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View Full Version : Is all laminate the same?



bazonkers
01-26-2011, 09:15 AM
I know about the differences in tone in regards to solid wood but is there a difference with laminates? Does laminated flame maple sound any different than laminated koa for example? Are laminated specialty woods just a top layer of that wood over a base laminate of something else like nato/mahogany/whatever? Thanks!

bazmaz
01-26-2011, 09:26 AM
IMHO the tonal differences in laminates are less noticeable than in solid woods. More of a concern is that laminates vary in quality full stop - from ukes that are no more than plywood, to those that use carefully made solid wood lams (if you see what I mean)

The cheaper ones dont even have a nice veneer on top and are just painted. Up a notch and you get plywood, with a nice looking veneer, and at the top end, you get laminates of the same wood.

bazonkers
01-26-2011, 09:33 AM
So it's safe to assume on the more expensive laminated ukes (such as the $200-$300 Kalas) that the laminate is actually all layers of the wood seen on top? For example, is the Kala Flame Maple series all layers of flame maple? Is the Koa laminate/Cedar top all layers of Koa on the sides and back?

hoosierhiver
01-26-2011, 09:47 AM
So it's safe to assume on the more expensive laminated ukes (such as the $200-$300 Kalas) that the laminate is actually all layers of the wood seen on top? For example, is the Kala Flame Maple series all layers of flame maple? Is the Koa laminate/Cedar top all layers of Koa on the sides and back?

I would assume the opposite.

Pippin
01-26-2011, 09:49 AM
One example is the Kala Maple Pocket Uke. The body is spruce with a maple veneer.

PedalFreak
01-26-2011, 10:03 AM
Most laminates will use a cheaper wood in the middle. Poplar & Alder are two popular woods for filler. Laminates, when done right, can sound AMAZING! I've played some hand built classical guitars that are $10k+ that are amazing sounding guitars, even nicer sounding.

In talking to Bob Taylor once, he was telling me about how good laminates are made. And the big thing is using a flexable and resonant wood in the middle, and using a THIN layer of glue to bind them.

I'm a Kala dealer. The Flame Maple series I believe is only Flame Maple on the top.

SweetWaterBlue
01-26-2011, 10:10 AM
Anyone know where the good laminate makers like Kiwaya and Taylor etc get their laminates? Are they off-the shelf products, or something they have custom made?

Uke Republic
01-26-2011, 10:18 AM
laminates / Veneers In talking about an actual thin piece of wood like koa atop specific acoustic wood do vary from maker. Kiwaya uses a specific bonding technique along with a very lite build makes their eco series one of the nicest. Kala puts maple over spruce with a Pocket model and it's done very well and many other makers have improved over the years-Ohana , Kala, Makai etc. We will exclusively carry Sailor Brand ukuleles(luthier made in USA) with the first model having a solid spruce top, solid poplar back,sides with a true veneer of figured cherry on the inside of the instrument along with the back and sides. The sound is wonderful.
I know about the differences in tone in regards to solid wood but is there a difference with laminates? Does laminated flame maple sound any different than laminated koa for example? Are laminated specialty woods just a top layer of that wood over a base laminate of something else like nato/mahogany/whatever? Thanks!

bazonkers
01-26-2011, 10:18 AM
Ah ok, I got it. Thanks for all the info. So in the case of the laminate sandwiches of other wood, the top wood is more or less there just for looks? It sounds like a laminated koa covering spruce wouldn't really sound any different than a flame maple covering spruce.

I'm not saying laminate ukes are bad, I know some sound really great. I was just more curious about the differences and if they were simply cosmetic.

experimentjon
01-26-2011, 11:29 AM
I don't know too much about laminates for ukes, but I can say that I really like the Martin laminate on my LX1. It feels very durable and sounds good too. The strange thing is that I've heard their HPL isn't wood at all, and is actually some sort of plastic synthetic? Still, if it sounds good, and has a Koa sticker on top of it, I think it's fine.

PedalFreak
01-26-2011, 12:14 PM
Anyone know where the good laminate makers like Kiwaya and Taylor etc get their laminates? Are they off-the shelf products, or something they have custom made?

I know Taylor had been making their own laminates for awhile, but now they have them sourced to their specs.


Ah ok, I got it. Thanks for all the info. So in the case of the laminate sandwiches of other wood, the top wood is more or less there just for looks? It sounds like a laminated koa covering spruce wouldn't really sound any different than a flame maple covering spruce.

I'm not saying laminate ukes are bad, I know some sound really great. I was just more curious about the differences and if they were simply cosmetic.

They will sound different. If you have a Maple laminate, maple is a hard/stiff wood. So that will effect the sound.

dave g
01-26-2011, 01:51 PM
I would assume the opposite.

Me too.

There are two main reasons for using plywood (aka "laminate") in instruments.

The first is so that you can build more instruments from a given quantity of fancy expensive wood than you could otherwise, because the top ply (of fancy wood) can be much thinner if it's just a single ply in a thicker sheet.

The second is that a laminate (aka "plywood") panel is vastly more stable than one of solid wood. This is due to the fact that in plywood/laminate the several plys are laid up with the grain running in opposite directions, making it pretty much unheard of for such a panel to split along the grain (as is typical with mistreated solid instruments).

Which one sounds better (solid or laminate) is sort of like a religious argument, and I'm not going to go there :).

