Sunday, August 1, 2010

Lanikai S-TEQ Makes Me Happy

The first thing I noticed about the Lanikai S-TEQ spruce top tenor—the thing that made me fall in love with it, actually—was its incredibly low action. I sampled two identical models at Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan and both played effortlessly. This smooth-as-butter playability is the Holy Grail for those like me who come from a steel string background, but there’s something else magical about this ukulele; it sounds good, too.

Every time I play this ukulele, plugged or unplugged (but mainly plugged), I get a great reaction. People crowd around to get a closer look and compliment me on how rounded and deep it sounds. They seem totally surprised to hear this big of sound from such a small box..

The fact that it looks so good is just icing on the cake.

The S-TEQ is the electric, cut-away version of the Lanikai S-T, which I assume stands for spruce tenor. The top is solid spruce with a beautiful, tight grain pattern. Back and sides are mahogany (most likely laminated, although the spec sheet does not say). Rosewood fingerboard and tie-bridge along with maple binding round-out the good looks and solid feel of the instrument and the 18 frets were level and immaculately manicured. A little excess glue on the fingerboard are about all I can complain about in regards to fit and finish.

Electronics on the two I sampled were Belcat UK2000 undersaddle transducers with 9-volt active preamps. The quality of the Asian-made electronics on the two ukuleles varied a bit, with one sounding quite trebly while the other was more rounded and had a better bass. I have seen other S-TEQ’s advertised with a German-made Shadow P3 active systems; not having compared a Belcat to a Shadow, all I can say is I was more than satisfied with the bassier of the two Belcat models.

The only real complaint I have is a somewhat loose “C” string die-cast tuning machine (looks like a Grover, but it’s not marked) on one of the samples. That the nicer tuners were on the more trebly example shows some of the trade-offs one encounters when purchasing lower-line instruments, but, again, the overall quality and sound was so good on both, these are just not very big concerns.

At bottom, I’m very pleased with the S-TEQ. At only $189 with the Belcat, this is one of the best values in all of ukedom. I have been fortunate to play a wide variety of ukuleles at Elderly—from $30 to Mahalos to thousand dollar Hawaiian makes, and I have yet to find one that feels and plays as smoothy and effortlessly as the S-TEQ.

While the tone may not snap out like it does on ukuleles costing hundreds, if not thousands more, it certainly holds its own, beating nearly everything in its price range. To quote the company slogan, this Lanikai "Makes me happy."

-Lamb Chop

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