McNally StrumStick Ukulele Full Review

14

November 3, 2011 by Tim


This is one of those reviews that I hate to write. I did ask the company to send me this uke to review, and they had no issue doing it. My problem is that in short this uke is a good idea gone wrong. I don’t fault McNally since they make instruments that are in a diatonic scale, meaning that if you hold down one string and strum that it will sound good. That being said they are not really ukulele builders, more of a rustic mountain dulcimer maker.

Just read on to see what I mean.

As a side note, they are made pretty well and care was taken in making it. It just is not a good form for a ukulele. Also please take a look at their site for a blast back to early 90’s web design
http://strumstick.com

Specs:
Concert: 15 fret
Tuners: Geared
Nut & saddle: Plastic
Top: Solid Spruce?
Sides: Solid Spruce?
Back: Solid Spruce?
Neck: Solid Spruce?
Strings: Steel, attached with a loop on a post
Finish: Matte
Case: Fitted Gig Bag
Specs:
http://strumstick.com/html_pages/Ukelele%20Strumstick.htm

Looks

First look: (4) Although it is weird looking, I have to not totally knock it for how it looks. It looks fun and like nothing you will see normally. That being said, yes it is not the prettiest thing in the world either.

Fit and Finish: (2) My guess on how this thing is made is that they get a 2 X 4 cut a notch down the center, spread the sides a part and stick a piece of wood between then to make the sides and neck. Then fit some pieces of wood on the top and back and trim it down to the body, then sand liberally. The next step would be to slam some frets on the “neck” and call it done.

Now to be fair, it is not sloppy or done without care. Everything is straight, and there is a really nice laser cut sound hole. The action is really good and all that, but the wood choice is weird and the neck is 2” thick??  Also the finish on the “Fret Board” makes it impossible to bend the strings at all. It is just done quick and cheap.

Sound:

Sound Type:  Tinny and shallow. There is no sound box, I would have to say I would put a pickup in it.

Intonation: (4) Pretty good. Not really off and it seems good up and down the fret board.

Volume: (4) If it had nylon strings there would be no way to hear it. The steel strings make it be heard.

Sustain: (2) It is not like I am muting it with my sleeve, but it dies super quick. I expect more out of steel strings

Feel:

String Height: (medium-low) The strings are where they should be.

Bridge

Neck Radius Depth: (2″) Cut a 2 X 4 in half long ways, round the edges. That is what it is like

Frets: (2) The frets are good, they are not the issue. The fret board as whole sucks, too wide, cannot bend and dents since it is so soft

Tuning: (3) I am not sure the pictures do it justice, but the tuners are, as I can tell, cheap classical tuners that have the 3rd tuner cut off.

Classical guitars have tuners that come in 3s on each side.

Comfort: (3) Like a Risa Solid, this uke requires that you use a strap to play it. I find that the one that they included is really uncomfortable and ugly to boot. Also the super thick neck makes it extra weird to play

Sound Hole Smell: Woodshop

Final Thoughts

Ukuleles are compact enough; there is no reason to make them smaller. I have to commend them on a good try since they did pay attention to things like a nice case, and the nice laser cut sound hole inlay. Beside those things it is a total disaster from the tuning pegs to the posts that hold the custom strings that you can only get from them. The floating bridge looks nice, but is really weirdly placed, and trying to play this thing is really strange. I might be the fact it has steel strings that confuses my fingers or the tension of them, but I found this thing a bear to play. I also did not care for the sound either. Playing with others you get really dirty looks, worse than playing a reso-banjo uke in a crowd of “Normal” uke players.

I would say this thing is not for me. I think I could spend my $200 on something a little nicer.

All Rating on a scale of 1-5
Click here for an explanation of reviews

First Look 4
Fit and Finish 2
Sound Type Tinny and Shallow
Intonation 4
Volume 4
Sustain 2
String Height Medium -Low
Neck Radius Depth 2″
Frets 2
Tuning 3
Comfort 3
Sound Hole Smell Woodshop

Places to buy on the web: You can find regular StrumSticks online, but not the Ukulele

Only place I have seen them is on their site LINK – $198
Currently the cart does not work, may have to call to order.

Response from StrumStick

“We make the Ukelele Strumstick strictly for fun and its unique sound. There are plenty of great regular ukes out there, we were not trying to make yet another  traditional Uke. This has steel strings, and a tiny soundbox, it has a banjo/mandolin kind of sound, and nobody needs it. But, it is a fun character sound, it is all handmade, and the Uke has a long history of interesting novelty varieties being made.  The woods are Padouk, Spruce, and Maple, all solid woods. (Not all spruce as listed in the review). This is an instrument made to be inexpensive (as handmade instruments go), simple, but well made of high quality materials, for a specific niche purpose. It is not supposed to sound like a regular Uke, and it is supposed to be as small as possible. I have no issue with anyone not liking the sound (or the looks), but I must say, no 2×4’s were slammed with frets in the making of this instrument.”

HD Audio Samples:

Gallery:

 

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14 thoughts on “McNally StrumStick Ukulele Full Review

  1. Bryce says:

    While I agree this thing is not a normal uke replacement, we have had a great time with it because of the sound. My son was looking for a banjo uke at McCabe’s in Santa Monica (who carry about 50 different ukes) and found the strum stick. It suits his needs because of its portability but also because it sounds a lot like a banjo because of the steel strings. He recently played it as a duet with a fiddle doing some Irish music. I have found it to be very bright sounding (like a dulcimer) and fun to play. I agree it has a very odd feel and does suffer from being too narrow for its length and very top heavy, but I like the action and I expect it to be very durable over time. It is very similar to the Martin Backpacking Guitar in construction (Same designer) and sort of fills the same niche. So not a Uke replacement but fun in its own right.

  2. uke66 says:

    Why compare the strum stick to a Ukulele? It’s not a small uke it’s a strum stick.
    An instrument in it’s own right, not pretending to be a uke.
    It has it’s own history & playing technique.

  3. Jim Davis says:

    It is a disaster going somewhere to happen as I see it. I don’t care for this sort of weird things.

  4. Sven says:

    I disagree, respectfully, with the comment below. Although this is not a traditional ukulele, it is an instrument with four strings, and was sent by the manufacturer to ukeeku.com, a ukulele website, knowingly and with full disclosure. Had the manufacturer not wanted it reviewed by the site, they needn’t have sent the instrument.

    As it is, the review is fair and honest and will help a ukulele player decide if the strum stick is right for them, personally.

    • uke66 says:

      I agree with you. I found the review interesting.
      My comment was meant to be a generalization that a strum stick was a strum stick, a Uke was a Uke & the twain should never meet.
      If the two were to get together it would be a new instrument and should have a different name. The match between the Banjo & Ukulele became the Banjolele.
      Perhaps the Strumolele? 😉

      I must admit a Strum stick is on my wish list

  5. Bonita says:

    Actually, I agree with uke66 and appreciate Bryce’s comment. It is a unique instrument and just as some love the sound of the banjo, dulcimer, soprano vs baritone ukes, etc and some don’t, I appreciate the variety of stringed instruments that produce the wide range of sounds/music that can be played. This was a good review Tim, but perhaps your perspective (comparison to ukuleles) impacted your review if it is marketed as a Ukulele. Is this marketed as a Strumstick or a Strumstick Ukulele? What might be helpful would be a comparison of qualities/traits of different kinds of hybrid ukuleles and should one expect similar sustain, volume, or sound from these different forms – probably not. I applaud those people willing and able to experiment and produce new kinds of instruments.

    And Tim, I actually enjoyed what you played and wasn’t expecting it to sound like an instrument I might have fun playing. I liked the sound of this instrument – actually more than my banjo uke, a little tinny and shallow as opposed to almost harsh and bombastic. To each his/her own – what a boring world it would be if we all liked the same thing. But I would never be able to play anything with a neck that thick.

    Tim, thanks for your reviews. Appreciate the time and effort it takes to write them. Bought my David Gill ukulele after ready your story – it said so much about the builder as well as the uke.

