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This is a review of the Makala SD Dolphin Ukulele (compare price: Sweetwater, Amazon, Guitar Center). The Makala Dolphin makes for a great beginner ukulele with its entry-level price point and sturdy build. It is part of Kala’s budget-friendly brand, giving all newer ukulele players, and perhaps those who simply want a decent instrument to beat around with, a good option that won’t break the bank.
But is the Makala Dolphin worth it, and what makes this Ukulele special? Keep reading to find out.
The Makala Dolphin comes in well under $100, depending on the retailer. This is just for the ukulele alone.
If you were looking for a complete kit instead, we found this one that includes the bag, a clip-on tuner, an instructional DVD, and a polishing cloth for around $150.
The Makala Dolphin comes in the soprano size only but does come in a wide variety of funky colors. The colors include:
- Light Blue Burst
- Pink Burst
- Red Burst
- Yellow Burst
- Green Apple Burst
- Purple Burst
All of the Burst colors have a slight ombre look, with the centers of the ukulele panels being a lighter color and then darkening out towards the edges. They are all coated with a glossy finish.
The ukulele’s top is made with philippine mahogany, while the back and sides are made of a complex plastic composite. The neck is also mahogany with a rosewood fingerboard. The nut and saddle are made of plastic.
Finally, for the strings, every Makala Dolphin comes with Aquila Super Nylgut strings already installed.
The total length of the instrument from bottom to top is 20.875 inches. There are 12 frets with a fingerboard width of 1.6 inches.
The first thing you may be wondering about is the build itself. For the most part, the Makala Dolphin appears to be made of high-quality materials for the top and neck. Kala shaves off some of the build prices by opting for a composite back and sides, along with other parts of the construction being made from plastic.
It’s clear fairly quickly that they put the build quality where it is the most important. The first thing to consider is the neck.
The neck is made of mahogany and rosewood. Both are standard wood types for crafting the neck and fretboard of many ukuleles. In a good ukulele, you want a straight neck that can hold up to the strain of the strings. We see that in the Makala Dolphin.
Next is the frets themselves. With a bit of playing, it’s easy to see that the fretboard is even without any significant imperfections. The strings’ height from the fretboard may be a little high for some players, but it should be fine for most.
Lastly, is it playable? It certainly is. Kala has a reputation for giving us good quality instruments, which remains true even with their budget brand. For a beginner-level, budget ukulele, the playability is superb.
There are a couple of downsides to the low-cost build, however.
Coming back to playability quickly, the composite body affects the tone of the sound this ukulele can make. The hard plastic that makes up the back and sides makes it lose the richness in tonality that you might expect from an all-wood construction. This material is good for beginners but is certainly not a concert instrument.
Next is just some cosmetic things. There are generally a few imperfections, but they are purely cosmetic and do not affect the play quality. The Makala Dolphin does not have flawless construction.
As a cute little design element, the Makala Dolphin has a dolphin-shaped bridge on the ukulele’s body. The brand name Makala is also painted across the top of the head.
The tuning pegs are made of metal with plastic nobs on the end. While they work fine to do their job, some people mentioned that the plastic nobs vibrate depending on how you play.
How Does The Makala SD Dolphin Ukulele Play?
If Kala is known for anything, it’s an instrument that can play well.
The same continues to be true for their budge brand Makala. The second you take it out of the box, it is entirely playable. At most, you may just need to tune it first.
As mentioned in the build quality section, the string height is good. It’s low enough that it’s easy to play, though some players may find it a little high for their tastes.
For those who prefer a lower action, it is possible to lower strings with some work. The only issue is that this is a beginner ukulele, and a beginner likely doesn’t have the knowledge or comfort level to alter their instrument like that. You could bring it to a music shop to have the action lowered, but it’s likely not worth the cost. What you would pay to have it worked on by a professional, you could just upgrade to a better ukulele.
The Makala Dolphin only comes in soprano size, the smallest option for ukuleles. Some people might find this too small to play.
The fretboard and neck worked beautifully. The notes were all clean and crisp, without buzzing from the fretboard. Again sometimes the tuning pegs vibrated with certain chords, but it didn’t affect playability.
The sound is a solid okay. It’s not fantastic; it’s not bad. It’s just okay. The sound that resonates from the body is not as rich as it could be, but it’s still better than many other cheaper ukulele options.
