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View Full Version : Laminate bodies - does the top wood make any difference?



bennyhana22
12-11-2011, 09:36 PM
Hi guys

Nearly three months in and I am quite ridiculously obsessed with all things uke. I play every day and am driving the family crazy (purely with the frequency of playing, you understand - I actually make a pretty reasonable sound already!).

I've been wondering about the effect of materials on the tone and sound of laminate body ukes, as I eagerly await the arrival of my all koa Uluru Pukana La II for Christmas (YAY!).

I play a Lanikai CK-C, which is has koa laminate on top, sides and back - so my question is, in the case of laminate ukes, does the top layer of laminate have any effect on how the uke sounds and plays, or is it simply a cosmetic difference, and in fact an identical uke but with a mahogany laminate etc would sound the same?

Ben

kissing
12-11-2011, 09:53 PM
Some laminates are better than others.
A really good laminate top can perform competitively with solid tops, even outperforming some.
A poor quality laminate top would sound quite dead.

What kind of tone that a laminate top produces will depend on the layers that make up the laminate top.
When a uke is a laminate "Koa" top, it's hard to say what other woods are used underneath the pretty outer layer.

It would have to be a case by case analysis of what a particular laminate model sounds like.

bennyhana22
12-11-2011, 10:12 PM
Thanks, kissing - but I'm still uncertain!

I can understand that a good laminate can outperform a poor solid, but is that because of the quality of the wood/laminate, or the overall quality of construction? Your second point about the mystery regarding the under-layers suggests, quite logically, that it is in this part of the instrument that its tone and sound are determined. So, from that, would it be true to assume that the [I]type[I] of wood that is used for the laminate is, therefore, almost irrelevant, where as in the case of (similar quality) solid ukes, the type of wood is fundamental to how it sounds - e.g. the crispness of koa, the mellowness of mahogany etc?

Ben

kissing
12-12-2011, 01:00 AM
It's probably a combination of many factors.

The construction will surely be a big factor. How is it braced? And importantly, how thin is the top?
Generally, thinner the top, the better it vibrates.

What woods make up the laminate sandwich will also have an effect on its tone, since it affects how the top vibrates.
But I'm assuming it won't be as distinguishable as solid-topped instruments.


That said, here are my observations on a small number of laminate ukes I own.

My laminate Koa Oscar Schmidt Baritone uke has a sweet, mellow and warm tone.. something you'd expect from solid Koa.
My laminate Spruce Legacy baritone has a comparably brighter, punchier tone.. something you'd expect from solid spruce.
My laminate Mahogany Kala uke has a dark, heavy tone.. something you'd expect from solid mahogany.

Maybe it's just my imagination. Or maybe the laminates do behave a little like their tonewoods.
It's hard to say as the overall sound of an instrument depends on so many factors than what we can explain in basic terms.

bennyhana22
12-12-2011, 03:48 AM
What a brilliantly informed reply, kissing- thanks such a lot!

Ben

PhilUSAFRet
12-12-2011, 03:54 AM
Not all "laminates" are created equally. On quality instruments, the "laminate" (notice the quotes) is actually a thin veneer over quality, solid tone wood. Is it "technically" a laminate? Maybe, but cheaper laminates are more like "plywood" except very thin and are unable to resonate in the same way a veneer top would. In the uke world, the Sailor Brand ukes are a good example as are some high quality japanese laminates.

southcoastukes
12-12-2011, 04:00 AM
A good question.

As kissing mentioned, a lot of factors go into the equation, and with the laminates on factory built instruments, it is probably the sum of the parts that determines the sound.

There is a better answer if you are talking high-end "luthier-grade laminates". With guitars, there is a type of lamination known as the "double-top". It has a Nomex core, sandwiched between inner and outer layers that are typically Spruce or Cedar. With this arrangement, there's no argument that it's the outside layer that gives the top most of it's sound character.

On a factory built laminate, the core is not nomex - I wouldn't think the outer layer would be as free to "express itself".

