Kai KCI-5000 Solid Acacia Concert Ukulele - REVIEW
A return for this brand that impressed me last time around. Fairly new to UK shores, this is the Kai KCI-5000 Solid Acacia Concert Ukulele.
Kai Ukuleles are a 'new to the West' Chinese made brand from the Reinhardt stable of instruments, first brought to my attention by their UK dealer Stones Music in the very well reviewed KTI-700 Tenor ukulele. As I like to keep dealers / distributors / brands on their toes with reviews, I don't solely rely on loaned instruments - I buy them too, often buying blind as I did with this one from a music store I haven't used before. This is a bit of a step up in level of instrument even if it is a step down in scale being a concert. Kai make a range of keenly priced instruments from the cheaper laminates to 'good deal' prices on solid wood instruments as that KTI-700 was. This is solid wood too.
The KCI-5000 is a traditionally shaped double bout concert ukulele made from all solid acacia. It's almost chocolate like in colour and at first reminded me of walnut or even bocote. It's extremely pretty with lots of grain interest, lights and darks and stripes. The bookmatching is well done too.
The bridge here is a step up from many other value instruments in the choice of ebony. It's a uniformly dark tie bar that is finished extremely well. Fitted into that is an unspecified straight topped saddle which I think is bone. String spacing here is 39mm.
Decoration is a little mixed, with wooden edge binding to the top, back and tail stripe (mango I think) added to by a purfling strip in black and white. Around the soundhole is an abalone ring which I think I would prefer to match the binding. On the side upper shoulder is a sound port with a channel etched around it which sets it off nicely. The whole body is then glossed and whilst it is not over done or pooling I do have an issue with it. I've found it impossible to take pictures of what I will attempt to explain but on the top and back there are very minor micro scratches which look like the instrument has been played or scuffed. The listing I bought from did not describe this as either a factory second or ex-demo model, but it certainly looks like the latter. They are not life and death and will happen to most gloss instruments anyway, but they should not be there when brand new. There is also a small mark in the grain under the gloss on the upper bout but that can happen with any wood as it's not a flaw, just part of the wood. What irritates is it is not bookmatched as some 'bearclaw' marks in would tend to be. You might just spot it on the top in the picture below next to the fingerboard end.
Inside is extremely tidy. The kerfing is notched and the braces not overly heavy. Below the sound hole the top is cross braced as you can see.
The neck is made from Nato wood, which is the wood from Mora tree and is comprised of three pieces with fairly well hidden joints. It too is glossed and tapers to a more rounded profile than I would like. The nut width is also not for me (but as I always say - your mileage may vary) at 35mm and 29mm G to A. I'd take that width if it was flatter, and I'd take the round profile if it was wider.. but that's just me.
The fingerboard is more ebony, extremely even in colour and in great condition. The sides of the board are bound in more brown wood to match the body meaning no sharp ends for the 18 frets joined to the body at the 14th. Pearl position dots face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th and these are repeated on the side.
Beyond the bone nut is a slotted headstock, a style which always looks striking. It's faced in more acacia with a layer of a white material under it creating nice stripe pattern in the slots. I love the asymmetric top profile and the Kai logo is inlaid in pearl. It's very thick front to back though and wish they had moved to stealth tuners as Kanile'a have done to narrow it off. It's quite a hunk of wood up there and hope it doesn't mess with the balance.
Talking of tuners, these are not branded but great quality open gears. The mix of the brass button stems and main gear to the black finish of the rest of the parts looks great. They work well too.
Finishing it off is a tail strap button, a branded decent quality gig bag with a neck support and a set of unspecified strings which look and feel like clear fluorocarbon. So a lot of decent appointments here such as ebony, gloss, inlays, binding. But it's not a high end price at about £260 in the UK. That's very good value for as solid acacia instrument I would say.
Clearly much of this so far is very positive. Nice woods, good overall construction, nice looks, nice fingerboard. The neck width is not for me personally and the scuffs on the gloss irritate but I am sure this is more likely a one off that you would otherwise send back for replacement (it would be totally wrong for Got A Ukulele to do that..). But it's pretty much all there for a great price. The setup is good and the headstock is not affecting balance either. It's not overly heavy either at 685g and it feels solid and well put together. The volume is great and will not leave you wanting and the sustain is decent too allowing more expression in your playing.
The tone itself is what I expected from Acacia. Like Koa this wood has a richness that ticks boxes in all the levels - neither overly bright or overly dark - but a real mix across the dynamic range which is why these woods find such favour on ukuleles. When strummed that quality really comes to the fore as the notes mix into a complex, rich harmonic sound that jangles and really puts a smile on your face. It's not just the wood choice doing that as the build and bracing are playing their part too, but the acacia really helps I think. It's a delightful clear strummed tone that creates a sound like you are playing more strings than four without being muddy or confused. I'm impressed.
Fingerpicking is a different story, not a bad story, but just not quite the same. What I found was that it requires some serious 'digging in' to the strings to get the same volume projection and attack. It's not that it's quieter as such or quieter up the neck, it just doesn't seem to have the same punch. That's more an observation than a criticism, but it just feels more 'free' to sing when strummed than when picked. It's still a pretty sound though.
All in all, the positives far outweigh the negatives here and this certainly falls into that 'punching above its weight' category considering the price. Instruments like this please me as they make me remember how limited the choice was at this price point ten years or more back. I've said it before but there has never been a better time to be a ukulele buyer on a budget and Kai are certainly a brand that should be on your radar. Recommended.
UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP
Model: Kai KCI-5000
Body: All solid Acacia
Bridge: Ebony, tie bar
Spacing at saddle: 39mm
Neck: Nato / Mora
Frets: 18, 14 to body
Nut width: 35mm, 29mm G to A
Tuners: Side mounted black gears
Strings: Unspecified / Fluorocarbon?
Extras: Gig bag
Country of Origin: China
Great looks with higher end appointments
Very good core build
Good volume and sustain
Rich harmonic tone when strummed
Some finish marks in gloss
Neck is wrong profile and width (for me)
Volume projection not as punchy when picked
Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8 out of 10
Sound - 8.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.8 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz
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