Kala LTP-S Learn To Play Ukulele Starter Kit - Soprano - REVIEW

4 Jul 2021

Kala LTP-S Learn To Play Ukulele Starter Kit - Soprano - REVIEW

Back this week with a ukulele from a series I have been meaning to look at for some time, and from one of the most well known brands in the uke world. This is the Kala LTP-S Soprano Ukulele from their Learn To Play series.

Kala LTP-S Soprano Ukulele

The Learn To Play programme introduced by Kala is a combination of a series of basic lessons videos, a Kala app, songs tutorials and a range of ukuleles aimed, presumably at first timers.  This is one of two sopranos in the range, the other being the all black plastic 'colour chord' model with basic chord shames marked on the fretboard, a range of three concerts (all branded, somewhat inexplicably with Elvis Presley images) and a 'Mandy Harvey' (who she?) tenor option. They are all keenly priced and all come with packaging that exclaims that they provide 'EVERYTHING you need to start playing today'.  More on the extras later, but I would say that I find the differences in the range a little confusing and think it would be better if they all 'hung together' as a coherent whole. Why does only one model use the colour chord system? Why, are so many in the concert scale emblazoned with Elvis pictures? To be fair I think there is a regular looking plain wood version in each scale, even if the Kala website doesn't seem to show that, but I still don't see a real theme. Anyway, let's take a closer look.

The LTP-S is a simple looking, traditionally shaped double bout soprano made from laminate mahogany.  It's core construction makes it extremely similar to the Kala KA-S soprano I reviewed and also the KA-15S, albeit without edge binding It's a laminate box with a mahogany outer veneer. Pretty standard stuff.

Kala LTP-S Soprano Ukulele body

The bridge wood isn't specified but looks like it is rosewood. It's a tie bar style and I think that is a mistake for a soprano (on size and space grounds), and particularly on a uke very obviously aimed at beginners. A slot style would have made more sense for first timer string changes. It's tidy enough though and fitted with a straight topped black NuBone saddle. Spacing here is 39mm.

Kala LTP-S Soprano Ukulele bridge

Decoration is limited to a laser etched (ugh) soundhole rosette made up of a circle of triangles. It's something to decorate it I suppose, but a touch scruffy, like laser etching often is. The body is then finished in an open pore satin which is well done everywhere. Kala ukuleles usually are.

Kala LTP-S Soprano Ukulele decor

Inside is very basic but tidy. The braces are tapered though there is no kerfing at all. That tells me the sides are likely quite thick in order to create a viable connection with the top and back.  That thickness continues with the top which is evidently hefty by looking at both the sound hole edge and where the top meets the sides. That doesn't bode well. One of the benefits of laminate over solid wood is strength, so you really don't need the tonewood pieces to be like floorboards..

Kala LTP-S Soprano Ukulele inside

The neck is made of mahogany with joints in the heel and one halfway up the neck. I always mention joints, not because they are a problem (they make no difference to how the instrument plays), but rather how well done / hidden they are. These are utterly hideous and make the neck look like it's made from three different wood types. It tapers to a slightly shallow profile but... oh Kala, when are you going to break away from narrow nuts. This measures a touch under 34mm and just under 27mm G to A. The Kala website has it listed at just under 35mm, but not by my two measurements it isn't.

That is topped with a rosewood fingerboard in decent condition with some shaped tapering at the end where it meets the body. I like the look of the tapering a lot but not the way the edges are painted in a semi gloss black which looks cheap.  It has a very standard 12 frets to the body and these are made of what looks like brass. That's a very old fashioned choice, now largely gone from steel strung instruments as they wear down quicker. It's also probably a cost saver. With nylon strings that won't be an issue of course (unless you go wound), but I do think they look odd for today's tastes and, in my experience, always tarnish to a gunky colour over time (and this one is already starting to). Some traditionalists in stringed instruments suggest brass has a nicer tone, but I always put that in the snake oil box, and even if they are right, I suspect that is more about the tone with steel strings, not a cheap laminate soprano ukulele. One advantage that probably is there is that people with nickel allergies will not have an issue with brass. They are also very slightly sharp on the edges, not helped by the black strip not really being edge binding, rather just thick paint. Outward pearly dots are in the face at the 5th, 7th and 10th and these are repeated with white dots on the side.

