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View Full Version : Luthier's thoughts on the new and growing composite ukulele scene?



warndt
05-13-2015, 01:41 PM
I'm wondering what today's conventional ukulele builder's think of the growing and newly found grass roots support for composite ukuleles. Have any of you guys tried any of these offerings... and what are your thoughts? :cool:

Hippie Dribble
05-13-2015, 02:55 PM
Might be worth moving this to the luthier's lounge warndt. More builders kick back there. Let me know if you'd like me to do that. Cheers.

BlackBearUkes
05-13-2015, 03:57 PM
I'll kick around a few thoughts that I have had. People often talk as if a wooden uke of a certain brand or size will sound the same as the one next to it. More than likely it won't but still the talk persists. Wood is wood and it wil sound different because of the nature of the grain, stiffness, quality, etc. The newer composite ukes won't have this negative or positive atriibute, they will sound the same as the last one off of the assembly line. Some think this is a good thing and maybe it is, after all, other musical instruments like a flute or accordian for example (be prepaired for comments to the contrary), etc. pretty much sound like what they are. As a luthier, I don't like the idea of all the ukes I make to have the same sound, uke after uke. I like wood and its many moods. Also, many threads on this site that deal with sound quality would go away for lack of diversity. But who knows, things will be what they will be.

Icelander53
05-13-2015, 04:24 PM
I want a laser printed uke just for novelty sake and it's going to really impress me when or if these composite ukes beat the sound of wood. So far from what I've heard we are not there yet but I haven't heard many. Wood has so much character and the beauty of individually created works of art will be hard to live up to with composite. If all the ukes looked and sounded basically the same UAS would go bye bye pretty fast in my case. I've always been into wood in all it's many forms. I'm thrilled that ukes are made of the stuff.

warndt
05-13-2015, 05:18 PM
Might be worth moving this to the luthier's lounge warndt. More builders kick back there. Let me know if you'd like me to do that. Cheers.

No need...I want to hear all opinions, including players.

(Thanks Duane!)

Robed eh
05-13-2015, 08:51 PM
Hi, I'm new here and thought I'd chime in. We make carbon fiber violins and I can attest to the fact that they don't all sound the same. We've made over 40 to date and I've set-up each one, and the variation may be hard to explain but it's there, although not to the extent that 40 wooden instruments would vary from each other. I love wood. We make violins for folks who live/play in areas where wooden fiddles (assembled with traditional animal glues) would self-destruct over time. It's also nice to pick up an instrument and have it still be in tune, even through wide variations of temperature and humidity. One of our instruments is in Africa with a Peace Corps volunteer, surviving nicely in a place he wouldn't have dared to take his nice wooden violin.

However, woods got soul, and nothing will ever fully replace it for me. Now that I've discovered the ukulele I'm in serious danger of amassing a collection of wooden instruments -- while at the same time I'm seriously considering making up a set of molds to experiment with a composite ukulele. I suspect that there is room in the market for a wide variety of materials (Blackbird's new plant fiber based stuff is pretty interesting), meeting a variety of needs.

DownUpDave
05-14-2015, 01:00 AM
Oh my look at the grain, look at the curl, can you see how it shimmers in the light when you move it. Dark, medium, coffee coloured, chocolate hues. Splatted, flamed, quilted, curly. And the different smells..........cocobolo, cedar, mahogany, redwood, koa.

Very few things evoke such strong emotional responses. Wood is here to stay.

kkimura
05-14-2015, 04:53 AM
I've never thought to check, but does anyone know if the fake koa grain pattern is exactly the same on all Martin OXK sopranos?

Rllink
05-14-2015, 05:25 AM
One thing, I like the look of wood, but I really like well worn wood, especially if I'm wearing it down. It is part of the character of an instrument that has been touched and played. It tells a story in itself. I wonder if the composites will create that kind of character. I used to hunt and shoot a lot. I had some rifles and shotguns with wood stocks, and a few with composite stocks. Over time and use, the wood became prettier, and the composites became uglier. I wonder if that will happen with composite ukes.

PereBourik
05-14-2015, 06:10 AM
An early adopter here, not a luthier. I've had my Clara for over a year. It lives up to every promise made for it by Joe and Blackbird Guitars. My one observation is that it is so responsive that it must be tuned more precisely than my other ukuleles, whether concert or tenor scale. I hear things from Clare that the others just seem to absorb. Strings can change the character of Clara. So while we are set free from the demands of humidification and a debate about the instrument "opening up," There is a variety of sound quality available from Clara. It will indeed be hard to find two Claras which sound alike, though the family resemblance will come through.

k0k0peli
05-15-2015, 09:25 AM
IMHO we want orchestral and similar ensemble instruments to have continuity. Each Selmer Paris Eb clarinet should sound the same when played with the same trained lips on the same quality reed, right? Let the composer's / conductor's instructions, not the idiosyncrasies of the players' hardware, determine the sound.

Solo and small-group instruments are something else -- we want our individuality to show through. We can do that with unique builds, or (as mentioned) by personalizing it by choice of strings or reeds or other aids. My mass-produced Ovation 12-string guitar does NOT sound like all its kin if I swap the course octaves, drop some fluffy cotton or an inflated balloon inside, etc. Composite clones can be similarly customized, yes? I own two nearly-identical cheap Kohala soprano 'ukes. The one with A'Addario t2 strings in gCEA does NOT sound like the other I just strung with a Aquila 5ths set in GDAE. Easy-peasy.

It's not the instrument so much as what we do with it.

Ukejenny
05-15-2015, 01:29 PM
Loving my Blackbird Clara. It is incredible to play. Incredible in feel. Incredible in sound. Will I get rid of my wooden ukuleles? No. Would I buy another wooden ukulele? Yes, I would. Would I buy another Clara? Yes, in a heartbeat. I need one with high G...