A side note; with a high quality laminate back, in contrast, it is the inner, not the outer layer, that gives more character to the sound.

coolkayaker1
12-12-2011, 04:06 AM
http://ukeeku.com/2011/01/11/kiwaya-ks-1-full-review/

Nice review of one of the better (best?) laminate ukes, emphasizing what makes it great, in the link above.

So, yes, the laminate--especially the top soundboard--makes a big difference.

bennyhana22
12-12-2011, 04:57 AM
http://ukeeku.com/2011/01/11/kiwaya-ks-1-full-review/

Nice review of one of the better (best?) laminate ukes, emphasizing what makes it great, in the link above.

So, yes, the laminate--especially the top soundboard--makes a big difference.

Very interesting - thanks. BUT, it then begs the next question:

How does the average purchaser know anything about the quality of wood use in the laminated body of their instrument. Presumably cost is a guide, but clearly no guarantee. How do you know if you've got tonewood or plywood in there?!

I acknowledge that actually what matters is how the thing sounds, but still it'd be nice to know what you'd paid for.

For example, what can I likely discover about the materials used in my Lanikai CK-C, other than that it has Hawaiian Curly Koa covering the top, back and sides...? It retails at around 225 (GBP) and so is not cheap, for a laminated uke.

Ben

dnewton2
12-12-2011, 05:31 AM
http://ukeeku.com/2011/01/11/kiwaya-ks-1-full-review/

Nice review of one of the better (best?) laminate ukes, emphasizing what makes it great, in the link above.

So, yes, the laminate--especially the top soundboard--makes a big difference.

I don't understand how you came to this conclusion from that review. The only thing I found that might be relevent is the Sustain section saying the thin top really lets it ring. But that does not specify the laminate but more likely the entire top.

My feelings are typlically the laminate wood will have little effect on the overall tone.

Drew Bear
12-12-2011, 07:07 AM
How does the average purchaser know anything about the quality of wood use in the laminated body of their instrument. Presumably cost is a guide, but clearly no guarantee. How do you know if you've got tonewood or plywood in there?!...it'd be nice to know what you'd paid for.
I quickly surmised that you assume the worst. I have come across very few instances when either a manufacturer or retailer even uses the term "laminate", much less specify the type of wood they are using for that laminate. Yes, it would be nice to have full disclosure about what you are buying, but I would not hold my breath for that to happen.

Perhaps it's different in the UK, but here in the US I think many consumers still fail to distinguish between "mahogany" (translation: a laminate) and "solid mahogany". I think if there is to be any push for truth in advertising or labeling in the ukulele world, it needs to start here.

In your original post you write about waiting for an "all koa Uluru" uke. Someone here was asking about that brand a few weeks ago and could find few details about the company. Their prices are certainly attractive; it's just no one knows much about them. Please post a review when you get the chance.

bennyhana22
12-12-2011, 07:31 AM
I quickly surmised that you assume the worst. I have come across very few instances when either a manufacturer or retailer even uses the term "laminate", much less specify the type of wood they are using for that laminate. Yes, it would be nice to have full disclosure about what you are buying, but I would not hold my breath for that to happen.

Perhaps it's different in the UK, but here in the US I think many consumers still fail to distinguish between "mahogany" (translation: a laminate) and "solid mahogany". I think if there is to be any push for truth in advertising or labeling in the ukulele world, it needs to start here.

In your original post you write about waiting for an "all koa Uluru" uke. Someone here was asking about that brand a few weeks ago and could find few details about the company. Their prices are certainly attractive; it's just no one knows much about them. Please post a review when you get the chance.

Thanks for your reply, DB.

Yes, I'm getting an Uluru Pukana La II for Christmas, though since I'm travelling to Calgary next week to spend Xmas with my Dad, I won't actually get to open my present until 31 December! The dilemma was, take my Lanikai and have my uke for the first week of my vacation or don't take it but then have no uke until Christmas Day...despite my excitement for my new uke, the thought of not being able to play for a week was too much!