Kala LTP-S Soprano Ukulele neck

You can see the start of the tarnishing on the frets below..

Kala LTP-S Soprano Ukulele fret tarnishing


Beyond the black NuBone nut is the usual Kala crown headstock, emblazoned with the Kala logo in a black screen print. Not much more to say here! It's tidy.

Kala LTP-S Soprano Ukulele headstock

The tuners are generic open gears with small black buttons and work just fine. 

Kala LTP-S Soprano Ukulele tuners

Completing the package in that 'everything you need' category are a set of Aquila strings, a tail strap button, a cloth tote bag very much akin to those that come with Waterman's, a clip on tuner and a quick start guide. The bag is hardly protective, but it's something to carry it in I guess. A clip on tuner is something I would consider essential to a new player so fair enough I suppose - this probably is the basics of everything you need. And that can be had for round about £70 (RRP of $84.49, and always shown marked down on their own site, but that's a whole other topic that irritates). That puts it largely on a par with the Kala KA-S and the KA-15S, two similar laminate mahogany sopranos, but they don't come with the bag or tuner. Better value then.

Kala LTP-S Soprano Ukulele back

So overall, it's a fairly well made uke I guess. Certainly simple and plain to look at but I don't have a problem with that. It's light enough at 375g and balances well. Surprisingly for Kala, who are usually pretty decent out of the box, the setup on this example is poor at the saddle with a string height at the 12th of above 3mm. The nut isn't too bad, but the high strings down the neck will cause trouble for beginners avoiding getting their fingers tangled. Even mine did.. Adjustable though, as I say. Still, I personally couldn't get on with the nut width.

The volume here is very good which surprises me with the thick top, but I suspect it is affecting the resonance as the sustain is only average. It works as a uke though and sopranos never have buckets of sustain I guess.

Tone wise I just can't get too excited. It's a funny thing 'time' because ten years ago when I started reviewing I would have said this stood out as a decent enough sounding soprano at the low price.  But that was then, and this is now. Today the tone is easily beaten by all sorts of sopranos out there (Baton Rouge, Flight and the Chinese Kiwayas to name a few). With that to one side this is a nice enough sounding ukulele that works as a uke. There's a peppiness and touch of jangle to the tone and it certainly sounds a good deal nicer than many of the 'Amazon Choice' specials that have flooded the market. Still, it's noticeably 'boxy' with a touch of echo that does plague some cheaper laminate instruments and that lets the strumming down for me.

Fingerpicking edges the strummed tone with a quite nice bell like chime and decent enough clarity. It's just a shame that picking further up than about the 7th gets uncomfortable on account of the string height and by the 10th or 12th the intonation is going off. Will that matter to beginners 'learning to play'? Doubtful. 

Still I have to come back to that opening statement about time passing. No, this is not a terrible ukulele at all, it's just that 10 years ago I would have held this up as something a bit more unique in the market above the absolute dross. And maybe it still does beat the dross, but these days it simply doesn't 'stand out' in it's price point. That's not a criticism of the uke itself, but probably more a criticism of Kala and a lack of innovation in the face of alternatives that have come forward. Heck.. the Flight Travel is about half the price and sounds leagues better (if you don't mind the plastic).

