Several weeks ago a two and a half year old boy from our church came to our house during a fellowship gathering. At one point he was toting around my Maccaferri Islander and seemed to show some interest in it. His dad mentioned that he's going to get him a ukulele. Knowing that the dad isn't likely to follow through on that thought, and being interested in "converting" people to the 'ukulele (yes, I know he's a little young, but what the heck?), I thought I'd buy the boy a cheap uke sometime. A couple of weeks ago I saw some colored Mahalo ukes on ebay that were $30 shipped, so I snagged a blue one for the little boy.
It arrived last week and I put a set of KoAloha blue strings on it. It looks pretty good on this uke. I figured I'd let the strings stretch for a week before giving it to the boy this weekend. While it's in my possession, I strummed it a little bit to see how it is. These colored Mahalo ukes have a reputation of being pretty decent beginner ukes. Of course, for $30 shipped, one really couldn't reasonably expect anything great, so I wasn't exactly expecting to be blown away by it. I was fairly impressed, however, when I looked into the soundhole. Why? Because there is a "Nubone" logo on the sticker inside the soundhole! "Nubone" is what Kanile'a uses for their ukes and upon examining the saddle, it indeed looks exactly like the saddle material on my Kanile'a super soprano. It probably doesn't mean much, but hey, at least there is some quality material here. Unfortunately, there isn't much to be said about the sound. It's decent, and works OK, but probably doesn't even reach the level of the Maccaferri Islander. The action and intonation are also kind of bad. The action isn't so high as to be unplayble, but definitely high. The intonation isn't great. It starts to go sharp almost immediately, although the intonation problem at the first few frets is probably caused by the high nut and might be fixed by filing it down a little bit. The volume is actually pretty decent. I didn't think it was quiet or anything. The tone is pretty thin and almost plasticky. On the plus side, there aren't any frets sticking out to poke your hands and the tuners seem to work well.
Overall, it's probably a pretty good deal at $30. It does a decent job as a kid's first uke, and it's colorful. The little boy I'm giving it to will probably will not actually be playing it, but maybe his parents might pick it up for a strum or two once in a while. I'm not so sure if it is such a great uke for a real beginner, but again, it is $30 so you can't expect too much from it. It should extract a few smiles though, and that's worth something.