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Donner Ukulele Review 2023: The Truth is… (+ DISCOUNT CODE)

How can you tell a good quality ukulele? Is a Donner Ukulele any good?

Donner Ukuleles – they’ve appeared out of nowhere (POOF!)

And if we’re honest, that’s probably the main reason you’re even clicked on this blog. You’re unsure. Much like if Huddersfield Town were to (somehow) make the Premier League, you find yourself asking: “Are these newcomers seriously worth a bet? Or is this all nothing more than a quick fad?”

A feeling that only intensifies when you compare Donner to other ukulele brands; we’re not going to hide it – Donner was established in 2012, while industry titans like Martin or Oscar Schmidt have close to (if not more than) 200 years of experience under their belt!! A BIG gap, especially when you consider that with musical instruments, experience & knowledge is a large part of what you pay for.

Although saying that, it’s a gap we’d urge you to forget… at least for the duration of this review. Because while Donner doesn’t perhaps have the bragging rights of other uke brands, when it comes to the finished product, we’d say they’re pretty much on the £$€. To the point that you really have to question whether a brand’s ‘prestige’ actually gives you anything extra. So with that in mind, is Donner a good ukulele brand? & should both pros & beginners pay them attention? Read on to find out.

After something specific about the concert ukuleles by Donner? Or just want to skip to the juicy bit of our Donner Ukulele review? Use the menu below to get all your answers in just 1 click…

person holding the donner ukulele

NOTE: Here for more than the DUC uke? Be sure to also check out our rundown of the Best Ukuleles EVER + our take on the Best Guitaleles.

Before pitting any Donner uke up against its rivals, you first need to have an idea of all the Donner ukulele specs. Otherwise you might end up under/ overestimating these ukes to the point that you make the wrong decision. Hardly ideal, especially if you’re a beginner with a limited budget!

So to help you reach your own conclusion – i.e. make a fair comparison – we’ve got our hands on the Donner DUC ukulele to bring you the lowdown on all the ins & outs. Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about Donner Ukulele’s in 2023…

Key Details

  • Weight: 1.48kg
  • Style: 23 inch uke
  • Body material: Canadian Maple
  • Neck material: Okoume
  • String material: Nylon
  • No of strings: 4
  • Bridge: Maple + bridge pin system

Additional features

  • The majority of Donner ukes come with nylon Aquila strings. Some of the best uke strings in the business + certain models even include a spare pair!!
  • Cop yourself a Donner ukulele, & you also get a patterned shoulder strap. Something that no only makes the uke more travel-friendly, but also easier to hold while playing. We found play to be SO much easier, with the strap taking the majority of the weight.
  • Most Donner Ukuleles come with transparent tuners. Yes, they’re plastic – not metal – but they do look pretty funky. Up close you can even see the gearing mechanism, which gives them a bit of a retro/ vintage vibe.
  • Buy any Donner uke & it’ll come with a decent gig bag/ carry case. The one with the DUC is soft, padded & does a good job at protecting the uke both ‘on the road’ & in storage. There’s little need to a buy an additional case for a Donner uke.
  • The woods (usually mahogany or maple) create a rich tone that’s full of body. A tone you wouldn’t perhaps expect from such a cheap ukulele. We didn’t – hence this spontaneous review.
  • That clip-on tuner. Yes, it’s nothing fancy, but for a freebie it works well. In 99% of cases, beginners & casual players shouldn’t feel the need to upgrade.
  • You can spec a Donner ukulele in whole host of colours – everything from black & blue to pink & green. And the options get even more vibrant, should you opt for a carbon fibre uke instead of the classical wood.
  • Donner even includes not 1, but a whole selection of picks, which in our experience, are one of the most useful accessories they offer. Not only do they make strumming a uke possible (quite a rare playing style, we know), but they’re also pretty much perfect for plucking. Our style of choice.
close up of the strings on a donner uke

Depsite Donner Ukuleles coming in all: shapes, woods, colours & styles, what you get in the box is pretty much the same. Well, we say that – there are a few differences (especially in-between the wood & carbon fibre models), but on the most part, the bundles are pretty much identical.

