PDA

View Full Version : Soft wood tops: thoughts, experiences, favorite type



Doc_J
11-24-2012, 06:45 PM
Some folks (including luthiers) say the top wood doesn't matter so much on a uke as compared to a guitar. The uke design and build are said to be more important. For example, the Mya-moes of different wood and tops all sound pretty similar. I guess this is from the individual "voicing" of their tops. Other folks/luthiers prefer softwood tops. Maybe this is really just dependent on the luthier's design and approach to building ukes. From my limited experience I think that soft wood tops do help create a great sounding uke. I'm not sure I like the looks of soft wood tops. Cedar and redwood seem to be popular tops along with spruce. Some side and back hardwood combinations look good (redwood and Myrtle, Walnut and cedar, rosewood and spruce, etc.) . I've noticed most uke manufactures have added softwood tops to their line over the last couple of years.

A couple of my best sounding ukes are sitka spruce tops. I have a cedar top too, that seems to soften and darken the tone in a good way. I had a redwood top uke that quite frankly I did not enjoy. Redwood seemed to be way too soft and affected the treble end of the sound in an unflattering way, but it did have some nice bass and low frequency harmonics. It also dented very easy. I had a good luthier talk me out of redwood once in favor of spruce, early in my uke playing. Glad I listened to him, as the resulting uke was excellent. I have also heard Port Orford cedar has some nice properties too (yes, I know it really is a cypress ).

So, I right now, spruce is my favorite softwood top material. It seems stronger than redwood or cedar, doesn't darken any sound, and projects well, too. I've never tried the different varieties of spruce tone wood (Engelmann , Adirondack , etc). Maybe some folks have preferences for these?

Anyways just wanted to get the discussion rolling. Let me know what experiences (good or bad) you have had with softwood tops, and how well you like them.

Dan Uke
11-24-2012, 07:36 PM
Doc, very interesting and its good to hear from someone who had experience it dfft types of woods. You'll get difference of opinion from luthiers as well so ultimately it's very subjective and it's what you like.

I thought I liked koa the best cuz its what the original ukes were made from but ukes are from Portugal so I am very open to many types of woods as well. When I asked a luthier why he didn't make ukes with koa, he said that they don't have as much overtones like other woods. Don't know exactly what that means but since he doesn't make koa ukes, I got a difft top wood. However, koa sure looks nice!

I'm very curious of cedar as I heard that it opens up the quickest but I heard there's been studies that some lose their voice later. Hmmm...I wished Kamaka or Martin had cedar ukes to validate the sound 70 years later but I assume there must be some old cedar classical guitars.

I do like my Sitka Spruce top and since I don't usually play traditional Hawaiian music, I am very open to other softwood tops as well. Thanks for starting this tread Doc.

coolkayaker1
11-24-2012, 07:51 PM
Interesting to hear your opinions, DocJ and nongdam. Someone will chime in that it's as much the build as the wood...so I'll get that out of the way and say it here now. lol

I have had (scratches head and thinks) Hawaiian koa, cedar, sinker redwood, spruce and mahogany topwoods (to name the ones I can recall).

My cedar topped, redwood body Pono tenor was the absolute best sounding ukulele I have ever owned. I sold it on eBay in a fit of stupidity (it even had a pickup!), and have been aching to duplicate it ever since.

Pippin
11-24-2012, 11:00 PM
The rumors of cedar losing its voice are not true. Cedar gets warmer and sweeter with age-- and that IS its voice. Redwood is warm and sweet and pretty much stays that way. I have heard people say that it loses its voice, too. Nope, not true. A LOT DEPENDS ON ATMOSPHERIC CONDITIONS (humidity). If your relative humidity is about 50 percent all the time, you won't notice much difference for years if not decades, but, all wood ages and the tone changes.

As for opening up, so to speak, all solid wood instruments and some laminated instruments open up, to some degree. It's a matter of playing the instrument and age itself, but much depends on humidity, again.

Redwood is not as frequently used on musical instruments. It has advantages, but, it is soft. Cedar is soft too. In wood-working, spruce is also soft and all are easy to "work" for instrument building, but luthiers tend to try and convince people to use woods they already have in the shop, because they make more money when they do. No great mystery is involved here.

Adirondack spruce is considered the best of the spruces and its voice is sweeter, to my ears. It is the most expensive of the lot and not as available... but it's not rare. Most builders just don't keep it on hand because of the cost.

As for voicing on ukulele being pointless... many mediocre ukulele builders claim this, but ask one of the true greats and you will get strong opinions. I can tell you that voicing can be vastly different from one wood to another on an otherwise identically built uke. It's true that with guitars, there is a more appreciable difference (all things considered), but how a ukulele is built and the wood used (combined) can me a huge difference.

Doc_J
11-25-2012, 04:31 AM
I thought I liked koa the best cuz its what the original ukes were made from but ukes are from Portugal so I am very open to many types of woods as well. When I asked a luthier why he didn't make ukes with koa, he said that they don't have as much overtones like other woods. Don't know exactly what that means but since he doesn't make koa ukes, I got a difft top wood. However, koa sure looks nice!

