I have not reviewed a resonator ukulele before despite having played a fair few, so thanks to Kala and Omega Music for loaning me the Kala KA-RES-CHR Tenor resonator!
I must say from the off that I find the world of resonator ukes a little odd. Not only do I prefer steel strings on resonators (i.e. guitars, played with slide), but the range of uke resos is really a bit split. On the one hand you have the lower priced models at around £200 to £300, and then you have a pretty large leap to get to the higher end models from the likes of National and Beltona. There is pretty much nothing in the middle (if you know of one, do let me know). To add to the oddness, the lower end resonators I have played have all left me wanting - sounding rather thin and rattly. At the upper end on the other hand, I at first thought Nationals were sublime, but that was until I had a chance to play a Beltona which, in my opinion, left the National in the dust. Now, unlike regular ukes, there seems to be nothing in the middle ground at say £500 ish - a kind of semi pro resonator if you will. This Kala is priced at around $300 or £220 in the Uke, so how does it fare?
The Kala reso is a wooden bodied instrument, unlike the (perhaps) more common metal bodied resonators, and at first glance I think it looks tremendous. It is made from laminate mahogany in the body (solid wood not being felt necessary as all the tone resonance is coming from the resonator unit) and is finished in a kind of vintage semi sunburst finish. This is repeated on the two piece sides and even more pronounced on the arched back. Top and back join the sides along with some nice looking pearloid edge binding. The top is also finished with traditional F holes which add to the vintage look.
The whole body unit is put together very well and has a satin finish that both looks and feels great in the hands. It's also quite light to hold considering all that metal work, which is a nice thing.
And on to that metal work - the resonator unit itself. The Chrome cover (they also do one in Brass finish) is adorned with a fairly simple range of drilled sound holes in five distinct sections. It is not overly fancy but I prefer that myself. It uses a biscuit bridge with a maple saddle on to the spun aluminium cone. Unlike some reso ukes, this has no separate tail piece to attach the strings to, rather a plastic strip screwed to the cone cover to tie them on to. I think I would have preferred the former.
Up to the hardwood neck, this to has an aged finish on the back which I personally think is a little overly done and would have preferred a more softly graded change in colour. On to this is fitted a rosewood neck with some slight colour variation toward the upper frets. The edges look to be bound, and we have 18 frets in total with 14 to the body. Fret markers are inlaid pearloid at frets 5, 7, 10 and 12 and pleasingly these are repeated on the side of the neck. It isn't the shallowest profile neck I have seen but equally not a wide nut either - fairly typical Kala to my hands. It seems to be made from 'at least' two pieces with a clear join at the heel, but the dark staining at the headstock end makes it hard for me to determine any other joints.
The nut is made of Nu-Bone before we head up to the typical Kala shaped headstock. The face of the headstock looks stained rather than capped but I am happy to be proved wrong. The Kala logo is nicely inlaid in pearloid material and all is very neat and tidy. Tuning is provided by sealed geared tuners with small chrome buttons that all work just fine. And (of course) the package is completed with a set of Aquila strings.
All looks very reliable and well put together, and therefore 'very Kala'. I really do adore the look of the instrument and cannot find anything much to dislike about the build. (I cannot really see much inside through the F holes, apart from the Kala label, but it all feels solid.)
But before we go on to the sound, lets revert back to my comment on my thoughts on cheaper reso ukes. You see it really is all about the build with a resonator, and in particular the cone arrangement. Better quality hand spun cones cost more but also sound more rounded and warm. But the ukes that use them cost considerably more too. So I will admit to thinking that his one would let me down as some of the other cheap reso's have done.
Well first up - it didn't, or at least not totally. To me it sounded far better than models I have played from the likes of Asbury or Republic. It also came very nicely set up with no tuning issues or adjustment required to the nut.
The sound is bright and a bit overly so for my ears. Played picked it has a kind of slap back type echo to the picked notes which annoyed me, and strummed was kind of warbly and muddled for my tastes. Some reso players may read this and say - 'of course its trebly - its a reso - but I would just suggest they play some higher end ukes to find some more warmth. (And by that I do mean Beltona or perhaps Mya Moe as I really havent taken a shine to Nationals myself). To me though, this one sound that little bit artificial sounding. That could of course be down to the strings and this begs experimentation - but alas, it is not mine to keep!
But there is good here too - it plays very well, has great projection and as I say, looks great to my eyes. I think though I would have to file it in the try before you buy category - but they I would do that with any resonator, particularly if you haven't played one before. Perhaps it sounds like I am being a little harsh, but that again brings me back to that middle ground of a dearth of entry level pro resonators. It's a great stand alone instrument but perhaps I have been spoiled.
Slightly thin, trebly echoey sound
Finish on the back of the neck
Tail piece arrangement
Looks - 9
Fit and Finish - 9
Sound - 7
Value For Money - 8
OVERALL - 8.3 out of 10
To understand my review scoring and see this result in context - visit my review page at