Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

17 Oct 2015

Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

On occasion an ukulele comes my way on loan that I really don't want to have to send back. Kala take the honours on that score with this new model of theirs. The Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge series electro tenor uke. Aside from the clumsy model name, I think it's a belter.


Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge Tenor Ukulele


So a high end Kala this one, in traditional tenor shape with what they call a florentine cutaway on the top edge. They also do one without a cutaway if you are one of those traditionalists for which such things offend you (for about £50 less). I'm not, and I think it works well with the looks. And yes, that model name IS clumsy. I usually try to decipher them, but I gave up with this one with the exception of the CE for 'comfort edge'. So, for me, this remains a 'Kala Comfort Edge Tenor'...

The whole of the body of the instrument is made from solid woods, with a solid cedar top (with nice straight grain) and a gorgeous solid rosewood back and sides. The contrast between the two is quite beautiful and whilst you see a few laminate backed rosewood instruments, it tends not to be until the higher end that you get solid rosewood backs and sides. On this one the rosewood grain pattern is striking, uniform and looks smashing in my opinion.

Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge Tenor Ukulele  top


The whole instrument is finished in gloss and going over it with a fine tooth comb, I found no evidence of bubbles, gloss pooling, drips or cracks. A really good finish all over.

To compliment the woods, the trim throughout the instrument is made of an African wood called Padauk and trims the edges of the body, the edges of the fingerboard, around the sound hole, on the bridge and on the 'comfort edge'. It compliments the woods well in it's deep orange brown colour and it is certainly nice to see Kala sticking to a single wood trim type rather than mixing it up and delivering a clumsy mixed up finish. The Padauk is complimented by some simple black and white trim edging on the body edges which helps to set it off nicely. Really classy.

But on to that comfort edge. This is a feature that originally would have been the preserve of the higher end luthier built instruments, so it's good to see such ideas travelling down the line to the consumer end of the market. It is essentially a shaping to the bottom upper edge of the top of the instrument, directly under where the strumming arm tends to rest. And why? Well anyone who has played a ukulele for a period of time and been left with a ridge on they inner arm from the top of the instrument will know why. This comfort edge on this Kala is super smooth and comfortable and finished in the padauk wood. Gimmick? I really don't think so. Not only is it pleasing to look at, it really does feel comfortable on the inside of the strumming arm.  I think it works extremely well.

Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge Tenor Ukulele  side


Elsewhere on the body things are fairly standard. We have a rosewood bridge mounting and what I described in the video below as a plastic saddle. Their specs actually say it is NuBone, but it really looks like plastic to me. Either way, NuBone is not a wonder material and at the price of this instrument I would rather have seen this made of Tusq or bone. Putting it in perspective there are some entry level Mahalos that claim they use NuBone in big letters on their packaging - hardly a great endorsement. A minor niggle that most people won't notice, but there you go.

Looking inside things are nice and tidy, with delicate bracing and notched kerfing. No glue drops or wood shavings anywhere. Interestingly - the inside of that point on the cutaway seems to be boxed off which suggests to me that the point is strengthened by Kala. A good idea if it is likely to be knocked.

Cut into the top side of the body is a Kala branded pickup system running to an under saddle piezo strip. It's a fairly standard affair with EQ controls, onboard tuner and a jack socket off centre on the base powered by a couple of cell batteries. My regular readers will know I would rather do without all this gubbins and just have a good quality passive pickup. This one works, and I know exactly why Kala use it - it's trouble free for players - just plug in and go. But this is a higher end Kala and I would wager someone dropping the money this instrument costs may well be more demanding on their plugged in sound. Oh well.

One more thing (as part of a rant I am going to increasingly have in my reviews)..... Being a tenor with a pickup I think there is a high chance this will be played on stage in a performance. Why not give us a strap button Kala? So many people are now retro-fitting them, it would be nice to come with one as standard!

Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge Tenor Ukulele  EQ


The neck is made of mahogany and in two pieces with a joint at the heel (which is capped in padauk). It's got a nice if fairly standard tenor profile and width and is finished in gloss. No complaints here.

Topping the neck is a rosewood fingerboard which is nicely finished and even in colour. The frets are nickel silver and we have 19 with 14 to the body. They all feel nicely finished with no sharp edges, and the edges are hidden by more padauk trim on the fingerboard sides. A nice touch.

Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge Tenor Ukulele  neck


We have outward facing position markers in small pearloid dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th fret spaces and thankfully these are repeated on the side, inlaid into the the padauk trim. Nice.

Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge Tenor Ukulele fingerboard


Past the nut (again, NuBone / plastic) we have a fairly standard Kala shaped crown headstock with the Kala logo inlaid in pearl under the gloss. Turning the headstock around shows off another nice bonus with this instrument. Tuning is provided by gold coloured open geared tuners which are Grover branded. Essentially the same tuners you would see on Kanile'a tenors and are top quality. No slack or wobble with these and I love the vintage shaped buttons.

Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge Tenor Ukulele headstock


And that is almost that. It comes with Aquila Lava brand strings (which I would personally change, but that is just me) and is available in the UK at around £380. For a Kala,  (their Elite series aside) that is a high end price, but in the bigger scheme of things in the ukulele world it's actually more of an intermediate price point. It's kind of where the likes of Pono tenor prices begin, but one thing is for sure - you would not get one of those with this level of trim for that price.  As such, for what you are getting I think it is great value. But that would mean nothing if it played like a dog.

Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge Tenor Ukulele tuners


Thankfully things are positive on that front also. Firstly the instrument is nicely weighted and balanced and as I say, that comfort edge really does work. It's a joy to play and hold. Really comfortable.

Setup out of the box was good, and I have no issues with the nut or saddle height on the review model. Yes, as I say, I would change the strings but that is just me and you will all have your preferred brands. Would love to try it with flourocarbons though!

Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge Tenor Ukulele back


The first thing that struck me when playing it the rich clarity across the strings. Usually the mark of a well made and balanced instrument. More often than not with far eastern ukuleles when strummed in anger, the mix of notes the strings are making can get muddy and certain notes become lost in the noise. The Kala excels on that front and every string has it's own space in the mix.

The cedar is giving it warmth but it certainly did have a brighter top end than I expected (not a bad thing - as I say - all about the mix). So it has a balanced tone with a bit of punch in various levels that I particularly like. On the whole it's a balanced mix that works well when played hard or soft.

Projection, whether strummed or picked is great and this instrument will hold it's own it whatever scenario you are in.

Fingerpicked, those highs really zing right the way up the neck and it's sublime to noodle on in this way. Kind of reminds me of a nice acoustic guitar - both in looks but also in terms of sounds.

Plugged in, as I say I am not a huge fan of these onboard active systems. It works. It sounds typically piezo and would benefit from more tone shaping than the onboard EQ can deliver, which kind of supports my view that I would prefer a good passive (as I am going to EQ it down the line anyway), but there you go. It works and the volume across each string is even and clear.

In short, no - it's not comparable to a £1,500 Kamaka before you ask, but it really is rather nice sounding (and nor is it pretending to me something it is not). It is really highly playable though with a very clear and pretty tone.  In fact I will stick my neck out and say this is the nicest Kala I have played before and also one of the nicest tenors I have come across at this price point. I think it holds its own against many of the higher priced intermediate instruments on the market.

Kala KA-SRT-CTG-CE Comfort Edge Tenor Ukulele sound hole


I think things are getting really positive with Kala lately. In the past I will be the first to admit that I found a lot of their range rather 'samey'. If this is the sort of thing they have on the drawing board for the future, then I think it could be exciting times ahead.

Recommended!

Be sure to check out my other ukulele reviews here!



UKULELE PROS

-Looks
-Finish
-Comfort edge
-Wood choices
-Projection
-Clarity across all strings

UKULELE CONS

-Some would prefer better nut and saddle at this price
-I would personally do without the active pickup system

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9.5 out of 10
Fit and Finish - 9 out of 10
Sound - 9 out 10
Value For Money - 9 out 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.1 out of 10


UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW








20 comments :

  1. Barry, very nicely done review. I have the previous generation Kala KA-ATP-CT model without the comfort edge, cutaway or pick-up system. Your review matches my impressions of this tenor, which I enjoy greatly.

    A couple questions: 1) What passive pick-up would you recommend adding to my Kala, and 2) What EQ pedal would you recommend?

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  2. Hi there - in terms of passives I use (in increasing price) models from Artec, Shadow and Fishman. You can spend considerably more but for me (playing with effects pedals) I'm not sure it's worth the extra outlay.

    For an EQ all depends on what you want it to do. A great basic preamp / EQ is the LR Baggs GigPro - used on stages by amateurs and professionals alike- wonderful tone. If you want more features I also use the LR Baggs Venue DI - it's a more fully featured DI as well offering a straight XLR output if needed and has a parametric EQ section allowing you to dial out offending feedback frequencies. Same great amp as the GigPro but a lot more options.

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  3. Nice job Barry! I almost bought one of these, but when I went shopping with cash, no one had one! Not even at TBUG! GRRRR.
    But I'm happy with the Cocobolo I bought instead.

