WHEN BASS PLAYER REVIEWED THE FRETTED AND fretless acoustic Kala U-Basses in September 2010, we praised the pint-sized pair’s colossal low end and huge “fun factor.” We weren’t the only ones to take notice; with players such as Hutch Hutchinson and Bakithi Kumalo strapping them on for tours with Bonnie Raitt and Paul Simon, the U-Bass has been making as big an impact on the world’s stages as it has its backyard barbecues and Hawaiian hootenannies.
Like Bob Dylan in 1965 and Rolls-Royce in 2011, Kala has up and done something that’s sure to puzzle purists—it’s gone electric. Unlike it’s hollowbody homeboy, which sports a sound hole and is made in China, Kala’s California Series Solid Body U-Bass boasts a body of solid swamp ash and is built in the U.S.A. The Solid Body U-Bass is available in 4- and 5-string versions, fretted or fretless. At press time, Kala had just announced its S-U-B line of Solid Body U-Basses, which are import instruments with list prices starting at $550.
STRETCHING OUT (LIKE A RUBBER BAND)
From pluck one, it becomes abundantly clear that the U-Bass isn’t your daddy’s axe—its tiny size and super-thick polyurethane strings make it feel and play nothing like the typical solidbody electric bass. As with the acoustic U-Basses, the first challenge was getting the bass in tune. Über-pliable strings had a tendency to detune, going fl at as I played, but after a few days of play, the strings stretched out to a sweet spot that didn’t require quite so much tuning.
Like the hollowbody U-Bass, the Solid Body comes equipped with a custom Shadow piezoelectric pickup with individual elements for each string. But while the hollowbody model’s electronics are powered by a single 9V battery, the Solid Body features a unique Mi-Si Align active preamp that is battery-free; via a proprietary AC adapter that plugs directly into the instrument jack, a 60-second charge gives the preamp enough juice to run for up to eight hours. It’s a slick system that works flawlessly, eliminating the need to cart (and then dispose of) batteries.
With the EQ set flat, the U-Bass had loads of low end. Plugging into an Ampeg SB-12 combo, I actually found myself rolling off my onboard bass control (gasp!) and boosting the highs for a bit more clarity. While nothing can move air quite like an upright bass, the diminutive U-Bass had the kind of breathy woof I’d expect to come out of a big ol’ doghouse.
The U-Bass’s small body, big strings, and short scale combine to make playing it a fresh new experience, and the Solid Body’s Mi-Si preamp is innovative, intuitive, and practical. Sure, busting out the U-Bass for the first time on a rehearsal or gig might prompt some raised eyebrows. But plugging it in and playing it is bound to turn even the most cynical skeptic into a true believer.
KALA CALIFORNIA SERIES SOLID BODY U-BASS
Pros Small body, big bottom
Body Swamp ash
Strings Road Toad Music polyurethane
Pickup Undersaddle Shadow piezo
Electronics Mi-Si Align
Controls Volume, bass, treble
Tuners Custom Hipshot
Nut Graph Tech TUSQ
Scale length 21"
Neck width 1"
Weight 4 lbs
Gig bag Included
Made in U.S.A.
Warranty Lifetime limited