As we discovered ourselves recently, strumming away on a ukulele can be great fun. And even though it's much more travel-friendly than a collapsible dreadnought or, well, a travel guitar, Italy's team Astro clearly thinks that even a 21-inch long soprano uke is too big. The Astro ukulele folds down to just over 11 inches long, under 4 inches wide and less than 2.3 inches thick – and can fit in the water bottle pocket of a backpack.
When folded, the Astro ukulele has the look of a large spear head. It measures up at 11.3 inches (28.9 cm) in length, 3.93 inches (10 cm) wide and 2.28 inches (5.8 cm) at its thickest point. Those dimensions fold out to 21.5 inches (54.7 cm) long, 6.1 inches (15.6 cm) wide with the wings out and 1.49 inches (3.8 cm) at its chunkiest. But it's the folding mechanism that's interesting here.
Rather than fold the neck towards the bridge, a combination of a patented hinge mechanism and a floating bridge allows Astro players to fold the neck behind the body without needing to ease the tension of the nylon strings. This keeps the folded down ukulele nice and neat, and means that otherwise loose strings don't get themselves in knots.
The Astro's body and neck are made from a wood/plastic composite and ABS, and the neck is topped by a mahogany. The main body is flanked top and bottom by ABS wings that can be left flush against the edges or folded out for more comfortable playing.
There are two playable versions of the Astro being made. First up is an acoustic model A that's reported to throw out up to 50 dB of unplugged strumming goodness, though it will come with a set of covers for the sound holes to allow for quieter play in public places.
The electric model E looks very similar to the acoustic, but sports two piezo pickups. There's an amplifier inside the Astro E too, to drive plugged in headphones while also allowing for connection to a speaker or external instrument amp. Volume, tone and gain can all be adjusted to the rear of the uke.
The team also has an iOS app in development, which will let players connect to an iPhone via Bluetooth to record strumming sessions, apply effects and share creations with friends.
The Astro project has now reached the functional prototype stage, and to make the jump into production, the development team has launched on Kickstarter. Early bird pledges start at €149 (about US$180) for the acoustic model A and €169 for the electric model E. If all goes to plan, shipping is expected to start in November. The pitch video below has more on the folding ukulele.
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