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annod
09-21-2010, 04:30 PM
I read that for a solid wood string instrument, the tone will "open up" as it age. What does that mean? Louder? Richer sound?

Does the speed of aging depend on how much you play it?

I just bought a Mele Mahogany Concert 2 weeks ago and have been playing it everyday. (on average 2 hours/ day)

It actually sounds better already, but maybe that's probably just me improving:)

I wonder what kind of changes in the tone can I expect in 6-12 months?

Thanks,
Donna

Bradford
09-21-2010, 05:27 PM
Hi annod, that is something that is very difficult to predict. In my 26 years of building I have found that my instruments all improve with age, but how much and how fast varies a lot. The only thing I have noticed for sure, the ones that start off quiet and tight sounding, improve the most and the fastest. Instruments that sound great right away, get better, but not as much or as fast. The type of finish plays a part in this, nitro lacquer takes years to fully cure.

Brad

roxhum
09-21-2010, 05:33 PM
I was wondering about this too. I just got a lovely Koa soprano. It is an old discontinued Bushman model that an ex-distributer still had. The date it was made was 2006. I bought this new. So if it has been sitting around for the last 4 years in a box somewhere curing has it alreay matured and improved, or like Donna asked, does this "opening up" required it actually being played.
Thanks,
Rox

Chris Tarman
09-21-2010, 06:00 PM
It's my belief that solid wood instruments (but not laminates) do change over time, but whether or not that can be quantified in any way is hard to say. Of my two vintage Martins, the older, MUCH more played Style 2 is a lot louder and fuller sounding than the newer-by-a-couple-of-decades Style 1. Part of that might be that they are strung with different brands of strings, but you can FEEL the Style 2 vibrating a LOT more than the Style 1. So in the case of these two instruments, it's tough to say whether it's the extra 20+ years of age, the different environments they've each spent their lives in, how much (or how LITTLE) they've been played, HOW they've been played, or what...
So far, I haven't owned a new ukulele long enough yet to notice any real difference. I bought my first solid wood uke just about 11 months ago, and I don't play it a lot, since it's a tenor and I like sopranos much more. I sort of think I've noticed some changes in my koa Kala soprano though.
Whether they do or not, there must be a lot of folks who THINK they do, as witnessed by the prices of some vintage guitars! There are a whole lot of other factors that affect vintage prices, of course, but apparently SOMEONE thinks old instruments sound better!
Something to think about though... wood changes as it dries, and the vibrations from playing might have an effect on the density of the wood fibers, or the way the top and sides vibrate in relation to the bracing, or who knows what.

southcoastukes
09-21-2010, 06:49 PM
What you are looking for most of all is a change in the soundboard. Hardwoods are not going to change that much and not that quickly. The effect is most noticeable with a softwood top.

If you have a spruce top, you can definitely expect an audible improvement, with Englemann pretty quickly - the change in the others being more gradual.

A western cedar top opens up quickest of all. In just a few months, you can hardly beleive you're playing the same instrument.

Chris Tarman
09-21-2010, 06:54 PM
What you are looking for most of all is a change in the soundboard. Hardwoods are not going to change that much and not that quickly. The effect is most noticeable with a softwood top.

If you have a spruce top, you can definitely expect an audible improvement, with Englemann pretty quickly - the change in the others being more gradual.

A western cedar top opens up quickest of all. In just a few months, you can hardly beleive you're playing the same instrument.

That's good to know! I bought a Mainland Red Cedar pineapple at the end of May. I'll have to listen for changes.

Pippin
09-21-2010, 08:28 PM
That's good to know! I bought a Mainland Red Cedar pineapple at the end of May. I'll have to listen for changes.

You won't notice much if you play it all the time. Record your playing and then listen to later recordings and you will be amazed, assuming that you record the same way.

bazmaz
09-22-2010, 09:09 AM
This is an oft disputed subject on the guitar forums.

Firstly if there is a change its subjective, and in some cases, the change may be for worse!

I think its subtle on a guitar, and therefore I suspect even more subtle on a uke due to the scale.

I gave up on thinking about it for guitar - you end up driving yourself mad (did I hear a change)

Age of strings, and changes over time in your playing technique and style are much more noticeable

southcoastukes
09-22-2010, 10:57 AM
This is an oft disputed subject on the guitar forums.

Firstly if there is a change its subjective, and in some cases, the change may be for worse!

