Welcome All Kala uBass Enthusiasts

If you have an interest in the Kala brand uBass, then this is the blog for you.

The uBass Appreciation Society is the first blog on the Internet solely dedicated to those who play, or are interested in, the Kala brand uBass, a combination baritone ukulele and bass guitar. This ground-breaking 21″ short scale bass guitar produces the same pitches as a standard bass and is the closest you can come to the sound of an upright acoustic bass without an actual upright.

This blog is for all those interested in playing tips, news and information about the Kala brand uBass.

*We are not affiliated in any way, nor are we supported by, the Kala Brand Music Co., its employees or related companies.

– Dean Tomasula – uBass Appreciation Society

Handmade Koa uBass on the Way from Kala

Kala's new Acoustic/Electric Koa uBass

Kala’s new Acoustic/Electric Koa uBass

Kala came to Summer NAMM in Nashville this year ready to impress, and it seems they’ve accomplished their goal.

Rick Carlson brought along one of the company’s new uBass models to the show. It’s a handmade Acoustic/Electric Koa model with LR Baggs electronics, made in Kala’s Custom Shop in Petaluma, Ca. And boy is it pretty.

Check out this video of Rick introducing the newest member of the uBass stable at Summer NAMM.

This model sells for $2799 and comes delivered in a tweed hard case. It’s available fretted or fretless. Kala also has a Flame Maple version ($2299) and a Peruvian Walnut version, also $2299.

Say Hello to My Little Friend

Sam Price of the Honey Island Swamp Band.  Photo © C. Stewart Logan

Sam Price of the Honey Island Swamp Band. Photo © C. Stewart Logan

 

The little bass with the big sound.

But then, since we’re uBass players, we already knew that.

So, apparently, Sam Price, bass player for Honey Island Swamp Band (whose music has been described a Bayou Americana) likes to whip out his uBass while on stage to freak out the crowd. He did this recently while playing “Josephine” at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Apparently he’s been whipping it out for a few years now.

As he recently told Bass Player magazine:

“I love to mix in the Uke-Bass once in a while because it freaks folks out to hear such a big, round sound coming from such a little instrument.”

Indeed.

Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

Hadean Omega Bass Uke UKB-24

Hadean Omega Bass Uke UKB-24

 

You know what they say, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Well, maybe that’s true. Maybe it isn’t. It up the person (or in this case company) being flattered (or in this case, imitated) to decide.

Kala must be really flattered then because they are being imitated left and right. We told you back in December about a few of its competitors with uBass models. Well, the latest one appears to be the Hadean Omega Bass Uke, which as far as I can tell are sold exclusively in the U.S. by Rondo Music. Rondo is well known in the guitar and bass gear community for selling inexpensive Chinese instruments of varying quality, particularly Agile guitars and SX basses. They usually are the sole U.S. distributor of products manufactured by Team International out of Taiwan.

In an effort at full disclosure, I must say that I have purchased a number of bass guitars and some accessories from Rondo over the years. Their customer service is excellent and their products are cheap and for the most part playable. They certainly are not a fly-by-night organization–they stand behind their products and have a generous return policy.

However, their products tend to be Chinese copies of well known brands (Gibson and Fender mostly). In fact, at one point they were selling an SX bass guitar model that looked so much like a Fender, that Fender had to sue them to stop selling it. Team International redesigned the bass and changed the headstock to look a bit less like a Fender in order to keep selling the model.

Anyway, back to the Hadean Omega Bass Ukes. They are clones of Kala–both the acoustic and Soldibody models. I have not seen one in person, so I can’t speak to the quality of the instrument or its sound, but for the price they are selling at, you can’t expect much. I’m not even sure if they are made by Team International, but I suspect they are.

The models are listed on the Rondo Music web site as prototypes, so I suspect Rondo is testing the waters with them.

