The future in musical instruments is here, and we LAVA it!
Musical instruments haven´t changed as much as other categories of human life in the past centuries. Moreover, there has been a lot of rejection against innovation, especially when it comes to string instruments.
We are here to talk about the brand that set out to change it all and is succeeding at it. In case you are not familiar with these space-age approved little strummers, we´re talking about the LAVA U ukuleles. In a few moments, you´ll know what the future looks, and, most importantly, sounds like.
Buckle up because the starship is about to leave this Solar System and go straight into the future. Beware of the turbulence, because we´re in for a ride!
LAVA, the story behind the brand
Let´s take a little stroll through time, shall we? Jump in, we´re going to the year 2013 in which Zitian Lu, Kayeung So, and Zhishun Deng founded LAVA Music. This is not another Stanford-filled pack, but a group of graduated musicians from the MI (Musician´s Institute).
The company started selling high-end instruments from a variety of brands. Soon after, they found that all the companies were revisiting the past and that not much was being done to update construction and design. Thus, they set out to build the instruments of the future.
The core of their idea was to bring the best of technology, art, and design together. Let´s use the magic of time traveling and move slightly to the present. The year is 2015 and LAVA Music is about to present the LAVA Guitar to the world and cause a musical earthquake.
After that initial shakedown of the music industry, and to this date, the company came up and registered 40 patents not only on materials but also on design and structure.
But don´t just stay there, read on, we are going deep into the innovation LAVA U brought to the world and, especially, to ukuleles.
In short, this is what´s new about the LAVA U Ukulele
Let´s try to sum up almost a decade of non-stop research and development into some lines. The LAVA U Ukulele is just a sample, the tip of the iceberg, but it retains all the characteristics that make the existence of LAVA, great news for the music world.
Yes, there´s no wood involved
In case you were wondering about the #woodfactor; let me spoil that surprise for you: there´s no wood involved. Indeed, we are talking about an instrument made of a single piece of the injected carbon filter. In other words, there is no wood, neck joint, or multiple ensemble pieces to worry about.
Furthermore, in this idea of a single-material guitar lies much of the magic that makes the LAVA family of instruments so unique. They came up with a material called AirSonic carbon fiber that is not only super light-weight, but also utterly resonant, durable, and stable.
This way, every LAVA U ukulele that you come across is not only a very beautiful instrument to look at and feel but also an engineering wonder. Furthermore, you might be holding in your hands a piece of musical future with that small ukulele. Did I mention the body is made of 142 bionic pieces? Well, it is.
What does it mean to be weatherproof?
If you are a gigging musician you know that sometimes instruments are what we call “moody”. What does this humanization of a piece of lumber mean? It simply means that the weather has a strong effect on the way a wooden instrument feels and plays.
For example, if you have a tenor ukulele and live in Seattle, but happen to have a gig in sunny California, the ukulele will not play the same at your house as at the gig. This is because heat makes wood expand and cold makes the wood contract. It is just simple laws of physics.
What happens when you arrive to play your gig and the wood in your favorite ukulele expanded? You´re right, you´ll probably be out of tune half your gig if you´re lucky. Well, that is something from the past because the AirSonic carbon filter doesn´t react to the weather; hence, your favorite uku will play like a dream wherever in the world you want to.
LR Baggs Micro L2 preamp
The first revolution was the AirSonic carbon filter material used for the single-piece construction of the ukulele. The second has to do with the preamp, AKA, the electric part of the instrument. As you might know, when you plug your electro-acoustic instrument in, you do it with a preamp.
In this case, LAVA Music got in touch with one of the top-three preamp makers in the world: LR Baggs. Yes, the same company that manufactures preamps for Gibson and such. They set out to create the most powerful preamp in the market for the LAVA U and, in my opinion, succeeded.
Wait, no cord, no amp?
Well, technically, you can still plug the LAVA U ukulele into a traditional PA system or amplifier using a regular cord. But that is something most brands offer. What about the futuristic approach we were talking about until now? The LAVA U ukulele doesn´t need all of that to play loud and proud.
