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View Full Version : Impressions of the Kala acacia pocket ukulele



GX9901
12-02-2010, 04:55 AM
I decided to get one of these Kala pocket ukes last week and it arrived yesterday. I wrote some impression about it on my blog (http://gx9901ukes.blogspot.com/2010/12/mini-me-or-tiny-tim.html). Check it out if you're interested.

EDIT: Now with sound sample video...


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3deQM5xPfU0

mokai
12-02-2010, 05:24 AM
great writeup

ItsMrPitchy
12-02-2010, 11:29 AM
I thought about getting one of these pocket ukes. But as you said for a bit more you can get a acacia tenor. However, all the reviews i read were good so enjoy your new uke.

OldePhart
12-02-2010, 12:57 PM
I bought one when I was in NYC back in October so I guess I've had it for about six or seven weeks now. I will warn you, the uke is NOT meant to be tuned to GCEA - you will very likely berak break a string within a week tuned that high, and as you've noticed it won't stay in tune no matter how hard you crank the tuner tension down. In fact, the highest I was able to tune it (before I found out it was supposed to be tuned lower) was about a full step down from GCEA - otherwise one of the tuners wouldn't stay at pitch once I released it no matter how tight I cranked the tension screw.

After breaking a string I contacted Kala (they answered my email within about four hours, really surprised me) and the guy there said it should be tuned CFAD or DGBE because no one really makes a set of strings appropriate for GCEA tuning on a 10" scale!

I suspect that they did over build it expecting that a lot of people would try tuning it to GCEA :) I weighed mine and my KoAloha concert on a postal scale and the Kala is exactly three ounces lighter than the much larger concert so, yeah, it's built pretty heavy. I think it's mostly the neck and edge joins though - the top doesn't look terribly thick.

I found that tuned CFAD the tuning settles down and stays pretty stable in about the same amount of time as other new ukes (or new strings) do. I also found that it sounded much, much better tuned CFAD than when I was trying to tune it higher. Too much tension actually thins out your sound because the string simply becomes very resistant to vibrating.

The intonation on my pocket uke is poor - the nut is high driving the strings pretty sharp at the first fret, and it's also off quite a bit at the 12th fret.

I wouldn't buy another one at this price, but it's not really a bad little box. I'll probably do a setup on it and then it will be fine for what I bought it for, which was traveling. It's small enough I can throw it in my regular carry on bag.

As you noted the build quality is pretty decent - I noticed a tiny bit of glue squeeze out where the fingerboard meets the top but that seems almost universal in factory ukes - at least, all of them that I own have a bit of that. Otherwise, the fit and finish was decent. It just really needs a setup. I suspect that the tiny, 10" scale excaberates (sp?) intonation problems. The larger ukes in the series might be set up better.

John

OldePhart
12-02-2010, 01:01 PM
Forgot to mention - I suspect that this might be a good candidate for different strings. When I broke the A string the only thing I could get locally was a set of Martin flourocarbon strings. The A string is far, far, far louder, livelier, and sweeter all the way up the neck, now. I suspect that the short scale is just not a good candidate for NylGut strings because they are stiffer. I'm planning on doing a setup on this thing when I get some Worth strings in, and we'll see how it sounds set up properly and strung with flourocarbon strings all the way across.

John

Ukulele Jim
12-02-2010, 01:39 PM
I just got a mahogany pocket uke a couple weeks ago from a local guitar shop that had one in stock. It was already strung with Aquilas and tuned GCEA.

John, I'm not sure why you're saying it can't be tuned GCEA because that seems to be the *only* tuning that works well on mine. If I crank it way up to DGBE the strings get really tight and it sounds like I'm playing a music box. I have to loosen the strings back to GCEA in order to get it playable at all.

The big drawback I found is that even though it's staying in tune at GCEA, it's harder to get consistent sound out of it because the strings move so easily when I fret chords.

OldePhart
12-02-2010, 01:40 PM
Here's the intonation data I recorded on the Kala a few days ago when I was writing the review on the Lanikai LU-8E.