They have the Hadean Bass Uke UKB-31 (which is a clone of the acoustic Spruce Kala uBass). Here’s what the web site has to say about the model:

Prototype Bass Ukulele

  • Pre-amp for amplified use with volume, bass, mid and treble control
  • Build in tuner
  • Aquila brand strings
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • Spruce top, Mahogany back and sides.
  • Rosewood fretboard.
  • Tune like a standard bass guitar Low to high: E, A, D, G

Measurements

  • Overall length: 29 3/4″
  • Length of body: 14″”
  • Thickness of body: 3 3/4″
  • Width of upper bout: 7 1/2″
  • Width of lower bout: 10 5/8″
  • String Size Aquila Nylgut .085,.105,145,185
  • Width of neck at the nut: 1 13/16″
  • Width of neck at the 9th fret: 2 1/8″
  • Thickness of neck at the nut: 11/16″
  • Thickness of neck at 9th fret: 7/8″
  • Scale length: 20″
  • Weight: only 4 pounds!

Rondo Music sells this model for $119.95 plus shipping.

Then there’s the Hadean Bass Uke UKB-24:

Prototype Bass Ukulele

  • Pre-amp for amplified use with volume, bass, mid and treble control
  • Build in tuner
  • Aquila brand strings
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • Swamp ash body top, back and sides.
  • rosewood fretboard.

Measurements

  • Overall length: 29 3/4″
  • Length of body: 14″”
  • Thickness of body: 3 3/4″
  • Width of upper bout: 7 1/2″
  • Width of lower bout: 10 5/8″
  • String Size Aquila Nylgut .085,.105,145,185
  • Width of neck at the nut: 1 13/16″
  • Width of neck at the 9th fret: 2 1/8″
  • Thickness of neck at the nut: 11/16″
  • Thickness of neck at 9th fret: 7/8″
  • Scale length: 20″
  • Weight: only 4 pounds!

This one sells for the same price.

Hadean Solidbody Bass Uke UKB-22

Hadean Solidbody Bass Uke UKB-22

There’s the solidbody Hadean Omega Bass Uke UKB-20 2TS that sells for $149.95 plus shipping. And the solidbody Hadean Omega Bass Uke UKB-22 Blue that sells for $159.95.

The solidbodies feature:

Prototype Bass Ukulele

  • Active Pre-amp for amplified use with volume, bass and treble control
  • Aquila Nylgut brand strings
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • Solid swamp ash body.

Measurements

  • Overall length: 30″
  • Length of body: 13 3/4″
  • Thickness of body: 1 1/2″
  • Width of upper bout: 8 1/2″
  • Width of lower bout: 10 1/4″
  • String Size Aquila Nylgut .085,.105,145,185
  • Width of neck at the nut: 1 13/16″
  • Width of neck at the 9th fret: 2 1/8″
  • Thickness of neck at the nut: 11/16″
  • Thickness of neck at 9th fret: 7/8″
  • Scale length: 20 3/4″
  • Weight: only 4.5 pounds!

These uBasses look really nice. And they probably are decent instruments for the price. But you shouldn’t expect Kala quality at half the price. They probably don’t sound half as good as a Kala does. The problem that I have found with the basses I’ve owned from Rondo Music over the years is that the electronics leave a lot to be desired. The pickups and preamps were of cheap quality and did not sound very good. I usually ended up changing the pickups and wiring to get a halfway decent sound out of them. I suspect that would be the case with these uBasses as well.

But, as I’ve said before, competition is good for the industry and for the consumer. It’s nice to know the Kala uBass has carved a niche in the market and is now being copied by many other companies. It’s also nice to know that Kala is still the best in quality and sound.

If you want an awesome uBass that looks good and sounds great, there’s only one place to go.

Hot Models Gallery!

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 4.42.50 PM

When an email with that heading arrives in your email, any red-blooded male would open it first. Admit it. I know you would. I did!

Imagine my surprise when I opened the page and found not Hot Actress. Not Hot Girls. Not Hot Models, as the heading promises, but a page full of Kala uBasses. I was sort of hoping for some hot babes. But I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The page was full of hot models after all–hot uBass models. Maybe not babes in bikinis, but the models were hot nonetheless.

I’m not sure what the purpose of the page is. The photos have been culled from all over the Internet. Some of them are pretty large and would make great computer wallpaper.

This may be very effective spam. It did, after all, deliver on their claim of Hot Models. Just not human female models.

When is a Kala uBass Not a Kala uBass?

The Sakura Uke Bass "prototype"

The Sakura Uke Bass “prototype”.

 

When it’s a “prototype” uBass made from Kala parts and sold on eBay by someone called ukester, that’s when.

