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View Full Version : Laminate bodies and solid tops



mandrew
09-09-2011, 11:49 AM
In general, it seems like people think in 2 camps. . . all laminate ukes, or all solid wood. Perhaps we should think more distinctly about the middle guy, the laminate back and sides and solid tops. No doubt about it, technology is enabling us to build better instruments, and the newer laminates are thinner, stronger, and better than ever before. I applaud those builders who are embracing these new ideas.

In particular, I have been listening to the newer breed of laminate body/solid tops, such as those by Kala (KA-SC family). They also offer their spalted maple and Koa line, which are laminate bodies but sport cedar or spruce tops. They sound very nice indeed when paired with the right strings. Ohana also has some great sounding ukes that are of the laminate/solid combo.

Considering the harvest pressure on some woods, modern laminates that produce good sound but give us the "look" that we want ought to be encouraged more, in my opinion. We also have to consider the strength benefits of laminates, and the better resistance to humidity.

I think that as the uke community grows, demanding more harvest of our favorite woods, we ought to encourage greater development of instruments with GOOD laminate/solid top combinations. It is a good and reasonable compromise, and will keep ukes more affordable for us all! I would like to see (or hear) some blind tests of good solid wood vs. laminate/solid instruments. My guess is that we would be surprised at how close they sound (this assumes good materials, construction, etc.).

What are your favorite laminate, laminate/solid top instruments, and why?

Mouthy1
09-09-2011, 11:57 AM
I love my Ohana cedartop with Laminate back and sides. Sounds outstanding! I also just bought an all laminate Islander from Kanilea and it is really good for around $100 bucks. Best bang for the buck!

roxhum
09-09-2011, 12:15 PM
I just bought a Sprucehouse S-O that is laminate back and side and solid Sapele top. I might have misspelled Sapele, it is in the mahogany family and more available and less endangered than other mahogany's.

GKK
09-09-2011, 12:57 PM
My Kala KA-ST solid Spruce top looks and sounds Great!

It's the best bang for the buck in Quality Affordable Ukulele's!...
http://i80.photobucket.com/albums/j179/karengarret/IMG_3851.jpg
http://i80.photobucket.com/albums/j179/karengarret/IMG_0405.jpg
http://i80.photobucket.com/albums/j179/karengarret/IMG_3876.jpg

PhilUSAFRet
09-09-2011, 01:53 PM
I have a Cordoba 20TM-CE with a solid mahogany top and laminate back and sides. For a cheap uke, I think it sounds amazing plugged or unplugged. Great bang for the buck.

kissing
09-09-2011, 02:26 PM
In general, it seems like people think in 2 camps. . . all laminate ukes, or all solid wood. Perhaps we should think more distinctly about the middle guy, the laminate back and sides and solid tops.

No, actually, people think a lot about the 'middle guy'. They're some of the most popular ukes, and they are spoken about quite a lot.
They are surely widely spoken about in guitar circles, as they are in uke circles.
Personally, I put them in the same category as all-solid ukes.

A solid top instrument, in my opinion, behaves the same as an all-solid instrument. The top is the main part of the instrument that vibrates and produces the tone.
The sides and back's roles are mainly just to reflect and project the sound forward. Thus, rigid woods are generally chosen.
Laminate is rigid anyway, so it can play that role nevertheless.

A solid top is a sort of balanced medium between all-laminates and all-solid instruments I guess.
It tries to have the tone of the solid wood, while having the cost and durability benefits of a laminate.

RichM
09-09-2011, 02:54 PM
I agree, I think many people understand the value of a solid top, laminated body uke, and I think the marketplace does a pretty good job of delivering them. Although there is some stigma around laminated wood, the truth is that a lot of these solid/lam ukes sound really good. I think a laminated top is a big compromise; laminated back & sides is a small one. I have several all-solid ukes, but my Kala (solid cedar over laminated koa) has a big, bold tone that I love.

dhoenisch
09-09-2011, 04:38 PM
I have a new to me Lanikai S-T, solid topped, laminated body. When I test drove one in the store against other all laminated and/or all solid and/or mixed, the Lanikai S-T had the best sound to my ears, and the price was nice.

