View Full Version : Praytell, what exactly is good sustain?

07-10-2009, 10:10 PM
I've searched in the forums for a bit, but the word 'sustain' is too common, and I can't seem to find the answer.

So, how long (in seconds) exactly is a good sustain? I've heard people talking about ukes having good and bad sustains, but, how long should a good sustain be? And how short is a bad sustain?

07-10-2009, 11:05 PM
Where I come from, when someone asks a question which cannot be answered by a precise measurement, we might to respond with another question. "How long is a piece of string?"

Sustain is all a matter of personal perception, as are tone, and volume, "colour", and brightness, richness, balance and all the other words we use in an attempt to tell someone how we feel about the sound of an instrument. I think it is almost impossible to describe such subtleties, as we have no way of knowing if the words we use will carry the same meaning to the reader. It can end up sounding like a connoiseur of fine wines enthusing about his latest favourite plonk.

Still, I guess I'll carry on using the word sustain. It is very difficult to talk about musical instruments, without attempting to describe sound.

Incidentally, you can have too much sustain. That's why instruments like the piano, or the vibraphone, are fitted with pedals to damp them. And electronic instruments can go on sounding for ever.

So - how long IS a piece of string?

Hope this helps,

John Colter.

07-11-2009, 06:50 AM
However long makes you happy.

07-11-2009, 07:09 AM
Hee. And, Hey!

I guess I'd like to know when I read ukulele reviews, and I read someone saying it has "good sustain", I'd love to know what it means for the person who wrote it. Does he/she mean 1 second? 5 seconds? 10 seconds? 30 seconds? 2 hours? 3 days? 4 weeks? (:D) I can understand why it will be a completely subjective answer, but I'd love to know anyway. :D

Perhaps instead I should ask this: What is your uke, and how long in seconds is the sustain on that uke?

Then, do you like your sustain on that uke? Do you think it's good or bad? If you write a review on your uke, would you write "good sustain" in its description?

Harold O.
07-11-2009, 07:59 AM
My take is that sustain becomes evident when comparing two instruments side by each. One will ring longer than the other. That's sustain. The instrument itself as well as how you hold it, how you play it, and what strings are on it will effect the sustain (of course).

For more experienced players, sustain will be noticeable when a note fails to remain audible as long as the player expects it to (or stays with the player longer).

As to applying a measurement device, let it go. Play the thing. If you're happy, all is well.

07-11-2009, 08:55 AM
Cocohonk, I will respond to your question with more questions - How good is your hearing? How close are you to the uke in question? Are you holding it tightly against your body? Are you playing it, or listening to someone else play it? What tuning are you using? Are you strumming or picking? Heavily or softly?

Need I go on? I think you MUST get the picture. When someone says a uke has good sustain, they mean compared to other ukes of a similar type that they have played, under similar circumstances. That's all. You can't go into a shop and ask for a uke with 'X' amount of sustain. You are not buying cloth to make a garment.

A banjo uke has practically no sustain. An acoustic guitar has a lot of sustain. Somewhere in between is the wooden soprano uke. Some wooden soprano ukes have more sustain than others. That is not necessarily what a player is looking for. Generally speaking, a "brighter" sounding uke will have less sustain than one with a more "lush" tone. You might want to choose one rather than the other - better still get both.

Play more ukes. You'll get the hang of it.

All the best,

John C.

07-11-2009, 10:32 PM
In all fairness, its a reasonable question as sustain is often a category in many reviews. When evaluating instruments, people are told to look for ample sustain.

Of course its relative... one uke will have a longer sustain than another... my concert flea has a longer sustain than my concert Lanikai. Both have a longer sustain than my Kala soprano.

Personally, I think about 8 seconds (timed by counting one hippopotamus, two hippopatomus, three hippopotamus, etc...) is a good sustain for an acoustic concert sized ukulele.

07-11-2009, 11:52 PM
If we have to express sustain as a number, eight seconds sounds fair for a concert uke (YMMV), but how much sustain do you want? More is not necessarily better, and less is not always a bad thing.

We are low on hippopotami where I live, so I used the seconds hand of my watch:D

John Colter.

07-12-2009, 04:09 AM
If a bell rings and is pleasing to the ear it has sustain. If it goes CLUNK it has no sustain. If a ukulele string resonates with a slightly lingering pleasing ring to it, I suggest it has sustain. If the ukulele string goes CLUNK it probably belongs to me.

07-13-2009, 01:20 AM
So, how long (in seconds) exactly is a good sustain?
Ah, grasshopper, I might ask in return: how long is a piece of string?

Both questions are relative. There is no absolute answer.

Sustain in general means a note continues to reverbrate within the instrument and can be heard after the note is plucked. But that is merely one part of the equation when assessing good sound. The harmonics, the volume, the attack, the warmth, the fullness... what sounds best to your ears can't be measured except by that little technician inside your own head.

Overall, notes that last longer are better because they provide more complex harmonics, therefore a richer sound. But too long and the sounds get muddy. Play and hear. Does it sound good to your ears? Rich, full, yet clear? If so, that's good sustain.

07-14-2009, 05:31 AM
Who is Praytell?

07-15-2009, 06:47 AM
Pray tell = Please explain. :D

Thanks HoldinCoffee! I guess I should have phrased my question better, but you got me. I wasn't planning on going to a shop and requesting X amount of sustain in an instrument, but rather what should one expect from a uke with reviews that say "good sustain" online, when one cannot try out the instrument in person (hence the question on what is your uke's numerical amount of sustain? I wasn't trying to pry into others' habits or anything, so I'm sorry if others have taken it that way.).So thanks for answering! At least I have some idea now.