The Kala uBass Blog just published a brief timeline of the history of the uBass.
It starts in 2007 when Mike Upton of Kala and Owen Holt of Road Toad Music meet and goes to 2018 and Beyond.
Check it out HERE.
As pointed out by Bass Player magazine, Kala is now offering its uBass models with different string options.
Not exactly new, the uBass models have been available for a while (all except the Bubinga, which is fairly new) and you could get the strings separately and restring your uBass if you were so inclined. Still, it’s nice to know Kala is offering options if you are not a fan of the original Pahoehoe strings.
You can now get The Rumbler U-Bass with Aquila Silver Rumbler strings, which are designed “with increased density and stability for a clear, resonate low end.”
You can buy the The Bubinga U-Bass strung with Road Toad Polyurethane Pahoehoe strings, which gives “it a deep, punchy low end.”
Or you can buy The Exotic Mahogany U-Bass with Kala Round Wound strings that adds “treble while retaining the immense low end.” Pahoehoe also are available on the Exotic Mahogany if you prefer.
Ever wondered why every uBass has a dead toad on the headstock? Sure you have.
The toad, actually a Bufo marinus – or cane toad – which was introduced to the United States to control pests, is the “mascot” of Owen Holt’s Road Toad Music. As you probably know, Owen is largely responsible for the development of the uBass, which is based on his company’s Big Bufo bass.
Anyway, I’ll let Owen explain how the logo came about, as featured on Kala’s Facebook page:
Cane Toads are big and easy to spot while driving those slow Kauai highway speeds. The funny thing about the toad is while we were driving down the road, we said ‘Road Toad’ each time we spotted a dead toad… After about four or five ‘Road Toads’, we both thought it would be a cool name to use for something later down the line, so I photo’d one a block from the condo that we stayed in and that’s the logo…That logo is a flattened toad and that’s why it’s sporting the ‘chalk outline’ pose. Doesn’t Road Toad Music sound better than Dead Toad Music or Make Toad Music? Make (mah keh) being Hawaiian for dead.
According to Mike Upton, he decided to use the Road Toad as the uBass logo to honor Owen Holt and all the work he put into helping design the original uBass for Kala:
I had heard the story of the toad on the road from Owen. I wanted to show the collaboration between Road Toad Music and Kala by having the toad on the headstock. I thought that was a good way to show the connection with Owen.
So there you have it folks. The story of the Road Toad and the original uBass.
Spice up your playing and add a little color to your life by replacing those boring, old, black Pahoehoe strings on your uBass with a new set of brightly colored “Dreads” strings.
They’re the same Pahoehoe formula as the regular strings, but they come in black, green, yellow and red. And while you’re at it, might as well play some Reggae in honor of these colorful babies.
According to Mike Upton of Kala, the Dreads feel a bit smoother than the black Pahoehoe, even thought they are not significantly different in formulation. He also notes they are a bit brighter (in sound) than the black strings.
Check out Mike playing a set of Dreads in THIS VIDEO.
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.
Road Toad Music has finally updated its web site and put up new pages for the Kala Solidbody uBass models.
The Solidbody–like the acoustic uBasses–were designed by Road Toad for Kala. Road Toad has been designing Ukes for Kala since 2008.
Check out the uBass information page at their Bassuke.com site. Or go directly to their store to purchase yourself one. They’re selling for $996. And that includes ground shipping in the US and a Deluxe Kala Bag.
And speaking of Kala bags, the company updated its web site and added a new page with all its bags on it. Just click on a photo to go to that bag’s page. They’ve got a really neat hard case for the acoustic uBass and it’s only $99.
Kala Brand Music Co. finally got around to updating their website.
In addition to adding the Solidbody uBass pages–complete with photos and specs on all the models–they’ve added a new front page slide for the Solidbody to the slide show. This one looks like it could become a new ad for the Solidbodies.
The front page slide show showcases new Kala products and photos of customers with their Kala Ukes.
Give it a look.
And speaking of updates, Road Toad Music finally updated their website. It’s been quite a long time since those guys have changed anything on their site.