Kai KTI-700 Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

1 Dec 2019

Kai KTI-700 Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

A first for this brand on Got A Ukulele and one I have been really excited to take a closer look at. This is the Kai KTI-700 Tenor Ukulele.

Kai KTI-700 Tenor Ukulele

That excitement for me comes down to a couple of factors. First, Kai  are now distributed by Stones Music in the UK who kindly loaned me this one. I've reviewed a number of ukuleles in the Stones stable, and one thing i've learned is they have a knack of picking quality brands. Risa, Magic Fluke, Kiwaya, Baton Rouge... need I say more?  I'm usually also encouraged when I see a brand appearing in the true specialist ukulele stores. Whilst I don't always agree with their product lineups, it's a decent gauge that they are on to something that isn't junk. These are carried by both Southern Ukulele Store and World of Ukes. In fact SUS included this Kai in their top 10 'off the shelf' models.  A promising start, but I need to have a closer look

Kai are actually an EU company owned by the Reinhardt musical instrument distributors that also carry the likes of Baton Rouge, Cole Clark and many others. A decent pedigree for sure. The label doesn't say where it is made, but I suspect China on account of the price point. Their ukulele range is quite extensive, starting at the more basic all laminate models, through fancier laminates and up to an all solid acacia offering at the top end. The KTI-700 is not quite top end with a mix of both solid woods and laminates.

Kai KTI-700 Tenor Ukulele body

Its' a standard scaled and shaped double bout tenor ukulele that really is quite the looker. For the 'solid' part of the build we have a solid cedar top. It's a tone wood that I both like the look and sound of and this looks to be decent quality wood. It's in two pieces. For the back and sides we switch to laminate and a choice of a 'showstopper' wood in bocote. It's a chocolatey brown, swirly stripy wood that is just gorgeous. Just scroll down to see what I mean. WOW. The back and sides are also in pairs and nicely book-matched too. The two woods pair together on looks really nicely and create a real head turner. A cracker really!

The bridge is a tie bar style and traditionally styled. It's made of macassar ebony and the dark wood against the coffee coloured cedar looks great. It's really thin and delicate and clearly finished properly. That is fitted with a what looks like a bone saddle which is straigh topped.

Kai KTI-700 Tenor Ukulele bridge

The body comes with one or two other features. First you get a side sound port. They are not something I have a strong opinion on either way, but they don't offend me. The top and back are edge bound in red padauk which looks great and around the sound hole is an abalone ring. My first (and only) gripe in the body really as I prefer matching decoration, but that's just me. The body is then finished in a superb looking mirror finish gloss which really helps set off the colours in the binding and the patterning in the bocote really well. It's beautiful. And of course, with the top being a soft wood like cedar, the gloss is also offering you an important level of protection too. Finally, you also get a tail strap button which is a nice addition for those who worry about drilling.

Kai KTI-700 Tenor Ukulele decoration


Looking inside and it is extremley tidy. We have notched linings, the braces are thin and the top is cross braced. I can't find any mess at all.

Kai KTI-700 Tenor Ukulele inside

The neck is made of nato wood in three pieces with fairly well hidden joints in the normal places.  I would like the nut a bit wider myself on a tenor, coming in at 35/36mm and just under 30mm G to A. That's not unplayable by any stretch, and its helped by the slightly flattened rear profile, but... you know.. that's just me.

Topping that is an ebony freboard which is wonerfuly dark, bound down the sides in more padauk. You get a farily standard 18 frets with 14 the top of the body. Because of the binding, there are no sharp edges at all which adds to comfort. You get outward dot markers at the 5th , 7th, and 10th, with a flower inlay just below where the 12th would be. I don't go in for those myself, but at least it is not too distracting. You also get side dots which gives you the actual 12th too so not too much of an issue.

Kai KTI-700 Tenor Ukulele neck


The headstock is assymetrical in shape and faced with more of the bocote and gloss. The Kai logo sits  at the top inlaid in pearl (the third decoration material here...  sorry to labour the point). Still it looks pretty and reminds me of Pono finishing.

Kai KTI-700 Tenor Ukulele headstock


Tuners are unbranded sealed gears in chrome which, having tested them, don't display the grinding or non-uniform tensions that so many do. These are fine.

Kai KTI-700 Tenor Ukulele tuners

And completeing the pack are a set of unspecificed strings. They have a purple tinge and feel hard, so I am suspecting D'Addario Titaniums, but happy to stand corrected. you also get a very good quality gig bag with strong zips and a neck support. You may be thinking this will come in with a premium price as the appointments here are so good. But you can pick these up in the UK for £199. Wow. Not just a head turner on looks then.

As you will glean from the above, the build here is extremely good. Sure, some of the decor mixes mess with my OCD and I would like the neck a 'touch' wider, but this is really very good. Out of the box setup was excellent (but then I know that Mark at Stones ensures ALL his instruments reach dealers that way). It's also not overly heavy and well balanced too. It feels great.

The first thing that will strike you here is the terrific volume. This really can punch if you want it to. It's superb on that front. And it's not just forward projection of course, the sound port is also directing sound up to you too. Wonderful. Resonance is also excellent and the whole instrument vibrates not only into your chest when playing but in your fretting hand too. A good sign, and of course that translates into decent sustain too. Things are looking good here.

Kai KTI-700 Tenor Ukulele back

The tone itself is somewhat surprising I thought. It's far brighter and crisper than I would expect solid cedar to be, with a real chimey brightness. This is no bad thing, and  those wanting a darker, or woodier sounding instrument might look elsewhere. But it's not all bright to be fair. There is still a depth of tone going on here and you are not felt wanting for more range in the tone. And that crispness delivers positives in other ways of course, providing a very clear and precise tone. Strummed those notes stay clear and harmonise into a very pleasant jangly sound which I am really taken with.

Fingerpicked of course it's very dreamy with notes that will cut through in whatever jam session you are playing in. No, it's not a uber high end complex tone, but then it's not a uber high end insturment. It's a two hundred quid one with part laminate construction. What it does deliver though is a tone that punches well above it's price point. Well above.

To sum up, I can do no better than talk about my playing experience here.  Regular readers will realise that I have a VERY busy schedule with ukuleles, but my policy is to have instruments no less than two weeks before a review to give me time to play them properly. With some, it's a chore and I hate picking them up (but pick them up I must). With this one I have hated putting down! This is not only a very beautiful instrument but one that plays well and sounds great too. And for THAT price. Well... wow..  I can see exactly why the specialist stores recommend them. And I do too. What this brings to mind to me is a Pono or higher end Kala build, but for a LOT less money. And what's not to like about that?  Top notch.

https://www.kai-ukulele.eu
Stones Music

UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Name: Kai KTI-700
Scale: Tenor
Body: Solid cedar top, laminate bocote back and sides
Bridge: Massacar ebony
Saddle: Bone
Decor: Padauk binding, abalone soundhole ring, side port
Neck: Nato
Fingerboard: Massacar ebony
Frets: 18, 14 to the body
Nut: Bone
Nut Width: 36mm (30mm G to A)
Tuners: Sealed chrome gears
Strings: D'Addario Titanium?
Extras: Branded padded gig bag
Price: £200

UKULELE PROS

Beautiful looks and wood contrast
Excellent build and finish
Great volume and sustain
Rich, crisp tone
Terrific price

UKULELE CONS

Not much, would prefer slightly more neck width
Mixed decor elements

UKULELE SCORES

Looks: 9 out of 10
Fit and finish: 8.5 out of 10
Sound: 9 out of 10
Value for money: 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE: 9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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