View Full Version : Cutaway or not?

04-25-2010, 01:33 PM
I'm curious as to people opinions on cutaways...I've always loved cutaways for the pure aesthetics and told myself that I need that space for my shredding.

I got a full bodied uke...and its its great. The two ukes though are too "apples and oranges" for a fair comparison. I'd like to hear if there's a real difference in sound between two similar builds, one with and one without.

04-25-2010, 04:15 PM
Hey CFG, you are straying into an area of discussion that will probably never be resolved. There are luthiers who say it makes no difference, and others that feel the reduced soundboard area has got ot be detrimental to the sound produced. My feeling is that you make allowances for them in the overall design of the instrument and you are good.


04-25-2010, 04:24 PM
It's been my understanding that the cutaway reduces the bass response thus making the sound lighter/brighter like basically most of the fingerpicking concert style gits

04-25-2010, 05:43 PM
I definitely favour cutaways.
I love finger-sliding up to high chords. You need a cutaway to do this.

04-26-2010, 01:08 AM
I'd like to hear if there's a real difference in sound between two similar builds, one with and one without.
The sound you hear from any of this family of instruments is created by several linked components. First the string vibrates the bridge. This vibration is spread to the top by the saddle. The vibration is now a sound wave that pushes out from the top. It also pushes inside where it bounces around before coming out (through the soundhole and partly back through the top as well, and minimally through the sides and back). The sound that reaches a listener is actually a complex combination of waves.

The size of the top, size of the inside space, size of the soundhole, thickness of the wood, bracing, type of wood, size of saddle, bridge material, type of back and side material, tension of the strings - all of them and more play a part in making the sound your listeners hear (and that you hear - but more on that below).

So the general answer is: yes. A cutaway will affect the sound simply because it alters at least two of these components. It makes the top surface and internal space smaller. But the real question is: how much will it affect it?

Larger spaces and surfaces are able to create/transmit lower frequencies better than smaller spaces. So the loss will be partly in the lower end of the range, partly in the complexity of the harmonics and somewhat in the amount of volume produced. This can be compensated for by creating a larger space internally and making the lower bout wider and maybe even increasing the soundhole size.

A simple demonstration of the difference size makes is to play a tenor beside a similarly-shaped soprano. You can hear the greater volume and tonal complexities in the tenor.

But in realistic terms, the effect of the cutaway will be small to negligible for several reasons. First, the uke is already a small body and that limits its sound output right from the start. Second, its tonal spectrum tends to the higher end anyway, so there aren't as many low-end frequencis to lose (I haven't tested it yet, but I suspect it could be measured more noticeably with a low-G uke than with a high-G). And finally, 90-odd percent of the sound made is projected forward, not up, so you won't likely notice anything as a player.

And of course if you're amplifying the sound you can compensate for and change any original output, so then it becomes more an aesthetic choice than an acoustic one.

I have ukes with both designs. I like the look of the cutaway but it has little to no impact on my playing. The frets in the cutaway region are generally too high up the scale and too close together to get much of my attention, and are easily reachable anyway on any standard uke, so the cutaway offers minimal advantages for playability. But it looks cool.

Therefore the answer is: buy the uke(s) and designs that appeal to you.

Mr. Bojangles
04-26-2010, 06:30 AM
^ Yeah, that.

04-26-2010, 09:45 AM
When I got my "main" uke, I wanted the best-sounding concert the company had in stock. It just happened to be a cutaway. I had only been playing about a year and better fret access wasn't a priority for me. Now, two years later I need the easier access to the higher frets when I do leads. :p

04-26-2010, 10:13 AM
No to cutaways!

Yes to symmetry!

(I've obviously missed too many meetings of Anal Retentive Ukuleles Players Anyonymous - ARUPA)

04-26-2010, 03:26 PM
their both awesome...depending on whether your shredding or making use of the whole fingerboard ...pros and cons to both!!!

04-27-2010, 01:27 AM
No to cutaways!

Yes to symmetry!

Western culture is heavily oriented towards symmetry. But I tend towards the asymmetric. Perhaps it's because of my flirtation with Zen. It may equally be because I have a poor sense of depth and 3D space.

Here's an interesting article about asymmetry in Japanese ikebana (http://www.scipress.org/journals/forma/pdf/1404/14040355.pdf). The author writes:

Doctrines found in Shinto and Buddhist stress the importance of living in harmony with nature, and it is in this unity of human and nature that the art of Ikebana is grounded. Just as nature, according to Shinto principles, is not comprehended as being either symmetrical or having a fundamental geometrical order.
I like asymmetric gardens and organic growth, as compared with more formal, symmetric layouts. And I like asymmetric ukes. My Boat Paddle is, to me, the most visually appealling because of that. It simply stands out among the collection. The viewer's eye is drawn to it. I like the Riptide's look for a similar reason, although it is not as broadly asymmetric as the BP.

Asymmetry challenges me to see it in a different way. My eyes have to look at it more carefully, to follow the lines because there are unexpected curves, holes and extensions. I see it more clearly. So for me, cutaways are a nice way to do the unexpected.

However, I will admit that a symmetric shape makes it easier for luthiers to build, and to control the wave form inside the body.

04-28-2010, 02:03 PM
I totally agree with SailQuest. I sampled many, many ukuleles from various brands before selecting my favorite uke and based on pure sound and tone alone, my choice happened to be a cutaway. Now that I'm working hard on new positions on the fret board, the cutaway is a real plus. I've tried the same version of mine without the cutaway and it's really, really hard to discern the difference in tone. I got the Pono PTKC1-E

04-28-2010, 05:01 PM
I have decided that I prefer the cutaway...after playing my full-bodied for a while, I realize I strum right over the cutaway portion. This means I end up scuffing my pretty gloss finish. To compensate I strum up on the neck away from the body, which limits some of the things I like to do.

and like you guys, its hard to notice a huge difference in sound

09-26-2012, 08:15 PM
Ian, thanks for the great explanation...and, "cool" is definitely a main feature.