For the purpose of this ukulele review, we splashed out on a green Donner DUC uke made of Canadian Maple. Here’s a snapshot of what we got in the box…

donner ukulele review
Pictured: The Donner DUC-200 ukulele
  • The well-padded carry case/ gig bag
  • That jazzily-patterned uke strap
  • A selection of coloured picks
  • A clip-on tuner
  • Spare Aquila strings (Made in Italy)!
  • That super soft cleaning cloth
donner ukulele being used as part of a country band

With the definition of a Donner ukulele being so wide, you’re probably curious as to what the difference is between a Donner DUC & other variants like the Donner DUT + the various carbon fibre models. Are they much the same recipe just in a different colour? Or do they have their own distinct character & sound?

Here’s the long & short of it…

Donner DUC ukulele VS Donner carbon uke

  • Opt of wood over carbon & it does work out cheaper. Quite a lot cheaper actually! Go for Donner’s high-end carbon uke – the Rising U – & you’ll be looking at a 3 figure price tag. Near on double that of its wooden alternative.
  • While traditionally Donner ukes like the DUC are made of a wood, a carbon uke is actually made of a composite of both carbon fibre & polycarbonate. If you’re against cutting down trees, carbon would deffo be the way to go. #SaveTheRainforest
  • Donner’s carbon ukes are not (in most cases) lighter in the hands, but they’re also more rugged too. If you’re after a uke that can withstand small children, then the carbon uke may well be a wise choice. Plus, unlike the DUC & virtually any other wood uke, they’re also waterproof!
  • On the topic of ruggedness, carbon ukes are also far less likely to warp. For anyone in a hot & dry climate, this would be something to bear in mind. Aussies – we’re talking to you!
  • As far as sound’s concerned, we do prefer the DUC. Yes, the sound of the carbon concert uke isn’t bad, but the tone created by the wood is richer if you ask us. It has more body to it & the sound as a whole is warmer. Pluck the carbon uke & the result tends to be more sharp & have that bit less resonance.
  • Design-wise, the carbon uke with all its colour waves & slimmer design, does come across as a bit more modern. While the wood grain of the DUC gives off more of a retro vibe. Each to their own.

Donner DUC ukulele VS Donner DUT ukulele

  • Tonally, both sit in a really nice space. However, the DUT manages to be just a tad darker & fuller in tone. It also manages to be slightly louder too. In terms of sound though, it really all comes back to personal preference.
  • The concert has the edge on size. Although it’s not by much – the DUT is hardly a baritone – the smaller dims of the concert do make it that bit more portable.
  • The woods used for both these ukes give each sound its own character. While the DUC uses maple, the DUT uses mahogany. Maple tends to magnify those high end frequencies that bit more, while the sound of the mahogany DUT is more rounded.
  • Buy Donner’s concert uke & the case is that little bit more modern – most likely it’s been face-lifted. So while some may prefer the yellow/ black of the DUT, we think the black/ grey combo you get with new DUCs looks that bit more professional.
fingers on the neck of a donner ukulele

Now you’re clued up on the DUC ukulele & how it compares to other ukes in the Donner family, you’re probably curious as to its specific strengths & weaknesses – i.e. the details you need to know before buying.

