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Anton K
10-30-2010, 02:56 PM
OK here is a nitty gritty discussion. Solid tops versus laminate tops?

This is my opinion and only my opinion, which has changed due to age. In 1975 I bought an old solid top, quality guitar that has been with me ever since. It has seen cold nights hot days and sometimes porch strumming laziness. I have gone through 3 wives and this guitar is still with me. I have seen subtle changes in the way it sounds……probably due more to me than it.

Solid tops, are very nice. However one of the finest instruments I have played is a Kala KA-T Ukulele that I have owned for awhile. It is a laminate top and I will be buggered to figure out how they got it so thin? It rings like a bell and sounds the same today as I bought it. They are making some very fine laminates.

I suppose if I was twenty again? I would want something to grow old with me, that mellowed with me and sounded the changes in my life. Today I am old, I want something that just rings like a bell that can reflect the nuisances of sound from one finger pulled…

Someone on these threads recently asked about the importance of scales? I think scales are most important when buying or considering a new Ukulele. Scales define what you are holding. Tunes and songs will not do that. When you buy a solid top you have to wonder about how will this scale sound with age? With a quality made laminate? You have 10 to 20 years that you do not. Solid tops will age gracefully, laminates will die suddenly after 10 to 20 years. But a laminate will sound the same till it dies, shockingly. A solid top will out live you.. Thus scales and age are important. I am old, my Kala KA-T, I am certain will please me every day I have left.

With all this said, if the ukulele bug bites you will wind up having a number of them around the house. But in my opinion you will be best served not getting caught up in the argument “Solid vs. Laminate”. Go for tone and sound.

After all life is to short.

70sSanO
10-30-2010, 07:26 PM
I'm not sure about how gritty... I think ukulele players are lightweights compared to acoustic guitar forums when this topic comes up.

There have been a number of posts and by and large and most people feel that a solid top ukulele sounds better than a laminate, but if the quality is at the same level, it is not that great a difference. This is probably for production ukuleles not custom or even high end... I'm not sure if there are any really expensive laminate ukuleles out there to compare.

Solid wood will always have a following. But personally, I think the real future is the use of a composite sandwich with thin layers of a tonewood on the outside of a composite core. The composite controls the stiffness and the wood is added for asthetics and possibly tweaking the tone, although I don't know if adding the wood will actually effect the tone. I have tried the Blackbird and it is pretty good, but if it were possible to add a woody tone, it may be the best of both worlds.

John

GrumpyCoyote
10-30-2010, 07:43 PM
Like most things, it's not a black and white issue. In general, solid tops sound "better" than laminates. That is to say, that although sound is subjective, in general solids have better tone in many players/builders opinion.

But that's only one small part of the story.

But that does not mean all solid tops sound "good", nor does it mean that all laminates sound "bad". There is a quality crossover band that is quite large. A finely crafted laminate top should almost always sound better than a poorly made solid for example. Bracing, construction techniques, and quality control all contribute to why a laminate top may be fine.

I think it's fair to say that most solids are superior to most laminates, but I'm always skeptical of absolutes when it comes to sound and wooden instruments.

bbycrts
10-30-2010, 08:15 PM
And as we've heard so many times (in many forms): A cheap laminate played by Jake Shimabukuro will sound far better than Jake's Kamaka played by a hack like me. Having the best tools is only half of getting the job done right.

fromthee2me
10-30-2010, 08:15 PM
All good points, lots of reading to inform yourself , and you still have to make a decision (gamble) on whether to spend your money or not! Regarding the time constraint we all have, eventually, Anton K has a valid point. MGM 's poll (blind sound sampling of ukulele sounds)(sometime back) proved without a doubt that Board Members could not guess whether the sound came from a laminate or a solid wood uke! Going for sound and instrument comfort as well as quality are good reasons to buy! You only live once! FWIW

mm stan
10-30-2010, 11:30 PM
Aloha Anton K,
I just like to say, buy for the moment....listen to what your ears and heart tells you....put aside solid top or laminate...
Get what appeals to you in sound first now....no matter what it is made of...or who made it....I'm sure you'll get upgrades in
the future, I wouldnt worry 20 years from now if it sounds good..by then, I'm sure you'll have better ones....Like you
said Life is short!!! Good Luck, and Have Fun and Enjoy!!! "Keep strumming them strings" MM Stan..
I'm not sure if you're asking or advising....but as time goes on You'll get better and your taste will change too...upgrades man!!!

