View Full Version : Opening up.

09-05-2015, 07:34 AM
I've heard about ukuleles opening up. In April, I upgraded to a mahogany Mainland Concert uke. Well, I took it out on the front deck Friday, and started strumming it, and it sounded noticeably different. It was louder, and sort of booming, more so than before. Plus more sustain. But it isn't like it was gradual, or at least I did not notice it coming on gradually. I have been playing on the back deck a lot, not on the front so much, but it also isn't the only time I've been out there playing. So I don't know if it actually is the ukulele, the different location, maybe wax fell out of my ear, too much rum, or it is just my imagination. Anyway, it happened all at once, and I thought that it sounded the same again last night on the back deck, where I have been playing most of the summer, as it did on the front deck on Friday. What does everyone think about this? By the way, I like the new sound.

09-05-2015, 08:33 AM
How about a difference in humidity levels inside vs outside? It is an all solid wood instrument and can ber sensitive to temperature/humidity levels.

09-05-2015, 09:13 AM
How about a difference in humidity levels inside vs outside? It is an all solid wood instrument and can ber sensitive to temperature/humidity levels.That might be. I can't remember if I was running the AC on Thursday, or not. I say Thursday, because I was off a day in my original post. That happens some times. Today is Saturday, and I have not played yet today. It could be temp. But it isn't like I have not had similar circumstances this summer and not noticed anything different. I'm always dragging everything outside to play.

09-05-2015, 09:53 AM
I don't think "opening up" is a total hoax, but I do think some folks wait a long time for something to happen that won't.

I do notice differences day to day, and some strings in particular are more sensitive to humidity changes.

09-05-2015, 10:02 AM
Lots of things change the sound of a uke: new strings, changes in environmental variables, improving technique etc...

I don't think "opening up" is a hoax, but it's something I have never experienced with an 'ukulele. I have experienced it with mandolins and a fiddle I used to own demonstrated the related phenomenon of "waking up". Mandolins take quite a long time to really open up and even then the process seems to be speedier when the instrument is played hard. Mandos can be loud and they have high string tension; I think the timbers probably experience harder vibration than those in a uke do.

It's one of those things people argue about interminably, whether or not "opening up" is a real objective thing. But then you get a similar debate about breaking in the speakers on electric guitar amps.

09-05-2015, 10:19 AM
I have two ukes that opened up right in front of me just as you experienced. First is my Loprinzi all solid mahogany super soprano. I had owned it about three months at the time. It was kept in it's case and always played indoors, never left the house. Sam13 was over to my house a week after it happened and he noticed the difference as well. We had both played that uke a fair amount.

The other was my Webber spruce top tenor. I did not put that uke down for the first month of ownership, playing it at least an hour everyday, again playing inside only. It happened about six weeks into ownership, got louder and sweeter sounding, I could hear a difference. Others I have owned have not changed so noticably that I could actually hear it.

So we have either experienced the same thing or we are both a bit crazy :rolleyes: I would not rule out the crazy part......at least for me.w

09-05-2015, 10:21 AM
IMHO......I think two things likely are going on. First, I do believe Ukuleles in particular open up with playin. I purchased a KoAloha Opio tenor in July and have played it constantly since getting it. First strum the Sapele solid wood instrument was very dead sounding but now it keeps getting brighter and more open sounding. I never got thay with my Spruce top custom tenor........it was more open to begin with. It has improved but differences are more subtle.

Second, with all three on my tenors, I do notice a huge effect temperature and humidity play in their sound. Some days I hear a less vibrant instrument. On those days, if I'm not happy with sound, I may cut my playing a little short or change to my laminate top Ukulele and just work on new stuff.

So,yes,I thing with such a small, light instrument Both thing are going on.


09-05-2015, 12:17 PM
On different days, they can all sound different. Weather, indoor/outdoor location, my state of mind all seem to affect. I also believe that the wood can settle down from the results of the construction process, and as this happens the sound changes. I've never had the "flipping the light switch" moment, where there is suddenly a dramatic change, but have noticed a gradual change over a few months on brand new ukes. However, on new to me, but a pre-owned ukes, the changes are normally insignificant.

09-05-2015, 05:27 PM
I have played wooden guitars for a half-century, wooden mandolins for a couple of decades, and 'ukes for a couple of years. (Other wood-bodied instruments too but they're irrelevant here.) I have never felt an instrument "open up" over time. I don't say it doesn't happen, just not to me. I attribute sound differences to my handling, and varied rooms, and levels of smoke in said rooms. ;) Always sit upwind of campfires, eh? But really, mood and externalities can greatly affect sound. I play rather differently when I'm perturbed.

