Redesigned 2016 line has new fit, finish and featuresBy David Sands
September 28, 2016
The surf is definitely up these days with Kala’s new 2016 California series of U-Basses. This summer, the instrument manufacturer, known for its distinctive small-size big-sound ukulele basses, released a revamped version of the solid-body U- Bass line, which had been off the market for about a year.
“It’s a new and improved version, and it’s been a long time coming,” Kala’s President and Founder Mike Upton tells FBPO. “This is, in our estimation, the best yet in terms of the fit and finish, the components, the playability and the feel. And the sound is just what it’s always been; it’s just a great booming low-end sound.”
Kala sports a total of 13 different models in its California series, all of which have been updated. Created with the assistance of U-Bass inventor Own Holt, the line offers numerous four- and five-string options, including maple and koa wood U-Basses and even a special signature model used by the great South African bassist Bakithi Kumalo.
Unlike Kala’s imported U-Bass offerings, the Californias are all made by hand at the company’s shop in Petaluma, California. They also come with a special active electronics system made exclusively for Kala by the LR Baggs company, which features powerful pickups and a special presence control that allows players to cover an enormous range of sounds and tones—everything from reggae grooves and upright bass vibrations to aggressive rock and rolling.
The latest batch of California U-Basses was released August 15. Although the basic concept and electronics remain the same, the manufacturer has taken strides to improve the neck, body and string layout, based on feedback from players.
So what’s changed with the 2016 models? The shape, for starters. The new Californias feature updated neck joints for greater access to the upper frets and a slimmer neck profile to make playing more comfortable. The lower half of the instruments has undergone some changes as well.
“[With] the five-string [models], we enlarged the body slightly, so it’s more balanced and has a better feel, whether you’re sitting down or standing up,” says Kala Manufacturing Manager Jason Villa. “It also aesthetically looks more balanced as well.”
The bodies of the four-strings have been altered “slightly” as well to achieve a similar effect, according to Villa.
Players should feel more at ease for another reason too, as both the necks and bodies of the U-Basses have been cut and sanded to create smoother, more rounded edges.
Kala has also adjusted string spacing to make the strings more centered, which should prevent more aggressive players from plucking them off the edge of the fretboard. Observers will also notice new offset face dot markers—black dots against a maple fretboard for the fretted koa-topped versions—which were added to provide greater visibility when playing. What’s more, the redesign includes a larger control cavity to make nine-volt battery replacement easier and a back plate to conceal string access points.
In addition to all this, rather than lacquer, the California models are now coated with a semi-gloss, UV-cured polyester finish that’s durable and environmentally friendly. Finally, the redesigned U-Basses now come with a stylized bass clef koa marquetry logo to add a little touch of distinctiveness to the line.
“Every element of the instrument—the look of it, the playability of it, the sound of it—everything’s been stepped up,” says Upton, “and it’s just a joy to play.”
The newly redesigned 2016 California Solid Body Series U-Basses range in price from $999 to $1,299. They’re available now exclusively through Kala’s website.