Kala KA-C Satin Mahogany Concert Ukulele review: What is it?
The Kala KA-C is an affordable concert-sized ukulele that may just be the perfect choice for beginners with more sense than money.
If you're on the lookout for a beginner ukulele you'll quickly discover that the sub-$/£100 market is more crowded than the Washington Monument on the 4th of July. Sadly, despite the abundance of bargain-basement ukes, unearthing a quality instrument that sounds good and stays in tune can be harder than finding a taxi in a rainstorm too. There's an awful lot of rubbish out there.
Fortunately, among all the generic, no-name brands there are a few manufacturers with a good reputation for building playable ukes, Kala being one of them. Admittedly, about 2,500 miles of ocean separates Waikiki beach from Kala's Californian HQ but the brand does its very best to channel the spirit of Hawaii in its vast range of ukuleles.
Ukuleles come in a few different shapes and sizes, the most common being – in order of ascending size – soprano, concert and tenor. Arguably, the tiny soprano ukuleles sound the most authentic, with their trebly highs and comparative lack of bass. They're wonderful for strumming and will really cut through any mix or uke ensemble. However, their cramped fretboards, a consequence of the short scale length and narrower nut, means that they're not so wonderful for fingerstyle.
For most players, a concert style uke, like the Kala KA-C, is a much more versatile instrument that's easier for average-size hands to play. The KA-C is 24 inches in length and just over 8 inches in width at the lower bout, making it a decent handful to pick up but still small enough to take pretty much anywhere with you. The neck joins the body at the 14th fret (sopranos typically join at the 12th fret) and the fretboard extends onto the soundboard for a further four frets.
Scale length is just under 15 inches, which is about an inch longer than Kala's KA15S hog soprano model, enabling some much-needed space to be teased out between the frets.
The KA-C is almost entirely mahogany laminate, complemented by a rosewood fretboard and bridge. An attractive cream binding around the body adds a little punch and personality to an otherwise restrained look.
Kala KA-C Satin Mahogany Concert Ukulele review: Performance & verdict
Any genre of music is fair game for a ukulele, from disco standards to death metal, but it's reasonable to speculate that most players use these instruments to bring a little sunshine to a performance. It's four short strings of exuberant cheerfulness stretched across an adorable little body, the musical equivalent of an eight-week-old puppy.
The KA-C certainly looks the part with its natty cream binding and cool satin finish. Beyond the binding and tiny dot markers there's absolutely nothing else in the way of decoration but, frankly, it doesn't need it. Its reddish brown and cream livery looks both smart and fun in equal measure.
From the outside everything appears tickety-boo. There are no gaps, glue marks or imperfections to be found from headstock to button strap, it's all very neat and tidy. However, inside, the workmanship is less assured. Construction is simple with, for example, no kerfed linings, but unfortunately it is easy to spot signs of glue and the odd splinter of wood.
Perhaps we're being overly picky at this price point, but in a perfect world these Chinese-made ukes would look as clean on the inside as they do on the outside.
The multi-piece neck has clearly been built to a budget but it's very comfortable in the hand, with the satin finish providing a fast surface for spirited playing. The matt rosewood fretboard is just as rapid, yielding ample opportunity for dexterous players to fully explore its limits with fast runs right up to the 14th fret and beyond. Talking of which, all the frets on our sample were level, with no sharp ends to provide nasty mid-lick surprises. Intonation was also good out of the box, with only the first string (A) just slightly high at the 12th fret.
Inexpensive ukuleles tend to slip out of tune faster than Florence Foster Jenkins on a bad night because their mediocre machine heads just can't handle the string tension. However, the KA-C's sealed tuners worked a treat, after we allowed the new strings to settle in they proved remarkably stable.
Scruffy interior aside, this level of attention to detail is a welcome Kala trait. Where lesser brands will have almost certainly specced cheapo generic finishing kits, Kala has furnished the KA-C with decent tuners, a Graphtech Nubone XB nut and Aquila strings. These basic components make a real difference to both playability and sound.
There's an unexpected complexity to the KA-C's tone, a gratifying richness that's lacking in many budget ukes. Certainly, the concert size helps. The KA-C's bigger body provides better bass response, fuller mids and more projection than its soprano siblings, yet the authentic ukulele character we all know and love (or tolerate!) is still there in abundance. Kala has done a great job with the build and spec too – it's built a thing to play, not just a plaything.
Yes, we admit we have a soft spot for concert ukuleles. The larger body size sounds like a uke only better, the longer neck with its subtly wider spaced frets is easier to play and the beefy projection is better suited to performance but never so loud it will overpower even the smallest bedroom. The Kala KA-C is a poster boy (or girl or non-binary, your choice) for the inexpensive concert uke – excellent value, well specced and awesome sounding. A budget concert for the budget conscious.
Kala KA-C Satin Mahogany Concert Ukulele review: Hands-on demos
Kala KA-C Satin Mahogany Concert Ukulele review: Specifications
- Size: Concert
- Top, back and sides: Mahogany
- Finish: Satin
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Strings: Aquila Super Nylgut
- Scale Length: 14.8125 inches
- Number of Frets: 18
- Contact: Kala