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  4. Curious how you would compare these against the Pono MDT line.

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  5. Difficult - the top end of the Kala lines are getting very close in quality to Pono - personally I would choose the Pono, but no real science to that choice.

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  6. I have had one of these for a few months. I like it, very well made. Although this finish is awesome, it's a b" to stop sliding down your lap all the time! I'm not overly impressed with the machine heads. Doesn't stay in tune that well. I've a Tangy Concert & Córdoba T24 & they're solid for tuning. It's sound is very mellow not really Hawaiian Ooky more classical Guitar cross over. The Tuner sucks... I use a clip on Kala ironically!

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  7. Never really understood it when people say that geared machine heads don't hold tuning. The way they work means that it's impossible for them to slip unless they are plain broken. If they are not broken and tuning is slipping, the fault is not with the tuners - more likely a string issue.

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  8. Barry
    Just got one of these. Great uke!!! Everything you said it was and then some! Do you think Martin 620s will sound good on this uke?

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  9. Can't possibly answer David - string choice is just too personal. The uke has some involvement, but more important is your playing style, your own tastes and your own ear - some people like certain strings and not others, and some vice versa.

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    Replies
    1. Barry
      Thank you for taking the time to reply. Can I just ask, where would conventional wisdom from an experienced uke player say to go next if one is not an Aquila fan? Would the next try be a fluorocarbon such as Martin? I ask because I can't change my own strings. I have several packs but 35 bucks a pop for store to put each on. So as personal as the choice is what would wisdom dictate to try next? I appreciate any advice you can give. Thank you again.

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  10. David - the experienced view would say buy a few sets and trust your own ears. I am staggered anyone wants 35 dollars to change strings - and really the better option is to change them yourself - it REALLY isn't complicated AT ALL. I'm reeling that someone is charging that! honestly though - all strings will differ to some degree and different people will notice different things - I can't in any way predict how you will find any of them.

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  11. Barry
    Thank you again. I thought 35 a change seemed high, but they have no competition here. If you cannot change your own strings you have to pay them and thus the price (I Guess. They could still care enough to be fair). I have been playing 2-3 years now and have become a very good player but have very little knowledge of the mechanics such as string changing. I just watched a few videos on how to do it and ordered a stringer, lubricant... And at your rec will learn to do it myself. I will start on some old ones that have have laminate sides and thus less to lose if i mess something up. Thank you again!!!

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  12. Barry

    Sorry to trouble you again. I know your busy and really appreciate your help. I have begun doing my own strings like you advised. Is it possible, when putting the same strings on two different ukes, both exactly the same in make and model, that the strings sound rally good on one and awful on the other? Is it possible the strings have a variance? Both have always sounded good. I put Martin 620s on both. On one they sound amazing and on the other they sound awful.

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  13. David - absolutely it's possible. This is exactly one of the reasons that I don't think that string reviews and arguments as to what is 'best' have any weight at all. Strings sound different to different ears, they sound different when played by different people and they also DO sound different on different ukuleles. The variance is not in the strings, it's in the ukulele. About 70% of mine use Seaguar fishing line, but not all - and that's because on the other 30% I thought other brands suited better.

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  14. Barry

    Thank you for your reply!! I very much appreciate it.

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  15. what kind of rosewood is used ?

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  16. They simply state rosewood, so I dont know the variety

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  17. Thanks for the review Barry! I wanted to buy this model but unfortunately it's sold out, so I'll buy his brother KA-SRT-CTG-E without cutaway 😀 Do you think there is a difference between them ?

    Thanks

    Ilija

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  18. Barry,

    First thanks for the great review, I actually ordered one of these last week.

    I noticed something you may want to correct though. The nut and saddle are actually NuBone XB. While it is technically still a plastic, a better description would be an Engineered Polymer. Since you said you prefer they be Tusq I figured I would point out that NuBone is made by the same company (GraphTech) and it is actually a derivative of Tusq with an improved bass response

    It appears that they are respected enough to have won a contract and the NuBones are now default on all Fender models. They also count Martin, Gibson, Epiphone and Taylor among their manufacturers. I am not sure I would be so quick to discount it as a cheap product. I personally like the idea of engineered polymers over natural materials as they have much more control of the sound response/quality.

    Thanks again for doing what you do. This has been my go to place for opinions.

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  19. Yeah - same manufacturer - but Tusq is harder and brighter (which suits a ukulele well). Yes NuBone is used by Taylor, but I know lots of Taylor players who swap them out for Bone or Tusq. Martin Ukuleles incidentally use Tusq. And NuBone IS cheaper. A blank Tusq saddle will cost you about 30-40% more than an equivalent in NuBone

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