Kala Novelty Series KA-WTML Watermelon Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

Donate to help keep Got A Ukulele going!

4 Aug 2019

Kala Novelty Series KA-WTML Watermelon Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

It's ukulele review day and back with, perhaps, one of the most well known ukulele brands worldwide. It's been a while, but Kala are back with one of their Novelty Series ukes - The KA-WTML Watermelon Soprano.

Kala Novely Watermelon Soprano Ukulele

Regular readers of Got A Ukulele are probably already donning their tin hats knowing what I think about 'dumbing down' in the ukulele world. They are probably looking at both the series name of this one and the sheer look of it and thinking that I am standing by with a box of matches and a gallon of petrol. I'm honestly not at all as grumpy in real life as people might think, but I do have issues with treating the ukulele like a toy. It's not snobbishness, and I regularly recommend cheap beginner / child friendly ukuleles (despite being called an elitist snob recently). It's just that I still think the ukulele has an image problem as not being serious and it needs helping in that regard. So, yes.. They actually DID choose to call this the 'Novelty Series' and yes it looks like a watermelon. Ugh. It's clearly not for me, but whatever floats your boat.

This is one of a trio of ukuleles from Kala themed around fruit that have actually been around a while, but seem to be on a 're-push'. Why fruit? I have absolutely no idea. This one is decorated like a watermelon, but if that fruit offends you then you could also go for the similarly specced pineapple version or the kiwi. OK, OK, let's put my perceived grumpiness to one side. The designs are  just a bit of fun, and will certainly appeal to kids and perhaps people of all sorts of ages. A piece of fruit is hardly offensive, and whilst I don't quite see the need myself, the looks are, I admit, a touch of brightness in a marketplace that can be samey and perhaps overly serious at times. Yes, I actually said that. On record..

Dare I say it, perhaps a pineapple print on an actual pineapple body shape was enough to hammer the point home, but three different fruits it is, two of which are not actually pineapples... They are all made of what Kala list in their marketing as 'mahogany', but I can assure you they are all mahogany laminate and I do wish Kala would make that clear, particularly when you get a closer look at the laminate as I mention below. Each is decorated as a fruit which makes it impossible for me to tell how many pieces of laminate are in either the top, back or sides of this one. For the watermelon, the top is patterned like the inside of the fruit (seeds and all) in a screen print on the laminate wood as opposed to something individually hand painted. The back and sides are in a dark green with what look like brush strokes of darker green mimicking the skin of the watermelon. The back, indidentally is quite rounded giving it a pleasing curved shape. The top differs from the back in that it is glossed whereas the back and sides are satin. I can't speak for the other fruits in the series, but I rather like the contrast between the two finishes.

Kala Novely Watermelon Soprano Ukulele body

There is no other decoration going on here, and that seems an odd thing to write considering it looks like a damn watermelon. I mean why would you NEED more decoration. But actually it's not so odd a comment as it sounds as the pineapple and kiwi versions of this come with pearloid top binding in complimentary colours to the fruit. The humble watermelon has nothing, and I find that odd considering they are all the same price. Why no binding here?

The bridge is a very standard tie bar made of walnut and housing a Graphtech NuBone saddle. That's a nice material to see... if you get excited about saddles, but otherwise the bridge is completely standard.

Kala Novely Watermelon Soprano Ukulele bridge

Looking inside and it's all very simple. Straight, un-notched kerfing, no back bracing and chunky top bracing. Sadly there is quite a bit of glue going on and the neck block looks like it was sawn off a tree with a hacksaw. Really scruffy. Ho hum. The other thing that really made me shake my head is just how thick that laminate is on the top. We are talking SERIOUSLY thick here. As you can imagine, I see a lot of ukuleles and I can honestly say this is of a thickness that is on a par with those $15 thrift store cheapies that are covered in gloopy paint. I find that really unusual for Kala. Laminate is naturally stronger than solid wood, so there is NO need for it to be this thick. That is going to affect sustain or volume (or both).

Kala Novely Watermelon Soprano Ukulele sound board

Up to the neck, and no, I can't tell how it is constructed because it's covered in dark green paint. It's typically Chinese and overly rounded in profile, and that is not helped by the nut width of 34mm (27m G to A). Very generic, and too narrow for my liking on a soprano.

Topping that is a walnut fingerboard. It's nice enough quality wood and the edges are bound black to hide the frets. Sadly it doesn't help keep those twelve frets  from being sharp on the ends. Not good. You get outward dot markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and these are repeated on the side. Is it just me thinking they missed a trick here in not making them look like watermelon seeds?

Kala Novely Watermelon Soprano Ukulele neck

Beyond the NuBone nut is a simple shaped headstock, faced in more of the green with the swirly back decoration and the Kala logo in a gold screen print. It's inoffensive, but do note that the different fruits come with different headstock shapes. On the pineapple print you get a spiky top and on the kiwi you get a kind of leaf shape. I think the watermelon is the worst of the bunch in this department, but it's hardly a point of complaint other than just looking boring.

Kala Novely Watermelon Soprano Ukulele headstock

Tuners are generic open gears with massively big pearly white plastic buttons. That really surprised me with Kala as they usually go better than this. These are what you'd expect on a Mahalo and they look hideous.

Kala Novely Watermelon Soprano Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off are a set of Aquila strings, and all three of these come in at an RRP of a cent under $150. Yes. You read that right. For a 'novelty' soprano... made of thick laminate. One... Hundred... And.. Fifty... Dollars.  OK, OK, in the scheme of ukuleles it is not a huge sum of money, and the street prices seem to be more like $100 to $120, but still, even that is expensive for a novelty. I will come on  to the price a bit more in my summing up as I think it is highly relevant here.

