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ukela
03-19-2011, 10:22 PM
I know that the topic of whether the type of wood used in a laminate actually affects the tone of the ukulele has been addressed a few times before on this forum, but I am still a bit confused.

I have noticed many ukulele manufacturers selling laminates of fancy wood such as koa for much higher prices than laminates of, say, nato. These manufacturers often suggest that the higher quality wood used in the laminate results in a higher quality tone.

For example, the Ohana website describes the SK-100G (an all-laminate koa uke, from what I can tell) as follows: "Koa is the secret ingredient that makes this model sound better than the price might suggest!" (http://www.ohana-music.com/soprano.html). This seems to suggest that the use of koa in the laminate makes the ukulele sound better. But, based on my understanding of how laminates work, such claims don't make sense to me.

So my question is: Does adding a thin layer of a fancy wood like koa to the top of a laminate actually make it sound more like solid koa (or other fancy solid wood)? And, if so, how (as a matter of physics) is that possible?

Follow-up question: when a ukulele is advertised as "made of koa" I know that it means laminate, since otherwise the world "solid" would be used. However, can a manufacturer say it is "made of koa" when referring to a laminate if only the top layer is koa? That seems somewhat misleading.

Thanks in advance for all replies!

bazmaz
03-20-2011, 01:48 AM
I have read that good quality laminate is better than cheap laminate, but dont understand the physics. I personally thought it would be just cosmetic.

Need someone like Ken M to answer this one as he deals with Ohana (I believe)

Pippin
03-20-2011, 02:10 AM
Solid koa is far superior to laminated koa. In laminated instruments, you get the beauty of the wood. If that is what you are after, look at the Lanikai Curly koa and the Kala koa lines. In the line of solid ukes, I'd seriously try the CK-300G, a great solid wood koa Ohana uke, but there is also the CK-200G, which has a solid top, laminated back and sides.

Laminated ukes sometimes sound better because sound is dampened and the uke is not as harsh as some solid instruments. A well built instrument should have great note separation. The individual strings should be discerned, otherwise, the chord sounds like mud. Some ukes sound better when they have a pickup because acoustic properties are not as good as they should be. Some of the clearest ukes I have heard include solid koa instruments, spruce top/maple bodied instruments, and high-end laminates.

ichadwick
03-20-2011, 03:00 AM
All laminates are formed of plies - layers - of wood placed with the grain 90 degrees from the previous layer. This creates a stronger material than solid wood, which is good for bracing and structural integrity, but lowers its ability to vibrate in resonance with the string energy imparted to it. Most laminates used in instruments have three or possibly two, very thin layers. Koa may be one layer but what are the rest? Is the inner, unseen layer as good a quality as the top, or does it have holes, or tears (usually filled with non-musical glue), or knots?

Over the years, as a solid wood instrument is played, the grain will change microscopically in reaction to the sound waves. This is (in part) called "opening up". Laminates will either not change or change imperceptibly.

Laminates can sound beautiful - just like a an all-metal, all-carbon fibre or all plastic instrument can. The body shape, saddle material, string type, sound hole size and placement and cavity volume will all play important roles in the sound and can affect it more than the top wood or laminate.

If it sounds good to your ears, then don't worry about the material.

kissing
03-20-2011, 03:21 AM
There are different grades of laminate. I've heard from some people in the instrument industry that a really good laminate can sound 'better' than a solid wood instrument.
But it is all subjective as to what sounds 'better', and it depends on the instrument.

I read an article that stated that in fact, a lot of the bad reputation laminate instruments have is from the olden days of guitar making, when the cheap instruments were made of SHOCKING laminate and very poor build.


So my question is: Does adding a thin layer of a fancy wood like koa to the top of a laminate actually make it sound more like solid koa (or other fancy solid wood)? And, if so, how (as a matter of physics) is that possible?

You're completely right - it makes no sense. It is more likely to be a marketing hype that can neither be definitely proven right or wrong.
However, in my limited experience with some laminate and solid ukes, I have found the following...

