Kala KA-SLNG Long Neck Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

11 Jul 2018

Kala KA-SLNG Long Neck Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

It's actually been quite a while since I featured the very well known Kala brand on Got A Ukulele. Over the years I have looked at a variety of models from them, from the very cheapest to their top end ukes. But one that missed my attention is also in a scale combination that I have never featured before either. Today we look at the KA-SLNG Long Neck Soprano ukulele.

Kala KA-SLNG Ukulele


First up, a quick explanation as to what is going on here. A long neck soprano most commonly refers to a soprano body sized ukulele fitted with a concert scale neck, and corresponding concert scale length from nut to saddle. The 'idea' is that you get more room on the fingerboard, the benefit of some extra frets and the slightly different tone of a concert scale length (due to the vibrating length of the string increasing). That means they tend to be joined at the 13th or 14th frets rather than the more common soprano scale joint at the 12th. You still get the same sort of resonance of a soprano body though as the sound chamber size doesn't increase. Now, if you bear in mind that I don't buy in to the concept that scale length alone gives you more space for the fingers - it's increasing nut width and string spacing that you tend to get with bigger scales that does that, we shall have to see if this one delivers on what the concept is trying to achieve.

The KA-SLNG is a lower end model in the Kala range, made from all laminate mahogany in the body with a standard double bout. This one adds to the spec a little in that it is finished in gloss, but otherwise the body is really not all that different to something like their entry level Kala KA-S soprano ukulele. It has the same couple of pieces for the top and back with an even grain running in line with the body north to south. The back is dead flat. You also get the same sort of cream binding to the top and back, but with the addition of some black and white purfling on the top edge.

Kala KA-SLNG Ukulele body

The bridge differs from their standard sopranos too as this comes with a tie bar style bridge plate made of rosewood (note - this is clearly older stock as they have since changed this to walnut). It holds the same uncompensated NuBone saddle, but I do prefer slot bridges on a soprano for a couple of reasons. Firstly, for a beginner, they are the easiest for string changes, but there is a musical reason too. Slotted bridges, due to their design, can be more diminutive. That means less wood plonked on the most resonant part of the top. Ho hum..

Kala KA-SLNG Ukulele bridge

We also have a black and white sound hole rosette (that may be a transfer) that you dont get on the KA-S, which helps set it off. But it is that gloss where the difference really shows. It gives it an air of something classier than their stock satin soprano bodies, and works well. The finish is very good to be fair. Not a high end 'thousand yard' mirror finish, but nicely applied with no flaws or bubbles. It feels nice too and isn't sticky.

Looking inside and it's pretty basic, but still tidy. Simple braces and notched linings, leaving me not much more to say. You also get a look at the edge of the sound hole which tells me the laminate is really rather thick on this one. That's a shame. Rapping the soundboard top with the knuckles shows me that resonance is also lacking, and I suspect that is the reason.

Kala KA-SLNG Ukulele soundhole

The neck is made of mahogany with less obvious joint at the heel and a clear one nearer the headstock. It has a similar gloss finish to the body, but isn't sticky. The profile is typically Chinese and overly rounded for me on the back of the neck, but then most Kala ukuleles are. But the real let down is that the nut width is still only 34.5mm (with just under 27mm between strings G and A). That's same as the KA-S and very typical for most cheap Chinese sopranos. What an opportunity missed...  They increased the scale to a concert length, supposedly to give more space for those who find sopranos cramped, but didn't increase the nut width (or if they did, it was marginal). I'd argue it really doesn't give much more space at all, or at least not where it counts. Sure, you get more spacing between the frets moving down the neck (but we are talking small amounts there), but I just don't see that is where beginners or those with large hands struggle. It's squeezing fingers ACROSS the neck next to each other that presents the challenge, not getting them down the neck. As such, increasing the scale has done nothing to help here. A total let down for me... I get that this point is somewhat personal, and some people like narrow soprano nuts, but I personally don't and know many who agree. But that's besides the point, this is marketed as giving you more space, but actually doesn't give you more where it matters.

Topping the neck is a rosewood (again now changed to walnut) fingerboard with black staining under the gloss on the edges to hide the frets. There are 18 of them in total with a joint at the 14th so typically concert in construction. They are also dressed nicely with no sharpness. You get dot position markers facing out at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th spaces and these are repeated with white dots on the side.

Kala KA-SLNG Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the NuBone nut we have a typical three pointed crown headstock, also glossed and complete with the Kala logo in a gold transfer. It looks ok despite being unremarkable.

Kala KA-SLNG Ukulele headstock

Tuners are unbranded, fairly cheap looking open gears, identical to the KA-S and fitted with woefully large pearly white buttons. I don't like side gears on sopranos full stop, but if you are going to fit them, please stop with the enormous buttons. It looks stupid and ugly.

Kala KA-SLNG Ukulele tuners

Aquila strings (what else) finish the package and these can be grabbed for an extremely keen £90 in the UK. That's really not a lot of money for a gloss instrument, even if it is laminate.

Like pretty much every model I review by Kala, the build is very good. It's not overly heavy and despite that longer neck and massive tuners, it's not unbalanced either. Setup on this review model is a touch high at the nut and the saddle is about where I would want it. No real gripes though. I do like the way it looks too.

Sound wise it's somewhat unremarkable, but then it is a laminate uke and not a particularly expensive one at that. Saying that I am not getting much from the tone that tells me it's a concert scale, and it doesn't sound to me all that different than the considerably cheaper KA-S soprano. It's certainly a laminate tone, and whilst it's not a shabby one, it's not earth shattering either.  Volume though isnt high and sustain is rather low, I assume on account of the thick laminate, giving it a boxy and rather one dimensional voice. It just kind of 'works' as a ukulele though, which for many will be just enough. I would say though that at the price you can do better elsewhere on tone. Let's just say it's not particularly lively.

Kala KA-SLNG Ukulele back

It turns out that this was a tricky one to score . The build is good, it looks classy, sounds reasonable, and is very well priced.  For many people this will be a sound choice. But I just cannot get over that nut width.  I know it's personal, but it's the claim of 'more space' that I actually don't benefit from that annoys me. I don't personally like 34mm on a soprano, but i've come to realise that is what you get from China at this sort of price. But to throw a concert neck on and bill it as giving me more space without widening the nut is just ludicrous. For me it's just a soprano with a longer neck, but with none of the benefits. OK, you get a few more frets, but how many beginners are going to venture to frets 17 and 18?.  So the score gets dragged down on the fit and finish side of things. It had to.

A real shame as I like a lot else in this ukulele. I wouldn't personally buy one on the nut width alone though. Your mileage may vary of course and this is just one persons opinion - it's not a bad ukulele really! But even if you like a narrow nut - then... why not just buy the soprano? Not for me.

https://kalabrand.com

UKULELE PROS

Typically good Kala build
Nice gloss finish and decoration
Passable enough sound for the money
Keen price

UKULELE CONS

Stupidly large tuner buttons
Lacking volume and sustain
Totally missed the point of making the scale longer. Widen that nut!

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7 out of 10
Sound - 7.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.0 out of 10

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