So to help you reach a decision, we’ve picked apart the Donner concert ukulele + outlined all the major pros & cons – AKA the good, the bad & the ugly…

Pros of a Donner ukulele (AKA the good)

  • Those Aquila strings are on the £$€! They’re flexible enough that they don’t rip your fingers to shreds, yet not too flexible that they’re an effort to play. All-in-all, very playable!
  • The dimensions are near-on identical to those you’ll find on the equivalent Kala or Anacapa uke. That goes for the length of the neck & placement of the tuning keys too. So while you wouldn’t expect it (going by the £$€), the harmonics are surprisingly similar.
  • Donner ukuleles – while a serious instrument – still manage to be ‘fun’. There’s a whole host of vibrant colours to choose from, which not only makes them a sexy-looking accessory for casual players, but also a great way to encourage children to take up music!!
  • For the £$€, it’s near-on impossible to find better value. This is one serious piece of kit… only it comes @ a ‘not-so-serious’ price. Win-win!!
  • Being SO affordable also makes this uke is a lot more pleasant to play. With the DUC, you’re not afraid to experiment or treat it rough, as a replacement doesn’t cost the earth. Besides, you even get a spare pair of strings too, so…
  • In terms of tone, the DUC is rich & warm. For a concert uke, the sound itself is on the bolder side, however (when tuned) we struggled to make any sort of sound that we’d consider to be tinny or hollow. And yet in doing so, the DUC manages not to loose its lighthearted ‘uke-ish’ tone.
  • For 99% of players, the stock gig bag provided with the uke is pretty much perfect. While it’s padded for protection, it manages not to be bulky. The only thing we’re not sure on is if it’s waterproof. But even so, the fact you get a case this good from factory is pretty impressive.
  • Sticking on the subject of the gig bag – it also has a secondary pocket at the front. Small detail we know, but considering it keeps your ukulele accessories separate to your uke -i.e. prevents it getting scratched up – we thought it’d be worth a mention.
  • The strap included with the kit is also very supportive. We found that wearing it takes a lot of the stress out of playing & allows you to be more hands-on when you play.
  • Tuning this uke is a breeze. Aside from the clip-on tuner, the manual tuners themselves are firm, yet not stiff. Stiffness being something we’ve found with other ukes (at higher prices), but thankfully not the DUC.

Wildcard

  • Depending on which Donner ukulele you buy, some even come with electronic tuners (powered by batteries). A small detail that makes a uke even more ‘pick-up-&-play’; the ideal setup for live giggers who need to make accurate adjustments fast, or kids who want to eliminate the faff of tuning.

Cons of a Donner ukulele (AKA the bad)

  • If you’re after a diverse selection of woods, then a Donner uke may not be for you. While the quality of the woods they do offer is very good, there’s none of the fancier Walnut or Zebra-wood finishes that you get with other brands. But then again, fancy quirks like that don’t come cheap, so…

The ugly?

  • Unlike other ukulele brands, Donner ukes are made & assembled in China. But before the judgements begin to fly, as far as we can tell they don’t conform to the stereotype. Hand on heart, we cannot pick fault with the build, hence us writing this review.
young child playing with a ukulele

Donner concert ukulele VS Kala KA-C

Similarities

  • Both these ukes have 4 nylon strings.
  • Being both concert ukueles, they’re also pretty much the same size – the dims are incredibly similar (if not the same) in some areas.
  • Either uke can be specced with mahogany wood. However, with the Donner, you do have a wider choice. We’re personal fans of the Canadian Maple you get with the DUC-320.
  • Despite their differences, both these ukes make a remarkably similar tone. And while to us, the Kala may have the slight edge, to the untrained ear it’s very hard to tell the difference. Tune either of these ukes well & they’re capable of great sound!
  • Both ukes come with Aquila strings, although with the Kala you do get Super Nylgut strings… the real best-of-the-best type strings that make other uke players jealous!!
  • Buy a Donner ukulele or a Kala KA-C & (as of now) you’ll also get the chance to bag yourself some free ukulele lessons.

