Kala NSL-KOA-T Revelator Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

17 Dec 2023

Kala NSL-KOA-T Revelator Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Here's a ukulele I have been hoping to feature (one way or another) for quite some time now. This is the Kala Revelator Tenor Ukulele.

Kala Koa Revelator Tenor Ukulele

That 'one way or another' point is connected to the history of this particular model as whilst this is a Kala review, that's not how this started out. The Revelator instrument was originally designed and built by UK luthier Pete Howlett and was hugely well liked despite the small production run. Sadly I was never able to get my hands on one. Most in the uke world will know that Pete is facing health issues these days leading to scaling back his work and as part of that he came to an agreement with Kala for them to take the Revelator concept on and build them to his specs. And that means to high specs, built in California, USA and not China. Pete himself had described these as a ukulele that 'shouldn't work, but does'. An 'anomaly' I think he called it. I was delighted when the sole UK dealers for these, Southern Ukulele Store, sent this over on loan. Let's get into it!


Actually, despite Pete's comments on his own creation, i've come across quite a few instruments that fit in that 'non-traditional' mould that you think shouldn't work but do. The Revelator is not unique for me in that regard. Pretty much all of the Pete Mai Bonanza output goes in that box, but so do several from Antica Ukuleleria, and the instrument from Caravelle Kitchen I looked at last week. So this sort of construction can and does work, and by that I mean that the Revelators are made with a body that is routed out of a block of wood and then have a solid 'drop top' added to that to create the clamshell rather than your traditional 'top, back and sides'.

The Revelators come with a range of different wood tops, from the cheaper Korina wood models to the more pricey limited edition Mango and Hawaiian Koa versions. This is the latter. The body is a modern shaped double bout affair CNC routed from a solid block (actually two blocks by the look of it) of Honduran Mahogany with a thinner solid koa top dropped on made from two pieces of bookmatched wood. The neck is jointed to the main core of the body in the way I describe in more detail below. It's referred to at the 'Nautilus' style on account of the sound hole in the upper shoulder which I think looks superb. The overall shape is kind of reminiscent of a Les Paul with an almost florentine cutaway on the upper shoulder and I think is pretty damn gorgeous. And like the Bonanza ukes I mentioned above, this is a very shallow instrument front to back with the feel of the Kala travel ukes.  I suspect this is where Pete H suggesting it 'shouldn't work' makes some sense as regular shallow bodied ukes tend to lose some projection, but playing a few of the Bonanza's and the Antica Ukuleleria Galileo shows me that is not the case with these carved out examples. The Koa wood here is clearly top grade (classed as 'Master Grade') with some wonderful grain, stripe and flame though do bear in mind my comments on the finish below. The mahogany is more standard looking, but hardly offensive and has some nice pale stripe to the middle.

Kala Koa Revelator Tenor Ukulele body

The bridge is a delightfully simple ebony pin bridge with carved side wings that takes up a tiny amount of real estate on the top (anyone else think some uke bridges are getting too big?). This is diminutive and finished very smoothly. The pins look to be ebony with mother of pearl tops. The bridge holds a bone saddle with a straight top and the spacing here clocks in at 40mm

Kala Koa Revelator Tenor Ukulele bridge

There is no other decoration on the body to speak of, letting the wood do the work. I will say though that I am not sure the finish, as flawless as it is, is showing of the flame in the wood quite as much as a gloss finish would. This is a UV cured satin and I think mutes the figuring in the wood a little. A minor gripe I guess, but I find it looks a little flat on colour. That's an odd thing for me to say as I regularly shout about my love for simple, oiled instruments. But with Koa like this I wonder if it could be shown off better.

Kala Koa Revelator Tenor Ukulele finish

Inside doesn’t have much to see. There is no kerfing as such on account of the construction and the back also doesn’t need bracing. I’ll come on to what that wiring is a bit further on, but note that there is very little of it - pleasingly!! The top is braced vertically. Inside the sound hole is the Revelator logo laser etched directly into the back wood which looks cool. I will say though, that due to the shallow body and openness of the sound hole (i.e. not behind the strings) you do get a good look at the interior and I find the wood a little rough looking where it has been routed. Of course the finish of the wood inside an instrument is of little importance, but I did immediately notice it. Those seeing the 'sneak peek' pics thinking the top is thick were misled by a strengthening ring around the sound hole. The top is thin! Where the top meets the sides the edges are beautifully chamfered off making this a very pleasing instrument to hold.

Kala Koa Revelator Tenor Ukulele inside

I'm not completely sure how the neck is attached, but it's a single piece joined to the top of the body block with an interesting looking joint at the base that just kind of melds and swoops into the carving of the upper body. Very tidy and very clever. You'd be forgiven for thinking it's all one piece, but it isn't. That's made of mahogany too and tapers down to a fairly round profile with a nut width of 36mm (30mm G to A). That's on the average side but the spacing helps my subjective views on this element.

The fingerboard is made of ebony (Though STOP PRESS - Pete Howlett has been in touch (and he should know!) to say the fingerboard may well be ‘Royal Ebony’ which is actually baked Purpleheart wood) and is in superb even coloured condition. It’s edge bound actually Pete H has advised that the frets are set in slots that don’t reach the edges - so more akin to the Bonanza ‘self binding fingerboard’, in more of the same hiding the ends of the very tidy of the generous 22 frets, joined at the 14th. They are all dressed impeccably with no sharp edges. There are no outward facing markers bar a nautilus shell inlay in mother of pearl at the 7th which I think looks wonderful. Side dots are provided though at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th. A very nice neck indeed.

