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Thread: Soprano Ukuleles - hardwood vs softwood tops

  1. #1
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    Question Soprano Ukuleles - hardwood vs softwood tops

    Curious to hear people's opinions on hardwood vs. softwood tops on sopranos.

    I've only ever owned sopranos made totally of hard woods (mahogany or koa). I'm used to that sound.

    Whenever I hear a softwood-top soprano, it doesn't sound normal to me. However, I can appreciate that, in many ways, it does sound better: it sounds louder and clearer, with better note separation.

    So I'm very curious to hear people's feelings about topwoods for sopranos. How do you feel a soprano should sound? Which woods do you like for which sounds? Which wood do you like but not love as a topwood for your soprano?
    Last edited by 13down; 12-26-2017 at 03:04 PM.
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  2. #2
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    I see 56 views without a response, so I just thought I'd say that, to me, it is all about sound/tone.

    I have 3 long neck sopranos, 2 of which are solid mahogany, one tenor scale & one concert scale, the other is laminate mahogany, concert scale.
    Trying to do justice to various musical instruments.
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  3. #3
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    I'm not a expert on woods, but I believe Koa and Mahogany are considered medium hardness.
    We have several mahogany topped sopranos and love them.

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  4. #4
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    In my opinion, using a hardwood all over was one of the defining characteristics of the ukulele's 'invention', along with using the small scale of the machete and mixing it with the re-entrant tuning of the rajao. So yes, a hardwood top really 'makes' the ukulele sound.

    On the other hand, I believe vita ukes were the first to switch back to the 'soft spruce top / hardwood sides and back' principle of almost all stringed instruments, and sound loud, proud and good as well. Just not as traditional...

  5. #5
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    I saw a video of the current cf Martin discussing the dawn of their Ukes, to summarize they started building on the idea of making 'small guitars' with wood combinations in the same fashion because that what they did so well and realized that it didn't work. Thus, hardwood bodies set the standard.
    I have an old adi spruce top soprano on hog that doesn't sound as good as my hog or koa topped brethren, but every example is different. I reach for the latter two religiously and depending on what sound I want determines which of those two, I would consider them of both as the quintessential Uke sound. The hog is warm and Koa is vibrant. My spruce Uke is a wall hanger.
    For context these are all sopranos and I strum mostly with no real single note playing, so the observation on spruce clarity is something I may never realize.
    Last edited by D28; 12-28-2017 at 01:14 PM.

  6. #6
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    I've built around 50 sopranos with all sorts of tops.

    I don't much like spruce tops on a figure 8 soprano. Too much sustain, too many high overtones for my taste. When strummed I find the chords can be muddy and jangly. OTOH, cedar is quite good on a figure 8 - still too much sustain, so requiring a lot of damping while playing, but the jangly overtones aren't there. Yew is also a softwood, but that works pretty much as well as a hardwood top for me.

    However, on a soprano camp uke (round body) or cigar box shape, spruce works really nicely. These body shapes tend to have fewer overtones than the figure 8 shape, so I guess the spruce adds them back into the sound mix.

    Saying how an instrument "should" sound is imposing one's taste on others. I can only say how I like my own builds to sound - medium sustain, not too heavy on the high frequency overtones.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by ProfChris View Post
    I've built around 50 sopranos with all sorts of tops.

    I don't much like spruce tops on a figure 8 soprano. Too much sustain, too many high overtones for my taste. When strummed I find the chords can be muddy and jangly. OTOH, cedar is quite good on a figure 8 - still too much sustain, so requiring a lot of damping while playing, but the jangly overtones aren't there. Yew is also a softwood, but that works pretty much as well as a hardwood top for me.

    However, on a soprano camp uke (round body) or cigar box shape, spruce works really nicely. These body shapes tend to have fewer overtones than the figure 8 shape, so I guess the spruce adds them back into the sound mix.

    Saying how an instrument "should" sound is imposing one's taste on others. I can only say how I like my own builds to sound - medium sustain, not too heavy on the high frequency overtones.
    Interesting, because I just purchased a soprano ukulele with a solid spruce top and I really like the sound and love the sustain. I guess it is all in what you value. I also like that it is loud. I don't have to strum it so hard to get some sound out of it. I was a little hesitant to go with a softwood top for not real reason other than it is softwood and I've not had much experience with anything other than Mahogany, but convinced myself that it is just a ukulele and it wasn't the end of the world if it didn't work for me. I am pleasantly surprised.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.

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    Here is my early 40's Martin Style 0, damaged uke was re-topped 8 years ago with spruce. I don't find it dramatically different than a similar vintage mahogany topped Style 0. As others have said, it is a bit clearer, with better note separation, and the volume is excellent, unlike some other Style 0 ukes I've played. But I'm not sure it would stand out as something very different, if A/B'd against a group of standard vintage Martins. I like it a lot though, not complaining at all!


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    Last edited by Ukecaster; 12-29-2017 at 12:05 PM.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by D28 View Post
    I saw a video of the current cf Martin discussing the dawn of their Ukes, to summarize they started building on the idea of making 'small guitars' with wood combinations in the same fashion because that what they did so well and realized that it didn't work. Thus, hardwood bodies set the standard.
    That rings a bell, and makes me feel better about my preference for hardwoods on the smallest ukes.

    Do you have a link to the video, or any memory of what I should search for if I want to find it?

  10. #10

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    I believe this is the video D28 is referring to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrk_n6Nr5lI

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