Kala KA-FMTB-T Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

2 Apr 2023

Kala KA-FMTB-T Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

A return for what is probably THE best known ukulele brand on the planet today, this is the Kala KA-FMTB-T Flamed Maple Tobacco Burst Tenor Ukulele..

Kala KA-FMTB-T Tenor Ukulele

Kala, never one for a short naming convention, have been around pretty much since the start of the current world ukulele boom. They were one of the first brands I recognised (and played) since before Got A Ukulele even started and have been the brains behind some much loved instruments from the cheap (Makala Dolphin) to the pricey (Kala Elite). And, in fact, pretty much all points in-between - their range has been dizzying over the years.

I must say though that of late I found myself getting a touch bored with the Kala offerings and found they were being left in the shade by certain other brands on innovation and price. But then I remember that as well as the generic stuff, they have probably featured each year on the site and usually I find something I liked. For whatever reason (or the reason being i've stopped being lent stuff direct by Kala), they haven't featured as much as their brand visibility should allow in recent months.. So I went and bought this one for review.


And I did so, as many people do, based on 'first looks' because my favourite acoustic guitar is a Gibson J45 in sunburst. The look of that guitar and others like it sprang off the page to me when I saw this on a Kala dealer website so I just hit buy. And no, I didn't get it from a uke specialist store either (though it did come from a genuine Kala dealer, not Amazon), so the core Kala QC is also on test today... Sorry for the long-ish intro - let's get into the uke..

Kala KA-FMTB-T Tenor Ukulele body

The KA-FMTB Tenor is a standard Kala shaped double bout tenor that I think also comes in concert. It's an all laminate ukulele made with laminate flamed maple on the top, back and sides. We'll come onto that look and decor a little later, but as a general observation I personally think this look on small instruments works great. It's a common look on bigger guitars of course, but also on many parlour guitars because the 'old-timey' vintage look works well with instruments that remind people of old boxcar blues type instruments. So yes, it immediately hooked me. Plain spruce it is not.

The bridge is a typical Kala tie bar, unspecified on their site, but I suspect it's stained rosewood. It's nice and dark against the sunburst top and fitted with a straight topped NuBone saddle. All very standard. Spacing here is 41mm.

Kala KA-FMTB-T Tenor Ukulele bridge

But decor is what this instrument is all about. Around the top and back edges is a pale plastic binding strip with a black purfling addition to the top face. It's VERY trad and suits sunbursts very well. Around the sound hole is a simple black and white ring which looks like a transfer. But it's the sunburst that is where the goods are at. It's a finish created by staining the maple very dark brown then buffing out the central section in a fade to reveal the wood grain, which is left slightly stained by the darker stuff. Kala call this 'Tobacco Burst' for obvious reasons. (I 'think' they may make a cherry burst too which is redder around the edges, but I prefer this look myself).  The burst is also done on the back, which is less critical to me, but doesn't offend. It shows you that the top and back are a couple of pieces with a touch of flaming in the maple laminate though nowhere near as much as i've seen on some press photographs or other flamed maple instruments.

Kala KA-FMTB-T Tenor Ukulele decor

The body is then finished in a gloss which, whilst pretty good on the whole arrived with me with one or two questionable parts. First are a couple of blisters where the neck meets the body that are ugly. A couple of divots in top finish are also obvious - not damage in transit - dimples in the final coat. The amount of gloss around the end of the fingerboard and soundhole is also a bit gloopy. It's far from the worst i've seen, but i've equally seen much better for the price too..

Inside is very tidy with neat notched kerfing and thin braces. The top is X braced and I can see no mess. The top is nice and thin for laminate too.

Kala KA-FMTB-T Tenor Ukulele inside

The neck specified as maple and I can't tell where the joints are on account of more sunburst finishing here too. Like the back, I don't object to it, but I don't think it's needed and I'd also prefer the faded colour to match that on the body - it's too yellow here. It gives the effect that the neck has been worn by many years of playing hands I suppose, but that trick fades away when you realise it's all shiny gloss and not satin. It's a very generic Kala neck tapering to a fairly rounded nut profile and of 35mm and 27mm G to A. I DO wish Kala would consider putting their instruments out with slightly wider necks, but I accept that is fully subjective.

Topping that is a rosewood fingerboard with a tonne of colour variation in it. I've said in several reviews lately that I don't reject that sort of thing as it's imperative in days of dwindling resources that we don't throw away woods because they are a touch uneven. HOWEVER... they stained the bridge.. so why not stain the fingerboard to match? They are not paired at all and this irritates me.. That is edge bound to hide the fret ends of which you get 19 joined at the 14th. And in that clever trick I have never worked out, despite being edge bound the frets are close to being sharp... (close to - NOT sharp, but it is very close and you can feel them.). Position dots feature at the standard 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and are paired with side dots.