I think its subtle on a guitar, and therefore I suspect even more subtle on a uke due to the scale.


Not sure on this one, but I have a feeling the change may actually be more noticeable on the ukes. Maybe because changes in the samll body have a more pronounced effect.

You are so right about the changes not always being for the better. I'm pretty sure about uke changes being more dramatic here. Having a wider range and more volume is usually a good thing, but on a uke it can sometimes put you into that "shrill, overbearing" area.

ukeeku
09-22-2010, 11:10 AM
I thougth this post was a good one to bring up
http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?32923-Official-ToneRite-Ukulele-Round-the-World-Road-Trip
I have found in reviewing ukes that I can hear a big difference in the first 2 months on many brand new ukes.
As the glue really dries, and the instrument settles in your climate (I live in IL so I get the 80% humidty summer and 10% in the winter and that changes the sound) I it will change. Playing is the key I have found. Ukes are like people, they develop better with love.

I am on the list for the ToneRite and hope that it does do something.

jtafaro
09-23-2010, 03:18 PM
I know violins open up with time and I think my Flea sounds better after a year and its top is laminated. My fender koa tenor has not changed much and it has a laminated top. Everyone I talk to about this says something different! One violin expert said to me that it takes a fiddle 25 years to mature. My luthier says that isn't so but a string change results in a short period of improving sound. I put Worth strings on my Ohana SK15BL a month ago and in the past three days I hear a much better sound. So you have to take string type into the aging discussion.

Ronnie Aloha
09-23-2010, 05:30 PM
I know of a builder who would strap the body to an old transistor radio for days to let the wood open up. For me, I have ukes that are over 40 years old and ukes that are less than a year old and I don't know if I could tell the difference...

bassfiddlesteve
10-08-2010, 05:56 PM
I received my LoPrinzi concert right after it was built and I thought it sounded pretty mellow at first. Donna LoPrinzi assured me that the sound would "open up" soon and much to my surprise she was right. It's now much brighter with more projection than when I first got it. When I brought it back to her recently to have a MiSi pickup installed I strummed a few chords and she immediately noticed the difference too.

- Steve

cletus
10-08-2010, 06:47 PM
My new concert seems to have 'opened up' in 7 days!

Or maybe, I'm just playing it more proficiently. I dunno, it seems like it sounds better, so it doesn't really matter why.

clayton56
10-08-2010, 10:19 PM
ukulele's tone will "open up" with age?

I hope so - I'm 52.

seriously, I haven't really noticed it with my ukes, except for my Ko'olau which I might have played the most. But it's early yet.

The ones I've had the longest seem to stay in tune better than newer ones, I wonder if they get pulled in or compressed with the string tension and find a nice balance.

Ukejungle
03-18-2014, 09:17 AM
I tell you what's opening up, my wallet from UAS ......

Icelander53
03-18-2014, 09:51 AM
Amen! ( reply message is too short lol)

dickadcock
03-18-2014, 11:12 AM
The original question/post is 3 1/2 years old... Maybe the poster can answer the question of "opening up" for us now... No? ... The meaning of life? … the meaning of 7th Aug. 5 ? :)

Cheeso
03-18-2014, 12:39 PM
It's interesting to read these threads where people thinking they're ukes open up after hours, days, weeks, or months...even a year. And now a laminate uke with a plastic body? Umm....sorry, but no.

I've heard it takes decades, with all solid wood instruments, not a year or less. It wouldn't be a big deal if it took a month or something.

Mim
03-18-2014, 02:22 PM
I am not sure if it is the settling or the wood opening up or what... but I know my Ohana all solid mahogany sopranino that gets a lot of play sounds a tad bit better than the out of the box sopraninos. But it used to not be that way. I just think it gets played a lot! Or maybe it is just because it is loved so much!

Ramart
04-25-2014, 12:10 PM
This discussion made me think of Willie Nelson's legendary Martin guitar, Trigger, which one day, unfortunately, will probably reside in the Smithsonian. As you can learn from reading Michael Hall's beautifully written saga of Trigger (link below), there's a lot more going on with its distinctive sound than just an "opening up" of its tonewoods. Hall's article does consider that nebulous concept, however, albeit briefly and unscientifically:

<<...A guitar sounds better as it gets older, just like a Stradivarius does. The wood ages and the tone gets more lively. “New guitars have to have time to open up,” says [Nelson's longtime luthier and Trigger caretaker, Mark] Erlewine. “The wood has to vibrate, it has to move, to bring the sound out. Willie plays so much, it’s brought out the tone of the guitar.”>>

A highly recommended read for you pickers and strummers:

http://stillisstillmoving.com/willienelson/willie-nelsons-guitar-trigger-3/

Teek
04-25-2014, 12:37 PM
Yeah but Trigger is undisputably opened up with that extra soundhole Willie added.

