I have had it for a couple of years now but have never got around to doing a full "nuts and bolts" review of it, Now though with it being 10 years old and Kala releasing some 10th anniversary specials perhaps it is time I did one to say how a Kala has stood up to 10 years use.
The Ukulele itself is a 14 fret Soprano with a 343mm, (13½ in), scale and has the model number LH-SLN and this means there is not an exact equivalent in Kala's current catalogue, the closest is probably the KA-S however this only has 12 frets to the body and has a slightly longer scale length, (by 5 mm). Other obvious differences are the body of the current one is slightly fatter (about 10 mm wider at the widest point) The body length is about the same though, so the extra two frets mean the bridge position is much higher on the Lahaina; and it is a completely different design of bridge too, (though still with the tie around string attachment). Other cosmetic differences are the shape of the headstock and the black and white pinstripe decal soundhole rosette on the Lahaina; plus of course the branding logos. Similarities are they both come in a laminate mahogany with a satin finish and white plastic binding around the top and bottom of the body on the sides, they both have a plastic nut and saddle, and they both have open geared tuners with white buttons, (the Lahaina's are slightly pearlised and iridescent; now I know this is a difficult thing to photograph so I'm not sure if the Kala's are?) Finally they were both made in China, though I couldn't say if it was the same factory.
Enough comparisons now, and I can't talk about the quality of build new as I didn't get it new but that not entirely the point. The key thing to talk about is how it has stood up to crossing a couple of oceans and ten years of life?
And the answer to that is pretty well. Its life has not been hard, when I got it it came in a colourful UkuleleWorld.com Talina case which it had been kept in since new and though I don't keep it in that case now, (its my favorite Soprano case so I use it all the time for all of my Sopranos when they go to any jams), I do keep it carefully; and as I have quite a few Sopranos it doesn't get played that often. With this in mind, the satin finish is still pretty pristine with no bad wear marks and not signs of bubbling or flaking. The neck is oddly a lot glossier than the body though, and I think this was the case when new as this finish extends up to the headstock and there is no chance of "worn shiny by playing" there. Still a good even finish on the neck with no worrying wear marks. All of the decals and bindings are still crisp too with no signs of fading or coming away, so visually it has stood the test of time perfectly and though it clearly doesn't look new, but for the name it would quite happily pass for a couple of years old.
Build wise it has stood the test of time too. It must have been built very sturdily to start with as it is still very sturdy now, there is no signs of any movement from the bridge or the neck, the nut and all of the frets sit nicely flat and solidly in place, the machine heads all work smoothly and properly with none of the screws out of place and no issues with keeping the Ukulele in tune. The only problem with the build, and this has been the case since I got it and I've never been able to pin it down, is an odd creak from the body that happens sometimes when I hold it? It comes from the lower bout and is nothing to do with the strings or playing, it's some kind of wood creak from the pressure of holding it. I don't know if this is something that has happened with age or it it has been there since new but it's not getting any worse, in fact since I changed the strings - It came with black GHS strings which I think were original as they were identical to the ones that come on a Makala, and as I am no fan of GHS strings on a Ukulele, (I like them on a Banjolele though?), I changed them for a set of Aquila Reds which I think work under less tension - it has got a bit better!
I can't talk about factory set ups as again I didn't get it new but it is set up nicely now, (and was when I got it), with the strings at a nice height and no buzz anywhere on any frets. The intonation is pretty good too, a tad sharp on the C string at the 12th fret (and the G too but not as much and you can't really say much when it's a low G on a Ukulele that wasn't specifically built for low G) but this is usually the case, especially with non compensated Ukuleles, and well within playable parameters. More importantly the tuning doesn't drift off at the 1st fret because the nut slots are too high and to my mind that is the real place that you notice intonation issues - especially if lowering them any introduces fret buzz! It is very nice to play too a smooth and solid feeling neck with quite a chunky profile, smooth, nicely dressed frets with nothing sharp or obtrusive; and I prefer the higher bridge position, it makes the Ukulele easier to hold even if it does dampen the sound a bit more.
On to the sound and this is probably this Ukuleles weakest feature, It is a laminate I know, and it is better than most of the "basswood" budget models, but to my ear it is a little "plinky" One of the reasons I went low G was to try and overcome this, but that has only partially worked, the low G does add bass but, and once again often the case on Ukuleles that weren't designed for a low G, it is a bit quieter and less forceful than the other strings. Not having the high G reduces the plink but the low G doesn't do quite enough to balance it. (by plink I mean a slightly strident short sustained treble tone; the kind of sound that people who don't like the Ukulele cite as one of the reasons they don't like them)
The final questions:-
Do I think it will last? - Well that was one of the reasons for writing this in the first place, and yes, given the first 10 years I can see no reason that it won't, even with regular use. it is a nice Ukulele to practice on and a perfectly acceptable one for any occasion, small sessions, the local Ukulele club and even on stage in a Ukulele orchestra, (it's probably not the right Ukulele for stage solo work but if you had to it wouldn't let you down badly).
Would I get one again? - The collector in me says Yes! but that's for the geekery; the name on the headstock and the sound hole label. As a player? Well I'd certainly have something of this quality, but that's a crowded marketplace these days, (a marketplace brought about in no small part by this model of Ukulele), and there isn't that much to distinguish it above the others. I like the higher bridge position, but that is usually the position on 14 fret Sopranos, (unless they have very small bodies but then are they long neck Minis?) I suppose though that 14 fret Sopranos are not that common in this sort of quality bracket so that raises the likelihood, but for this particular "very rare" model not for its replacement in Kala's catalogue. Overall then it's a yes but I doubt I'd get the chance.
And the final summing up:-
After ten years this proves what we all already suspected; Kala make good, solid, attractive Ukuleles that given a minimal amount of looking after will reliably last as long as you, (and probably your children), want them to. Happy 10th Birthday Kala!