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Pete Howlett
06-30-2010, 02:42 AM
A chap is posting some incredible sets of koa on eBay under the description psycho curl. I think final auction prices for these have been in the $200+ region.

About a month ago I bought a nice board on eBay. After import costs to the UK doubled the $100 investment to $200 and my sawyer charged me $2 a 15/64" cut for maximum yield I ended up with 4 superb soprano better than master grade sets for $70 a pop. And a whole pile of headplate veneers.

Here Chris Dudley's set:

http://i125.photobucket.com/albums/p66/PeteHowlett/PsychoCurl.jpg

I've just scored a set of guitar billets which are incredibly unique and will produce some lovely tenor sets at $70 each. I'm pretty well pleased after a long run of bad purchases from eBay...

bt93
06-30-2010, 05:29 AM
drooling:drool:

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
06-30-2010, 06:45 AM
The guy who I selling that wood on ebay (mighty-fine-woods) lives a few miles from me and his koa is worth every bit what he's asking for it IMO. It seems to me he uses the words "phycho curl" a little too freely though. The koa you are showing in the picture looks to be about AAA, maybe AAA+

Pete Howlett
06-30-2010, 07:03 AM
His stuff is worth it but I really couldn't use it on an instrument - too extreme.

And Chuck - anything with a flame in, even a lit bit is Psycho here in the UK. remember, we can only look and wonder :)

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
06-30-2010, 07:11 AM
Visually, curl is only one component I look for in nice koa. More important to me is grain pattern and color. Then there are the physical characteristics that need to be considered. The nicest sounding ukes I've ever made have been with light colored koa with little or no curl. Exactly what nobody wants!

Pete Howlett
06-30-2010, 08:49 AM
Depressing isn't it. I've had much the same experience. In fact, when I began buying koa instead of being sent sets to make up, I used to get pfc billets from Winkler Woodcraft, Jorma's dad's business. As I understand it, the koa they were selling in the mid 90's came from a particular source that is now logged out. It was a beautiful salmon pink like the koa of the 30's and had the same figure, texture and colour I had seen on the many Weissenborn lap steel guitars I researched in 1996. The guitars and ukulele I built from this stuff was superb. It was also a delight to machine - you could run figured stuff through a planer without it spitting out the outfed table in a bag load of splintered shards. Today, I find most of the koa I use quite 'resistant' to working - you have to try harder with it so to speak both in working and 'tuning' to get it right. case of 'things ain't like they used to be eh?'

dnewton2
06-30-2010, 05:49 PM
The nicest sounding ukes I've ever made have been with light colored koa with little or no curl. Exactly what nobody wants!

I'll take one!!!

6stringconvert
06-30-2010, 11:56 PM
I'll take one!!!

There's no getting away from it - homicide curl koa looks the danglies - but if you get a better tone from a plainer wood - I'd go for plain jane any day.

I guess why PH and CM ukes tend to be made from the AAA stuff, is that when you are making such an investment to purchase one of these ukuleles - you go the extra for all the curl.


Pete, how does it break down for you in terms of number of instruments made from koa vs curly koa, mahogany vs fiddleback, and other woods (e.g. maple, walnut)?

6sc

Pete Howlett
07-01-2010, 02:04 AM
I don't keep accurate enough records to give you a straight answer - most people want a pretty grade of wood. As Chuck notes, a plain uke is a very hard sell. And however well meaning most of us are, commissioning a build with the considerable financial investment involved will nearly always lead clients to an immediate wood upgrade before anything else. I've never been asked to bling a plain ukulele!

Drew Bear
01-27-2012, 01:57 PM
The nicest sounding ukes I've ever made have been with light colored koa with little or no curl. Exactly what nobody wants!

Depressing isn't it. I've had much the same experience.
I know this is an old thread, but I'm curious how significant the sound/tone quality is between the nicest sounding uke and the nicest looking uke. All other build aspects being equal, if the best sounding uke is rated a 10 out of 10, what would a uke made from "psycho curl" koa (AAAAA?) rate sound-wise?

If you luthiers were building your last uke (before retirement) and it was meant only for your own playing pleasure, would you choose the ordinary looking wood that produced the best sound or would you compromise a little on sound for better looking wood?

tattwo
01-27-2012, 02:45 PM
That's no tabletop! ;-). Very nice Pete

Allen
01-27-2012, 06:00 PM
One for myself with a hardwood top would be out of the best sounding, unfigured wood I have on hand. Most likely some old Brazilian Mahogany or Tasmanian Blackwood. If it was to have a softwood top, then perhaps Honduran Rosewood and Adi Spruce.

And nothing has changed in my marketplace, with people placing more emphasis on the bling more than the sound. Oh, don't get me wrong. They say that they want the sound, but it seems to get lost along the way when they start looking at all the pretty figure.

Drew Bear
01-28-2012, 08:37 AM
And nothing has changed in my marketplace, with people placing more emphasis on the bling more than the sound. Oh, don't get me wrong. They say that they want the sound, but it seems to get lost along the way when they start looking at all the pretty figure.Let me rephrase my question. If you built two identical ukes with the only difference being the curliness of the wood, how much difference in sound quality would we hear? Let's say grade A wood has a sound quality of 10. What would the uke built with grade AAAAA wood sound like? If the sound rates an 8 or 9, then I might compromise on sound to get the highly figured wood. If the sound rates a 6, then I would choose the plainer looking wood.