Differences

  • While the Kala uke only comes in an exposed wood finish, Donner give players the choice of various colours. This differs depending on what model of the DUC uke you go for, but can range anywhere from black & bright blue to emerald green & even pink!
  • The design of the neck can differ, although this does depend on what model of the DUC you choose. On the DUC-200 (that we tested), the neck is pretty much the same shape/ design as the KA-C uke. Both have 2 tuning keys on each side with the inner 2 strings being the longest. Whereas with the DUC-320, the neck is more like that of a guitar, as all 4 strings are of a different length & are all tuned from the same side of the neck. An important detail not to miss!
  • Kala have given the KA-C die-cast silver nickel tuners, whereas those you find on the Donner DUC are topped in transparent plastic.
  • With the Donner you get a pretty decent gig bag INCLUDED!! With the Kala uke, this is an additional extra!
  • Brand, brand, brand. As much as we would discourage you to be a brand snob, Kala does arguably have the more bragging rights when it comes to ukes. Yes, Donner make great musical instruments – no arguments there – but Kala specialise in ukuleles. Something worth noting if you’re picky over tone.
  • Kala ukuleles are American at heart. All of them are made over in their facility in Petaluma, California. Whereas a Donner ukulele will be made & assembled in China. Saying that though, we’re yet to find a bad product with their name on it, so…
buy a stringed instrument from donner

Donner concert uke VS Fender Fullerton Jazzmaster

Similarities

  • Just like the Donner DUC, which comes as the DUC 200 as well as the DUC 320, there’s also various models of the Fender ukuleles. Each of which is named & designed after a different iconic electric guitar. Buying options include the: Jazzmaster, Stratocaster & Telecaster.
  • Both the Donner ukulele & the Fender Jazzmaster come in a strong selection of colours. With the Fender, these are more ‘retro’ tones to match its iconic guitar-themed design. Whereas with the Donner DUC, the colours are more vibrant & fun.
  • Choose to buy either of these ukes & you get 4 nylon strings that feel ace to pluck!
  • Despite the stark Initial difference in terms of appearance, size-wise these two ukes are pretty close. Both of them are classed as Concert ukuleles, although the Fender does manage to be the shorter & thinner of the two… just.
  • Both are classic designs. The Donner DUC is very much a classic ukulele design, both in terms of proportions & aesthetics. While the Fender also adopts a classic ukulele design, only it’s that of an iconic guitar; the Fender Jazzmaster was ‘the’ electric guitar to have during the 60s!

Differences

  • Both are concert ukes, but both appeal to different players. The Donner is very much targeted at beginners or those after an affordable instrument for casual play. While the Fender is more a piece of memorabilia that’ll no doubt be a ‘go-to’ for any guitar fanatic. The Fender is the less convention of the two, but that’s exactly why you’d buy it – it’s a uke, but not in the conventional sense.
  • Both ukuleles have metal die cast tuners, however the ones on the Donner are finished in a transparent form of plastic. Unlike those of the Fender, which are solid metal.
  • The Fender is seriously pricey!! It retails for near on double the £$€ of the Donner & comes without a case!! Something you get included with a Donner ukulele.
  • You could argue that the Fender is more sleek. Because while the bridge on the Donner sits on-top of the body, the one on the Fender is mounted inside the body & has the strings disappearing underneath the body-shell.
  • With the Fender mimicking the design of a classic guitar, the string pattern is very untraditional for a uke. Each string is a different length & the tuning gear is all mounted along one edge of the neck. Whereas the majority of Donner DUC ukes have strings mounted in a ‘V’ shape – the 2 middle strings being the shortest & the 2 outer strings being the longest.
  • With a Fender ukulele (more specifically, the Jazzmaster) you get a walnut fingerboard. An option you don’t get with a Donner ukulele.
  • And then of course, there’s the question of brand. Fender has been making a name for itself amongst guitarists + perfecting the stringed instrument formula since the Spring of 1950! Donner on the other hand, have only being in the instrument game since 2012.
woodgrain of a donner uke

Sounds a bit vague, but really… it all depends.

Depends on: who you are, the size of your budget, how you’re looking to use a uke, & so on. See, as far as ukuleles go, the Donner DUC puts up a good fight; this uke throws some strong punches!! Despite being reasonably priced, it’s one of the few budget ukes that’s built to a high standard, really sings from a tonal perspective & comes with pretty much every accessory imaginable. As far as all-rounders go, it’s hard to top!