Ukejenny
05-15-2015, 01:30 PM
I agree that the musician is more important than the instrument.


IMHO we want orchestral and similar ensemble instruments to have continuity. Each Selmer Paris Eb clarinet should sound the same when played with the same trained lips on the same quality reed, right? Let the composer's / conductor's instructions, not the idiosyncrasies of the players' hardware, determine the sound.

Solo and small-group instruments are something else -- we want our individuality to show through. We can do that with unique builds, or (as mentioned) by personalizing it by choice of strings or reeds or other aids. My mass-produced Ovation 12-string guitar does NOT sound like all its kin if I swap the course octaves, drop some fluffy cotton or an inflated balloon inside, etc. Composite clones can be similarly customized, yes? I own two nearly-identical cheap Kohala soprano 'ukes. The one with A'Addario t2 strings in gCEA does NOT sound like the other I just strung with a Aquila 5ths set in GDAE. Easy-peasy.

It's not the instrument so much as what we do with it.

tbeltrans
05-15-2015, 02:01 PM
Let me preface this by saying that I own three carbon fiber guitars. They are identical because I keep them in different tunings. All three are original CA Guitars Cargos, which are small enough to be considered travel guitars. They are my favorite guitars, regardless of price. When I bought them new several years ago (7 years now?), they cost about $750 each. The company went out of business, at least in part because they were selling these at a loss and these became (by far) their most popular instrument. Too late, they started raising the price. Peavey picked up the product and is now making and selling it at a higher price than I paid. I don't know how well they are doing, but I like the original product better.

So all that said, I prefer traditional wood ukuleles. I have nothing against carbon fiber, but there is (for me) just something about fine figured Koa wood. I saw a Blackbird ukulele at Willie's once when I was in the shop, but did not play it because I was involved in buying my current ukuleles. If they still have one when I next go there, I will check it out. However, it really is a pleasure to pull a really nice custom Ko'olau or Kamaka Ohta-San out of the case to play. These things look ... charming in ways that carbon fiber just doesn't. For me, my guitars are tools, but these ukuleles are works of art as well as tools to make music with.

Tony

Andy Chen
05-15-2015, 07:27 PM
I have a carbon fibre guitar and the two Blackbird models.

I also love my wood ukuleles, which seem to survive Singapore's constant high humidity better than guitars probably because of the smaller surface areas.

But I would hesitate to use a word like 'soul' to describe the sound of a good wood instrument. Music is soul. But sound is physics. You could and should describe sound with more objective and quantifiable terms.

P.S. I would probably never buy a good wood guitar again. Not only because my passion is ukuleles but because wood guitars get soggy with moisture here in Singapore v quickly.

tbeltrans
05-16-2015, 02:07 AM
There are definite advantages to carbon fiber instruments. They can sound really good, so nobody is taking a hit on that. Humidity, or lack of humidity, is not a problem for carbon fiber instruments. Where I live, we have to keep the wood instruments in their cases with humidifiers in the winter so they don't dry out and crack. We can leave carbon fiber instruments laying around to be picked up and played whenever we feel like it. I better stop here because I could be talking myself into a carbon fiber ukulele. :)

Tony

mm stan
05-16-2015, 07:17 AM
The Blackbird tenor has really changed my views on how they sound. Wow
If you have a good design, to me they do sound different as I've tried many.
Maybe the set up or the strings, but there is a difference to me

Ukejenny
05-16-2015, 07:19 AM
The Blackbird tenor has really changed my views on how they sound. Wow

If they come out with an eKoa tenor, I want to get one for my husband.

Ukejenny
05-16-2015, 07:20 AM
There are definite advantages to carbon fiber instruments. They can sound really good, so nobody is taking a hit on that. Humidity, or lack of humidity, is not a problem for carbon fiber instruments. Where I live, we have to keep the wood instruments in their cases with humidifiers in the winter so they don't dry out and crack. We can leave carbon fiber instruments laying around to be picked up and played whenever we feel like it. I better stop here because I could be talking myself into a carbon fiber ukulele. :)

Tony

If it is a Blackbird you are talking yourself into, you won't regret it.

Icelander53
05-16-2015, 07:23 AM
I just noticed they don't have any at HMS right now??

tbeltrans
05-16-2015, 07:33 AM
If it is a Blackbird you are talking yourself into, you won't regret it.

Well, I won't regret owning one, that's for sure. However, I am building up a safety cushion while this contract work lasts so that my wife's medical bills and the high cost of health insurance can be handled without jeopardizing our cash flow. After some discussion here about soprano ukuleles, I discovered that Willie's has a near mint 1925 Martin 2K with original case. I have not gone over there to look, but from the pictures, it was built while Martin had their best curly Koa. Apparently, the "peak" years for that were 1923 - 1927.

While it can be fun to think about buying another ukulele, whether wood or carbon fiber, the reality is that, though I have the cash, it isn't earmarked for that purpose. :(

Tony

Ukejenny
05-16-2015, 06:14 PM
Well, I won't regret owning one, that's for sure. However, I am building up a safety cushion while this contract work lasts so that my wife's medical bills and the high cost of health insurance can be handled without jeopardizing our cash flow. After some discussion here about soprano ukuleles, I discovered that Willie's has a near mint 1925 Martin 2K with original case. I have not gone over there to look, but from the pictures, it was built while Martin had their best curly Koa. Apparently, the "peak" years for that were 1923 - 1927.

While it can be fun to think about buying another ukulele, whether wood or carbon fiber, the reality is that, though I have the cash, it isn't earmarked for that purpose. :(

Tony

Yes, wooden, composite, or pure gold... if buying a uke makes other parts of your life difficult, it isn't worth it. Total agreement there.