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View Full Version : Do all Spruce topped ukes sound a bit dead strummed?



Pete F
03-14-2016, 10:21 AM
I know spruce topped ukes come into their element and sound great finger picked, and I Had expected some trade off for that when strummed...
It just seems to be a massive effort to extract any sort of ring from the chords. As a generalisation would this be normal for spruce - I'm guessing it could be....I've changed from High G to Low G to try and find a happy medium where the instrument works acceptably in both playing styles as I like to mix it up. Better in Low G but it's droning aching sound give me a head ache.
Be interested in your thoughts and no I'm not supplying a sound sample 😊

Cheers all

BlackBearUkes
03-14-2016, 10:26 AM
Spruce topped ukes sound great if made correctly and by those who know what they are doing. Mass produced spruce topped ukes are a crap shoot, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.


I know spruce topped ukes come into their element and sound great finger picked, and I Had expected some trade off for that when strummed...
It just seems to be a massive effort to extract any sort of ring from the chords. As a generalisation would this be normal for spruce - I'm guessing it could be....I've changed from High G to Low G to try and find a happy medium where the instrument works acceptably in both playing styles as I like to mix it up. Better in Low G but it's droning aching sound give me a head ache.
Be interested in your thoughts and no I'm not supplying a sound sample ��

Cheers all

Mivo
03-14-2016, 10:47 AM
It could also be the string tension or type. I didn't quite like how my monterey cypress tenor (re-entrant C tuning) sounded when strummed, with Worth Brown mediums, though it sounded fantastic when picked. After I dropped it a full tone (down to re-entrant Bb6 tuning, so FBbDG), the lower tension made strumming feel and sound better. The lower tuning in general blew me away.

DownUpDave
03-14-2016, 11:14 AM
Spruce topped ukes sound great if made correctly and by those who know what they are doing. Mass produced spruce topped ukes are a crap shoot, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

This exactely, of course he is a highly respected builder that actually knows what he speaks of from experience. I have two ukes with spruce tops from custom builders that sound just great strummed or picked. Actually my Webber spruce top is one of the very best strummers I have every played. Sam13 has two Pono spruce tops that I have played a lot and both sound great strummed.

Pete F
03-14-2016, 12:03 PM
There could be something in the string type/tension suggestion, as I have instinctly changed strings a couple of times as it didn't sound pleasing to my ear.

Currently on Worth Browns as it was massively over bright with clear fluorocarbons - stock Collings that it came with and I've tried Living Water just because I use them on one other use I have. The 'Browns' have made it less bright more manageable to play. Thinking of trying some Martin Tenor strings next - they're lighter in gauge on the first two strings and I have a set.

Alytw
03-14-2016, 12:50 PM
I agree with BBU and DUD. How low is your action?

Pete F
03-14-2016, 01:11 PM
Action seems average, not high or low. It's a Collings mahogany with spruce top.

ProfChris
03-14-2016, 01:21 PM
I find spruce very challenging to build with, unless I'm aiming at small guitar sound. It wants to sustain too much for ukulele style strumming. The last two I've made with spruce tops have been better, as I left them stiffer than previously which made the strummed sound less muddy but kept most of the sustain.

Factory ukes are made to a thickness, not stiffness, so I'd expect them to be highly variable in sound. As BBU says, a skilled builder should be able to control a spruce top to good effect.

Dan Uke
03-14-2016, 02:07 PM
I find spruce very challenging to build with, unless I'm aiming at small guitar sound. It wants to sustain too much for ukulele style strumming. The last two I've made with spruce tops have been better, as I left them stiffer than previously which made the strummed sound less muddy but kept most of the sustain.

Factory ukes are made to a thickness, not stiffness, so I'd expect them to be highly variable in sound. As BBU says, a skilled builder should be able to control a spruce top to good effect.

I tend to agree that spruce rings more than koa or mahogany and usually doesn't have the punch that many ukers are looking for in a soprano size.

Pete F
03-14-2016, 02:23 PM
Some great replies, thanks.

It is kind of how I see it, I guess I'll have to develop my finger style playing to get the most out of this uke. Single note it really is a lovely sound, but as described above gets a bit muddy (or fuzzy more like ) strummed. The Collings top is very lightly braced (one piece) almost alarmingly so; looking into the body with a dentist's inspection mirror and bright light - the things I find myself doing for amusement!

anthonyg
03-14-2016, 03:06 PM
Seriously try detuning the instrument 2 semitones to start with and see what you think. I always detune tenors 2 or 3 semitones. A tenor detuned 3 semitones is my "standard". This may not be the way you really want to play it but its an exercise in finding what brings your instrument to life.