Back to the positives. Like much else from Kala the build quality is actually quite good here. It might look like a toy and it might be called 'novelty', but I am finding little wrong with the way it is put together save for the scruffy interior, sharp frets and nasty tuners. Build and finish though are good. That doesn't surprise me with Kala - they are ukulele specialists who have been at this game a long time and have excellent QC systems in place for their instruments. I will say this though - it is noticeably heavy for a soprano. Sure, a pineapple is a different deal to a double bout soprano, but this is weighty to me. Hmm.

Sound wise, this is not a completely terrible ukulele to be fair, though it's hardly a big hitter. Volume is not bad, but the sustain is only average, no doubt on account of that thick top. And that 'average' word sums it up really. It's  a generic laminate box sound which is exactly what you would expect considering the build. Setup on this example also needs a bit of work as the A string is not intonating correctly. The build is sound though and quick fettle with the saddle and / or nut would fix this.  Still, it's rather bland sounding and hard to be excited by. Is it offensive? Not at all. Does it work as a musical instrument? Yes it does. Does it have any character to the tone? Well, no, not really. It's generic and average i'm afraid. The pineapple body is definitely broadening out the mids a little so it's not super thin sounding, but it's still just average on tone. But then a lot of entry level ukuleles made of plywood ARE average sounding like this, and they suit a lot of people, particularly new players, down to the ground. They work. My gripe here is that you can get that same sound for a LOT less money that even the discounted asking price.


Kala Novely Watermelon Soprano Ukulele back

All in all I am still quite confused by these. I don't think I have ever really been hard on Kala in a review, but I suppose it had to happen at some point.  I get that it is not meant to be a totally serious ukulele, perhaps aimed at children or just a bit of fun, but underneath that wrapper it is a very generic plywood box with a thick old top.  More concerning for me is that it is a plywood box for an amount of money that, whilst not earth shattering, is frankly loopy for a 'novelty' uke in my view. Strip away the watemelon paint and you can find laminate pineapple ukes for about a third of the RRP. And not just pineapples.  If you are so minded to get a carefree, fun painted and bombproof uke that works well, the Flight Travel ukes have enough decor styles to appeal to anyone, kids or adults alike, and are about a third of this cost. If you are trying to appeal to a child, are you really going to spend $100 plus (or heaven forbid, $150 on one??). This RRP is actually MORE than the 'best in class' laminate Chinese Kiwaya range of sopranos which punch so much higher than any instrument twice the price. Heck, you can even forget other brands - even the Kala KA-P pineapple is well under this price and the Makala Pineapple is even less. Both pineapples, both laminates, both essentially the same build...  Sorry Kala, I really dont get it at all.

Yes, I can see why these may be fun to look at, and I can certainly see the appeal for kids (or adults that haven't grown up), but the price is completely wrong here. Over $100 (or, worse, RRP $150) for a generic sounding plywood box? No thanks Kala. There is MUCH else out there that beats this for less cash.

https://kalabrand.com

SPECS ROUNDUP

Scale: Soprano
Body: Laminate mahogany
Finish: Gloss top, satin back
Neck: Mahogany
Bridge: Walnut
Saddle: NuBone
Fingerboard: Walnut
Nut width: 34mm, 27mm G to A
Frets: 12 to body
Tuners: Unbranded open gears
Strings: Aquila
Price: $150

UKULELE PROS

Fun, if you like that sort of thing
Well built and finished in most departments
Decent enough volume

UKULELE CONS

Expensive for a generic plywood box
Cheap ugly tuners
Sharp fret ends
Heavy
No character to the tone


UKULELE SCORES

Look - 7.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 7.5 out of 10
Value for money - 6 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.3 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




WANT TO LEAVE A DONATION TO HELP KEEP THE SITE GOING?




THANKS!

3 comments :

  1. Well, now....Kala has finally degraded themselves. IT looks and sounds like a d--- toy.
    Why a company that has been treated so well by thousands of customers would stoop to making the uke a toy, I don't understand.
    I dislike pineapple ukes to begin with, the only one I've ever heard that sounded any good was a vintage Kamaka.
    If I was gonna get myself or a kid a goofy uke, I'd get this one, and save over $100.
    https://www.ebay.com/itm/SpongeBob-Squarepants-Pineapple-Ukulele-with-Carry-Bag-Pitch-Pipes-Full-Size-/401712332875
    I've seen one played by a pro, and it sounded really decent.
    I'm keeping my sole Kala uke, but I don't think I'll ever want another one.
    There are two Watermans in our house that belong to an organization I'm involved with, and quite frankly, I think they're junk. But the fulfill a function, and it's not playing music.
    Our bassist owns a KALA u-bass, and it's quite nice, but she said she'd never buy another one, because it has pickup issues, and that unit has been discontinued. UGH.
    Kala, you've really let me down.
    Thanks for this review, Baz!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Barry: "Oh, the same old Martin-style headstock. Yawn."

    [Kala makes the Watermelon]

    Same Barry: "Oh, this headstock is so boring."

    :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep - and I do say I’m the video ‘at least it’s not a three pointer crown’ ... still boring though

      Delete

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. Your donations all go back into the site to allow me to keep bringing you reviews, and in the end the ukuleles acquired are given to local schools and charities.