ichadwick
10-31-2010, 02:57 AM
...most people feel that a solid top ukulele sounds better than a laminate...
I don't think that they sound better, but rather that they sound different because the tops have different physical attributes. That's simple science. Laminate tops cannot vibrate the same way as a thin slice of solid wood. That can mean different parts of the audible spectrum are emphasized (or de-emphasized) by the different materials.

Solid woods have the capability of a wider range of tonal reproduction. That's why luthiers and other fine instrument builders use solid woods: to get the best tonal range from the body size and shape.

But good and bad are, of course, subjective and what one person likes in a uke's tone another may despise (for example, my wife dislikes banjo and resonator uke sounds, while I like them).

What I've always said is that these tops age differently. Solid wood will deform on the microscopic level, with the wood fibres actually changing shape with play. That's because, over the years, the sound waves from the body will compress some areas, and to compensate, other areas will expand. It can take many years for this to become a noticeable effect but that will make each instrument tonally unique. Solid wood also reacts and changes with the environment - heat and humidity - and with the loss of natural oils. Over many years, the tone will also change as this happens.

Laminates are made of thin plies - layers - of wood placed with their grain at 90 degrees from the previous layer. That creates a strong material, but one that resists movement. Movement is what makes the sound, so some of it has to be lost. Quite often the material you see on the top is not the same as the material on the other plies, and other layers may be inferior cuts of wood with poor tonal qualities (even if the visible layer is good tonewood).

Further, playing a laminate over the years won't really change the sound, because the top resists those subtle material changes, and the environmental effects are also mitigated by the plywood.

Twenty, thirty years from now the tone of a solid wood uke will have changed much more than that of a laminate bought at the same time. That may not matter now, of course, and it may be that the laminate sounds better, subjectively, to the owner or a buyer than the solid wood by then. But collectors will usually prize the solid-wood uke more than the laminate.

Concert violinists don't play a Stradivarius just because it's old. They play it for its tone.

So if you like the sound, buy the instrument regardless of the material. If you expect to be playing it in 20-30 years, or want to experience the greater tonal range and the potential changes in tone that aghe and playing will bring, give some consideration to what it's made from.

adam2180
10-31-2010, 04:01 AM
All I own is solid wood instruments. I have a 2 guitars and 8 ukuleles. I have found that these particular instruments sound and feel great. Thats not to say laminates aren't good as well. They are durable and if done properly can sound every bit as good as solid wood. I have seen some laminate instruments that sound amazing, I have played some solid instruments that were terrible. I think its more of a question of the care taken in building the instrument.

southcoastukes
10-31-2010, 04:41 AM
I think the real future is the use of a composite sandwich with thin layers of a tonewood on the outside of a composite core. The composite controls the stiffness and the wood is added for asthetics and possibly tweaking the tone, although I don't know if adding the wood will actually effect the tone.

We are building such a beast right now, along with a matching solid instrument made from the same timbers, for comparisons' sake. My cohort, Omar Corrales, has already done it to excellent results on a handful of his classical concert guitars.

If all goes as expected, the soundboard wood layers will not only affect the sound, but dominate. We anticipate a wider range and somewhat more volume than a solid top, and more flexibilty than a traditional laminate. There are a lot of other implications specific to ukuleles that I won't go into at this point because they are only speculation. Results around Christmas - stay tuned!

dnewton2
10-31-2010, 04:54 AM
MGM 's poll (blind sound sampling of ukulele sounds)(sometime back) proved without a doubt that Board Members could not guess whether the sound came from a laminate or a solid wood uke!

