Kala U-Bass Review – Ultimate Buying Guide (2019)

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Do you want to buy a Kala U-Bass?
I want to help you find the U-Bass that suits you. I’ll try to make it easy for you to understand all the differences between the models. I will focus only on the electro-acoustic models and not on the solid-body models.

The Kala U-Bass is probably one of the coolest instruments ever made.
Following this invention by KALA, other makers tried to imitate this instrument, and a whole new kind of musical instrument was created. Many bassists, included me, became addicted to playing it.

My Experience With The Kala U-Bass

The first time that I’ve played a U-BASS was in 2010. I sat down in a music store to play that thing and could not stop. I did not believe what I was hearing – the quality of the low frequencies coming out of this tiny gadget was superb.
It felt like playing a musical instrument that looked like a toy but sounded like a double bass when connected to an amplifier.
And that’s before I mentioned the strange strings on this instrument, which takes a few minutes to get used to, but once you do get used to it, it’s hard to stop.

That day I certainly enjoyed playing, but I was also skeptical. The price was around
400$ (that was the basic model and perhaps the second that Kala made – there were not as many options as today), and that’s not what I intended to spend, certainly not on such a small instrument that looked mostly like a gimmick at the time. so I didn’t buy it.

But – after that day and for a few weeks, I was sorry that I had not bought the Kala U-bass. I thought that such an instrument could become a substitute for playing double bass at different shows and in fact,
the 400$ price tag was not too much to spend for this goal.

After I finally got the U-Bass, I started to use it on various gigs and recordings.
The first thing that happened, since no one at the time knew what it was, is that I became the center of every show. Members of the band and also the audience was impressed by the sound and size (or lack of size to be exact) equally.

Slowly I began to understand better what would be a good use for the U-bass and what’s not.
Over time, I even upgraded to several newer models of the Kala U-Bass and I will review them here as well.

A video of me playing the Kala Ukulele Bass

Here is my Kala U-Bass Review:

The original “U-Bass 2”, which I had, had a lot of flaws and it is now unavailable for purchase, but luckily Kala has made a lot of progress since then. They added a preamp, Volume and Tone knobs, and a built-in tuner on all models.
The tuner is very much needed because I couldn’t find any tuner that can tune the U-Bass properly apart from its built-in tuner.

The other thing that has improved is the quality of precision and intonation of the fretting.
With the old models, even if you have tuned the bass in the right way, still some notes always seemed out of tune.
Well, these days are over, much due to the truss rod, which Kala added to all models.

So what is the difference between the models?

There are a few points to note when choosing between models:

Strings:

The basic and original strings of the U-Bass are the Road Toad Pahoehoe. These are the original black strings. They are made of a material called polyurethane, which is used for making sponges, car tires and even skateboard wheels.
The feeling of playing them is quite strange – It’s something between rubber and plastic. Playing these strings adds to the general feeling that you’re playing on a toy instrument, but as noted above, the low frequencies that come out of the bass make it clear that this is far from being a toy.
You can find these strings on most models of the U-bass but not on the low-priced models. Their production costs may be higher.
These are low tension strings, which are easy to play, but they are also quieter and require tuning more frequently.

Buy the Road Toad Strings on Amazon.com:
Black Pahoehoe Strings
Color Pahoehoe Strings

The next set of strings are the Aquila Silver Rumblers. These strings come with the rumbler model, which until recently was the most basic model among all the U-basses.
These strings have higher tension and therefore more accurate for playing, don’t get out of tune that much and giving a louder sound. At the same time, they are a bit more challenging to play and a little less adaptable than the Road Toad’s because they are less smooth and thicker. Also, there is a difference in feeling between the two high strings and the lower two strings – it is easier to play on the high strings.

Buy the Aquila Silver Rumblers on Amazon.com

Another option for strings is the Kala Round Wounds.
These strings can be found on the Exotic Mahogany, Striped Ebony and Journeyman models.
These are the middle price models of the Kala U-Bass.
They are made of metal cords. Because of this, they have the highest tension of all U-Bass strings, which helps to get a stronger and more precise sound, with accurate tuning.
This way, you can get a musical instrument that sounds just like any other acoustic bass guitar, but almost half the size.

