The first thing you must always say when reviewing the Mahalo Red Cedar though is yes it is a solid top but its not actually cedar! Its a stained birch top (harking back to another great practice of 20's Chicago though then they tried to make the birch look like mahogany) The rest of the body is laminate and the neck is a fairly substantial one piece nato affair with a very large heel. Ok so some basic facts to start; its 544 mm (21¼ in) long with a 344mm (13½ in) scale. The drum diameter is 203mm (8 in) and depth is 57 mm (2¼ in). It has 14 frets and the neck meets the body at approximately where the 15th fret would be if it had one (but it never did - lesson learned for all of the missing 12th frets on pre war ukuleles?) It has fret markers on the 3rd 5th and 7th frets that decrease in size and these markers are also on the side of the neck (though no change in size here). The soundboard is solid and is a single piece of wood. It is stained darker than it would naturally be, but not as dark as the rest of the Ukulele. The neck is stained darker than its natural colour too, possibly to even the colouration out (which it does very well) and this staining includes the headstock, but not the actual fretted area (no separate fretboard here or even the pretence of one), which is a little bit lighter, though this too might have some staining on as it is a good even colour. The back and sides are stained for an even finish too darker than the soundboard but lighter than the neck and though this all sounds a bit garish the overall effect is subtle and effective The back too is a one piece affair, (though a sheet of 3 ply laminate in this case), and the vague quilting you can see in the picture is a result of the grain in the top veneer not an effect of the staining, (I think it looks quite nice though) The bridge is stained very dark to look like rosewood but I don't think it is and the nut and saddle are Nubone plastic with the saddle being slightly compensated. The frets are better finished than is usual for Mahalo and this one came with a strap button fitted at the base. I didn't notice it on the publicity pictures but this was new when I got it so must have been factory fitted. The intonation is very good; very very good in fact being less than 5% off at the 12th fret so pretty much spot on in fact. the tuners do their job fine and there is nothing really more I can say about them; standard friction tuners with black plastic buttons.
On to the tone and playability and I'll start with the tone which, not to damn it with faint praise, is distinctive. It's not wonderful, set your soul adrift as it lacks a bit of bass and just a little bit of treble too but it doesn't sound budget, laminate or actually like any other Ukulele I have. I would most compair it to the tone of a solid steel strung electric Ukulele that was played acoustically, but louder of course as this has a sound box. On the volume front it is averagely loud for an acoustic not in the spruce top arena but it can hold its own and the sustain is fine too. I think it does work better with a D tuning than a C, the tone is a little bit brighter and cleaner but on both tunings you get the good note definition, volume and sustain. For playability this is not a very forgiving Uke; particularly on the C tuning poor finger placement leads to buzzing and dead notes (another reason I prefer it with a D tune which does help with this). The whole neck feels great to hold though and the headstock doesn't get in the way at all, (if I could make Ukulele necks this would be exactly the neck I would aim to make - ideal for cigar boxes and the like though perhaps with a smaller heel for more standard models), so I wish it was a bit more forgiving and easier to play. The action is a little high but lowering it would only make it less forgiving that it already is, and it is quite a good hight for finger picking.
Would I get one again? Almost certainly yes, (I wouldn't pay silly money for one); in fact though I already own this one I would quite like to get the other two in the set, (UAS kicking in again). Its not really a gigging Ukulele (though it solid enough if you wanted to fit a pickup) but it wouldn't disgrace you in any informal Ukulele gathering and I can't see why this won't last to become something of a noughties classic in future times
To sum up this is a nice Ukulele that would fit into any collection and I think will become a badge of "I was there..." in future years. Not a beginners Uke though despite the brand name and the original price.