Kala KA-BMB-C All Bamboo Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

30 Aug 2020

Kala KA-BMB-C All Bamboo Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

This week it's another ukulele that has taken its time to appear on these shores.  Fresh into the UK this week this is the Kala KA-BMB-C All Bamboo ukulele.

Kala KA-BMB-C Concert Ukulele

Its also been a while since I featured a Kala, so it's nice to have the brand back on Got A Ukulele. As I say, this one has taken an age to arrive as they have been in the USA for a while now. Maybe it was the pandemic that led to delays on new lines coming over, as that was certainly the case with the Fender Fullerton ukes which also took ages to appear. This is part of a trio of bamboo ukuleles that come in soprano, concert and tenor and are the first time (I believe) Kala have used real bamboo.

Using bamboo for a ukulele build is not actually new. Back in about 2010 Kiwaya (I think it was) had the 'Paulele' uke on the market made from the same stuff. Friends of mine in the UK who run the Moselele ukulele club also created their own 'club models' with an initial run made from laminate bamboo and a later iteration that was fully made from bamboo.  There have also been some other laminate bamboo's. So it's nothing new or unique and you wonder what took Kala so long!

(A dull aside first about the construction because I have seen a quite a few debates about these since they were announced. The Kala site lists these as 'solid bamboo' and that seems to have caused some consternation as to whether 'solid' is the right word.  The argument I see is that because of the multiple pieces used, that makes them a laminate. My take: Bamboo is a grass and not a wood. The nature of how bamboo grows and is put into sheets means that it is, naturally, made from lots of thin pieces of material joined together. This can be done in blocks or sheets which, in the case of musical instruments can then be thinned down into tone wood sheets.  For this reason I agree that the term 'solid' may be unhelpful here and perhaps not wise for a grass based uke. But I can also see the method.  Firstly, one of the Moselele ukes I referred to above WAS a laminate - it was a regular ply body faced with a bamboo veneer. That's a clear laminate in my mind.  I don't think that helps us though. This IS made from pure bamboo pieces front to back. The fact they are joined in strips is not the bamboo's fault - just the way it grows! So sure - it's laminated side to side, but I don't think there is misinformation going on here myself. Hey, most solid wood ukes have multiple pieces (albeit two of them) joined on the tops! Yadda yadda.. yawn... Anyway, before you fall asleep let's take a look..)

All three models in the range are all traditional in double bout shapes, cut to the same template as most other Kala ukuleles so very standard and very familiar! This one sits in the Kala 'Exotic Wood' series of ukes alongside things like the Bocote, the Ebony and the Ziricote. They are all laminates, and in many cases more expensive than this one.   The bamboo strips used on the top, back and sides are all about 1 cm wide and sandwiched into the sheets for the tone wood. All the pieces are 'multiples' of course, but the sides are made from two strips of those multiples, bent and joined at the base. The back is very slightly arched.  One thing I am not clear on is whether a ukulele constructed of this material is more resilient than solid wood sheets (i.e. resilient to temperature and humidity).  It's certainly a strong natural fibre (heck, they build house frames out of it in some countries!). I don't know enough about it as tonewood though, so that's a point for your own research!

Kala KA-BMB-C Concert Ukulele body


The bridge material is not specified by Kala specifically, but when you read on and see that literally everything else here is made of bamboo, it turns out that it is. It certainly looks like it. It's fitted with a black Graph Tech NuBone saddle and the screw covers are also black. As you will also note further on in the review the use of black materials is nicely used elsewhere too. It's very tidy and despite the 'wings' common to a lot of Kala ukes and slightly jarring edge,  not too large really I suppose.

Kala KA-BMB-C Concert Ukulele bridge


There is no body decoration on the instrument anywhere else meaning that it must be said that it's a  very plain affair. This may make it a marmite uke on looks for some people, but I personally like the simplicity and lack of ornamentation. In fact it's only the black appointments I have talked about that create any contrast, and whilst I think they do that to great effect, everything else is very plain. I do think that something like a simple sound hole rosette in black would set it off perfectly. I really am nitpicking though.