Buy the Kala Round Wounds on Amazon.com

The last option is the Aquila Thundergut strings.
These are the white strings that you may have seen on some of the other Bass Ukulele makers models. Starting in 2018, Kala also adopts these strings in the newest and most affordable models they have ever produced.
These strings are very similar to the rumbler strings when it comes to tension and precision, but they emphasize the higher frequencies while trying to match the black Pahoehoe.
In my opinion, there is a little improvement from those black strings and also from the RUMBLERS, especially with touch and tension, but I prefer the lower bassy sound, so there is no perfect solution.

Buy the Aquila Thundergut strings on Amazon.com:
White Strings

Red Strings

Other elements that vary between models:

Tuning keys –

There are two options:
The simple model is the Custom black die-cast,
Which you’ll find on the Rumbler, Solid spruce top and the series of new affordable models – Wanderer, Passenger, Journeyman. I think you’ve understood who’s going to use them 🙂
The second model is the Custom Hipshot Ultralite, which is found on all other models.

From my experience, the Custom Hipshot Ultralite keys give value for their price.
The simple model is not as good with tuning and wears out easily, at least from my experience with them.

Nut / Saddle –

Unlike the early models where the saddle and the nut were made of plastic, Kala installed a Graphtech nut to the new models.
This is a significant improvement, and the strings sit better on the fretboard.
With the three newer and affordable models, they’ve gone back to plastic.

Back access – Here, too, in those affordable models, Kala has gone back to the old solution of screwing the cover. All other models have a cover with magnets attached to the bass’ body.
You don’t need to worry about the screws; it’s just less fun.

Summary – Which model should you buy?

It depends, of course, on your budget, your needs, and the level of your playing.
So let’s go over all the models (2019) –

Mahogany – Wanderer / Passenger / Journeyman –

These are the most affordable models ever created by Kala.
These models are recommended for beginners, who want to get a U-Bass, or for musicians who wish to play their bass on their couch, in front of the computer or on vacation. This will be perfect for fun or practice, in places where the full-scale bass is less comfortable to use.
Notice that the Journeyman is the only Kala Acoustic-Electric U-Bass that has a cutaway. There’s also a Journeyman model (Black/Red) that comes with Round Wounds strings on it.

Kala Wanderer U-Bass – https://amzn.to/2RTB6mo
Kala Passenger U-BASS  – https://amzn.to/2XiCuQg
Kala Journeyman U-Bass Bundle – https://amzn.to/2LxIEdp
Kala Journeyman Black/Red (Round Wounds)  – https://amzn.to/2NrUCb4

Rumbler –

This is the middle range model of the Kala U-Bass.
Pros: Price, strings (for the people who like the Rumblers strings).
Also, The Fretless Rumbler is the most affordable Kala U-bass fretless.
Cons: Tuning keys, strings (for other people).
Who should buy it:
Those who have been playing for several years and want to add this bass to their guitar arsenal for rehearsals and performances purposes.

Buy the Rumbler on Amazon.com:
Kala Rumbler U-Bass Fretless – https://amzn.to/2JoZo3U

Kala Rumbler U-Bass Fretted – https://amzn.to/2Jch16A
Kala Rumbler Mahogany Ubass – https://amzn.to/2Lyb8Un

Exotic Mahogany or Stripped Ebony –

In my opinion, these are the best models in terms of cost-effectiveness.
These models have all the well-made parts, and they come with the classic black Pahoehoe strings. Although these strings have their drawbacks, in the end, This is the Kala U-bass’ Original Sound.
Who should buy it :
Anyone who has the right budget, and professional musicians who need the “acoustic” sound for their performances. Double-Bass players who do not want to carry the Double-Bass to every rehearsal/gig.

