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View Full Version : Solid/Laminate/Vener



savagehenry
05-21-2011, 04:33 AM
I know this has been discussed at great length, but I'm still confused. I own all solid wood ukuleles and agree that they sound better than most laminates. What I want to know is what if you just have a solid top. Does the sides and back have that much influence on sound? How would solid sides and back differ from laminate sides and back or solid sides and back with a cosmetic veneer? Any thoughts or input is welcome, thanks.

SweetWaterBlue
05-21-2011, 04:55 AM
You will not get a definitive answer, as you have already discovered. There are some who say that a solid back lends sympathetic vibration to the top. In other words the sound waves that the top creates make the back vibrate and that creates its own sound. There are others who say that its best to just let the back reflect the sound, and don't want it to vibrate and absorb any, since all vibration has some losses. I would say from what I have read that most agree the sides don't contribute much to the sound.

All that said, I don't think solid backs and sides add much to a ukulele's sound. There are many fine guitars what are purposely built with laminate backs and sides, and makers say they do it for better sound. It is worth noting that the Sailor brand ukuleles have backs and sides made from a sandwich of poplar and cherry, or other woods on the outside, and inside, but they have solid tops. They get good reviews and the two that I have played sounded good to me. I think a lot of what luthiers build they build because that is what people will buy, so there is a lot of tradition that goes into it. Most people (myself included) just will not pay as much for a laminate back and sided uke as we will for an all solid because we know they traditionally cost less. Since most of the cost of a custom ukulele is labor, if I were a luthier, I would probably only make all solid ukes and charge a higher margin on them.

I own and love an all solid mahogany Ohana soprano, but when I was deciding what tenor to make my main player I played a lot of them, both solid and laminate. In the end, I thought the solid tops with laminate backs and sides sounded as good if not better than any of the all solids I did A-B comparisons on.

In other words, I think it is mostly the top that makes the difference. How the luthier puts it all together is also important and a good one can even make pallet wood sound great.

cb56
05-21-2011, 05:21 AM
I have an all solid wood Mainland tenor (cedar top/rosewood back,sides), and a solid spruce top laminate mahogany back and sides Kala tenor. To me the Mainland sound better. I don't know if it's the solid wood or the choice of wood or the construction. The Kala sounds great but IMO the Mainland is better.

SweetWaterBlue
05-21-2011, 05:25 AM
I also agree with something that Pete Howlett said that many ukulele players hear with their eyes, and not there ears. I think I would add that we can also hear with our imaginations sometimes - at least I know I do. That is why I love controlled A-B tests so much.

PhilUSAFRet
05-21-2011, 05:41 AM
I know this is just anecdotal evidence based on fewer ukes than many of the UU'ers have played or heard, but I think that all things being equal, a laminate uke with a solid top tends to sound better as the size of uke the increases. I know this is subjective, but it seems so to my ears. I also understand that better quality laminates with solid tops tend to have better construction methods, bracing, better quality laminates, and better quality solid tops, so that has to be a factor. I guess the operative concept here is that "quality shows." I've noticed a few top uke makers are putting either exotic solid tops on a solid mahogany body, or a good quality top and good quality exotic laminate bodies. Hmmmm, maybe you can have your cake and .......etc

savagehenry
05-21-2011, 06:29 AM
In other words, I think it is mostly the top that makes the difference. How the luthier puts it all together is also important and a good one can even make pallet wood sound great.

Thanks, I was also really impressed with the pallet build. I've been thinking of getting a Sailor Brand and I know that they are luthier made in the USA. I think a mahogany tenor Sailor would be pretty sweet, may just have to find out for myself.

Gmoney
05-21-2011, 06:41 AM
Thanks, I was also really impressed with the pallet build. I've been thinking of getting a Sailor Brand and I know that they are luthier made in the USA. I think a mahogany tenor Sailor would be pretty sweet, may just have to find out for myself.

I was waiting for that note to chime in. As a Sailor owner & one who's gone through a BUNCH of ukes, I have to agree w/SweetWaterBlue & others in regard to the importance of the solid top wood. The Sailor uke is extremely well made; even the "laminate" back & sides are purposefully built to add, not detract from the overall instrument's sound. The spruce top is selected for its resonance & the whole instrument is carefully made to exacting standards. The standards are the same as the other instruments coming from this luthier's shop for many, many years. I really don't think you can go wrong if you get a Sailor; it is simply the best deal for your $$ for an American-manufactured ukulele.

savagehenry
05-21-2011, 06:59 AM
I was waiting for that note to chime in. As a Sailor owner & one who's gone through a BUNCH of ukes, I have to agree w/SweetWaterBlue & others in regard to the importance of the solid top wood. The Sailor uke is extremely well made; even the "laminate" back & sides are purposefully built to add, not detract from the overall instrument's sound. The spruce top is selected for its resonance & the whole instrument is carefully made to exacting standards. The standards are the same as the other instruments coming from this luthier's shop for many, many years. I really don't think you can go wrong if you get a Sailor; it is simply the best deal for your $$ for an American-manufactured ukulele.

