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SuperSecretBETA
10-19-2008, 11:21 AM
The Heretic's Guide to Alternative Lutherie Woods, by John Calkin.
http://www.guitarnation.com/articles/calkin.htm

I came across this article stating that the tonewood concept is a hoax. I just want to hear what others have to say. Controversy always stirs up a good conversation.

I thought these statements raised some eyebrows:


Can you tell what a guitar is made of while listening to an unfamiliar recording? No one I know claims they can. No one at the blind listening sessions I've attended could reliably distinguish between mahogany and rosewood guitars, or maple and koa guitars for that matter.


The tone of a guitar lies more in the hands of the builder than in the materials from which it is constructed.


It's been my experience that hardwoods thinned to the same flexibility as a plate of softwood produce similar tone qualities, though very hard species will be dangerously thin by the time this point is reached.

The mahogany used in vintage guitars/ukuleles (Honduran?) were used because it was cheap and in large supply. Nato "eastern mahogany" is now the budget wood that traditional mahogany once was. These days, we consider traditional mahogany to be one of the best tonewoods. I'm just curious to hear other opinions.

Pete Howlett
10-19-2008, 12:06 PM
I am always getting flamed for expressing similar ideas. My experience is based on:
Building 400 ukulele in all sorts of wood
Researching, measuring and playing an extensive American ukulele collection
Recently playing part of a 120 Hawaiian ukulele collection

So, although not an expert here is my views - and please don't chop me down for it. They are what I have come to rely on to help me produce good ukulele and earn, after 14 years a small place in the pantheon of modern builders:nana:

I cannot often tell one wood from another in the blind test thingy although koa does have its own distinct bright sound. This can also be achieved by tightening up the front of an instrument with a curve or stiff bracing and adjusting the front thickness. And yet, for some bizarre reason, Mahogany seems to make for my designs the best soprano and tenor ukulele. I agree that in the old days it was the wood of choice because it was perceived as being cheap - but so was koa! It is only since the dwindling supply of Brazilian Rosewood has really bitten the musical instrument trade that koa is now considered in the same league and is almost as expensive as Brazilian.

However mahogany is now protected like Brazilian Rosewood and I personally am turning to local indigenous woods. I have found English yew (USA will have pacific yew) to be great for soprano and concert and I have my first tenor commission to build. I am trying cherry, walnut and London plane (USA sycamore) and have just had my Finnish friend Sepi find some masur birch for me.

I think we have to think seriously now of breaking away from traditional tonewoods and going for local - you lucky hawaiians carry on...:bowdown: the rest of us will have to make do! And yet, if I could justify it there would be many American woods I'd try. Top of my list would be naturally seasoned walnut - not the plummy stuff you get from Builders Supply or Home Depot. Dom's recent tenor he featured on this forum was made with such stuff and it looked and sounded great. American cherry can also make spectacular ukulele and although neither of these woods is yet considered a traditional tonewood, their time is soon coming...(I know Taylor, Breedlove and bespoke luthiers use these woods so watch for everyone elso to fall in line as they realise the potential on their own doorstep.)

It's just a matter of time that the big hitters will change the way we think about wood. I built ladder braced blues guitars out of Oak and spalted low grade red spruce in the late 90's and they really sounded like the real thing. We need to wean ourselves off of the traditional tonewoods and take a leap of faith. I am and it is working:nana:

deach
10-19-2008, 12:18 PM
So Pete, if you had to build a uke for yourself and it would be the ONLY uke you could ever own, ever, would select the wood based on the look?

Pete Howlett
10-19-2008, 12:31 PM
It would always be curly koa - I'm in love with it but it would break the rules wouldn't it? So it would have to be English yew - the sound is unique but the look is just, so, in your face gorgeous!

SuperSecretBETA
10-19-2008, 12:52 PM
I started debating the whole tonewood thing just yesterday after I played a Greg Bennett concert ukulele made of mindi wood, typically used in making furniture, and a flat finish. It was constructed really well, but the strings were horrible. My perception at the moment is it seems like all you need is a well-constructed uke, the proper strings, and someone to play it for an awesome sound.

