I have been writing a lot about ukuleles, and several weeks ago, I found a vendor on eBay selling concert and tenor ukuleles for $36 and $39, respectively. I was afraid to purchase via eBay, so I checked on Amazon, and sure enough, you can buy them there as well. Together it was a $75 purchase with no shipping charges. After looking up the company on the Internet and not finding anything bad about them, I decided to risk an order. I figured at worst I would have two ukuleles to show my students other sizes of ukuleles; at best we would have two other instruments on hand for students with larger hands.
Those were ordered on January 30th. They arrived today, on February 13th. They shipped direct from China.
They were taped together and shipped–something I have not seen from any other ukulele I have ordered (and all but one have been shipped to me). The packaging was effective–they arrived safely–and the packaging also has an extra layer of styrofoam that I have not seen in the Kalas/Makalas or Mahaolos I have unpacked.
The Caramel ukuleles are pretty. The company calls it Zebrawood–and like all cheap ukuleles, it is made of laminate wood. The strings are Aquilla strings (better strings, although some ukulele experts do not like them), and they are holding their tuning well–even when new. The sound on each is loud and bright, and while I am not a professional ukulele player (I began playing in November), the action seems good. I am sure the saddle is simple plastic, and not “Nu-Bone” like the Kala series. You do not get a gig bag with this instrument–but neither did my Makala concert ukulele.
Without a doubt, my Kala ukuleles and my Makala ukulele (made by Kala) are better quality instruments–but all of those (bought at a discount) are still substantially more expensive than the Caramel ukuleles.
While I have only had these in my possession for a few hours, I think I would suggest the purchase of Caramel ukuleles over Mahalo ukuleles if all things were equal. Sadly, the Caramel sopranos are out of stock–but if a Mahalo MK1 is $37 and you can order Caramel Concerts for $36, it would seem smart to buy Caramels. Nearly all of our Mahalos were purchased when the ukuleles were out of stock and cost under $24 each (not counting tax). We would have still gone with the Mahalos simply because of price ($10 per ukulele when you buy 58 is real money). All things said, I would also encourage the purchase of Kala or Makala ukuleles, which are still a significant step up from the Caramels and a giant leap up from the Mahalos. I have read good things about the Makala Dolphin series; and the plastic Waterman series might be a great purchase for schools due to the rugged nature of those instruments.
The Caramel ukuleles look beautiful–there is an engraved rosette, the name of the company is engraved rather than screened, and the wood pattern is beautiful. Check out the back of the concert ukulele.
I do have a few issues with the Caramels–none of which would drive me away from the company.
1) The nut has a sharp edge to it. I checked my Kalas, and they round the edge of the nut for the player. The nut is really sharp and noticeable on the Caramels. You won't be cut by the Caramel nut, but you will feel the difference.
2) There is a middle support brace that isn't in there straight! My Kalas have no middle brace, so perhaps the brace is a good thing, but with the sticker on the inside, it is clear the brace is crooked.
3) While the Caramels have lovely position dots on the fingerboard, there are no position dots on the side of the ukulele where you would really use them. This is the one category where the Mahalo beats the Caramel.
4) The tuning gears on the tenor Caramel are not straight. It doesn't impact function–but it looks weird. The tuning heads or buttons are also connected with screws…and I haven't seen that on any other ukulele so far.
5) If I am super-picky, the wood grain doesn't match on the bottom of the concert Caramel ukulele.
6) The bridge of the Caramel concert ukulele is attached with screws, where no such attachment is present on my Kalas or Makala. The Mahalo IS attached that way, but the Caramel tenor is not. I have no idea why the concert needed those screws.
7) It would be wonderful to see the instruments shipped directly from the USA (they need a storehouse here in the US). Two weeks is a long time to wait for a beginner ukulele.
Now…all that said, these are $36 and $39 ukuleles. Are you getting your money's worth? Absolutely. This is a far better instrument to start with than any Mahalo; and while I would immediately recommend any Kala or Makala to you–you can get into a Caramel Concert for $36 while the basic Makala concert is $66. Once you start playing ukulele, you're going to buy more anyway–so it might be better to save that initial $30 to buy a better quality Kala (or other instrument) from your local music store or a place like the Ukulele Site in the future.
I made a video about (most) of my ukuleles so far, with the goal of introducing and comparing the Caramel ukuleles. It is a Saturday night, 5º F, and the rest of the family is in bed–so please forgive my sweatshirt and jeans in the video.