Kala Waterman…Redesigned for 2022
In ukulele circles, Kala has been both applauded and criticized for their Waterman series of ukulele; ABS ukuleles modeled after the Maccaferri Ukuleles of the 1950s and 1960s.
The Maccaferri ukuleles were wonderful instruments made of styrene, and I have been lucky enough to have been gifted one by a friend, Ukester Brown (You can see his website at: https://www.ukesterbrown.com/index.html.).
Kala was applauded for the acknowledged design tribute to Maccaferri ukuleles (the moulds were destroyed, so no one could make them as they once were made), but criticized for their playability more than anything else. The action, or string height over the fretboard, was consistently too high, and was non-adjustable. The sound has never been an issue, as it is an ABS ukulele intended for harsh environments, like water (thus the name of the ukulele).
In 2022, Kala released a revised version of the Waterman. The colors are refreshed, but the main difference is that the latest Waterman features an adjustable saddle. I’m hesitant to buy one, as I have no need for one of these, and economic inflation has eroded the margin I used to have to be able to buy inexpensive ukuleles (and then sell them at a loss).
I presented ukulele sessions at the Ohio Music Educators Association earlier in February (thanks to Peripole Music), and there were several booths with ukuleles on hand. West Music had their own series of ukuleles (which I have not reviewed), and some Makala instruments. They also had models of the updated Waterman on hand.
This was the first time that I have seen these models in person, and in general, they look and play like Waterman ukuleles always have. This is not going to be a complex, gorgeous tone. It is going be a plastic tone—and that’s okay, because that is what it is! How was the action and playability?
The quick answer: not good. Here are photos of the action at the 1st and 12th frets:
As you can see from the above photos, action is much too high (standard action should be 0.5mm at the 1st and 2.65mm at the 12th fret). I do not know if lowering the saddle would be close enough to meet standard action measurements.
Action is important, as it both impacts playability and intonation. It’s harder to press down strings with high action, and when you do, you have to pull the strings further down—out of tune (usually sharp). And as these instruments are generally played by students and beginning students (most long term players will opt for other durable options), high action is unacceptable. And of course, if action is too low, columns is muted and buzzing can occur.
I do applaud Kala for making the saddle adjustable on the Waterman—but now they need to make sure that they come shipped with low action that doesn’t buzz.
If you are a school looking to buy ukuleles, I still cannot recommend Waterman ukuleles until this issue is consistently resolved and proven over time. I will keep checking!
- Posted in: Ukulele Review