Kahuna Laser Etched Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

19 Apr 2020

Kahuna Laser Etched Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

As Got A Ukulele is a site for buyers of all kinds, it's only right that from time to time I look at ukuleles that are aimed at the younger players out there. And so it is this weekend, with this laser-etched soprano from Kahuna Ukuleles.

kahuna laser etched soprano ukulele

Kahuna are a US based brand under the AP International stable, a New Jersey based distributor of a range of music items including Schaller tuners and Floyd Rose tremolos for electric guitars. The Kahuna range are Chinese made at the lower price end with a big focus on the more 'novelty' and 'youngster friendly' designs. Think 'graphics and cartoon prints' alongside this series of laser etched instruments which include one with flowers, an elephant and a giraffe. This one gets a whale. Regular readers of Got A Ukulele will know that such decorations are not my cup of tea and that I don't like laser etching much at all, but do bear in mind that opening paragraph. These are clearly NOT aimed at somebody like me.  I can still be impartial about it though...

This is a traditionally shaped double bout soprano ukulele made from all laminate woods. My first point of confusion is that Kahana list these as 'all plywood mahogany'. Full marks to Kahuna for using the word 'plywood' and not trying to hide the construction type with misleading terminology, but mahogany on the top? Really? I know you can get very pale mahogany, but I am fairly certain the outer veneer on the top laminate here is spruce or possibly a pale cedar. The tight pale grain in dead straight lines tells me that. Maybe they mean the rest of the plywood is made of mahogany, and that may well be the case, but the top veneer surely isn't. Why not say so? The back and sides are clearly mahogany veneer on the laminate  and the flat back, sides and top are all single pieces.  Before we get on to the decor, I do think that the outer veneers on both the top and back are extremely plain and boring to look at. It's simply not very interesting wood.

kahuna laser etched soprano ukulele body

The bridge is a rosewood slot style holding a straight topped plastic saddle. It's actually very tidily finished, and slots mean easy string changes so a good choice here when it's aimed at beginners and youngsters. The right choice here.

kahuna laser etched soprano ukulele bridge

Aside from the etched decor on the top there is no other decoration, so no edge binding or inlay work. The etching itself is not a style for me as I say, though despite it looking so, it's not actually very deep. It's also not interefering with any part of the top that is structural, such as running under the bridge (I am looking at you Luna!). Even if it was etched too deep though I doubt it would cause a structural issue as the top laminate is seriously thick, and that's not a good thing. But yeah - cartoon style etchings... Ugh.. Some kids and maybe even young at heart adults will love them of course.

The sound hole here is fashioned from the spray motif from the whale's blowhole. Some may suggest that the small holes will impact sound and volume, but that mis-understands what the sound hole does. The sound hole is just an air port that allows air to move in and out of the ukulele when it vibrates. The sound comes from the board, of thich there is lots left here. So long as the holes dont restrict the air flow too much they won't affect the volume much either.  I actually quite like the quirkiness of the holes if I am honest!

kahuna laser etched soprano ukulele decor

The whole of the body is then completed in a simple thin satin coat which is very neatly done in most places. This is not a scruffy ukulele thus far.

Inside is really simple. The braces are  bit chunky and the linings are not notched. It's also a bit scruffy on the gluing if truth be told. I've seen worse though.

Kahuna Soprano Ukulele inside

The neck is made of mahogany from three pieces with a joint at the heel and an ugly obvious joint on the back of the neck. It's finished in more satin. The profile is surprisingly flat for a Chinese ukulele which is a nice thing. Less nice is the 34mm nut width and only 26mm G to A. OK for a child perhaps, but too narrow for me.