The idea is that the instrument itself is a PA system. Indeed, the entire back part of the ukulele becomes alive and reproduces the sound to the exterior. This means that the whole instrument is a strummable speaker with only the flick of a switch (more like the press of a button, but you got the idea).
It features an internal button and three smart, simple, and good-looking knobs on the top of the instrument. Those are the main controls to play your favorite melodies loud and proud without plugging anything anywhere.
Let´s talk effects
Did you think that the no-plugging fact was cool? Well, wait until you hear about the effects! Yes, they even included a tiny multi-effects processor to the construction that is versatile, powerful, and very handy. The included effects are:
These controls (on/off and effects selector) can be conveniently found inside the small “soundhole” on the top part of the ukulele.
Finally, the addition of a Free Boost as one of the top controls allows these mellow effects to jump off and haunt the audience. You can get sweet-sounding delay to thicken up your compositions, modern shimmer-like reverb to give it a space-age feel, or classic chorus for that amazing crossover between modern and retro.
If you are familiar with what tuners are on a ukulele or any other string instrument, you know they are attached to the headstock with screws. These screws, depending on the quality of the ukulele, could hold on for eternity or fall over in the third/fourth tuning.
Those weak spots are no longer a concern for those owning a LAVA U ukulele since they came up with die-cast, closed-back, screw-less tuners. Making the weakest link of the chain a little stronger makes your instrument more reliable as a whole.
No futuristic instrument would be complete without some futuristic curves and colors. To begin with, the feel of the instrument to the touch is superb. The contour and the curves were created to fit perfectly with the human body. Although not everyone will find them appealing, they are a joy to play with.
Second, the color palette and the sparkle-meets-matte finish are a chapter on their own. These ukuleles indeed look as beautiful as they sound. So far the available colors are:
Another thing worth mentioning is the case. I mean, if you ever catch an episode of “The Supersonics” or “Futurama” you´ll know what I´m talking about: this is pure future in the present. The solid case is just as close to a starship shuttle as it is to a vessel for transporting a ukulele.
Moreover, I can´t help but fall in love with the transparent front part that allows you to brag about the beauty inside. Finally, it is a very sturdy, easy-to-carry, airplane-ready case that works as a handy add-on for a great ukulele.
We´ve spoken so far about what makes this a great instrument but failed to go for the most important quality: sound.
First, let´s talk about how it sounds unplugged (with the Free Boost turned off). The sound is somewhat close to what a classic ukulele sounds like. Perhaps, when compared to a very good quality, 100% mahogany one you might find it lacks a little warmth, but other than that it does the job perfectly.
Second, and to go against that lack of lows, you can turn on the Free Boost and enjoy the way the entire instrument turns into this big speaker. On top of that, the added effects sound realistic and can turn any casual strumming into an arena anthem.
Finally, when you really plug it into a PA or amplifier using a cord, you get a rich, full sound that you can tweak to taste with only a handful of controls. If you think it sounds great unplugged with the Free Boost on, plug it in and enjoy the magic of LR Baggs at its full potential. You can hear how it sounds in this video.
The folks at LAVA Music also offer a line of acoustic guitars with the same one-piece carbon fiber construction and buit-in Free Boost technology. You can check out our review at this link.
How to keep your Lava U Ukulele in tune?
Keeping your new Lava U Ukulele in tune has never been easier thanks to today’s electronic clip-on tuners. Either of these ukulele tuners will have your ukulele back in tune in no time so you’ll be spending more time playing than tuning your ukulele!
So, the future of ukuleles has a first name and last name: LAVA U. These highly-portable, well-made, futuristic approaches to ukulele-making by LAVA Music sound and play like a marvel. Not only are they weatherproof and super sturdy, but they also sound great too.
If you are on the search for a good instrument that will stay in tune all year long anywhere in the world, looks great, and sounds killer, then the LAVA U is a must-try.
However, if you are more of a traditionalist you should check out our article reviewing the best (wood) ukuleles for 2021.
The future is here and it looks sparkle bright, shouldn´t you give it a shot?
To help you sharpen your skills on the Ukulele, here are our top ukulele learning books. Pick up a copy of either of these books and you’ll be entertaining your friends in no time!