Pete Howlett
10-19-2008, 01:29 PM
When I was doing guitar shows in the US, in the dealer/exhibitor hour as we toured the hall looking for bargains my partner would not let me play any of the other vendors' instruments... I could demo ours but not try theirs since he claimed they would put up the price... guess you are right.

h-drix
10-19-2008, 01:44 PM
and someone to play it for an awesome sound.

i bet anyone that if i gave aldrine or jake a $10 tourist "uke" they can make it sound like a million bucks (as long as it is decently in tune:p)

UkeNinja
10-19-2008, 03:45 PM
i bet anyone that if i gave aldrine or jake a $10 tourist "uke" they can make it sound like a million bucks (as long as it is decently in tune:p)
And with this remark, the circle is closed again: the construction would be a key factor here, and that can not be had for $10. Nice conclusion.

(I picked my main ukulele because it gives me shivers every time, even if I strum it with my clumsy rake-like paws)

acabooe
10-19-2008, 05:30 PM
Truth be told, I am new to the luthier game, having only been doing this just over a year.
But I will say one thing. I can play my Kala tenor ( koa veneer body ) and then I can play my Hana Lima tenor ( western red cedar soundboard and bubinga back and sides ) and the differences are startling.

I am more of an artistic right brained thinker, so i couldn't quote you statistics of various woods, but I do know that there is a difference between woods. Especially for the soundboard. The back and sides don't matter as much ( case in point the paper mashay guitar in the smithsonian, ) but the soundboard, and the bracing that is attached to it are everything ( ok just about n e ways )

That's all I wanted to say.
Bob

SuperSecretBETA
10-19-2008, 08:33 PM
I can play my Kala tenor ( koa veneer body ) and then I can play my Hana Lima tenor ( western red cedar soundboard and bubinga back and sides ) and the differences are startling.

A laminate/veneer seems perfectly understandable to have a difference in sound compared to a solid wood ukulele. I would think that falls into the category of its construction--including their different build plans. If the Kala built a uke of the same Hana Lima woods, I'm willing to bet the differences would remain startling. This is merely a speculation of mine, but it seems to make sense to me.

Kekani
10-20-2008, 05:58 PM
In the "blind" test, I agree with Pete and the article - its very difficult, although it can be done. If I were to string all of my Tenors with the same strings (something I wouldn't do), and built them all exactly the same (something I wouldn't do), differences could be heard.

I also agree that sound lies in the hands of the builder.

As for the flexibility thing, not an issue. No one would do that, so the point is irrelevant. That said, hardwoods have much quicker decay than softwoods. Nuff said.

As for the back and sides - given all, say, Spruce tops. . .a difference can be heard. I describe it to my clients like this:
The relationship between the back and sides specific to the top is like a marriage. The top is the man (power and strength) while the back and sides are the woman (cradles, molds and shapes the sound).

Again, this is all based on something that is far from being realistically achievable - exactness in thickness and bracing between each individual instrument (along with other variables such as tension, load, etc).

I'm guessing the intent of this thread is to have fruitful discussion on whether we should pay attention to the woods selected for our instruments, or if it truly is a hoax. Well, buy one from the author, and I guess it doesn't matter.

Order one from any builder who knows better, and part of the consultation will be the selection of woods. For me (assuming Spruce tops):
Most underrated: Myrtlewood
Most overrated: Koa
Most impossible to get: Kou
Most likely to be mine: Milo
Eye candy (and PITA to work with, and what my family prefers): Quilted Maple

Just my $.02 - Aaron

deach
10-21-2008, 01:21 AM
This makes me want to buy one of each type to test everyone's theories.

At least that's what I'm going to tell my wife. yeah, um it's a science experiment.

julie
10-21-2008, 06:09 AM
I have a concert from MP Ukulele's being built with Myrtle back / sides and a cedar top. I can't wait! Mike has already started sending me in-process pix. If interested, I can post them here. I should probably also do a story on my site soon.

Regards,
Julie Strietelmeier
http://ukulelereview.com

Pete Howlett
10-21-2008, 08:27 AM
I made a myrtle and spruce concert that sounded brilliant - myrtle is very underated. It is extrodinarily pretty.

SuperSecretBETA
10-21-2008, 10:17 AM
I never played myrtlewood, I love how it looks.

When I first saw it, I thought of a few things:
folk
cabins
campfires
California gold rush

I did a quick search on its origins after, and it comes from the west coast (California and Oregon)! I guess my thoughts proved correct.


I think we have to think seriously now of breaking away from traditional tonewoods and going for local

Being from California and lucky to have myrtlewood (maple and walnut too I believe) locally grown, I fully endorse this idea. :D

Pete Howlett
10-21-2008, 10:22 AM
I have some myrtle but it isn't really fancy enough for ukes...

seeso
10-21-2008, 10:43 AM
I am of the opinion that tone woods do lend their specific tonal qualities to an instrument. Granted, the builder has the most influence on the sound, but the woods used are second.

I also would love to see some more soft woods being used for tops. I was checking out a list on Wikipedia, there aren't many softwoods around. Anyone ever hear a pine or a fir top? Cypress? Hemlock?

SuperSecretBETA
10-21-2008, 10:48 AM
I have some myrtle but it isn't really fancy enough for ukes...

Do you just own an unlucky set or do you feel that way about all myrtle?
I think the dark figured stuff looks great.

Pete Howlett
10-21-2008, 11:13 AM
Like all woods you get plain and fancy. With instruments it's important to strike a balance between plain and fancy - very important. My myrtle has none of the variagation you get with myrtle..

Lanark
10-21-2008, 01:39 PM
I also would love to see some more soft woods being used for tops. I was checking out a list on Wikipedia, there aren't many softwoods around. Anyone ever hear a pine or a fir top? Cypress? Hemlock?

That would be a question for DaveG. I won an auction for his #33 (http://www.wsukes.com/33/u33.html) on Ebay last week. (still very impatiently waiting for it to arrive.) and that one's got a fir top and oak back and sides. He's made a few fir tops it seems. (Check the vids.)

drubin
10-21-2008, 02:49 PM
I'd love to see pics of your MP in process, Julie. Mike has spoken very highly of Myrtle to me previously. :D

acabooe
10-21-2008, 06:49 PM
I am of the opinion that tone woods do lend their specific tonal qualities to an instrument. Granted, the builder has the most influence on the sound, but the woods used are second.

I also would love to see some more soft woods being used for tops. I was checking out a list on Wikipedia, there aren't many softwoods around. Anyone ever hear a pine or a fir top? Cypress? Hemlock?

I really enjoy the HUGE difference made by soft woods vs. hardwoods when used for soundboards, BUT the only down side is that since they are soft wood, then they are easily scratched and dented. The first misplaced fingernail or pick ( for those players that use them ) and there goes the flat unblemished soundboard.

I know because I recently had this happen to me btw.

Bob

Pete Howlett
10-21-2008, 10:29 PM
I've had great success with a cherry/spruce combination in tenors and concerts. I am dubious about the value of these guitar like combinations for sopranos - you tend to get very far away from the uke sound and IMHO the soprano sound is sacrosanct whereas the concert and tenor, as more recent additions to this ukulele family deserve experimentation. I can also understand the support for spruce/hardwood combinations on this forum with the support for evolving music forms and wide creative use of the ukulele.

I do want the soprano to stay a soprano:bowdown:

dave g
10-22-2008, 09:41 AM
That would be a question for DaveG. I won an auction for his #33 (http://www.wsukes.com/33/u33.html) on Ebay last week. (still very impatiently waiting for it to arrive.) and that one's got a fir top and oak back and sides. He's made a few fir tops it seems. (Check the vids.)

Spruce, Pine, and Fir are all very similar to one another. You can make really good instrument tops from all three, and you can make very bad tops from all three as well. What you're after is tight grain quarter sawn stuff :)

Pete Howlett
10-22-2008, 10:54 AM
Not necessarily Dave - some early Martin guitars show Adirondack spruce with 5 grain lines to the inch! About as low-grade as you can get and they sound wonderful! Tight quartersawn will give the necessary stiffness in most softwood species but Douglas Fir/Columbian Pine that you get in Home Depot is really stiff even with wavy grain etc... for a uke tho, I don't think it much matters. It's just nice to have quartersawn and the silking you get with it for a visual testimony of the greatness of creation :cool:

GX9901
10-22-2008, 11:24 AM
I'd love to see pics of your MP in process, Julie. Mike has spoken very highly of Myrtle to me previously. :D

Wonderful...all this talk about myrtle has gotten me thinking about possibly getting one...anyone wants to take about 5-6 ukes off my hands???:p

SuperSecretBETA
10-22-2008, 12:36 PM
Wonderful...all this talk about myrtle has gotten me thinking about possibly getting one...anyone wants to take about 5-6 ukes off my hands???:p

Me-thinks myrtle will go far with custom ukes because of this thread. :nana:

seeso
10-22-2008, 12:56 PM
Me-thinks myrtle will go far with custom ukes because of this thread. :nana:

There were also some praises sung to Myrtle in this thread (http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?p=64586).