Kala solid Acatia pocket UKE
C +15, +15
F +10, +15
A +10, +10
D +10, +5

Two things to note from this - the first is that obviously I need to get out the nut files. The second is that the D string (A on a GCEA uke) is the one that had already been replaced with a Martin flourocarbon by the time I checked the intonation. Notice that it is pretty close at the 12th fret - closer than any of the stock NylGut strings. Often, poor intonation at the tweflth fret is indicative of strings that are not at the desired tension - so, this is just further fodder for the idea that this uke probably likes flourocarbon strings, or at least strings of a different gage than what come on it.

(BTW, intonation when I was trying to tune higher, two half steps below GCEA, was really terrible.)

John

Ukulele Jim
12-02-2010, 01:45 PM
Yeah, I noticed that the intonation on mine was crap up the neck. But with such a little uke I didn't think it mattered. I just wish I could get it tuned DGBE without the strings feeling like they're going to snap any second.

OldePhart
12-02-2010, 01:55 PM
I just got a mahogany pocket uke a couple weeks ago from a local guitar shop that had one in stock. It was already strung with Aquilas and tuned GCEA.

John, I'm not sure why you're saying it can't be tuned GCEA because that seems to be the *only* tuning that works well on mine. If I crank it way up to DGBE the strings get really tight and it sounds like I'm playing a music box. I have to loosen the strings back to GCEA in order to get it playable at all.

The big drawback I found is that even though it's staying in tune at GCEA, it's harder to get consistent sound out of it because the strings move so easily when I fret chords.

Oh, sorry for the confusion. If the strings are that loose it means you're actually tuned an octave down (i.e. tuned to the same octave as a soprano, concert, etc. - I think of that as an octave down because the strings are so loose it's like tuning a larger instrument down an octave). I tried it tuned there and it was obvious something was wrong - playability was dismal and intonation at the 12th fret was so bad it was obvious that the scale was designed around a different tension. With such a short scale it needs to be tuned higher, but you can't go all the way up to the next octave (which was what I was initially trying to do).

If you tune to CFAD or DGBE you should notice that the string tension will be roughly the same as on a concert tuned GCEA. It will seem a little bit stiffer but that is because the scale is so short. Finger a NylGut string on a concert at around the 7th fret and you'll see it feels about the same as the pocket uke open string when tuned CFAD.

I think the music box tinkly thing is a function of the very short scale with NylGut strings. Others have mentioned that NylGut strings don't always perform well above the tenth or 12th fret on soprano/concert size ukes - and I've noticed that on my LU-21C - I think they're just too stiff to vibrate really well at such short lengths.

The flourocarbon A (D) string on my pocket uke is easily twice as loud, with much better sustain, and far better tone, than the NylGut strings. I think Kala would be far better served, or be serving their customers far better, if they put a good set of flourocarbon or nylon strings on the pocket ukes. I know as soon as I get some Worths in my hands that's what's going on my pocket uke.

{edit} Okay, I'll amend that - "twice as loud" is a bit of an exaggeration. Just grabbed the uke in question and refreshed my memory. Definitely louder, we'll say. Sustain is easier to quantify - and that is approximately twice as long on the flourocarbon string. Tone is completely subjective, but I find the flourocarbon far more "ukey" and far less "music boxey." :)

John

Ukulele Jim
12-02-2010, 01:58 PM
Hmm, okay. Maybe when I get home I'll dig out a set of cheap soprano strings I have lying around and restring the thing. Couldn't hurt to try.

GX9901
12-02-2010, 02:18 PM
I tuned it GCEA like the other ukes, not an octave higher. So far I'm not finding the strings to be too loose. The intonation seems to be good, but I find that it goes a lot sharper when I bend the strings compared to normal ukes, so maybe that's why it can sound out of tune easily. You basically need to fret it perfectly to avoid it going sharp, especially up the neck, and that's hard to do with so little fretboard space. I have it for a full day now and it's a fun little thing.:)

OldePhart
12-03-2010, 11:27 AM
This thread prompted me to get the nut files out during lunch. I still want to change the rest of the strings over to flourocarbon but a few minutes with the files brought the first fret intonation to where it should be. Not quite perfect, but I think it will take someone with a lot more skill with the files than I have to get it perfect because the scale is so short. I still want to replace the remaining three strings with flourocarbons but that will have to wait for another day.

No arguments about the fun little thing - though I find myself pretty limited what I can actually play on it because the frets become so crowded. I guess I could probably play "Tiptoe Through the Tulips..." LOL

John

GX9901
12-03-2010, 03:18 PM
No arguments about the fun little thing - though I find myself pretty limited what I can actually play on it because the frets become so crowded. I guess I could probably play "Tiptoe Through the Tulips..." LOL

John

I managed to hack out Kalei Gamiao's Mach 4 on the mini-uke. I posted it elsewhere on UU but here it is if you haven't seen it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3deQM5xPfU0 Good for a laugh.:p

OldePhart
12-04-2010, 07:15 AM
That's amazing - certainly way better than anything I've been able to do on the pocket uke. Oh, wait, it's better than anything I've been able to do on any of my other ukes, too...

John

JTY
12-05-2010, 04:44 AM
Hey George, great vid. Wow, let me suggest installing a mi-si and plug that baby in an amp w/distortion. hmmm .. taking requests? How about 3rd stream with that uke. :D Seriously, good job on the vid.

Ingrate
12-05-2010, 05:52 AM
Thanks for posting this video. I'd wondered as to just what a "pocket 'ukulele" was, and now I know.

GX9901
12-06-2010, 05:06 AM
Hey George, great vid. Wow, let me suggest installing a mi-si and plug that baby in an amp w/distortion. hmmm .. taking requests? How about 3rd stream with that uke. :D Seriously, good job on the vid.

Thanks Joel! I think if I installed a Mi-Si in the uke, there wouldn't be any space left inside. :p

I wish I could play 3rd Stream an any sized ukulele, let alone the pocket uke. It's probably truly impossible on the pocket uke.

maikii
12-11-2010, 12:05 AM
In tuning the pocket uke DGBE, does it sound an octave higher than the baritone uke?

If not, if exactly the same tones as the bari (not an octave higher) that would seem strange, an instrument smaller than soprano, yet tuned lower than the tenor.

My guess is that it does sound an octave higher than the baritone, but just wanted to verify that.

Do any or all of the uke strings companies (Aquila, Worth, Martin, etc.) make strings specifically for the sopranino uke?

If not, what kind of strings does one use?

OldePhart
12-11-2010, 01:17 PM
The tuning is a above the standard GCEA tuning. You can just barely play standard GCEA tuning, but the intonation will be terrible and the strings very slack. From there you tune up to CFAD (my favorite) or DGBE. CFAD is fairly tight on such a short scale, so I think DGBE will be almost too tight.

Neither I nor the folks at Kala know of anyone making strings for a 10" scale (I asked them). This is why you use a typical soprano set and tune them up to get enough tension.

John

Ukulele Jim
12-11-2010, 06:44 PM
I can't play anything in CFAD tuning that I can sing along to.

pdxuke
12-11-2010, 07:56 PM
Many thanks for the great review and video. It makes me glad I have a sopranino (Ohana) which is a blast to play and at $125, the price I paid, looks like a bargain.

OldePhart
12-12-2010, 10:29 AM
I can't play anything in CFAD tuning that I can sing along to.

Heh, heh. I can't play anything in any tuning that I can sing along to. At least...not unless I don't mind the neighbors calling the ASPCA to accuse me of torturing dogs in my back yard... LOL

John

GX9901
12-12-2010, 03:48 PM
Many thanks for the great review and video. It makes me glad I have a sopranino (Ohana) which is a blast to play and at $125, the price I paid, looks like a bargain.

In my mind the pocket uke really isn't something to be compared to a normal sopranino. If someone is in the market for a sopranino, the pocket uke is really not an option in my opinion. To me, the pocket uke is a pure novelty uke that happens to be something that can also be played.

By the way, one way to look at the pocket uke is as a soprano playing workout device for non-soprano players. After playing this thing, the soprano almost feels like a concert! ;)

ukuleledaveey
03-10-2012, 05:42 AM
well i read through this thread with great interest, ihave my pocket uke (acacia) tuned to CFAD, have tried a few tunnings and my ear and the uke seems to prefer this, but i must say my uke is fairly quiet, so i have gone out and got some martin m600's i have these on my ohana sk35g at the moment and they sound great, so oldphart got me tempted top try them on the pocket uke, so shall re string the little gal in a while :)

Strummin simon
03-13-2012, 03:33 AM
i tired all sorts with mine...couldnt get away with it. sold it on last week

grandpoobah
03-15-2012, 04:22 PM
I had to get a setup done on mine due to the first fret going waaaaaay sharp. It's a lot better now. However the nut is still too darn tall. The first fret is so tiny that I often accidentally bar the nut and not the fret. I'm debating just filing down the top of the nut. The strings are practically buried in it anyway. As far as intonation goes, I can't play past the 7th fret so I don't really care, but after a setup it's pretty close at the 12th now. I had never gotten a uke that was more in need of a setup than this pocket.
I'm using the heavy strings from southcoastukes.com tuned gcea. Pretty happy with them. If you cut carefully you can get two sets out of them.

1937Scott
03-25-2012, 11:10 AM
Howdy! I thought I would ring in on this ongoing discussion, however old it is. First, the most played Uke I have is my KoAloha Noah, which of course as a Sopranino is larger than the Kala Pocket, a Sopranissimo.

The Aquila Nyglut Strings, no matter how much playing or stretching I did, struggled to stay in tune. And, then, of course, the blisters on my fingers and cramp in my left hand were the second clue that the action needed to be lowered. The combined fat Aquila Strings with the high action made for a bad combination.

I lowered the action at the nut only and it made a HUGE difference on the playability and strings staying in tune. Then I went and put on a set of Worth light Clear strings. EUREKA!! Paydirt!! No more cramps or sore fingers from having to crush the strings to play chords. I agree with earlier posts, the sustain was noticeably better/longer, and the intonation better as well. As far as tuning, I have NEVER deviated from GCEA, and I don't regret it. I think it sounds fine.

I must also agree that finger position as well as pressure on the frets are CRITICAL with this Uke if you want to be anywhere near in tune or consistent on your sound. Not always an easy thing on such a small fretboard. The body is the same size as my hand!

The Kala solid Acacia Pocket Uke will probably never sound as loud, in tune, or as good as my KoAloha Noah, but it is so much fun to play! I do not regret buying it, and I truly love it. I have hand rubbed the satin finish to a high gloss, it is beautiful.

It's probably not for everyone, and yeah, I can only finger to about the 7th fret, but I take it with me everywhere. What a fun Uke!

Paul Dominic Martin
03-26-2012, 07:29 AM
I know the kala pocket is 16". What is the exact length of the Koaloha Noah? I know it's 2/3rds the size of a regular soprano but I was wondering what that was exactly. I just got an Ohana sk21 and am trying it out to see how I feel about it. ;)

1937Scott
03-26-2012, 03:38 PM
The Noah is 19 1/2" from the butt of the body to the very tip of the crown head. The scale is exactly 12" and the body is 8 1/2" long. The neck is 1 3/8" wide at the nut, which seemed narrow to me originally, now I'm used to it. --That's the same width of the Kala Pocket.

I got my KoAloha from San Diego, CA, www.theblueguitar.com Everyone else was out of stock, meaning you would have to order it and wait....potentially MONTHS. The Blue Guitar still has one listed on their website, a really nice shop. I think KoAloha is only building Noah's on an order-by-order basis, they are kind of a 2010 thing now...

I'd post pictures of the Kala next to the Noah if I were smart enough, but I'm old and not savvy and don't know how. I could e-mail you pics from my phone if you like.

I CANNOT say enough good things about the KoAloha. The intonation, sustain, and VOLUME!! It is louder than a full body dreadnought (laminate) guitar I have! Truly a great ukulele. The action was absolutely perfect from the factory, a real joy to play. Let me know if you'd like to see or have any other questions. Oh, yeah, I put a strap on the Noah, it helps me go up and down the fretboard better without slipping or dropping. The Kala is smaller and I have a way of holding it that works without a strap.

Finally, I just measured my Kala, it's actually 16 1/4" from the butt to the tip of the head.

Lardy Fatboy
11-11-2013, 09:01 AM
Well I finally got a Kala Pocket, did a review of it for Ukulele Corner and thought I'd post something here. I suspected there would already be a review for me to add one too and there is, so before I start my review thing I'll just make a couple of comments about what has been said before. I agree the Aquila Nyguts are a bit heavy and thick for it (but remember the new Sopraninio Aquila strings are made for a smaller scale than this) however the intonation on mine is fine all the way up. So one with my review and first a picture (in case anyone doesn't know what they look like)
60802
My Ukulele was made for Kala in China in 2011. The body is all solid acacia with a matching acacia veneer on the headstock over a fairly fat mahogany neck. The fretboard and bridge are rosewood and the nut and saddle are plastic. The fretboard is 12 frets long, with three MOP fret markers at 5, 7 and 10 with matching white dots on the right hand side and meets the body at the twelfth fret. The finish is a very nice even satin and the bookmarking of the top and bottom is beautifully done, really nicely showing off the grain. The Ukulele is a fraction over 16in (41cm) long with an 11in (28cm) scale length and the neck width is on the narrow side for Ukuleles though it looks wide in perspective, given the small stature of the overall package. The tuners are good quality friction ones but are a bit big for the Ukulele meaning they can get in the way of each other when tuning; and when playing too. The bridge is an odd stringing arrangement where the strings double back under the saddle, this is good for space but does make the saddle sit high above the soundboard. Overall the build quality appears excellent and my only criticism is the large tuners, and the nut is possibly a bit large for the size of instrument too, but this doesn't matter that much

When playing it, the first and biggest issue is, (and it has been said before - lots of times by lots of people), this is a difficult Ukulele to play. This can be said for all Sopraninos but with the Pocket the small size of the neck and the closeness of the tuners is added too by the bridge being very close to the bottom of the Ukulele. This makes it difficult to hold without your strumming arm deadening the strings at the bridge end. When I first got it I found this really annoying and was going to be very critical of it but as I have noodled more I have found the technique is to hold your arm at more of an angle and strum lower down the neck that you would normally; it works but is a fiddle when swapping between this ukulele and a bigger one.

Tone wise, as with all Sopraninos, its size means it doesn't have a lot of depth, a lot of sustain and is very quiet. The volume is not helped by the thickness of the saddle or the lack of lower bout to generate volume, Sustain wise, its certainly not helped if you arm does deaden the strings at the bridge end. But when you do get it all to work properly it is a pleasant sweet treble tone. The Aquilas it comes with do seem a bit heavy and don't work very well on a C tuning or even a D one. The person who had it before me used an F tuning! and while I haven't been quite so drastic I am using a E one (this adds to the treble-ness), I may try some lighter strings on it later?

Build wise it is all very solid and really feels it, the neck is quite chunky the bracing is full on and it weighs more than some of my Sopranos. I really do think this one will last well including the finish - but that is partly because this is never going to be one of those Ukuleles that is played a lot. Its too quiet and too fiddly for any sort of gig, even taking to impromptu picnics. Its too quiet and too fiddly for anything really except having in a collection and pulling out occasionally to show people. It comes back to my thoughts when I first saw one - its a novelty - OK for a collector when they already have enough "playing" Ukes but very limited beyond that. Would I get one again if I lost it? Yes, especially now Kala have discontinued it, I think its quite pretty as an object and fun to own. It wouldn't be top of the list to replace but if I know I was going to build up a big collection again I would want another one.

To summarise - its a nice object but not a great working Ukulele and definitely NOT for beginners

For more photos and a sound clip visit Ukulele Corner (http://www.ukulelecorner.org.uk/home/in-the-corner/sopranini-sopranisimo-or-pocket/kala-pocket)