View Full Version : Upgrade from Kala KA-ST (solid spruce top)

11-22-2016, 11:15 AM
I'm considering upgrading my tenor but wondering about diminishing returns. I have a Kala KA-ST, which is the soild spruce top, laminate body model. It sounds pretty good although a little bit ... plain, I guess.

Is there really going to be huge difference in sound if I upgrade to a Pono for example? I see some second hand models floating around and have my eye on an ATDC cedar top. I couldn't justify a high end brand at this stage (the Anuenue UT200 would be the one!).

Any comments either way would be appreciated. I realize no-one can decide for me and that trying them is the best option BUT please chime in with any opinions.

11-22-2016, 06:10 PM
You could upgrade within Kala to all-solid ukuleles, including some cedar top models. The Kalas and Ponos differ in neck profile (Pono is thicker), if that matters. (I'm not familiar with the ATDC.) If you haven't already done so, you could spend some time on theukulelesite.com looking at and listening to what they have. They provide sound samples, and some info on each uke. And if you call at the right time (when they're not busy), they can answer some questions for you.

11-22-2016, 06:12 PM
I agree with you that the Kala KA-ST is an OK solid top tenor but not real distinctive in tone. When I began my search for a tenor (after playing a lower-end concert for just a short time) I was initial drawn to the Spruce Kala because of it's very reasonable price. However for $100 more the Kala Solid Cedar Top with Acacia laminate back & sides was a far more interesting and beautiful sounding instrument. I ended-up purchasing three tenors, a used Kala cedar/acacia, a Cordoba 32T Spruce/Rosewood and a Pono Mango. I love the Pono. It looks, feels and sounds beautiful. I don't think you would regret purchasing the Cedar-top Pono. If you get a chance to play it before purchase, I suspect you will be impressed. The Cordoba with a spruce top is an entirely different uke, loud, bright, wide fretboard, light build and perfect for finger style. I play it less than the Pono. My good friend wanted to learn the Uke so I sold him my Kala Cedar-top. If I had sold it to any one else , I would be filled with remorse. Good luck on your search. I tried many ukes and had fun with the process. Hopefully you'll find the one (or two) that sings to you.

Chopped Liver
11-22-2016, 07:07 PM
I don't have a tenor, but I have a concert Pono. I don't get all the talk of the thicker neck on Ponos. It isn't a big difference as far as I can tell. I have really small hands and the neck is very comfortable to me. My Pono is a very nice instrument.

Good luck!

11-22-2016, 08:35 PM
I strongly, strongly advice the KA-SRT-SC. All solid with spruce top and rosewood body. Bags of volume, amazing response and tone. Joy to look at it, joy to hear it.

If you want to go for a "not-spruce" top, try the Kala cedar top. I have the baritone version and is really great.
Another brand that I find great is the Koaloha Opio. I have the sapele version and it is my favourite uke in my collection.

11-22-2016, 08:59 PM
Time for a Kanilea K-1. You can keep that for life. Eight years now for me. The only uke I play as much is my Pono electric. I plug that into my computer or an amp.

Buy cheap, buy twice.

Croaky Keith
11-22-2016, 10:24 PM
I think, if you like a bright sound, spruce or acacia, if you're looking for a more mellow sound cedar or mahogany. :)

As to manufacturer, well that's down to you. ;)

(I have Kala, Ohana, & Baton Rouge, plus a couple of RISA solids)

11-23-2016, 04:00 AM
If you're tone questing, there's 2 routes people seem to take. Either make the jump right to high end, or smaller steps.

One isn't necessarily more right, but if you know yourself, and you know in the end you'll end up at the higher end, it's cheaper to make the direct jump.

You've already got a decent intermediate solid, so to get a significantly better tone, you'll probably need to make a significant jump. I hedged, a bit, and wish I hadn't. If you move up to a $500 uke, and then to a $700 uke.... you could have jumped to a $1200 and saved on the loss of the re-sales on the step up's.

Some people play all their ukes... and I still do a bit.. but mostly its out of guilt. Really, I just play my "nice" low and high g now, and the others I take out occasionally on mercy/pity dates.

11-27-2016, 09:06 AM
I took an intermediate step to a pono first and am now shopping for a k brand. Nothing against the pono it is great. But if I were to do it again I would have tried to fight the UAS a little better and saved the money for a koaloha etc.

11-27-2016, 10:04 AM
Before you go down the road of purchasing another uke as an "upgrade" I'm wondering if you've tried a lot of different string sets on your uke. If not, I'd advise you to try a wide variety of strings on your current uke and see how they effect the tone and feel of the instrument. If it were me, I'd try Worth brown, Worth clear, Various Aquilas, D'addario Nylgut, etc. You could experiment with low G and high G as well.

If that still doesn't get you a result you're happy with, then first try to be sure of what kind of sound you are looking for in a uke...Figure out what your uke doesn't have that you'd like as far as sound goes. Of course you could do that with the string experimentation mentioned above too.
I also play some other instruments (steel string though), but it seems to me that strings make a bigger difference on ukes than most other instruments just due to the variety of various materials available.

In closing, I'll just say I've gone through more instruments than I want to admit from low end to high end...There will always be something that MIGHT be better or different out there and it's definitely not always worth it...Often it's not, in my experience. I'm glad to have tried a bunch of different stuff, but ultimately I'd prefer to just have the money back. If there's a for sure high end instrument that is your dream uke and goal then I'd say just save your money for that rather than buying something else now. Then you'll actually save money in the long run by eliminating those "in between" instruments that weren't what you really wanted anyways.

That's my 2 cents.

11-27-2016, 12:32 PM
My take on mid-range ukes was that they have a fair bit of variability, and my recommendation is try before you buy. Play the uke you're thinking about buying back to back with your current uke - don't buy on reputation or on brand. I've played a KA-ST (it was my first uke) and those can be pretty awesome - if you've got a good example it will sound really good.

I bought a Pono MT (from the internet - didn't get a chance to play it first) as the next step after my concert flea (the KA-ST was sold because the neck profile was not great). It took me a year to realize (and accept) that when I played the flea and the Pono MT back to back I liked the sound of the flea better. Pono makes some pretty awesome stuff, but in this case I think I got one on the low side of average and it didn't suit my playing style.

I think the one thing that you've got going here is the used aspect - I figure that if you can buy a uke, play it for a year and resell for $50 less, well you've just rented a uke for a dollar a week. That's a great way to figure out what you like if you can swing it.