Kala Waterman Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

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24 Feb 2019

Kala Waterman Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

If there is one ukulele in the last few years that has proved to be divisive, it's the Waterman. The plastic soprano released by Kala / Makala a few years back and based on the original Maccaferri plastic ukuleles from the 1950's. We will come on to the division it caused in the start of this review, but what we are here for is to look at the follow up incarnation - the Waterman Concert.

Kala Waterman Concert Ukulele


Ah yes, the Waterman Soprano Ukulele. I reviewed it. And yes, I reviewed it pretty highly. I really quite liked the quirkiness of it, even the sound of it. And then I saw the flood of other peoples views on the same instrument and the large number of reports of high actions, dipping tops and general unplayability. I have always been receptive to those people but explain that I never go back and adjust my reviews from the scores I first gave them. I stand by what I said because, and this may have been a freak in production, the action and playability of my model are really not a problem. Interestingly though, I did come across another Waterman Soprano some years later and, yes... the action was awful like so many others had reported. And a big part of peoples complaints on the action was how it is not adjustable. So it is what it is. So yes, I have to accept that my original score is probably flawed. I can only review what I had in front of me at the time though.

So fast forward to 2017 and Kala released a follow up to the same instrument only this time in Concert scale. And despite a couple of years having passed since launch, it is clear to me that the Concert fanfare has not been anything like that of the launch of the Soprano version. In fact I am hardly seeing these in the UK at all on usual Kala dealer websites. I actually struggled to track this one down so it seems that Kala seem quite relaxed about pushing the marketing on this one. I am not sure why. It also doesn't come in the dizzying array of colours that the soprano version comes with, being offered only in Sea Foam Green (like this one) and Chalkboard Black.

In concert scale, the Waterman looks identical in build to the soprano, merely scaled up in dimensions. That is to say it's a double bout instrument made from a one piece moulded ABS back, sides and back of neck with an ABS plastic top dropped into the chamber. The Sea Foam Green model is matte black on the back portions and the top is a minty pale green also in a matte finish. The Chalkboard black is, unsurprisingly, all matte black! I really like the look of this one to be honest.

Kala Waterman Concert Ukulele body

It's hard to tell if the internal construction differs to the soprano and whether they added more bracing to stop the dipping tops some people reported as a result of string tension, but with the whole thing being bigger I suspect there is a chance it has been. I 'think' the bracing is fanned on the top and moulded into the plastic. The back braces are straight across the back. The soundhole edge also has the same strengthening ring around it as the soprano. What I can report is that the bridge sits on this one more upright and I can't sense any dipping, so perhaps it is stronger.

Kala Waterman Concert Ukulele sound hole

Speaking of the bridge, that too is like the soprano version, made from a single piece of black plastic with an integral saddle ridge. It's a slotted style. Of course that one piece bridge means, like the soprano, that if there IS and action issue it will be very difficult to lower it and next to impossible to raise it.

Kala Waterman Concert Ukulele bridge

Otherwise in the body there is very little else to report other than the fact it seems well put together with no gaps or splits. I must say too that I much prefer the matte finish to the glossy shiny outer on the soprano I looked at, but that comes with a minor qualification which I discuss below.

Moving to the neck, the back of this is an extension of the body piece running all the way up to the back of the headstock. It's a slightly flat but rounded far eastern profile and a comfortable 35mm at the nut.

Topping this is a black plastic fingerboard with integral moulded frets of which you get 18 with 14 to the body joint. Like the soprano these are painted silver and we shall see whether they rub off as quickly as the soprano frets did! Unlike the soprano there is no zero fret meaning intonation is controlled by how the nut is cut. Position dots in silver are provided at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and like the soprano these too are repeated on both sides of the neck, meaning they are there for left handers too.

Kala Waterman Concert Ukulele fingerboard

The headstock is faced in the same green plastic and holds the Kala Waterman logo and paddleboard design in a black screen print. I do like the logo myself. I am not sure at what point Kala dropped the Makala name from these, but they clearly have.

Kala Waterman Concert Ukulele headstock

On the back are a set of open geared tuners in chrome with black buttons. They are generic but work ok, yet once again I question the use of metal tuners here considering these are supposed to be waterproof. Get these wet repeatedly and they WILL rust.  Also on the back is the embossed Kala logo like on the soprano model.

Kala Waterman Concert Ukulele tuners

The deal is finished with Aquila Super Nylgut strings, a quick start guide and a similar drawstring cloth carry bag as with the soprano. For that you are looking at an RRP of around $60 as opposed to the $40 something for the soprano.

In the hands there is something much more pleasing about this one than the little brother. I hesitate to use the term 'more serious', but it just feels more sensible and hefty, and that's not a bad thing. I much prefer the feel of the matte on the hands although it does attract greasy and scuff marks on the back and I can see that the the all black model could end up looking quite messy. They rub off, but then quickly return. Ho hum. You may also note a couple of nicks and flaws in the edges of this one which is annoying considering they come out of a mould and should all be identical. Still, it's nice and light and well balanced.

