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View Full Version : Cedar Tops & Durability - Issue or Not?



etzeppy
10-15-2015, 05:54 AM
I'm trying to help my wife pick out a new tenor. She's been playing a Kala laminate and wants to graduate up to a nice solid wood model. She likes the online sound clips of several Pono's with cedar tops. However, as a guitar player myself, I know that cedar is soft and can have durability issues. She doesn't want to get a really nice Pono and then watch it get dinged and scratched easily. However, that might not be big issue for finger-style ukulele. Other options she is considering are Pono Acacia and Kanile'a Koa.

I'm looking for feedback from the experts. I don't want to make an issue of something that is not generally a problem.

Thanks

Keith

chuck in ny
10-15-2015, 06:07 AM
keith

i'm not an expert and am a bit put off with the cedar thing and would probably find a spruce or hardwood top i like as well. that said i wouldn't let the durability issue stand in the way. first thing let the instrument take its dings and get character. you're not going to beat in the same way a guitar gets its abuse.
i am probably a hardwood top guy. figure out who your wife is and get a good instrument without a second thought.

Pirate Jim
10-15-2015, 06:20 AM
figure out who your wife is

If you hadn't figured this out by the time you got married this could be a real voyage of discovery for you.

I've got a cedar top uke (Omega Klasiko). The sound is clear and well balanced. I've not noticed it marking up or similar any more easily than my mahogany ukes - you're talking serious abuse for it to affect the durability of the instrument. I find my ukes get bashed less than guitars as well as there's simply less of them to bash into things. One piece of advice I always try to stick to is to go for what I like, not what I subsequently talk myself into getting for x reason or y reason. If your wife likes the sound of the cedar Ponos then that's what she's going to be happy with - otherwise she'll end up wondering what could have been. And you'll end up with more ukes as you get what she originally wanted anyway. Which is not necessarily a bad thing! I could have saved myself a lot of cash by buying a decent tenor first time rather than trying to get a good deal here, or sacrificing a feature there and hoping I'll be satisfied. I've blown through a load of tenors and ended up with the one I originally wanted anyway.

Also worth searching for thoughts on those cedar Ponos - if I remember rightly the people that own them love them.

70sSanO
10-15-2015, 06:33 AM
My wife has had Kala cedar top for a number of years and there has been no issues. Granted, she doesn't use it very much and the substantial Kala gloss finish probably adds a ton of protection, so that may not be reflective of the Pono.

I recently picked up a cedar top with a very light finish and I treat it with much greater care than koa or mahogany. Even spruce is soft enough to get dinged if not taken care of.

One thing I think you are correct about is cedar and fingerpicking. This is less about durability and more about how much you can drive the cedar top. For me, it has good volume but can distort (probably not the right word) with hard strumming.

John

Patrick Madsen
10-15-2015, 07:33 AM
I love the dings and scratches on my cedar topped Griffin; shows me that it's being played and loved. They bring out the character of a well made and played uke. A friend has the cedar/rosewood combo and in the three years not scratches whatsoever.

Fleacia
10-15-2015, 08:32 AM
+1, I agree 110% with Pirate Jim. Get what she wants. I didn't, and regretted it every time I played. Got the cedar top concert I really wanted and love it with every strum and fingerpicked note. For me, it works just as well for strumming, but she may play differently. String choice is also a factor. But as to the original question, I haven't found durability to be an issue. I do keep the uke in a hard case, but I'd do that with any solid wood uke. My guitar gets knocked about, but that's because it's big. I carry the uke, cased (or around the house not), in one hand, and it's fine. Most cedar top ukes are finished in gloss - mine is, and I think that protects them as well. Even if the uke does pick up some dings, they probably won't compromise the structure of the uke. That would take more than normal wear and tear IMO.

etzeppy
10-15-2015, 09:14 AM
Thanks for the input so far. I think she's trying to decide between cedar and something more traditional like Koa or Acacia. She was not sure if the durability of cedar should be a consideration or not. It's looking like only a minor consideration if at all.

spookelele
10-15-2015, 10:17 AM
If she likes the sound of cedar, get a cedar, and put a iPad screen protector on the strum area.
They work great for strum marks, and they're usually static cling, so there's no adhesive residue if you take it off later.
I buy them on evil bay, for like $2 delivered from China and they work great without affecting the sound.

It's not going to stop like.. dropping it, or banging it into a stand.. but then again.. neither would hardwood.

cpmusic
10-15-2015, 10:20 AM
There's an old husband's tale about cedar breaking down and essentially going "dead" after a while, but there's no validity to it. All else being equal, cedar will produce a warmer tone, and with steel strings it might be over-driven by hard strumming, but it's a perfectly viable top wood that's been used for ages in classical guitars and, more recently steel string models.

If the thought is that cedar will literally break, that will only occur on instruments that aren't built properly. It may ding a little more easily than spruce, but spruce isn't exactly hard as nails.

