Kiwaya KTU-1 Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

10 Jul 2021

Kiwaya KTU-1 Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

This week a return to one of my favourite ukulele brands. This is the new Kiwaya KTU-1 Tenor from their Student Series.

Kiwaya KTU-1 Tenor Ukulele

That opening line is there for subjective disclosure. I DO love Kiwaya instruments.. massively. For some time I have both owned and reviewed them, starting with their Japanese models which are frankly astonishing in the quality of build and sound. Then back in 2018 they put out a new 'value' line made in China. Alarm bells initially rang with me, but I need not have worried - the KSU-1L Soprano ukulele I looked at was a total revelation for the money. Sure, not as immaculately finished as the Japanese counterparts, but playability and tone both punched well above the low asking price. Since then I have been itching to see something else from their Chinese line and now I can with this Tenor. Kiwaya have now given a new name to their Chinese production called the 'Student Series' and this KTU-1 forms part of it alongside a new concert and a pineapple.

Kiwaya KTU-1 Tenor Ukulele body

Like the sopranos this is an all laminate instrument, and all laminate mahogany at that. Like all laminates from Kiwaya this is not cheap thick plywood, but rather music grade laminate. That means it's pressed incredibly thin for resonance and you can see that on the soundhole edge. This is the sort of laminate that all other laminate ukes should be judged. It's in a very traditional double bout shape and is extremely simple. It uses two pieces for the top, sides and flat back. This is a value instrument after all, and decor both costs money and adds nothing to the sound.

The bridge is made of walnut and is in a traditional tie bar style. It's extremely tidy and fitted with a straight topped bone saddle. String spacing here is about 41mm.

Kiwaya KTU-1 Tenor Ukulele bridge

As I say there is no other decoration here, and the body is finished in an open pore satin. I like plain instruments so that is fine with me, but what I don't particularly care for here is the colour. The staining before the finish is too on the red scale for me and not so much brown. That's a totally personal thing of course and many will like it. I think it looks a touch artificial though.

Kiwaya KTU-1 Tenor Ukulele sound hole

Inside is impeccably tidy with thin tapered braces, notched kerfing, a tail block and no mess at all.

Kiwaya KTU-1 Tenor Ukulele inside

The neck is made of mahogany in three pieces. It tapers to a nice flattened profile and an extremely comfortable 37mm wide nut with 30mm string spacing. Kiwaya's are always comfortable at this point of the neck and this doesn't buck that trend. 

Topping that is a walnut fingerboard which is nice and dark all over to the point you would think it was rosewood. It's in great condition. Also, very surprisingly for a value instrument line the edges are 'rolled', meaning there is a very slight chamfer to take off any sharp sides to the wood. Remarkable.  It's fitted with 18 nickel silver frets joined at the body at the 14th. They are dressed beautifully. Position dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, a double 12th and the 15th. These are repeated with small dots on the side.

Kiwaya KTU-1 Tenor Ukulele neck

Beyond the very nicely cut bone nut is an attractive slotted headstock which gives the otherwise plain instrument a touch of class. It's faced in a browner wood veneer that I kind of wish coloured the whole instrument. The Kiwaya logo is also claassy, and it's a logo I have always liked. That's a gold screen print. The back of the headstock is the only area I can find on the instrument that has a touch of scruffy finishing. It's not major, but I noticed it.

Kiwaya KTU-1 Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners the usual side mounted rear facing pegs you see on slot heads. They are not branded, but they are extremely nice quality from the look of the gearing. They are finished in all matte black with a brass coloured gear which looks great.

Kiwaya KTU-1 Tenor Ukulele tuners

It comes with Kiwaya's own 'KFC' Fluorocarbon strings (no fried chicken jokes please) and a functional padded gig bag.  Japenese Kiwaya's command a hefty price tag, but this comes in at an entirely reasonable £199.

I'm honestly struggling to find much wrong here. When I first saw the student line soprano there was a touch of scruffiness here and there. Nothing major but I mentioned it. That's largely not the case here and apart from a slight scuff on the back of the headstock, I can find no other issues. Those thin tonewoods mean it's not a heavyweight either at 525g and, naturally, it balances really well. My only gripe is the subjective one - the colour stain.

