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Thread: Sustain - good or bad?

  1. #11
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    Great subject !

    I am sure there is confusion talking about sustain as to what it really is we are talking about. If you strike a string and let it ring; it is normal to have sustain and that is the one that comes from the string. For the instrument, it is the sound that lingers after you have stopped the string for ringing. That is my uderstanding of it in this case. Too much sustain would make the sound muddy and, not enough would make the sound dry and sharp.

    To me, it all depends of how you use the instrument. I would prefer more sustain on a low G (more finger picking) and less on a high G (more strumming)

  2. #12
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    I'm new to this, but I think it depends on the song and type of music being played as stated earlier. I'm currently relegated to playing my Makala tenor while I'm saving my pennies to get a nicer uke. I slapped some aquilas on it and that thing rings for 30 seconds after being strummed I swear, lol. Sounds nice when I'm strumming a rock tune or slower songs, but gets "muddied up" when I'm trying to do some "islandy" stuff. I'm learning "somewhere over the rainbow" and I've been strumming higher up on the neck to get less sustain. Wish I had a capo...

    I'm thinking this is one of the reasons tenor ukes are favored by players who do a lot of finger picking, in which case a long sustain sounds nice.
    Last edited by FlyedPiper; 09-11-2011 at 01:00 PM.

  3. #13
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    I completed a little experiment to kind of guage sustain, and put some definable reference as to what "good" sustain is.

    I just did some note timing with a watch having a second hand as a guage to get a feel for actual sustain times in real world conditions. I had my recently aquired Kanile'a K-2 S at hand, which for sure has what i consider above average sustain for a soprano. It's sitka spruce top has some nice bearclaw, with a B&S of figured Claro Walnut.

    I plucked each string one at a time, and started timing at a 5 second point on my watch to keep it simple. I stopped counting when i could no longer hear that particular string. I did the same for all the individual strings, and more than once for each open string. Tried a few up times to the 3rd fret also.

    What i discovered was that plucking each string firmly with my sizable thumbnail in a rest stroke (stopping my thumb on the next string except on the "A" string),.....i found that i could be fairly accurate in stating that most times the individual notes sustained for a full 4 seconds.

    This on a soprano scale, but with a slightly wider than normal lower bout that Kanile'a uses. You have to do this more than once, because you mind can play tricks on what your ears are hearing.

    "Can i still hear the note or not" will go though your thought process a lot,....so the multiple samples will will bring the results into a more accurate assessment.

    .....i suspect some concerts and tenors might better this time,....maybe by a second or two. But 4 full seconds sustain on a soprano is excellent, IMO.

    By the way,...long sustain on a uke that sounds thin of tone is not good, no matter how long the sustain. Given the choice, i'd choose a full and rich sounding uke over one simply offering good sustain. One without the other will leave you wanting more.

    Fortunately, i didn't have to choose,....the Kanile'a (as well as both my Moore Bettah sopranos), sustain well and sound wonderful.
    Last edited by joejeweler; 09-11-2011 at 02:03 PM.

  4. #14
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    totally on the fence with it= played a few ukes today that I really liked, totally different ends of the spectrum.
    Chocolate Mango Mya- Nice long ring- wanted to sit with it in a park and fingerpick it all day...wished it was a Baritone tuned C linear though.
    Then I played one of Tony Graziano's ukes, modeled after a jazz guitar (I wish I could remember which). Floating bridge and tail piece, spruce top-short, bright and loud notes...felt like Django Reinhardt (without the talent or disfigurement). It was also very nice.
    Then there are my banjos- no sustain, perfect for some tunes. I guess you have to have more than one for when the mood may strike. Now to convince my wife.
    "This is not an entry, this is not even a bonus. This is a sing-a-long..." decaturcomp
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  5. #15
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    I don't see sustain as being an issue of stopping the strings and hearing an after-note; to me it's more about the string continuing to vibrate, and that depends on a number of construction factors as well as the wood chosen. Highly flame figured wood will tend to damp sustain, for instance. A uke with stiff back and sides will tend to sustain more, particularly with a cedar, redwood, or Western red cedar top.

    Scale length is also a factor. I think that the popularity of tenor ukes these days is because they do tend to have greater sustain; the strings are have a different ratio of diameter to scale length and they thus tend to damp vibration less as the strings are less stiff for the length. I certainly exploit this in the design of my Compass Rose tenor ukes; I'm very deliberately going for a guitar-like sustain. I think if you want a "spankier" sound, you're more likely to find it with concert or soprano ukes...or for the ultimate, a banjo uke with a resonator uke being somewhere in between.

  6. #16
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    Sustain is absolutely a good thing. I wish my instrument had more of it. But like people have said, you can only coax so much sound out of a tiny little body.

    I listen to a lot of guitarists (Santana, Johnson, Hendrix, and Mayer mostly). They actually do have sustain for days (if they want it). But they can play incredibly fast and make it clean. I think that keeping things clean has to do with the player. The instrument shouldn't be in charge of how long your notes are. If you want a note to ring, let it ring, if you don't, then mute it.
    Peace, Brad Bordessa

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  7. #17
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    A lot of that electric sustain is from stages of tube amps compressing the sound, and a lot is controlled feedback.

  8. #18
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    As a relative newcomer to the uke, I've come to associate the lack of sustain with the 'traditional' uke sound.... sopranos playing a certain style of music - either Polynesian or old school jazz/pop..... that being said, I think the uke is being used for so many different types of music now that folks are adapting the sound of the instrument to whatever they want it to be. Coming from a guitar background, I'd love a full, rich sound with as much sustain as I want. As Brad/Hippie Guy points out, the technique of the player is what really defines the sound you can get out of a particular instrument, but I guess I really want a uke that has a more typically guitar kind of tone.

    I'm playing a pretty low end Kala with a laminate top that has pretty poor sustain, especially higher up the neck. I've played a couple of ukes that I'd love to own - and they are very 'guitar-like' and don't really have a traditional uke sound. Just today, I played SpecialMike's Mainland soprano with a cedar top - it was bright, loud and had a really nice rich, sustain.... just made me want want one of those Mainland tenors with a spruce or cedar top even more. But it sounded more like an itty-bitty guitar - not a 'traditional' uke sound at all, in my opinion.

    I think there's a market for both as more people pick up the instrument and desire a variety of sounds.....

  9. #19
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    Yup.

    There is no good or bad. There is only what works best for you in a given situation.

    Personally, Sustain isn't much of an issue for me. The average length of sustain amongst the ukes I've played is fine for me in any situation where I would play a uke. If I required less sustain I would explore muting techniques or maybe employ a banjo-based instrument. If I needed dramatically more sustain I would use my fiddle or guitar. For just a little more sustain maybe my mandolin.

    I tend to find that if I am disappointed in what an instrument delivers in a particular context, maybe it was the wrong instrument for that job at that time.

    But where a uke is needed, nothing else will do!
    Rick

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  10. #20

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    As much as a uke sustains, I think acoustic ukes as a whole have pretty low sustain.
    It's not really the instrument of choice for lengthy sustain.

    So to me, a uke with relatively lots of sustain is still not much sustain overall.
    So it's better to get as much as you can!

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