One saving grace to the Makala Dolphin is that it does come with good quality strings right out of the box. The Aquila Nylgut is what all Kala ukuleles use, from the budget options up to the most high-quality instruments. This helps to make up for the lack of richness.
Is It Worth The Price?
This budget ukulele doesn’t sit at the super low price point you may find for beginner ukuleles. At well under $100, you get a good quality instrument for a beginner that creates good sound and will hold up under the strain of daily play.
It comes with good quality strings, and the excellent construction focuses where you need it most. This is an example of you getting what you pay for. At an entry-level price, you are getting an entry-level instrument. But, since you are paying a little bit more than the super cheap options, you are getting much better playability and quality.
The only real issue lies in action. For those who prefer lower strings, you are better off playing a bit more to get a higher-quality instrument. It is simply not worth the cost to adjust the action on this instrument unless you or someone you know is comfortable doing it for free.
What Are People Saying?
Reviews tend to be favorable for this ukulele. Depending on where you look, it usually has a rating of at least four out of five stars, generally higher.
Other users have said that it makes a great beginner instrument and is also a good quality ukulele on its own. It has excellent sound, stays in tune, and works right out of the box.
While this review wasn’t a fan of the composite body as it affected the sound, some other reviewers loved it. The issue with all wood bodies is that they can warp with high humidity and rapid temperature fluctuations. The plastic body is not affected by this at all. Even with a mahogany neck and top, it’s not enough to be affected by the humidity.
The main things reviewers are coming back to again and again are the rugged construction of the body and the great sound. It is excellent for beginners and those who want an inexpensive yet good-quality instrument around.
Who Is The Makala Dolphin Ukelele For?
The primary users are going to be beginners. The Makala Dolphin was initially designed for beginners as it comes at an entry-level price point yet is constructed well enough to produce a good quality sound.
Another use case is those who want an inexpensive hobby instrument. Nothing that’s going to be too hard to learn or carry around while not breaking the bank.
Lastly, this instrument is rugged. The composite body withstands humidity well and is inexpensive enough that you wouldn’t mind it getting a few dings and scratches. It would be an excellent ukulele to bring along to the beach or a campfire, perhaps even while you leave your better-quality instruments at home.
Who Is The Makala Dolphin Ukulele Not For?
This is not a ukulele for serious and professional ukulele players. The composite body may make it sturdy, but it does not help the sound at all. It does not have the richness of sound that you might expect from an orchestra-level instrument made of solid wood construction.
At the moment, it appears to only be available in soprano sizes as well. If you need a larger size ukulele, such as the concert size, you may be out of luck. Some players may not be able to play this ukulele comfortably.
Lastly, this is not an instrument for those who prefer low action. The string height tends to sit a bit high for some, and it’s not worth the cost to have the action lowered. If you want a low effort, then you’re better off spending a little more money to get a better ukulele rather than this one.
What Are Some Alternative Ukuleles To The Makala Dolphin
Lastly, we’re going to go over some alternatives to the Makala Dolphin. For each ukulele, we highlight why this is a suitable replacement and a few details about each one.
Donner DUC-1 – Similar Price Point
If you like the price of the Makala Dolphin but what something that sounds a little richer, you could try this ukulele from Donner. Instead of a composite body, it sports a full mahogany body to deliver a richer sound at a similar price. The only downside is it won’t be as rugged.
Kala Satin Mahogany Concert Ukulele – Larger Size
This ukulele keeps you still at a lower cost while bringing a full-size ukulele. This ukulele is part of Kala’s flagship collection, and just like the Makala Dolphin, it has excellent construction and sound, but at concert size for those who need a ukulele a little larger.
Kala All Solid Satin Mahogany – The Next Step
If you’ve had the Makala Dolphin for a while and looking to upgrade, this is a great option. It sits at around $200 but comes in solid mahogany and in concert or tenor sizes. It even upgrades the strings from Aquila Nylgut to D’Addario Titanium string. D’Addario is a fantastic brand for strings.
Makala SD Dolphin Review, Final Thoughts
The Makala Dolphin uke (compare price: Sweetwater, Amazon, Guitar Center) makes for a great beginner ukulele, but also a rugged hobby instrument that can withstand humidity and a little wear and tear. It has a good sound despite the low price Makala gives and comes in plenty of fun colors to suit your style.