Made from a polymer/carbon fiber blend and armed with built-in transacoustic effects, the Enya Nova ukulele is like nothing else on the market. Materials, looks, features; almost everything about this ukulele is completely non-traditional. It doesn’t even have a traditional scale length! Enya has already put out some incredibly innovative instruments with their HPL X1 series. But more importantly, their ukuleles feature impressive quality, playability, and tone at an even more impressive price point.
Read on for my full review!
Note: I have not been compensated for this review, but Enya did send me a model to review free of charge.
There is very little about the Enya Nova ukulele that is traditional. At first glance, it looks more like an electric guitar than a ukulele, with a quasi-Les Paul style. Rather than a round soundhole, Enya has used their new logo, a striped flame-like shape. The fretboard is black on all models; besides that, the entire ukulele is one color, from the headstock to the saddle.
The single color scheme is one of those “love-it-or-hate-it” looks. Luckily, the all-black model is nicely neutral. I personally am not a big fan of the brighter colors, so I went with the black. To my eyes, there’s a sort of futuristic minimalism to that all-black. Keep in mind that the accessories (strap, case, and capo) are all colored to match the ukulele. If you love all-blue or all-pink or all-orange (maybe you’re a Dutch soccer fan), that’s great! I think the all-black is going to be the most popular look here.
While all of that is apparent, the most interesting part of the Enya Nova design isn’t immediately obvious. Rather than a standard polymer ukulele like the Makala Waterman, Enya has infused their Novas with carbon fiber. This adds hardiness and helps the tone immensely, which I’ll get to later. Enya says that the mix is 30% carbon fiber, 70% polymer, but that 30% makes a big difference. Since ukuleles made completely out of carbon fiber sell for many times the Nova’s price, this is a great way to get some of the benefits of carbon fiber on a budget.
There are a few more non-traditional design features. This is a thinline ukulele, much like Kala’s travel series. Some might find that more awkward to hold than a normal ukulele, but there are strap buttons (and an included strap) to help you out with that. Those buttons and the tuners are gold, which pops nicely against the all-black body. Finally, there’s a side sound port, something I don’t quite see the point of but that some people really like.
Surprisingly, the Enya Nova doesn’t sound at all like a “plastic ukulele.” The carbon fiber content really helps reduce/eliminate the dull, boxy tone that most polymer ukuleles have. Instead, it’s got plenty of punch and sustain, with a nice ringing quality to its tone. It’s not the deepest or most complex tone out there. The thinline body sacrifices some lower end, and not having a traditional wooden top means a bit less body to the tone. But it’s bright, with average volume and sustain. It holds up very well against laminate ukuleles in its price range.
A lot of people prefer having a side port to hear the tone of the ukulele better. To be honest, I don’t know how much it helps. The soundhole is definitely smaller than usual, and maybe without the additional sound port the sound would be muffled. However, when I play I’m usually more concerned about what the audience/microphone hears, rather than my own ears. I’d rather have a fuller soundhole facing them than a side port facing me. Regardless, the Enya Nova doesn’t sound muffled to the player or an audience, so that’s not a problem. If you like having a sound port, well, there it is.
The first thing a lot of players will notice is that the fretboard spacing feels a little… different. Rather than make a concert or tenor ukulele, Enya has split the difference in the Nova and given it a 16″ scale length, right in between the two. I’m surprised by how much I like this! I have what I would call average-sized man hands, and this may be the perfect spacing for me. Even smaller hands will find it fairly easy to work on the fretboard, and anyone who finds a tenor just too big will probably appreciate having a little easier reach.
Since the body is molded and the nut and saddle are built-in, it’s crucial that Enya has gotten the action and feel right. You can adjust it to a certain degree, but most modifications are permanent. Luckily, I didn’t need to do any. Even swapping out the high G for a low G was straightforward, without too much modification needed.
As a side note, if you do want to put a low G string on there, make sure it’s not a wound one. Since the frets are made of polymer, any metal will wear them down very quickly. I use D’addario’s Pro Arte unwound strings, and they work well. There have been some concerns brought up about fret wear on the Enya Nova in general, not just using wound metal strings. Enya says that they have fixed that issue, and my uke has showed no fret wear to date. But definitely DO NOT put metal strings on this or any other ukulele with a polymer fretboard.
The transacoustic system adds a fair bit of weight to the Enya nova ukulele. That and the thinline design will probably make this uke feel uncomfortable to hold for some players. I use a strap most of the time anyway, and would highly recommend using the included strap for this uke in particular. With the strap, it’s very comfortable to hold and play.
