Dean Guitars UKE DS MAH Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

10 Nov 2018

Dean Guitars UKE DS MAH Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

A first for this brand on Got A Ukulele, and another ukulele made by a guitar company... This week I take a look at the Dean Guitars UKE DS MAH Soprano Ukulele.

Dean UKE DS MAH Ukulele

In certain guitar circles, Dean Guitars are a very well known US brand. I say 'certain circles' and that's because they tend to have a focus on the rock and metal end of the guitar spectrum and are well known for their 'spiky' looking designs. It was a business actually set up by Dean Zelinsky some years ago but are now sold to a bigger conglomerate called Armadillo Enterprises. In their stable are a range of cheaper instruments but also some much sought after US made guitars used by players such as Dimebag Darrell (Pantera) and Dave Mustaine (Megadeath). It's not musically my cup of tea, but I guess they know what they like and it's a huge market.

And with that sort of heritage and backbone I have to say that my first reaction to them having a ukulele range is one of 'bandwagon jumping' and somewhat at odds with the metal roots of the brand. Incidentally, their owner also now owns Luna Guitars... and regular Got A Ukulele readers will make of that what they will!

This one forms part of their small range of Chinese made ukuleles, and despite one of them being spiky shaped like their Dimebag guitars, this one is straight up traditional acoustic soprano with a double bout shape and nothing much remarkable about it. The specs on the Dean website talk about it having 'great looks and craftsmanship' but in reality it's an extremely generic laminate mahogany body with nothing much striking about it. To be fair to them though, it's not the cheapest laminate i've seen and not akin to the linden (plywood) that brands like Fender have used. This looks like mahogany! (Though admittedly the inner part of the laminates will still be cheap ply.). It is extremely plain and pale looking though. The top and dead flat back are in single pieces, whilst the sides are a pair.

Dean UKE DS MAH Ukulele body

There is no binding or purfling and the only decoration is a laser etched sound hole rosette. As I've said before I don't usually like these, but like Baton Rouge and Flight examples this is not over done, over deep, or covering the whole top of the instrument. The design though is still rather simlistic and hardly head turning.

Dean UKE DS MAH Ukulele sound hole

The bridge is a tie bar style with a nice enough shape, but unncessarily large for a soprano. Their specs say it's made from rosewood but I suspect they have not been updated since CITES as this looks like walnut to me. The saddle appears to be plastic and is uncompensated. Not much more to say here.

Dean UKE DS MAH Ukulele bridge

Looking inside and to be fair it's actually very tidy. There is no mess or glue, the braces are not overly  large and the kerfing is notched and neatly applied. Nice. It does show you that the soundboard top is overly thick though...

The neck is made from mahogany and with two joints in the heel and one at the headstock. Like the body this is finished in unfussy satin and comes in what Dean say is a 'V shaped profile'. I would disagree, and as Chinese sopranos go this is rather pleasingly flat and shallow at the nut. Sadly it's only 34mm wide up there with about 25mm between the G and A which is too narrow for my liking. The flatter profile does help though. Room on a soprano is a complex thing and whilst nut width is very important to someone with big hand like me, a profile change can also help. I like this profile as it is reminiscnent of Hawaiian ukuleles rather than the usual round 'baseball bat grip' necks that come out China on the cheap.

The fingerboard appears to be walnut and is very nicely finished and end shaped. We have a standard 12 nickel silver frets with no edge binding, but they are dressed well and not sharp at all. It comes with overly large outward facing dot markers at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th. Not only are they too big, but you really dont need a dot at the 3rd on a soprano do you? Thankfully they are repeated on the side but only at the 5th, 7th and 10th. That's fine with me though and have a couple of higher end sopranos with only one side dot to get you orientated.

Dean UKE DS MAH Ukulele neck

Beyond the bone nut is the wacky Dean headtock shape which is a clear nod to their metal guitars. It's not to my taste at all and I think it's too large, but I can't knock them for doing something different from the usual crown style. It comes with the Dean signature logo in a pearl inlay which looks rather nice too.

Dean UKE DS MAH Ukulele headstock

Tuners are generic unbranded open gears, and yes, whilst I would much prefer friction pegs on a soprano, at least they are decent enough quality and the cream buttons are not oversized. Not bad.

Dean UKE DS MAH Ukulele tuners

Completing the package are Aquila nylgut strings and this will set you back the remarkably low price of about £40 in the UK or about $65. When you consider that there really isn't much above that materially concerns me with the build, that really does seem like a good deal so far.

And when that happens I tend to sharpen my pencil and dig deeper because, especially with a guitar brand, there is usually something that is 'too good to be true' going on. It's not in the build though which is pretty good all round. It's not in the weight either as this is a light instrument and very nicely balanced too. Despite that thick top, it's not dead sounding either, and a rap on the soundboard shows me it is a resonant little beast. Setup looks decent with a perfectly acceptable nut and saddle height out of the box.. Hmmm... these boxes keep getting ticked...

And the resonance actually comes through in play because this is a very punchy instrument with great volume and a pretty decent amount of sustain too. This is not an instrument with which you will struggle to be heard in your group.

Being so good with volume with only a laminate wood construction though does give it very generic almost boxy sound when played, whether picked or strummed. But I suppose that's to be expected, and, hey, you know... £40...That boxiness is more evident when picked, but again, it's not life and death... just a little unremarkable... like the looks. One thing that does come through despite that decent set up is a slight intonation issue when played despite being in tune at the nut. Not hugely bad, but in need of some work, but I have heard much worse.

Dean UKE DS MAH Ukulele back

Strumming is where this one is at for me, and it has a surprising jangle to the tone which I really like in a soprano. I fully get that this might be more a case of something muddled randomly coming together, rather than actual purposeful harmonics doing their thing, but I don't really care. It's a lot of fun to strum fast and sounds nice. As I say, picking isn't quite so rewarding and can be a little echoey, but it's passable. If I can find one other critisism it's that the C string is noticeably louder than the others, but that could be fixed with a simple re-string. All in all though, perfectly passable, and more importantly signficantly better than many I see at this price point or higher.

When this example arrived I truly expected this to turn out to be something of a horror show, quite simply because so many guitar makers putting out cheap ukes tend to get it so badly wrong. But fair play to Dean. This is a well made and finished, punchy and loud little soprano for next to no money. It may look boring and not be the most characterful ukulele sound out there, but it's not failing at anything much really. Maybe I got lucky, but maybe not. Based on this example though it certainly gets added to my list of 'value sopranos' I would be happy to recommend.  A perfect starter uke for the new player in your life. Unremarkable but not unusable.

https://www.deanguitars.com






UKULELE PROS

Pretty decent build
Nice neck profile
Tidy fingerboard
Good resonance and volume
Jangly tone
Punchy snappy soprano
Terrific price

UKULELE CONS

Very plain looks
Would prefer friction pegs
Generic boxy tone, but to be expected for the price
Nut too narrow for my hands


UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 7.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound  - 7.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.3 out of 10

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