    Bonita

    • Tim says:

      I have not had this many comments in a long time, thank you all for 1. commenting, and 2. for not flaming.
      Keep in mind this is not a true strumstick. it is just like a regular uke with sharps and flats. the normal strum sticks are whole note only.
      By definition it is a ukulele. Tuned GCEA.
      I am not a fan, I just found it to be not useful in my uke arsenal, I see others find that it would work for them.

      thanks for all the comments

  6. joedanboyd says:

    Actually, this review was my introduction to the Strumstick concept in any form. When I saw the photo, I thought it looked exactly like the Martin backpacker guitar (6-string) that I bought in the 1990s as a travel guitar, but which I have used very seldom. On the few occasions I have used it in public, the general response has been one of either humor or, in the words on one observer/listener: That’s the ugliest guitar I have ever seen and he was entirely serious. On the basis of my experience with the Martin backpacker guitar, I never bought one of their similarly styled Martin backpacker ukuleles. I have never been really happy with the Martin backpacker guitar (either in sound or shape), so I approach the Strumstick concept warily, and thought the review sounded very on target. On the other hand, I have recently bought one of the ukulele banjos made by Zither Heaven and so far really like it’s softer sound compared with my other two convention ukulele banjos (one a no name concert size, the other a Gibson soprano size). I encourage a review of that instrument by this site. Where does one get one of the Zither Heaven ukulele banjos? I got mine on e-bay via Mandolin Chick, but Zither heaven has a website, which I have not visited, but which probably describes their ukulele-banjo which is made entirely of wood and is tenor size. –JOE DAN BOYD

  7. Sven says:

    I agree with joedanboyd. I, too, abhor the Martin Backpacker “anorexic” guitar. It’s neither good in the backpack, nor as a guitar. Not only unsightly, but it’s also clumsy to hold and sounds like fishing line pulled taut over a Maxwell House can. It remains one of Martin guitars “outhouse” series–those guitars that sound best in the tidy confines of an outhouse. The more dry rot, and a half moon peephole, preferred.

    I’m glad the strum stick did not take form or function from the Martin backpacker guitar.

  8. Another manufacturer trying to jump on the uke band wagon?

  9. EJ says:

    I honestly Don’t Understand why that this is being compared to a uke. It’s a guitar type Appalachian (Mountain) Dulcimer, Not a Uke (Nor even supposed to be close to one.) It seems like thats picking up an Auto-Harp and expecting it to be close to a Mandolin. I mean goodness, tabs for the App Dulcimer even work with this (albeit in reverse order). I don’t’ own one, but had the chance to play with one about three weeks ago. The owner (an AWESOME dulcimer player) played American and Irish Folk music and bluegrass on it, which is where this instrument really belongs.

    It is what it is, nothing more nothing less–Not a uke, nor is iteven trying to be.

    • Tim says:

      I am confused. this is a ukulele. has 4 string tuned gCEA, and it is fretted like a uke also. It has the body of a mountain dulcimer but it is a ukulele.

  10. Steve says:

    Why then, EJ, in the name of Holiness and all small animals, would the company owner mail one to an exclusively ukulele website, and knowingly for a review?

  11. Phil says:

    I have a “regular” (3-string) strumstick, and enjoy it quite a bit. I got it because I wanted a cheap and portable stringed instrument that I could throw in the trunk of my car and not worry about ruining. These things are very inexpensive and the manufacturer does not pretend to be making anything other than what it is- a cheap and fun instrument. It will never replace my guitar, but it let’s me play SOMETHING wherever I am when I am on the road or even on the other side of town in a parking lot. Since Ukes themselves are fairly cheap compared to guitars, and very small, the point about “Why?” is well taken. All the points in the review are in align with my experience, although in my case I just did not expect it to replace anything on ANY level except price and disposability. I will never get used to the neck or the way this thing feels, but I don’t have to! It’s just for fun. If I were a uke player I would probably just get a cheap uke to take it’s place in all respects.

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