Here’s where the fun starts! Enya has put a really interesting pickup system on its Nova ukuleles. Like any other pickup, you can plug it in to an amp or a PA system. However, the transacoustic features mean that you can actually get effects without plugging in at all! I’ll spend more time on the transacoustic effects below, but I think it’s worth going over the more traditional elements of the Enya Nova pickup.
Like most electric ukuleles, the Enya Nova has an active, powered pickup, This means that it produces a strong signal, and you don’t need a DI box or preamp to plug it into a PA system. However, unlike most active pickup systems, this one doesn’t work off of replaceable batteries. Instead, there’s a micro USB plug that you can use to charge a built-in rechargeable battery. A full charge takes a couple hours but will give you about 4 or so hours of playing time, more than enough for most gigs.
I love this idea, because just about everyone has a micro USB charging cable. If you have an Android phone or any one of a thousand different electronics, you have one already. Also, for increased battery life, you can actually hook up a portable battery pack to your uke, just like your cell phone. After having batteries die on me many times on stage, I love the fact that recharging this one is so easy. No need to worry about whether you have a spare in your case!
On to the tone of the pickup, and my only major gripe with the Enya Nova ukulele. Like most active pickup systems, there is a small control panel on the side of the ukulele. There are three knobs, one for volume, one for reverb, and one for chorus. It’s great to be able to feed the effects into your PA system or amp. However, I would have loved to have a tone knob there as well. The tone is fine enough, but there’s a pronounced thump when strumming, and it feels a little boomy when playing with a low G string.
This is really where the Enya Nova ukulele sets itself apart from other ukuleles. Sure, there are some fun and non-traditional looks out there, but none of them offer a non-traditional sound. The transacoustic features on the Enya Nova are what make it completely different from anything else on the market, although I’m sure more transacoustic ukes are bound to come.
Here are the basics: you have three knobs on the side of your ukulele. Press and hold the “volume” knob until a green light comes on. The effects are now on. If you turn the “reverb” knob up all the way and strum, your ukulele will suddenly sound like it’s in the middle of a big echo-y room. Do the same with the “chorus” knob, and you’ll get a shimmering tone. The tone comes straight out of your ukulele, it’s one and the same with the sound of the strings. No plugging in is required!
It’s a really weird to hear the first time. I honestly thought that most of the videos I saw before playing it myself were somehow faked. I can tell you now: it’s real, and it’s very cool. If you look inside your ukulele, you’ll see a round device attached to the back. That device is transmitting vibrations into the ukulele, effectively turning it into a speaker. You can turn the effects up and down, on and off, and it’s all done through that little round device. Pretty neat!
One thing that the transacoustic system will not do is make your ukulele louder. The reverb and chorus definitely give your ukulele a fuller tone, and can almost make it sound louder. I’d say that you may even end up being able to hear it better in a crowded room, thanks to that fuller tone. It will not, however, be objectively louder.
The most important accessory that a ukulele can come with is a case. This is especially true for the Enya Nova ukulele because of its non-traditional design. Luckily, it comes with a semi-rigid case that fits it perfectly. It’ll offer a bit more protection than a soft gig bag, and for such a rugged ukulele it’s more than enough for travel. I’d prefer if it had backpack straps like some of Enya’s other ukulele cases, but the handle is comfortable to hold. The only other minor drawback that I can see of this case is that it won’t fit any other ukuleles, so you can’t swap it around your instruments.
The strap and capo work just about as well as a strap and capo should. I don’t use ukulele capos much, but I do know that others do. I will note that I had another Enya ukulele capo break on me very easily. This one feels a lot sturdier, and should last a while. The strap is the same color as the ukulele (black, in my case), and makes playing a lot more comfortable.
Enya offers “free strings for life,” which is great. I don’t actually prefer their strings, so I haven’t taken them up on that offer. However, if you like their strings, that’s a significant savings that you could take advantage of.
A lot of people will be wondering which Enya Nova ukulele to get. For anyone who simply needs a hardy travel or knockaround ukulele, the basic Enya Nova will work wonders. Remember, even though the uke itself isn’t susceptible to the elements, any electronics inside will be. The transacoustic effects are fun, but by no means essential. If you need the ruggedness but don’t need to plug in, the regular Enya Nova ukulele will be a perfect fit.
If you are looking to plug in, though, or you just want to have an exciting new sound to play with, the transacoustic model is a blast. I get a kick out of hearing the reverb and chorus effects coming straight out of the ukulele. The active pickup system isn’t perfect, but it’ll work well for open mics and casual gigs. The added effects mean that you can vary your sound without any additional pedals or amps. And while I wish there was an EQ control, the rechargeable battery is a feature that I hope more ukulele pickup manufacturers will, well, pick up (sorry for the pun!).