Kala KA-EBY-T Striped Ebony Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

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4 Nov 2019

Kala KA-EBY-T Striped Ebony Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Making a welcome return to Got A Ukulele this week is the famous Kala brand with their KA-EBY-T Striped Ebony Tenor Ukulele.

Kala KA-EBY-T Ukulele

Yes, Kala - a name I've often recommended, and a brand I consider that you can, by and large, trust with your pennies whether at the high end, low end or indeed many levels in-between. Sure, i've reviewed one or two that missed the mark slightly, but more often than not they are right on the money. As a brand they've been at it long enough to know and I find have the balance of price with quality control just right. This means they have lots of happy customers at all levels and I can see why.

Sitting in the upper end of their lower price points, the EBY-T is another 'pretty' offering from Kala that uses laminate woods with attractive outer veneers to make a statement ukulele. You may have come across the similarly pretty Bocote models, or perhaps the Kala Ziricote Ukulele I reviewed some time ago which was an absolute stunner. Regular readers of mine will know that I have no issue with good laminate and realise for many it's an entirely sensible choice on stability and / or price grounds. I personally find the 'it must be solid wood' brigade to be snobbish and, frankly, misguided. As I always say, I'd take a good laminate over a cheap solid uke every day of the week. And Kala make good laminates.

Kala KA-EBY-T Ukulele body

So this tenor is in a traditional double bout shape, and is made from all laminate wood body faced in Indonesian Ebony.  Striped Ebony in fact as the model name stresses, and it's certainly that. The paired pieces on the top, back and sides, all are superbly stripy in a way that manages to be non-gaudy or generic (I'm looking at you zebrawood...). It's chocolate like in colour and I think looks absolutely wonderful in the way the Ziricote did. I'm not going to say too much about Ebony as a tone wood of course because this is a laminate, but it has been used by a number of brands to great effect for it's looks. You don't tend to see all solid ebony ukuleles as it's a dense and heavy wood, but you do find solid ebony back and sides here and there. An all solid ebony ukulele would work well as a boat anchor, but with this being a laminate, Kala can do the whole instrument that way show off the stunning wood.

The bridge is a tie bar style made of walnut holding a black Graphtech NuBone saddle with a straight top. It's tidy and full marks to Kala for pairing the ebony with a dark saddle, rather than a white one. The bridge plate though looks a little pale against the ebony. I realise that the restrictions on rosewood have pushed them down this route, but they could have stained it a bit darker. Saying that, looking at examples online you find that these vary a fair bit, so maybe I just got unlucky.

Kala KA-EBY-T Ukulele bridge

Decoration is more generic here with pale maple top and back binding with black purfling lines on the top edge. You also get a maple inlay ring around the sound hole. It's not an earth shattering choice of decor, but against the striking body, I think it's just about right and looks classy. More bling would have over-done it. The body is then finished in an open pore satin. I must say, I think a gloss along the lines of the Ziricote model would have set this off far more nicely and made the colours really pop. Saying that, when you see the price of this you realise it costs a fair bit less than the Ziricote, so I suspect this is one of the savings..

Kala KA-EBY-T Ukulele soundhole

Inside is extremely tidy with notched linings, very thin braces and a cross braced top. Always nice to see a very tidy build like this. The top is not super thin but being a tenor with a bigger vibrating area on the top I suspect it won't be affecting resonance too much.

Kala ebony tenor ukulele inside

The neck is made of mahogany and stained dark to blend with the ebony body colour. Due to the staining the construction is well hidden, but there are joints at the heel and headstock. It's nicely finished too and doesn't feel grippy or sticky. The profile is typically far eastern and at the nut we have only an average 34.5mm with 27mm G to A. I've seen sopranos with more space. I really do think that a brand the size of Kala could help to change this 'fashion' by adjusting dimensions here. Grumble grumble..

