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View Full Version : Why walnut bridges and fretboards?



emarcano
08-02-2018, 04:16 AM
Hi all,

A couple of days ago, I went to my local music store and they had one of those beautiful (laminate) ziricote Kala with the "newer" walnut bridge/fingerboard. It just looks so odd. Walnut is so light compared to rosewood that it makes it look too contrasting.

I know about the export regulations that are limiting the use of rosewood for bridges and fret board. But I wonder why are manufacturers going towards walnut instead of ebony (too expensive?) or something else (Martin uses something else, morano?). After several years with ukes and guitar with dark bridges/fret boards, it looks very odd to see these newer ukes using this lighter walnut pieces.

This is a link to Kala's website showing the newer models with walnut components:
https://kalabrand.com/collections/ziricote-ukulele/products/ka-zct-s

I guess we just have to get used to it. :-(

Swamp Yankee
08-02-2018, 04:35 AM
I think the main reason the walnut looks so light in that photo is because the rest of the uke is so dark. If it was a spruce top uke, you might not think.twice about it. Walnut may be all that is available in lower end imports pretty soon, especially if ebony ends up on the CITES list.

merlin666
08-02-2018, 04:44 AM
I have an Ovation Adamas guitar that has a walnut neck and fretboard ... and this is by far the best and easiest playing configuration that I have EVER encountered on a guitar. Walnut is also used for guitar bodies, including the tops and while I have never played a walnut instrument I only have heard very positive reviews. I think that MyaMoe had a lot of walnut options too, and if I had a chance for a custom instrument that's the way I would go. I think it's a very smart move by Kala to include local woods and loosen the dependency on endangered and expensive imports.

ukulelekarcsi
08-02-2018, 04:48 AM
As for lighter fretboards, the Fender electric basses and guitars originally all started out with maple fretboards.

Walnut is much more sustainable than ebony (on CITES) and rosewood (actually an umbrella term for very different woods, but with most of them on CITES). So it can travel freely, before being built into an instrument. Compared to the darker non-CITES 'very hard woods' used for fretboards, bridges, sometimes backs and sides, it's also more sustainable because it mostly comes from walnut plantations, not forests. And it's usually cheaper as well.

It has a high density (higher than most rosewoods) and stiffness, and is still OK to work with (without constantly dulling your tools, or giving off poisonous dust). Drawbacks are the multiple knots, the very big ring of sapwood and the striking colour difference between the white-yellow sapwood and the purple-brown heartwood. Steaming eases out the colour difference, but makes it all a bit dull-grey.

Maple is an alternative, but it's even lighter than walnut. Dying it with a darker colour is another solution, but for fretboards it's not a very durable one. Getting used to it, is a third option indeed.

70sSanO
08-02-2018, 11:00 AM
Fred Shields in San Diego uses jarrah for bridges and fretboards. It is a sustainable eucalyptus hardwood from Australia that is used for flooring, furniture, decking, etc. It almost has a rosewood type appearance as far as color; at least the ones I have do. Janka hardness is around 1800, which is less than rosewood but greater than walnut.

John

Swamp Yankee
08-02-2018, 01:54 PM
I wonder why jatoba doesn't seem to make its way into too many instruments. It has an appearance not unlike mahogany but it's wicked hard, 2350 on the Janka scale. I found some a few years ago in the remains of a shipping pallet for jatoba flooring boards. It was all I could do to pull simple nails from it and by the time I got them out they were hot to the touch. I could imagine it as fretboard/ bridge material.

Jerryc41
08-03-2018, 12:13 AM
I like the look, but I bet different ukes will look slightly different. If there's resistance to the contrast, Kala can easily darken the wood.

Jarmo_S
08-03-2018, 12:41 AM
My Kala concert uke has walnut fingerboard and bridge. It is just nice because of the CITES restriction against rosewood to Europe. Same time wish too had them from rosewood.

About maple fretboard, I have my electric guitar 40 years ago with it because it looked so good then and all seemed to have them. I have since decided that I prefer some darker wood for my fingerboard. It looks easily ugly and shows all the dirty finger marks. Of course cleaning is a must anyways.

DPO
08-03-2018, 02:37 PM
I think its a refreshing change.

Croaky Keith
08-04-2018, 12:09 AM
Gotta use something! ;)

Swamp Yankee
08-04-2018, 12:23 AM
Gotta use something! ;)

or they can use Micarta, like Martin has been doing on some of their guitars.

kissing
08-07-2018, 12:52 AM
Does anyone find that Walnut is a very soft wood though?

Risa Uke-sticks are made of Walnut, and it's the softest wood I've ever encountered.
You do so much as just tapping it on another hard surface, like a desk, and *bam* you have a ding.
Most other wooden instruments wouldn't ding at such a small bump.

kissing
08-07-2018, 07:00 AM
I don't find my fingers to be as hard as a desk. :)

Indeed, but I think it's nearly impossible to have any ukulele for any period of time without ever having it come in contact with other solid surfaces.
I'm not talking about big collisions that would damage any instrument - just careless little taps that you would not think would ding wood.
But the walnut will ding, and accumulate these dings far more easily than most other common woods.

Don't get me wrong, I really like the Risa Uke Stick. It's one of my favourite ukes.
But for an ukulele that is designed to be ultra portable and durable, I feel like walnut (at least for the tenor model) is rather soft and easily dinged.

