be able to sing over this just fine.
Usually I recommend changing the strings on any ukulele you get in. Included strings just don’t sound very good. The ones on this Aklot are OK, and you may not feel the need to do anything. I switched them out to my usual Aquilas, but I didn’t have to. Again, it’s all about the tone that you want from your instrument, and I don’t think that the included strings are horrible by any means.
Overall, I’d say that the Aklot banjolele is better for jazzy strummers than fingerpickers or old-time enthusiasts. The tool that adjusts the truss rod can also be used to tighten or loosen the head. I tightened it up just a little when I started, which gave me a bit brighter, more focused sound. Keep it looser for a plunky, more mellow tone. That mellower tone will work better for fingerpicking, while tighter and brighter makes strummed chords shine through.
“Cheap” is usually not a great word when it comes to banjoleles. Thin tone, bad intonation, and other issues often crop up with budget banjo ukes. But Aklot banjo ukulele isn’t just a good “budget” banjolele, it’s a good instrument, period. With a fun tone, premium features, and a classic look, Aklot has a winner on their hands. And hey, it’s not too hard to get one in your hands, too! Once you do, Aklot has made it easy to get it playing and sounding exactly how you like it, thanks to the adjustable head and truss rod.