|Body And Neck:|
The Chinese ukulele brand Caramel offer a big catalog of ukuleles, covering all shapes and sizes – including this rather nice baritone electro-acoustic mode, the CB500. It sits at the higher end of our guide to the best budget ukuleles and, just by looking at it, you can tell it’s not your run-of-the-mill uke. Does it live up to its first impressions? Let’s find out.
The first thing that hits you is that this budget model has such a high-end style, which you just don’t expect to see on an entry-level ukulele. It features a full-size, non-cutaway 30” baritone body, which is made entirely of a rosewood laminate – top, back and sides – finished in satin. There’s no traditional soundhole on the top – instead you find a multi-soundhole to the side of the upper bout, with attractive mixed wood patterning. The binding around the top and back is also very striking, and gives this uke an extra touch of class.
The neck of the CB500 features a truss rod, a rosewood fretboard, and 18 frets (with 14 in the clear). Overall, it’s quite comfortable to play, especially for those with bigger hands, and it feels sturdy enough. We noticed the soundhole was glued a little off-center, but otherwise the craftsmanship isn’t too bad, and it rates highly for its dark, elegant design.
On its Caramel-engraved headstock, the CB500 comes fitted with a set of sealed tuners with black rubberized tuning keys that really fit well with the look, and feel responsive to use. The ukulele comes with a rosewood bridge, and a buffalo bone nut and saddle, which is another fine addition at this plastic-risk price point. As mentioned, this is an electro-acoustic, so comes with a pickup and preamp. Now, this is a very basic system, but the preamp does come with both a master volume control, 3-band EQ (bass, middle and treble), and a built-in digital tuner. For under a hundred bucks, this is all you can ask for.
Tonally it sounds like something you’d happily pay more for. Sure, it doesn’t have that rich high-end sound (would you expect it to?), but it’s not bad at all. As you’d expect from the baritone construction and the rosewood in the body, it features a darker, warmer, more mature sound with good projection – the slight arch in the back helping with this. The electronics are fine – basic, but clear enough, although acoustically it is the most pleasing to the ear.
While the under $100 market is saturated with concert and soprano ukuleles, there aren’t as many baritones. So something of the Caramel CB500’s quality is a very good find. The design offers something a little different, while the tone on offer is on par with a more expensive model. For a brand we originally knew little about, we’re impressed.