19 May 2024

Kanile'a KTR-T Master Grade Koa Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

As I hinted in my last ukulele review, this week has seen the arrival of something quite special indeed. This is the Kanile'a KRT-T Master Grade Koa Tenor Ukulele.

Kanile'a KTR-T Tenor Ukulele

I suppose, a bit like the recent Magic Fluke review I have to say something about unconscious bias with this brand too - and that's because I own one and have always said that they are one of my favourite ukulele companies. That said, I think looking back over the several Kanile'a ukulele reviews I have written the instruments really speak for themselves. They are a stellar brand and they don't need me to tell you how good they are. This is part of a brand new 2024 line for Kanile'a which, as you will see as we go through it, draws on several elements that until now were only available on much higher end custom shop offerings.


Back to basics - the brand. Kanile'a is the Hawaiian brand set up by the Souza family in Kaneohe in the 1990's and have established themselves as one of the main 'K brands' in the uke world. As I say, I own one and it was my first 'serious Hawaiian' uke purchase and still play it to this day. Back then the range was quite small, but over the years they have grown and grown now offering a large range from the more affordable to the jaw-dropping customs and platinum style models (without missing out, of course, their far eastern 'Islander' line). This is still very much at the 'premium' end of the scale, yet still better value than some of the customs I refer to above.

This KTR-T Tenor is made from all solid Hawaiian Koa. And this isn't just any old Koa, but this is 'Master Grade Curly Koa' and is simply stunning in every way. With anything natural like this the woods are going to vary in where the curl is found, how much sap wood there is, but this is just right for my tastes. There's a tonne of stripe, curl, flame and shimmer here that changes as you turn it in the ligth. It really is drop dead gorgeous. The first feature they've taken from their upper end models on that features on this one is the 'TRU-Relief' body contour. This is a design element which sees one half of the lower bout taper in a slight wedge to one side to give the strumming / picking arm more comfort in holding the ukulele. It's rather like the wedge contour you see on a Stratocaster and I can tell you that it is mighty comfortable. This is not actually the first of these I have seen as Rob Collins at Tinguitar made a couple with this feature, but it's the first i've seen on Kanile'a. It's a very clever thing which totally changes the internal bracing geometry. I love how you can't see it from the front view, but you certainly can see it and feel it from the side. 

Kanile'a KTR-T Tenor Ukulele body

The bridge is the standard Kanile'a pin bridge made from ebony. It's extremely tidy and has some nice 'swirl' in the ebony colouring. That holds what looks to be a NuBone compensated saddle and the pins look like they are ebony too. Spacing here is 44mm.

Kanile'a KTR-T Tenor Ukulele bridge

Decoration is simple with a black binding edge to the top face and a sound hole rosette made of 'Kirinite' which is a new type of acrylic that is hard like Corian. It's simple decoration, but i'm pleased with that as the wood is the star of the show here - imagine detracting from that! Finishing the body is the famous Kanile'a UV cured gloss which is utterly superb. Honestly, in all the ukuleles I have ever seen Kanile'a do the best glosses and this is like a mirror without being thick or gloopy anywhere.

Kanile'a KTR-T Tenor Ukulele decor

Inside is tidy. You have the latest iteration of the Kanile'a TRU bracing which reduces weight whilst maintaining rigidity and also uses minimal attachment to the soundboard. The lower bout is then braced vertically.  The kerfing is notched and applied in reverse. There is also something called 'TRU Reduction' going on on the underside of the top to reduce weight still further through the etching of honeycomb relief cuts into the top wood itself. I must say, Kanile'a really have always led the way in these developments.

Kanile'a KTR-T Tenor ukulele inside

The neck is made from a single piece of South American mahogany and i'm pleased to see it is finished in Satin. There is  something about the feel of the profile of Kanile'a necks that are just perfect for my tastes, and so it is here with a squashed nut profile and roomy 38mm nut width (30mm G to A). I love these necks.

The fingerboard is made from more ebony which is in great condition all over. It is fitted with 19 frets joined at the 14 which are all dressed impeccably. Diamond motif position markers made from more Kirinite face out at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th and 15th and these are paired with side dots.