Ukecaster
08-07-2018, 07:14 AM
Does anyone find that Walnut is a very soft wood though?

The only newer uke where I've had a bridge slot blowout, the bridge was made of walnut. In fact, 2 slots on that uke had this problem, and I needed to drill and use beads inside, so I assume walnut is not optimal for slot type bridges.

Strumaround
08-07-2018, 08:38 PM
I've got a walnut fretboard on a newish Kala uke and there are already a few fingernail marks (and I keep my nails pretty short). Haven't had that problem with other fretboards.

I also find it a bit anemic looking. Much prefer darker woods for fretboards.

ukulelekarcsi
08-07-2018, 08:48 PM
Again, this is the problem of sapwood vs heartwood on walnut: it's about 40-60 or 50-50, so luthiers use both. The heartwood is the heavy and hard stuff, while the sapwood is lighter (in weight and in color) and softer/more easily dinged.

nalini6
08-08-2018, 01:03 PM
Thanks for providing the link to the ziricote instruments. I love the contrast of the dark tone wood with the lighter walnut fretboard. My husband has a Lichty baritone with port orford cedar top and walnut back and sides. Tone is amazing, and the walnut looks quite stunning. I was very impressed with the beautiful tone that the walnut contributes. I have a fluke banjo-uke that has walnut neck and it is very comfortable. It has interesting streaks on it. I like it when the beauty of the wood comes through, even if it is not an even look. The wood is wonderful with its curly patterns, like the fractals of nature. :)

Nickie
08-11-2018, 04:04 PM
I quite like the contrast in wood colors. The only thing I dislike about light colored fretboards is that they readily show dirt.
They might have made it look more interesting by placing a ziricote strip down the middle.

Paul Bouchard
11-28-2018, 07:33 AM
My first uke (Iím on my second) has an Osage orange fretboard. It's a little porous but very hard. Freshly planed, it's a shocking yellow; then after about a month of semi-regular sun exposure, turns a nice, nutty brown. It's a bit tricky to drill into because the very dense growth rings cause small bits to wander. Iíll be using brass guides to drill the markers in my current project.

bazmaz
11-28-2018, 07:54 AM
I don't find all walnut to be overly light. But it depends.

To be honest, just like rosewood, there is 'rosewood' and there is 'rosewood', ditto, there is 'walnut' and there is 'walnut'.

In the same way as I used to see nice, dark evenly coloured rosewood, the cheaper end would use really pale and variable coloured cheaper rosewood.

With the introduction of walnut, again, I am seeing some nice evenly dark examples (not as dark as rosewood, granted), and some horrid pale looking stuff.

Same reasoning. You CAN get nice walnut if you pay for it - not all walnut is cruddy. Was the same with rosewood too.

Rllink
11-28-2018, 08:11 AM
I don't find all walnut to be overly light. But it depends.

To be honest, just like rosewood, there is 'rosewood' and there is 'rosewood', ditto, there is 'walnut' and there is 'walnut'.

In the same way as I used to see nice, dark evenly coloured rosewood, the cheaper end would use really pale and variable coloured cheaper rosewood.

With the introduction of walnut, again, I am seeing some nice evenly dark examples (not as dark as rosewood, granted), and some horrid pale looking stuff.

Same reasoning. You CAN get nice walnut if you pay for it - not all walnut is cruddy. Was the same with rosewood too.

I think that is the way with ebony too. Not all are created equal. I do know that back around 2010 Gibson got raided for illegal ebony from Madagascar under the Lacy Act and had a bunch of it seized. The way I understood it, the Madagascar ebony was better, just illegal. I believe though that they had ebony from India and that was not illegal and it was returned to them. Anyway, I don't know how one can tell Madagascar ebony from ebony from India, but I guess that there is a difference.

Photodan
11-28-2018, 08:49 AM
It does look odd, I like the darker woods all around. I know there would be sonic advantages with a spruce top uke but I don't like the looks of them.

Jerryc41
11-28-2018, 09:54 AM
That doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I prefer ukes with different kinds of components. My Bonanza Oreo has Corian saddle and nut.

bazmaz
11-28-2018, 11:39 AM
I think that is the way with ebony too. Not all are created equal. I do know that back around 2010 Gibson got raided for illegal ebony from Madagascar under the Lacy Act and had a bunch of it seized. The way I understood it, the Madagascar ebony was better, just illegal. I believe though that they had ebony from India and that was not illegal and it was returned to them. Anyway, I don't know how one can tell Madagascar ebony from ebony from India, but I guess that there is a difference.

Oh absolutely - same with ANY wood - you get good examples and bad. No matter what it is. It's just not the case that ALL Walnut looks bad.

Kenn2018
11-28-2018, 08:05 PM
Black walnut is a highly desirable type of walnut used in high-end gun stocks, furniture, instruments, tobacco pipes, and numerous other high end items. In Ohio there were a number of incidents about 15 years ago of black walnut tree-rustling. Trees cut down and hauled away in the middle of the night and sold to saw mills willing to look the other way for $15k to 20k. Even the stumps and roots can go for big bucks. (The roots often make beautiful burled walnut pipes and guns.

So I can imagine how much an old growth koa or rosewood tree must sell for today. I seem to remember reading an article about Godin paying $100k for a huge koa tree. But I could be mistaken about the price.