Thanks, you've given me a lot of guidance in my short time here at UU and have always been right on the money, no pun intended Gmoney.

southcoastukes
05-21-2011, 07:09 AM
... There are many fine guitars what are purposely built with laminate backs and sides, and makers say they do it for better sound.... I think a lot of what luthiers build they build because that is what people will buy... Most people (myself included) just will not pay as much for a laminate back and sided uke as we will for an all solid because we know they traditionally cost less.
Since most of the cost of a custom ukulele is labor, if I were a luthier, I would probably only make all solid ukes and charge a higher margin on them.

Sad, but true. Small builders have a vested interest in the "solid wood advantage". As SWB says, work less - charge more, and people will hear what they want to hear.

A lot of the confusion about laminates comes from the fact that a mass produced cheap laminate back really does sound bad. Worse than a good solid without question. Comparing those to a "luthier grade laminate" is like apples to oranges.

savagehenry
05-21-2011, 07:59 AM
A lot of the confusion about laminates comes from the fact that a mass produced cheap laminate back really does sound bad. Worse than a good solid without question. Comparing those to a "luthier grade laminate" is like apples to oranges.

I guess I've only been at this a short time and it's already been drilled into my head that solid wood is good and laminate is bad.

southcoastukes
05-21-2011, 08:14 AM
I guess I've only been at this a short time and it's already been drilled into my head that solid wood is good and laminate is bad.

It's more than understandable. With ukuleles there have never been many good laminates until very recently. Most people's experience has been only with the cheap stuff.

SweetWaterBlue
05-21-2011, 08:21 AM
On mass produced ukes, the best example of a good laminate is the Kiwaya. Their laminate sopranos sound better than some solid wood ukes. Listen the PDXUkes sound samples on sound cloud to see what I mean. At the same time, their laminate doesn't sound quite as good to my ears (and as I recall PDX's ears) as the solid wood SK-35, but you have to listen closely. On the other hand, compare one to something like an LU-21 and your ears will probably pick up on the differences easily. Its not that an LU-21 sounds bad by any means, its just that an SK-35 sounds better, and a Koaloha sounds even better than that. For most of us, even a Makala Dolphin sounds better than we can play.

mr moonlight
05-21-2011, 08:46 AM
Torres once made a guitar out of papier mache to prove that most of the sound quality and volume comes from the top and the size of the box vs. the back and sides. Apparently he proved his point. For the back and sides, solid wood or veneer, you will probably not hear much of a difference. Between a Koa top and a Cedar top you most likely will hear a substantial difference.

Gmoney
05-21-2011, 08:55 AM
For most of us, even a Makala Dolphin sounds better than we can play.

Indeed! Can I quote you on that?!

Gmoney
05-21-2011, 08:58 AM
Torres once made a guitar out of papier mache to prove that most of the sound quality and volume comes from the top and the size of the box vs. the back and sides. Apparently he proved his point. For the back and sides, solid wood or veneer, you will probably not hear much of a difference. Between a Koa top and a Cedar top you most likely will hear a substantial difference.

I had to go looking for more about Torres' papier machè guitar & found this video of Davide Ficco playing a Fabio Zontini 2005 replica of Antonio Torres' papier machè guitar.

http://youtu.be/YHJrqJEhob8

More proof that the musician makes the instrument, but also proof of what a master luthier can build w/paper & paste!!!

Gmoney
05-21-2011, 09:02 AM
... SNIP... A lot of the confusion about laminates comes from the fact that a mass produced cheap laminate back really does sound bad. Worse than a good solid without question. Comparing those to a "luthier grade laminate" is like apples to oranges.

THAT distinction is what gets lost in many of these conversations. There's a hugh difference in what can only be called "plywood" vs' small batch luthier-made laminates. But, like SWB, even my Dolphin is capable of better sound than I am currently able to pry from it!!

savagehenry
05-21-2011, 09:08 AM
More proof that the musician makes the instrument, but also proof of what a master luthier can build w/paper & paste!!!

That guitar sounded amazing. I wonder if I can cut costs by ordering a cardboard uke, hahaha!
I always feel like my instruments sound better when someone who can really play well tries them out, I just gotta keep practicing.

Dan Uke
05-21-2011, 09:37 AM
If you check out David Ficco playing other guitars, you will realize that he sounds even better with real guitars!!!! I bet these paper mache costs more than any mass produced laminates if you consider the time spent. Again, a great luthier made the paper one and he probably spent hours upon hours making it just right to prove his point. There is a premium to have a famous skilled person make anything custom.

The point that most people are making is that if you have a mass produced solid vs. a mass produced laminate, the solid wil sound better most of the time. We can't compare apples and oranges.

savagehenry
05-21-2011, 10:48 AM
There is a premium to have a famous skilled person make anything custom.
I never thought of it that way, great point. I appreciate everyone's feedback, I've learned a lot today.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
05-21-2011, 11:34 AM
As playable as it is, just think how much better that Torres guitar would've sounded with Brazilian rosewood sides and back.

ichadwick
05-21-2011, 12:10 PM
Vneer and laminate are synonymns. The sides and back mostly reflect the sound both to the top and to the sound hole. To do this most efficiently, they should be of more dense or less flexible material than the top. So laminate sides and back can be effective. Softer or more flexible materials will absorb more of the energy.

