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View Full Version : Laminate Sopranos: Kala KA-S, Kiwaya KS-1, Martin 0xk



westcoast
01-22-2015, 07:55 PM
I was looking at a laminate soprano (wanted something that could deal with low humidity) and was wondering what the best sounding one was: On the low end, there's a KA-S for $70: http://www.theukulelesite.com/shop-by/size/soprano/kala-ka-s-soprano.html

But the Kiwaya KS-1 (http://www.theukulelesite.com/kiwaya-ks-1-mahogany-soprano.html) and the Martin 0xk are basically the same price at around $280.

Are Kiwayas / Martin laminates really that much better than a KA-S?

edit: after some searching, I found: http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?69581-Laminate-Ukuleles-(Kiwaya-KS-1-vs-Martin-OXK)

OregonJim
01-22-2015, 08:21 PM
I was looking for a specific vintage model of soprano recently, purely for nostalgic reasons. While I did eventually find one, the price being asked was outrageous considering what it was, so I gave up the idea.

Then I looked at a number of current models, including the Kala KA-S and the Martin 0xk. There were half a dozen solid-top sopranos in the shop as well, ranging in price from $250 - $500, though I can't remember all the model names.

I ended up buying the KA-S because, for the life of me, I couldn't detect ANY tonal difference between any of them. There was moderate variation in loudness, but not in tone quality. I was expecting at least some variation due to differences in string brands, if nothing else.

Last month, I went through much the same exercise with tenors, and there was considerable variation in tone. But, to me, all the sopranos I've put my hands on sound the same.

westcoast
01-22-2015, 08:30 PM
I ended up buying the KA-S because, for the life of me, I couldn't detect ANY tonal difference between any of them. There was moderate variation in loudness, but not in tone quality. I was expecting at least some variation due to differences in string brands, if nothing else.

Last month, I went through much the same exercise with tenors, and there was considerable variation in tone. But, to me, all the sopranos I've put my hands on sound the same.

Thanks OregonJim! I guess the KA-SEM (http://www.theukulelesite.com/shop-by/size/soprano/kala-ka-sem-exotic-mahogany-ukulele.html) could be a contender since it looks different, at least!

bonesoup
01-23-2015, 12:53 AM
I've directly compared them and to my ears the Martin sounds noticeably better than the Kiwaya. Also, the Kiwaya KS-1 does not have a rounded edge where the soundboard meets the sides. Made it uncomfortable on my forearm. The Martin OXK has that feature.

I haven't played the Kala but I wouldn't go near a $70 Chinese uke :) No judgement - if you like them that's cool with me, but it's just not for me. A friendly humble opinion.

kmac66
01-23-2015, 06:24 AM
I have had a KA15s for about a year. I didnt really care that much for it until I changed the Aquila strings to Ukulele Creations strings. It sounds a lot better with those strings so I think I'll keep it.

I'd really like to try the OXK but I've never seen one in person.

katysax
01-23-2015, 06:24 AM
I briefly had the Kala - got in on a sale - then ultimately sold it to a friend. It was pretty awful.

Both the Kiwaya and Martin are great in their own way. I never found the squared soundboard or rounded sound board to make any difference. I've got the Kiwaya KS-7 - which has more frets - and love it. Never had the OXK but I've played a few and think they're great.

Brian W
01-23-2015, 06:44 AM
I was looking at a laminate soprano (wanted something that could deal with low humidity) and was wondering what the best sounding one was: On the low end, there's a KA-S for $70: http://www.theukulelesite.com/shop-by/size/soprano/kala-ka-s-soprano.html

But the Kiwaya KS-1 (http://www.theukulelesite.com/kiwaya-ks-1-mahogany-soprano.html) and the Martin 0xk are basically the same price at around $280.