09-05-2015, 06:09 PM
I am not discounting this at all, I think they do "play in" to some extent, but I've had what you described happen over the years and finally have correlated it in my cases more to humidity, strings, and the amount of crud in my ears due to allergies. The reason I mention it is because those same ukes that have "opened up", sometimes closed back down after a bit.

When it has been really humid and warm for a while, some of my ukes (or at least the ones I'm playing so maybe all of them) get thuddy or dull, and I usually think "What the heck happened here???!" With some strings, especially flourocarbons, I've found they stretch for a few weeks. Even when they are mostly staying in tune, there seems to be a point where suddenly there is a LOT of ring and more sustain. Usually around 2-3 weeks or so, depending on amount of play. If that happens at the same time humidity decreases and the wood loses a bit of moisture, and my ears are dry, it's like *Wowzer*! The reverse happens when strings get old and humidity here goes back up, like 80+ percent. Now that I have a room A/C I can keep it between 45-55% when it's running.

This has happened enough that I thought about selling off ukes over the years (and probably have had) because I thought I'd only imagined they sounded good to me at first because they were "new" to me, because they seemed so meh later on. Then the next month or so they'd be great again... now I check my room hygrometer and the temp and think about how long that uke has been out on a stand, or in the uke closet in its case. :p

09-05-2015, 06:47 PM
I don't know., but for me I think I get more used to the particular sound each uke makes. and I open up to it.

09-05-2015, 08:12 PM
I don't know., but for me I think I get more used to the particular sound each uke makes. and I open up to it.

Well said.
That is what I have been feeling with my Pono lately.

RLink, I am very happy to hear you are getting more out of your uke.
I hear many nice things about Mainlands from videos and comments.
This month(September) is 20% off for teachers and I really want to get something for the wife,maybe a concert, without breaking my bank. Hmm, maybe I will be making a call on Tuesday up to Hoosier-Land.

09-05-2015, 11:11 PM
Different woods/laminates, glue materials and construction method are the major determinates as to whether one will hear an objective change in volume and/or tone. I seriously doubt that a full laminate uke will change due to maturing of the laminates; by nature, laminates are very stable. Laminate back and sides with a solid top are candidates for audible maturing based upon the wood used for the top.

I own an all solid wood acacia Pono. There has been some maturing of the sound after 2 years, but I would not consider the change substantial. My guess is that whatever changes goes on in the cavities in my head has a greater impact on how I experience the volume and tone of this instrument.

My MP is solid mango with a cedar top. It took almost a year before I recognized a change in volume and tone and the change has been significant. Where it originally sounded somewhat close to the Pono with the same strings and utilizing the same playing style, it now has a wider tonal range with considerably more detail, both highs and lows.

I attribute these differences over time to two factors. First, the MP has select woods throughout as might be expected of an instrument that costs 4 times as much as the Pono. Secondly, the cedar top on the MP is naturally softer than the acacia top on the Pono. In my experience, soft tops bring both volume and tonal changes with age that might not be as readily apparent with an instrument with a top fashioned from harder woods.

My Outdoor Uke has not changed at all. Plastic appears to be very stable.

09-06-2015, 12:03 AM
I'd love to see some "real science" behind this concept of "opening up".

Set up an instrument, or preferable a range of instruments, in a controlled environment, with audio recording equipment and some sort of mechanical strumming or picking device, and compare the results after an extended period of time.

I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I've never experienced anything similar, in 50+years of playing a range of instruments, that couldn't be attributed to some external circumstance. Anything from how long your fingernails are to how woolly your sweater is can affect the tone of a stringed instrument, certainly from the player's perspective.

"Relaxing" in/on an armchair or sofa or "sat up properly" in a "sensible" chair makes a big difference. Which way I'm facing in the room, are the doors/windows/curtains open or closed all contribute.

I really do think it's more a case of the player (subconsciously) learning how to get the best out of an instrument, rather than the instrument itself physically changing sufficiently to make a noticeable difference :confused:

For me, fitting (and using) a strap can make the biggest difference. Whether it's psychological, because I feel the instrument is more secure so I play it more "freely", or simply because I'm not muting the poor little thing by clamping it to my extensive torso for fear of dropping it ... I don't know, maybe I should try some comparative recordings myself ;)

09-06-2015, 01:52 AM
I'd love to see some "real science" behind this concept of "opening up".

