View Full Version : The Makala Dolphin, an unbiased opinion.

06-24-2011, 04:00 AM
Ok I was going to sit here and make a heap of you tube videos to help illustrate what i'm going to try and say here, but saying you are going to make uke videos and actually making uke videos are 2 completely different things :)

It seems the Makala Dolphin is a true cult item, certainly within the entire online uke community there seems to be a real affinity with these little guys, its hard if not impossible to find anyone with a bad word to say about them, and I agree they have many many merits and outshine all the sub $50 ukes competing in the marketplace, but what about a full unbiased opinion, someone who isn't already in love with them giving us their first impressions of one.

Well here goes........I'll do my best.

With an unusually loud and happy knock on the front door, the postman announced the arrival of the new Dolphins, It wasn't the formal and polite "I'm supposed to be here because I work for the post office and I'm wearing a uniform and this may be important!" normal kind of mailman knock, but more alike a leprechaun tapping his guiness tankard against the bar in time to the celtic band kind of knock. Rat A Tat Tat the postman had a huge smile and I think the reaction he got when the door opened made his day too, there was a burst of laughter all round and the Dolphins made a loud ,happy, high energy entry into the house.

Here is where the unbiased review falls apart, these babies took center stage from the first moment they arrived, as soon as the boxes were on the table, all other activity in the house stopped, and when the bubble wrap was torn aside, everyone aged between 3 and 93 went "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!, in one big collective gush, new born infants were never fawned over so instantly, even they need a few minutes to wash all the blood and goo off, but these little guys were shiny happy people right out of the cardboard womb.

We all instantly fell in love with them, no one at this point has even plucked a string, but we have all got one thing in common, we love music, we love instruments and we can all tell shit from shinola, and we have recently been exposed to a whole range of pretty terrible pieces of junk masquerading as ukuleles, so it was just totally obvious the difference in quality straight away, They just beamed up at us and my wife (with a rosiness of a new mother in her cheeks that I haven't seen for many a year) said, "They really want to be played eh?" ?, and it was true, call me an old romantic, but you could sense that there was thousands of hours of potential joy and happiness all crammed into this shiny box, and it wanted to start bursting into life, to begin its musical journey immediately.

Ok I'm being a bit over dramatic, but I have bought a lot of instruments over the last 40 or so years and these ones came with their own energy and personality right out of the box that's for sure, call me a old Hippy, I don't care.

So after we had finished all the "ooh aahh" ing and choosing booties for them (owch, that was an ear smack from the wife), we got down to the more serious job of analysing them with a critical eye, a razor sharp scientific mind, and the discernment of a master luth..."awwwwwww, look at the bridge", "isn't that just the coolest design ever", "I want the blue one", "here let me have a loo...","OWWWWCH", "dad, I want the green one and she said....""""STOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!""""", all of you just stop, and shut up for a second here, good god, they are just a couple of 30 dollar ukes, it's like the house has been catapulted into an episode of the amazing race, and the one who gets to hold the ukulele for longest wins immunity or something, hell, I dunno, but it would be nice IF I COULD ACTUALLY GET TO HAVE A PROPER LOOK AT ONE".

Ok where were we, oh yes, the unbiased review, ok, time to get serious, are you all still with me ?
, because I've got heaps to say about them, and you may even get a video or two out of me yet.

So if you are really interested, I'll make a coffee, and get this review underway properly, I just wanted to set the scene......

06-24-2011, 04:18 AM
The new DOLPHINS are here! The new DOLPHINS are here!" - quoth Steve Martin "The Jerk"

My Yellow Dolphin sits somewhat impatiently beside me for the news...

06-24-2011, 04:22 AM
i loved the introduction. I have seen much joy given to folks by dolphins but to me, an owner of 4 dolphins, they are just plain ukuleles.

06-24-2011, 05:01 AM
Great opener, Webby. Very entertaining. Can't wait for the second installment, videos, or both!

06-24-2011, 05:47 AM
Ok so as I said, they looked the part, but i didn't buy them to look at, what do they sound like ?

Well pretty good actually, Im talking about the first couple of strums once the cheapo black strings that were on it from the factory got tuned up to pitch, it sounded bright, it was in tune, sure they were crappy strings and they made the crappy string sound, but thats the point, the uke itself didn't make the crappy uke sound, and that is a huge difference, the uke made the same sound any good instrument would make if you out a set of 80cent Chinese fishing line strings on it, in fact the Dolphin somehow held its poise and integrity even with the factory strings, (a Mahalo at this point would be breaking your heart, and you would be already considering throwing it in the bin after stamping on it), but I digress.

I ordered 2 sets of Aquilas, A set of concerts and a set of Sopranos, each set cost half as much as the Ukes, and wouldn't be practical in a first release to new schools and a new student situation, we are either going to get government funding by way of an education dept grant, of get the individual primary schools to find the funds within their own budget to buy between 10 and 20 ukes for the school, or we are going to get some kind of sponsorship, and support from either an individual, a group of individuals, or from the manufacturers themselves, or. I am going to buy Ukuleles as i can afford them and give them away to children who live in the outback, I don't care how it works, I'm just going to make it work, any way... back to the dolphins.