DownUpDave
10-15-2015, 10:29 AM
I have a Pono pro classic cedar top tenor and after one year of hard use it has a few dings and scratches. Now this uke gets used and handled a lot. It goes to uke jams, camping, cottages and I use it exclusively in the ensemble I play in. None of my other ukes show this kind of wear but none of them have got that much use. I have no issues with the way it has held up. You don't do any hard strumming with a pick like on an acoustic guitar.

If she loves the sound of a Pono cedar top by all means get it.

Fleacia
10-15-2015, 10:43 AM
If she likes the sound of cedar, get a cedar, and put a iPad screen protector on the strum area.
They work great for strum marks, and they're usually static cling, so there's no adhesive residue if you take it off later.
I buy them on evil bay, for like $2 delivered from China and they work great without affecting the sound.

It's not going to stop like.. dropping it, or banging it into a stand.. but then again.. neither would hardwood.

I wouldn't have thought of a screen protector, thanks for sharing!

coolforcats99
10-15-2015, 01:26 PM
I have a Mainland red cedar tenor which gets used for street busking and uke club meets in pubs at least several times a week and after a year it shows very few dings - and those that are there are on the purfling. It travels in a hard case and the same when not being used at home. And by the way, with fluorocarbon strings and an MSI pickup, this is a great sounding uke at a great price.

Andy Chen
10-15-2015, 01:31 PM
It definitely scratches easily but it's my favourite soundboard wood for a uke.

dsummers
10-16-2015, 03:48 AM
I'm with Andy- I have a few cedar tops (a souhtcoast soprano concert scale, boat paddle kayak concert 5 string, and a Bruko large body concert)- I really like the sound cedar produces!

coolkayaker1
10-16-2015, 04:00 AM
Owned two cedar-topped ukes in the past.

They scratch easily, even with something as simple as a string change. This is a factor if one ever considers future resale; lifelong keeper, not a resale question.

The sound of cedar, in my opinion, is mushier, not as loud, not a sparkling as spruce.

I would not buy another cedar-topped ukulele. I love spruce-topped ukuleles (and guitars, where spruce is used much, much more frequently as a topwood).

Ymmv. Good luck on the Pono (one of my cedar-topped models was a Pono).

Rllink
10-16-2015, 04:07 AM
I think that for most people, image is important. The difference is in what image that image is. Some like that spiffy polished look, and some people like that worn down "been there" look. I'm personally of the later persuasion. I couldn't wait to get those honest dings and scratches that come from playing the hell out of my ukulele. But each of us has our own self image. I am neither a seller, nor a collector, so I either keep using something until it wears out, then I get a new one. Either that, or I decide that what I have is not meeting my needs, and I get a new one. That is just me, but if I wanted a cedar ukulele, I would buy it, and if it wore out, I would get another one. But then, if your self image is of you playing a pristine ukulele, with no signs of wear, well, that is a whole different game.

iDavid
10-16-2015, 04:12 AM
My Kinnard Tenor has a cedar top and not one scratch. I guess it is soft, but it is holding up just fine.

strumsilly
10-16-2015, 04:19 AM
I've found with cedar that the finish is important to how easily the top will be damaged. One of my first ukes was a satin cedar top Kala that could be easily scratched with your fingernail. That was also one of the best sounding ukes I've ever owned.

chuck in ny
10-16-2015, 05:47 AM
My Kinnard Tenor has a cedar top and not one scratch. I guess it is soft, but it is holding up just fine.


david
things are tough all over. you must have died with joy to get that instrument.

Debby
10-16-2015, 05:52 AM
I would get the ukulele you desire, play the heck out of it, and consider any dings that happen to be blessing!

RichM
10-16-2015, 06:02 AM
I would get the ukulele you desire, play the heck out of it, and consider any dings that happen to be blessing!

Yep, this.

FWIW, I have three cedar-topped ukes and I can't say I've seen significantly more wear to them than others. My Kala cedar-topped is most frequently played, too-- it goes to jams, parties, etc,. Yes, cedar is softer than many other topwoods, and my show wear more easily, but I think it's overstated. Ultimately, it's about the tone, and I think cedar can impart a lovely tone to an otherwise well-built ukulele.

For a reasonably priced cedar-topped uke, consider the Mainland Red Cedar. I think they have one of the best price/performance ratios in the industry.

Uke Republic
10-16-2015, 08:20 AM
Wonderful tonewood, cedar. With a gloss finish it is much more protected as has been said.

iDavid
10-16-2015, 08:37 AM
david
things are tough all over. you must have died with joy to get that instrument.

I got it before the prices went up a bit. It was a stretch for me financially but they are worth much more than the cost. Seriously world class instrument. It is a flawless uke that I play daily. I hope to get a soprano one day.

Fleacia
10-16-2015, 10:32 AM
I have a Mainland red cedar tenor which gets used for street busking and uke club meets in pubs at least several times a week and after a year it shows very few dings - and those that are there are on the purfling. It travels in a hard case and the same when not being used at home. And by the way, with fluorocarbon strings and an MSI pickup, this is a great sounding uke at a great price.