This is topped with a walnut fingerboard which is in nice condition but also too pale looking against the dark body. In fact it really stands out on this example and looks ugly. You have 18 frets in total, joined at the body at the 14th and they are all dressed well. The edges are bound to hide the ends and there are no sharp frets. It also looks to be slightly rolled on the edges which is very nice. So despite that narrow width, there are some plus points here. Position marker dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and these are thankfully repeated on the side.

Kala KA-EBY-T Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the NuBone nut, we have the typical Kala crown shaped headstock (I DO think it's time they went with a change here), finished with a facing of ebony and a standard Kala logo in a gold screen print. It looks good on the dark ebony, though the dark headstock really does make that pale fingerboard stand out.

Kala KA-EBY-T Ukulele headstock


Tuners are open back chrome gears, very much in the Grover mould, but, obviously, not Grovers when you see the overall price. You can tell however they are not uber cheap tuners as they are not made from cheap, thin, pressed metal. They look decent and come with small black plastic buttons.

Kala KA-EBY-T Ukulele tuners

Completing the package are a set of Aquila strings and that is your lot. One wonders whether, with the tide of instruments via Amazon these days that throw in the kitchen sink with their instruments, whether Kala need to start including a padded gig bag at the very least. And that is available for the extremely reasonable price of around £160 street (RRP about $200). That's a good deal and I admit to doing a double take on the price when I saw it.

Like most Kala builds I see, this is put together extremely well with no flaws in the construction or the finish that I can spot. Yes, as I say, I would have preferred it in gloss, but this doesn't feel too bad. It's not a heavyweight and is nicely balanced too.

Kala KA-EBY-T Ukulele neck


The first positives on play are the volume and sustain. Both are excellent. This is not an instrument you will struggle to make yourself heard with, and the sustain and resonance really vibrates through the whole instrument meaning you can feel it clearly in your fretting hand. Great. The tone is also extremely clear to, with each note sitting in the mix nicely and nothing getting muddy.

The tone surprised me a little as I was expecting something darker. But that thought was coloured by the looks of the instrument, as after all it's a laminate and not a solid ebony uke. But it's a touch on the bright side for my ears, and slightly thin. That's not to say it's a poor tone, far from it, and with that volume and sustain it's a nice sounding instrument, but I just found myself wanting it to be a bit warmer and woodier. That's a feature of laminate I guess, and as laminates go it's a decent sounding one. Perhaps I am expecting too much of a £160 laminate ukulele.

Strummed that clarity of strings and the brighter tone give it a very nice jangle which I rather enjoyed as you can get some really fun rhythmical sounds out of it. It's not hugely characterful, but it works well enough and better than some of the competition. That lack of character though shows up more when I fingerpick it. Again, it's not a disappointing tone, but feels a lot more one dimensional in this department. It kind of needs more going on with the tone when played this way.

Reading that back it sounds like I am down on the instrument and I am really not. I think I am definitely expecting more of it than is reasonable. For most people this will serve very well as a club instrument for group jams and concerts. As a solo uke for recording or solo performing I'd say less so perhaps, but that doesn't make it a bad instrument for the money.


Kala KA-EBY-T Ukulele back


But come on.. That price is great, it looks terrific and sounds like a great laminate uke. Sure, there are one or two design elements I would like to change, but considered as a whole package, this one is a good one. Another great looking, great playing and great value ukulele from the market leaders. Recommended.



https://kalabrand.com/





SPECS ROUNDUP

Scale: Tenor
Body Wood: Laminate ebony
Neck: Mahogany
Bridge: Walnut
Saddle: NuBone
Nut: NuBone
Nut width: 34.5mm (27mm G to A)
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 18, 14 to the body
Tuners: Unbranded open gears
Strings: Aquila
Price: RRP $200

UKULELE PROS

Head turning looks
Typical Kala build and quality control
Nice finish
Tidy fingerboard edges and feel
Good quality tuners
Great volume and sustain
Really clear tone
Very decent street price

UKULELE CONS

Gloss finish would make it 'zing' more
Pale walnut fingerboard and bridge stands out
Tone slightly too thin for my ears
Average nut width
Kala may need to consider added extras in view of competition


UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.5 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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