View Full Version : Wood options for first build?

10-02-2017, 02:19 PM
I want to do a Tenor for my daughter for Christmas. I have a lot of rosewood available so back and sides would be that. For the top though I did not know if rosewood would also be fine? I also have a good piece of figured cherry, would that be better for sound? Also excuse my ignorance but on the top is it better for joined panels or would solid panel be OK?

I appreciate your input - Ken

Jim Hanks
10-02-2017, 07:19 PM
Speaking as a non-luthier, I can only say that rosewood would be a very unusual choice for a top. Cherry is somewhat uncommon but mainly due to (lack of) aesthetic interest (usually). I think you'd be much better off with the cherry for the top.

10-02-2017, 08:08 PM
Spruce top with your rosewood sides and back. Sitka spruce is cheap and available. Never heard of a rosewood soundboard but I don't know any reason it wouldn't work. Interesting that you have a lot of rosewood available. Generally this is kind of rare. I wish I had a lot of rosewood available. Good luck! Send pictures.

Michael N.
10-02-2017, 11:04 PM
I suppose there comes a point when the density of the top starts to work against the limited energy found in a plucked nylon string. Rosewood might be at the very limits. Not that I've ever tried it though.

10-02-2017, 11:19 PM
I agree with the above comments, but can say that I made an all cherry tenor last year which sounded great, so if your cherry piece is attractive go with that. It might be a bit more forgiving than spruce for your first build, in that a lot more care needs to be taken with spruce when working because it is relatively soft.
Whichever you choose between spruce or cherry will be fine though. Good luck.

Pete Howlett
10-02-2017, 11:49 PM
Use Englemann spruce from Kootenay Tonewoods. It is excellent value and the narrow width mastergrade is ideal for ukulele. He sometimes sells on ebay...

10-03-2017, 04:04 AM
All Rosewood is rare yet I have played one all Rosewood ukulele and I liked the sound. If you have big enough pieces of timber to do one piece then go for it. Two piece is about utilising smaller pieces of timber rather than wasting it and many will argue that two piece tops sound just as good as one piece tops however cutting up a good one piece top to just make a two piece top is a bit silly.

This is purely subjective, however I have a cheap solid wood ukulele thats made with a one piece top that isn't even close to being quarter sawn however it puts to shame many ukuleles in the $500-600 range.

EDIT" Sound wise a good piece of plain straight timber will usually SOUND better than figured timber. Figured timber is about the looks more than sound.

10-03-2017, 04:26 AM
Ono #1 has a cherry top, so far be it from me to say that's not a good plan. :) The back and sides are padauk, which is somewhere in the same ballpark as the various rosewoods, so it's a reasonable guess that your combination will work out well enough.

That was six years ago. My wife still plays it and won't let me make her a "current model."


10-03-2017, 05:06 AM
I have attached an image of one of my cherry boards. It is about 7.5" wide. I have also attached pictures of rosewood examples and a rack of some of the rosewood I have available. The rosewood has many different shades, patterns and widths. The rosewood my dad gave me many years back which he got from a pool table manufacturer that went out of business. I think while I am at it I may build two ukuleles at the same time, one with cherry top and one rosewood to compare.


10-03-2017, 06:13 AM
Boy, that's some pretty wood!

I may be mistaken, but it all looks flat sawn? I'm sure others will chime in on the subject.

Pete Howlett
10-03-2017, 10:27 AM
So you don't really want advice? Like us all, you just want us to ratify your decisions... In my opinion, hardwood back and sides paired with a softwood front is the BEST combination. Designing for disappointment is the gift of the amateur. Something I don't do :) Let us know how you get on...

10-03-2017, 01:01 PM
If you are in the mood to build two I would go the spruce top for one and cherry for the other. I would use one side (edge) of the board to get the bookmatched set from. I would use the middle section of the board for the neck and do a scarf joint and stacked heel. Or even do an all cherry with one edge for the top the second for the back and the center for the neck. For the rosewood one use the cherry for a laminate neck. Or you can...

10-03-2017, 01:34 PM
I see what you mean on the flat sawn portions. The movement on the cherry just looked so nice. I have plenty of rosewood to be choosy on the pieces I use. For the cherry I will do as suggested using the side grain, I assume for better stability. I may re-thin an all rosewood and see my other options for a top from what I have laying around. It may also give me an excuse to look and see what is available locally. I am recently moved to Northern UT. I have done some furniture pieces in the past but this is my first foray into instruments. I have a lot of wood laying around and now that I'm a bit more settled I thought it might be nice to use it.

