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View Full Version : Probably stupid question about new ukes (from a new uker).



Graymalkin
07-03-2010, 05:36 AM
Hi,

I decided to treat myself to an upgrade this week - supplementing my (fantastic and much loved) Lanikai LU-21 with a Kala KA-FMS (I couldn't resist the way it looks).

I'd read a few reviews, and watched a few YouTube videos, and was prepared for a very 'punchy' (that's the word that kept cropping up - as far as I understand it, it's the spruce top) sound, particularly as it came with Aquilas (I'd even obtained a set of Worths in case it was too much).

So, I have to say, I'm a bit disappointed with the sound. It's a bit louder than the Lanikai, and it's got tons more sustain, but it sounds somehow... 'muddier'. It's as if the notes are sustaining into each other, if that makes any kind of sense, and some 'distinction' is being lost. It's sort of 'easier' to hear the chords on the LU-21, if you see what I mean (unlikely).

What I'm unsure of is if a) it's as a result of my cack-handed 'playing' (I only strum, and tend to still use my thumb at the moment - I can't seem to get the hang of using the index finger); b) the uke needs some kind of 'bedding in' period; c) new and stretching strings aren't helping; or d) something else.

It could be e) it just doesn't sound better than the Lanikai, I suppose, but I'm hoping not! :)

Anyone have any ideas, solutions, comments, similar experiences, et cetera?

Cheers for reading!

Tudorp
07-03-2010, 06:32 AM
Im no pro.. But it could be the fact that you are used to the sound of the cheaper one. The LU-21 is a good uke for the money, and to start off with. But, it is a laminate. I have found that cheap laminates sound more toyish, and "sharp" in allot of cases. At least to me. The LU-21 IMHO is the best of that sort (inexpensive starters), but you will find that actual wood ukes have a richer tone to them, which you may be hearing as "Muddy". That, and your style or skills in playing (being used to the LU-21) may be contributing to what you are hearing. The more you play a real wood instrument, and as it settles into it's enviornment, strings, your playing, and as it ages, it will sound better and better. I am not familer with the type of wood your Kala is, it may have allot to do with the type of sound from that wood. In Ukes, I am very biased, and just love "Old School" Mahogany, and Koi. Give it some play time, and experiment with different strings.. Aquilas are more softer sounding as well which you will hear when you change to your worths.. Its just different woods, different strings have different sounds..

That said, as you practice with different picking and stumming, you will discover that different fingers, and areas on the fingers have great influences on sound. Tip of finger vs. the meatier part of the finger. If you are using your thumb, I assume you are using the fleshy part of the thumb (most common to begginer string players). That is probably the "muddiest" part to use as far as sound. Not a bad thing, but all in the sound you are looking for. When you practice with back of the nail on the forefinger, you will find a much brighter sound. Picking the same thing. Differnt parts of each finger will give you a different sound. Also, if you like using your thumb. Try a plastic thumb pick.. That will brighten up your sound. .

NatalieS
07-03-2010, 09:26 AM
I'm not an expert by any means, but your uke and strings might just need to settle in a bit. I think it took my soprano Lanikai almost a year to open up to its full potential. If your LU-21 was as well-loved as you say it was, then it probably sounded better and better with time, even for a laminate.

(Also, a different sounding uke can take some getting used to. I always tend to be pretty skeptical of new ukuleles because I'm so used to my older, more familiar-sounding ones.)

spots
07-03-2010, 09:30 AM
Is the sound you are describing with the Aquilas? If so, it may be that you just don't like the sound of them on that particular uke.

Worth strings do sound different than Aquilas. They are not just a more muted string. It is a different sound. So give them a shot.

I am not a big believer in having to wait for strings to settle in. The sound won't change much. If you don't like the way some strings sound, then take them off and try a different brand.

Jane
07-03-2010, 02:07 PM
I had the same experience with a Kiwaya KS. I changed the Hilo strings to Fremont Blacklines and immediately heard a difference - richer sound, great sustain. My disappointment disappeared!

Still have my Lanikai LU-21P...and still love it.

But, have found each uke has a distinct voice. I use both everyday when practicing and found certain songs sound better with one or the other. It's wonderful to have a choice. Have a feeling that more choices will be coming my way in the future!

Good luck!

itsme
07-03-2010, 02:44 PM
The Kala has a solid spruce top. Spruce is well-known for taking its sweet time to "open up" as opposed to, say, cedar. The more you you play it, the better it will sound. Spruce top classical guitars can take many months or even a year or more to open fully depending on how much they're played. Used instruments often sound better than new for this reason.

A luthier could probably explain it better, but I believe it has to do with the tightness of the wood grain and the amount of vibration it receives from being played.

But as others have said, try different strings. I wasn't crazy about Aquilas, but string choice is a personal thing and some strings just seem to sound better than others on specific ukes.

RevWill
07-03-2010, 02:59 PM
It's probably a combination of b and c, plus Aquila strings might not be the best choice for you on that particular uke. Worth clear or Fremont Blackline might get you closer to what you want to hear, but first give your current strings a chance to settle in. Again, your ears might just be used to the sound of your other uke.

mm stan
07-03-2010, 03:02 PM
Aloha GrayMalkin,
Do you have Aquilla's on it now....sometimes they will do that..
Good Luck!!!! MM Stan...

Taylor Stringflinger
07-03-2010, 04:05 PM
I second the strings and break-in period. Tone woods need a spell of playing to get used to vibrating and bringing the noise. I've seen some places that offer automated strum service. For the right price they hook your instrument up to a doohickey that strums it incessantly for x amount of time and voila, return your broken-in now singing wonderbox. I'd recommend putting in the time yourself though, nothing quite like that moment when your uke/mando/guitar gets over its stage fright and really belts out a tune. That being said, check your strumming spot too. Each individual has a sweet spot and it may be slightly different than your lanikai.

NatalieS
07-03-2010, 05:18 PM
^ I've heard another thing that might help your uke to open up quicker is to place it near a speaker in your home. When you play music, it will vibrate the soundboard and help with the process.

Pippin
07-03-2010, 06:09 PM
You might play softer and see how the new Kala sounds. Chances are good that you play the Lanikai harder because it is laminated and now you are playing the Kala too hard. Mud usually means that vibrations are bouncing all around inside the body of your instrument and there is poor note separation. If that does not do the trick, different strings can make an appreciable difference almost instantly.

kissing
07-03-2010, 11:28 PM
I have found that cheap laminates sound more toyish, and "sharp" in allot of cases. At least to me. The LU-21 IMHO is the best of that sort (inexpensive starters), but you will find that actual wood ukes have a richer tone to them, which you may be hearing as "Muddy".

Well, the LU-21 is a well made laminate.
The Kala is quite well made too, but compared to the many expensive solid-wood ukes out there, it is still considered a "cheap" solid uke.

I find that in that sort of range of price, a laminate sounds more balanced and pleasant than a solid-wood uke.
It could just be that the LU-21 has better tonal balance compared to the Kala.
Sure, the solid-top gives it more sustain and power... but is it balanced? :)

luvdat
07-04-2010, 12:36 AM
The hardest thing to pull off in a solid wood uke is a solid wood soprano, IMO. With a thicker solid top, you get an overall less balanced, less defined output...even if upon first strum you get "louder" compared to a laminate. At that price point and really up to about $400, you typically get an overbuilt and/or tonally imbalanced ukulele anyway, even if it has a solid top or is all solid. The FMS does NOT have solid sides but lam spalted maple? Maple itself (as sides) can balance things out tonally, but also push them to the more muted side (vs. rosewood or even mahaogany). I had a $3000 Breedlove maple sided guitar years ago with built in pickup/mic that I finally sold preferring an $800 (at the time) Martin 00-15 (mahogany) with my own installation of a pickup. Add gloss to this overbuilt instrument (a fairly heavy gloss)...one thing you'll notice (if they are both sopranos?) is how much lighter the LU is? Ironically people pay typically more money for lighter acoustic instruments...esp. ukuleles.

String change? OK. Check out the Worths. BTW, I personally think Aquilas are overrated even as the default choice for use with lam ukuleles... Playing adjustments? Yes, that soprano maybe even after a string change won't be able to handle heavy strumming with less headroom than you'd hope for. A lot is going on inside the uke body with less coming out, just as Pippin said. The need to make playing adjustments doesn't mean a uke is "bad" BTW. Jake S. talks about making playing adjustments on his custom made Kamaka...

Let me repeat an easily forgotten piece of advice one of the mods gave me in a PM: Trust yourself. Don't worry about what other people think is "better."

I have the LU and the S-T Lanikai tenors, initially thought I preferred the S-T, but it became undeniable for me that for the longhaul I prefer the LU-21TE both acoustically and plugged in. I broke all the rules with the LU: Hilo strings, wound low g string...overall it is a more balanced, expressive instrument. Actually I gave the Lanikai S-T to my wife...she has 3 ukes now (2 sopranos and now the S-T)...though she hardly plays and can play just a few songs. The default, de rigeur advice is that solid top ukes sound "better" than an all laminate. But go slow here. Do all solid top guitars sound great? Compare them...the "better" than a laminate part deserves a big asterisk.

Sure I can borrow "her" ukes but really I own just one uke now and play it constantly...and consider it a great uke with vocals and gigworthy.