So much so that if you’re a beginner who’s after a budget ukulele, or just an instrument for casual play, we’d encourage you (without hesitation) to go right on ahead & buy it now. This is genuinely is the best recipe for a cheap uke we are yet to come across.

Donner DUC Ukulele – Best Budget Ukulele For Beginners

However, in the case you’re slightly more musically-minded – perhaps a guitarist who’s out to experiment or a singer looking to provide their own accompaniment – then we’d say (providing you have the £$€) it would be worth investing that bit extra in something like the Fender Jazzmaster or a Kala ukulele. Because aside from the fact they’re both as a brand that bit more ‘musically-acclaimed’, there are some subtle differences that to a true musician, could well make all the difference. Areas like the bridge & fretboard for instance.

But then again, if Donner did a DUC Deluxe that retailed for double the price, we’re pretty sure they could make a uke to match… don’t forget that. So while the Donner is by no means perfect, you can’t get around the fact that it comes with pretty much all the starter kit you need (including a case), & yet comes in @ pretty much half the £$€.

That alone is seriously impressive, & why we can’t help but give the Donner brownie points. While it’s not the best ukulele on earth, it’s certainly one of (if not the) best value.

Enjoy our Donner Ukulele review & eager for more? Jump into our recent String Instrument Reviews, as well as our thoughts on all things Musical Instruments. Recently we’ve also done a full in-depth guide to the Best Tenor Ukuleles + another on the Best Baritone Ukuleles, which may also be a good read!

selection of affordable ukuleles

Or if your heart’s set on a Donner ukulele, keep reading, to discover even more about why this tiny stringed instrument is such a must-have for any keen strummer…

While there’s no real yes or no answer to this, from our experience with both music kit & more specifically ukuleles, we’d say that YES – Donner is a good brand.

In fact, we’d say that the word ‘good’ doesn’t really do them justice. ‘Great’ or ‘go-to’ would be more fitting. And that all comes back to what Donner do. See, while all manufacturers battle it out to be the ‘best of the best’ when making any instrument, Donner aim to be the best in a slightly different way.

Look closely at what Donner produce & you’ll soon see that unlike other brands, they don’t define ‘best’ as having the most features, smallest footprint or justifying the highest price. Instead, Donner’s all about value. They’re not here to flex tech specs or sell you their brand – their goal is simple. Bring music to the masses.

Exactly why we’d encourage you to check out Donner Ukuleles, as well as their lines of guitar pedals, loopers & drum sets. For any musical beginner or just someone on a tight budget, Donner’s entire catalogue is well worth a look!

While there are a LOT of ukuleles out there, all of different sizes & many of which being suited to beginners, we do think Donner’s certainly a front-runner. To the point that we’d say you can’t talk budget/ beginner ukes without mentioning their name.

Interested to know why? Here’s 3 reasons…

  • Build quality/ design – Yes, a Donner ukulele is no Fender Jazzmaster, but with that being said, it does have an ace up its sleeve. Look closely at the dims & you’ll soon see that Donner ukes are very much similar (if not the same) size as some of the most popular ukuleles. By that we mean those by Kala & Martin. Plus, the materials are no slouch either. For the price, the quality of the wood is pretty near unbeatable. Great tone!!
  • Playing experience – This is where cheap ukes usually fall flat on their face… but not a Donner ukulele. We tested a Donner ukulele alongside the likes Kala & Fender ukes, only to be surprised at how free & easy it is to play. The body is a decent shape (easy to clamp to your side), the strings have just the right amount of give to them & while the uke is light in comparison, it’s feels solid. All of which allows for accurate & expressive play!
  • Bundles/ accessories – For a beginner, pretty much any Donner ukulele is going to hit the spot. Aside from the uke itself being no slouch, the majority also come with: spare strings, a clip-on tuner, a branded cleaning cloth & even a sturdy gig bag. All things that come as optional extras on those ukuleles which cost twice as much!! As far as value goes, Donner ukuleles are pretty much unbeatable.