JeremyR
04-25-2014, 01:06 PM
There's a lot of subjectivity involved in the idea of an instrument "opening up" (and maybe some degree of placebo effect), but I believe there is scientific evidence to back up the idea that the nature of the wood vibrations change over time due to a large number of different factors. And I believe I have noticed that to some degree with a few of my all-wood instruments. In particular, My Taylor guitar and my Kanile'a uke were both what I would call "tight" when I got them, even though they were both used. I don't know that the sound has actually changed much since then, at least from a technical standpoint, but it seems easier now to get them to "sing" and sound good. Perhaps I am just better at playing those particular instruments or more understanding of their peculiarities than before, but my subjective impression is that they have "opened up" since I bought them.

buc mcmaster
04-25-2014, 01:15 PM
The most logical explanation I've ever heard goes like this....... Solid wood acoustic instruments are built of several pieces of wood, often of different species, all cut and bent and glued together into a single unit. Vibration of the unit, be it from being played or artificially vibrated by a ToneRite like device or even strapped to a stereo speaker, over time causes all these separate pieces of wood to begin to vibrate as a unit. As this unification of the parts continues it becomes more like one piece of wood than many, vibrating as a whole. This is the "opening up" process......the individual parts of an acoustic instrument becoming one, resonating as a single piece of wood. How long this takes or to what extent the instrument "unifies" depends on too many factors to predict. The cuts of wood, the size and shape of the braces, the fitting of the components, the glue, the finish.........everything plays on the end result.

pixiepurls
04-25-2014, 03:34 PM
The most logical explanation I've ever heard goes like this....... Solid wood acoustic instruments are built of several pieces of wood, often of different species, all cut and bent and glued together into a single unit. Vibration of the unit, be it from being played or artificially vibrated by a ToneRite like device or even strapped to a stereo speaker, over time causes all these separate pieces of wood to begin to vibrate as a unit. As this unification of the parts continues it becomes more like one piece of wood than many, vibrating as a whole. This is the "opening up" process......the individual parts of an acoustic instrument becoming one, resonating as a single piece of wood. How long this takes or to what extent the instrument "unifies" depends on too many factors to predict. The cuts of wood, the size and shape of the braces, the fitting of the components, the glue, the finish.........everything plays on the end result.

they should make a vibration machine so you can make your uke open up faster lol!

OldePhart
04-25-2014, 03:44 PM
they should make a vibration machine so you can make your uke open up faster lol!

Actually, they do. It's called a "Tone-Rite". Lot's of controversy on whether it actually works or just feeds the natural tendency to "want to hear an improvement."

Edit: (Oh, and the tone-Rite is a variation on a decades-old guitar "trick" of leaving a new guitar in front of stereo speakers all day while music plays on them. There is little or no scientific evidence that said trick works.)

"Opening up" is a big bucket of worms. I've owned exactly two instruments that I could say without hesitation opened up over time (this is out of a few dozen acoustic instruments I've owned for long enough to expect them to open up). One was a cedar-top Seagull guitar, the other is my Mainland Mahogany soprano uke. I've owned a few instruments that might have opened up a little but I wouldn't swear to it. Some of my best instruments don't appear to have opened up at all. I've got a very nice Taylor guitar that sounded great the day I bought it...as near as I can tell it sounds exactly the same today.

I think the biggest "opening up" might occur within days of an instrument being built (and a little of that might have occurred on my BP custom which I received about a week to ten days after it was strung up). I think it may have opened up a little, though it was amazingly good when it arrived. What I am saying here is that I think the biggest "opening up" comes not from changes in the wood but from glue and finishing materials fully curing. Some glues and finishes can take weeks to cure completely, and I know that when I've filled "rattle-o-matic" bridges on electric guitars with epoxy the epoxy initially deadened the response, then after a couple of days to a week of curing the result was as good or better than before the bridge was filled.

I have had at least one instrument, maybe two, that absolutely got worse during the first few months I owned them.

Bottom line - don't buy or keep an instrument that doesn't "flip your wipper" in the expectation that it will improve. It might. It might not. More than likely, if anything, you will simply become accustomed to it.

John

Strumdaddy
04-26-2014, 01:13 AM
" they should make a vibration machine so you can make your uke open up faster lol! " - pixiepurls

You might get a kick out of this (if you haven't seen it already)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NC2DyP6bI54

Many esteemed people believe in age "opening up" an instrument. It seems to be the case, and if it isn't - then I love the idea of it anyway.

ichadwick
04-26-2014, 02:26 AM
I read that for a solid wood string instrument, the tone will "open up" as it age. What does that mean? Louder? Richer sound?

What happens when you play an instrument often enough is that the wood compresses microscopically in some places, which causes other areas to widen. This happens in sympathy with the frequencies of the music being played. Generally people agree that it sounds "better" but that's pretty subjective. I've also read the word "mellow" used a lot about older instruments. Again, subjective: what's mellow to my ears may sound brash to yours.

A recent experiment reported in the media had several of the world's top violinists do a blind test to see if they could tell the difference between newly manufactured violins and vintage (Stradivarius) ones. Most couldn't and many thought the new ones sounded better.

As the wood ages and is played, its acoustic properties change. Everything I've read suggests it becomes more able to transmit a group of the tones you play and less of the secondary harmonics, so the sound is heard as "purer." Or "clearer." You'd need an oscilloscope to see the waveforms to verify this.

Also as an instrument ages (and is played), non-acoustic effects (like the dampening of glue and bracing) are somewhat diminished (I've been told that some glue cures - and hardens - to be more acoustically reflective). Plus the strings lose some energy, so they mellow.

Note that laminate woods do not undergo the same process as solid woods.

And finally: your own hearing may improve. You may learn to recognize/identify tones and nuances better as you play. I've worked with beginners who can't hear the difference between a major and its minor chord at first. A few weeks later, they hear everything. You teach yourself to hear.

I go into a music store and every uke I play sounds different to me. My wife - when she accompanies me - says she can't tell the difference between them. But she can tell the difference in sound in all sorts of music and has very strong opinions about sound and music. She just hasn't learned to hear a ukulele like I have.


Does the speed of aging depend on how much you play it?
Yes. There are some companies that sell artificial (mechanical) agers: devices that simulate playing to speed up the process. Whether they work (and how well) is open to debate.


I just bought a Mele Mahogany Concert 2 weeks ago and have been playing it everyday. (on average 2 hours/ day)
"Opening up" has two stages: the initial - when you first get it and start to play - this is a combination of the instrument adapting to your local micro-environment (the heat and humidity of your home), the curing of finishes, glues, and the final stretching of the strings. Plus how you hold the instrument may change.

The second phase is the effect of playing over years. Sometimes it takes decades. Have patience.


I wonder what kind of changes in the tone can I expect in 6-12 months?
You've probably seen/heard most of them if you're that diligent about practicing. As the strings age, they lose their energy, so sound quieter and mellower. Then you'll change strings and it will sound scratchy and brash until they settle down.

I had an opportunity to play a brand new Martin soprano uke and a 1940s Martin in a music store. Very different sounds. I liked the older one better - but mostly because I don't like the brash, plinky sound of soprano, which the older one had less of. Was it "better"? No, just different. Someone else may hear them otherwise and prefer the new sound.

pixiepurls
04-26-2014, 02:43 AM
This discussion made me think of Willie Nelson's legendary Martin guitar, Trigger, which one day, unfortunately, will probably reside in the Smithsonian. As you can learn from reading Michael Hall's beautifully written saga of Trigger (link below), there's a lot more going on with its distinctive sound than just an "opening up" of its tonewoods. Hall's article does consider that nebulous concept, however, albeit briefly and unscientifically:

<<...A guitar sounds better as it gets older, just like a Stradivarius does. The wood ages and the tone gets more lively. “New guitars have to have time to open up,” says [Nelson's longtime luthier and Trigger caretaker, Mark] Erlewine. “The wood has to vibrate, it has to move, to bring the sound out. Willie plays so much, it’s brought out the tone of the guitar.”>>

A highly recommended read for you pickers and strummers:

http://stillisstillmoving.com/willienelson/willie-nelsons-guitar-trigger-3/

lovely read.

FrankB
04-26-2014, 03:08 AM
About 10 years ago, several members of a classical guitar forum were buying a palm-size massaging device from Walmart. It included a suction cup attachment (for whatever reason), and several swore that it made their guitars open up with constant use after two days. Some left the devices attached for a week, while others used them a few hours each day over the course of a month. I don't recall anyone saying it didn't work, so I bought one. I was not prepared for the incredibly insane sound that occurred the instant the device was switched on. Picture a 1,000 or so werewolves, and that might be close to the horrific howling. Needless to say, I yanked out the cord and just played the guitar.

I used to live near a very nice guitar shop, Acoustic Roots. The two guys that ran the place said that they would notice a guitar sounding better when it came back to the shop for whatever reason, and usually it was a spruce top. These weren't counter jockeys, and they sold only higher end guitars. This was the place to go for the good stuff in the Philadelphia area, but I believe they've closed. In any case, they said when one of their friends bought a new spruce top guitar, they'd pass it around and strum hard for about 30 minutes. After that, they just played it. They usually had a few ukes on the wall at what I thought was an insane price at the time. I didn't know ukuleles could cost more than $20 back then. :D

Rick Turner has mentioned something about using a monster size speaker and a table to open up guitars, but that was several years ago on another forum. Maybe someone could ask him.

Teek
04-26-2014, 07:16 AM
Ian's explanation is one of the most sensible I have read.

I just ordered a Collings and was told that regarding the guitars and ukes, they are tightly built and take about 6 months to open up. My first thought was that's a good way to make sure you don't send it back. It makes sense to me that it is more about glue and finishes curing completely and the instrument stabilizing to it's new environment regarding humidity, plus strings. When our local humidity is high at 70-80% average my ukes get thuddy and muted. When it is more around 40-50% they sound better, clearer and have more ring.

I suspect that people who hear a laminate or brand new uke "open up" are more likely hearing strings settling in; some flourocarbons take a week or two to sound really clear and Southcoasts (to my ears anyway) take time to get their optimum clear pure ring (which is well worth the wait). Worths take at least a week. I find about the time I can take a uke out of its case and not have to tune it except for a cent or two is when they are fully settled and sound best, then they slide into decay with use. I think the first best way to get a uke to open up is to put on fresh strings. It's also a good way to get a "new" sounding uke: put fresh strings on one you already have!

Ramart
04-26-2014, 07:04 PM
...When our local humidity is high at 70-80% average my ukes get thuddy and muted. When it is more around 40-50% they sound better, clearer and have more ring...

I have a vague recollection of reading a science-based article years ago that purported to explain the "opening up" of vintage wood instruments' sound over many years as being rooted in the ability of wood to resonate/vibrate/transmit sound waves more effectively as its internal moisture content gradually declines and attains a new equilibrium (unlike too-rapid dehumidification, of course, which can cause wood to crack). I think the point was that tone woods become more sonically elastic as the damping effect of their water content diminishes by minuscule amounts over long periods, also that wood instruments actually becoming measurably lighter in weight over many years as a evidence of this process. But I don't fully trust my memory about details of this explanation.

OldePhart
04-27-2014, 10:34 AM
Many years ago I remember reading an article that speculated that if wood itself does actually improve (tone is so subjective it's hard to say unequivocally that a change is automatically an improvement) that the change was most likely due to the slow evaporation not just of water, but of the sap itself. The article indicated that someone was experimenting with using a centrifuge to encourage the sap to exit the wood. I never did hear if they published any results. I suspect nothing came of it since this article was probably twenty years ago and I don't recall having heard anything since.

Oh...and I remember that one premise that served as the impetus for the project was that air-dried wood is so much better than kiln-dried wood for music applications. That started the thinking that maybe the reason was that air drying takes time and some of the sap is egressing at the same time, while kiln-drying is fast and actually hardens the sap.

John

BlackBearUkes
04-27-2014, 11:34 AM
Often times older guitars will sound better as they age, but not always and for variuos reasons. I have a friend who bought a Martin D-18, band new, in the mid 1950's. Now you would except this guitar to sound great because it was cared for and it seemed to have no apparent structural problems by inspecting inside and out. It however didn't have much sustain and the sound was muddy. With his permission, I took the back off for a though inspection and found the braces were badly bent in some areas and had come unglued along the back side of the X bracing. The bridge plate was rosewood but was badly deformed. I replaced all the braces and bridge plate on the top, put the back on and strung it up. It was like night and day, the guitar sounded wonderful and the owner was extremely happy with the sound. So it wasn't the top plate that suffered, but the bracing.

How the instrument is braced can also keep it from ringing out and sounding good. Ukes are no different, sometimes it isn't always what we think it is, if there is a problem with older instruments.

coolkayaker1
04-27-2014, 02:27 PM
Many years ago I remember reading an article that speculated that if wood itself does actually improve (tone is so subjective it's hard to say unequivocally that a change is automatically an improvement) that the change was most likely due to the slow evaporation not just of water, but of the sap itself. The article indicated that someone was experimenting with using a centrifuge to encourage the sap to exit the wood. I never did hear if they published any results. I suspect nothing came of it since this article was probably twenty years ago and I don't recall having heard anything since.

Oh...and I remember that one premise that served as the impetus for the project was that air-dried wood is so much better than kiln-dried wood for music applications. That started the thinking that maybe the reason was that air drying takes time and some of the sap is egressing at the same time, while kiln-drying is fast and actually hardens the sap.

John

this to me makes a lot of sense. it explains the "opening up" over a short time as ear-biased hogwash, and it explains why, over years and years, an instrument might sound better. i'm going with john's explanation here from now on.

ichadwick
04-28-2014, 01:02 AM
..air drying takes time and some of the sap is egressing at the same time, while kiln-drying is fast and actually hardens the sap.


Interesting. I'd like to hear from some luthiers on their experience with drying techniques and with using different parts of a tree.

As I understand it, sap is mostly carried in the phloem - the layer between the outer bark (also called the sapwood). Less is found in the xylem - which is what most instruments are made from because it's the larger part of the tree. The heartwood contains "old sap" - resin - which helps provide support. Instruments are often made from heartwood, too.

So how much sap is in a slice of wood cut from the xylem? The heartwood? Are the resins different (different components or percentages)? When they harden, do they have different acoustic properties?

This opens some interesting areas of research. I haven't had a lot of time to look into it, but here's one comment (http://www.northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/what_is_the_difference_between_sapwood_and_heartwo od) I read this morning:


This sapwood-heartwood distinction has important implications for woodworkers beyond the obvious implications of color. Because sapwood contains the sap-conducting cells of the tree, it tends to have a relatively high moisture content. This is good for the living tree but it is not so good for the woodworker, because sapwood tends to shrink and move considerably when dried, and it is much more susceptible to decay and staining by fungi.

Update: This is a good read: www.uvm.edu/extension/environment/lumberdrying.pdf (http://www.uvm.edu/extension/environment/lumberdrying.pdf):



In most regions of the U.S. lumber piled out-of-doors will reach an EMC of 12 to 18%. Such lumber is termed air-dried... In construction standards, dry lumber is defined as having 19% or less MC. Kiln-dried lumber used in furniture manufacture usually has from 6 to 8% MC. In the construction industry, kiln-dried lumber refers to wood of 15% MC and less.

OldePhart
04-28-2014, 02:23 AM
this to me makes a lot of sense. it explains the "opening up" over a short time as ear-biased hogwash, and it explains why, over years and years, an instrument might sound better. i'm going with john's explanation here from now on.

Well...I wouldn't put all my weight on this bandwagon just yet. It was a theory twenty years ago and I haven't heard much since, so it may have proved to be nonsense, or at least impossible to prove.

John

Ramart
04-28-2014, 04:40 PM
...the change was most likely due to the slow evaporation not just of water, but of the sap itself...

Yeah, John, you jogged my memory that the supposed "opening up" effect I'd read about long ago was explained scientifically as being from more than just evaporation of water content, but I don't think the other element was sap itself, unless "sap" is synonymous with a specific kind (name forgotten) of cellulose, whose content is known to diminish somehow over several years at the wood's cellular level. Both reductions purportedly enhancing the wood's ability to resonate.

Personally, I think much of the sense anyone might have that an instrument's sound is "opening up" could come from the player's growing familiarity with an axe's requirements for extracting optimal tones. IMHO, favorite instruments mostly tend to sound better over time because we come to know and respond to their different potentialities (or limitations) better, from experience, consciously or unconsciously.

OldePhart
04-29-2014, 03:16 AM
Personally, I think much of the sense anyone might have that an instrument's sound is "opening up" could come from the player's growing familiarity with an axe's requirements for extracting optimal tones. IMHO, favorite instruments mostly tend to sound better over time because we come to know and respond to their different potentialities (or limitations) better, from experience, consciously or unconsciously.