I don't consider your questions "beginner" or "stupid" but actually advanced. As far as thumb vs. index finger: hey, it was working out for you with the LU-21. Trust yourself. In more than one response to your concerns in this thread you were essentially by inference being regarded as having poor taste in instruments, though respondents would deny this. Try the Worths. The spruce opening up? More about sweetening, with some increases in volume, responsiveness, tonal diversity.

Trust yourself. Maybe that's the real next upgrade.

Graymalkin
07-04-2010, 01:36 AM
Thanks for all the advice - it's both very kind and very useful.

I've taken a lot of it on board, and started experimenting with different playing 'styles' (given my level of expertise, I'm not sure any of them qualify as styles per se :)). The 'sweet spot' does seem to be slightly lower down on the Kala, and I tried it both with a firmer pick and my index finger (I was trying to use my finger yesterday, mainly due to my calloused and painful thumb!) and the difference in tone was very noticable - much sharper, even when played as clumsily hard as is natural for me.

I'm not sure if it's a result of a bit more settling in or whether I'm just getting more used to it, but it's sounding better to my ear - and noticeably different to the Lanikai. I'm wondering if a part of the problem was maybe that I had a preconceived idea/ expectation of what the sound would be 'out of the box', as it were?

Anyway, I'm definitely happier with it and, given a number of the responses here, am ready to exhibit an unusual (for me) degree of patience. Besides, it's not like I'm getting rid of the LU-21, so vive la difference!

Besides, the Kala's just so damn pretty...

http://i136.photobucket.com/albums/q162/UraGraymalkin/123954787.jpg

http://i136.photobucket.com/albums/q162/UraGraymalkin/123954651.jpg

I think, in a while, I might give changing the strings a go (a scary prospect - I've never changed the strings on anything before!) and, if I'm feeling very brave, I might even sand a little bit off the saddle (it's a bit higher than the LU-21s and not quite as 'comfortable'). If I'm feeling brave.

Any-the-way, thanks once again for all the insight, advice, and useful information. You are gentlefolk and scholars, all!

luvdat
07-04-2010, 08:45 AM
I was actually thinking about the saddle on that uke...does it fit well? Also, you may have to sacrifice some volume (slight probably) to balance things out (by lowering the action). Go slow with that sandpaper...mulitiple tries. The best to you. And yes, don't get rid of that LU-21.

Graymalkin
07-07-2010, 09:11 AM
I've been playing (well, I say 'playing'... ;)) the Kala a fair bit over the last few days and, it seems to me, that the big difference between it and the Lanikai is that it can sound quite different depending on how I play it - the Lanikai sounds pretty much like the Lanikai whatever I do.

Not that that's a bad thing, it's just now striking me that I probably have to play the Kala a bit better than I have to play the Lanikai, if you see what I mean - the LU-21 seems to be a lot more forgiving of (usually unintended) variations in strumming, place, and weight.

Oddly, though, the Kala is a lot more forgiving of my (still ropey and unsure) fingering (could that be the slightly higher action?)!

Getting a lot more used to it now, and enjoying trying new ways to make new sounds. And I love the way it feels to hold - the weight and glossiness seems to be just right.

Having said that, it was the Lanikai I took, without hesitation, to a barbeque the other night... :)

It may not be the love at first strum that I had with the Lanikai, but it's definitely warming up. And it's still so pretty...

Not yet dared to try changing the strings! :)

Cheers again for all the advice, both uke and general.

Have a good day/ evening/ night!

Graymalkin
07-09-2010, 10:21 AM
Just changed the strings to Worth Brown BL - it wasn't anywhere near as difficult as I'd feared (once I'd got the first string out of the way - I just took it slowly and made sure to count the loops at the bridge!). I even gave the saddle a very slight sand (about six strokes on 00 paper). The Worths look great on - they certainly suit the spruce top. I'll let you know what it sounds like when I manage to get the strings in tune all at the same time!

*stretches strings*

luvdat
07-09-2010, 11:25 AM
The Browns might work out for you on the spruce. I've got Hilo tenors on my wife's. And Hilos with a wound low g on my own.

To be frank, most of the uke sound samples I listen to are NOT a sound I'm looking for. I like it warm and as jkevinwolfe said to describe his great Boat Paddle soprano, "warm and earthy." A lot of the others are lam samples (ex. Mitch Chang, some of kissing's stuff, and yes, sesso's vids) If you can check out his You Tube one of the best ukes I have heard on this forum. I have come to the conclusion that with that said I should probably stay out of these mini-debates about lams, solid woods, and maybe even tonewoods. Glad to talk with someone such as yourself...but I do have to say this: it's actually OK to prefer the LU, if that's what it ends up to be. For someone like myself who plays uke and sings, I actually prefer most lams (tenors in low g) over solid woods...so you're either talking to the right or wrong man...