So before i did anything I played them side by side with the factory strings , A blue one and a Green one, they sounded pretty much identical at first, but the green one sounded a tad brighter, the sound was a bit crisper and tighter around the lower range, and even though I had chosen the blue one as my favourite, I had to put the "Blue is for boys" thing aside for a minute and admit that, yes the green one definitely had the edge, but what that edge was no one could really put there finger on.

The action was pretty good on both of them too, i wouldn't change a thing with either of the nuts, but the saddle height on both looked like it could do with a shave, the green one more than the blue one funnily enough, other than that, the build quality was superb, I haven't yet found a flaw in the paint, the finish, the construction, the workmanship on either of them.

OK this is where I should have pulled out the video camera and grabbed a sample of what they sounded like with no set up, but I didn't, sorry, no going back and recreating the moment either, those strings came off both Ukes at this point, I needed to get the Aquilas on and bedded in so I could check the intonation, the cheaper strings were stretching under pressure like a pair of lady gaga's undies so I hadn't even bothered reaching for the digital tuner yet.

I love opening a pack of brand new Aquilas, don't you ?

It makes me feel the way the owner of a 5 series BMW feels they day he picks it up from the dealer, It's a luxury item, like real Swiss chocolate, like fry's Turkish delight, like a Rolex divemaster, the paper is quality, the gold sticker holding the packet shut is quality, its got that italian flamboyance of style about it, like a classic Ferrari, it says, I'm classically beautiful, and I want to make love to your wife, the way only something made in italy can.

So I have only ever tried Aquila Concerts, the Sopranos were going to be completely new to me, in fact the whole Soprano thing was going to be a new experience for me, I have only ever owned and played concert sized ukes and above, I mean I have strummed a cheapo soprano a couple of times but not as a serious proposition as an instrument I could play seriously, I've never owned or played a really expensive or good quality 12 fret scale anything, so this was all going to be fun and games.

I put the concerts on the Blue dolphin, It was the chunkier feeling of the two and also the green one had displayed that initial touch of extra brightness so i though that was the lady of the pair and was perfect for the lighter strings so I could make a well judged comparison, One of them had to get the fat strings and "Blue Thunder" as I am now calling it, was just crying out for them.

Drum Roll........................................

winding winding, tuning tuning, winding winding......

continued drum roll.......................


winding winding, bloody hell these Aquilas sure take a lot of winding, especially the concerts on the soprano sized uke, winding winding.....lol

I know many of you have been there, winding winding............

Ok finally the thing is in tune, its not going out of tune and its time for a strum, I have waited for this moment for months, A Makala Dolphin with a brand new set of Aquilas on it, just like in the forums, just like on the innernet tube thangy, this is the moment..... lets have that drumroll again.....................

WOW, its loud, I mean I expected louder, but not that loud, booom, that C string hits you right in the chest, resonates for ages tooo, its a good sign, strum strum, oooh thats pretty nice, I'm using words like "oooh" and "wow" because i was genuinely surprised, much more sound than I was expecting. those chunky aquilas feel so good eh ?, in fact, im strumming and chucking away instantly, and feeling totally comfortable with the way its playing, how it fits in my hand, it all feels right.

now the important bit, it sounds in tune, but is it in tune, the digital tuner will not lie.........

yes, its in tune, everywhere, in fact, it's so in tune I cant belive it, it's more in tune at the 12th fret than my Eleuke, (which is embarrassing for me and for Eleuke I guess), pretty cool, I am struggling to find fault with it and i so badly wanted to find something at least mildly critical to say, but there is nothing, its a fine instrument, for the money, as a tough, ready to play, "here's an introduction to music" tool for the classroom, they are a total winner, the search is over as far as I'm concerned, where can i get 1000 of these things, how quickly can you get them to me, who wants to help re string them all ? lol

Well, Ok those of you who know about dolphins and ukuleles and all things ukey and have been going on and on obsessively about these bloody things all over the web, are now all just smiling smugly to themselves having known from the beginning that this was the conclusion i was going to reach, and yes yes, you were right, dont waste time with anything else, throw the mahalos away, get a dolphin, now i too can become one of those annoying people who drone on and on about dolphins to people who are thinking of buying a mahalo, lol.

BUT... that is not where the story ends, and it's not the end of this review, not by a long shot, all we have done so far is establish that it is playable as an in tune and pleasant sounding instrument, but what is it actually like to play, not how does it sound, how does it FEEEEEEEEEEEEEEL.

And this is where the results and discoveries are surprising, and will not please everyone, they are faults, there are problems, and my feeling about the aquilas will cause some controversy, but the truth must be told, I promised you and unbiased review and that is what you are about to get, from a musicians point of view, for any student, the dolphins are just brilliant, but for you uke snobs out there, they may disappoint or at least leave you a bit flat and underwhelmed after all the hoopla and ripptydoo around them.

more to come, i need another coffee...............