Yes, this has been my personal view for a long time. I have had two instruments that very definitely opened up in the first months I had them but it is certainly the exception rather than the norm. I know one of the instruments had just been manufactured, and the other might have been, so it's possible even those two were just cases of glue or finish curing very slowly.

John

wayward
08-03-2014, 09:53 PM
Having read a new thread which refers to "opening up" on here this morning, I thought I'd bring this one to the top, as it contains a lot of responses which might be of interest as the discussion continues... :)

Cheeso
09-03-2014, 12:05 PM
Having read a new thread which refers to "opening up" on here this morning, I thought I'd bring this one to the top, as it contains a lot of responses which might be of interest as the discussion continues... :)
Ugh...I was at a store yesterday where the sales guy was trying to tell someone to buy the more expensive model because it "will open up in a few months and sound better." I saw her play two different ukes, and the lower end model definitely had a much nicer sound to my ears, chiming and with a nice sustain. The more expensive just sounded dead and plunky, for lack of a better word. If the higher end model doesn't sound good now, it's not going to magically sound better, and definitely not in a few months.

Luckily, she didn't buy anything at all but I was in a quandary. I almost felt obligated to give her a caveat emptor, but she seemed to have decided to beware on her own. Maybe she let her ears decide.

It made me think it's a lot of marketing. When people are talking about pre-war Martins or Stradivarius violins, then opening up makes sense. But a uke a few weeks/months/years old?

There's never any real definition of "sound better" and it seems as if these claims are never verified by even a simple recording. It's such a vague concept. Using the idea as a tool to sell a more expensive instrument seems unethical to me.

IamNoMan
10-02-2014, 10:49 AM
It's my belief that solid wood instruments (but not laminates) do change over time, but whether or not that can be quantified in any way is hard to say... Whether they do or not, there must be a lot of folks who THINK they do... wood changes as it dries, and the vibrations from playing might have an effect on the density of the wood fibers, or the way the top and sides vibrate in relation to the bracing, or who knows what.


What you are looking for most of all is a change in the soundboard. Hardwoods are not going to change that much and not that quickly. The effect is most noticeable with a softwood top...If you have a spruce top, you can definitely expect an audible improvement...A western cedar top opens up quickest of all.
Didn't know that about Cedar.


I have a feeling the change may actually be more noticeable on the ukes. Maybe because changes in the samll body have a more pronounced effect.

This is true of mountain Dulcimers as well.

I have to physicists and engineers about this. (THey were mostly musicians as well). The consensus is that as the wood ages its density changes and the more dense the wood the better the sound.

As wood dries out it becomes less dense if its Specific Gravity is less than 1.0 =water or more dense if it has a specific gravity greater than 1.0 Do mahogany or Koa float in water? IDK but if they sink their specific gravity is greater then 1. Bog wood is very dense. It has been underwater for long long periods. Stradivarius Violins were made of bog wood and have a wonderful reputation for high sound quality.

Parasite activity in instrument wood has sometimes been associated with improved sound quality.

Here is the best part: The more you play the instrument the more sound energy impacts on the wood. this compacts the wood and makes it more dense. Not all the energy is absorbed by the wood, thank goodness; much of it bounces back and forth. That is to say it resonates more. Need I say more?

kypfer
10-02-2014, 11:34 AM
Stradivarius Violins were made of bog wood ... ... never heard of that before! I've seen reports of the timber that was being used for these instruments was unusually dense due to a series of cool summers causing the growth rings to be closer together than usual ... but bog wood, I'd like to see a reference to that, please.


Here is the best part: The more you play the instrument the more sound energy impacts on the wood. this compacts the wood and makes it more dense. ... a reference to an accurate study demonstrating this would be appreciated as well.

Cheeso
10-02-2014, 11:56 AM
... never heard of that before! I've seen reports of the timber that was being used for these instruments was unusually dense due to a series of cool summers causing the growth rings to be closer together than usual ... but bog wood, I'd like to see a reference to that, please.


Timber affects the timbre? Hmmm....

Rick Turner
10-02-2014, 05:00 PM
Nobody who has heard a stringed instrument brought up to tune for the very first time and then again after 24, 48, 72, etc. hours would doubt that instruments do indeed "open up". Yes, the effect tapers off quickly as the instrument gets used to string tension, and then other factors kick in. One of the long term effects...and very well documented...is the slow loss of hemi-cellulose, a soluble saccharide which evaporates from the wood. This brings about two measurable changes...the wood gets a bit weaker in both stiffness and tensile strength, but it loses weight at a more rapid rate. The net effect is an improvement in the stiffness to weight ratio...Young's modulus...which also correlates to the speed of sound within the wood. In addition to this, a number of the softwoods used for tops lose VOCs...volatile organic compounds...as the resins harden and crystalize, which is itself yet another factor in the wood aging and there being what is perceived as an opening up of tone.

