The how of plucking is also important. I found three ways to get different and usable sounds, but I’m sure there are more possibilities (keep in mind that this will never be a slap-and-pop machine). On one end of the spectrum, you can dig in with your fingertips toward the bridge and get a really plunky tone reminiscent of dead flatwounds in the ’60s. At the other end, use all the meat of your thumb and the tone gets round and beefy. A third alternative falls somewhere between these two—play gently with the thick part of your fingertips right up against the neck, and you can get another faux-upright sound. Left-hand finger placement makes a big difference, too. If you get too close to the frets—playing right behind them like on an electric guitar— you’re likely to get some buzzing notes. I also found I had to adapt my left-hand fingering to the U-Bass’ 20" scale. I’m an upright player, too, so going from the 41"+ upright to the U-Bass sometimes caused me to overshoot a fret. Even if you play a regular 34"-scale electric bass, there’s some need to adapt. I usually play with 1-2-4 fingering, but with the U-Bass I achieved more accurate fretting with 1-2-3 instead.

I tried the U-Bass in two musical settings. First, I toted it and my mini-amp to a gathering of the local ukulele society, where I joined up with about a dozen players strumming ukes. Aiming for a big, round sound, I used the U-Bass to provide a pillowy foundation for that pack of little nylon-stringers. Happily, the group liked what the U-Bass brought to the music. They asked if I could sit in for the whole night, and I was invited to return for a future gig.

The second setting was a rehearsal with my blues band, a four-piece group with guitar, harmonica, drums, and bass. In that group, I usually play electric bass and electric upright, so I wondered if the U-Bass could do it all. I’m happy to report that it was credible in that setting, much to everybody’s surprise. The sound can sometimes be a bit plunky, but that seems to disappear in the musical mix. To my relief, I never had a feedback problem despite this being a hollowbody instrument. And if you need further proof, check the Kala website for their A-list endorsers.

The Final Mojo

The U-Bass is a well-designed, gig-worthy instrument, if somewhat of a novelty item. The build is solid, the components are topnotch, and it serves up sounds you can use in a variety of settings.
Buy if...
you’re into novelty instruments that can serve real musical purposes.
Skip if...
you need to play a conventional instrument or your self-image won’t allow you to play a uke-shaped object in public.

Street $499 - Kala Brand Music Co. -