Gmoney
05-21-2011, 02:01 PM
As playable as it is, just think how much better that Torres guitar would've sounded with Brazilian rosewood sides and back.

I'm guessing several orders of magnitude better!

southcoastukes
05-21-2011, 05:05 PM
Let's not get carried away with the "harder is better" idea of back materials. It's true you don't want sound absorbed, as it is from poor laminate gluing, but "soft" materials can also reflect in a way that produces outstanding sound. There are many who hold that cypress backs are superior to all, and they're not much denser than softwood soundboard material.

It's the old flamenca blanca vs. flamenca negra argument. Do you like clear highs, good transparency and separation with a quick dying sound or a bit muddier tone, but with more depth and sustain?

PhilUSAFRet
05-23-2011, 04:51 PM
So, I have been considering sealing the inside of my Grizzly uke kit with a hard finish to reflect more sound to the solid spruce top I'm putting on. (I figured this is why the Dolphin sounded so good) Based on all I have been reading here, (as uke laminates are concerned, theGrizzly is probably thicker and softer than most....therefore absorbing a lot of the sound) , right? Wrong?

Bradford
05-23-2011, 05:18 PM
As southcoastukes points out, I would shy away from any absolute conclusions here. Torres was attempting to make a point, but there is still a great deal of debate among luthiers about how the sides and back contribute to the sound. In my experience, with most instruments, if you hold them against your body, you mute the sound considerably, which indicates to me the back is vibrating, not just reflecting the sound.

Brad

rar jungle
05-23-2011, 10:38 PM
I was wondering about how the back and sides affected sound as well, and posted something on fleamarket music forum a while ago. Dave Means was very detailed and helpful with his response. Here is excerpt:

"Rigid backs and sides do indeed allow the instrument to produce greater total acoustic output from a given amount of energy from the strings. However, with too much rigidity, much of that energy is concentrated in a very powerful and sharply defined air resonance whose pitch is determined mainly by the volume of the soundbox and the size of the soundhole. The danger here is very uneven bass response, with the notes produced on the one or two frets nearest the pitch of the air resonance being much more powerful than adjacent notes. This is not generally musically useful."
from: http://www.fleamarketmusic.com/bulletin/bulletin-single.asp?popup=true&BulletinID=23507

Recently I did an experiment with a cheap solid spruce topped makala ukulele. First I sanded down the spruce top so it was much thinner, this already caused the sound to much louder and fuller, then I proceeded to sand down the laminate wood back to a dangerously thin level, and covered it with a false back. The false back was basically just a thin piece of wood the same shape and size as the back of the ukulele, which was mounted on tiny pedestals so that it was raised off the back just enough so the sanded back could vibrate freely. The experiment turned out pretty good overall. The results of sanding down the back and then putting on the false back was that ukulele was a little louder, with a little more sustain and liveliness, and maybe more balanced overall tone.

poppy
05-23-2011, 11:19 PM
The machining industry is capable of mass producing luthier class laminates today en mass. our machines , tooling, glues etc far exceed the capabilities of the recent past so it is hard to argue laminate grade they are pretty much the same as long as they are designed for the purpose. The sound board off the back argument really holds some weight here as an old bass player the bass reflex single 18 inch was amazing. it took ampeg 16 10 inch speakers to equal the sound output of a marshall or acoustic 360. Now it was bass but the design of the folded horn was to reinforce the waves in front of the speaker at some distance from the amp. It worked so I have to believe the back board in an acoustic instrument also serves some reflex function and I don't even want to attempt the math!
I believe the ovation was designed to utilize some of this effect.

ralphk
05-24-2011, 06:47 AM
Last time I checked, my ukes did not sound as well when held close against the body (dampening the back) as when held loosely off the chest.

And in the mandolin world, there are wire frame devices that hold the body off the chest.

So I use a strap and don't clutch the uke to the body

southcoastukes
05-24-2011, 08:14 AM
So, I have been considering sealing the inside of my Grizzly uke kit with a hard finish to reflect more sound to the solid spruce top I'm putting on. (I figured this is why the Dolphin sounded so good) Based on all I have been reading here, (as uke laminates are concerned, theGrizzly is probably thicker and softer than most....therefore absorbing a lot of the sound) , right? Wrong?

Am not familiar with the Grizzly. As far as interior finish for back & sides, a lot of spanish builders do it on their high end guitars. There is indeed a theory that it makes the surface "slicker" in a way that gives better sound.

I don't think anyone tries to make the wood denser, or harder with a hard heavy coating. This is not a good idea anywhere. The normal interior finish is shellac.

We have done it from time to time, and whether or not it improves sound, it looks nice (very "finished"), and gives some protection against splitting.