Whilst regular readers of Got A Ukulele will know that I am not one for overly blingy instruments, by that I refer to the preponderance of binding and inlays that adorn some instruments. I AM however taken by any instrument that shows off the beauty of natural wood, and it was with delight that I opened the package on this Kala KA-ZCT-T Ziricote Tenor.
I mean, just look at that deep chocolate colour set off rather nicely with the paler sap wood. A 'takes your breath away' instrument on the looks department.
The Ziricote Tenor is a standard shaped, double bout model made in China by Kala. It's made from laminate wood and finished in a high gloss to bring out the outer Ziricote veneer. Yes, a laminate. Solid wood snobs look away now. More sensible people will know that I like a good laminate over a badly made solid wood instrument every time, so let's not pre-judge this one.
First a quick word about what Ziricote actually is. It's an exotic hardwood hailing from Guetamala, Mexico and Belize and is famed for its curly chocolate brown grain and distinctive tan coloured sap wood which contrasts with the darker wood. Yes, in this case it's just a laminate veneer outer, but you have to admit, it certainly is pretty!
It's really nicely finished, and the gloss of the body set's off the colour variation between that grain and sap wood really nicely. It really jumps out at you and gives you the impression that the grains are inlaid. The only other concession to bling is some nice rosewood edge binding where the top and back meet the sides (with some white detailing on the top) and an inlaid rosewood soundhole rosette. That gloss, together with the dark colour of the Ziricote is an absolute fingerprint magnet!
The bridge is made of rosewood and is a tie bar style with some white edge detailing. The saddle is made of Graphtech Nubone and is black which I think fits in with the darker body colour nicely. That bridge mount feels a little rough to me. It's not dry, just not as smooth as it might be. Minor detail.
That Ziricote veneer is nicely bookmatched on the top and back, where each are made from two pieces, and also nicely matched on the two piece sides with clever use of the sap wood. (That is, the laminate veneer is in two pieces, the top and back are otherwise one piece of laminate.) The back is completely flat, which surprises me a little for a laminate like this. We have more rosewood inlay too where the sides meet at the base.
Looking inside and that build is very tidy. The bracing is delicate, the kerfing is notched and there is no mess or glue anywhere.
Up to the neck, this is a typical Kala neck in profile and width, nothing remarkable, and it's made of mahogany. It's in three pieces with a joint at the heel and one at the headstock and unlike the rest of the instrument it's finished in satin. This is a good thing as gloss necks can easily feel sticky on the hands. The heel is capped with a piece of rosewood which gives a nice contrast to the paler neck.
Topping it is an evenly dark rosewood fingerboard, which is bound at the edges hiding the fret ends. The frets themselves are very nicely dressed and we have 18 in total with 14 to the body. Position markers are inlaid in the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and these are also repeated on the side. The fingerboard itself shows some tooling marks, which doesn't affect play but I was surprised at with Kala.
The nut is made of the same Graphtech Nubone and is also black and beyond that we have a typical crown shaped Kala headstock. It too is faced in Ziricote, but it isn't anywhere near as striking as the body. It would have been nice to have that feature some of the sap wood too I think. The Kala logo is screen printed in gold and I think is something of a let down compared to the rest of the instrument.
The tuners are sealed chrome geared tuners with small black plastic buttons. The buttons themselves feel a little cheap, but at least they are small and the tuners work well.
Completing the deal are Aquila strings, and you should be able to pick one of these up for about £170 in the UK or $240 in the US.
Now once again, solid wood snobs may say that's too much money for a laminate body instrument, but regular readers of this site will know that I really dont think it matters too much if it sounds good and plays well. In fact, I have paid considerably more than that for a laminate instrument before. I actually think it is good value considering how great it looks.
In that hand it feels typically Kala. A little heavier than I would have expected, but that isn't to say it is over heavy. It's actually really well balanced and nice to hold with a very comfortable neck.
The setup on this review model requires absolutely no adjustment and the intonation is good all over hte neck.
Sound wise, OK, it doesn't have a killer tone, but it has a sound that really both surprised and pleased me. It has a nice shimmery chime to the strum that is quite evident and a bell like sound in fingerpicking. Again, solid snobs may say that laminate doesn't have tonal characteristics. Of course they do. They may not take on the characteristic of the tone wood as such, but they still have their own tone. And at the end of the day, if you like that tone, then does it matter what it's made of? I like the tone of this one! The notes are clear and defined and it doesn't sound muddy or over driven. Sustain, particularly when picked is really nice and the sound projection is perfectly good enough to stand out in whatever jam or band situation you may be in. No complaints really.
It's really nice to see another example of a laminate instrument done really well. Another one for my category of "I'd rather have this than a shoddy solid wood instrument that is only solid because the brand want to feed you the myth that solid is better"....
UKULELE PROSLooks to die for
Chimey sound with good sustain and volume
UKULELE CONSCheap tuner buttons
Plain looking headstock
UKULELE SCORESLooks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.6 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz