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View Full Version : Koa- solid body, maker's signature sound?



Lori
05-20-2009, 07:54 PM
I was wondering, when comparing solid body koa ukuleles, whether or not certain makers have a reputation for a specific kind of sound. For instance, I know Kanile'a has "true bracing" on their soundboard. Does that give their ukes a different sound from the other brands? How about Koaloha, do they have a quality to the sound of their ukes that is identifiable? How do the Ponos, Kamakas, and all the others mentioned on this site stack up to one another? It would be a great help to know if one brand / luthier was known for a brighter sound, or a richer bass, or such things as good for strumming, or best for picking. Also other differences like playability, neck size, durability of finish, tuner types, would all help in the search for just the right dream uke! I know that each ukulele will be unique because of a number of factors, and giving a blanket statement might not always be accurate. But, it would be nice to have a starting point of knowledge when shopping.

Thanks,
Lori

ThePunkWay
05-20-2009, 08:23 PM
hmm... this is just based on what Brian at KoAloha told me, but apparently KoAloha's are known for the bright sound... that's all i know about that...

Futch
05-20-2009, 10:54 PM
Design, construction methods etc will always have much more of an impact on an instruments sound than the type of wood it's made from. So different makers, so long as they stick to the same construction principles, would have distinctive sound to their instruments.

However, many makers use similar construction principles, there are many that base their instruments on the vintage Martins for example. So their instruments would all be aiming for a similar sound.

I feel like I'm rambling on a bit, so my main point is that the wood an instrument is made from is a secondary concern to the construction principles. Sure, different woods impart different tonal qualities, but not the same night and day difference as different construction techniques.

Kekani
05-20-2009, 11:00 PM
. . .solid body koa ukuleles. . .

. . . It would be a great help to know if one brand / luthier was known for a brighter sound, or a richer bass, or such things as good for strumming, or best for picking. Also other differences like playability, neck size, durability of finish, tuner types, would all help in the search for just the right dream uke! I know that each ukulele will be unique because of a number of factors, and giving a blanket statement might not always be accurate. But, it would be nice to have a starting point of knowledge when shopping.

Thanks,
Lori

I was a little confused with the title, then the content of the thread. Very few builders make solid body `ukulele, John Kitakis and Tony Graziano are two that come to mind.

Most `ukulele are acoustics, made of wood. Some call them solid wood, not sure why, like its something special. Of course, there are a number of lower end `ukulele that are laminated, but that would be an exception, and not the norm. Of course, I know of some guy in Kalihi that uses a laminated back on a certain model, and David Hurd uses laminated sides. Both of them are not low end instruments, and are certainly not the norm either. Guess you could call a double top laminated as well, even if it does have Nomex in the middle.

But getting to the thread - all of the components of an `ukulele that you mention are leading you in the direction of not finding a company, but finding a builder. If you truly want something that has everything that you want, have it made for you. Thus your starting point will not be what, but who.

Just my $.02 - Aaron

dnewton2
05-21-2009, 01:28 AM
Design, construction methods etc will always have much more of an impact on an instruments sound than the type of wood it's made from.

I am not sure I agree with that. Why would builder use different woods when they could get different sounds out of whatever they want. There may be an impact form the constrution technique. But I woudl like to see someone build a sprucetop that sounds like a mahogany uke.

I may be wrong, probably am, but I believe the wood has just as much affect on the ukes sound as anything else. I am sure you can manipulate certain characteristics (sustain and volume) by construction methods but not to the extent that you will totally change the tonal properties of the wood.

My thoughts.

Futch
05-21-2009, 03:17 AM
Ok, my previous post may have been a little confusing and ill written, let me try and elaborate on my point.

I don't mean to say that the type of wood used is unimportant to the sound, it is obviously a crucial factor. However, i mean to illustrate that not all instruments made with the same wood will sound the same.

Luthiers also work with different woods in different ways depending on their structural properties. For example, a builder would treat a cedar top differently to a mahogany top. They would be of different thickness and perhaps braced differently in order to get the best compromise in strength and sound from that particular material.

So the differences you would hear between the two instruments are not purely and simply a result of different woods having been used, but also of different methods of construction. You could not compare the instruments in this example as like for like. Of course the wood itself would play a strong role in the overall sound of the instrument, but what I am trying to highlight is that the methods of construction should not be downplayed as a factor.

To continue; Mahogany and cedar are two very different woods, one is a hardwood, the other a softwood, and therefore are often braced differently etc. Cedar is a delicate wood compared with the mahogany.

However, if a builder (lets call him Alfred) was to make two instruments to EXACTLY the same design, (as exact as is possible in the real world) one of say, koa, the other of mahogany. Sure, they would sound different from each other, and this would be largely due to the different woods.

I would argue though that if one were to compare these two instruments to a pair from another builder (lets call her Margaret), using different design and construction, the difference in this case would be greater still.

Alfred's mahogany uke would sound different to that of Margaret, even if it had been made from wood from the same tree, because they both make their instruments completely differently.

It is a black art, and its hard to define exactly how much each little factor will impact the sound of an instrument, but I think that people are far too caught up about what wood an instrument is made of when there are many other equally important factors that will influence the sound. :)

Kurobashi
05-21-2009, 03:33 AM
Well I think both the wood and the construction have a large impact on the sound.