The best to you!!!

mythidiot
07-09-2010, 12:09 PM
^ I've heard another thing that might help your uke to open up quicker is to place it near a speaker in your home. When you play music, it will vibrate the soundboard and help with the process.
That's a great idea!

bbycrts
07-09-2010, 12:18 PM
I've really liked the improvement that Worth Clears have made to my ukes' sound (to my ears). The Flamed Maple Kalas are solid spruce tops, but laminated maple bodies, so the body itself may not make as much difference as it could. I've had two of the Kala flame maples (a tenor and a soprano), and while I love the look neither was quite my cup of tea and I sold them. But that was before I discovered Worth strings.

ukecantdothat
07-09-2010, 12:29 PM
The notes do indeed "bleed" into each other with more sustain. That's not a bad thing, per se. Strumming with the fleshy part of the thumb creates a lot more low end, contributing to the "mud" of which you speak. Again not a bad thing, just a... thing. Strum closer to the bridge and you'll find it will be brighter. Using the fingernail on your index finger will brighten things up, as well. As others have said, trying the different strings is also the next logical step. I'm leary of claims of loudness, particularly when you get up to that quality. They can only get so loud at that size, I don't care what they're made of. As a matter of fact I have a cheap ($30) Leolani soprano that completely blew away a Fender tenor I came close to buying once, probably because of the strings, but also the Fender just left me cold anyway. It's down to playing style and strings quite often, I've found. The same uke (or guitar) in one player's hands will inevitably sound different than in another's. I would wager an ice chest strung with Aquilas would be awesome in Aldine's hands, for example. Hey... That gives me an idea...

Ukuleleblues
07-09-2010, 12:44 PM
One way to solve this is to BMU (Buy Mo Ukes). Then you won't get used to any particular uke! If I play a Uke or guitar for a while I get accustomed to the sound and when I switch it sounds weird for awhile.

Graymalkin
07-09-2010, 10:09 PM
Firstly, thanks again for all the help and advice. You've been very patient, kind, and helpful. If only all the internet was as friendly as this!

***

So, after a lot of stretching the Worths seemed to be behaving themselves tuned-wise. Time to have a go...

And the uke instantly sounds different, and a lot more like I was imagining it would. There seems to be a little less volume, but that could well be what's making the sustain less overpowering. There's definitely less 'bleeding' - the chords sound 'crisper' and 'on top of' the drone, if you see what I mean (I really must learn the proper vocabulary to describe sound with), rather than blending together and going 'muddy'. It's got that 'banjo-and-harmonium' kind of feel to it. Which is nice.

Early days with the new strings, of course, and it could also be partly down to the fact that I'm (perhaps unconsciously) adjusting the way I play the Kala. Sounds great to me now, though - and very different to the LU-21 too, which is excellent. Always good to have a choice.

My fingertips are wondering if I should have plumped for the medium strings, however...

***


The Browns might work out for you on the spruce...I like it warm and as jkevinwolfe said to describe his great Boat Paddle soprano, "warm and earthy."...

My original thought when I decided to start learning the ukelele (way ahead of myself even then!) was that I'd like a bright, very 'soprano-y', one and a warmer, mellower, one - a nice contrast for recording with, et cetera. Should probably learn to play first, but hey...

I had thought of a tenor - in fact I was so impressed with the LU-21 that I bought an LU-21TE a week later. Liked the sound, and being able to plug it into stuff, but it was just too big. It didn't feel right, and I didn't ever feel comfortable playing it. Now I'm wondering about a low g concert...



I do have to say this: it's actually OK to prefer the LU, if that's what it ends up to be...

Absolutely - I have absolutely no problems or regrets with the Lanikai. It's fab, and I love it. It sounds great distorted, too!


I've had two of the Kala flame maples (a tenor and a soprano), and while I love the look neither was quite my cup of tea and I sold them. But that was before I discovered Worth strings.

I must admit I was wondering if it just wasn't for me, gorgeous though it is. I think the Worths may have changed my mind, though...


The notes do indeed "bleed" into each other with more sustain. That's not a bad thing, per se. Strumming with the fleshy part of the thumb creates a lot more low end, contributing to the "mud" of which you speak. Again not a bad thing, just a... thing. Strum closer to the bridge and you'll find it will be brighter. Using the fingernail on your index finger will brighten things up, as well...

I really need to get the hang of using a finger rather than a thumb. I'm sure I must be doing something fundamentally wrong when I try. Still, I'll keep practicing and hope for that 'Eureka!' moment when it suddenly 'clicks'.


One way to solve this is to BMU (Buy Mo Ukes). Then you won't get used to any particular uke!

Well, actually, I do like the look of the Ohana CK-50GS... :)

Cheers!