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Risa- steel string solid

I bought this Risa solid-body, steel-stringed tenor uke from another aficionado in the USA, in mid-May 2010. I had originally wanted one of their double-humbucking tenor ukes, but the cost to get it shipped from Germany was prohibitive. I then started asking if anyone had one for sale on the forums and this is what I was offered.

It's the older model, with only one pickup. The same design has dual 'lipstick' pickups today. But that's okay. I'm not sure what difference dual pickups would make on such a small instrument. But I like this one so much I may want to get a double to try.

I specifically wanted a steel string uke for several reasons. First was to do some slide playing. Nylon strings and slide simply don't sound right, even with a resonator. I've tried. Steel is what I needed.

I also wanted the metal strings for the extra oomph and note bending when pumped through my Boss eBand amp/loop playback machine. I like playing with a pick at times, too, and steel strings seem more suited to one than nylon.

And I always liked to own both acoustic and solid-body electric guitars for different styles of playing, so it just seemed natural to have the same in ukuleles. Why limit oneself to just one style or model?

First impressions: Heavy. The newer model has a cutout section that doesn't do anything except remove some of the material and lighten the body. You really need a strap with this beast if you want to play standing up. The body seems unnecessarily thick for the size of the instrument - it's as thick as a Stratocaster. It could probably lose 1/2" or so without losing any sustain.

Ugly. The kidney-bean shape just doesn't appeal to me. Asymmetrical and unsubtle. But there's a certain cachet in ugly and I suppose people will notice it. It has the same sort of brutish, Neanderthal looks that most SUVs have. The shape, by the way, makes it easy to play seated, the uke resting on a thigh.

The pickup has a low output on many of the 'clean' settings on the eBand. So low, in fact, it's not much louder than playing unamplified (which since it's a solid body is so quiet you can't hear it a few feet away). On the distortion/chorus/flange effects, it's fine. Maybe this is why a second pickup would be useful.

The original owner must have restrung it at some time and used the wrong string gauges. Standard, off-the-shelf electric guitar strings will work (.010, .013, .017 and .026 gauge) but the previous owner put a wound string on as the E. This makes it a bit boomy and hard to bend. It also causes the sound of my finger sliding along the E string to be noticeably scratchy. I intend to restring it with a set of Fender Bullet strings (3150R) I have on hand, in the coming week.

Intonation and action are great. The fret edges are a bit rough, and I intend to dress them when I restring it. It's not as noticeable as with an acoustic uke, since I tend to use a pick rather than fingerpick when I play it, so my fingers don't upsweep on the fret edges, but it could be just a hair smoother. The strings seem stiff, but I suspect that's an issue with the gauge, not the instrument.

You can actually play the higher frets. It has 22 and they are all playable, assuming you can get your finger in the space.

Steel strings are a lot harder on my fingers than nylon. I can feel the callouses hardening anew.

There is no separate saddle or bridge- instead the strings come up from the body and rest on individual, adjustable mini-bridges. They tuners are sealed, geared. The neck is secured with four bolts.

The body on this model is basic biker black, with a pearloid cover plate and pick guard. Nothing fancy. There's a truss rod in the neck, too.

The sound is entirely un-uke-like. Like any electric instrument, the sound is a mix of the amplifier, effects, pickup (this is a single coil) and body mass (which gives it sustain). You can't tell I'm playing a uke when you hear it. It sounds like my old Strat.

I had forgotten how much fun I had playing an electric, steel-stringed instrument until the collision of the eBand and Risa. I can wail away with all sorts of wild effects layered down on the sound, and have a blast playing along with the 300 built-in loops. I also play my acoustic-electrics through it, but the Risa really has the punch I wanted.

Now I'm eager to get another, move a step up (maybe get a dual-pickup uke), so I can jam more with my uke-playing friend when we get together.

Update: I restrung the Risa with a set of new Fender Bullet strings. What a difference. Most of the old strings that came with the uke were heavy duty, and the E string (2nd) was wound. They had very little flexibility, and didn't bend well. Now with the new strings I have a lot more freedom of expression (the first three are plain and only the G string is wound) without losing any sound. That improved my appreciation of this uke quite a bit. I also took the time to oil the fretboard and clean under the strings.

Risa also makes a steel-stringed electric uke called "The Stick."

Compare the Risa above with my review of the solid-body, nylon-stringed Eleuke and the solid-body Jupiter Creek baritone.

Would I purchase another Risa? Definitely!
Would I recommend them to others? Yes, a double-pickup model, humbuckers preferred.
Rating (0-5): ****
Status: Still owned, and played a lot.

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