The setup - unlike the many poor reports of the soprano - is pretty decent. We have a nut which is nice and low, but not too low and about 2.6mm at the 12th fret which is absolutely fine. And like I say, there is no top dipping that I can see so it seems to be stable. Oh, and with a bit of playing, that silver paint is still intact so maybe they did change the recipe.

But there had to be a catch and that's the fact that there is a very odd resonant buzz coming from the inside of the body. I have set up enough ukuleles to know how to rule out the obvious when it comes to buzzes and even wrote this guide on the very subject. I have been over this with a fine toothed comb and can report it is not string buzz, it's not the tuners, it's not the collars on the tuners, it's not a loose or open seam on the top. And it has me foxed. I can't see inside but it sounds to me like a loose brace, but I was convinced the braces are moulded to the top so I am utterly confused. One thing I can tell you is that even if I mute the strings and rap the top with my knuckles I get the rattle too which leads to me to believe something isn't right inside. It's hugely frustrating, and frustrating for the writing of the review too. You see, this is one of those blasted reviews where I will end up with comments from other satisfied owners who say something along the lines of, "I have one, and mine doesn't do that so your review is flawed". I DO GET THAT!! But I can only review what is in front of me.  The fact remains that I cannot hide this in a video review - it's very obvious and I am sure you will hear it. Yes, it may be a one off, but what am I supposed to do? Ignore it? I just can't.

Kala Waterman Concert Ukulele back

It's a real shame because it has a much more pleasing tone than the soprano version, and because the setup and action is good it is also much more enjoyable to play. In fact I will go as far as saying this is one of the nicer plastic ukuleles I have played. If only it didn't rattle..

The tone is more rounded as you will expect from a concert over a soprano. It's still not particularly loud, but it does the job and whilst the sustain is only reasonably good it's still a very playable instrument that impressed me on tone. Fingerpicking is even more satisfying it and shows that it has a nice chime to the sound. Even better, it doesn't tend to buzz quite as much when played that way so I think there is a resonance thing going on with certain combined frequencies causing the rattle. Still, I can't take the fact that 'it doesn't buzz as much when picked' as a positive point. That buzzing has totally ruined it for me, hence the low score in the fit and finish. In all honestly that element of the score should be even lower, but I GET that they are probably not all like this and I know that Kala are usually a reliable brand so I am giving them some rope.  If, however,  I hear more reports that there are others that do this, then the score is far too high!! See my predicament here?

Price wise, it is cheap enough, but on US shores at least is pushing closer to the cost of an Outdoor ukulele - not an instrument I have reviewed, but one that I hear good things about so maybe the value here isn't all that stellar either?

So trying to be as objective as I can, I will say this. The concert version is likely a much better option than the soprano Waterman as I simply cannot ignore the MANY reports I have seen from players of that scale about their actions being useless. I'm just gutted this one has that nasty buzz that I can't hide. So it 'kind of' gets a recommendation from me but on a very strict understanding - that you DO NOT buy one online without playing it first. Without the buzz it would be a cool instrument and far nicer than the Soprano option. I wish I could ignore this flaw, but I hope you will understand why I can't.

Go very carefully..

UKULELE PROS

Good construction all round
More stable silver paint!
Rounded tone with reasonably good sustain
Very nice fingerpicked

UKULELE CONS

This one buzzes... badly!
Matte finish picks up marks easily
Lack of colour choices as with the soprano
Price not as keen as it might be in view of competition

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 4 out of 10
Sound - 8.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.4 out of 10.





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4 comments :

  1. Good to see that at long last the manufacturers have woken up to the idea of side dots needing to be on both sides to account for left-handed playing style. I know several left-handers who would appreciate that fact. Pity it only appears to be on this and a few others at the moment. Of course, for those with plenty of money, they can just get a luthier to make an instrument exactly to their requirements, but the rest of us have budgetary constraints meaning we are reliant on reviews like yours of mass-marketed instruments to guide us. Thank again Baz.

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  2. Thank you for a very honest review. Love ya man!

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  3. Thanks for the review.

    I bought one a month ago and am pretty disappointed with the sound and playability. Mine doesn't buzz but it has a boomy echo sound on one hand and doesn't have much volume on the other. I'll have to see if it fingerpicks any better than strumming. The main problem is, I have better ukes around and this one doesn't call out to be played.

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  4. Your review is spot on,
    I just got one of these about two months ago as a travel uke that I didn't have to fret over when I put it in an overhead compartment, or took it outdoors. I love the size and color (the black looks sharp). I find it's very playable, and everyone that's seen it loves the color.
    However, it's just not very loud. To compare, it's quieter than my roommate's Makala soprano uke. And, at least to my ears, the tone is thin for a uke this size. I've played this ukulele every day since I received it and the paint is already coming off the frets. In fact, I wish they'd just not painted the frets, it's an all black instrument after all.
    As was stated in the video, I think the rule with these is try it before you buy it. And keep in mind that this will be a good ukulele to travel around with, not really one you're buying for the tone or to compete with other instrumentation. Overall not bad for the money if you need a ukulele to fit that role, I just wish it was a little better.

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