Kiwaya KTU-1 Tenor Ukulele back

First things first on the play front, the volume here is staggeringly good. That's hardly surprising with a tenor body and a light build. Sustain is really decent too for the same reason. This is a seriously resonant instrument.

Tone wise this plays brighter than I personally like my tenor instruments to sound, though a string change could mix that up. That's not a complaint as such, it's just very zingy. The positive side of that of course is the clarity and edge to the sound that really cuts through a mix. That clarity comes through in spades when strumming and it harmonises with itself nicely too creating that trademark ukulele 'jangle'. You couldn't call it an unappealing tone, I just prefer them a bit woodier and with more bottom end. 

Fingerpicking really shines and is clear, crisp and as pretty as i've heard from a laminate instrument. Bell like, right up the neck. And I must come in again here on the comfort of the neck. I've seen these being called 'wide-necks'... It's not a wide neck. It's how the best tenor necks are sized (in my opinion! - your mileage may vary of course!). Supremely comfortable and that edge rolling really sets it off.

It has been a tricky one for me on the subjective / objective stakes, not least because I adored the KSU soprano version so much and scored it highly. I don't think the value for money here is quite so good, but not enough to adjust the score. Heck i've seen more expensive laminates from the likes of Kala which this beats night and day on tone and playability. I considered adjusting scores here and there in comparision to the soprano, but in the end figured it would just be tinkering. It gets the same in each department. OK, it might be a bit too plain for some, but remember that the cost saving has gone into sound and playability and ultimately they are the things that matter most.  I'd be glad to have this in my collection because it's a damn good uke that punches WELL ABOVE its price on the things that matter. It will also please those who are 'soprano averse' but liked the quality of the original little brother. Very highly recommended and thanks to Stones Music, UK Kiwaya distributor for the loan of this one.


Model: Kiwaya KTU-1
Scale: Tenor
Body: Laminate mahogany
Bridge: Walnut, tie bar
Saddle: Bone
Spacing at saddle: 41mm
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 37mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded black side mounted rear facing gears
Strings: KFC fluorocarbon
Extras: Gig bag
Weight: 525g
Country of origin: China
Price: £199


Terrific light and thin build
Finishing, whilst not up there with Japanese builds, not bad at all
Wonderful neck width and edges
Great tuners
Terrific volume
Tone that belies the laminate - in other words - DECENT laminate
Good value


Too orangey red in colour for my tastes (subjective point)
Tone too bright in tone for my tenor tastes (another subjective point!)
Some may say 'too plain'..


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









  1. I have the concert version and that great as well. Great review as usual Baz.

  2. Recently acquired the Sopranino in this rang, the U-Trip-01. Lovely little fun instrument.

  3. I have just bought one. It's terrific. Fantastic value for money, really well constructed and every key element well executed. Sounds great, everything that Baz says is accurate. Maybe some Worth browns would take the edge out off the brightness but out of the box it's brilliant. If this is what Kiwaya can do for £199 I shudder to think how good their top end stuff is!!!!

  4. Thanks for the review, Baz! Love your passion! I got KTU-1 recently and I agree on most aspects of your review, though I wouldn't score the "fit+finish" with a 9, to be honest. Mine has some finishing issues I wouldn't expect from a 200 buck instrument - the headstock is scruffy "inside", just like you described in the one you reviewed. It actually is missing the varnish, it's the raw wood showing. On the online shop photos one doesn't see it properly, and I thought it is a "mistake", but that is how they all seem to be delivered. At the neck the finsih is "untidy" too, and the soundhole was rather scruffy, I had to "polish" it with some fine sandpaper. All minor gripes which do not effect the sound, but I didn't had those issues with e.g. Uma or AnueAnue instruments that I saw or bought (not even with Islander). The KTU-1 still a decent, easy to play and well sounding and loud(!) tenor - I bought it because I am looking for the "best sounding laminate ukulele" and the KTU-1 is high up on the list - but I think a couple of bucks one pays for the name "Kiwaya" - which would be okay, if the standards for "accuracy in the craftmanship" would keep the promise/expectation.


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