It's topped with a rosewood fingerboard with a touch of end shaping.  It's pretty scruffy around the edges though and rather dry looking. This is the first area where the QC is a bit lax. Whilst the fret ends are not bound, they are stained which kind of 'half hides' them. There are no sharp ends either. You get a very 'soprano standard' 12 of them to the body. Pearly dots are fitted facing out at the 5th, 7th and 10th and these are scruffy too with remnants of the glue that seeped when they were fitted having not been removed. Thankfully you get side dots at the same positions.

kahuna laser etched soprano ukulele neck

Up to the headstock and this is very much the Kanile'a shape. Can't anyone be original any more? It's etched with a palm tree and the Kahuna logo, but it's done so lightly it's actually hard to make out in some lights. I am undecided as to whether that is a good or a bad thing!

kahuna laser etched soprano ukulele headstock

The tuners are awful. Brass hardware which looks a bit gunky and corroded in places, cheap pressed metal and ENORMOUS black buttons. Pretty shabby looking and all of different tensions. They work as tuners, as despite the endless myths on line, it's next to impossible for transverse gears to slip unless the gears themselves are sheared. They just look and feel horrible though.

kahuna laser etched soprano ukulele tuners

Finishing it off are a set of Aquila strings and the RRP of these stands at around $73. But they are actually a brand that seem to be on permanent discount at about $50. The UK price is near as dammit parity to that in pounds. So it's certainly cheap enough, but still above some of the real cheap ukes out there. It's pitched more against models like the Kala KA-S in price.

As I say above, aside from some scruffiness on the neck, and the awful tuners, the build, fit and finish here is pretty good in the main departments and I have certainly seen far worse on some at a similar price. The looks are not for me, but I am letting that go in this review as I am clearly not the target market. It's extremely light and very well balanced too making it an easy ukulele to get on with - a likely boon for a young or first time player. The setup though does need some work as both the nut and the saddle are a touch high which coupled with the narrow nut does make for uncomfortable fretting. And remember, these are not available, to the best of my knowledge, from anywhere other than big box shippers, so that means no setup.

Let's get on to how it sounds. First up are the two pleasing elements I didn't expect, the volume and the sustain. The volume here is extremely good for a laminate box with a thick top. It's punchy and has a real bark when strummed with some force. Exactly what you want from a soprano. But it gets better. Whilst sopranos are never the longest sustaining instruments, it's nice for them to not be totally staccato. And this has a bit of sustain too. On both of these points the instrument has really surprised me.

kahuna laser etched soprano ukulele back

The tone is clearly not high end and imparts a certain laminate boxiness, but you know what? I think it's better than just 'average'. It's bright, and whilst hardly shimmery, is a fun and pleasant sound that is very much soprano in character. Sure, I found the one dimensional aspect of the tone more noticeable when fingerpicking it, but strummed it's rhythmical, bouncy and, hey, even enjoyable. In fact I have played sopranos costing a fair bit more than this which have sounded more lifeless. I'm not sure what is going on here, but it's spritely little thing. Mix in that good volume and decent enough sustain and you have a fun, capable little uke.

You know, I like it when things like this cross my path. Of course the looks are not for me, but as I say, it's not aimed at people like me. My 10 year old daughter saw it in my office and said 'I love this'... THAT is who it's aimed at. And it's been pleasing to come across a brand that isn't total junk and doesn't care what kids ACTUALLY learn on - this is decent core instrument. Sure, I have some gripes, such as the tuners and poor setup and that does present me with a worry as to whether I just 'got lucky'. It's also not getting a recommendation for me at the RRP, but at the street price, and assuming you can (or know someone who can) tinker with the setup before giving it to a child, then why not? There is far worse out there. Worth going on your list.

https://www.kahunaukes.com

UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Kahuna Laser Etched Series
Scale: Soprano
Body: Laminate, mahogany back and sides, spruce (?) top
Bridge: Rosewood, slot style
Saddle: Plastic
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 12
Nut: Plastic
Nut width: 34mm, 26mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded brass open gears
Price: RRP $73, Street $52

UKULELE PROS

Generally well built
Nicely body finished
Light and balanced
Tidy bridge
Great volume and good sustain
Bouncy bright sound

UKULELE CONS

Scruffy neck finishing
Decor aside, the wood veneers are extremely dull
Narrow nut
Awful tuners
Needs a setup


UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.1 out of 10

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1 comments :

  1. Thanks for calling it like you see it, and for giving it a fair shake even though it's not your cup of tea. That's why I send shoppers to you for your reviews before they buy.

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