Review: The Innovative Design of Kala’s Revelator Nautilus Results in a Superbly Playable Instrument


With the new Revelator models, Kala is taking a different approach to its US ukulele production. The totally new design required Kala to stop production for months, retrain its experts, and redesign its workshop. Kala is taking a big risk with the Revelator, but the reason becomes clear when you get one of these ukuleles in your hands.

The Revelator is hand-built at the Kala workshop in Petaluma, California, based on a design developed by Wales-based luthier Pete Howlett. Though rare stateside, UK players may be more familiar with the Howlett Revelators. This innovative building method involves carving the body from a single block of wood, then fitting a neck cut from the same original piece. 

Collaborating in early 2023, Howlett passed the torch and the techniques he developed over 30 years to Kala’s California luthiers.  

The Workshop

Usually, the ukuleles I review are delivered in cardboard boxes to my door. But I wanted to see how the Revelator was made first-hand, so I picked up the review model in person after taking a tour of the Kala workshop. Upon entering the shop, I was immediately hit with the smell of fresh sawdust from the stacks of beautiful wood, some of which was laid out and hand-marked for cutting. I found myself standing in the crowded workshop space with three highly skilled luthiers as they carved, sanded, and finished ukuleles.

The Details

The body of the Revelator is routed by a CNC machine out of a solid block of wood, reminding me of a dug-out canoe. This design means there is very little kerfing or bracing necessary to hold the ukulele together or support the top. Meanwhile, the neck is hand-carved and hand-fitted. The luthiers I talked to described how they use razor-sharp planes to sculpt the wood, listening to hear the changes in grain direction and watching out for soft and hard pockets in the wood. “You just have to feel it,” they kept saying.

I played half a dozen different Revelators at the workshop and was surprised by the subtle differences in look and sound of each one. The one I brought home for a full review was a Nautilus Korina Tenor. Korina is an African tree that is similar to mahogany, if not a little softer. It is also known as white or black limba, depending on the color, though an individual tree and individual boards can have both light and dark wood. My review uke was made with Master Grade wood, which is the highest quality of wood a luthier can get, and actually had three colors in it: medium and light with stripes of deep, dark grain.

The body’s sharply curved upper bout and cutaway would be difficult to pull off with a conventional design. The teardrop-shaped soundport on the upper bout is beautiful, but I remain mesmerized by how the neck is joined to the body in a heelless, asymmetrical spiral. This is the reason Kala named this model the Nautilus. Because there are no bent sides that are glued to the top and back, this design allows the top to be very lightly braced. At only 1.375-inches deep, the body is exceptionally thin. But give it a strum and the ukulele rings out loud, warm, and resonant. 


Sound and Playability

Tonally, this is the dreadnought of the ukulele world. It has a large, round low end, and all Revelators come set up in low-G to accentuate that thick bottom register. Not to harp on the point too much, but this tenor seems to be reaching into baritone territory. The midrange is less prominent, maybe as a result of all that low end, but the higher notes are still crisp, snappy, and clear. This is a ukulele that singers are going to ask for by name.

The medium-round neck shape is exactly what you’d expect given the hand-shaping and setup. The attention to detail by the builders shows through in the incredible playability of this ukulele. 

The way the neck is joined at the body means that there is nothing to interfere with your hand as you move up the neck. This is one of the easiest ukuleles I’ve ever played. My Master Grade tester came with a flawless ebony headplate, an ebony bridge, and an ebony fingerboard with a golden pearl nautilus inlay at the seventh fret. This instrument is all set for professional use with Grover tuners, a heavily padded gig bag, and a passive piezo pickup that is unobtrusive and simple to use. I didn’t miss having onboard electronics—in fact, for this uke I wanted the minimum number of moving, battery-powered, and breakable parts. I am perfectly happy to make EQ and volume adjustments at the amplifier, thank you very much.

The Payoff

Reimagining the design of the ukulele is a huge undertaking and a risky move. As someone whose opinion is that the instrument was perfected by about 110 years ago, I had to overcome a bit of skepticism. At first, I struggled with the low-G setup and I had to get used to the different size, shape, and feel of the body. 

But any reluctance dissolved as I started playing the this instrument. With its beautiful woods and workmanship, rich full sound, and first-class playability, Kala seems to have made a sure bet with the Revelator.

Kala Revelator Nautilus Specs

BODY Tenor-size with Master Grade korina (mango, myrtle, and koa also available) top, back, and sides (back and sides carved from a single piece); 1.375″ body depth; UV-cured satin finish

NECK 17.1875″-scale korina neck; 22 frets; ebony fingerboard; 1.4375″ fingerboard width at nut; 1.75″ width at neck/body joint; ebony bridge; corian nut and saddle; Florentine cutaway; teardrop soundhole on top bout


ELECTRONICS Passive piezo pickup

OTHER Brown Fluorocarbon strings by Worth; wound low-G and C strings by D’Addario


PRICE $1,499–$1,999; $1,799 (as tested)