Kala KA-ZCT-T Ziricote Tenor Ukulele REVIEW

13 Aug 2016

Kala KA-ZCT-T Ziricote Tenor Ukulele REVIEW

Whilst regular readers of Got A Ukulele will know that I am not one for overly blingy musical 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.

Kala Ziricote Tenor Ukulele

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!

Kala Ziricote Tenor Ukulele body

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.

Kala Ziricote Tenor Ukulele bridge

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.

Kala Ziricote Tenor Ukulele back and sides

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.

Kala Ziricote Tenor Ukulele fingerboard

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.

Kala Ziricote Tenor Ukulele headstock

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.

Kala Ziricote Tenor Ukulele tuners

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.

Kala Ziricote Tenor Ukulele side joint

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.

Kala Ziricote Tenor Ukulele back

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"....



Looks to die for
Great setup
Chimey sound with good sustain and volume


Cheap tuner buttons
Fingerprint magnet!
Plain looking headstock


Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10




  1. And another great review by the Baz Man. Gorgeous instrument.

  2. Nice review Baz. It certainly is a looker!

  3. Good looking uke. My go to uke has a gloss finish too and as much as I love it, I would have picked a satin finish if I had the option. I kind of wonder if if the gloss really brings out the ziricote and it wouldn't be as impressive in a satin finish. Other than fingerprints, do you think the gloss finish affects the tone? I have it stuck in my head that it probably dulls the tone, but I have no idea. I have that same mental block with painted finishes.

    1. I have a ziricote concert ukulele and have never "loved" it, unfortunately. I've also wondered if the gloss finish has contributed to the "dull" almost muffled sound. I originally had the tenor model and was disappointed for similar reasons, so gave it away. As far as beauty is concerned, it can't be beaten, but that doesn't make up for the sub-par sound, in my opinion.

  4. Yes Glenn - I am certain that the gloss brings out the look of this one. As for it affecting tone - I suspect not. Bear in mind that gloss finishes are essentially the same finish as satin, just that they have been polished. It's the same coating though (and I've had satin ukes that I have polished with my arm into gloss through playing!)

    Painted ukes though - yes - almost certainly affect the tone.

  5. Hey Baz, great review! I really like the look of this. I wish I had a Kala dealer in town so I could try some of these out, but the Kala I have is superb, so I tend to lean towards the idea that ordering one would be fine.

    On a side note. Have you ever tabbed out your "review song"? I've gotten so used to hearing it to test ukes I thought it would be helpful to be able to play it myself in the store.


  6. I haven't Chiggie (lazy) - the strummed bit is the intro to a song called Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate (chords are available if you Google - UkeHunt has a nice version). The picked stuff is the chords to Creep by Radiohead in the key of C (C, E7, F, Fm)

  7. Oh that's funny, I play Creep as G, B, C, Cm. I still am not good at working out the keys, that might be G?

  8. Yeah, that's in G. I used to play it in the band I was in but transposed it to C as it suited my voice better.

  9. Very pretty wood! I'm not in the market for any more Chinese ukes, but plenty of folks are, and this one's bound to be a winner for Kala. Still, I wish they'd manufacture their own ukes here....
    Great review Barry!

  10. Just bad the price is double in Canada

  11. I have a question that I can not find an answer to. A laminate is thin layers of wood glued together. The ziricote is the outside layer. So what kind of wood is used for the other layers?

  12. The woods are not always specified as I dont believe they are on this one. Sometimes it's the same wood, but still a sandwich, sometimes its just a cheaper hard wood

  13. I bought this uke from Sweetwater. A tenor for me and a concert for my wife, both Ziricote's. The review above is more than correct. I strum in Dr. Uku's band in Glastonbury CT. The Dr. has commented on how nice the sound is from this tenor uke. I couldn't be happier with my purchase.

    1. I, too, have this same model and love the tone. I wipe it down after playing as I do all of my instruments. Also has Aquila SuperNylgut Strings

  14. Thanks Barry! I just ordered it! The sound seems very balanced, which is what I am looking for, and I admit it looks snazzy too! It was a toss up between Ziricote and the Ebony, but I think the Ebony would sound much like mahogany...and your review sealed the deal!

  15. To be honest, being a laminate uke I’m not sure the ebony / rosewood / ziricote tonewood characteristics will come through as it’s only the outer veneer made of that. Still. It does sound good.

  16. Hey Baz, thanks so much for the great review on the Kala Ziricote I absolutely agree with you. I was wondering if the Kala Ziricote sounds anything like the Kala Ebony or the Kala Spalted Wood, since they are all laminates. I currently live outside the the US or UK and have been looking for a Kala Ziricote and loved the sound, but they do not stock them here so I was wondering what uke you thought sounded similar to it. Thanks

  17. I've not played the Ebony or Spalted - to be honest though - differences in sound in laminates tend not to come from the outer veneer finish (which is minutely thin) ,but rather just from differences in the builds. So they may sound different, but it wont mainly be the tone wood outer doing that

  18. THanks for the reply to my question. I had a ziricote before as well and love the shimmery and delicate sound that you mentioned in your youtube review, and was wondering if you knew of any ukes that had that same characteristic sound. Also do you recommend the Kala KA-ATP-CTG Tenor Acacia Cedar Top Ukulele Gloss Finish Natural, or the KA-SPMT-TRI? Do any of these have the same shimmery quality as the Ziricote KAla? I am hesitant to get a uke without the Baz stamp of approval! haha.

  19. Nice review, I agree on all fronts! Bought one of these, installed a pickup (for open mics), restrung with with D'addario fluorocarbons and Low G and it sounds Great. Rarely sees the inside of a gig bag. I like your take on Laminate ukes, wish the uke world in general were as open to "good laminate versus bad solid" thinking.

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  21. Thank you for your thorough reviews! I'm learning a lot from your site!
    I was wondering if you've had opportunity to play Kala's premier exotic ziricote tenor (KA-PX-ZCT-T) and what you thought of it if you have. It's similar to this one you reviewed, but the dimensions are slightly different, the tuners are different, and it has a beveled "comfort edge". Also a looker. I'm assuming that it may (will?) sound different than this one, but will have the same quality build. (Hopefully I'm assuming right!) 😬


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