You can also buy the model that comes with Round Wounds for an “electric” and stronger sound.

Kala U-Bass Striped Ebony Fretless – https://amzn.to/2Ji6SFx
Kala U Bass Striped Ebony/Round Wounds – https://amzn.to/306FhOC
Kala U-Bass Exotic Mahogany Fretless  – https://amzn.to/308fDc9

Kala Exotic Mahogany U-Bass Fretted –  https://amzn.to/2FMX4Cv

Spruce Top (Mahogany sides & back)

If you can tell the difference in sound between this model and the previous one, you may want to pay more.
If you can’t, I’m not sure you should.
You should also know that this model comes with the Custom black die-cast tuning keys, which is not as good in quality as the Custom Hipshot Ultralite.

Kala U-BASS Solid Spruce Top Mahogany Fretless – https://amzn.to/2J39ich

Solid Mahogany –

The most expensive and high-quality model.
It is made of solid wood. Both nut and saddle are made of wood, and it comes with a hard case.
Who should buy it :
The Kala U-Bass Fanatics, and those who need the hard case.
In terms of sound and usefulness, I did not find a big difference between this model and the Exotic / Stripped models.
Maybe you’re one of those who wants to feel that they’ve bought the best.
And that’s perfectly all right.

Kala U-Bass Solid Mahogany Fretless – https://amzn.to/2XnIQ64
Kala U-BASS Solid Mahogany Fretted – https://amzn.to/2LvT39m

Bonus:
How to record the U-Bass?

If you are a professional musician, music producer, or if you want to record the U-Bass at home,
Here are some tips for recording:

Like all acoustic instruments, the U-Bass requires some experiments to get a good recording sound.
And like any acoustic instrument, the U-Bass should not (preferably) connect directly to the console/preamp/sound card.
The direct connection doesn’t give the full sound, and it may sound poor.
With the U-Bass, like any acoustic bass, the problem is more severe because of the annoying ticking sound that comes with recording it. If you play live concerts, you may not feel it, but in a home studio or a professional studio, you definitely would.

The solution is, of course, recording using microphones.
For professional studio owners, my recommendation is to plug the bass into a bass amp at a separate room. Then use two microphones: one to record the amplifier and the other to record the bass.
If your studio does not have two rooms, I suggest you try one of the two: Record a bass amplifier with a microphone, or record the bass with a microphone, and check which sounds best for your project
If all of these options are not available to you, I recommend that you double your direct signal with an electric bass track or a midi bass track. This will give you the full sound that you need. Good Luck!

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Hello! thank you for this review.
    Do you know how does the ubass sounds on an electro-acoustic guitar amp? For instance on a Yamaha THR10 ?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Mike,
      I don’t know about this specific amp,
      but I have tried it on some vintage small guitar amps (not tube),
      and it was very cool. Just be careful with high volumes/high gain – it may ruin your speaker.

      1. Hi there,
        I’m actually a uke player, but have always wanted to get a bass to play around with… and generally see what it’s like to play bass. When I saw the Kala U-bass range I thought ‘I’m gunna get one of these. Not being a bass player, it’s a bit hard to know where to start. This review is probably one of the best I’ve seen, thanks.
        I like the look of the journeyman, and it’s price. The red one is the most appealing to my eye!!
        The red Journeyman seems to come with metal wound strings. Does that mean that I have to use those strings on that bass, or will it accommodate any of the other various string types. Because I’m sure that over time I’d want to experiment with the various string types.
        cheers
        greg

        1. Hi Greg,
          Thanks for writing. I’m glad I could help with this post.
          I’ve actually bought a Journeyman red U-Bass lately.
          I’m going to write a review about it soon.
          I find the metal wound strings the best because they are the loudest, and they have the highest tension, so there are no intonation problems.
          This is not the “classic” U-Bass sound, and of course, you can re-string the bass at any time with any U-bass strings set.
          Also, I like the cutaway.
          As always, if you’d like to use my affiliate links, that would be very appreciated.
          Cheers,
          Ido

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