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.

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