It's a subject that has been discussed among guitarists for a long time. I recall seeing a rather scientific discussion about it on Gearslutz, but I'm unable to find the thread (not a guitarist, I just read that forum a lot).

As far as I recall, the conclusion was that wooden instruments do change, but not always for the better, and that the changes are observable either within a few days or weeks of them having been built, or a very long time (decades). The consensus also seemed that different strings have a greater impact on the sound than any changes of the wood.

Wish I could find that thread (and the sites it referred to) again. Perhaps someone else's Google Fu is better than mine. :) (At work, too!)

09-06-2015, 02:01 AM
While I have never expierenced an "opening up," I can't say that it doesn't happen or exist. I think there is a "placebo" effect for a lot of things in life. I swear my car runs and rides better after I wash and wax it.

I have experienced my ukes sounding a little different at different times. The wood can react to the conditions it is in, and that does affect the sound of an instrument. Just as I can color the sound by my ability, emotions or mood when I play. While in someone else's hands, they will probably sound just a bit different.

09-06-2015, 06:55 AM
My Boat Paddle spruce top cocobolo tenor definitely opens up considerably after about my second delicious craft brew. Got to be a causal relationship here.

09-06-2015, 08:07 AM
How about a difference in humidity levels inside vs outside? It is an all solid wood instrument and can ber sensitive to temperature/humidity levels.

That has been my experience, especially when it is a sudden change.

As to the "opening up" line of thinking, I have heard many theories on all the contributors to it. The most interesting response I have seen, is after an article was written on cells of the wood realigning themselves due to musical vibrations. One of my friends took it to heart, and when he is not playing, he leaves his guitars out the room with a music station playing on his radio. Haven't seen a noticeable result yet, but it's only been two years. Of course if it were really gradual, would he really notice? I tease him that he is just trying to get his guitars to learn some songs on their own.

09-06-2015, 08:28 AM
The best explanation I've heard on this subject......... Over time, the different cuts of wood used in construction (top, back & sides primarily) gradually begin to vibrate as one, as a whole. They "learn to live together" from years of vibration from being played, vibrating together, which implies that a 50 year-old instrument that has not been played will not have benefitted from this effect. I do believe this occurs in all wooden stringed instruments and is much more pronounced in those of solid woods. I also believe that this happens to varying degrees: some will exhibit a dramatic change, others not so much.

09-06-2015, 02:40 PM
I gargled opening up wooden instruments (https://www.google.com/search?q=opening+up+wooden+instruments) and found a couple of interesting discussions at TheSession.Org. One commenter writes (https://thesession.org/discussions/32872):

It is a real phenomenon. It’s down to tensions in the the wood of the soundboard relaxing. As the tensions relax the resonant frequencies of the soundboard drop, very like the pitch of a string dropping as the string stretches. It happens quite fast in the first few months, but countinues at an ever decreasing rate through the life of the instrument.

Whether it is a good thing or not depends on the instrument - with bowed strings, as the soundboard resonance drops you get more of the fundamental, and a warmer tone. At the same time you start to lose the high frequencies but the string is energized with a saw tooth waveform by the bow so you never lose them completely, and the sound keeps improving with age. With plucked strings there is a marked improvement over the first few months, as the bass kicks in, but from there on they get worse as you lose high frequencies and the sound gets duller. Classical guitarists often consider their instruments to be at their peak between one and five years old, and ‘played out’ after 10 years. Some go to the extent of getting the soundboard taked off a good guitar and re-barred to put tension back and ‘freshen it up’.

There was an interesting experiment that someone on Maestronet suggested a few years ago and I tried. If you take a cheap new student violin and very carefully press firmly all over the soundboard with your thumbs - listening and pressing just hard enough to hear a ‘scrunchy’ sound as the wood fibres start to part (don’t press hard enough to break it!) the sound instantly opens up and it sounds like a very much better fiddle - the difference it made absolutely astounded me.
That last suggests some 'uke experimentation. Squish your 'ukes to open them up!

09-06-2015, 05:49 PM
If you don't think wood changes over time, look around. A deck turns grey. A log for the fire looks different in the newly split part than at the edges. Reclaimed barn wood looks different even after its been remilled. Wood is an organic material. It changes over time when its exposed to light, heat, stress, humidity, oxidation, etc. Why wouldn't those things affect the sound? Stress also settles. Like when you put brand new string on they sound different while they're streatching than when they've settled. The wood on the back and sides didn't grow that shape and then there's all the tension the strings introduce. All things considered, why wouldn't the sound change over time?

09-06-2015, 09:54 PM
I'm just glad a ukulele never closed down on me.