Kala LTP-S Soprano Ukulele extras

Finally, a big part of the Learn To Play ticket is the the app. This is free to download (Android and iOS) though comes with that dreaded moniker of 'Contains In App Purchases'. In fact, on downloading it to my phone it immediately launched into the whole 'Do you want to try this free for a few days!!!' thing, whilst pointing out in small print that full access will start costing you if you don't cancel. And it then reminds me of that EVERY TIME I start the app with a countdown timer for 24 hours where I can get it for a lower price of £2.50 a month (charged yearly in single charge of £30!). Otherwise it's £4.99 a month. Whilst I don't think it's unreasonable to charge for more content I despise this pushy way of going about it. Something about apps that go with the 'if they have this free for a week, they will forget to cancel and then automatically get charged for the year, and maybe even forget in 12 months time and get charged again' get right up my nose.  I know it's commonplace, but it's not a concept I like and, personally, I always ignore such apps that do it. I also don't think that method is right to push on kids who may well be going for this model in order to 'learn' and end up putting charges on their parents accounts (or pestering them to).  Anyway, gripe over.. the app contains a uke tuner (which you don't have to pay for) and a bunch of songs that play along with chord finger placements appearing on the screen as you go. It's all nicely presented and there seems to be a very good range of songs and styles (though you only get 32 of them unless you pay the annual charge to get over a thousand more). I guess you could avoid the payment plan and just use it for the tuner... but then they give you a clip on tuner already, so i'm not sure of the point of that element. Anyway, this review is not about an app, it's about a uke.

All in all it's hard to knock a brand that are going with a 'Learn To Play' concept for new players, and it's nice to see an established brand like Kala do so. The extras here do make it a bit better value than their stock entry level sopranos, so if that was your starting point this is the better choice.  I do find the product line up a bit confusing though and really don't like the pushy nature of the app. Behind all that is a ukulele that doesn't set the world alight and feels a bit long in the tooth when you see things like the nut width. It's hardly a terrible instrument though, just one in a very crowded price point where I think you can easily find something better, possibly for less. I wouldn't urge you not to buy this, but I'd suggest you do see what else is about too. There's a lot of choice out there these days.




UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Kala LTP-S
Scale: Soprano
Body: Laminate mahogany
Bridge: Rosewood, tiebar
Saddle: Black NuBone
Spacing at saddle: 39mm
Finish: Open pore satin
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 12, brass
Nut: NuBone
Nut width: 34mm, 27mm G to A (and only just)
Tuners: Generic open gears
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Strap button, quick start guide, clip on tuner, tote bag.
Weight: 375g
Country of origin: China
Price: Circa £70


UKULELE PROS

Better value than comparable Kala sopranos
Good volume
Nicely finished in most areas
Decent, if cheap, tuners
Quite a chimey picked tone
Extras are welcomed, just wish the app was not so pushy.


UKULELE CONS

Bridge would be better as a slot style
Seriously ugly neck joints
Brass frets, a touch sharp on the edges
Thick laminate
Echoey, boxy tone when strummed
Poor saddle setup


UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 8 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 7 out of 10
Value for money 8.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW




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2 comments :

  1. Having owned several laminate Kala ukuleles including the KA-S, I can say that the company produces a decent quality, reasonably durable laminate instrument for the price. Usually no unfortunate surprises or major disappointments when one opens up a Kala box. But, there are now so many brands and models of decent quality ukuleles out there, either for less money or just a bit more, that look and sound much nicer.

    I dislike packaged outfits like this one because there simply are no free lunches in this world and the cost of those included accessories necessitates cost reductions being made elsewhere, often in the quality and construct of the instrument itself. Speaking only for myself. I'd prefer to buy just the ukulele, then either use a gig bag I already own or get one that I want.

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  2. Very fairly written review. I teach and dislike dumbing down excessively for beginners. I am obviously a fan of getting a bit of real, face-to-face instruction at the beginning. Bad habits unnoticed at the start are hard to change. While I understand the issues of learning to neatly string a Tie-Bar uke, I skirt this when restringing a beginner's uke by using 4 knotted-on pony-size beads to secure the ends. Simple for the beginner to change their own later. (Always invite the owner to observe the first string change! Great confidence builder. "It ain't Rocket Surgery!")

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