Kala has now expanded beyond just great value imports. Today we are reviewing the 1KOA series in each size. This is the entry level for the “Kala Elite” line made entirely in Petaluma California. They are listed for sale (if they are in stock) at our online store here – Kala USA Elite series at The Ukulele Site
Some people were surprised that Kala decided start building ukes in Petaluma but I think it’s a no brainer. No doubt it will only go to strengthen their import line with more in house expertise. I knew that and supported this bold endeavor, but I was a little caught off guard when we received these.
I wasn’t thinking I would like them as much as I do. I am mostly a tenor fan but I love the soprano and concert here too, and all three feel great!
How did Kala accomplish this? Owner Mike Upton started a few years ago by investing in top notch equipment and woods. He then hired renowned ukulele luthier Michael DaSilva to work with them. Then Mike, Phil, and Jason flew to Hawaii to spend time with with builders on our island. Of course this doesn’t assure anything but I’m pleased to report that we now have some modest but beautiful ukuleles with a deep wonderful tone and top notch feel.
Zachary Shimizu is Hoku award winning musician and songwriter that has been a crucial part of our team for many years. I asked him to do give his thoughts on the 1KOA series from Kala’s new Elite line. He wrote this,
“Usually when I’m talking about Kala it involves telling customers how awesome they are for the price and that we almost never get them returned. They rule the import market, but now they have stepped in the ring of USA made ukuleles.
We recently got in the Elite series 1 in three sizes. These three come in between 799 and 899 with a custom case and all are made right here in the US of A! One word to describe them: impressive!
It feels like I’m playing a different brand altogether. The feel, tone, look are completely different from their import line.
As I pulled each one out of the case it got a quick 360 glance and tune up. The first was a tenor and from the first C chord played Andrew and I both looked at each other with a look of surprise and excitement! There are only a handful of builders making such a rich sounding tenor. But even more surprising and exciting was that this sound carried through with the concert and even soprano. There is a consistent full, warm tone no matter the size.
One thing to take note of right off the bat that could either deter or attract you is that the neck is noticeably thicker than than their import. I would describe the neck as “beefy” but comfortable, and I personally like it. I’m primarily playing on a steel string acoustic guitar so I feel a little more at home with this type of neck on an ukulele. The nut width is 1 1/2″, so slightly wider than the 1 3/8″ nut on their import models. Many customers look for this type of a “roomy” spacing but others like it more slender.
I like to think I have a pretty seasoned palate when it comes to hearing what the world of ukuleles has to offer. We are constantly getting the finest ukes in our shop and I also go to the trade show, NAMM, each year to play other ukes on the market. I will say these Kala’s are in the upper tier of tonal quality! They have a full sound with deep rich bass notes and a strong treble presence that never sounds papery or floppy. I don’t want to compare them to other brands that I know because they deserve to stand out on their own! Hear it for yourself, throw away the concept of ‘Kala-great sounding imports at a affordable price’ for right now and listen to these with an open mind.”
Click on the galleries for pictures and specs.
Share your thoughts in the comments below. Aloha from all of us at The Ukulele Site.