View Full Version : Is this how my 5-string Kala ternor should sound?

Dead Man Rhymin
11-11-2018, 01:16 PM
(This is my first post here, so Hi all! Long story short, I've played guitar for about 5 years, but starting fairly late in life didn't make it easy. Then I decided to try a uke and fell totally in love with my inexpensive, solid mahogany concert by Ortega. What was a struggle with a steel-string acoustic guitar is now sheer joy, everything sounds sweet and I can do so much more! Next, of course, the UAS. I wanted to try something different - different size, different woods, different finish... and now I think I have a problem.)

I've just bought a 5-string tenor, Kala KA ATP CTG 5 (cedar top, acacia laminate back and sides). Not on a whim - I spent days searching for and comparing sound samples, reading up etc. I picked it because I did want something completely different from my concert, but also because I wanted something maybe a little closer to my cedar-top Spanish guitar, which was half the price of this uke but sounds really warm and gentle when strummed.

But the uke does not sound like the online samples at all, indeed it sounds quite bad to my ears. I knew it would be loud, which it is, but it is also rather heavy and dull and one-dimensional. This for a uke that is often reviewed as "sounds better than it looks" (and it certainly looks gorgeous). Some observations:

- I hated the wound low g from the get-go, really don't like that metallic twang, so I replaced it with an Aquila red. Now it's worse. That irritating high-pitched buzz you'll hear in my sample is not fret buzz, it is the two G strings hitting against each other (I think).

- The uke feels harder to play than I expected. It is my first tenor, but I do play a classical guitar (not very well, but I do) and I had tried out a random tenor uke at a store - just to try it for size. It played as easily as my concert does. This one I find a struggle to play cleanly, I have to press the strings much harder than is comfortable for me (you'll hear it in the sample).

- It is loud but also pretty "flat", like there is no dynamic range. If I try to play gently, it's as if the strings didn't vibrate enough, all I get is the noise of fingers sweeping across the strings.

- When I try chucking, there is this irritating, sticky, kind-of swishy noise; not sure if it's the strings or the high-gloss finish. I suspect the latter; the noise is really unpleasant, you'll hear it.

- Build-wise, the Kala seems spotless. The setup seems perfect, the intonation is good-to-great, there is nothing obviously wrong with it... it just does not sound right to me :-o

I bought it online at a well-known and reputable place, which I am not naming here only because I do not want to shed any bad light on the guys, they are fantastic. But, I've had the Kala for 3 weeks now and it's too late to return it for no cause.

Essentially, I don't know which of the following is true:

- the uke sounds pretty much the way it is supposed to sound, and if I don't like it, maybe I can sell it

- the uke is *not* supposed to sound like this and I should try to return it.

Can anyone help me figure out which it is? Here is a sample, warts and all:


Bonus question: if all I do is strum, should I even be buying a tenor? Most tenor sound samples I find are fingerpicked. Are tenors in general suitable for light-to-heavy strumming?

Any advice will be much appreciated!

(And, of course, I had to make a typo in the subject line. Apologies!)

11-11-2018, 01:45 PM
It sounds okay to me. At the price point, I think it's pretty accurate. At times it did seem like it was lacking a bit and seemed "light" if that's the right word. A few times it reminded me when I play after getting out of the shower and my hands are really soft/moist and I don't get a good ring out when I strum.

Also, tenors are fine for strumming. I don't think there is a rule that tenors are mainly for finger picking.

11-11-2018, 02:17 PM
It sounds absolutely fine to me. A full string change from the Aquila nylguts would give you a different feel and sound. Pure fluorocarbons (Martin, Worth or Living Waters) would be brighter. Other Aquilas (sugar or the Martin specialties) might have more depth and dynamic range. If you're accustomed to steel strings, you might be surprised how much variation you'll find from one type of uke string to another.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a big fan of the nylguts generally.

11-12-2018, 01:13 AM
It does sound a bit flat or dull, but not terrible. A string change might help, or it might not. Your issue with it being hard to fret is because a tenor is a longer scale than your concert and the string tension is higher. This is assuming the uke got a proper set up from the online store you bought it from. A tenor can be used to strum as effectively as any of the other sizes, I do it all the time.

Here is the thing.......you don't like it and I imagine this will not change over time, a 5 string tenor is a completely different animal to your normal concert sized uke. Contact the seller and see if you can "exchange it" for something else. If they don't have to give you your money back they might agree to that.

11-12-2018, 01:23 AM
Here is the thing.......you don't like it and I imagine this will not change over time, a 5 string tenor is a completely different animal to your normal concert sized uke. Contact the seller and see if you can "exchange it" for something else. If they don't have to give you your money back they might agree to that.

I'll second this. Unless I had some sentimental reason, I've never kept a uke long-term I didn't like after playing it the first week or so. A swap for a comparable concert might make everyone happy.

11-12-2018, 07:31 AM
It doesn't sound bad, it sounds similar to my wife's cedar top concert Kala. It is just 4 string but I ended up putting Aquila Reds on it to brighten it up. But those strings have more of a metallic sound.

That said, in my experience a cedar top does not make for a good loud strummer. I have 2 solid cedar ukes and they are good for fingerstyle but I can overdrive them, sound breaks up, with hard strumming, which I don't do anyway. As DownUpDave indicated, if it sounds terrible to you, you may want to send it back if you can.

A decent solid top koa tenor can probably be pushed as hard as you want and still have good volume and brightness. Another choice is mahogany. Martin has been using mahogany for over 100 years and it is an excellent strumming tonewood; you can bang on it all day long. The wood sounds a little closer to cedar than koa as it is not as bright.


11-15-2018, 07:21 PM
Big question: Was it setup for you?

I have a tenor 8-string and because of the neck width the strings are closer together than on a guitar, especially a classical guitar, the strings will bump into each other. But if you adjust you strum stroke a bit you can minimize it.

Most of my tenors are pretty easy to fret. Needing only a light touch to make a clean sounding chord. Guitar players are notorious for pressing too hard when they fret. At least that's what I have read. :) A friend explained that you should reduce the pressure you use until the chord isn't clear. Then add just a little more pressure and play that way.

That being said, I do have a couple of tenors that even after being setup with low action, they do require more pressure than the other ones, with the same strings, require. (One is a Kala.) Could be the shape or height of the fret wires.

Your sound sample did sound a little dull. Try some other strings.

Most of all, have fun with it.

11-19-2018, 12:17 AM
If the uke doesnt quite feel right to play, its probably a setup issue.

Adjustments to the nut and saddle could probably make a huge difference. Not just playability, but tone too, as lowering the action affects the string tension.