Thursday, March 27, 2014

Schoenhut 5400 Ukulele review

I think that the most important question to keep in mind when doing a product review is "Who is this product intended for?". A person that runs a photography blog shouldn't review a toy camera (yes, there are some toy cameras that take actual pictures now) with the same expectation level and scrutiny with which they'd review a Nikon D4 professional camera. Doesn't make much sense, right? Like apples to oranges.

So, prefacing a little bit with that example, we're looking at the Schoenhut 5400 ukulele. Let's start off by asking the question, "Who is this product intended for?". No doubt about it, this is a ukulele intended for children - the design, the look, and the entire history of the Schoenhut company would tell you this. This is the same company that has made those awesome little toy pianos for years (I had one when I was a kid and immediately bought one for my oldest daughter when she was old enough to walk around). And much to their credit, they are taking this same approach with different instruments all geared at the little ones.

If you're looking for a "beginner" type of ukulele, I'd advise you to look at this post I did about the Best Beginner Ukuleles. I'm not comparing this Schoenhut ukulele to those. The best comparison for this type of toy uke would be to those that you could purchase at Walmart or Target in the toy section. The report card and grading scale for this review will be according to that, as it should be.

So with all that being said (whew! I'm wearing myself out already), let's begin!

Intonation - A-

This is the most accurate intonation that I've ever been privy to on a stringed toy instrument. The strings it's strung with really aren't that great and I suppose that changing these could take me from a A- to an A+ pretty quickly, but since I'm taking the review approach of it being a toy, I didn't think it would be fair to restring it. I figure that the majority of parents that purchase one of these for their kids aren't going to be ukulele players and probably wouldn't even think about replacing the strings. If you do fall in that smaller percentage that would restring it for your child, Martin M600's or some Oasis Warm strings would be a good choice since they are lower tension.

Tone - B+

A toy ukulele just isn't going to have a great tone...I think we can all agree on that. But for what it is, it doesn't sound half bad. It does sound like a ukulele, which is the point. I think the tone could be better if the top was a little bit thinner. I didn't expect too much in the tone category since it is a toy and it met my expectations. Here's a little sound clip if you'd like to hear for yourself...

Finish and Appearance - A-

There are some minor finish flaws which can be expected with anything that's mass produced. One concern that I do have is the doesn't seem to be glued on, but rather screwed on. I've played ukuleles that have screwed in bridges so I am familiar with that idea, but felt like a little glue could have been utilized to make it more solid. This shouldn't be a big deal if you don't try to restring it with high tension strings.

I think the look is very kid friendly and I love the open headstock. Your little one will love the fun look and design. Given a choice between this Schoenhut and one of my more "plain" looking ukuleles, my three year old consistently gravitated towards this one. They really hit the nail on the head! Part of creating an instrument for a child is to make it something that they will develop a curiosity and love for. Mission accomplished! I might also add that there are other design choices with this uke. There's a butterfly design, a parrot, and an American flag that your kid might love even more.

Innovation and Ingenuity - B+

So let's get this out of the way. Some of you ukulele enthusiasts out there are looking at this ukulele and saying, "Hey, doesn't that design look really familiar?". You would be correct. This design is a copy of the Magic Fluke Company's Flea ukulele. But hold your horses! No one is being ripped off here. There was an agreement between these two companies to use this design and idea. You can read about that a little more extensively here if you'd like to.

Ok, now that we have that established...I do like this design a lot and I think it's perfect for a kid. However, I did have to reduce the score a little since it wasn't their original idea (which is part of the score of this category). On the other hand, I didn't drop this category down too far because of the fact that they kept the scale length and fret spacing very similar to that of any instrument on the ukulele market. Let me elaborate...I've seen plenty of stringed toy instruments reduce the scale and fret spacing of their toys in order to "better fit" the small hands of a child. While that's a good idea in theory, I think that this actually has a greater tendency to stifle the musical development of a child. It's my opinion that as the kid grows, they should grow into the instrument...does that make sense? Imagine the frustration of a child that has learned some basic chords on a smaller scale instrument only to find out that his/her fingers don't fit the same when he/she gets his first true beginner instrument. Muscle memory is pretty amazing stuff and my opinion is the earlier they are playing with the proper scale on an instrument, the better. I think Schoenhut has tried to keep this in mind through the history of their company. Their toy pianos for instance - yeah, they only have a two or three octave range (depending on the model), but the finger stretch and spacing of the keys is very similar to a real piano. Gotta tip my hat to them for recognizing this important part of musical development.

Feel and Playability - C

Not a big fan of the flatness on the back of the neck...I think a more rounded neck would have been best, but that's a pretty minor thing.

You might be looking at that "C" in this category and wondering why. Well, there was a big issue to me upon un-boxing this uke and tuning it up. A couple of the tuning machines (you know, the little gears on the headstock that tighten and loosen the strings) weren't tight enough to tune the strings up properly. You might still be thinking, "Oh brother! That's not a big deal!". Well, you're correct...and you're not at the same time. I struggled trying to decide if I should mention this or not and what effect it should have on the grade. My conclusion in this area is based upon the fact that it is a toy and that the majority of parents that buy this for their child probably won't know how to fix this without some research. It is a very easy fix - just a couple of quarter turns on those tuning gear screws and that will tighten it up and get it in tune.

To tell you the truth, I don't like having to give it that grade in this category, but dems da brakes.

Overall - B+

A solid B+ overall. Schoenhut obviously set out to make a really great and playable toy at a really great price point ($30-$50 depending on where you get it) and they have succeeded admirably! I wouldn't hesitate to buy this for my child. Here's a Google shopping results link.

The only reservation I had was the tuning machine issue...which can easily be remedied if the parent knows a little about it. Regarding that issue, let me also say that the Schoenhut people have incredible customer service! I've experienced it first hand and I'm positive that they would help anyone with ANY issue with ANY of their instruments, so rest a little easier with that in mind.

While this ukulele isn't for the older beginner ukulele crowd, this is a great introductory toy ukulele for a child to start their musical journey with. Pass on the ukulele in the toy section at the department store and get this one for your little musician!


  1. Toy or not I really want one for myself. :)

    1. You might just get your wish! Chance to win this one will be coming soon...

  2. Nice. I'll keep my eyes peeled and my fingers crossed.

  3. Put on new strings and new friction tuners, you got a flea ukulele for a third of the price, the snobs can't tell the difference with a blind fold on.

  4. Trendy Beginner Ukulele from Bizarkdeal

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