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Thread: Review: Kala SLNG longneck soprano

  1. #1
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    Default Review: Kala SLNG longneck soprano

    NUD... a few days ago! My first uke review contribution here, but before that, I want to go over my purchase experience, as a mini seller review. If you're only interested in the uke, scroll down!

    === Background ===

    I go to this uke group class every other week to play with others. The group plays low-G. I have been using a concert scale Fluke that I got second hand, and while it is great for taking around, the action is a bit high up the neck on this older Fluke. I have two other all-solid ukes, but the Canadian weather is sometimes too much even for me; I wouldn't subject an all-solid instrument to that kind of exposure. Recently one person in our uke class had a crack on the back of her K-brand uke! And so I was on a quest for a take-anywhere laminate or solid-top.

    === The Seller ===

    I used to own several laminates, bought locally, and they all had uncomfortable action, sharp fret ends or other issues. On the other hand, my two all-solids came from HMS with perfect setup. We happened to have a business trip to the US, so I could bring back a uke and avoid all the CITES complications with import/export. But I needed a seller who would work with my schedule: the uke had to arrive at our hotel within a tight window of a few days.

    I had been eyeing the Romero Creations Tiny Tenor or ST Concert solid spruce top with laminate back and sides. I sent HMS an inquiry... no replies I sent Eldery an inquiry; I won't go into details but the communication did not leave positive impressions on me. I also messaged Mim, who does not carry Romero Creations, but she replied very quickly advising when I should place the order for my desired delivery date, and offered to keep a uke on hold for me until then. Winner! While I still harbored thoughts about a Romero Creations, I was willing to shelve them and pick from what Mim had.

    I combed Mim's Reverb store looking at concerts and tenors, and was this close to picking an Ohana spruce top, when the Kala SLNG popped under my radar. I already have concert and tenor, so the addition of this longneck soprano would make a pretty family portrait. I also did a ton of research, thanks to other SLNG owners on this forum, and the uke seems positively reviewed.

    The order process with Mim was painless and smooth. She put the uke on hold for me for a month. I ordered it a few days before my trip, she shipped it the next day and the uke arrived on the exact date I asked for. Impeccable timing! Thanks, Mim!

    === The Uke ===

    First impression: pretty! The gloss finish highlights the beautiful wood grain and makes the instrument appear more expensive than it really is (to me, since all the cheap ukes I used to have were satin/matte). I also like the new walnut fretboard, brought to you by CITES restrictions. The lighter color is a nice contrast against the mahogany, and is eye-catching because it's different from the old option of darker rosewood fretboard.

    Second impression: a surprise about the neck. Having owned Kala entry-level soprano, concert and tenor, I expected the typical Kala thinner neck. This one is a bit chunkier, almost like my Pono concert. This is not a complaint, since I don't have a preference either way. Just pointing it out, in case it is a dealbreaker for others.

    Another design change I noticed is the missing arched back that was favorably mentioned in several reviews on this forum. I guess it is no longer affordable for Kala to maintain this feature at this price point. A bit of a bummer for me, as I was looking forward to my first arched back. If you have the older version of this uke with the arched back, lucky you!

    Playability is great, unsurprisingly as it was set up by Mim. The action is about 2.5mm at the twelfth fret, no sharp fret ends, no cosmetic flaws that I can discern. The sound with stock Aquila strings was, unfortunately, disappointing. On this uke, the strings sound boomy on the low notes and muddy on the high notes. (Disclaimer: I am not a string snob, and I like Aquila on my Fluke.)

    At the earliest opportunity, I swapped out the Aquila for Worth CM. I tried a new stringing method that I came across, tying the string around a bead instead of the bridge. It is easier, and I quite like the look. The strings are still settling in, but I am much happier. The high notes are clear and bell-like, the sound I was hoping for from a soprano body. Sustain is surprisingly great; I somewhat accidentally did a pull-off and was suprised it worked, loud and clear. Pull-offs and hammer-ons don't work well for me on my old Fluke, now I am pleased to have the option on my Kala. There are a couple of frets up the neck where the sustain is slightly diminished, but it is acceptable considering the price point.

    Low notes with new Worth strings sound great and warm but only from C up -- that's right, I put low G on this soprano. Before anyone cringes, I plan to take this soprano to a low-G uke group, so I have no choice. The notes below C are ok, not bad, but not a deep resonating bassy sound. I am using unwound Worth CM low G, and at some point will try higher tension Worth, or a wound string as recommended by other Kala SLNG owners on this forum. But the good news is the thicker unwound low G fit into the nut and bridge slots without modifications -- the nut certainly looked as though it would not fit.

    === The Verdict ===

    Excellent value as a beginner's uke or a take-anywhere beater. Personally I prefer this Kala SLNG to the Kala KA-S and KA-15C that I owned when I first started playing. The small size is convenient for travel or lugging around the house; I leave mine on the sofa or random surfaces to play any time. Build quality is great, but get it from a seller who offers setup - Mim is highly recommended. Upgrade to the solid spruce top Kala SSLNG might be a good option if the uke won't be exposed to extreme weather conditions.

    My hope with this long review is to help others who are considering the same uke, as this forum has helped me in my research.

    *Update: I swapped out the unwound low G string and put on Oasis bright low G; the tension is much better with the wound string. Now that I've played with it a bit more, the sound from this soprano is warm, much warmer than what I can remember of the Kala KA-S. The SLNG seems to have a more substantial voice. The KA-S was more plinky, producing a happier tone for strumming; the SLNG has a relatively darker, moodier sound (perhaps partly due to the concert scale) especially when strung low G.
    Last edited by jzzlvr; 04-15-2018 at 06:30 AM. Reason: Update

  2. #2
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  3. #3
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    Great little ukes!

