Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

1 Nov 2020

Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Back to one of the most common brands seen in ukulele circles and one I have featured many times before. This is also a long established model in itself. It's the Kala KA-TGE Tenor.

Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele

This is a very traditional looking tenor in the usual Kala style and sits at their more entry level price range. It's actually a few steps up from the absolute base level though it shares largely the same construction of laminate mahogany tone woods in the body. Starting the series is the KA-T which is a satin coated laminate mahogany tenor with binding. Go up a step and you find the KA-TG which is the same instrument only with a gloss finish, and take another step and you get the KA-TGE which is, again, the same instrument as the TG, only comes with a pickup. The core instruments stay the same though. I think they do similar series in some other scales too.

So here you get a double bout instrument in the usual uke shape. There are two pieces of laminate mahogany on the top, sides and completely flat back. As mahogany goes, it's quite attractive with clear striping that shimmers a little in the light. It's a classy, simple look though one that I think has become a bit tired in view of the massive range of options now on the market. I also think the mahogany here is a bit pale and lacking a deep richness in colour which doesn't help. Still, it looks like a ukulele!

Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele body

The bridge is a standard styled tie bar style made from walnut. I realise Kala moved from rosewood to walnut back in the times of CITES restrictions, but with those eased for musical instruments I wish they would now move back. The pale of the walnut here stands out on the body and I think looks ugly and stark. Aside from the colour though I think this style of bridge is also dated in its looks regardless and when you see the more innovative bridge styles from other brands today, I think this now looks old fashioned. The large side wings in particular irritate me too. It's fitted with a straight topped saddle made of NuBone and the spacing here is 40mm which seems a touch narrow for a tenor.

Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele bridge

Decoration comes in the form of cream edge binding to the top and back, complemented by black purfling strips which are done well. Around the sound hole you get a black and white ring which is a transfer under the gloss. I think these go together well with the mahogany and extenuate the traditional look.

Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele decor

The body here is finished in a gloss which really helps to make the stripe in the mahogany stand out and pop.  It's largely well done, but there is a touch of ugly pooling around the end of the fretboard and heel where it has been applied a bit too liberally. Generally speaking though it's pretty good and I am being picky.

Being the 'E' model, this comes with a Kala brand active pickup with side mounted controls for tone, volume (and a tuner) terminating in a jack socket offset in the base. You know that I don't like these and find side controls ugly, but also because they are add much unnecessary wiring nonsense into the signal chain. At least the batteries here a cell style rather than a heavy 9v compartment, but still. But hey, it's an entry level uke and for many I guess it's 'ready to go'. Not for me though. 

Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele EQ

Inside is pretty generic too - regular cross braces and notched linings. Of course you also see the mass of wiring and circuitry that you just don't see with a passive system. Note also the ugly gloop around the jack socket box... Looking at the side of the soundhole, that also seems overly thick.

Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele inside

The neck is made of mahogany with an obvious heel joint and a very ugly one about ⅔ of the way up the neck itself. It too is glossed. Sadly the neck harks back to the original Kala style and is not only overly rounded on the back, but for a tenor has a really disappointing 34mm nut with (27mm G to A). To be fair, this is an older Kala model and perhaps they are moving with the times now people are expressing more concern at stock Chinese nut widths - the Kala Bamboo concert is wider at the nut than this tenor for example. But this is how this arrived to me in 2020 and these are very much still in circulation. As I always say, this is a personal thing for this reviewer, but I KNOW that many of you also care about width. I've got sopranos with much more space on the neck than this.

It's topped with a walnut fingerboard which also looks pale and terminates in an ugly flat end just above the sound hole. It's edge bound with black to hide the fret ends but this too jars against the pale walnut and looks a bit odd, almost like an afterthought. You get 18 frets in total, joined at the 14th and thankfully they are well dressed with nothing sharp that I can feel. Pearly dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and you get the same on the side.

Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele neck

Beyond the NuBone nut is the usual crown shaped Kala headstock, finished in gloss with a gold Kala logo under that on the top face.  Not much more to say here and I think this is looking a bit tired too now.

Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners are generic unbranded chrome gears that work ok I suppose. Not much more to say here either!

Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off are a set of Aquila strings and a strap button in the base, meaning that again Kala are starting to stand out against their competition for providing absolutely nothing in the way of extras. Even a gig bag would be a nice addition surely? And the RRP price for these is rather crazy at £180 (or $270!!!!), but with a street price of more like £160 or about $190. Even at street price, I still think that is expensive compared to a lot of the competition.

Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele back

To be fair - the whole thing IS put together well and aside from a bit of overuse of the gloss and the look of the walnut, I can't find much else wrong here. It feels like a reliable uke. That doesn't wholly surprise me as Kala have been working with Chinese supply lines longer than most and I always find that their QC process is pretty reliable. (For those wondering - this was bought 'blind' from a random non-uke specialist store by me as a spot check, and didn't come from Kala direct). The QC worked here. It's also nice enough to hold, though only reasonably weighted at 735g yet it is well balanced. Again, these are things I find that Kala tend to get right also. (Lose the pickup.. save some weight though!)

To play I have to come back to that nut width first and foremost. For hands like mine it's truly horrible. When I see the age old myth trotted out that sopranos have 'less space than tenors for large hands' THIS is the sort of thing I hold up to bust that falsehood.  It's seriously uncomfortable. Volume is ok, as is sustain, but neither are knocking it out the park and both are distinctly average.

The tone itself is not offensive and in fact has a warmth that I rather liked meaning it's not a shrill sounding instrument. It's not your usual laminate 'boxy' tone and has a bit more going on.  Ignoring the difficulty I had with fretting it's a pleasant sounding instrument for strumming in first positions. You can easily make it bouncy and jangly, and it's not wholly muddy either. Things degrade though as you move up the neck as I found that the volume and sustain just die off far too quickly. This becomes most apparent when playing picked melody lines to the point that I found myself having to really 'dig in' to get it to ring a note. That's a real shame. I don't think it's a setup issue as the nut and saddle are fine to my liking and I doubt very much it's down to the Aquilas. It just has a dead feeling.

Oh.. and there is a buzz.... Ugh.. I am certain that is being caused by one of the many wires associated with the pickup rattling against something inside. Easily rectified I guess, but yet another reason why I don't like active systems. 

Talking of the pickup, I don't demonstrate it in the video because there isn't much to say (bar the fact that the onboard tuner is inaccurate!). It makes the uke louder. That's it. It sounds like a piezo and works, but is not going to blow you away with natural tone. Meh..

Kala KA-TGE Tenor Ukulele tail and jack socket

All in all though, whilst it's a sound enough instrument in construction, I think it's symptomatic of how these more traditional models from Kala have started to look less relevant in the market now we have so much choice. Years back, when the market was limited a beginner would likely look at this and see something really special, something that stood out from the pack, yet today it just leaves me a bit 'meh... so what?' 

It works as a uke I guess, but that price also jars with me now too. It's not massively pricey I suppose, but easy to match for similar or less money where you will also get more in looks and other extras.

Clearly not a total howler, but hard to put up as a solid recommendation in these times of great choice and value. You can easily do better.





UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Kala KA-TGE
Scale: Tenor
Body: Laminate Mahogany
Bridge: Walnut Tie Bar
Saddle: NuBone
Spacing at saddle: 40mm
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: NuBone
Nut Width: 34mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded chrome sealed gears
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Kala Pickup system, single strap button
Weight: 735g
Country of Origin: China
Price: (Street) £160 / $180

UKULELE PROS

Generally well built and finished
Inoffensive looks, if a little dated now
Warm tone


UKULELE CONS

Walnut looks odd especially the bridge
Would avoid the active pickup
Generic looks (see above!)
Volume and sustain die off up the neck
Price is not great
Overly narrow nut width and rounded neck
Buzz from the wiring

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.8 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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