View Full Version : Let's talk about wood.

03-04-2008, 11:13 PM
I'm just curious to learn more about woods. Let's focus mostly on solid ukes--mahogany, koa, maple...why different woods and how does affect the sound? Why choose different woods for different parts of the instrument, like a rosewood fretboard and spruce top?
I'm guessing a majority of us play currently on laminate ukes , so this may help us serious players out when it comes that time when choosing a solid ukulele, or perhaps having a custom one built.

03-05-2008, 01:40 AM
Okay why do luthiers use different wood for different parts of the Ukulele?

Fretboard - The fretboard needs a hard kind of wood, usually ebony or rosewood. Soft wood would be damaged by strings and fingernails after a while of playing.

neck - For the reason that using expensive wood would be a vaste of money (and wood) if its being used as neck, most Ukulele necks are built out of maple, nato or (for the better ones Mahagony)

Why do they use different wood for the several parts of the body?

1. Spruce: Spruce is a really excellent wood for instruments. But Spruce is to soft to be used as sides and back of the ukulele. So it's only used as wood for the top, which is quite good enough because the top "produces" most of the sound from your ukulele.

2. Wood is too expensive to be used throughout the whole body. This might happen if one uses really expensive or rare wood - koa, Jacaranda

3. You want to change the sound and not just have e.g. the typical Mahagony sound, So you choose to buy a Ukulele with mahagony sides and e.g. spruce top, so you can combine both kind of sounds. (this is what i believe)

So guys correct me if I told bullshit.
I personally own one Ukulele made of Solid wood. The excellent Brueko No.6, made out of solid Mahagony. It costed me approximately 130 Dollar. Really loud, and nice sound.

03-05-2008, 02:46 AM
It seems to me that the woods need a certain quality for the different parts. I don't build them nor have I researched it thoroughly so all this is just opinion.

The body should be a hard wood that is also light. In order to get that quality from the wood, it needs to be treated and dried to remove all moisture. I think that's what gives that "sonorous" quality to the body.

The fretboard, as "bof" said above, needs to be a hard but smooth wood to endure fingers, strings, capos, etc.

The top and the bridge are a bit of a mystery to me, but I think the type of wood there has a lot to do with maintaining a consistent string tension.

Then, of course, there's the visual appeal of having different woods with contrasting or coordinating stains. Different woods accept stains in various ways and, many times, the results are unexpectedly phenomenal.

03-05-2008, 05:47 AM
From my discussions with the two custom luthiers that have or will be building an instrument for me is that the type of wood used influences the tone. The overall construction determines the overall sound. Bit like genotype our genetic limitations (like the wood in the uke), but the final expression of our genetic makeup our phenotype is significantly effected by our environment (like the luthiers skill, construction methods and judgement).

Check out wwwdotpantheonguitarsdotcom. An article written by Dana Bourgeois covers some basic info about tonewoods.

After the numerous discussions with the luthiers I have gained an even deeper appreciation for their skill and understanding as true artesians. A "simple" part like the bridge can have an extreme effect on the quality of the instrument. The mass, shape and position all have to be spot on to maximize the instruments potential. Then there is bracing position, profile & shape, topskin thickness profile......

03-05-2008, 07:12 AM
This is what I've learned about woods used on various parts of a uke:

Fretboard: Needs to be hard and smooth to withstand the abuse of constantly being in contact with fingers. Rosewood and Ebony are the most common woods used and usually doesn't have a finish applied on it. Ebony is usually considered a step up from rosewood. I have handled chunks of rosewood and ebony and they are significantly heavier than a similar sized chunk of say koa. KoAloha actually uses koa for a lot of their fretboards. Because koa is relatively softer/weaker than rosewood or ebony, they apply a high gloss finish to those fretboards as protection.

Neck: The neck should be as stable and light as possible so the instrument doesn't feel unbalanced. Mahogany is perfect for this job and is the most common neck material used. Spanish cedar is another strong and light wood that some custom builders use. Many other woods are used for necks but a vast majority of solid wood instruments use mahogany. Of course, a denser/heavier wood can be used and the effects are supposed to be increased sustain.

Bridge: Most of the time the bridge is made from the same material as the fretboard. I think this is mostly for appearance reasons. It is preferable that a dense hard wood such as rosewood or ebony are used though, since they resist any cutting or wear from the string pressure better than a softer wood. My KoAloha Pineapple Sunday has a koa bridge and it was cut into by the strings. A rosewood or ebony bridge probably would have resisted the cutting by the strings.

Top/soundboard: Lots of woods can be used for the top. It needs to be strong to withstand the pull of the strings and light so it can vibrate freely. Different woods seem to have different sound signatures, but a good custom builder should be able to make any wood sound good by their bracing and graduating methods.

Back/sides: The back and sides needs to be pretty hard so soft woods such as spruce & cedar aren't normally used. These don't have as much to do with the sound directly so as long as they are strong/hard enough, they should work.

I think while the material has a lot to do with how an instrument sounds, the luthier building the instrument probably makes the biggest difference. If you're getting an instrument built for you, it's definitely fun to go over all the possibilities of the materials used.

03-05-2008, 04:48 PM
You also might want to check out the Koolau website http://www.koolauukulele.com/

There is a section pertaining to common woods used for ukuleles.

Misguided Musician
03-05-2008, 05:01 PM
Very intiresting. Does this also apply to guitars? I've been wondering since I've been intirested in an Ibanez Koa Classical.

09-09-2008, 10:10 AM
.... My KoAloha Pineapple Sunday has a koa bridge and it was cut into by the strings. A rosewood or ebony bridge probably would have resisted the cutting by the strings.

Whoa. Did you contact KoAloha? That's a lot of money to spend on a uke for something like that happen.

09-09-2008, 10:19 PM
Let's focus mostly on solid ukes--mahogany, koa, maple...why different woods and how does affect the sound?
. . . I'm guessing a majority of us play currently on laminate ukes

Well, up until now, my thinking has been otherwise. I'm still trying to figure out why people make such a big deal out of a solid wood `ukulele. Save for Flukes/Fleas/Applause (which are known plastic), I would think most `ukulele would be referred to what they are, an `ukulele (made out of wood). If you have something less, then call it a laminate.

To me, "solid wood" is akin to saying "shrimp scampi" or "white rice" - the adjective is not necessary.

Based on some statements, if I were to take a guess, GX9901 has (or had) a William King `ukulele, or possibly a Dave Means. Very good info from him, and references from some others. Also, very bad info interjected as well.