The Lava U Carbon Fiber Ukulele looks like nothing else you’ve ever seen. But how does it sound? That’s just one of the questions I had when I first opened up the box on this strange and wonderful new instrument. I’m happy to report that it sounds as good as it looks, with a bunch of fun and useful features.
Read on for my review of the Lava U Carbon Fiber Ukulele!
The design of the Lava U ukulele is by far the most striking thing about it. Just about every aspect of the way it looks is striking and non-traditional, including the more rounded, blob-shaped body and the offset oval soundhole. The entire body is made out of Lava’s Airsonic carbon fiber material, which is both sturdy and resonant. It also comes in really fun colors (mine was a sparkly gold!), which adds to the visual pop.
A few other features pop out when you start playing with this. One is that there’s a single strap button, positioned on the back of the instrument. Lava Music had created their own strap system, and this is specifically designed for that strap. The package doesn’t include one of these straps, though, which is odd (more on that later). The tuners are gearless and look quite slick.
One of the great things about a transacoustic system like the FreeBoost system in the Lava U is that you can customize the tone. Ultimately, the purely acoustic tone of this ukulele isn’t as important as all of those modifications you can do. Luckily, though, the base that you’re building off of is quite nice. Strong and full, it sounds just as a ukulele should.
It’s not a woody sound by any means, and there’s a certain hollowness to the tone that reminds you that this is not a solid cedar-topped ukulele. The Airsonic carbon fiber does a nice job of keeping the body resonant, and it’s certainly as loud as a standard ukulele. I don’t think that playing simply acoustically is the Lava U’s strong point, but it holds up well against laminates and other similarly priced ukuleles. It also holds up nicely against the direct competition in Enya’s Nova ukulele. The rounder, fuller body of the Lava U gives it a noticeably fuller tone to Enya’s offering.
The Freeboost transacoustic system on the Lava U is full of wonderful options, definitely beating the Enya Nova in adaptability. For starters, there’s an added effect: delay. Along with chorus and reverb, this adds some fun options for playing with effects. The effects themselves are definitely digital-sounding (you won’t mistake them for expensive analog effects), but they’re very usable for live performances and fooling around.
The one gripe I would have is that you have choose between chorus OR delay; you can’t have them on at the same time. It would be fun to be able to add all three effects at the same time, but I know that this is a minor issue.
When plugged in, you get to another fun feature. There’s a little mic inside the ukulele, and you have a control that allows you to blend the pickup and the microphone sound. This creates a much more natural tone when playing plugged in. The Freeboost system that Lava U uses is one of the most advanced systems I’ve played with when it comes to adaptability. You have tons of control over your plugged-in tone when playing the Lava U, which is very useful for any players looking to gig.
The Lava U comes with a case that is as nontraditional and unique as the ukulele. Rather than a standard gig bag or hard case, it’s a futuristic-looking capsule. Seriously, it looks like something out of a sci-fi film! Mostly white and completely smooth, it’s made out of very durable-seeming hard plastic. Theres a window in the front that exposes the ukulele, so you won’t have to deal with any questions of “what’s in the case!” It’s a bold look, and it’s fun to have something other than the usual black bag to carry around.
The Lava U case has the standard pocket under the neck of the ukulele for accessories like strings. That is the only storage spot in the case, though, meaning that any larger accessories will need to be carried separately. And, speaking of carrying, that brings us to what I think is the case’s biggest flaw. The Lava U is already heavier than usual ukes because of the transacoustic pickup, and the case is definitely heavier than most gig bags. However, there’s no backpack strap on the case, and no way to attach one. The shiny metallic handles are fine, but it’s just not the most comfortable case to carry. Being able to sling this over your back would definitely be an improvement.
The other main accessory issue is the strap. As I mentioned before, the Lava U has a single strap button that supposedly attaches to one of Lava Music’s custom-designed straps. You don’t get a strap in the package, though, so you have to buy it separately. As someone with a bunch of straps already lying around, this is frustrating. If I could use my own strap, that’d be fine, or if one came I be fine with that too. But neither is the case here, so I’m stuck either strapless or having to shell out more money.
Whether or not you’ll like the Lava U is, ultimately, a matter of personal preference. The design is really cool, the sound is great, and the effects you can get from the transacoustic system almost sound like magic. It has a nice plugged-in sound, it’s durable as heck, and you’ll certainly get a lot of stares with the bright colors and futuristic design.
However, this is not a traditional ukulele in any sense. The unique design means that there will be a lot for purists to sniff at. The case and strap design are essentially proprietary, so you can’t just throw it in any old gig bag, reuse the case for another uke, or put your own strap on. The acoustic sound is good, but not necessarily like a wooden ukulele. This is not going to replace your Kamaka, or even your mid-tier Kala or Pono.
If you’re looking for something completely different from the norm, this is a great uke. The Lava U would also be a good travel ukulele, although the lack of a backpack strap and the slightly awkward case leave a little to be desired there. It’s not quite as packable as the slimline Enya Nova, but the case offers a lot more protection. If you’ll mainly be plugging in, there’s a lot to love about how this ukulele plays and sounds. Acoustically, it’s fine, but better suited to playing around the house than playing out and about.