Anthony

Pete F
03-14-2016, 03:18 PM
I'll give that a try Anthony, cheers.

70sSanO
03-15-2016, 07:33 AM
If the tone improves when you detune you have essentially reduced the string tension. I have gone the Bb route at one time, but I got tired of transposing, especially on the fly and have since gone back to C with a high G. This doesn't mean that Bb isn't still the best tuning for the best sound, as that has been the case with one of my tenors, it just wasn't manageable for me. I also agree that the low G can drone if you do not use it in a judicious way.

This will start your string journey, and as many have stated there are tons of strings to experiment with. I think Southcoast is as good as any and they offer a number of tensions. My over generalizing blanket string statement is that the thicker the string the more tension and too high a tension can smother/choke a soundboard. Too thin can go the other way and not be able to provide enough tension to drive the soundboard and thin strings tend to lose some tonal depth.

Over the years I have tried almost everything and I am now primarily using Oasis and a little bit of Seaguar Premium here and there to fine tune the feel and sound. Good luck with your journey, I'm pretty sure that if you spend the time you will figure out the right brand/mix that brings out the best in your Collings.

John

70sSanO
03-15-2016, 07:39 AM
One more thing...

I have found it is the A string that provides the most ring and sustain in strumming and for me is the toughest one to get right. A good A string can really cut through the mix. A bad one has the opposite effect.

The next problem string for me is the C as it can boom and over-power or thud and sound dead... for high G tuning that is.

John

Soundbored
03-15-2016, 07:55 AM
It's a Collings mahogany with spruce top.

I seem to recall several comments on the 'Net about Collings ukes being overbuilt. I think one review said Collings used fan bracing in their concert body ukes, rather than lighter ladder bracing. I've never played one of their ukuleles though, so I can't confirm. But, I'm very suspicious of guitar makers moving into ukuleles. Larrivee for example, overbuilds everything they make, which is why I'll never give them another dollar of my money... well, at least they're consistent!

phil hague
03-15-2016, 08:18 AM
I have 2 Kala sprucetops (soprano and concert). Both are very punchy. definately not dull.

dkcrown
03-15-2016, 09:14 AM
One more thing...

I have found it is the A string that provides the most ring and sustain in strumming and for me is the toughest one to get right. A good A string can really cut through the mix. A bad one has the opposite effect.

The next problem string for me is the C as it can boom and over-power or thud and sound dead... for high G tuning that is.



John

I agree John

Pete F
03-15-2016, 09:42 AM
Thanks all.

I'll persevere with some of the variations mentioned.

It's definitely not overbuilt in the sense of too much bracing. It may have been an issue in the past Collings builds, but this is only a few months old. Looking into the instrument (as mentioned) the top board is the most lightly braced of any uke I've seen, it does't even have a bridge patch! The whole thing is lighter than some sopranos I own, and the physical build quality is flawless. I think Collings may have acted on that previous criticism and went full on in the other direction; resulting in this very bright and lively instrument. A bit of guess work in that summary accepted.

I'll keep at it, we're not going to part company......yet anyway.

M3Ukulele
03-16-2016, 12:08 PM
My Moodyville gypsy jazz tenor by Shelly Park is one of my best. Sitka spruce top black walnut back and sides. Spruce rings clear with punch and articulation both strummed or finger picked. Spruce is my favourite to........and I will get another's. I would thing builder has a lot to do with it. Recent auction for Moore Betta tenor sounded fantastic. I was just short the 12k it sold for. �� Pono have a new spruce top Madagascar ebony tenor that sounds terrific IMNO also both strummed and picked.

Pete F
07-01-2016, 03:18 AM
I thought I'd better update as I left a bit of a negative vibe about my spruce/collings experience. Well, things have turned around somewhat - I really, really love this uke now!
What has changed, well I have changed to a wound Aquila low g to accompany the worth browns... and my playing has adapted to the instrument now. It is now my favourite uke by far, and finger style brings the most delightful tones. The wound low g has taken away the droning, and crisped up the tone overall compared with the fluorocarbon low g. I picked up this advice from a May Moe 'unscripted video' series.

Some great advice taken from the thread, and perseverance has produced something I am very happy with.