06-24-2011, 08:36 AM
Righty Ho, here's the deal, The Aquila Concerts are overkill, in price and reputation.

Yes they did make the Dolphin come to life, yes they did increase the volume by 50%, yes they feel just like the strings on your concert or your tenor..STOP!
You are missing the point, the Makala Dolphin is not a Concert or a Tenor, its a Soprano, and the inherent qualities of the soprano ukulele are bright, crisp, bell like clarity.
A full tone sure but the high notes have to sing like a bird. Its like a good violin, if you have ever stood within 50 feet of a real Stradivarius hitting a high note you will know what I'm talking about, if i wanted to hear a cello, i would listen to a cello, and if you put cello strings on a violin, you are out of your mind. if you get my drift.....

the concerts are in tune, they are loud as hell, the Dolphin is sturdy and solid as a rock and can handle the pressure, but its not for that, its not about that, its the wrong strings for the instrument, period.

And that is hard to say, because they Aquilas are so good in any situation, but when you have a Dolphin with a set of Soprano strings on it next to the Concert one, you would have to be deaf to miss it, the fat arse strings are not as good, they don't represent the instrument as well and they limit the quality and the range of sounds you can produce.

In certain situations concerts would be perfect, for instance if you had a bunch of kids, you could give the strummers all concert strings, and the kids doing the melody could have sopranos, but why would you bother really, the kids fingers are going to struggle attacking the fat strings, it takes a fair bit of squeezing to get them down and you want them to learn how to play a nice clear note or chord not just chunk away at it or you may as well give them a drum.

And for the rest of us uke players, I am finding that just noticing these subtle differences has really helped me in my own playing too, because i'm paying more attention to making it sound sweet, and not just "can it sound like my concert uke ?".

so if you have a Dolphin, and have always had concerts on it, pleeeeease, I urge you to try the lighter strings, and don't hit it so hard, there is no need.

I'm not going to do a video until I've had a day or three practicing with them, I'm still a bit fat fingered so I wont ruin your weekend by recording a jumble of bum notes and pauses :)

thanks for letting me ramble on and getting a few things off my chest.

Have a fantastic weekend.

06-24-2011, 09:16 AM
Interesting- I'll try the Aquila soprano strings next time I replace them on my dolphin, although I don't think it sounds very concerty even with the concert strings. It's got a great plinky tone and sounds like it would be right at home in a vaudeville act. My only complaints are that the tuners are a little wonky and the intonation isn't that great

06-24-2011, 10:19 AM
Interesting- I'll try the Aquila soprano strings next time I replace them on my dolphin, although I don't think it sounds very concerty even with the concert strings. It's got a great plinky tone and sounds like it would be right at home in a vaudeville act. My only complaints are that the tuners are a little wonky and the intonation isn't that great

Yeh, It's not so much that it sounds concerty, it just sounds a bit duller next to the sop's.

But they are both excellent and have their place, the concerts will be staying on "Blue Thunder", lol, It's starting to really swing.

06-24-2011, 07:46 PM
Thanks, that was Lovely. And now I'm putting the Kamaka down (for a few minutes) to enjoy my pink Dolphin."-)

06-25-2011, 12:13 AM
Webby, thank you for the write-up, I really enjoyed it. I like the dolphin we have in our house much better the the Kala kiwi that we have. It just feels right.

06-25-2011, 01:34 AM
Ok here's the first attempt at a Dolphin video, sorry about the mistakes, i'm still mentally shrinking my hands down to ther new size lol.


06-25-2011, 02:31 AM
I think I will try the sopranos too. Fun write up, I enjoyed it! thanks! Just saw the video! That sounded so fun! WHere can I find the chords and how to play that?

06-25-2011, 02:45 AM
I think I will try the sopranos too. Fun write up, I enjoyed it! thanks! Just saw the video! That sounded so fun! WHere can I find the chords and how to play that?

Well, I dont have the tab or anything, its basically just a groove in a minor, but i'll do a lesson vid for it that breaks it down if you'd like, its pretty simple and heaps of fun to play. I only just learned it a couple of days ago, so its a bit rough, and its on the Dolphin, I can play it much better on my concert.

I'll get onto a video for ya..........

Thanks for the feedback everyone too...

06-25-2011, 04:51 AM
Ok here's the first attempt at a Dolphin video, sorry about the mistakes, i'm still mentally shrinking my hands down to ther new size lol.

DANG! Who knew that a Dolphin could do a swing like that! (Mine doesn't - perhaps its not the uke in my case!)

Loving the review & yes, there are currently 3 Dolphins in the house - three others were gifted.

06-25-2011, 05:01 AM
Ok, I did a quick lesson on it.


06-25-2011, 05:15 AM
Ok, I did a quick lesson on it.

Great - thanks! I know what I'm doing today... and next week... once/if I get it "nailed" I got my new "go-to" tune. (current one is Five Foot Two)

12-29-2011, 06:54 PM
oops video no longer available.