Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

9 Sep 2018

Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Back from a short break from Got A Ukulele to holiday with my family, and what better way to return to uke reviews than with a truly stellar name in the world of ukuleles. This is the Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor ukulele.

Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor Ukulele


I've featured a few models from Koaloha before, going back to their Pikake Soprano ukulele I bought many yeasrs ago (and since sold and then utterly regretted!) through to their Opio series. This model though is one I have wanted to own since I started out on ukulele, and unlike the Opio's and Koalana's, this is one of their originals, hand made in Honolulu, Hawaii. There's always been a certain 'something' about Koaloha ukuleles for me. Maybe it's the looks, the reputation, that funky headstock, it's probably a mix. One thing is for certain though - the experts rank this tenor model up there with some of the very best tenor ukuleles on the planet. High praise indeed, and as such I thought it was about time I featured one on the reviews pages.

The 00 series of ukuleles in soprano, concert and tenor represent the 'standard' Hawaiian models from Koaloha, and by that I mean they are pretty much standard ukes without any superflouous decoration, fancy wood choices, bindings or inlays. Just a straight up Hawaiian ukulele. This isn't the Pikake version and as such is a gloss finish rather than the slightly cheaper satin version of the same ukulele. And whilst I say they are not 'fancy wood choices', what you are getting here is all solid Hawaiian Koa throughout the body. And a wood like that speaks for itself without any need for decoration in my view!

The KTM-00 tenor comes in a standard double bout shape but still carries a distinctive Koaloha profile. It's subtle, and at first glance it looks totally standard, but the mixture of the straight top shoulders and rather squat lower bout is typically Koaloha in shape. I love it. And it's all solid koa on the two piece bookmatched top, two piece bookmatched flat back and two pieces sides. Being a natural material the wood grains on these can differ quite significantly between examples, but I had a choice of three from the supplier (Southern Ukulele Store) and chose this one based on the looks and distictive stripe in the middle. I think it's stunning.

Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor Ukulele body

The build of the body is superb with beautifully chamfered edges where the top and back meets the sides meaning no need for such fripperies as 'comfort edges'. It's all finished in a hand buffed gloss which I admit to being slightly worried about before purchase. I say that because some years back the glosses on Koaloha Hawaiian ukes were a bit, well, 'industrial' for want of a better phrase... Oh, how they have improved though! OK, it's not a 1000 yard stare cured mirror gloss that Kanile'a do so well, but it's still ultra shiny without looking artificial. It looks hand rubbed and that for me is a good thing and very reminiscent of the finishes on the entry level Kamaka ukuleles (though shinier than those). No complaints from me here.

The bridge is made of rosewood in a fairly standard looking tie bar holding a TUSQ saddle with sloping edges. It's very flat with a swoopy curve up to the saddle slot and also holds a piece of paler wood which I 'think' covers screws holding it in place. It's beautifully finished, if a little boring (can I say that?). I prefer the bridges with the Koaloha name engraved in them myself. Still, that is purely form over function. I am also pleased to see a return to rosewood from Koaloha as in recent months, whilst brands were getting their heads around CITES paperwork, they switched to other woods giving the instruments an odd look in my opinion. I believe the change didn't go down well with buyers and so they switched back on this model. Good call.

Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor Ukulele bridge

The sound hole... oh that sound hole! Funny how such a little detail can make so much difference to looks. This is trademark Koaloha and is called their 'Musubi' shape (named after a spam based snack shaped like a sushi Nori favoured by Hawaiians). Whether it makes a difference to the sound, well, I frankly don't care a  bit. I just love how it looks.

Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor Ukulele sound hole

Construction inside the body is typically Koaloha meaning it is extremely neat and tidy and smells great too! The real key point to body construction with Koaloha is the unibrace system that holds the thing together. Just below the sound hole is a brace that runs under the top, down the sides and across the back in one complete loop. It's made by taking a rectangle of wood in the shape of the cross section of the body, cutting the middle out and putting the ukulele together. It's incredibly strong, light and and means they can get away with no top or back kerfing. You will spy another brace or two inside to put some tension in the top for resonance and strength on the back, but it's mainly this unibrace doing all the work in providing strength to the core ukulele. It's a clever system they have used for years.

The neck is made from CNC machined mahogany with a typical curvy and slanted Koaloha neck heel which I really like. Surprisingly it's made of a couple of pieces with a joint at the heel, which may be down to the extended shape of that joint. I'm not against multiple piece necks, and in fact they are extremely common in other instruments such as guitars and can actually strengthen a neck. I really only mention the construction in reviews in passing and in particular where the joint is ugly and obvious. That's not the case here. It's is finished in the same buffed gloss and has a typically flat Hawaiian profile which is supremely comfortable.  Width wise we have a generous 38 mm at the nut and just over 27mm between G and A strings. Really comfortable.

Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor Ukulele neck

This is then topped with a rosewood fingerboard (see above, another change back for the better), which is bound down the sides with more rosewood. Due to the way it is bound, like many Koalohas it makes the neck wider than the frets themselves - in other words the fret ends don't quite reach the edges of the board. Great for avoiding sharp edges, as it would be next to impossible with this design. You get 20 frets in all, joined at the body at the 15th.  Position dots are provided in Paua shell (an edible sea snail) dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and these are repeated on the side with white dots.

Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the TUSQ nut we have the trademark Koaloha headstock. I said 'ohhhh that soundhole' above, but it's a case of OHHHHHHHHHH!!! THAT HEADSTOCK! It is, without a doubt, my favourite ukulele headstock of all time. Kind of a fancy crown, kind of a pineapple, whatever you want to call it, there is no mistaking it as a Koaloha. It's wonderfully finished like the rest of the ukulele too. Inlaid into this is the Koaloha double K logo in more Paua. I adore this shape... can you tell?

Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor Ukulele headstock

Tuning is provided by Koaloha branded black gears with small buttons, attractively set on angles to match the flare of the headstock shape. They are wonderful quality, and being a tenor I am perfectly happy with gears here. There is also something about that matte black colour that works so well against the Koa.

Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off is a set of fluorocarbon strings with an unwound low G which are not specified. Koaloha previously used their own blend of Worth strings, but I am not sure that is still the case. Still, meh... strings. You also get their 'better than the weather' warranty, which is reported to be great and has seen people owning second hand models getting them fixed or replaced. And for that you are looking at about £1,050 in the UK. Prices have certainly increased for ukuleles at this level, but this still puts this tenor in the same ballpark as models from Kanile'a and Kamaka. It's clearly about right these days I guess, but of course we are also being hit by the exchange rate in the UK.

Build quality is superb throughout, and believe me I have gone over it with a fine toothed comb. About the only issue I could see is the nut height. That isn't to say the height of the slots (the setup on this model is perfect) rather the height of the nut itself either side of the slots. I'm nit picking, but it was something I saw with the Pikake I reviewed so long ago. Maybe it's just a Koaloha 'thing' but I find it looks a bit, well, ugly. Thankfully considering everything else is drop dead gorgeous, what the nut looks like is an incredibly minor point. I will also mention the strings though as I am not a fan, (whatever they are). For me they are too soft on tension and warm on tone for my liking - but as you know, it's just strings. I don't mark anything down for strings unless they have used rubber bands as they are totally personal things. I will be changing them though. This is not a bad thing to mention, and as you recall I disliked the stock strings on Kamaka ukuleles too. It happens, they are easily changed and of course your mileage may vary.

In the hands the KTM-00 feels great, extremely light for a tenor and well balanced. That build quality is just obvious when you pick it up - you know you are playing a very high quality ukulele. They whole thing feels tactile and secure, rather than fragile.

Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor Ukulele back

To play, as you would expect this has tone, sustain and volume to die for. The sustain really does go on and on with this making it a joy for fingerpicking in particular. The sound across the strings is wonderfully balanced meaning all notes come through in the mix clearly and create a harmonic shimmer when strummed together, and, as expected, the intonation is spot on. It's not as woody or earthy a tone as you will get on something like a Kanile'a tenor, but it's not overly bright and snappy either. Very much what a well balanced tenor should sound like. It's a real hoot to play and an absolute pleasure to sit an noodle on with some fingerpicking, whilst that shimmer when strumming makes it huge fun for just bashing out strummed songs. One thing that does set higher end instruments apart from the more mass market models is how good the volume and tone stays as you play up the neck. Often you will run into both intonation issues on cheaper ukes going past the 7th fret and you will often start to lose sustain and volume as the vibrating length of the string is so much shorter, but not here. Notes are just as clear, loud and sustaining right up the neck. It's quite remarkable and the sign of a very good build that allows you to use the absolute full range the instrument has to offer.

This really is a terrific sounding and playing tenor ukulele.

All in all, this is one of those ukuleles that really doesn't need a review from me. There's really nothing much to complain about and it ticks all the boxes exactly how a ukulele should be. Is it the best tenor on the planet? Well, that's impossible to say - I haven't played them all, but one thing is for certain, it's right up there at the top table. Very highly recommended and potentially all the tenor ukulele you would ever need.

http://www.koaloha.com

UKULELE PROS

Stunning looks
Excellent build quality
Sustain and tone to die for
Great volume

UKULELE CONS

Nothing really other than the fact I want a string change
Price is fair, but at a level that rules it out for many in the UK

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 10 out of 10
Fit and finish - 9.5 out of 10
Sound - 9.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9.5 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



WANT TO LEAVE A TIP?




THANKS!

7 comments :

  1. Beautiful uke. So here's the real question: Koaloha or Kanilea for a tenor?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I own both. This edges it for me, but only just

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've just looked in the mirror and I have turned green!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello,
    Koaloha KTM-00 Tenor Ukulele is a nice ukulele. I have known clearly from the description.
    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Koaloha KTM-00 sounds great and it is nice ukulele. Thank you for your article.

    ReplyDelete
  6. What strings are you going to change to?

    ReplyDelete

Please leave me a comment!

Please Help Keep This Site Going!

If you enjoy this blog, donations are welcomed to allow me to invest more time in bringing you ukulele articles. Aside from the Google ads, I don't get paid to write this blog. Call it a labour of love!