You should however be careful not to generalize koa as being one type of wood. There are many different kinds and grades in koa which cover a large price range. This also makes for a very big impact on the sound.

It's a bit tricky to compare 'ukes if you don't really own them but being a proud owner of a Kanile'a K1-Concert I can tell you that the sound is clear but also mellow (I really like it). It also sounds nice and full with low g tuning. I would say it is perfect for picking and thumb rolls but for fast repetitive strumming I usually switch to my Martin mahogany soprano. This is probably also because of the higher tension and higher action on the Kanile'a concert.

You can listen to some samples on the Kanile'a website (http://kanileaukulele.com).

spots
05-21-2009, 04:23 AM
I think Lori asks a good question.

I am actually surprised that there is not more discussion on these forums about the sound of different makers and various woods - in a positive and informative way.

There seems to be a lot of posts similar to: "I wanted a better quality uke so I purchased a solid Koa with sealed geared tuners from {insert your favorite maker here} and it's great!" But there seems to be little discussion about the quality/characteristic of sound that the person was after, and why they chose Koa over another wood (or even a laminate), why they decided upon that maker when other makers use the same wood, and what they hear.

A spruce topped uke will produce one type of sound, a solid mahogany another type of sound. The mood and atmosphere of the music played will sound different on each one. I purchased one instrument (not a uke) only to find that the wood selected for the soundboard and bridge wasn't the best choice or combination for what I liked to play. The instrument has a lot of sustain and is very bright. It can be too much instrument when loud fast music is played because individual notes get lost and it starts to sound loud and a little jangly. But it's nice for certain softer slower pieces because the individual notes are clear and distinct, and the sound hangs in the air for a while.

The uke is a fun and light hearted instrument, but it is still a musical instrument. It would be enjoyable to see posters talk about the quality/characteristic of sound they hear from their instruments.

Spots

dnewton2
05-21-2009, 05:48 AM
Ok, my previous post may have been a little confusing and ill written, let me try and elaborate on my point.

......


I got you now. So pretty much both wood and construction have vital roles in how a uke will sound in the end.

Lori
05-21-2009, 05:56 AM
I think what I am looking for is a kind of list of makers, and the general characteristics of their ukulele in one category. In this case, non-laminate Koa. Comparing sopranos to sopranos, tenors to tenors, etc, how do people feel about each maker's ukulele. Is it mellow, deep, rich, clear, bright, long sustain, short sustain? Is is good for both strumming and picking, or better for one over the other? These discussions have been applied to wood selection, so now I would like to see how the end result makes the KoAloha users so happy, and the Kamaka users bonding together, etc, etc. What made you choose your ukulele over all the others that were available? Was it 100% love at first sight/ listening, or were there some compromises in your final choice? I am trying to get a handle on what people experience when they try a G-String, then a Kanile'a and then a KoAloha, and then a MooreBettah... the variation in the type of Koa is not as important as the final offering in that category representing that maker.

Thanks, Lori

Kekani
05-21-2009, 08:13 AM
. . .I am trying to get a handle on what people experience when they try a G-String, then a Kanile'a and then a KoAloha, and then a MooreBettah...

Apples and oranges. A better line of thought would be to exclude Chuck, or in place of the factories, insert, Derek, Joe and then Paul. Chuck is an awesome builder, and not to take away anything from the factories, but I'm going to take a stab that you're referring to the production rack instruments. Now, if you take the customs built by Derek, Joe and Paul, that would be more oranges to oranges.

Don't get me wrong, you've asked a very good question, and started an informative thread.

In my experience, given the same building techniques, wood has everything to do with my sound. Two Koa `ukulele, taken from wood from the same billet, can (and has) sound different. I can show you a Quilted Maple/Spruce (flatsawn) and Curly Maple/Spruce (quartersawn), built exactly the same, side by side, sound completely different.

Go to any of the above named factories, and you will certainly find consistencies in certain aspects - neck profile, body shape, action, intonation, etc. In the end, you will always pick up more than one instrument, why? Because while the physical aspects of the instrument are the same, the sound and tone won't be.

All of that being said, I have a box on the bench right now, and off all things when I described it to MGM, I said, "it sounds like a KoAloha Tenor, in the white." The final product will be different of course, but in the white, its just something I was reminded of.

-Aaron

Lori
05-21-2009, 02:34 PM
I think these are interesting points. And maybe it is really difficult to categorize. But I assume that each luthier and manufacturer are trying to do something specific... possibly something that the other guys don't offer. I would think each would have a definite viewpoint on what the ideal ukulele would sound like, and what it would look like, and at what cost. Everybody has different tastes, and that is why you can have so many choices and still stay in business. So, there must be a company that has a more "traditional Hawaiian sound" and others that sound more like a guitar, and others that can sound harp-like. With that in mind, is there a predictable pattern to the output from these different sources? Are there specific ukuleles that are favored for different categories of music (like Hawaiian, roaring 20's, bluegrass, folk, classical, rock etc.)? Since I am not sitting in a group of uke players, I don't get the kind of feedback on what is going on in the uke world.

–Lori