View Full Version : Koa Questions

11-29-2015, 07:17 PM
I have to admit I have never made an ukulele from koa before. Reasons? How about $$$? Plus I never saw a piece I wanted to really buy. Plus it was so "traditional" kinda turns me off. Plus I've seen any number of ukes out of Asia with beautiful (and not so beautiful) koa tops that sound like absolute crap. You know the brands. I won't name them.

Anyway, just for the fun of it, I sprang for a koa top. Oh boy, just received my top and I was surprised at how the wood felt. Not at all what I was expecting. Much lighter and less dense than what is a Janka hardness of nearly 1,200. I think I'm gonna have fun with this wood, but is not what I expected. My girl friend thinks I buy wood because it looks like the female form. I have no idea what she is talking about.



So what do you experienced koa guys think? I paid nearly $50 bucks for the set. Personally I'm underwelmed but hopeful.. Pictures are rough sanded with no shellac. Show and down side... Oh and how is it on tools?

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-30-2015, 05:02 AM
I personally prefer koa that is consistent in grain (and curl) for stiffness and good tonal response. Such a set of koa will coast several times what you paid for that. Koa can be finicky to work with, especially if the curl is radical. It cuts, sands and finishes well, bending is not so easy, depending on the particular set.

11-30-2015, 07:00 AM
You're using that for your back, right?

My experience with Koa is similar to Chuck's. I think Quilted Maple is more challenging, and Milo is harder to bend (just need to take it slow).

It doesn't bother tools like Cocobolo, so no issues there.

11-30-2015, 07:18 AM
You're using that for your back, right?

Ouch! Those are the top plates.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-30-2015, 07:35 AM
Ouch! Those are the top plates.

That wouldn't be my first choice (or 2nd or 3rd actually). The problem with grain or curl like that is that it is very inconsistent and has a lot of different stresses going on. You may likely have problems with seam separation down the road and I doubt if it will be stiff enough to provide a good response. That looks like crotch curl or stress curl that normally occurs towards the bottom of the tree and IMO is better left for decorative items. Just my 2 cents worth.

11-30-2015, 08:25 AM
The show side has some interesting grain. I'd probably find use for it on the headstock, or as part of an inlay. Not sure if there's enough going on that I'd use it for bindings.

Definitely not the top, though.

Well, at least you asked in the Lounge, and got the right answer you didn't want to hear.

Just for a BBT style social experiment, ask in Talk and see what you get. Something like "planning on building with Koa. . . Thoughts?"

hawaii 50
11-30-2015, 09:49 AM
from the buyers point of view..i agree with Chuck and Aaron....

the figure not my style for the top and Chuck and Aaron know all about how the Koa will sound, and bend etc.....
you did get a good price but I see Koa here that cost way more....got to pay for the good stuff....:)

11-30-2015, 10:01 AM
Building an instrument takes too much work to take chances with substandard materials. It takes the same amount of time and effort no matter what wood you use and that investment of time is considerable. You don't have to use costly 5A koa. Nice straight grained koa isn't all that expensive. Here is a reliable source:


Please don't take this as piling on! :)

11-30-2015, 10:22 AM
Please don't take this as piling on! :)

No, not taking it as piling on... I asked for opinions and I got them. Not what I wanted to hear of course, but at least they were honest opinions...

Pegasus Guitars
11-30-2015, 11:45 AM
I'd never sell wood or use wood like that for a top or a back. If it was from a luthier supply, send it back. If it is eBay wood, then you are probably stuck. It looks very slab sawn and in addition has a grain orientation that leaves you having to glue endgrain together. Gluing endgrain together for a top or back is definitely going to produce a seam that shows in short order. $50.00 is actually very reasonable for a curly koa top, if it is good wood. I sell koa, and I'll be the first to say that koa prices have just gone stupid these days from some sources.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-30-2015, 11:49 AM
I should mention that Bob probably has the best price on koa sets. And if I'm not mistaken (and I often am) I think he has a sale going on now.

11-30-2015, 01:28 PM
No, not taking it as piling on... I asked for opinions and I got them. Not what I wanted to hear of course, but at least they were honest opinions...
Credit to you for admitting and acknowledging. You can see that Chuck & I danced around a bit at first. As Pete will attest, not getting the answer you wanted to hear can turn around a thread in short order in the Lounge. Didn't happen here.

11-30-2015, 04:15 PM
No problem. I got exactly what I was asking for from people I respect and I got an education. That is kinda the point of why I bought some koa. To learn. I've never been particularly drawn to koa for its looks nor do I think it has magical accoustic properties, but it is "traditional" and I want to make at least one uke from it as a learning experience. Anyway, I kinda feel like I adopted an ugly puppy with a bum leg from the dog pound with fleas, but I'm starting to love the thing. What concerns me about the stuff are two main things: Yes, it is slab sawn for sure (not necessarily a deal killer but...) and two, this potential seam separation problem concerns me deeply. That ain't good. Structural problems down the line keep me up at night. CA glue anyone?

But being the eternal optimist I am, I'm gonna go ahead and at least glue it and thin it. (This is where Pete Howlett just shakes his head and says: "We give you good advice and what do you do, you don't take it and just go ahead...".) Full speed ahead! I worked with it today and here are my impressions so far: Smell: Nothing special. Kind of like dusty sawdust. Nothing much there. Smells like wood. No fun here. Feel: Kinda like it. Sands well. Harder than it looks. Definitely fibrous. Saws well. Look: Sorta OK with deep grain and a blurry figure and a kinda muddy/blond look that is...interesting? Distinctive though. Looks like a tropical hardwood. Book matching is poor. Hoping it will improve as I thin.

Anyway, I think it is going to make a good looking, great sounding ukulele, but I'm not buying any more of it. Gonna stick with local wood I know.

11-30-2015, 08:30 PM
Yes, it is much preferable to have a straight grain piece of wood, even if it doesn't have much figure and is "plain." Your set has multiple swirls and dives and grain directions, which makes it less stable and harder to make it sound good.

Pete Howlett
11-30-2015, 11:08 PM
I did reply but mercifully for you, it wasn't published. Best of luck. I'm with Bob, Chuck and Aaron - that ain't what experienced luthiers would call tonewood....

11-30-2015, 11:13 PM
Hi Sequoia,
if you are intent on building with it perhaps you could use it as the top (and back?) for an electric solid body uke. ... but if you are determined to build an acoustic uke then lets face it ... whats the worst that can happen ... its only money :)

12-01-2015, 07:52 PM
Hey thank you all for your thoughtful replies. I'm not going to return the wood, but will go ahead and try to make an uke out of it. I think it is gonna look and sound great. We shall see. On ward! I just love a challenger.


12-02-2015, 03:46 AM
That’s certainly not good top wood. I think it could be used for back and sides with maybe a spruce or cedar top if you like the way it looks. As far as joining, if there is end grain at the joint, it can be glued with hide glue (one hot coat of hide glue to fill pores, sand then join with another coat). This brings up another subject about top wood. It would appear that anything goes for top wood especially when you consider imported ukuleles. Most of them have laminated tops, and all sound about the same, but it gives the false impression that anything goes for a ukulele top. The best tops are light and stiff with straight grain and little or no run out. Heavy woods like rosewood and maple can actually make passable tops if you sand them thin enough, but thin tops are subject to cracking and produce a tinny sound. Woods I trust include koa, mahogany, spruce, cedar and redwood.