No luthier or good musician I know disbelieves in the theory of instruments opening up, and many also believe that instruments can "go to sleep" when not played regularly and then "wake up" when played fairly vigorously for a while. There are, of course, other theories...the wood flexing setting up a kind of wood fatigue on nodal response lines, even migration of bound water away from areas of highest vibrational motion. That one is pretty far out, but given that typical dry wood is about 8% water by weight...well, it may be possible

To me it's as much about how responsive the instrument becomes under my fingers as whether the tone changes (though it does). Aged instruments just speak more easily when played. And that is one of the issues that makes it difficult to really nail this down with blind testing. A good portion of this effect seems to be how the instrument feels to play...and that's not something a listener can necessarily know.

mds725
10-02-2014, 07:47 PM
Somewhere on an ukulele player forum, ukuleles are asking each other whether their players open up over time.

kypfer
10-04-2014, 09:10 AM
Rick Turner wrote :
Aged instruments just speak more easily when played. I'm tempted to consider that it's only the nice-sounding instruments that stand the test of time and become "aged" ... maybe instruments that never were particularly good don't get a chance to get old ;)

mds725 wrote :
Somewhere on an ukulele player forum, ukuleles are asking each other whether their players open up over time. :biglaugh: :rofl:

Rick Turner
10-04-2014, 03:19 PM
As I said in a previous post, all you have to do to become a believer is to hear a uke or guitar strung up for the very first time, and then play it and hear it at regular intervals thereafter. I'd say the changes are logarithmic in the beginning...quite dramatic at first, then slowing down, but then you get into the instrument's "mid life", so to speak, when a lot of playing kicks in...if the instrument is lucky! I'm going to stick my neck out and say categorically that if you haven't experienced what I'm talking about with a brand new instrument...(and I don't mean "just showed up at the music store"), then you really don't know what you're talking about. Ask any uke or guitar builder about this, and you'll likely get 99% agreeing with my statement. Better yet, get to know a builder and experience it yourself.

I've built some guitars that I first thought I'd over-built, and then in 72 hours the voice of the guitar started to bloom. And I've built them that sounded good right off the bat, and just got better. I've not built any guitars or ukes that got worse, and that's probably because I don't try to build too lightly...which can sound "vintage" in weeks, and sound "tubby" in years.

I do find the "opening up" phenomenon to be more pronounced with steel string guitars, but it's there for all. I'm not going to speak about plywood topped instruments because I just don't have adequate experience building them, but solid wood ukes and guitars? Yep...

Mim
10-04-2014, 03:56 PM
My Gary Gill Ukulele was fresh off the presses when I got it and I feel like it had a very pronounced opening up within the first 2 days of me having it. I think the strings settling had a little to do with it. But I think what contributed to it the most was it being played and played and played, and it just responded in a beautiful way and since it was me playing it the whole time, I got to experience it! It seemed like every time I picked it up, it sounded better. It just became super rich and came to life!

Dan Uke
10-04-2014, 04:01 PM
I believe ukes open up but if it doesn't sound good in the first couple months, I rather sell it

flailingfingers
10-05-2014, 04:29 AM
Really an interesting, informative discussion. Just to throw in another personal experience: My Collings UT3 Koa definitely sounds better now than 18 months ago when new. It was good then. It is beautiful now.I also have played around with strings and my technique has become more nuanced. The end result is an immensely enjoyable experience playing and singing. What changed? Everything. When I first started attending this forum I had definite opinions on a lot of things. Now? Not so much. I've learned a great deal. Thanks to you all.

hammer40
10-05-2014, 05:31 AM
I've not built any guitars or ukes that got worse, and that's probably because I don't try to build too lightly...which can sound "vintage" in weeks, and sound "tubby" in years.

I find that statement very interesting. I routinely hear and read people talking about the attributes of their "very lightly" built instrument and how much better it is than the dreaded "over built" instrument. Me, being ignorant of what constitutes the "best" in a build process, just assumed that to be true. I would love to hear Rick, or any luthier expound on that.