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Thread: Laminate vs Solid Wood

  1. #1
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    Post Laminate vs Solid Wood

    can anybody tell me the difference between solid wood and laminate?

  2. #2
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    Solid wood is ....solid wood. When someone says an uke is "solid wood" they mean that the top, back, and sides are
    cut out of a solid piece of wood.

    Laminate is a bunch of thin pieces of wood stacked and glued together. Most of the time, unless an uke is bound, you can look inside the soundhole or around the edge and see the layers. Laminate does not sound as good as solid wood, in my opinion. Laminate is cheaper to make though, so unless you spend more than about $300, you will most likely get a laminate ukulele.
    Peace, Brad Bordessa


  3. #3
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    Laminate = plywood. Sometimes only two plies (the main wood and the pretty veneer on top) but plywood nonetheless.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hippie Guy View Post
    ...unless you spend more than about $300, you will most likely get a laminate ukulele.
    Often true until you hit a company like Ohana or Mainland Ukuleles.
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  4. #4
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    Laminates are two or more very thin slices of wood glued with their grains at 90 degrees from the grain of the previous one. Depending on the type of laminate, it may have different woods on the top from what is underneath (i.e. the top plie is often a veneer for aesthetic effect).

    Solid woods used for instruments have rather different physics. They expand and compress with play; the wood actually changes its structure over time. Solid woods also transmit sound better because they vibrate more freely. There are several good articles online about the physics of tonewoods.

    Laminates are built for strength so they do not vibrate or expand/compress the same way. In fact, the alternating 90-degree grains tends to dampen vibration, so some tonal qualities will be lost.

    Although laminates used for instruments may have a nice piece on top, in general wood chosen for plywood is not the prime selection: it's more often the less attractive, or 'seconds' selection because appearance or flaws aren't as important. Your laminate top may hide more than blemishes: it can contain knots or holes you can't see in other plies.

    In a solid top, the grain has varying areas of wood density. Each density transmits sound a little differently. Because no two slices of wood are identical, and each of us plays music differently, over time the wood will change to match our style and volume as well as the particular piece of topwood. That gives your instrument a unique voice.

    Each solid-topped instrument has a 'break in' period during which it will undergo the most of these changes. Sometimes this is called 'settling in'. if you play it a lot, your instrument will have a different sound in a year from what it had when it was new. The time and the amount of the change will depend on the construction, the wood, your style, your environment (humidity in particular) and the phase of the moon (just kidding - but each instrument ages differently).

    Laminates by their nature tend to average out tonal and playing effects, so they will not change as much or as noticeably. This can be a positive if you don't want your sound to change much.

    Woods used on sides and backs do not transmit sound as much as the top does - they are predominantly reflectors - so they can be laminates without compromising the overall instrument's sound. There's even an argument that back and sides may be better choices as laminates than some some tonewoods because laminates reflect the sound waves better (less absorption) than some tonewoods.

    After all that - what matters most is the sound you like from your instrument. If you like the sound of a laminate-topped uke, get it. If you like a solid-topped, keep in mind that it will eventually alter - perhaps insignificantly and so slowly you won't notice, but it will do so.

    PS. Kala also has some reasonably-priced solid-tops, under $300 - and there is a soild-topped Amigo uke that is under $100. Not to mention the many previously-enjoyed bargains up for sale on this and other uke forums.
    Last edited by ichadwick; 02-20-2009 at 03:08 AM.
    Ian
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  5. #5
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    i know this has probably been said above, but i'll put it sweet and simple

    laminate is cheap, solid is more expensive. and with ukes you get what you pay for, my advice is to go solid wood anyday

  6. #6
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    I'd like to try one of the Kiwayas made from very thin, intrument grade laminated wood. Not all ply wood is the same.

    Regular three ply can make a very sturdy, but not wonderful sounding uke. There are some very interesting 'special' laminated woods around.

    Ukantor.

  7. #7
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    There are plenty of nice sounding laminated ukes out there. Kala and Ohana I feel make both versions quite well.If you get to play or hear a MaKala set up with good strings you might be impressed. Just remember that if you are taking your uke in and out of diff temps and diff humidity levels, those lammys are much more forgiving.Solid Koa and Mango need a more stable and moist environment to prevent cracking. I do love the tone of a solid instrument. Try out both and see how they look and sound. Hey its a personal thing.Kala has a solid acacia uke coming out in April at a close to lammy price.

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  8. #8
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    Yes, the sound from a solid top is richer and more complex, but the overall sound effect is what you should look for, and if you like the sound from a laminate top then that's what you should get.

    I have a Fluke in my collection, and it's a laminate, but since it has a different physical model (body shape, size and plastic back), the result is quite different from any other uke I have. Ditto with the Applause. Not bad: just different. I like the plinky Fluke sound, and play it a lot.

    Personally, I like bright, clear, long sustain and a bit woody in my sound. The Kala solid cedar, satin finish is perfect for what I like right now. But my wife prefers the sound of my Pono mango because it's warma nd mellow. Another local player wants to buy one of my spruce-tops because that sound spoke to him.
    Ian
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    Utque sacerdotis fugitivus liba recuso
    pane egeo mellitis potiore placentis.

    I'm like that priest's slave who ran away because
    They fed him honey cakes and he longed for bread.

    Horace: Epistle X
    Ukulele reviews * Vintage Uke Music * Tequila * Henry Hudson * Harmonica reviews * Blog

  9. #9
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    ...unless you spend more than about $300, you will most likely get a laminate ukulele.
    Often true until you hit a company like Ohana or Mainland Ukuleles.
    True and having personally seen these solid top Ohanas in each of the four colors, I'm amazed that they come in at a $89 list price. (the pics don't do them justice. Its a transparent finish... I'm a sucker for transparent)
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  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by geoffsuke View Post
    i know this has probably been said above, but i'll put it sweet and simple

    laminate is cheap, solid is more expensive. and with ukes you get what you pay for, my advice is to go solid wood anyday
    I disagree. While solids do generally sound louder acoustically, the reason why they cost more is because solid wood costs more tha laminates and more work goes in.
    But this doesn't mean that laminates are inferior to Solid woods, and that they shouldn't be considered at all.

    My first good uke was an all-solid mahogany tenor. Sold it because I hated having to refill the humidifier and always think about how to keep it from cracking.
    I eventually ended up preferring laminate ukes. And the good laminates do sound pretty darn good. I think most ears can't differentiate between solid and a good laminate anyway.
    I actually don't even consider solid wood or solid-top ukes when purchasing.
    I love the freedom of not having to give a second thought about humidity and maintenance with laminates. It truly lets me carry them around and focus on the music.
    Last edited by kissing; 03-12-2010 at 12:44 AM.

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