I'm very curious of cedar as I heard that it opens up the quickest but I heard there's been studies that some lose their voice later. Hmmm...I wished Kamaka or Martin had cedar ukes to validate the sound 70 years later but I assume there must be some old cedar classical guitars.

I do like my Sitka Spruce top and since I don't usually play traditional Hawaiian music, I am very open to other softwood tops as well. Thanks for starting this tread Doc.

Daniel, I agree with you about the koa ukes. I love the sound of my solid koa ukes too. But my soft top ukes can sound better on some contemporary music.

Even new softwood topped ukes still take some time to open-up some. My first Spruce top from Boat Paddle, sounded better after a month or two of playing, and even better after 6 months.




My cedar topped, redwood body Pono tenor was the absolute best sounding ukulele I have ever owned. I sold it on eBay in a fit of stupidity (it even had a pickup!), and have been aching to duplicate it ever since.

I heard those Rosewood/cedar top Ponos were great. Yeah Steve, I've sold a few ukes I wish had back too.

haole
11-25-2012, 04:43 AM
I think they sound great. Too bad they're boring to look at, and I find them too guitar-like. Curly redwood is the exception, and I'd consider that as a top for a custom instrument if I wasn't in debt up to my eyeballs. :(

If I were to get a custom uke made in Hawai'i, it would be awfully silly to use wood shipped in from Maine or Washington. I wonder if there's a local soft-ish Hawaiian wood that would make a good top?

dkwan9
11-25-2012, 05:42 AM
I've never tried a redwood top before (curly or otherwise) but I am very curious. They are highly sought after for custom guitar that can cost several thousands. I saw on the ukerepublic website that Ohana has a few redwood-topped ukes coming out soon.

we tigers
11-25-2012, 05:56 AM
I'm so looking forward to my Covered Bridge redwood & myrtle concert! After reading this thread even more!

Doc_J
11-25-2012, 05:58 AM
I've seen a few ukes with the "sinker" redwood tops. They are pretty good looking wood tops.
These sinker logs are said to have been at the bottom of rivers/lakes for 100 years or more.
The absorbing of minerals in the sinker logs over time affects the sound of tops also. Although, I'm not sure exactly how different it makes them sound.
I'm looking to try a redwood uke again, some day.


I'm so looking forward to my Covered Bridge redwood & myrtle concert! After reading this thread even more!

That should be a really nice uke! Is it a sinker top?

hoosierhiver
11-25-2012, 06:02 AM
I've always wondered about American Sassafras as a top. It would smell nice too.

Newportlocal
11-25-2012, 06:14 AM
I've seen a few ukes with the "sinker" redwood tops. They are pretty good looking wood tops.
These sinker logs are said to have been at the bottom of rivers/lakes for 100 years or more.
The absorbing of minerals in the sinker logs over time affects the sound of tops also. Although, I'm not sure exactly how different it makes them sound.
I'm looking to try a redwood uke again, some day.



That should be a really nice uke! Is it a sinker top?

I agree and don't think they look boring at all. I am having a custom made with a sinker redwood top right now.

KimosTherapy
11-25-2012, 06:36 AM
Aloha fellow UUers!

I haven't posted in a llllllooooooooonnnnggggg while! I see that that there are plenty of new UUers now, too!

For the longest time, Western Red Cedar tops have been my favorite. Just love the rich mellow warmth of tone. Then ... I bought a Van Pelt Sinker Redwood Top/Curly Koa Back & Sides tenor uke and IMHO to my ears, sounds the BEST!!! Cedar is a close second. Found a luthier with some Sinker Cedar and I'm considering trying it on my next custom uke. Here's the Van Pelt uke that I acquired a few months ago from Steve and put through the paces by none other then Bruddah Mike(MGM) at the Reno Uke Fest. Bruddah Mike has a Van Pelt uke with the exact same specs as mine in the pipeline as we speak. Oh ... and I LOVE sideports!!! For me, having a sideport is now a must have!


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLpNuyeb_4g

Newportlocal
11-25-2012, 07:51 AM
Aloha fellow UUers!

I haven't posted in a llllllooooooooonnnnggggg while! I see that that there are plenty of new UUers now, too!

For the longest time, Western Red Cedar tops have been my favorite. Just love the rich mellow warmth of tone. Then ... I bought a Van Pelt Sinker Redwood Top/Curly Koa Back & Sides tenor uke and IMHO to my ears, sounds the BEST!!! Cedar is a close second. Found a luthier with some Sinker Cedar and I'm considering trying it on my next custom uke. Here's the Van Pelt uke that I acquired a few months ago from Steve and put through the paces by none other then Bruddah Mike(MGM) at the Reno Uke Fest. Bruddah Mike has a Van Pelt uke with the exact same specs as mine in the pipeline as we speak. Oh ... and I LOVE sideports!!! For me, having a sideport is now a must have!


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLpNuyeb_4g

Very nice! My Compass Rose will have a sideport too, and a Cocobolo body. Glad you are liking your uke.