Kala KA-15S ukulele review: What is it?
Kala's KA-15S is an affordable soprano ukulele aimed squarely at players, and would-be players, looking to buy a musical instrument, not a toy.
Kala is a trusted brand among uke players, well-regarded for its vast range of ukuleles. It hasn't got much in the way of heritage – it was founded less than 20 years ago in California, not Hawaii – but it is very much focused on the manufacture of ukuleles and little else.
Its core business is solid quality, entry-level to mid-level ukes in the price region of $50 to $500, with a few USA-made models topping out at around the $1,000 mark. It's a silly analogy but nevertheless useful: if you want the Ferrari of ukuleles go to Hawaiian brands KoAloha, Kamaka and Kanile'a but if you just need a Ford then stick with Kala.
Kala's KA-15S mahogany series is unashamedly made up of beginner ukuleles, with the soprano model being the least expensive of the lot. Here, we're looking at the plain hog version but it's also available in black, with a spruce top or with fancier laser etched decoration.
If you're new to the pleasures of mastering the ukulele, the first thing to note is the KA-15S' diminutive size. Soprano ukes are tiny, this one is just 21 inches in length and seven inches wide at the lower bout. On the plus side this makes them ultra-cute, lightweight, easy to hold and highly portable. The soprano size is also the original, and some would argue the best. The small soundbox is largely responsible for the ukulele's familiar plinky-plingy, trebly tone that erupted out of Hawaii in the 1880s to become a characteristic sound of jazz, folk, vaudeville, country and even rock the world over.
The KA-15S is almost entirely mahogany, with just the fretboard and bridge made from laurel. The scale length is a very short but typical 13.625 inches, and the neck meets the body at the twelfth fret with the fretboard ending soon after with a flourish in a stylised chevron. It's no bling party, but the KA-15S does look cool with its vintage-style open tuners with plastic pearloid buttons, and laser-etched sunshine rosette. It's fairly light too at just 13.4oz (380g).
Kala KA-15S ukulele review: Performance & Vedict
This ukulele may claim Hawaii as its spiritual home, but it was conceived in California and born in China. No doubt the Far East manufacture helps to explain the low price but there's little sign of penny pinching. The KA-15S may be an entry-level uke but it’s a Kala, and it shows.
Where, ordinarily, on an instrument of this price you may expect to find a plastic nut, here the kind guys and girls at Kala's Californian HQ have specified a Graph Tech Nubone XB nut. Similarly, instead of generic no-name strings Kala proudly asserts that the KA-15S is strung with Aquila Super Nylgut.
This shows that the team at Kala actually cares what it sounds like. The Nubone XB nut is an interesting choice because Graph Tech claims it helps to increase volume and low-end bass harmonics, qualities that soprano ukes tend to struggle with.
The mahogany body is, of course, laminate. Peer inside the soundhole and there's no kerfed lining, but sadly there are signs of adhesive and a few rough, splintered edges. This may be par for the course for an instrument at this price level, but it strikes us as unfortunate.
On the outside, there are no such signs of scruffiness. The top, back and sides have been treated to a fine coat of uniformly applied satin lacquer, and there are no gaps or traces of wayward glue. The laurel fretboard is smooth and fast, and the fret ends are well-tamed with no nasty ends waiting to inflict a soft tissue wound.
Intonation on soprano ukes is notoriously troublesome due to the very short scale length but the KA-15S performs well in this respect. At the twelfth fret only the C string registered slightly sharp, with the other three strings pretty much spot on. Frankly, you're less likely to be playing down the dusty end on a soprano anyway, so a slight aberration is no big deal.
Those vintage-style tuners kept our little KA-15S in tune too, even if they were a little stiff and uneven in operation. We didn't notice any slippage whatsoever.
The action on our sample was also comfortably low for a nylon strung instrument, with no fret buzz. It's worth mentioning that the fret spacing on sopranos is quite tight, another peculiarity of the short scale length, so if you have big hands you may want to look at the larger concert or tenor models instead.
How does it sound? For a start, this little uke has much more bass than expected, and volume too. It really does sound quite loud and full, so perhaps that Nubone XB nut and those quality Aquila strings really are working their magic. Sustain is also enduring, even the fretted notes decay relatively slowly for such a small instrument.
If it lacks anything, it's character. The KA-15S sounds unmistakably like a ukulele but its voice is rather one-dimensional, lacking both the clarity and depth of much more expensive instruments. But hey, let's not be too critical. For the money this soprano ukulele sounds very pleasing indeed.
New to ukes? On a limited budget? After a fun instrument that can take a knock or two on family camping trips? The KA-15S is a keeper at a throw-away price.
- Size: Soprano
- Top, back and sides: Mahogany
- Neck: Mahogany
- Finish: Satin
- Fingerboard: Laurel
- Strings: Aquila Super Nylgut
- Scale Length: 13.625 inches
- Number of Frets: 12
- Contact: Kala