Kekani
10-22-2008, 04:48 PM
Narciso,

You have the memory of an elephant!

How's about some Curly Spalted Myrtlewood, with a Spruce top?

http://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll290/kekani427/IMG_0087.jpg
http://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll290/kekani427/IMG_0085.jpg
http://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll290/kekani427/IMG_0089.jpg
http://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll290/kekani427/IMG_0088.jpg

SuperSecretBETA
10-22-2008, 05:48 PM
OoOoOoo... very nice. I would love to see a bookmatched version.

seeso
10-22-2008, 06:37 PM
That's a sweet looking uke, Kekani!

Kekani
10-22-2008, 08:52 PM
I would love to see a bookmatched version.

Not sure what you mean?

dave g
10-23-2008, 01:53 AM
How's about some Curly Spalted Myrtlewood, with a Spruce top?

Nice stuff! I'm working with some spalted maple now that looks a lot like that. :)

Kekani
10-23-2008, 09:00 AM
Be careful with the Spalted Maple. If Spalted Myrtle moves (which it does), Spalted Maple runs. One of my suppliers has the killer Spalted Maple, but has never sold me any for instrument building.

I know Kala gets away with it, but, I'm not sure if they're laminating or not. If they do, that would make sense.

Of course, my finishing process helps to stabilize now (more than before), so its not as bad compared to just shooting Nitro.

-Aaron

SuperSecretBETA
10-23-2008, 09:32 AM
Not sure what you mean?

You know, when you see a mirror image from left to right.
Maybe it's already bookmatched but not as symmetrical in terms of spalting.

Pete Howlett
10-23-2008, 11:28 AM
Perfect symmetry only occurs with quartered wood. Most log to board sawing regimes do not produce quartered boards, especially figured maple - it is generally slab sawn - if that makes sense....:cool:

I can see the bookmatch but it is not a perfect bookmatch - two different things I'm afraid.

SamWise
10-24-2008, 12:33 PM
I'm of the "it does make an appreciable difference" school of thought. I believe the top wood makes a lot more difference than the back and sides - my very subjective but quite extensive testing tells me that cedar tops are considerably mellower than spruce on guitars. I had the opportunity last month to test two Faith Mercury jumbo guitars, identical except for back and side wood, and finish. One was satin finish and mahogany back and sides, the other high gloss and rosewood. I could easily tell with my eyes shut which was which. The difference was small and subtle, but definitely there. I suppose it might have been the finish rather than the woods, but I doubt it.

Kekani
10-24-2008, 09:46 PM
You know, when you see a mirror image from left to right.
Maybe it's already bookmatched but not as symmetrical in terms of spalting.

Couple of things are going on with this piece of wood, which are basically anomalies. While grain orientation is "controllable", figuring is not. Add into that spalting. Just the mere fact that mold is doing some work is the reason why this would've been thrown away years ago. If you look past the most unimportant part of the wood (the figuring and spalting), you'll see the most important part.


Most log to board sawing regimes do not produce quartered boards, especially figured maple - it is generally slab sawn - if that makes sense....

I would agree that flatsawn boards are common, simply for economics. However, most builders in the custom arena are looking, and getting, quartered wood. I have a supplier of Curly Maple, quartered. Yes, there are those that saw flat for curly, but not necessary when quartered is available. Same supplier of quartered and VG Myrtle. The only flat wood I order from them is Quilted Maple, simply because the figure shows best on the flat face, no matter what you do. Perfect example of eye candy before quartered, and you leave that decision to the client.

As a side note, one of the best Tenors I've heard is my friend's 12 fret Martin, with non-bookmatched, flatsawn Mahogany. Go figure (no pun intended).

-Aaron