Kala Koa Revelator Tenor Ukulele neck

The headstock is a simple shaped affair and I am pleased to see Kala didn’t go with their ubiquitous ‘crown’ shape here. It’s faced in more matte ebony which looks wonderful and holds both the Kala logo, inlaid in pearl and an inlay of a Koa leaf in what looks like abalone. That inlay is specific to the limited wood edition Revelator models and you don’t get it on the standard models. That’s a nice touch.

Kala Koa Revelator Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners are sublime Grover open gears in gold with black buttons. Zero complaints here, these are as good as tuners get.

Kala Koa Revelator Tenor Ukulele tuners

And finishing things off are a pre-installed passive piezo pickup (yay!) connected to a jack socket in the base with minimal wiring or controls to detract. I have not been able to determine what the brand is, but I doubt it’s cheap as chips and I’m just happy to see a passive! Normally these come with Worth strings with a wound G and C, but when bought from Southern Ukulele store they have fitted them all with UkeLogic H-SW4-P strings from the USA with a single flat wound G string. No complaints from me here as they are wonderful strings that I think first saw on the Pono master series I looked at. You also get a great quality branded padded gig bag which is a nice touch considering the less usual dimensions of the instrument. And the Koa version comes in with a premium on price as these are £1,999. And that is my first real eyebrow raise in the review, as, (sorry Kala, sorry SUS) - I think that’s expensive. Yes these are premium materials, and yes this is made in the USA and not China, but… it’s still a uke where a significant part of the body is cut by a CNC machine with no gloss finish or much decor. I appreciate that prices are on the up and up, but when I consider what I could get from a Kanile’a or a luthier like Martin Beck for two grand… well… I think that is too much money for what you are getting.

Kala Koa Revelator Tenor Ukulele back

Still, back to the positives as this is a really well made and beautifully finished ukulele with a killer ‘look’ to it that I have totally fallen for. It’s not a heavy instrument either at 690g and balances well. It’s lovely to hold too on account of the slim body. Setup is spot on, but I’d expect that from SUS.

Considering the diminutive body depth the volume here is very good. I’ve played louder instruments, but this is no slouch on that score. It’s the sustain though that is quite remarkable as it goes on and on with a nice harmonic warble to the sound. Just lovely in that regard and means that more expressive play is going to be easy.

The tone is kind of what I’d expect from a Koa top as it has a richness right across the range that really shines. Highs, lows and mids all working together with an extremely clear and un-muddled sound. Strummed this really surprised me as I thought it would be much more of a pickers instrument, but played this way there is a lively jangle that is a delight. The clarity and character to the tone are really helping here, as is the ease of playing it.

Fingerpicking is bell like, clear and the wonderful sustain gives it lots of ‘feel’. Again, there is bags of character here and has richness and clarity which is very much ‘top table’. This is a remarkable sounding instrument. It’s a lovely physical thing to play this way too, particularly sunk back into a sofa as the comfortable body makes it a joy. 

All in all this is a bit of a marvel - the build is superb, the quality of materials are great too in every department. And as for the sound and projection - well it's really quite remarkable. I do think gloss would set the wood off better though, and I have to come back to that price too as despite the premium top wood and hand made elements, this is still a robot cut instrument in a large part of the body (no kerfing, no side bending, very little bracing). When I think of the alternatives at that money something doesn't sit right with me. But hey.. It's not enough to drag it to a poor score though as it's clearly a stellar uke, but... well... you know.

Still very much recommended though! A fabulous uke.


Model: Kala NSL-KOA-T Revelator
Scale: Tenor
Body: Routed Honduran Mahogany Body, Solid Master Grade Koa top
Bridge: Ebony pin bridge
Saddle: Bone
Spacing at saddle: 40mm
Finish: Satin
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 22, 14 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 36mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: Grover
Strings: UkeLogic H-SW4-P with flat wound G
Extras: Passive pickup, gig bag
Weight: 690g
Country of origin: USA
Price: £1,999


Killer overall look
Pretty flawless build and finish
Great neck
Great tuners
Passive pickup (yay!)
Great volume and sustain
Full characterful tone


Think gloss would set the grain off better
Would like a flatter nut profile 


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









  1. Great review. I saw Anarchy in the Ukulele loved this Uke. It would be nice to know how the Korina wood Revelators compares to these special edition Koa models.

  2. Made by a robot? Yes, too expensive. Handmade luthier pricing. I expect it's all solid wood. I'm not fond of special inlays pushing up the price - looks nice but unnecessary. Would like a thinner neck profile but also to see thinner fret wires in general, harking back to the early ukuleles, considering the closer fret spacings up the neck. I'm sure there's some argument against it.
    This ukulele costs even more on conversion to other currencies. Sounds & looks good other than that.

  3. Appalled by the amount of wood wasted in this construction

    1. It depends on what they do with the stuff removed. Pete Mai builds in a similar way but what he removes he composts and also uses in a composting toilet

  4. Not sure if it was your review of the Kala Revelator that Pete Howlett has taken exception too on FB? His main point, I believe, is that criticism of the price (circa £2K) is unreasonable because one should compare it to a top flight, radical, uke, not simpler ones that also use CNC routing as part of the construction.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Not sure what comment you mean but.. my point is that I don’t think this constructions IS radical - seen several that use the same concept before PH got there. It works brilliantly, but it’s not ‘new’.


Please leave me a comment!

Help Support Got A Ukulele

Please Help Keep This Site Going!

If you enjoy this blog, donations are welcomed to allow me to invest more time in bringing you ukulele articles. Aside from the Google ads, I don't get paid to write this blog and for reasons of impartiality a not sponsored by brands or stores. Your donations all go back into the site to allow me to keep bringing you reviews, and in the end the ukuleles acquired are given to local schools and charities.