Most smaller volume builders stick with solid wood. They rationalize that they do this because solid wood sounds better (and it may) but really they do it because the equipment to make plywood (aka "laminate") is prohibitively expensive for them. Large volume builders like to use laminate (aka "plywood") because instruments built with it are less likely to crack, require less sophisticated bracing, and are cheaper to make (once the required expensive equipment has been procured).

:)

ksiegel
01-26-2011, 02:03 PM
So when Kala says that the uke is "solid cedar top with laminated Koa sides and back", then the Koa laminate isn't a laminate made exclusively of Koa, but is an amalgamation of wood product, with Koa veneer on the inside and outside?

I'm puzzled-I've seen single wood laminates, with each thin layer angled to the adjacent layers, in order to add strength, crack-resistance, and enhance tone.

Help me, Mr. Wizard! The voices in my head are arguing!

-Kurt

pdxuke
01-26-2011, 03:43 PM
Don't know what Kiwaya uses as its laminate, but it sounds wonderful. If the question of laminate sound v. wood sound is a religious one, then I go to the all wood church :-) But the Kiwaya laminate is awfully good...

Hudman
01-26-2011, 04:01 PM
The term "plywood" keeps getting thrown around as though it's a bad thing.

Much like laminate tone woods, ply wood comes in different grades. There are cheap laminates (pictures of wood grain layered over cheap fiber board / card board filler) and high grade laminates (3 layers of solid wood). The same can be said about plywood - there is cheap plywood and cabinet / furniture grade plywood. The price of high grade plywood is 4+ times as much as low grade.

Yamaha, Taylor (100 and 200 Series) and Seagull guitars are known for their high quality laminates.

bazmaz
01-26-2011, 10:33 PM
Hudman - I used the term plywood, because my very first uke was a 10 dollar Mahalo. I can assure you, it was made of nothing more than plywood - there is no veneer, and when I took it apart (for a project) the wood is soft cheap plywood.

Admittedly, it was the cheapest of the cheap.

(btw I have the Taylor 200 series guitar - solid top, curved Taylor laminate back and it is super super sweet.

Pippin
01-27-2011, 12:16 PM
I don't know too much about laminates for ukes, but I can say that I really like the Martin laminate on my LX1. It feels very durable and sounds good too. The strange thing is that I've heard their HPL isn't wood at all, and is actually some sort of plastic synthetic? Still, if it sounds good, and has a Koa sticker on top of it, I think it's fine.

HPL is a wood product. The surface is much like a bakelite or formica layer. Underneath, if you want a term to describe it, Masonite would be the closest thing to it.

SweetWaterBlue
01-27-2011, 12:20 PM
Ive seen pictures somewhere of several ukes that were made from kitchen cabinent formica. They reputedly sound quite good.

lordlogan
01-27-2011, 12:27 PM
I've got the Kala butterfly and personally thinks it sounds beautiful but i'm no professional voice but its a lammy and i love it!

Paul Cote
01-27-2011, 12:40 PM
My Makala MK-T Rings like a bell! It must be laminated but the top is very thin. The body is wrapped. Its true the ukulele is not a looker but it sounds pretty bright. I would like to compare it to spruce solid tops to see if they really do sound better or not. I just noticed Kala is getting into colored ukes more and I am thinking that is not such a bad thing. I bet they sound good too and are not very expensive. There is a different sound you get though from a mahogany solid top that is a bit different. My Hamano and Ohana both are solid mahogany and I notice the tone difference. They sound more ukelele and less guitar. A different tone. I don't know if laminates can replicate that or not. Well I will say the Makala Dolphin has a nice tone and its a laminate I imagine. As far as my solid ukes, it could be that they are both sopranos and my Makala Tenor has a pretty big body on it.

ichadwick
01-27-2011, 03:31 PM
Usually a laminate used for instruments is three ply, but can also be two (I think the Fluke has a two-ply, but although it looks that way, I might be wrong). haven't come across any four-ply yet.

The top will be the preferred wood. The underneath might be the same wood, but a lower grade, or can be something different, usually something inexpensive. The inside can be anything, even the same wood but not likely. It can have knots, rips, tears and you'll never know.

The size, shape and body volume, as well as the strings and saddle material will all affect the sound, more so than the type of wood in a laminate.

pdxuke
01-27-2011, 04:03 PM
Ive seen pictures somewhere of several ukes that were made from kitchen cabinent formica. They reputedly sound quite good.

I've heard the new Martin OX? is basically formica, and that it sounds much better than the SO.

southcoastukes
01-27-2011, 06:37 PM
We've been testing laminate construction for awhile now. Our final prototype should get strung up next week. There are a number of reasons to go that way. Speaking of the back, one of them is sound. Done well, a laminated back can be as good or better than solid.

You definitely need to use top quality tonewood all through. They don't need to be the same species as the outside layer. Obviously, there is no neccessity for cosmetics on anything but the outside, but the selection for sound needs to be done as carefully for each laminate component as it is for a solid back. It is the inside, or lining, that will most determine the character of tone.

This is not anything new. Possibly the best known pre-Torres luthier, Rene Lacote, was doing it in Paris as early as 1820. This was long before the Industrial Revolution made "plywood" an option for economical manufacture. He used a cypress lining to "sweeten" the tone of his beautiful Romantic Guitars.

p.s: we're testing a new construction for a laminated top as well - but that's a different story.