10-03-2017, 05:32 PM
While I think that you could make a very nice ukulele from all Rosewood the truth is that sheer experience and skill will make more of a difference that the quality of the wood used. Its quite likely that the thickness and bracing needed on a Rosewood top is different to the thickness and bracing needed on Softwood top and I have no personal advice to give on this matter.

Maybe your first ukulele should be make from less than first grade timber in order to give yourself some room to make mistakes.

10-03-2017, 07:16 PM
. Designing for disappointment is the gift of the amateur. Something I don't do :) Let us know how you get on...

Pete. Aloha. Don't always be such a wet blanket. Please... Maholo nue loa. ... To the OP: Go for it. You might be surprised how good it sounds.

Michael N.
10-03-2017, 11:02 PM
I'd be tempted to leave that wood alone, leave it for a later build. There's plenty of plain wood to be had for very little cost. About a year ago i built an experimental guitar with a spruce top that cost all of 7 - and that was buying it from a tonewood dealer. Quatersawn, It just had rather wide grain. That's the only reason it was marked down to such a low price. having spent some time with that guitar and comparing it to others all I can say is that I wish I'd bought the next 50 consecutive cuts. So much for fine grained tonewood. It's a myth.

10-04-2017, 11:21 AM
Well said Michael, on both points

10-04-2017, 01:01 PM
That wood is not quartered well. Don't use it.

Send it to me for repurposing.

10-04-2017, 02:05 PM
That wood is not quartered well. Don't use it.

Send it to me for repurposing.

Nice try....

Pete Howlett
10-04-2017, 06:38 PM
Don't listen to us... quartersawn is the ideal. There are grails other than the 'holy one'...

10-04-2017, 10:46 PM
Quarter sawn may be the "ideal" but that wouldn't stop me from making a ukulele with what was at hand.

I have a ukulele made from a one piece top that's not even close to quarter sawn and its a great sounding ukulele. Quarter sawn is stronger yes, yet lets face it, most ukulele tops are too strong. Now the experts here have the skill and ability to make the best results from the best materials however using a weaker cut of timber may be just what some ukuleles need.

I think the best sounding Kala ukuleles that I've played were the Spalted Maple ukes and a luthier told me that the Spalting made the timber weak. The "weakness" was just what an overbuilt top needed.

10-05-2017, 04:49 AM
The difference between quarter sawn and the other cuts is that the wood moves less with the change in humidity. A flat sawn piece will expand and contract twice as much (roughly speaking) than a quarter sawn piece. And since we fix the edges of the boards the wood is either going to bow out or try and pull itself apart with higher and lower humidity respectively. So the use of quarter sawn wood is more a case of longevity, flat sawn wood is fine if you plan on pampering the instrument and keeping it within tight humidity limits close to the level the instrument was built at.

That being said all wood is different. One piece of wood from one tree that is quartered might be more susceptible to crack than one from another that was cut from another tree. Or even from different sections of the same tree. So it is a crap shoot building from wood. So what we try to do is slant the odds in our favor therefor the use of quartered wood. I mentioned using the edge area of the board for the top or back. Some of it will not be close to quartered but it will move less than the center section, so why not use it if you can? I would not have a problem using that wood. Mind you I would make sure it was glued together at around 40-45% humidity (after a week or two at this humidity) and try to limit the humidity the instrument will see below 30%.

10-05-2017, 02:32 PM
In theory quarter sawn is the way to go and I'm not necessarily disagreeing with it, yet, the ukulele I am talking about with a one piece top is at least half way between quarter sawn and flat sawn and its no less stable than any quarter sawn ukulele I have. Now for the record where I live averages 45% humidity but the instrument has lived through bellow 30 and above 60.

The timber it came from was most likely well seasoned. In the right hands quarter sawn wood is great yet I suggest that there is some room for experimenting outside strictly quarter sawn if the wood is well seasoned enough.

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
10-05-2017, 04:45 PM
For your FIRST build, i'd recommend something cheap, and easy to bend. Any spruce for the top.