Ukulele review time again! I have had a few people say to me recently that I am hard on ukes at the cheap end of the scale. That really isn't the case, and anyone who reads this blog knows I regularly recommend cheap ukes like the Makala Dolphin. Then the Octopus Soprano came my way - do we have a Dolphin killer?
The Octopus retails at under £20, and puts it slap bang in the minefield territory of ukes - where your chances of getting total junk are high. But it was explained to me that this is a re-issue of an earlier Octopus, and that the brand went back to make several improvements to the instrument whilst retaining a very low price.
It's an all laminate uke, and thick laminate at that, which is not unexpected at this price. But the body is put together remarkably well. It is finished in a satin stain, and the one with me for test is in a rather unattractive brown colour. Thankfully, a look at the full range shows a range of bright colours, some with glittery sparkles so there is bound to be something you will like. But the satin finish feels very nice, and I can't find any flaws at all.
The bridge looks like rosewood and is a tie bar design, screwed to the top of the uke. The saddle is white plastic. Up to the sound hole and we have a simple rosette design applied as a transfer.
And overall it feels solid. The back is flat, and is otherwise a traditional ukulele shape. Looking into the sound hole and it all looks very neat and tidy. I also notice that it is unbraced - something presumably considered unnecessary on account of the thick laminate build. Will this affect the tone and volume?
Moving on to the neck, and we have a three piece wooden neck, with joints at the heel and headstock. Nothing unusual. I really don't like how much wood there is at the heel which is incredibly chunky. New players may not be troubled with playing that high up the fingerboard, but I noticed it. Thankfully the profile and finish at the lower frets is very nice and makes for comfortable play. When I moved on to the fingerboard however I was quite blown away. The 12 nickel silver frets are finished flawlessly and better than I have seen on ukes costing hundreds of pounds. And the rosewood fingerboard itself is wonderful. On inspection, they have sanded / rolled the fingerboards meaning there are no sharp edges on the wood. That is remarkable and something you will not find unless you spend considerably more. It really is a highlight of the instrument, and far better than the neck and fingerboard on the Makala Dolphin. Far far better.
We have fingerboard markers at the 5th, 7th and 10th spaces in inlaid plastic looking pearl. Sadly there are no markers on the side for the player.
Past the plastic nut, we have a standard Martin style crown headstock shape and the Octopus logo applied in silk screen or decal in white. I like the dual logos too.
The tuners are unbranded silver open gears, and I found one or two of them a little sticky with a bit of grind when turned. That said, they hold just fine. The tuner buttons are also delightful, with a kind of rubberised black coating that makes them feel great.
The whole package is completed with a zippered thin gig bag, and strings that may look like Aquila, but are Octopus brand white synthetic gut (whatever that means). What I will say though, is the strings are quick to get in tune and stay there, and feel nice on the fingers with none of the roughness of Aquila brand.
So overall I am rather impressed. There are one or two issues, but it feels great to play and that neck is incredible for the money. How does it sound though?
Well - it sounds like a boxy laminate uke, I didn't expect anything else. There is nothing complex about the tone, and it is a little one dimensional. But then so is the Dolphin. I actually think though this has a brighter and a more traditional uke sound than the Dolphin has. I often think that whilst the Dolphin has great volume, it can sound a little muddy. To my ears the Octopus matches the Dolphin for volume, but has a slightly sweeter, more percussive sound. It's really quite pleasant to both play and listen to for my ears.
The setup needs adjusting at the saddle (hardly a big job) but otherwise the intonation is pretty damn accurate too.
And I really don't know how they do it for the price (it's also quite a bit cheaper than a Dolphin). Sure, it's a cheap uke, and my readers know that I always try to recommend getting something more serious as a first uke, but I appreciate that many people need to stick at this level money wise. And in the contest of the Dolphin vs the Octopus..... well, the Octopus wins.
Read the scores below and take a look at the video review at the end of this review.
Looks - 7
Fit and Finish - 8
Sound - 8.5
Value For Money - 10
Overall - 8.4 out of 10