Makala Dolphin Ukulele Review
This review focuses on the Makala Dolphin series of ukuleles. This uke, also known as the MK-SD, is part Kala's budget-friendly Makala brand.
The Dolphin comes in a variety of colors and gets its name from the signature dolphin-shaped bridge.
With an online price of just under $50, the Dolphin is an affordable uke with a fun design, but is it right for you? Read the full review to find out, or click here for current price and customer reviews on Amazon.
For this review, I purchased a brand new Makala Dolphin MK-SD/CAR (the CAR stands for "Candy Apple Red"). All impressions are based on the how the uke performed "out of the box" with no tweaks or adjustments. All pictures are of the actual ukulele I used for this review.
Makala Dolphin Review Summary
The Makala Dolphin is a well-built, affordable instrument from one of the top names in entry-level ukes.
While the MK-SD's dolphin-shaped bridge and bright colors might lead some to write it off as a novelty, this ukulele is a couple notches above "toy" status.
- The Dolphin's build quality isn't flawless, but it's far better than many other ukes in this price range
- Playability is good, although some players might find themselves wishing the strings were a little lower
- The MK-SD sounds good for a budget uke, but the laminated top and heavy plastic back result in a tone that is a bit less robust than some of Kala's other budget offerings
If you like the Dolphin's unique design and fun color choices, it's a decent uke for the price. For about $10 more you could get a Kala KA-15S, which I feel is a better option for players seeking a more "serious" ukulele.
Makala Dolphin Full Review
The MK-SD's build quality is very good considering the price. It's better than many ukes I've seen in this price range and far superior to the super cheap ukes you'll find on Amazon for $20 to $30.
The uke I tested for this review is in line with what I've come to expect from Kala, which is good quality at a reasonable price.
The detail work is surprisingly clean for a uke of this price, but it's not flawless. You'll probably notice a few small imperfections, but most of these minor issues are purely cosmetic and won't affect tone or playability.
The important stuff was all there: Straight neck, even fretwork, and respectable playability.
One small issue I have with the Dolphin is the tuners. They work fine, but they have loose plastic washers on the top of the headstock that can occasionally vibrate when certain notes or chords are played. This is a minor issue and it only happened occasionally on my uke, but it's still worth noting.
The bright "Candy Apple Red" finish was rich, deep, and even. Even though I lean more towards ukes with a traditional look and finish, if you want something with a bit more flash the Dolphin definitely fits the bill.
It's important to remember that in the world of acoustic instruments, the Dolphin is a relatively inexpensive uke. If you're looking for premium build quality, be prepared to spend several hundred dollars or more.
The MK-SD plays well right out of the box. The action (string height) was low enough that the uke wasn't a struggle to play.
Even though the action was a bit high for my tastes, most folks would be able to play this uke without any major issues.
The action could be brought down with a bit of basic setup work, but that sort of thing may go beyond the skill and comfort level of a beginner.
I didn't notice any buzzing or high frets as I played up the neck, and the notes consistently rang out clear and clean.
The Makala Dolphin is a soprano sized ukulele, which is the smallest of the three primary ukulele sizes. Some players may find the soprano a bit too tiny to play comfortably and may want to consider the larger concert or tenor sizes.
A budget uke like the Dolphin will never have the buttery-smooth action of a more expensive instrument. Improved playability is just one of the many reasons people pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for a higher quality uke.
The MK-SD is a decent sounding uke, and I found myself liking the tone more than I expected. It didn't blow me away, but it certainly didn't sound bad.
Like all Kala ukuleles, the Dolphin comes with Aquila Nylgut strings. I think these strings sound far better than the cheap nylon strings normally found on budget ukes.
While the Dolphin sounds better than the super cheap ukes you'll find online for $25, its tone is thinner and quieter than other models in this price range. I also feel like the Dolphin has less sustain and resonance than Kala's other budget-friendly instruments like the KA-15S.
To be fair, any inexpensive soprano uke isn't going to have killer tone, but I think the Dolphin's composite back and sides don't do it any favors. The uke feels very dense and heavy, and in my experience heavily built instruments always sound less rich and lively.
The Dolphin uke has a laminated mahogany top. This is very common on budget-priced ukes. Ukes with a solid top will generally sound better, but they start at around $150.
The back and sides are made of a single molded piece of composite material. The material appears to be some kind of plastic, but I'm guessing they use the word "composite" because the marketing folks at Kala thought it sounded better!
The nut and saddle are plastic. This is common on more affordable instruments, but the synthetic bone found on slightly more expensive instruments tends to offer increased sustain and volume.
The neck is mahogany and the fingerboard and saddle are rosewood. These are fairly standard materials for acoustic instrument construction.
The frets (metal bars on the neck) are made of brass. While I don't like to see brass frets on steel-string instruments like guitars, uke strings are so soft that it's not something I worry about.
Makala Dolphin Vs. Makala Shark
Kala makes a nearly identical ukulele called the Shark. The only difference between the two ukes is that the Dolphin has a dolphin-shaped bridge while the Shark has a shark-shaped bridge.
The Makala Shark is the exact same price online, so I guess it just boils down to which kind of sea life you prefer!
While the tone and playability won't thrill serious players, the Dolphin is a fun, well-built uke for under $50. If you like the quirky design and color options, there's no good reason not to get one.
Players seeking an instrument with a bit more substance should consider the KA-15S or the KA-S. For just a little more cash, these options offer a number of upgrades over the Dolphin that are well worth the investment.