Inside is traditional and extremely tidy. I can't spy any mess at all. The linings are notched and the braces delicately carved down to thin slivers on the ends. Very good indeed.

Kala KA-BMB-C Concert Ukulele Inside


The body is finished in a very smooth satin that feels great if a little 'factory' if you know what I mean. The only other thing to note on the body is the inclusion of a base strap button in black metal.  Looking at the Kala page and increasing number of their instruments are seeming to come with these as standard now which I consider to be a positive for a couple of reasons. Firstly they irritate purists who like to moan about anything new but also bearing in mind so many people use straps now and are worried about fitting a button. (It's not that difficult!!) it seems sensible. A word again about that finish though. Whilst it feels a bit 'factory' to be fair it really is flawless and feels great in the hands. The top edges also feel slightly chamfered and this helps make the whole body feel really comfortable to hold. Looks and finish wise you would be forgiven for thinking that this is a very expensive instrument. Kala seem to have gone the extra mile here on final finish QC to be fair.

The neck is also made of bamboo which you can see in the grain. It has a carefully hidden joint at the headstock and an excessive two joints at the heel. Whether that is something to do with how bamboo saws I am not sure but they are obvious. It too is finished in satin and feels really nice in the hands. At the nut it is a typically far eastern rounded profile, but not TOO broom handle. The nut is an average 35mm and 28mm G to A. Comfortable enough for a concert for my hands, though I would like it either a bit wider or a bit flatter.

The fingerboard is made of bamboo (but of course!!) and both looks and feels nice if a little 'different'.  It has 18 frets joined at the 14th and the frets are dressed though I must say they are 'just on the edge'. There are no sharp edges I can feel but it's very close! There is no edge binding either.  Position dots in jet black face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and you also get those on the sides.

Kala KA-BMB-C Concert Ukulele neck


Beyond the black NuBone nut is a slothead headstock. Unusually, Kala have put this style on all the available scales including the soprano. I find them a little out of place on a sop myself, but think it looks great here.  At the top edge we have the Kala logo screen printed in black and I do find the whole thing very pleasing to look at.

Kala KA-BMB-C Concert Ukulele headstock


The tuners are unbranded open gears, side mounted and also all in black. The buttons are vintage shaped and they look the part and finally tie up that black on pale look that is going on throughout. Looking at them more closely, the metalwork is not bargain basement, but I did sense a touch of 'play' in one of them. Not horrific though.

Kala KA-BMB-C Concert Ukulele tuners


You get nothing else as standard (something that Kala may be falling behind against their competition to be honest - a bag at least seems standard now at this level) bar as set of Aquila strings. Saying that, you have to consider the price and the reliability of the name. These have hit the UK streets at a price between £120 at Southern Ukulele Store (where this came from and the best I have seen) up to about £140 at other dealers. At either end of that scale I do think that's very good value for what is a very nicely presented, ostensibly solid ukulele. It's also quite a bit cheaper than many of its laminate 'exotic wood' stablemates. For my non UK readers, the Kala RRP seems to be $170 and they themselves, oddly, have them discounted on their own site to $140 (which make you wonder how their own US dealers compete...) Dollar to pound parity would explain the upper UK price you will find.  Anyway, without getting bogged down in that whole transatlantic pricing vipers nest..  ( © Alan Partridge ) - I think it's a very good price...

Kala KA-BMB-C Concert Ukulele strap button


Remember that in all of that description I have not found a flaw bar the somewhat plain look. It's nice to touch on the hands, is light and also very well balanced. I do find the neck a little uncomfortable for my tastes though. I've felt much worse, but I have to mention it. Purely subjective of course. I can live with chunky if the nut is wider and vice versa.

I have no complaints with the volume or sustain here which are both good. Sure, I've felt more resonance in instruments, but this is really not bad at all.