Are Kiwayas / Martin laminates really that much better than a KA-S?

edit: after some searching, I found: http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?69581-Laminate-Ukuleles-(Kiwaya-KS-1-vs-Martin-OXK)



To answer your question if the Kiwaya/Martin laminates are that much better than the Kala, I would have to say definitely yes. I have played all three brands, and the Kiwaya is by far the best in terms of build quality, while Martin would be a close second. I have played a number of Kala ukes in local music stores and they were all very disappointing. To be fair, these were in big chain stores that have little regard for the quality or setup of their inventory. Now purchasing a Kala from Andrew at the ukulelesite, would be a vastly different experience. I have purchased several ukuleles from him and they have all been great players. Now as for which sounds the best, I actually liked the sound of Martin sopranos a little better, but sound is so subjective: what sounds good to one player may not to another. If money is a factor then call Andrew at the ukulelesite and see what he would recommend to fit your budget.

westcoast
01-23-2015, 06:45 AM
I've directly compared them and to my ears the Martin sounds noticeably better than the Kiwaya. Also, the Kiwaya KS-1 does not have a rounded edge where the soundboard meets the sides. Made it uncomfortable on my forearm. The Martin OXK has that feature.

I haven't played the Kala but I wouldn't go near a $70 Chinese uke :) No judgement - if you like them that's cool with me, but it's just not for me. A friendly humble opinion.

Thanks! I hadn't heard about the rounded edge.

I have read a few things about HPL - they are pretty tough but it sounds like they can still occasionally have issues http://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=208891


"A local Martin dealer told me that the formica Martin X series are not as durtable as you might want - he has come across three owners whose guitars delaminated, mostly because they left the guitar out in the sun or in the car. They might actually not be any less durable than an traditional all laminate guitar, it may be just that folks think it's just a formica guitar, so it can take anything. The point of failure for these Martin X's and often for traditional laminates is glue failure - the glue holding the layers together, or the glue that holds the pieces of the guitar together, when trearted to extremes of heat or humidity."

d-mace
01-23-2015, 11:09 AM
I've been having the laminate soprano itch lately also. I had an OXK before and liked it but also felt that it was heavy and mellow/muted. A few days ago I ordered the Famous brand version of the KS-1. I'll let you know my thoughts when I get it.

actadh
01-23-2015, 02:41 PM
I have strap buttons on my OXK - heel and lower bout. I notice the weight a bit when I take it out of the gig bag, but once the strap goes around my neck the ukulele is balanced perfectly and the weight is not an issue.

I have been playing it since the end of November while sitting next to a personal size Vornado heater. The dryness has not affected anything. I keep a dampit style cello humidifier on the fretboard when I stow the ukulele, but that is probably unnecessary.

My only issue ever was after transporting the OXK in single digit weather. The top two pegs retracted in the headstock so it would not keep the strings taut. It had to be brought to room temperature before it could hold the tuning. To be fair, it was so cold and windy that I had to be brought to room temperature before I could function, too.

mm stan
01-23-2015, 03:00 PM
I love my Oscar Schmidt too

Nickie
01-23-2015, 03:08 PM
Again, the only soprano I ever played that I liked was a Kala - solid mahogany...didn't even like the LoPrinzi...go figure....

1937Scott
01-23-2015, 06:36 PM
I've had a Martin OXK for almost three years now. It is a very, very weather and humidity-be-damned kind of uke. I took it everywhere with me for almost a year, and I fly all year from desert dry air to coastal humidity and back. Pressurization systems in jets de-humidify the air to an extreme degree, and this uke didn't care at all.

Not to mention-the thing came out of the box with a better action than most ukes, and almost as good at the Martin 3K soprano I have. Seriously. It is a very playable, fun instrument.

The sound is decent for a laminate as well, and although it is marketed as 'laminate,' it is really more like 'Pergo' flooring. Kind of like a plastic. I've seen the same neck on Martin guitars as well, it's the ONLY ukulele I see a neck with sliced, laminated hardwood that is probably near unbreakable. It's the kind of wood that more expensive or target rifle stocks are made of to be more weather resistant and temperature/humidity stable. (to keep the rifle consistent, thus more accurate.) This is the part that adds the weight.

So, I really think the OXK is a good value. I got mine on ebay for $200 from a seller that forgot to set a minimum at or near the $279 everyone else sells them for.

A GREAT value, sturdy, well playing, good sounding ukulele.

westcoast
01-23-2015, 07:53 PM
I've had a Martin OXK for almost three years now. It is a very, very weather and humidity-be-damned kind of uke. I took it everywhere with me for almost a year, and I fly all year from desert dry air to coastal humidity and back. Pressurization systems in jets de-humidify the air to an extreme degree, and this uke didn't care at all.

