View Full Version : Koa vs. Spruce and Flame Maple?

The Pohster
11-09-2010, 06:30 PM
How different do they sound?
etc. just more information! THANKS!

11-09-2010, 07:28 PM
Hmm- wide open question here, subjected to the totally subjective (tonal quality and the human ear), but I will take a bite.
So- we start with Koa. Koa to me is warm, and by that I mean full bodied in it's tone. The perfect tone really, well rounded and very pleasing...of course, I don't like it as much as
SPRUCE! Spruce is the illegitimate of Ukulele and guitar, and it has it's place. Spruce does not make the fullest, most well-rounded tone, but it makes up for it in PUNCH. This stuff has bang. It is punchy, short in tone and in breadth, it igves you what you ask for now, and with very little left-over (sustain). I LOVE it ...but that is me.
Flame Maple- not sure where you are seeing this, but it is not really a tone wood- more a decoration. If you are talking about the Kala, it is a laminate on the sides- purely for decoration (and the prettiest Uke ever). If this stuff was used for tone, you would have to have bass strings to make it sing, it is HARD stuff.
OK- now off you go to buy that Uke right?

Ken Middleton
11-09-2010, 08:12 PM
The short answer is: very different. But it does really depend on several other factors too: manufacturer, solid or laminate, how it is played, where it is played, uke size, strings, etc.

However, if you compare two solid wood ukes by the same manufacturer, and all else is equal, they are going to sound very different. The difference is much more apparent with solid wood that laminate though.

Both are really excellent classic tone woods. One combination isn't better than the other, just different. For ukuleles, koa is more commonly used for top end instruments and has been for many years. However, for other stringed instruments, maple/spruce is used far more often: think of the violin family and acoustic guitars like the Gibson J200. The more expensive the instrument, the more decorative the maple will be (flame, quilted, etc.).

I play several solid koa ukes (Howlett, Kanile'a, Ohana) and also a figured maple/spruce uke at festivals (Ohana). As for the difference in sound, I have almost given up trying to describe this in words. It is so difficult. However, very simply, koa has a warm, full, more complex, well-balanced sound, while maple/spruce has a purer, less complex, sound with more treble and less bass.

The differences between two laminate instruments is much less noticeable.

Hope this helps.

mm stan
11-09-2010, 09:05 PM
I just like to say even within the wood itself different trees same species produce different voicings...just as same builder two same ukes, so many variables ..different voicings...
Keeping this simple, go and try and play the uke before you buy, each has it's own individual tonal qualities and voice.....Also look for sound quality, playability, and comfort.....that said, Good luck!!! MM Stan.

Hippie Dribble
11-10-2010, 12:48 AM
maybe if you're thinking about the kind of music you want to play could help your decision too Pohster...

other members have all made great points for you in your choosing...now it's up to you...Just to say I love both Koa and Spruce for different reasons.

For you, do you want brightness and punch or warmth and depth?

11-10-2010, 04:55 AM
I have almost given up trying to describe this in words. It is so difficult. However, very simply, koa has a warm, full, more complex, well-balanced sound, while maple/spruce has a purer, less complex, sound with more treble and less bass

Ken says it best and simplest. I totally agree. I have a Oscar Schmidt Koa OU6 tenor and a Kala Spalted (flame) maple baritone and they reflect exactly what Ken is saying. I have Worth browns on the OU6 Koa which makes it extremely mellow and almost too muted ( so I think I'm switching) and my Kala Maple Bari has C tuning Aquila low G and just sings,, wonderful sound. I prefer the Kala Maple over all my ukes. I also have a Kala spalted maple tenor, with Aquilas and it sings as well. Hard to beat the Kala flame maple with spruce top. Just sayin Lozark

11-10-2010, 04:57 AM
How different do they sound?
Searh tonewoods on Google. There are many, many answers, and Ken's right: they all depend on construction, body size, saddle material, bracing and string type. And your own subjective ear, if you're asking for a "better" or "worse" answer. But if it's a laminate, all bets are off because the wood has less effect than the other factors.

In general, spruce has the greatest flexibility, thus provides the widest range of frequencies. It tends a little to the upper end, compared with koa. Maple is in the highest tonal spectrum of the three. Common descriptors for koa and mahogany are "warm, mellow" where spruce and maple are "bright, cheerful." But again, the size of the uke can have a greater impact on the tone than the wood.

The larger the body (thus the larger the top surface area), the more the wood will play a role.

11-10-2010, 05:53 AM
And to further complicate things, there are considerable differences between the various species of maple. European and the Bigleaf western maple that I mostly use, are much softer and lighter than eastern rock maple for instance. But the figure patterns can be found in most of them.


11-10-2010, 04:53 PM
Let's also not forget where in the body of your instrument you are using a particular tonewood. Spruce is primarily found in soundboards. I can say that the comparisons between my tenor koa body, soundboard and neck is warmer, but less projective than my tenor spruce soundboard, ebony sides, mango back. These can also change with time, and with strings of course.