Weighing up a good quality ukulele is a bit like buying a car – there’s a LOT of variables that’ll each dictate which uke is best suited for you. So while we can’t give a concrete answer, we can offer you some pointers as to what you should be looking for.

Here’s 4 features that we think double as signs of a good quality ukulele…

  • Reviews – While you’d be wise to take the opinions of others with a pinch of salt when buying a uke, you’d be wise to look into them. Read up on reviews & you can usually get a sense of whether a uke is (A) good value & (B) suited to how you wish to use it. Discover a lot of people reporting the same issue & you could save yourself a lot of hassle… & money!
  • Sound & tone – You’d be silly not to judge a uke on its sound, as really, that’s the soul reason you buy it. Ukuleles are all about that bright uplifting ‘ukeish’ tone that allows you to play out different types of songs/ create different sorts of moods than what you’d be able to on a guitar. If you’re at all unsure about a uke’s tone, do your due diligence. Read up on reviews & take a listen to sound clips via YouTube before parti g with your cash.
  • Wood type & materials – The main thing to watch out for here is cheap ukes. Some that are made to a strict budget can be misleading; a lot of super cheap ukes use wood veneers instead of solid wood. Something that can drastically affect the tone & overall character of the sound. When you’re buying a uke for the sound (as stated above), you cannot afford to let this little detail slip.
  • String quality – The entire way you play the uke + your primary connection with the instrument occurs through the strings. So to buy a uke with cheap stiff strings, or just one that’s strung in an odd pattern, can pretty much ‘make-or-break’ your playing experience. An easy way to spot a quality uke is to look closer into who manufacturers the strings. If a string manufacturer has chosen to associate itself with a specific ukulele brand, there’s a LOT to be said in that.

* Some of the best uke strings we’ve played are by Aquila. A trusted brand in the world of stringed instruments & reliable in terms of quality. Aquila strings are made in Italy!

While there is no ‘best’ or ‘most popular’ ukulele, there are some ukes that tend to be the ‘go-to’ for a lot of players.

For beginners, Donner Ukuleles tend to be the way to go. Aside from being well-made & affordable, they’re also pretty much on-point in terms of tone. What’s more, ecah one also comes with its own carry case/ gig bag. Something that’s an additional extra with a lot of more established ukulele brands.

However, for those looking to invest serious £$€ into a uke, more established brands like Kala, Fender & Cordoba do serve as a good alternative. While there’s not always a clear difference in terms of sound, they do tend to come with a wider range of woods & offer a lot of veneer patterns (incl. gloss finishes).

Something to bear in mind if you’re after a uke ‘for show’ or it’s going to become a large part of your brand.

How easy any uke is to learn really all depends on your competence when it comes to stringed instruments.

If you play something like the guitar or banjo, then there’s no getting around it – the odds are in your favour. Playing any uke – be it made by Donner or any other brand – is pretty much the same, just scaled down. So being used to a handheld string instrument is always going to come as an advantage.

Saying that though, before buying a ukulele, be sure to consider…

  • Implications of size – Yep… don’t automatically assume that a smaller instrument is easier to play. In fact, in comparison to a guitar, a ukulele could prove to be even harder. Being small means that yes, there may be less notes, but the level of accuracy required to play is considerably higher.
  • Note restrictions – With a guitar you not only have a longer fretboard, but also typically have more strings of a longer length. You’ll also have more strings too! So while guitarists tend to gel to ukes easier than other musicians, it can make ukes that bit harder to play. The less ‘creative space’ you have, the more freedom you have to be expressive.
  • Ease of use – In comparison to a guitar, a ukulele is far more ‘pick-up-&-play’. If you’re after an instrument to play a casual solo, then it beats a guitar every day of the week. Ukes are the definition of travel-friendly. Only if you decide to take stringed instruments seriously, it’s likely that the guitar will have more appeal.

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