The tone surprised me, but then, to be honest I have not played a lot of bamboo instruments and its been a while since the last so I can't quite remember what I was expecting. There is a real zingy brightness here, but a tone that is, thankfully balanced out a touch by some mids which veer it into 'almost but not quite' rich sounding. You will hear for yourself on the video where I am sure you will sense the snappy brightness. To be fair, that goes down great guns with me when it is strummed as it creates a peppy, bouncy sound which is a lot of fun and very pretty. There is real clarity to the individual strings too and it does not seem to lose it's footing. Fingerpicking is a touch too bright for my tastes, but you could hardly call it offensive. Saying that, when making the video I started to notice some more mids coming in to round it off, so perhaps my views would change with more time spent. Many people like the snappy bright sound and will love it of course. Overall though I am being very picky here because I think it's an enjoyable sound all round and one, for my ears at least, beats the Kala 'Exotic Wood' stablemates which are not only real laminates, but are also a fair bit more pricey. There's great value here.

Kala KA-BMB-C Concert Ukulele back


All in all I had to give myself a sense check when coming to work out some scores for this one because it IS 'just' a cheaper Kala. Yet it really is impeccably well put together and despite the plain looks has a certain clean charm that will provide you a point of difference at your uke club. The sound itself is extremely clean and has a touch more breadth of tone than I had imagined it would (for those still adamant it's a laminate, it has far more character than many laminates will give you). Sure, the neck is not wholly for me (though that is personal) and I would prefer a slightly darker tone, but it really is rather pleasant.  Most of all though the asking price if you shop around and get the best deal is a total no brainer for me. I think this is remarkably good value for what you are getting. Really not a whole lot to dislike here to be honest.  Got A Ukulele recommended!

https://kalabrand.com

UKULELE SPECS ROUND UP

Model: Kala KA-BMB-C
Scale: Concert
Body: All solid pieces of bamboo
Bridge: Bamboo, tie bar
Saddle: Black NuBone
Neck: Bamboo
Fingerboard: Bamboo
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: Black NuBone
Nut width: 35mm, 28mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded side mounted black gears
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Base strap button
Weight: 560g
Country of Origin: China
Price: RRP £140

UKULELE PROS

Excellent build and finish
Tactile edges and satin coat
Light and balanced
Like the black appointments
Surprisingly clear tone
Good volume and sustain
Great price

UKULELE CONS

Possibly plain for some?
Maybe needs more decor?
Tuners a little generic
Would prefer slightly wider nut or flatter profile

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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5 comments :

  1. Nice review and an interesting ukulele, but probably not for me.

    Speaking of Kala marketing practices, their discounting direct sales has resulted in at least one U.S. retailer (Mim's Ukes) dropping the Kala line. She just couldn't compete with the manufacturer undercutting her prices.

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    Replies
    1. Does seem a bit odd, as you'd have thought Kala would have wanted to keep retailers (where many people get their ukes from) on side. Okay, they haven't got the overheads on their own website that the retailers have, but, if someone has gone to the Kala website, they're most likely to buy a Kala, so there isn't the direct competition. But, even then, I would say it was worth getting an instrument through a retailer for the setup, aftercare, and, quite often, the deal you can negotiate (getting a gigbag or tuner thrown in is a good thing to ask for).

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  2. Yesterday (8/29/2020) I got to try a soprano, concert, and tenor of these Kala ukes at a local music shop. I was excited, as I had my eyes on them, but I didn't enjoy the sound, I found them somewhat muted. I was such a bummer as they were having a sale, they these are rather inexpensive.

    I have a bamboo uke by Cordoba (they made it for a very short period of time) and it, in my opinion, sounds clearer and brighter than the Kalas.

    But everybody's taste is different.

    Thanks for the thorough review.

    Eugenio

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  3. It's interesting about whether these instruments can be described as "solid" bamboo. Clearly, as with many instruments, the body back and sides are not one (or even two) pieces but multiple sections glued together. But there's definitely no lamination in the normal sense of the word. Does it matter? I don't think so. I've just bought an Aklot all bamboo bass ukulele and the look, build, finish and, indeed, sound is great (and the price was eye-wateringly cheap!). I had never seen a bamboo ukulele before and I really think it's a winner - and ecologically sound from a wood preservation perspective. I'm not in the market for a new concert (or any other really) but I like a brighter sound (my go-to has a solid spruce top). If the Kala looks and feels anything like my Aklot bass then I think the sound would suit me just fine - and a great price point too. Good review, thanks Baz.

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