I troll eBay often, looking for bargains in musical instruments (which are getting fewer and far between these days), and have noticed this seller occasionally having a “uBass” for auction. He claims they are prototypes he made for a “nephew” who wanted an upright bass sound. But since there was no uBass at the time (this was apparently before the Kala uBass came out), he had to improvise. He also claims to have invented the uBass.

Here’s how he describes it on eBay:

before kala ever made a uke bass, i was told by a young hanai nephew that he wanted to play upright bass to keep with the sound of Traditional Hawaiian Music. He was just too small to handle an upright bass. I did a little research and became familiar with Mr. Owen Holt and ROAD TOAD MUSIC. Owen is the creator of the modern ukulele bass and the Pahoehoe uke bass strings. [You know the frog logo on the top of kala uke basses ?...dats ROAD TOAD's logo]  I also discovered that Fender had produced a similar solid body bass called the “Dog Bone” way back in the 1980s using silicon strings. I found and bought one of each. I quickly saw why the Dog Bone Bass with the silicone strings never really did well. The intonation was terrible mainly due to the stretching of the silicone strings. Owen Holt’s uke bass was outstanding but cost over $1,500. He is a fantastic luthier and much of the cost went into the basic instrument and the rest went into the top of the line components he used like the Custom Hip Shot tuners and the K&K Super Double Bass Pickups along with the Pahoehoe strings, mammoth ivory nut and saddle, etc…. so i went into da garage and began prototyping to make an affordable uke bass mainly for kids. My thoughts were and are that the top end components to reproduce the low bass frequency are more important than the quality of the body itself. To prove this i made a one string uke bass from a cardboard shoe box with a wooden ruler for a neck, it sounded pretty good !!! I have also made a great sounding 4 string uke bass from a Corn Flakes box!  So i went into da garage and began “chopping” ukes into uke basses copying Owen using the same high end components. I am not a luthier and used regular hand tools from the hardware, my horseshoeing rasp and sandpaper. I experimented with Kala, Ohana and vintage Harmony ukes mainly. They. at the time, were great quality and i got good deals on them. I am also not a businessman and contacted Kala about the possibility of everybody going in together to make an affordable uke bass for kids. I still have my email records from my conversations. The emails stopped abruptly and da rest is history……

I give him props for giving credit to Owen Holt at Road Toad Music. But as for the rest of his tale, it sounds a bit suspect to me.

First off, as far as I know Fender never officially released a bass called the “Dog Bone.” I think he’s referring to the Ashbory bass (which is and 18″ scale fretless bass using silicone strings and is shaped like a dog bone). They also went by the name DeArmond Ashbory Bass, Ashbory by Fender, and the Guild Ashbory Bass. It was called by players the “dog bone” because of its shape, but it was never called that by Fender. They did, however, make an amp handle called the “dog bone” handle.

Turns out ukester runs a vintage Ukulele business out of Hawaii called Uncle’s Garage Vintage Ukuleles. He currently has five Uke basses on his web site, three of which he claims are prototypes. One that is available on eBay is called the “Sakura.” It’s made from a Kala Baritone Uke body.

He describes the Sakura like this:

an UNCLES GARAGE early prototype ukulele bass, baritone size, solid mahagony, fretless, slimmed down neck without varnish, Custom HIPSHOT Ultralite tuners, Pahoehoe strings by Road Toad Music, Double K&K Pure bass pickups,  handcarved water buffalo horn  nut, cherry blossom applique on headstock, fingerboard and body…comes in a new hard/soft case, .a great high quality bargin…the parts would cost more than this

On his web site, he’s asking $400 for the Sakura. On eBay he wants $450 plus $77.20 for shipping.

Curiously, on his web site, he makes no mention of Kala, other to say that the Sakura is built around a Kala Baritone Uke body. But on his eBay auctions, he uses Kala to market his “uBasses.” He describes the Sakura as “The 1st ‘Kala Uke Bass’ ever made !!!!…a prototype by UNCLES GARAGE UKULELES.” He has Kala in quotes and doesn’t actually say it’s a Kala uBass, just a prototype based on a Kala. But he’s definitely promoting it like it’s a Kala product–and the first one at that.