    I bought mine late 2015, it doesn't have an arched back either, (I didn't know the SLNG had one), mine has the rosewood fretboard, but that one looks nice too.
    Trying to do justice to various musical instruments.

  4. #4
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    I remember reading your posts on your Kala, Keith. Your positive comments were one of the reasons I went with this one

    Rosewood fretboard is nice too (and I've read opinions that it's more durable than walnut), but like the arched back it is now a thing of the past.

    I found an old image from Kala site that had arched back in the specs. It also had black tuner pegs then. https://i.pinimg.com/originals/91/43...4c17189b61.jpg

  5. #5
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    I used to have a KA-SLNG and at one time played nothing else. With the SLNG being not that much bigger than a standard Soprano it was easy to take anywhere and the Concert scale was easier on my fingers (than a Soprano) at that time too. It had a flat back and that seemed fine enough - well it wasn’t a quiet Uke. At a squeeze it would fit my Soprano Gig Bag but that arrangement wasn’t really good enough so I had to use a hold-all type bag instead. Over time my tastes changed and I found myself playing something else in preference hence the SLNG was sold.

    There are various videos on the net of the SLNG being played and they do, in the right hands, sound really good - after a good setup mine had virtually perfect intonation. They also look very nice too though I discovered that I don’t like gloss finishes all that much (I find they show even faint marks too easily) and much prefer matt. The stock Aquila’s were OK as I recall and I later fitted Martins which were an improvement but surprisingly they still didn’t hit the spot for me on this Uke.

    Putting the low g on it seems good to me. I do like Sopranos, and have a much loved and played Pineappple (KA-P), but in the end I found the SLNG had excessive treble for my tastes and it was simplest just to sell it and move on. The SLNG may well serve you very well, it ended up not being right for me at this time but I anticipate that yours will give you years of pleasure.
    Last edited by Graham Greenbag; 04-14-2018 at 10:56 AM.

  6. #6
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    Thanks for sharing your experience, Graham. This uke is very new to me, and I'm still getting used to/exploring its voice. My plan is to use it as a travel uke, and it seems very suitable for the purpose.

    I am surprised about the Aquila myself. They worked fine on my other ukes that came with them, though I prefer fluorocarbon and recently nylon. Maybe these are of a different formulation, or a bad set, or just not right for this particular uke? Mim also told me she wasn't a fan of Aquila on this one.

    Videos... Yes! The HMS demo by Corey is a delight to watch. I get the feeling he really enjoyed playing it, because we get 3 songs in a single video. You probably have seen it, but here it is again for fun.
    https://vimeo.com/116966821

  7. #7
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    Well that was fast... The Worth low G didn't last 24 hours The tension wasn't quite there for me and it sounded decidedly different compared to the other strings. I just replaced it with Oasis bright wound low G, and I declare the change a definite improvement. All 4 strings are very balanced. I'm now a content cat... Back to uke-ing!

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by jzzlvr View Post
    Thanks for sharing your experience, Graham. This uke is very new to me, and I'm still getting used to/exploring its voice. My plan is to use it as a travel uke, and it seems very suitable for the purpose.

    I am surprised about the Aquila myself. They worked fine on my other ukes that came with them, though I prefer fluorocarbon and recently nylon. Maybe these are of a different formulation, or a bad set, or just not right for this particular uke? Mim also told me she wasn't a fan of Aquila on this one.

    Videos... Yes! The HMS demo by Corey is a delight to watch. I get the feeling he really enjoyed playing it, because we get 3 songs in a single video. You probably have seen it, but here it is again for fun.
    https://vimeo.com/116966821
    Thinking back the compactness of the SLNG was, to me, it’s best feature - they have many other good features. Standard Concerts are that bit bigger in the body and then they’re almost all 14 frets to the body too making them even longer.

    The right strings for a Uke just make all the difference. Unfortunately it can be a long and difficult search, one that I’m ill prepared for too, so on this occasion I took the simple route and bailed-out - my other Ukes now do pretty much what I want so that was simplest for me.

    Yes the HMS demo was one of the things that sold it to me too. Mind, I feel sure that the guys there could make anything sound good. I tried to find SLNG videos as fitted with low g strings but failed, they were out there and might still be.

    Enjoy, they’re a nice instrument and perfect for your application.
    Last edited by Graham Greenbag; 04-14-2018 at 06:57 PM.

  9. #9
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    I still recommend the SLNG to folks who are undecided what to buy as a first uke. I also got mine from Mim, but like some others said, I've moved on to other things.

    I think you probably made a good call on the wound low G. I have an unwound (Savarez?) low g on my KPK long neck soprano and it works but that is a bit longer scale (same as your Fluke, incidentally).
    Last edited by Jim Hanks; 04-15-2018 at 09:21 AM.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Graham Greenbag View Post
    Mind, I feel sure that the guys there could make anything sound good.
    They do. Not good for my UAS at all. Now that my uke has arrived, I can hear the tone is identical to Corey's in the video. Now I just need to play like Corey LOL.

    Quote Originally Posted by Graham Greenbag View Post
    Enjoy, they’re a nice instrument and perfect for your application.
    Thanks! I am

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Hanks View Post
    I still recommend the SLNG to folks who are undecided what to but as a first uke. I also got mine from Mim, but like some others said, I've moved on to other things.
    It is absolutely great as a first uke. In my case, it is a little regression: I moved on and then moved back. I started with ukes in this price range, then sold them all for fancier things, but then realized I lacked an ultra-portable laminate beater. No regrets about selling past ukes though, as the SLNG with proper setup is the best cheap uke I've had.

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