I agree, very little info seems to be available for Uluru ukes. What there is around seems universally glowing with praise, so I have high hopes - and yes, I managed to find one for 450 (GBP), so assuming that it is good, for an all-solid AAA Koa concert, that's a lot of uke-bang for your buck. I like the idea that I'll have a uke that not many people play!

I'll post a full review after I've played it for a while

Ben

poppy
12-12-2011, 07:40 AM
My opinion the type of wood used on the surface for finish has no effect on the sound period. The construction of the laminate and the uke will make the difference. Just like quality furnitue that has been laminated for years there is great stuff and garbage. About all you can do is play it and see if it produces the sounds and tones you desire. My KOA laminate does not even resemble a solid KOA sound. That said it is a fine sounding uke, just different, but a very nice appearing instrument and I'm sure because of the manufacturer It will last. Other than playing it yourself or listening to others here there really isn't a great way to evaluate the instrument.

coolkayaker1
12-12-2011, 06:03 PM
I agree with Poppy

Patrick Madsen
12-12-2011, 07:59 PM
Thanks for your reply, DB.

Yes, I'm getting an Uluru Pukana La II for Christmas, though since I'm travelling to Calgary next week to spend Xmas with my Dad, I won't actually get to open my present until 31 December! The dilemma was, take my Lanikai and have my uke for the first week of my vacation or don't take it but then have no uke until Christmas Day...despite my excitement for my new uke, the thought of not being able to play for a week was too much!

I agree, very little info seems to be available for Uluru ukes. What there is around seems universally glowing with praise, so I have high hopes - and yes, I managed to find one for 450 (GBP), so assuming that it is good, for an all-solid AAA Koa concert, that's a lot of uke-bang for your buck. I like the idea that I'll have a uke that not many people play!

I'll post a full review after I've played it for a while

Ben


It may take a while to notice the diffferent nuances but it'll come. on going up a couple of notches in quality and sound with the new uke. You'll notice a big difference. I've been playing guitar, banjo and uke for 53 years. i haven't found one, that I remember, that didn't need some work on the action; usually lowering it. Most manufactuers set the action a little high. If you've never done it before, take it to a competent luthier. Depending on the strings, that makes a huge difference also. I'm lookng forward to hear what you think of the two. The soundboard,top, type of wood makes a big difference. Cedar is mellow, spruce more bright etc.

MGM
12-12-2011, 08:44 PM
I think it's time for another blind all laminate. Laminate with solid top and all solid ukulele sound test. Last time I did this a few years ago it was difficult for posters ad the results were surprising. I will start working on it

ukuhippo
12-12-2011, 09:17 PM
I think it's time for another blind all laminate. Laminate with solid top and all solid ukulele sound test. Last time I did this a few years ago it was difficult for posters ad the results were surprising. I will start working on it

There can't be enough tests like these. A read several thread where a blind test would be great:

-about every 'this uke or that uke'-thread
-best uke under a certain amount of money
-why does my expensive uke sounds just like my cheap uke

poppy
12-13-2011, 10:15 AM
I think it's time for another blind all laminate. Laminate with solid top and all solid ukulele sound test. Last time I did this a few years ago it was difficult for posters ad the results were surprising. I will start working on it
Mike I couldn't agree more. The strings ,setup , build etc. probably have more effect overall. I think we all want a particular sound and it may take a type of wood to find it then again it may not lol. I was bound and determined not to buy KOA for fear of cracking in the midwest winters. Now I own two but I got it where I wanted. oddly my favorite amped uke is laminate lol. and different strings.

mandrew
12-13-2011, 11:09 AM
I recently got a concert Islander, which is a laminate. It sounds better than most laminates that I have heard, but it also benefits from good bracing, body design, quality of workmanship, right strings, setup, etc. I think that it is the total package that makes the biggest difference. I have heard solid spruce tops on reputable ukes that sound more like banjos than ukes. Yet, they had solid tops.