Not to mention-the thing came out of the box with a better action than most ukes, and almost as good at the Martin 3K soprano I have. Seriously. It is a very playable, fun instrument.

The sound is decent for a laminate as well, and although it is marketed as 'laminate,' it is really more like 'Pergo' flooring. Kind of like a plastic. I've seen the same neck on Martin guitars as well, it's the ONLY ukulele I see a neck with sliced, laminated hardwood that is probably near unbreakable. It's the kind of wood that more expensive or target rifle stocks are made of to be more weather resistant and temperature/humidity stable. (to keep the rifle consistent, thus more accurate.) This is the part that adds the weight.

Thanks for the great review! How neck heavy is the 0xk? Someone else mentioned using a strap to balance it. I used to have a Kala Travel Soprano which sounded great, but the solid top was so thin I was always a little worried about damaging it. Unfortunately it was neck heavy too so I didn't like playing it quite as much.

westcoast
01-23-2015, 07:55 PM
I have strap buttons on my OXK - heel and lower bout. I notice the weight a bit when I take it out of the gig bag, but once the strap goes around my neck the ukulele is balanced perfectly and the weight is not an issue.

I have been playing it since the end of November while sitting next to a personal size Vornado heater. The dryness has not affected anything. I keep a dampit style cello humidifier on the fretboard when I stow the ukulele, but that is probably unnecessary.

My only issue ever was after transporting the OXK in single digit weather. The top two pegs retracted in the headstock so it would not keep the strings taut. It had to be brought to room temperature before it could hold the tuning. To be fair, it was so cold and windy that I had to be brought to room temperature before I could function, too.

Thanks for the nice review - do you think the uke is neck heavy? I used to have a Kala Travel Soprano which was a bit neck heavy, so for playing faster things I had to use an uke leash.

drbekken
01-23-2015, 11:32 PM
I agree wholeheartedly with 1937Scott.

actadh
01-24-2015, 07:56 AM
I am the one that added strap buttons to the OXK. I was worried that the laminate strip neck would be so hard that it would be difficult for my local music store to install. I took it two hours away to one of the two Authorized Martin Repair Center in the state. The neck did not seem to be an issue, but they did say it was harder to do than most heel button installations. They added a big rubber washer since there is not a lot of real estate on the heel. It does not seem heavy at all when played with a strap.

I like this ukulele more each time I play it. A lot of that is from the fact that I don't have to worry about it so much. I have porous laminate mahogany sides and back on my Luna. This OXK laminate really is closer to the Pergo flooring mentioned by 1937Scott. I have to be careful not to ding the Luna, and to have perfectly clean hands, like when playing my solid wood ukulele. I have yet to ding the OXK and while I am careful about the fretboard, that is about it. I could probably pick up the body with peanut butter covered fingers and it would wipe off.

One thing not mentioned is how pretty the OXK neck is when viewed by the player. The stripes extend out in a neat pattern. I really like the side dot at the third fret and miss it on my other ukuleles after playing with it.

westcoast
01-24-2015, 08:31 AM
Thanks Laura! Did you buy the 0xk online (and from where?) No local store around me appears to carry it.

actadh
01-24-2015, 08:56 AM
I really wanted to buy from a place that did set ups. None of the usual great set up vendors mentioned on UU had it. My local store carries Martin guitars, but not the ukuleles, although they said they could order in. When I asked about set up, they did not know what I meant.

The Martin reviews all seemed to refer to how well they come set up from the factory. I bought online from Musician's Friend as I had bought straps, books, and percussion instruments from them and was very pleased with the site. I ordered it Good Friday and received it the following Tuesday with free standard shipping, so essentially I got it in two business days during the busiest buying season of the year.

It appeared that MF just reboxed it from where they received it from the Martin factory. It came with their with their outer MF box. The inner Martin box was obviously untouched since it left the Martin factory - original strapping tape, stickers over the box seams etc. I tuned it and was good to go.

There was an occasional slight buzz on either the E or the A string. I put a dampit style cello humidifier over the fretboard and it went away. It could also have been that I learned the right amount of pressure to fret as I got used to it.

westcoast
01-24-2015, 09:21 AM
Thanks - that was a very detailed reply, I appreciate it!