Dan

kenikas
09-09-2011, 06:51 PM
The Ohana solid cedar tops, with laminate willow or mahogany back and sides are some of my favorites. And my Makai spruce top tenor is the best sounding uke I found in the $100 bracket.

mr moonlight
09-09-2011, 07:33 PM
Solid tops with laminate back and sides has been very popular for decades on budget as well as mid- level instruments. If you buy a Ramirez classical for 2K or less it will have laminate back and sides. There are many benefits such as making lighter and stronger guitars/Ukes. I highly recommend them to anyone on a budget or need a beater that still sounds great.

vanflynn
09-10-2011, 06:58 AM
Both my Ukes are lam. sides with solid top. I like having a Uke that improves with time but doesn't cost so much that I'm afraid to take it places. The soprano has a solid mahogany top with koa lam sides & back and looks great. With my playing ability / ear / budget I couldn't justify an all solid.

sramsey
09-10-2011, 07:54 AM
I think the difference between a solid top uke and an all solid wood uke can be pretty dramatic. When you play a really sweet solid uke, there's a warmth and resonance there that you just won't find with a solid top alone.

That's not to say there aren't a lot of really amazing sounding solid top ukuleles out there, but on average I think there's no denying all solid wood instruments sound better.

southcoastukes
09-10-2011, 08:12 AM
I think the difference between a solid top uke and an all solid wood uke can be pretty dramatic. When you play a really sweet solid uke, there's a warmth and resonance there that you just won't find with a solid top alone.

That's not to say there aren't a lot of really amazing sounding solid top ukuleles out there, but on average I think there's no denying all solid wood instruments sound better.

All depends on the laminate. You're probably thinking of the typical factory built laminate. While they are generally improved over what you would get, say twenty or more years agao, they are a long cry from what a "luthier grade" laminate can produce.

These will generally outperform a solid wood body. You won't hear that often, because they are actually more expensive to make than either the factory laminates or an all solid body.

The finest luthiers of the Romantic era built with laminate backs (LaCote, etc.) This was before the Industrial Revolution - before the term "cheap plywood" had ever been dreamed of. The Spanish have never totally given it up.

Here is a video by a gifted luthier from Atlanta. Take a look at how he does it - may give you a new perspective:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQrjPwACqQw

RichM
09-10-2011, 05:17 PM
Not to mention that all of the Selmer guitars were built with laminate back & sides. Anyone feel like telling Django he should upscale his guitar? :)

olgoat52
09-10-2011, 05:58 PM
Interesting piece Dirk. Thanks.


All depends on the laminate. You're probably thinking of the typical factory built laminate. While they are generally improved over what you would get, say twenty or more years agao, they are a long cry from what a "luthier grade" laminate can produce.

These will generally outperform a solid wood body. You won't hear that often, because they are actually more expensive to make than either the factory laminates or an all solid body.

The finest luthiers of the Romantic era built with laminate backs (LaCote, etc.) This was before the Industrial Revolution - before the term "cheap plywood" had ever been dreamed of. The Spanish have never totally given it up.

Here is a video by a gifted luthier from Atlanta. Take a look at how he does it - may give you a new perspective:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQrjPwACqQw

Pippin
09-11-2011, 04:30 AM
I have had countless discussions with guitarists, ukulele players, and luthiers on the subject of laminated instruments. I really love some of the laminated back and sides/solid-top instruments that I own and play. Laminates, like the video says, typically will not crack. There is more dimensional stability, so, they stay in tune better. They are "harder", like the video says, and do project more sound forward when designed properly. When I played on stage all the time, I used guitars with laminated back and sides for the tuning and durability benefits. I also played "plugged" most of the time back then. Since laminates have improved and I play so many solid-wood instruments these days, I play acoustically and use high-quality studio mics for every recording. My two Martin guitars are acoustic, no pup. My Parkwood guitar is acoustic. My new mandolin is acoustic. I now only have two ukes with pickups.

One of my favorite ukes, the Ohana CKP-70 Vita reproduction is laminated back and sides, solid spruce top. I also love the Ohana CK-70G in my collection.

Solid-wood instruments do vibrate on the back and sides and do, as a result, put out more sound than the affordable laminated back and sides with solid top instruments often do, and there is often a difference in tone. When you get to the level of build quality of the Alvarez Yairi guitar, you won't know the difference.