My laminate mahogany Kala KA-CE sounded like what 'mahogany' should sound like - mellow, dark and rich.
I also had a solid mahogany Kala Tenor, which sounded louder, but with the similar characteristics.
In comparison, my friend's Kala laminate Koa tenor had bit of a brighter, warm tone than the mahogany, as you'd expect from a Koa instrument, except it wasn't that stronger solid tone.

My Koa laminate Oscar Schmidt baritone also has that warmish tone one would expect from Koa, compared to my Legacy laminate spruce baritone which has a brighter, louder tone as you'd expect from spruce. Laminate spruce top soprano's I've tried in store all sounded a bit 'brighter' than laminate mahogany sopranos too for some reason..

Maybe it's just coincidence that the formula of ply they used just happened to give that kind of tone. But that's what I have noticed.
I could be completely wrong, but I can't help feeling that the ukes I've owned may have been influenced by their laminate veneer.
It's not something that I think too much about - I like how they sound and that's all that matters to me. I don't have an expensive taste in acoustic ukuleles, so I'd rather get one of the better made laminate instruments (for durability) than a low-end all-solid instrument.

Though my cigar box Eleuke is a solid spruce top, and I just LOVE how vibrant and loud it is :)


However, can a manufacturer say it is "made of koa" when referring to a laminate if only the top layer is koa? That seems somewhat misleading.

It's a bit misleading, but perhaps not to the extent it should be disallowed.
Technically it's not a blatant lie that it is 'made' of Koa, as there is Koa in it.
Perhaps they're going with the logic that a chocolate bar is 'made of Cocoa', along with sugar, preservatives, binding agents, colours, etc..

I suppose as the consumers, it's best we do our market research and not be naive to such advertising statements.

Huna
03-20-2011, 03:54 AM
my Luna Honu Soprano has some incredible tones I don't hear coming out of my other laminates. I think it sounds better than a lot of solid ukes. It is louder, brighter while still maintaining lower tones. The laminate used on it seems thinner and the instrument is very light. I think a key is in not overbuilding or overfinishing the uke. The Honu has a deep box depth too. The fretboard is thicker than some ukes and elevated off the top so that the saddle is higher on the uke. This also might make the uke sound louder, I don't know.

On another note, my son's Dolphin for whatever reason really has a superior tone. I have had four dolphins, two black, one red burst and one white. That white one is special. Now of course it is plastic so I imagine theres not much variability in the box of the uke but maybe the top piece was somehow special on that uke?

After hearing my son's Makala Dolphin and my Dolphin, I was jealous of his and don't know how to go about finding 'that sweet instrument'. Evidently even amongst factory laminated ukes there is variability. I guess there will be some special ones and some duds. Maybe it follows a statistical curve or something so that Most ukes of the same design and materials sound the same and then once in a while some freak thing happens that makes one ring out ... idk what thats about. what about it is different than the others?

kissing
03-20-2011, 04:35 AM
I guess we can't assume that the factory uses the exact same ply for absolutely every uke they produce. Depending on resources, prices and shipments of wood they get in, there will undoubtedly be variation.

However, such variability is probably even more noticeable with solid wood instruments than laminates.

I got to try two Eleuke cigar box concert ukuleles at the store I bought it from (Ribbee, in Thailand).
One was spectacular - easily the loudest and most vibrant sounding uke in the whole store actually. It's been sitting out on the display at the store for some time.
The other, they got out from storage - and has never been played since it came to them from the factory. The sound was noticeably much more muted and quiet.
Perhaps the one that had been out in the store had been played more and opened up a lot more. But the difference was spectacular.
I almost had zero hesitation in choosing the louder sounding one, despite it having been the display model.

As far as laminates go, Fleas and Flukes sound AMAZING. Easily outdoing a lot of solid instruments.
And those new ABS ukes from Mainland - I got to try some while at Ribbee. They sound fantastic too!

ukela
03-20-2011, 05:47 PM
Thanks for the replies everyone! Kissing - I think your point about the fancy laminates perhaps being made to sound like the solid wood version, even if not attributable to the wood itself, is sort of interesting (and plausible). I am actually not looking to buy a solid koa or laminate koa at the moment. It's just that I constantly surf the web buying ukuleles in my mind, and I have never understand these claims that a laminated koa uke sounds better than a laminated nato uke, etc. I get the cosmetic difference, but the language used to sell these fancy laminates goes beyond selling the cosmetic appeal.