Kala KA-FMTB-T Tenor Ukulele neck

Beyond the NuBone nut is the usual Kala crown headstock. It's stained and glossed in the darker body colouring and looks great for it - like the cover of a piano keyboard. The Kala logo is screen printed in gloss on the top face.

Kala KA-FMTB-T Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners are intriguing and not like any I have seen before. They are open gears with small black buttons but the metal work has a kind of aged brass look to them. I am sure they are NOT brass (which is soft) but coloured to look that way. I think they totally hook in with the vintage look of the body and suit it down to the ground. Thankfully, they work well too, yet they have been fitted on a wonky angle. Arggghh!

Kala KA-FMTB-T Tenor Ukulele tuners

Finishing it off are a set of D'Addario Titanium strings (interesting - Kala ukes at this price always came with Aquila) a tail strap button and... nothing else. I think this is one of the elements that led me to feel Kala were being left behind by other brands a little. The inclusion of a half decent padded gig bag here would really not be too much to ask and most of their contemporaries offer them. And the price is listed on the Kala site at $209 and in the UK has street prices between £180 and £200 with occasional sales offers going lower. It's not a lot of money I suppose, but bear in mind you can get a solid top  tenor for up to fifty quid less from Kala themselves, but also Uma, aNueNue.. In fact you can get an all solid mahogany Kala tenor for less I think. Where is the cost going? buffing out the sunburst? Hmmmmm.  Bear in mind that I regularly say that I would take 'good laminate' over 'poor solid wood that is solid for the sake of it' every day. Whilst this IS decent thin laminate, those others with solid tops don't fall in the 'poor solid' category for me either. I think this is expensive and you can get more for this money elsewhere.

Kala KA-FMTB-T Tenor Ukulele back

All in all though this is well put together and bar one or two finish issues, is generally well finished too. The look is right up my alley and has a real vintage style to it that I think works well.  The setup out of the box is mixed on this though as whilst the nut is ok, the action at the saddle is way too high and reading over 3mm above the 12th.. That coupled with the 'nearly sharp' frets tells me the base Kala QC needs tightening up.

Volume here is pretty good, but the sustain is only average and wonder if a string change could improve that. Sustain as it is would irritate me as it falls away very quickly.

Tone wise, the Kala site does that thing with laminates that annoys me, and that is to extol the tonal characteristics of maple in the tone. Kala are not alone in doing this, and whilst I won't say that laminates don't differ in sound, I have never been a believer that the tonal properties of say spruce, maple, mahogany really come through in laminate. The maple here is a thin veneer on wood that has been reconstructed and lost all it's grain character in the form of making the laminate. Marketing speak.

And it's not as bright and crisp you'd get with solid maple and more generic on the tone. That said, it's still a pretty sound and is peppy and jangly when played strummed and very 'trad uke' sounding played this way. The lower sustain is lending it less of a tenor character and more towards a smaller uke, even a soprano, but that might suit you. But it works well if not particularly expressive or characterful.

Fingerpicking has a music-box ring to it and again, whilst not having the longest sustain is interesting enough. And despite the high upper fret action the intonation seems fairly well dialled in as is the volume up the neck. Played either way though it's not in the 'generic echoey laminate' class that so many of the Amazon specials can have and has a clear clean tone that decent enough if not spellbinding. All in all the sound is passable.

In summary there is a lot to like here with one or two irritations. I'm still unimpressed with the RRP and would urge you to shop around for discounted prices, but the core uke is still pretty reliable and decent. The overall look is great and it's not totally shabby as a player either.  I'd say it's worth a look if you can find one on sale.



Model: Kala KA-FMTB-T 
Scale: Tenor
Body: Flamed Maple laminate
Bridge: Rosewood tie bar
Saddle: NuBone
Spacing at saddle: 41mm
Finish: Tobacco sunburst gloss
Neck: Maple
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 19, 14 to body
Nut: NuBone
Nut width: 35mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: aged finish open gears
Strings: D'addario Titanium
Extras: Tail strap button
Weight: 705g
Country of origin: China
Price: Circa £200


Superb vintage looks
Good overall build
Love those tuners
Good volume
Clear jangly tone


Odd colour mismatch on fingerboard / bridge
Some minor finish flaws
Would prefer wider, less generic nut
Poor setup
Average sustain


Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 8 out of 10 (at RRP)









  1. Yup, agree with that review ! I bought mainly for looks,as it looks the part for gigging in a group without it costing the earth. I bought from World of Ukes, with it properly set up and for £139 delivered. It plays nicely with a string change to Brown Worths (not keen on Titanium’s) so I’m happy with it - it is a fingerprint magnet though !


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