It’s not often that I need to look twice at a ukulele to see what wood it is made from. With this newest Kala ukulele’s I did. They are namely made out of bamboo! And not just the body, but from the body, to the bridge, to the fretboard up to the headstock. Completely out of solid bamboo! Now that’s something that can only be applauded. Bamboo is a solid eco-friendly wood choice for a ukulele. Highly renewable and regenerates quickly without being replanted. But how does it perform?
I was provided with a concert version KA-BMB-C for review by Kala which as of writing is listed at $169.99 MSRP. A soprano and tenor version are available as well and listed below. This review is based on an “out of the box” ukulele with no tweaks or adjustments of any kind. All pictures are of the actual ukulele that I’ve received. All views and statements are honest and stem from my experience with the ukulele over several weeks. No form of payment was given in exchange for a positive review.
- Kala KA-BMB-S solid bamboo soprano ($119)
- Kala KA-BMB-C solid bamboo concert ($129)
- Kala KA-BMB-T solid bamboo tenor ($149)
What’s in the box?
The ukulele comes very well packed. Inside the sturdy cardboard box you’ll find a kala branded padded gig bag. The gig bag is definitely a good quality one compared to some others I’ve received for free with a ukulele. Inside the bag is the ukulele protected by a soft sleeve. Strings are loosened for shipping and attached to them are some labels giving more information about the ukulele and used strings.
Let’s get the facts out of the way first. So this is a concert sized ukulele made out of solid bamboo. The neck, fingerboard and headstock are constructed out of bamboo as well. Everything is finished with a smooth satin finish. The headstock is slotted and comes with Aquila Super Nylgut® strings. It has a black Graph Tech NuBone® nut and saddle, and at the bottom a black strap button.
Build quality and looks
To be completely honest, I was a bit skeptical when Kala contacted me saying they wanted me to test a bamboo ukulele. However the moment that I took it out of the bag it felt incredibly premium. So definitely five stars in that department. I’ve always been more fan of a good satin finish than a mediocre glossy finish, so again points for Kala. The matte finish gives it a beautiful natural look which complements the bamboo quite well. You can clearly see the texture of the bamboo and it’s smooth to the touch.
Whether you like bamboo or not, you must admit that it’s quite the looker in all of its bamboo glory. Even the trim on the sides is in bamboo and the fact that all other details such as the saddle, nut, tuners, fret markers and strap button are matte black gives it quite a distinguished look in my opinion. I couldn’t find any rough edges, glue squees-out or finish imperfections on the unit that I’ve received. One seam where the neck is connected to the body had a very small gap of approximately 0.2 mm. I did apply quite some stress on the neck and nothing moved, so I’m sure it’s connected properly.
Setup and playability
While most entry-level ukuleles have issues with strings being too high off the neck (i.e. too high action), I was not expecting it on this one as with its $169.99 MSRP price tag it’s not really “entry-level” anymore but rather “enthousiast-level”. It rose to that promise with a perfectly acceptable action. It could be a tad lower, definitely when you’re playing higher up the fretboard. In this price range however, the setup and playability is near perfect. Tune the ukulele with UkuTuner and you’re good to go! No buzzing anywhere along the fretboard.
I’ve used the KA-BMB-C Bamboo ukulele by Kala for a few weeks now. I’ve also used it in one of the UkuTabs YouTube tutorial videos which you can see below. This brings us straight to how it sounds.
The description for the ukulele says that “bamboo provides a bright tone with great volume, harmonics, projection and sustain“. I can only concur. For a concert sized ukulele it has a nice volume and even when played somewhat hard, you still get a nice tone without sounding too sharp or loosing its tonality. It’s definitely more on the treble side of sound with mahogany being a tad more “warm” sounding. Definitely quite different when compared with koa which has a typical full and warm sound. That’s however completely a personal preference. In its price range it delivers a very decent sound with a clear tone and reasonable volume.
Strings & Tuners
Like all Kala ukuleles, the KA-BMB-C comes from the factory with Aquila Nylgut strings. These strings are widely accepted to be the best-sounding ukulele strings you can get. They produce a warm harp-like sound and will complement the sound of every instrument.
The tuning machines are open back placed on a slotted headstock. They did not need any tightening at all and have proven to be quite accurate. A few retunings were necessary but after the strings were broken in, it stayed perfectly in tune. You can learn more about how to properly tune your ukulele in this article.
Nut & Saddle
Another small tidbit that distances this ukulele from the “entry-level” ukulele market, is the use of a Graph Tech Nubone® nut and saddle instead of a cheaper plastic one. Plastic ones are relatively soft and don’t do a good job in transferring the vibrations of the string to the body. Kala did not cheap out at all and choose for quality.
When I first start to review a ukulele I honestly do not look at the price. This in order to not be biased by it as in “ah it’s $500, so it must be good“. This ukulele was hitting all the right points: it looks good, it’s quite unique in its construction and use of materials, it has a good build quality and above all it sounds more than decent. In my head I was sticking a price of $250 – $300 on this ukulele. So right up there in the mid-range tier of ukuleles. When you then take into account that the MSRP for this ukulele is $169.99 and you can typically get it for $30 cheaper than that, it’s a no brainer.
This ukulele is not only a conversation piece when someone sees it hanging on your wall, but it can live up to the standards of any self respecting ukulele player while still not breaking the bank as well.
You can see the collection of solid bamboo ukuleles over at Kala, although there’s a good possibility there won’t be that many in stock.