Now, I have no problem with someone selling a Ukulele bass that they made or even put together from parts. I’m even cool with them marketing it as “similar to” a Kala uBass in style and sound. But I do have a problem with someone trading off the Kala name to sell their product as if it’s an actual Kala product. Although ukester doesn’t say outright that he’s selling a Kala uBass prototype, that’s definitley the impression he’s giving in his auction for the Sakura. He does call it the “1st ‘Kala Uke Bass’ ever made” and by putting Kala in quotes he’s acknowledging that it’s not actually a Kala prototype. That may cover him legally (I’m not a lawyer and I don’t even play one on TV so I don’t know for sure if it does cover him or not). But I do know it’s coming very close to unethical. A casual reading of the auction will lead you to think you are bidding on an early Kala uBass prototype when you are not. The Sakura, as he says in the auction’s description, is made from parts he “copied from Road Toad.”

So he’s using a Kala Baritone Uke body, Pahoehoe strings from Road Toad Music, and components he’s copied from both companies. And this makes it a Kala uBass prototype.

I’m sure that would be news to Mike Upton at Kala and Owen Holt at Road Toad Music.

Pyramid Black Nylon Tapewound Strings

Pyramid Strings' new Black Nylon Tapewounds for uBass. Photo © Magnus Sjöquist.

Pyramid Strings’ new Black Nylon Tapewounds for uBass.
Photo © Magnus Sjöquist.

 

Our friend Magnus Sjöquist over at PLAY UBASS! has done a pretty thorough review of Pyramid’s new Black Nylon Tapewound strings on his fretless uBass. These strings are not to be confused with Pyramid’s copper-wound tapewound strings, these are new.

Here’s some of what he had to say about the strings:

The strings has a texture that feels a bit like ”cloth”. If I compare the feel of my La Bella Tape Nylon strings, the Pyramids feels more like a regular roundwound string. The higher tension makes playing faster passages easier. So if fast is your thing these strings might be just right for you :-)
I really like the added tension of these strings, they obviously feel more like a regular bass string. The sound is also very nice ranging from fat, thubby low end (perfect for thumb mute style playing) to a nice top end (making harmonics sing more than other Ubass strings).

I won’t give away the ending. You’ll have to head over to his blog and read it for yourself.

The strings are only available for the acoustic uBasses right now, but that could change in the near future. The strings are available from Pyramid directly and at retailers, according to the company, but I could not find any online retailers that stock them. They may be easier to find in Europe than the U.S. right now.

Is it a Bass or a Ukulele?

Ohana Ukuleles OBU-22 Uke Bass

Ohana Ukuleles OBU-22 Uke Bass

 

It looks like Kala has created a monster. These days uBass clones are popping up everywhere. And that’s a good thing. Competition is good for the industry and for the consumer.

There also seems to be a trend to make Ukulele basses that use traditional metal bass strings, instead of the polyurethane Pahoehoe string the uBass uses. Manufacturers do this to distinguish their instruments from all the others out there.

At Winter NAMM this year, Ohana Ukuleles debuted their OBU-22 Ukulele Bass. It features a 25″ scale and metal strings. Like the beloved uBass, it’s tuned like a regular bass (EADG). According to Ken Middleton of Ohana, it shouldn’t even be called a Ukulele.

“I suppose strictly speaking, like most basses, it’s not really a Uke,” Middleton told Aldrine Guerrero of Ukulele Underground.

And he’s correct. It really isn’t a Uke. It’s a bass. A small bass, but a bass nonetheless. Anything larger than a baritone Uke body takes it out of the Ukulele range and into the short scale bass range.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the Ohana bass. I’ve been a bass player for more than 30 years and prefer short scale basses (that’s why the uBass is right up my alley). And the Ohana OBU-22 looks really nice and sounds great. But we don’t need to call it a Ukulele. It isn’t. We should just call it a bass and leave it at that.

Ken Middleton told Aldrine at NAMM that the reason Ohana went with metal bass strings, rather than Pahoehoe strings, is because the market “seems to be a little bit saturated” with uBass instruments. He stopped himself short of saying the market is already over the sound of the uBass (probably because he knows that’s not true). It’s that upright bass sound that makes the uBass what it is. If it sounded like a regular bass (which the OBU-22 does) it would just be another small acoustic bass.

You can watch Middleton and Aldrine discuss the Ohana’s ukes here. The OBU-22 discussion starts at 5:20 in the video.