Just wanted to point out that most members did pick a Solid uke as the best sounding, many picked out the Kanilea.

Pukulele Pete
10-31-2010, 10:01 AM
The first uke I bought is a Hawaiian souvenir uke. It's made from Koa laminate and with Aquila strings it sounds great.I have around ten ukes now and the Hawaiian souvenir uke is the one I play the most. It hangs on the wall next to my computer while the others sit in cases. The Koa laminate doesnt mind the changes in humidity. I am always suprised how good it sounds, I think I paid maybe 40 bucks. I added new tuners and lowered the action and it sounds really nice . The koa has a distintive sound.

casarole45
10-31-2010, 10:13 AM
Just wanted to point out that most members did pick a Solid uke as the best sounding, many picked out the Kanilea.

True, I don't think recordings are the best way to go, even using high spec mics (... and was a really good mic and room used for these samples?) you miss out on loads of the detailing of tone and projection which differentiate the ukes. I've got a really nice crystal clear mic I use, I tried to do a comparison vid on my ukes for youtube but I didn't upload for that reason.

fromthee2me
11-01-2010, 01:10 AM
Yes in cars, cellos, houses, kala, flukes and fleas, double bass, guitars,firearms, even vuvuzelas......;-). One still has a choice to buy it or not, which I think is great.Southcoastukes, I am interested in the developments you are working on.

guitharsis
11-01-2010, 02:35 AM
All I own is solid wood instruments. I have a 2 guitars and 8 ukuleles. I have found that these particular instruments sound and feel great. Thats not to say laminates aren't good as well. They are durable and if done properly can sound every bit as good as solid wood. I have seen some laminate instruments that sound amazing, I have played some solid instruments that were terrible. I think its more of a question of the care taken in building the instrument.

Ditto, except 2 guitars and 4 ukuleles. I have owned and played some wonderful laminates though. The Kiwaya I had was great and the aNueNue wormanship was second to none.

70sSanO
11-01-2010, 04:48 AM
You know... there is a perception that solid is better than laminate. Go on ebay or wherever, and look at all the ads. How many will point out all laminate construction, or laminate top? Doesn't even matter which sounds better.

It would be interesting if high end and custom ukuleles started using precision laminates that could dial in any sound you wanted. Imagine if you could pick out the exact tone for each string on of your ukulele. How much would you pay for the "perfect" ukulele with perfect tone and no dead spots and where every note blended with the next whether it was the A string or the C?

Now imagine a entire collection of ukuleles that went from mellow to bright. Just thinking about it makes me want to re-write John Lennon's lyrics.

John

southcoastukes
11-01-2010, 06:11 AM
It would be interesting if high end and custom ukuleles started using precision laminates that could dial in any sound you wanted. Imagine if you could pick out the exact tone for each string on of your ukulele. How much would you pay for the "perfect" ukulele with perfect tone and no dead spots and where every note blended with the next whether it was the A string or the C?

Now imagine a entire collection of ukuleles that went from mellow to bright. Just thinking about it makes me want to re-write John Lennon's lyrics.

John

We are hoping to be able to accomplish much of what you imagine. Don't know about "exact tone for each string". Wood, after all will still be a key component, both in construction and tone.

Based on the guitar experience, we do anticipate more definition and separation between the notes. The "mixed material" string sets we already offer take care of much of the tone adjustment between individual strings.

http://www.southcoastukes.com/stringuide_files/selection.htm

Finally we anticipate being able to offer both a "bright" and "mellow" choice in most of our line (including all the ukuleles).

The_Oddness_of_It_All
11-16-2010, 05:25 AM
I say solid wood triumphs any day! At least, it does in my experience. I think you can just feel it. It is so much more responsive than laminate.