Kanile'a KTR-T Tenor Ukulele neck

Beyond the NuBone nut is another 'take' from their top end models in what they call their 'Phoenix' headstock. This is essentially a slot head but one that is extremely skinny from front to back. I adore these as I find one of my dislikes with a lot of slot heads is just how chunky they are to accommodate the tuners. This is faced in more dark glossy wood and holds the regular Kanile'a logo in the top made from more Kirinite.

Kanile'a KTR-T Tenor Ukulele headstock

And because of that thin headstock a different set of tuners are required to fit the reduced space. Here they are using Japanese made Gotoh 'stealth' geared tuners in gun metal black which not only look great but are a delight to use. I've seen some people say they don't like these as they have a bit of 'lag' in the turning before the string moves, but I believe that is actually a result of a locking mechanism they use that stops them moving back so easily. Either way, i've used them before and not had an issue (nor did I with these ones) and find them very stable.

Kanile'a KTR-T Tenor Ukulele tuners

Finishing this off are as set of their own brand fluorocarbon strings with a flat wound low G to avoid 'squeaks'. It also comes with the excellent Kanile'a padded branded bag too. The asking price is not up there with the very top end customs, but it's still extremely serious at £3,499 in the UK. That pricing can vary depending on the wood quality and I know SUS also have one that is 'premium grade' Koa rather than 'Master' which comes in just under the three grand mark, but either way these are very serious prices.  But then value for money is a very subjective thing and there is a lot of 'serious' going on here in both materials, finishing and design innovations. It's too rich for me, but hey.. i'm just the lucky guy who gets to borrow them! The simple fact is - people DO spend this sort of money (and much more) on ukes so I 'get it'.

Kanile'a KTR-T Tenor Ukulele back

So this one is firing on all cylinders so far. If you like good looking wood (and Koa in particular) this is simply spectacular. And Kanile'a don't fail either on their exemplary build and finish quality. In these categories the instrument is just perfect. That weight reduction is noticeable as this is a light weight tenor that is a delight to hold at 605g and is wonderfully balanced too.

Kanile'a KTR-T Tenor Ukulele TRU relief contour

Basics first, and the volume projection and sustain are both extremely good. It's a really lively instrument that needs minimal effort to coax the tone out and is also a delight on the fretting hand. One of those 'it plays itself' type instruments. It's quite remarkable!

You'd expect good koa to have a richness of tone right across the range and this has it in spades with a 'bit of everything' in the voice and bags of character with a slightly woody edge, highs, lows, mids.. the lot. Strummed, it harmonises with itself wonderfully creating a jangle that remains clear and crisp with a shimmer that never turns muddy. Like other Kanile'a instruments I have played the tone can be easily tweaked by changes in your picking or strumming force and angle showing what a responsive instrument this is. 

Fingerpicking too is just sublime - sweet bell like chimes that ring on and on, again with tons of character and an ease of adjusting your tone depending on how you play it. It's quite lovely and I could listen to an instrument like this all day as the breadth of character, interests, light and shade are so compelling. The sound of a 'top table' ukulele.

Kanile'a have always done very well on the Got A Ukulele scores for the simple reason that they are objectively excellent instruments. They've all been 9.3 to 9.5 out of ten, but none have matched that very limited top score i've given to only a tiny handful of instruments. That changes today. This ukulele is utterly sublime and pretty much perfect to my tastes - if you can afford it of course.

I'm in heaven. Anyone want to sell a body part for me?


Model: Kanile'a KTR-T 
Scale: Tenor
Body: All solid master grade curly Hawaiian Koa
Bridge: Ebony, pin bridge
Saddle: NuBone?
Spacing at saddle: 44mm
Finish: UV Gloss
Neck: South American Mahogany
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 19, 14 to body
Nut: NuBone
Nut width: 38mm, 30mm G to A
Tuners: Gotoh Stealth gears
Strings: Kanile'a Fluorocarbon with flat wound low G
Weight: 605g
Extras: Gig bag
Country of origin: USA
Price: £3,499


Utterly sublime looks
Flawless build and finish
Innovative design features
Light weight
Excellent volume and sustain
Extremely responsive to play
Rich, clear tone


Not much, but that price isn't for everyone!


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








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