13down
04-11-2013, 09:52 AM
I've gotten the impression that a laminate top made of a certain wood will have similar characteristics to a solid top of the same wood... But, at the end of the day, a laminate instrument will sound more like OTHER laminated instruments than it will sound like ANY solid wood instrument, even if said solid wood instrument is made of the same wood.

Also, I think that if you put a solid instrument, a solid-topped instrument, and a laminate instrument next to each other, and everything else about their construction is the same, the differences will be very subtle.

However, it's rare to find a laminate that's so similar in construction to its solid brethren, because laminate instruments often tend to be more sloppily made in other ways... ie bad tuners, bad nut & saddle, etc.

I may be wrong about this, but I imagine the reason that we see few higher-end laminates is because it's easier to sell a low-end solid instrument than it is to sell a high-end laminate. I would imagine "solid wood" looks better in an ad than "laminate, but good construction" does, even if the laminate is better-made than the solid one.

guitarsnrotts
04-11-2013, 12:06 PM
RE: High Quality Laminates

Martin claims that their mahogany laminate in their guitars is actually multiple layers of mahogany. I would think that may sound better than layers of dissimilar woods.

OldePhart
04-11-2013, 12:10 PM
I know that the topic of whether the type of wood used in a laminate actually affects the tone of the ukulele has been addressed a few times before on this forum, but I am still a bit confused.

I have noticed many ukulele manufacturers selling laminates of fancy wood such as koa for much higher prices than laminates of, say, nato. These manufacturers often suggest that the higher quality wood used in the laminate results in a higher quality tone.

For example, the Ohana website describes the SK-100G (an all-laminate koa uke, from what I can tell) as follows: "Koa is the secret ingredient that makes this model sound better than the price might suggest!" (http://www.ohana-music.com/soprano.html). This seems to suggest that the use of koa in the laminate makes the ukulele sound better. But, based on my understanding of how laminates work, such claims don't make sense to me.

So my question is: Does adding a thin layer of a fancy wood like koa to the top of a laminate actually make it sound more like solid koa (or other fancy solid wood)? And, if so, how (as a matter of physics) is that possible?

Follow-up question: when a ukulele is advertised as "made of koa" I know that it means laminate, since otherwise the world "solid" would be used. However, can a manufacturer say it is "made of koa" when referring to a laminate if only the top layer is koa? That seems somewhat misleading.

Thanks in advance for all replies!

Pretty much mostly marketing drivel, though not all laminates are created equal. Still, pretty much all of them use a base wood under the veneer that is a common species. So that "koa" is only Koa for the top 1/64" or thereabouts - the wood underneath is most likely some variety of inexpensive mahogany or, in some cases, maybe even birch.

First, you have the laminated ukes at the bottom of the food chain that are pretty much made with construction grade paneling - sorry, but some of them really are that bad.

But, let's leave those out of the discussion. Most laminates used for instrument construction are not inherently terrible - usually the base wood is decent quality inexpensive "tonewood" of some sort, usually covered with a very thin veneer of appearance wood. The problem is more that most laminated ukes are in the "affordable" category and therefore the laminate is used specifically to enhance appearance while cutting cost corners - the instruments tend to be heavily overbuilt and that, more than the laminate materials - is the real problem.

Technically, it should be possible to make a better instrument out of a really good laminate chosen for it's good properties than for cost reduction than it is to make an instrument out of solid wood - in practice I don't think that's been achieved.

Some have taken the high-road to a certain extent - the Kiwaya laminated ukes come to mind - they use a very thin laminate with rather plain veneers - pretty much the opposite of the philosophy on most laminated ukes. Still, while my Kiwaya laminated longneck is a great uke for a beater, and hands-down better than any other laminate I've played - it's not quite "in the same game" as my solid wood ukes - not even those from Mainland. :)

John