Time for another ukulele review in the form of a new entry level model from Mahalo. The 2500 'Kahiko' model soprano.
Now I have not had the best experiences with the Mahalo brand and have been quite vocal about them (see my review of the Flying V Ukulele here) and that is mainly because I think their quality control has been poor. Whilst some people get good ones, I have come across far too many bad ones with fatal build flaws and I am not a fan of playing 'Russian Roulette' when buying musical instruments. But let's not pre-judge this one and take a look at it.
The 2500 Kahiko range is a new development for Mahalo in 2015 and represents what they call the 'best value ukulele in the world today'. Kahiko is a Hawaiian word for a Hula Dance, so it would appear that still, ukulele brands, even those made in China (as this one is) cannot quite let go of that Hawaii thing... Best value in the world? Read on.
The Kahiko series is made in the far east, and comes in a range of translucent colours (red, blue, white and brown), with this review model being the brown variety. The instrument is made from laminate Sengon which is an Indonesian soft wood. Being a soft wood, I am certainly glad it is made from plywood Sengon! The finish is translucent and is satin to the touch. Being thin and translucent does show off the grain of the outer wood veneer and I think it works quite well actually. It's not going to win any prizes for flamed wood grains, but for me it is far nicer than the flat thick coatings seen on so many other entry level ukuleles at this sort of price - it actually looks like wood! I like the open pore look to instrument and am not a fan of satin finishes that look artificial. It should however be said that the open grain is a feature of the outer Sengon veneer as it is not a wood with a tight grain. No matter - it looks better than most at this price!
The body is traditional double bout in shape, and I do rather like the curved base rather than the more traditional flattened off shape on so many other ukuleles. There is no other decoration on the body and I actually like it for that fact as I think the cheap addition of a screen printed sound hole rosette would only end up looking cheap. The laminate wood is on the thick side, but it is neatly finished all over. The front and back are made of single pieces and the back is completely flat. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the body.
The bridge is an unspecified orange hard wood and is a slotted variety which is a boon for beginners as they avoid the tie bar bridge knots. It is glued and screwed in place and is fitted with a straight and non-compensated plastic saddle.
A look inside the instrument shows a very tidy finish for the price. Being made of thick laminate, it is not braced, but equally it is not plagued by wood shavings and glue splurges. The kerfing is not notched but otherwise there is not much more to write about the inside!
Up to the neck and Mahalo specify this as Sengon wood as well. Really? A soft wood for a neck? Oh well. It is made of three pieces with a joint at the heel and one nearer the headstock.
On top of the neck is laid a hardwood fingerboard, very reminiscent of the Vintage model ukulele I reviewed recently. It feels harder than the Vintage though and seems to have some sort of rubbed finish on it whereas the Vintage is bare wood. It's complete with 12 brass frets which is fairly standard for an entry level soprano. There are no outward facing position markers, but it does come with side markers. That is a first for me! No complaints though as they have included the markers that matter.
The edges of the fingerboard are not bound but rather painted in black. I think it looks rather stark against the paler wood of the rest of the instrument and would have preferred they left that off. Not a huge complaint though and some people might like it.
Past the moulded plastic nut we have a fairly generic shaped headstock with the Mahalo logo applied in screen print. I don't much like the Mahalo logo actually and I think it looks cheap. Of course, this instrument IS cheap, but I just think it is time Mahalo re-branded. I think it detracts from the instrument and kind of makes it look like a toy. Just me?
Tuning is provided by open geared tuners that are stamped 'Mahalo'. They are certainly cheap but better than many I have seen at this price point and work well enough. Being a soprano I would rather have seen friction pegs, but at the lower price end of the market, cheap ukuleles mean cheap friction pegs and there is nothing worse. As such, this was probably the sensible choice for Mahalo and the beginners that this instrument is undoubtedly aimed at. The peg buttons are overly large for my liking but I have seen much worse.
Completing the deal are a set of clear nylon strings which are frankly horrible and a cloth gig bag / cover branded 'Mahalo' which offers little to no protection other than keeping dust off it. Strangely, I have seen even worse bags than this one, but still, you do wonder why they bother! Price wise, I have seen these vary quite a bit anywhere between around £23 to £28. Real bargain basement stuff. The 'best value in the world today' as Mahalo claim? Well.. one of the cheapest, certainly. But I don't measure 'value' purely on how cheap an item is. It needs to deliver.
So it's a cheap laminate ukulele but actually I can't find any build flaws, scratches or issues that usually plague instruments at this price point. Yes, it's plain, but it looks like a wooden ukulele to me. I like the shape and I like the finish. But how is it as an instrument?
To hold it is comfortable enough and extremely light. Something that often plagues cheap end instrument is they are overly heavy. I think the Sengon laminate is helping here. It feels nice in the hands and doesn't feel 'cheap' like many others do.
Set up out of the box needs work. Both the nut and saddle are too high, and whilst the nut height is not massively throwing out notes at the lower frets and intonation is generally 'OK', beginners will find the height of the strings uncomfortable to learn on. Bear that in mind if you are thinking of picking one of these up.
Sound wise, I was not expecting great things, and, frankly, didn't get them. The strings are the real let down on this instrument giving it minimal volume, and a real plinky plonk sound with little sustain. A string change would certainly help here. Now people may say, 'well you can apply that thinking to the Vintage you reviewed badly' and of course you can. The difference there though was that the Vintage was plagued with plenty of other build issues that I am not seeing on this one. But I don't sense that underneath that it is a wonder instrument. That choice of Sengon may well make it light, but I am not convinced it will make the most resonant laminate either.
It's hard for me to say much more really. Watch the video below. It's certainly not the worst sounding instrument I have played, but it's definitely not the best either.
For an absolute beginner you can choose better than this one I think, but strings may close the gap a little. I quite like the look of it and the finish is pretty good actually. It still doesnt beat the likes of Makala Dolphin or an Octopus as my favourite bargain priced instruments but compared to entry level Mahalo instruments of old, this is a huge improvement!
Mixed views I guess, but there is 'something' about it that I quite liked actually!
Be sure to read all my other ukulele reviews here
Finish better than many at this price
Looks like an instrument and not a toy
UKULELE CONSTerrible strings
In need of a setup
Lack of volume and sustain
UKULELE SCORESLooks - 7 out of 10
Fit and Finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 4.5 out of 10
Value For Money - 7 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 6.5 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz