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Thread: Kala Solid Mahogony Soprano KA-SMHS

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
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    Maidstone, UK
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    Default Kala Solid Mahogony Soprano KA-SMHS

    After a couple of months plinking around on a cheapy first uke (Stagg US10 - horrible intonation) I decided that ukuleles were pretty darn funky and I had to get a half decent one. Being a poor student I wasn't looking to spend a lot on an expensive instrument. I had heard good reviews about Lanikais and had seen one for sale in my local music shop for £50, so went along to try it out. Sold out. So I though i would take advantage of being there anyway and try out the other ukes thay had. Next step up in price was a Laka (wannabe Kala?! made my Vintage I think) for £99. Sounded much nicer in tone than my cheapy, but still had some dissapointing intonation issues, which was what I was trying to escape from. Next price step - £149 for a Kala solid mahogany. I strummed a couple of chords and was wow-ed by the warmth of tone and spot on intonation. Admittedly my ears are somewhat untrained and anything would sound amazing after what I was used to playing, but even so it was a joy to play. Having gone from looking for a £50 instrument to one three times that price I was a bit unsure, but even I could tell the difference in sound quality between the all solid Kala and the laminate Laka (which may or may not have had a solid top - I can't remember). Another selling point was the fact that it came with Aquilas as standard. So after much umming and erring I bit the bullet and bought the better instrument. What are Student Loans for, after all?

    Review

    Features: 8/10

    • solid mahogany body
    • mahogany neck
    • rosewood (I think) fretboard and string-through bridge
    • Aquila high G strings
    • black friction tuners (not sure what make, sorry)
    • pearl fret markers top and side
    • saddle and nut look like ebony, but may be some kind of resin?
    • matte finish
    • body is slightly deeper at the bottom than the top
    • faux tortoiseshell binding, plus a little bit on the heel, which looks nice
    • black and white purfling, also looks nice
    • rosette looks like a decal, but I wouldn't expect inlay for this price!
    • made in China (it has the little gold sticker that proudly says so!)



    Sound: 8/10

    I haven't had the opportunity to play that many different ukes, so I can't make a particularly accurate assesment of the sound quality. However I like the sound I get from it. In C tuning the sound is lovely and warm and mellow. Take it up to D and it suddenly becomes brighter and bouncier and more like the typical clear Hawaiian sound. Out of curiosity I even tried, with some trepidation, pushing it into E tuning (does anyone actually use this?). The sound is sharp and crystal clear. Guess this isn't really advised as the tension might be too high and cause damage if played that way for a long time, but it did sound pretty nice and quite different.

    In the first few weeks of playing I picked up a few flaws in the sounds quality, but I am starting to realise they are flaws in my playing style rather than problems with the instrument. For example, I thought that it sounded rather duller and muddier when I got it home, but soon realised that it gets like that if you press the back against your body. Give it some space and the whole thing lights up and sings out beautifully. The narrower profile at the top of the body (mentioned above) makes this a little easier. Does anyone know if there is another reason for this shaping? Does it affect the sound at all?

    Similarly I thought the intonation was still a bit iffy, but it seems to depend a lot on where you place your finger between the frets and how hard you push. With a gentle touch just behind the fret the intonation is great all the way up the fretboard. I'm now concentrating on tidying up my sloppy left hand! Only real problem seems to be the C string, which does sound a bit dead at times unless it's open.

    Sustain seems quite good for a soprano. Again, I haven't really tried any upper end models to compare it to, but I think it's pretty good.

    Maybe in the future I will try different strings, but for now I'm happy with the sound I get from the Aquilas.

    Overall, sound quality is very nice for a uke of this price range.


    Action, fit and finish: 7/10

    Not experimented with action, but it feels nice to me. Nice and easy to press the strings down, no fret buzz except in gnarly barre chords, but I expect that's more to do with my lack of precision. I'm not really confident enough to play around with altering nuts or saddles (unless I'm cycling, in which case correct nut-saddle relationship is vital and if done poorly can ruin the chances of any action).

    I'm not entirely sold on the matte finish. I'm a bit of a tree-loving hippy, so in my opinion it would be nicer if you could get a feel for the fact that it's solid wood, i.e. feel some of the texture of the grain etc., rather than feeling like it's been coated in a thin layer of plastic (which I guess it has, really). The neck has a nicer, more natural feel to it. I also really like the wooden nut and saddle. Much nicer than bone effect plastic, which looks cheap and tacky if you ask me.

    There are a few blemishes in the finish - a bit of roughness on the front of the body around where the fretboard joins. Also I've just noticed that a bit of the white purfling is slightly discoloured. These things are barely noticeable though. No little blobs of excess glue anywhere.

    The friction pegs needed tightening when I first got it, and I may tighten them up a little more.

    I like the fact that you can see pencil marks on the wood inside the sound hole. They give it a more human feel Also the cutaway KALA inscription in the head is a nice touch.


    Reliability and Durability: 9/10

    It feels well solid and well made. No little rattly bits, nothing coming loose, the joints are all tight and flawless and it feels like it's pretty durable. Don't think I'll have any problems with it falling apart.


    Customer service: 9/10

    Not had any reason to get in touch with Kala yet as I have had no problems. Comes with a 1yr warranty, which is nice to know. Also like the fact that it comes with decent strings.


    Overall: 8/10

    Perhaps in retrospect I should have shopped around and tried out different instruments so I would have more idea of what to look for, but I'm very happy with my purchase Sounds lovely, it's well made, it feels nice to hold and it's great fun to play. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a nice 2nd uke. Sure, it's not going to quite compare to the more expensive brands, but for the price I think it's excellent.

    Note: I can't find this model on the Kala website and the only sites I can find selling it are UK based, so I was wondering if it was only available in the UK. It is similar to the KA-ASMS on the Kala website (http://www.kalaukulele.com/KA-ASMS.htm) but has the friction pegs instead of geared tuners and has a different bridge, saddle and nut. Otherwise, it looks very similar.

    Pictures of the SMHS can be found here

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
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    UK
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    Default

    Deja vous, Spooky. I could have written the above review having recently bought the Kala KA-SMHS. What does the "H" stand for?

    The only differences are, I'm not a student & I did alter the action on the nut.

    So after messing that up I fitted a replacement nut & tried again
    Ordered a camel bone today to make a third nut.
    When will I learn to leave well alone.

    finbar

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
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    Maidstone, UK
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    Default

    I think it stands for maHogany!

  4. #4
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    Aug 2009
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    Huntington Beach, Ca
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    Default

    No idea what the H stands for, but in my opinion i think you bought the nicer of the two for sure. I believe all darker wood ukes should have an ebony nut and saddle. SWEET UKE!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
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    6

    Default Me Too

    Just to say I have recently obtained one of these ukes. The review is pretty accurate & the sound is lovely. The difference in sound could be due to the slightly larger body than the usual soprano uke. The larger bout is a little larger & the uke wouldn't fit in my usual solid case. Out with the gig bag & no more problem!

    One slight issue with mine is that the wooden nut has had its slots cut not quite symmetrical making the strings slightly uneven spaced accross the neck, so I ordered a new one to fit myself. Also, I emailed the wholesaler who is arranging for one to be sent to me here in the UK from California. How's that for service!

  6. #6
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    Nov 2009
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    Default

    ha yeah, just realised how long it is

  7. #7
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    Nov 2009
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    UK
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    Default

    Unfortunately the longer I have this uke the less I like it.
    I'm beginning to wonder if it has a faulty Aquilla string.

    I was a little concerned when I saw it advertised as "A solid mahgony top" by these guys. http://www.courtneyandwalker.co.uk/a..._Ukuleles.html

    Based on the fact that UK retailers don't appear to know their stock.

    I decided to email the UK distibutor to confirm that the KA- SMHS was indeed totally solid mahgony. I'm still waiting for a reply, so it doesn't look like we have the customer service over here.
    I wish MGM would open a UK based outlet.

    finbar

  8. #8
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    Sep 2009
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    Default

    sorry you are having trouble.

    If you think you have a bad string - try swapping it the other way around -seriously - it can work!

    Incidentally - you should be able to see if the sides (and possibly back) are solid - get a torch - look inside - you should see grain in the wood that follows the pattern of the grain on the outside of the uke. - if it does so, (ruling out an ultra low probability of it being pure luck!) then the instrument is solid.


    Nice review by the OP btw
    Last edited by bazmaz; 11-20-2009 at 04:01 AM.
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  9. #9
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    Nov 2009
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    portsmouth uk
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    Default answer on the smhs issue.

    Hi everyone I have today order the concert size of this uke the smhc. I have ordered it from mgm and I asked the difference between the ka asmc and the ka smhc he said they ate now. Exactly the same but there used to be a weight difference so theres your answer

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
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    6

    Default

    "he said they ate now." [/QUOTE]

    I guess you missed a key on the PC. Could you please tell us what you intended to say.

    I do find that the bout is larger on the soprano KA-SMHS as I am now trying to source a larger case than my original for it. I think this could account for some of the variation in sound on the soprano version at least.
    Henry.

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