I guess what I'm saying is that you luthiers are partly to blame :) for this trend towards flashy wood. If you build instruments with superb sound and playability despite using "inferior" sounding wood, why would consumers give up the better looking wood only to get marginally better sound quality? Now if you had a sample of a really plain grained uke that put the psycho-curly ukes to shame soundwise, maybe more people would stick with the plain wood. Maybe. :o

Liam Ryan
01-28-2012, 11:40 AM
Drew bear, there is no good answer to your question. When it comes to timber qualities there are far too many exceptions to the rules. Unfortunately, we humans are a visual animal (I just made an assumption that has lots of exceptions didn't I?). I'm sure if I offered my dog the choice of two ukes, one plain, one flashy, she'd carefully consider and then choose the one that smells like beef.

Pete Howlett
01-28-2012, 01:44 PM
You pay loads of money - it's got to loook nice as well!

Drew Bear
01-28-2012, 02:53 PM
Drew bear, there is no good answer to your question. When it comes to timber qualities there are far too many exceptions to the rules.I suppose. I just keep coming across this common "complaint" (you know what I mean) by the builders about clients almost always choosing highly figured wood. The clear implication is that they were missing out on better sound quality.

That seemed like a pretty solid generalization and I wondered if a number could be attributed to this difference in sound quality. After all, ratings (A-AAAAA...) are attributed to wood based on looks. But upon reflection, I suppose it's an unfair question. No builder wants to admit they compromised too much on sound quality, despite any demands from their client. Besides, sound is much harder to rate.

I think Chuck answered the bulk of my question in a comment on a separate thread:

If I can choose attractive wood that I know I can work with, and produce the sound I aim for, and give my customers the tasteful embellishments they want, then I've done my job. I've had many customers here at the shop choose a outrageously curly set of wood and I have to discourage them away from it, explaining the sonic faults of such a selection. The most amazingly curly sets of koa I have will never become instruments. I never compromise looks for sound. The vast majority of the ukes I build are rather plain and simple. They just don't make the web site because it would make a pretty boring exhibition. You're only seeing the unique stuff on my web site.
http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?59498-Padauk-for-a-Uke&p=855765#post855765

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
01-28-2012, 03:55 PM
The answer gets even more confusing. Pertaining to koa itself (the only wood I have adequate experience to talk about) there are different types of curl that may all be of the same grading (5A for instance) but will greatly affect the responsiveness of an instrument. I have found some of the most beautiful 5A crotch curl to be floppy, lacking the stiffness and resilience you need in a good sound board. 5A fiddleback on the other hand, with it's stiffness and consistent grain pattern is as good as any koa you'll find, regardless of the grade. Again, you need to go back to the simple rules of what makes a good tonewood and make your choice based on that first. I've even found that the lighter and medium koas will produce a more open sound than the darker ones, again, regardless of the grade. Some builders insist that dark stripes will make a better instrument and will look for that when choosing koa.
Now, a good builder should be able to take any wood and build a decent instrument from it. This is part of the reason you can not simply build from a set of numbers; every wood set has to be considered individually. In fact, an experienced builder will get to the point where all of his/her instruments sound pretty much alike. That's because the builder's taken into consideration the characteristics of the particular piece of wood they're working with. I think that in experienced hands, the difference in sound between the best set and the worst set of a given wood won't be huge. Using your scale from 1 to 10 (I'm stepping out on a limb here now) A poorly chosen but beautiful set might give you an 8 in experienced hands. Maybe a 9. I think that's significant, but any people will happily accept that and choose the fancier wood.
With all that has been said about material selection and techniques, remember what we do plays into only a part of the equation. There's only so much we can do as builders. How good our work sounds in really in the hands of the operator. I see too many customers pain over whether a satin finish is going to give them a better tone or if closed geared tuners will enhance the sustain, etc. Where they really should be spending their time is in practicing!

Drew Bear
01-28-2012, 06:03 PM
Thanks for the detailed reply, Chuck. My initial question was about koa, so that info is very helpful. I'm part of a small UU minority that only owns and plays one uke. I do understand that I am responsible for maximizing the quality of music that comes from ukes built by you luthiers. I just wanted to make sure I was selecting wood sets wisely when I'm ready to purchase my first custom built uke.

jcalkin
01-29-2012, 09:34 AM
<There's only so much we can do as builders. How good our work sounds in really in the hands of the operator. I see too many customers pain over whether a satin finish is going to give them a better tone or if closed geared tuners will enhance the sustain, etc. Where they really should be spending their time is in practicing!>

Amen, Chuck! Very few players realize how much of the tone is in their hands.

BlackBearUkes
01-29-2012, 10:44 AM
[QUOTE=jcalkin;856401]<There's only so much we can do as builders. How good our work sounds in really in the hands of the operator. I see too many customers pain over whether a satin finish is going to give them a better tone or if closed geared tuners will enhance the sustain, etc. Where they really should be spending their time is in practicing!>

You got that right John!

Gadzukes!
01-29-2012, 12:15 PM
Visually, curl is only one component I look for in nice koa. More important to me is grain pattern and color. Then there are the physical characteristics that need to be considered. The nicest sounding ukes I've ever made have been with light colored koa with little or no curl. Exactly what nobody wants!

God I'd love to hear some well-recorded sound comparisons of this.