Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

14 Jan 2024

Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

Now and again a ukulele series comes along that makes me think 'ooh, that goes beyond the norm for that brand'.. This one did that with me. This is the Kala CT-SMH-TG Tenor from their new Contour Series of ukuleles.

Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series Tenor Ukulele

What am I getting at with that introduction? Well, I have reviewed a LOT of Kala ukuleles over many years of running this website and i've been getting a bit bored if I am honest. When you take out the one-offs like the Revelator and the Elite I have always said in reviews that I have found their models were getting very samey and almost old fashioned. They were one of my first experiences with ukes many years ago and I have gigged with them, but not much seems to have changed in my 15 years. Aside from wood combo changes the core template for Kala ukuleles (body shape, neck and nut, lack of a gig bag) have always remained the same. They are not bad instruments per se, but they all just seem to have been variations on the same theme. Then I spied this new series and came to the conclusion that Kala have started looking outside the 'Kala box' at what else is out there and have made some significant departures. And departures that to me, at first glance, seemed to be positive ones. 

SUMMARY VIDEO REVIEW

The Contour series is a range of all solid instruments (tenors and baritones I believe) that eschew the usual Kala instrument shape of the last near 20 years and move to a more modern, much more rounded double bout that, personally, I really like. Think Flight and aNueNue in shape terms. That may seem to be a small change, but I think it has a big impact on the look and it gets my vote and there are other differences too which pile on the changes. The series comes in a range of wood types affecting the price, but I suppose you could call this the 'entry level' of the Contour series being made from all solid mahogany. And whilst Mahogany never has the striking visual appeal of something like acacia (also in the series), this is far from ugly with an nice deep rich orange brown colour on the two pieces for each face, each with some shimmer.

Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series Tenor Ukulele body

The bridge marks another departure from their usual standard tie bar too and moves to a shallow through bridge made of ebony (I think). I love the oval shape of it and how small and low it is on the top. I think through bridges still confuse people but actually they are easier to use than a tie bar and not much different than a pin bridge (push string into hole, keep pushing until you can fish it out of sound hole, tie big stopper knot or attach bead and pull back - done.) That holds a bone saddle with a compensated top. Spacing here is about 43mm.

Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series Tenor Ukulele bridge

Decoration is sympathetic and not ostentatious. No rhinestone glitzy pearl here (thankfully). This has rosewood edge binding to the top and back with the top binding extending into a wider comfort edge on the lower bout. There's a rosewood tail stripe too where the sides join. Around the soundhole is a wooden inlaid ring in a pattern they call 'eclipse' made from maple and rosewood that has the effect of one covering the other. It's simple but very effective. The body is then glossed in a finish I'm struggling to find issue with. Overall I am very taken with the look of the body here which has a real classy warmth to it whilst having a more modern touch. Sorry to go on so much about the new shape, but I just think this is a great change of gear.

Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series Tenor Ukulele decor

Inside is very tidy with notched linings and thin braces. There is no mess I can see and the lower bout of the top is vertically braced. It's also nice to see that the top wood is extremely thin!

Kala Contour Tenor Ukulele inside


The neck is made from mahogany in three pieces with a nicely hidden headstock joint but more obvious heel joint. The mahogany grain here is nice and interesting and i'm delighted to see that it is finished in satin. It tapers down to a fairly round profile, but in yet another departure for Kala I am so pleased to see a 37.5mm nut width with 30mm string spacing. AT LAST!

The fingerboard is made of ebony and whilst it is in nice condition and even in colour, the QC department had a bit of a tea break on this one as the buffing compound used to finish it has not been properly buffed out leaving noticeable gunk on the board adjacent to the frets which is very visible in certain lights. You'll see that in several of the photos in this review. It's easily fixed with a scrub of fine wire wool, but I shouldn't have to... It's edge bound which hides the fret ends and whilst there is no fret sprout, the dressing is not totally bang on and I can feel them. I'm not saying they are 'cut your hand' sharp, but they could be better.  There are 19 of those joined at the 14th, but I can feel them and that is, simply, wrong. Fret markers face out in attractive oval inlays at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and these are just 'different enough' from the norm to get a nod from me.  They are paired with side dots too. That fretboard is such a shame as things were pretty decent thus far. The neck loses this points slightly for the things i've mentioned, but it's minor. I nearly gave it an 8.5, but reconsidered on the quality of the rest of it, but do bear that in mind when you are deciding where to buy!

Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series Tenor Ukulele neck

Beyond the bone nut is a slotted headstock faced in dark glossed wood which looks tidy. These sort of heads really divide opinion and whilst I don't mind them so much on larger scale instruments, it would be nice to have a regular headstock option on some of the models too I think. Certainly if they decide to offer a concert or smaller in the range i'd urge them to go with a standard head. It has the usual Kala crown top and holds the Kala logo in pearl on the top face.

Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series Tenor Ukulele headstock

The tuners are unbranded open gears in black which are, naturally, side mounted and face back. They look pretty decent and work ok too.

Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series Tenor Ukulele tuners

Finishing things off are a set of Aquila strings (and I do think Kala should have perhaps been a bit braver with a more left field string choice) and..... and.... and....  A GIG BAG! On a regular Kala!!! At last! I regularly say that Kala are well behind the curve on this simple addition and it's nice to see one here. It's pretty decent quality too, not up to par with the Flight red bags, but not far off at all. Pricing is a bit tough for the review as I didn't buy in the UK, but the Kala list is $379 and I 'believe' the UK price will be £349 when they launch here at the end of this month. I don't think that is too bad on whole and is cheaper than several Flight solid tenors. In fact some regular Kala solid tenors will cost you more. It's still not impulse buy pricing, but then it shouldn't be with an all solid wood instrument. I think it's a fair price and it didn't faze me in.

Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series Tenor Ukulele back

So something of a breath of fresh air here! OK there is some QC that worries me on the neck, but I love the modern look of the body, the improvements to my usual niggles and the overall build is good. The core build is also good (as they usually are with Kala) as is the finish. It weighs in at an average 685g and feels substantial but balances just fine. Setup is very good on this example despite that neck QC failing.

Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series Tenor Ukulele comfort edge

We have to play it though. First up, the volume. It's good enough, though not the loudest punchiest instrument I have ever played. That's not to say it's quiet, but more laid back and subdued, rather like a solid mahogany Eastman I reviewed some years back. It's quite contemplative in volume and not in your face. I will say that with all solid tonewoods i'd expect this to 'open up' over time and become more responsive, but out of the box it's more laid back. Sustain is perfectly acceptable though.

Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series Tenor Ukulele eclipse sound hole motif

The tone itself is exactly what I would expect from mahogany - strong through the mids with hints of trebles and bass but certainly a middle ground tone. Some of that bass adds a slight woody edge and some of the trebles chime, but it's a central tone if that makes sense. Quite grown up. Strummed it's extremely mellow yet has a bit of bounce which is pleasant. I really liked picking it, not just on account of the neck comfort, but it has a very clear pretty tone right up the neck that shimmers a little around the mids. In the video I called the tone 'comforting' which is the best I could come up with. Sat in a warm house, log fire going on a very comfortable sofa feet curled up having a strum. It's just very pleasing when I consider it that way. As I say, grown up and I really rather like it. I do wish it was punchier, but maybe string experimentation will help as will the wood opening up over time, but it's not a huge criticism. Just a laid back feel and sound.

All in all I was rather delighted when I saw these. If this represents a turning point for Kala rather than just a one off series, I'd be pleased and I hope they move the rest of their range to a more modern take on the uke. The QC issue with the neck bothers me though I did buy from a big box shipper rather than a specialist. Yet that is not an excuse for Kala - they should have dealt with the easy issue first, but by the time these hit the usual UK specialists, this stuff will be weeded out leaving you with  what is a great looking, well made uke for a fair price that sounds pretty too. And the look brings Kala right up to date in a way I am very glad to see.  If only they introduced these years back!

Available in the US and EU now and in the UK later this month.

Recommended!

https://kalabrand.com/

UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Kala CT-SMH-TG Contour Series
Scale: Tenor
Body: All solid mahogany
Bridge: Ebony through bridge
Saddle: Bone, compensated
Spacing at saddle: 43mm
Finish: Gloss
Neck: Mahogany, satin
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 19, 14 to body
Nut: Bone
Nut width: 37.5mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: unbranded open gears
Strings: Aquila
Extras: Gig bag
Weight: 685g
Country of origin: China (I think?)
Price: £349

UKULELE PROS

Great modern look
Good core build
Classy decoration
Good sustain
Mellow yet clear laid back tone
Yay! A gig bag at last with a Kala!
Fair price

UKULELE CONS

Some QC issues (fingerboard, fret ends)
Sounds a little subdued and needs to open up?

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW


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3 comments :

  1. Thanks for this review. Good news Kala and others are moving to 37.5 mm nut widths. I recently bought a Lanikai Lu-21s which also comes with a wider nut. It makes such a difference.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The ukulele is $379 on the USA site with free shipping. It is 10% off, roughly $341.10 as the site is 10% off for New Years. I don’t know if they ship to the U. K. They have been good to deal with via phone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They may do, but in UK we would then face additional 20% VAT plus customs duty and handling. Suspect the price would end up more than the UK list is going to be

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