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View Full Version : That "ukulele" sound.



Noobie
09-11-2011, 08:29 AM
I got my first ukulele as a present from my wife for Christmas last year—a Kala KA-KC. She bought it after hearing the guy at the music store play some of the ones she thought I'd like, and that one sounded the best. I've always liked the sound of it.

Recently I acquired a Honu Traditional concert uke. It sounds quite different from the Kala, but still sounded good to my ear.

Then I found out that a friend of mine had a vintage 80's Kamaka uke sitting around, and I asked to borrow it. The uke wasn't well cared for, but after putting some new strings on it and getting some humidity back into it, I'm finally hearing what I believe to be the classic "ukulele" sound. Is it because it's a soprano, or because it's a Kamaka? I don't know. :)

One thing I've noticed in my limited experience is that lighter instruments seem to sound better—maybe it's because the thinner wood resonates better, or because thick finishes reduce resonation, or maybe it's something else entirely. Has anyone else noticed this?

Uke Whisperer
09-11-2011, 08:57 AM
"By George, I believe you got it!"

pulelehua
09-11-2011, 10:22 PM
I had the privilege of a 3-hour ukulele physics lecture from Mike DaSilva last month, and what I can tell you is that the biggest answer is, "It's VERY complicated." But to your points, yes, lightness is really important. All the top luthiers talk about lightness. Koa is a highly varied wood, both in structure and appearance, but tends toward very rich overtone response. That is, it sounds very warm. It doesn't have same the attack and brightness of a traditional guitar soundboard like spruce.

The thing Mike told me which I think is the holy grail is that the most important thing is who builds it. There are so many subtleties to building a ukulele that the builder trumps most other factors. Same materials, same size, different builders, two possibly VERY different ukuleles.

Or, you know, just read Uke Whisperer's response. ;)

Oh, and by the by, I think a lot of people would argue that there are at least 2 classic ukulele sounds. Soprano Kamakas, and Soprano Martins. One Koa, one Mahogany.

(This is where someone much more intelligent than me comes in and straightens it all out)

fabioponta
09-12-2011, 12:50 AM
Pulelehua give a great answer. Just put something more, I think that each uke (made with solid wood body), in the same brand or luthier, model and year of construction would give some little diferent sound.
For me, for the new models, the Koaloha Soprano gives the most classic hawaiian ukulele sound that I heard.

buddhuu
09-12-2011, 01:26 AM
"Classic" sound is different in the imaginations of different people.

I've heard a koa soprano (don't recall the brand) that just totally fitted my mental/aural expectation of classic uke. But then I've heard mahogany Martins that have sounded different but given me that same feeling...

hmgberg
09-12-2011, 05:55 AM
All the answers proffered here are correct. For me, and apparently you, the soprano ukulele sound is the classic one. All of the building factors such as lightness, body dimensions, materials have an impact - but it would be safe to say, I think, that lighter = louder. However, all of these factors combined bear out Mike DaSilva's response. A Martin koa soprano sounds more like a Martin mahogany soprano than it does a Kamaka koa soprano. Anyway, these are my three favorite production ukuleles.

mds725
09-12-2011, 08:32 AM
One thing I've noticed in my limited experience is that lighter instruments seem to sound better—maybe it's because the thinner wood resonates better, or because thick finishes reduce resonation, or maybe it's something else entirely. Has anyone else noticed this?

First, what constitutes a "better" sound is subjective. Anyone who makes custom ukuleles will tell you that different people want different things. Some like prefer the warm sound of a Kamaka koa ukulele (i.e, they like that sound better), while others prefer brighter woods. like spruce, myrtle, cedar and maple.

As to why lighter ukuleles might sound better to you, I learned a few things about sound during a long chat I had a long chat over the weekend with Char Mayer, who builds Mya-Moe ukuleles with her husband, Gordon. One of the things I learned is that all other things being equal (for example, the same soundboard thickness), woods like spruce and cedar are louder and brighter because they're less dense woods that resonate (vibrate) more than denser woods. More vibration tends to equal louder and brighter sound. Also, when I told Char that I was looking for a tenor ukulele with a brighter sound that a Kamaka koa tenor, she said that if I liked the look of koa, she had some koa sets that she could sand thinner to brighten the sound. So one way to make a denser wood brighter is to make it thinner, which apparently increases a denser wood's ability to vibtate.

hapuna
09-12-2011, 11:07 AM
First, what constitutes a "better" sound is subjective. Anyone who makes custom ukuleles will tell you that different people want different things. Some like prefer the warm sound of a Kamaka koa ukulele (i.e, they like that sound better), while others prefer brighter woods. like spruce, myrtle, cedar and maple.

As to why lighter ukuleles might sound better to you, I learned a few things about sound during a long chat I had a long chat over the weekend with Char Mayer, who builds Mya-Moe ukuleles with her husband, Gordon. One of the things I learned is that all other things being equal (for example, the same soundboard thickness), woods like spruce and cedar are louder and brighter because they're less dense woods that resonate (vibrate) more than denser woods. More vibration tends to equal louder and brighter sound. Also, when I told Char that I was looking for a tenor ukulele with a brighter sound that a Kamaka koa tenor, she said that if I liked the look of koa, she had some koa sets that she could sand thinner to brighten the sound. So one way to make a denser wood brighter is to make it thinner, which apparently increases a denser wood's ability to vibtate.
The issue seems to be about a classic ukulele sound. I think this would limit the woods to either koa or mahogany. The sounds created by newer makers I don't think are attempting to create the classic sound per se but rather new nice sounds. I do think the soprano size is a factor in the classic sound

pulelehua
09-12-2011, 11:16 AM
Those old ukuleles are famously VERY thin. Mike allowed my to play a 20s Martin and it was light as a feather. And LOUD! And, as has been discussed on other threads, a lot of people's "classic sound" involves tuning ADF#B.

One of the things Mike taught me about was fine sanding (a bit like Char was saying). Once you get a ukulele to be light, just shaving off 5 grams can make a difference. Bracing needs to be thin. Everything. Of course then there's balance issues, as necks have a certain amount of mandatory weight (solid necks, frets, fingerboard, head, tuners).

As I said, complicated. (Which is why I only scratch the surface of understanding) And if you read luthier's discussions, they sometimes don't really know how they've accomplished certain effects themselves.

I secretly think it involves magic.

gyosh
09-12-2011, 11:55 AM
First, what constitutes a "better" sound is subjective. Anyone who makes custom ukuleles will tell you that different people want different things. Some like prefer the warm sound of a Kamaka koa ukulele (i.e, they like that sound better), while others prefer brighter woods. like spruce, myrtle, cedar and maple.

As to why lighter ukuleles might sound better to you, I learned a few things about sound during a long chat I had a long chat over the weekend with Char Mayer, who builds Mya-Moe ukuleles with her husband, Gordon. One of the things I learned is that all other things being equal (for example, the same soundboard thickness), woods like spruce and cedar are louder and brighter because they're less dense woods that resonate (vibrate) more than denser woods. More vibration tends to equal louder and brighter sound. Also, when I told Char that I was looking for a tenor ukulele with a brighter sound that a Kamaka koa tenor, she said that if I liked the look of koa, she had some koa sets that she could sand thinner to brighten the sound. So one way to make a denser wood brighter is to make it thinner, which apparently increases a denser wood's ability to vibtate.

Did you order one?

hmgberg
09-12-2011, 02:13 PM
I have a few Hawaiian koa sopranos from the 1920s. They are really loud and barky. I did some work to them and in the process noticed that they are extraordinarily thin, light and were made without bridge patches, hence, loud and barky. However, I don't love the tone quality overall.