I have the concert and like fluorocarbons too. I waited a long time to get this uke and it was worth it - it's all I expected and more! :)

I played a Pono cedar/rosewood tenor as well as the Mainland tenor. I liked both, found the tenors had a deeper resonance especially the Pono. More classical to me than traditional uke sound. I chose the concert because I prefer that size. Still, no particular wear issues here.

hub
10-16-2015, 10:50 AM
...consider any dings that happen to be blessing!

For all the people that worry about scratches in the precious softwood tops (like me just two weeks ago) toddlers are the answer. My 9 month old loves to climb on the instruments as I'm struggling to play to try to make that magic sound himself. Last time he forgot to drop the beech building block first. I don't worry about getting dings anymore.

Debby
10-16-2015, 10:56 AM
For all the people that worry about scratches in the precious softwood tops (like me just two weeks ago) toddlers are the answer. My 9 month old loves to climb on the instruments as I'm struggling to play to try to make that magic sound himself. Last time he forgot to drop the beech building block first. I don't worry about getting dings anymore.

Right! After that first ding, it's no longer a worry!

SoloRule
10-16-2015, 10:57 AM
It's a very difficult decision if you live in a city that has limited choices.
You can only relay on the experts and members in the forum to share their experience.
It's all depend on how she plays. Does she do more fingerpicking or more strumming ? What kind of music she plays also affect the type of wood she likes. I think some of us are still learning that's why we keep buying .
No one is contented with one multi purpose uke. Am I right?

bunnyf
10-16-2015, 11:32 AM
A cedar topped Bari is my daily player. It has a very, very light finish and it does show wear but then I'm primarily a strummer and this uke gets played aLOT. It shows strum marks and does ding and scratch more than any of my other ukes or guitars, which are spruce, mahoghany and a walnut. The spruce and hogs do have a thicker finish, the walnut is satin. I think the wear difference would be significant greater on the cedar than any of the others, even if I played it less. The others still get played a lot and show very little wear comparatively. I like the tone of the cedar and I personally am not concerned with wear. I will not be selling my cedar.

Rakelele
10-16-2015, 09:09 PM
Out of my ukes, the two that are prone to dings are the Cedar top of my Pono and the back on my glossy Koa Kanilea. No dings on my other ukes, including another Cedar top as well as more from Pono and Kanilea. So I guess that the dings have a lot to do with the individual piece of wood, not just with a specific maker or type of wood.

Finish might add some protection, but with the two ukes mentioned, I think the dings are actually imprinted into the finish. Nevertheless, that wouldn't stop me from buying those same instruments again. And after the first couple of marks, I found myself handling those instruments more comfortably.

Like others said, you shouldn't be worried too much about the possibility of dings, but rather focus on what you and your wife like. Are you looking for a traditional sound and look, or something a little more Guitar-like? What playing styles will be applied? To me, the Kanilea is best for strumming, while the Cedar top Pono is more apt for fingerpicking, and the Pono AT makes for a great allrounder.

Speaking of a great allrounder, I'd recommend considering the KoAloha Opio line as well. Arguably the best sounding production Uke, in my opinion.

Which brings me back to the original topic of durability: Contrary to what seems to be a widely held opinion, I found that my satin finished ukes are less prone to scratches (but might stain easier from sweaty hands etc.).

Anyway, good luck with your search, and keep us posted on what you'll end up with...

ukuleleden
10-16-2015, 09:37 PM
Cedar in my experience helps produce among the most satisfying tones from a stringed instrument played. The gloss finish on my Kala probably reduces scratches making it down into the wood, but I play them far more for their sound than worrying about the appearance not be as prettied up over time. As others have said, play wear adds character and sort of a physical appearance of how it's been enjoyed... Get what sounds the best!

Doc_J
10-17-2015, 05:45 AM
Any uke top can be dented, dinged, or scratched. But it doesn't take much to keep them looking great.
Here's a 2-year old, much played, cedar top looking flawless. Cedar gives nice warmth to this Ko'olau.
http://i1298.photobucket.com/albums/ag56/Doc_Jenkins/Koolau%20T100%20SP/P1070492_zpshalhyv4h.jpg

bborzell
10-19-2015, 10:02 AM
84485

This is an older photo, but after 3 years and being the major player of a group of my tenors, it still looks the same today.

Dings and scratches come about as a result of harder things hitting the top with enough force to tear the wood fibers of the top. A gloss finish will help impede that force, but whether or not a ding/scratch occurs is much better controlled by protecting the top from impacts than by hoping for an incremental increase in impact resistence from a harder wood. Some impacts will tear wood fibers of any tone wood.

Spruce is widely used on uke tops and it's a soft wood. I don't get why people think that there is an significant difference in durability between Spruce, Redwood and Cedar. Hit it hard enough and any top will suffer

Hard woods might offer some greater degree of protection than softer tops given the same impact from the same object, but at a cost in the warmer tone quality that many seek. I own several guitars, mandolins and ukes. Only one has a ding. Better to handle the instrument with care. If I can do it, anyone can.

etzeppy
10-20-2015, 04:00 AM
Thanks everyone for the responses. Very helpful.