The Kala U Bass is a high-end low end


Owen Holt may not be a name you know, but he’s one of the great innovators of the ukulele. His Road Toad shop produces some amazing-shaped ukes, like the Sharkfin and Mana, that are some of the finest sounding ukes made today. But more importantly, he’s created a fifth uke to add to the set of soprano, concert, tenor and baritone: The bass uke. For a few years his Big Bufo Bass has quietly been earning a solid reputation in uke circles. While similar in size to a baritone uke, the BBB was created for Pahoehoe unique polyurethane bass strings, which Owen developed.

Owen and Kala have made sure that the U Bass is no slouch on the important parts. The tuners are custom HipShot Ultralights and the pickup is a pro-model passive Shadow piezo. Shadow has a long history of making piezos in Europe and makes some of the finest-sounding bass bridge assemblies around. This one has four ceramic elements, one for each string to generate a very present sound that’s warm and full.

As you’d expect with a custom-made instrument from a top uke luthiers, the Bufo is pricey for most uke player’s budget, so Mr. Holt paired up with Kala to produce the U Bass. According to Owen, “The goal on pricing had been to offer something at half the price of what I build in my shop. We could have gone cheap on the tuning machines, but sticking with the high quality Hipshots made it look like a bass and feel really solid.” The U Bass is built on a Kala baritone body made in China that has been fitted with a wider neck and a special bridge that attaches the string ends on the underside of the soundboard. This technique is being used by more and more luthiers, like Dave G of Waverly Street Ukuleles on his sopranos. It takes most of the pressure off the bridge as well as generates a more powerful volume from the soundboard.

The U Bass is loud enough to play unplugged for solo practice, but it’s really designed to be plugged in. No preamp is required. Just plug into a bass amp or recording input and you have a clean, humless signal that requires no EQ.

Owen named the Pahoehoe strings after a black, ropey lava. They are very soft on the fingers and the most comfortable bass strings you will have ever played. The tone is excellent and musicguymic, online seller of both the U Bass and the Bufo, reports that the strings on his Bufo have lasted more than a year. Owen adds, “The original set of Pahoehoe strings are still on the first bass I tried them on in January 2006, so almost three and a half years.” They can squeak against the fingers sometimes, which can be corrected by rubbing a small amount of silicone lubricant on the fingers.

Here’s a sample of what the U Bass sounds like. It was recorded with a little compression and distortion on a Boss Micro BR recorder.

The first production run was only 12 basses. “The first ones were all done fretted. They will be done is both fretted and fretless on the next run,” notes Owen. I’ll go out on a limb and recommend the fretted over the fretless. On a bass with a scale this short, hitting the high notes on a fretless can be difficult, as owners of the rubberband-stringed Ashbory bass will attest.

The U Bass retails for about $600. That might seem pricey for a uke made in China, but the tuners and pickup alone retail for well over $200. Mine came with a case and a humidifier as well, so the package price truly was complete. Players used to the short string length of a uke will find the U Bass easy to adapt to, while adding a competent low end to their sound. For those looking to amplify the U Bass for Coffee House play, the battery-power Roland Micro Cube Bass RX is a good partner.  The U Bass will be in short supply while Kala completes the second run. When ready, they will be available from musicguymic and well as from the Uke Surfer shop in Germany.

18 Responses to “The Kala U Bass is a high-end low end”

  1. Hi. I just bought a ubass and was wondering, since I’m not a bass player, if there’s any sheet music for this (til I get my feet) or can I use regular bass music?

  2. Ellen,

    The UBass uses a standard 4-string bass tuning, so any bass tabs should work. To get your feet wet, try following the chords with the same single note.

  3. This Uke sounds like a really good instrument (pardon the pun). Do you find it to be robust and is the sound really worth the higher price tag?

  4. Ellen, try to join some bass clinics. They are willing to help you out.But if you aren’t interested in joining clinics,try using the chords with similar single note. You can do this since you got hooked to playing bass recently.

  5. That’s a lovely, full bass uke sound.
    @Gina: the bass uke is tuned to E-A-D-G like a standard bass, so you should be able to use the same music.

  6. I own several Basses, but when I read that if you’re a Bass player you have to try the KALA uBass before you die, I did…and now I don’t even touch my other basses. The sound is amazing. I had a bit of a hard time tuning it, but when I string it correctly (It’s a must) it tunes fine. It feels like a toy but trust me it’s a serious sound. I now play the uBass with my band, and everyone loves it. One other point, get a hard shell case because on the soft shell the pegs fits exactly and every time I take the uBass out from the soft case the strings are off tuned.

  7. I’ve put my UBass in the hands of two pro bass players now and it was hard to getting it away from them.

  8. If my opinion counts here, I really like this article. It’s engaging and informative without being intimidating. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read this. Thanks for your insight.

  9. Just got mine. Love it. Great playability. I can do harmonics with it, just like my “normal” bass. Only limitation is that it is more difficult to reach beyond the 12th fret. A cutaway design might help this.

  10. Hi. Im 15, and I’m getting into the bass guitar for school. This is my first strings instrument, and I wanted to keep my options open so I’ve been researching the different types of basses. However, when I search for examples of the solid body bass, the only things that come up are the ukelele u-basses by Kala (or something of that sort). I haven’t found anything specifically about the solid body bass or even the connection between the ukelele u-bass and the solid body. I’m really into the semi-hollow body but I want to keep an open mind. I’m REALLY not interested in the short scale bass, because although I am a beginner, I would like to start off on the standard bass guitar to avoid a difficult transition from something easy to the standard. Any advice, links, sites, blogs/tutorials, or other form of help is appreciated. Thank you.

  11. I have read your review. I’m confused as to how it differs between the ukulele and ukulele bass, maybe I need to read it again.

  12. The UBass is tuned to genuine bass tuning. Basically it’s a bass with a shorter scale.

  13. You are one straightforward writer. I enjoyed reading your article and taking in all the interesting information. I share your thoughts on many points in this content. This is great.

  14. 2 ice

  15. Could you tell me what the sound difference is between the Mahogany vs Acacia model?

  16. Generally Acacia (in the smiley as Koa) has a nice warm tone plus some brightness. Mahogany is warm and mellow, closer to cedar. That said, I doubt you’ll hear much if any difference plugged in. The old standby Mahogany was probably chosen initially for sturdiness and Acacia was probably chosen for look. Mahogany wood is getting more expensive, so Acacia will also keep the cost of the UBass down.

  17. Thanks mate. The actual Acacia model is more expensive than the mahogany model. So from what your saying, it seems silly to pay the extra money for the acacia model unless buying for the looks.

  18. Craig: Could be they’re pricing it for when acacia gets more expensive, and it will since its being used so much right now.

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