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Dave-0
02-12-2013, 10:01 AM
As I get past the very early stages of learning chords and more importantly, smooth chord changes...and learning to fingerpick...and learning to read tabs and standard notation.....and trying to not get discouraged with those #%$* bar chords(!).....I'm slowly building a vocabulary and knowledge base on what I want in a nice ukulele. I'm currently plinking away on a very cheap Diamond Head soprano, and know that there are much nicer instruments that would add to my enjoyment and the overall experience of playing a ukulele.

My question....(actually 2 questions)

#1. In the sub-$200 market, given lower priced solid bodies like KPK's and the blowout of the Kala GAC at HMS....is there really a sound difference between solid bodies and laminates in the lower price ranges?

#2. Is there a tone difference between different woods on the fronts of ukuleles? I'm after a warmer, mellower sound and was wondering if I'd hear a difference between mahogany, acacia, zebrawood etc etc. Or, is any tone difference really a function of build construction and not so much the type of wood used?

Thanks!

FairyGodmartyr
02-12-2013, 10:08 AM
I only have two ukes, a laminate Lanikai and a mahogany Mainland. And, yes, there is a very noticeable difference in the tones of the two. I can't speak to the various woods, though.

Kamanaaloha
02-12-2013, 10:43 AM
I suggest you demo whenever possible...but I caveat this with: even similarly made ukulele from the same manufacturer with the same wood and bracing system can result in different sounding ukulele as I found out in person with two K1-T Premiums...

Now that being said looking at 2 Ponos side by side one with solid acacia versus one with solid mahogany should answer your questions.

My observation is this: I think Mahogany is the brighter way to go, imho...and warmth would be toward Acacia...but in terms of Koa versus Acacia...I like Koa because of its truly Hawaiian experience which Acacia can only duplicate, but is not "Hawaiian", imho. I like brighter/richer sound unless it is a Koa versus other wood choice...Kou > [Milo = Koa] > Mahogany/Acacia/Maple/Pheasant/etc.

Ultimately, I do not think you can answer this question short of $400ish. Solid will always be > laminate, unless there is a quality control issue, imho.

pulelehua
02-12-2013, 10:45 AM
There are major differences, though the actual construction methods are incredibly important. The more dense the top wood, generally, the brighter the sound. Zebrawood is more dense than acacia, so acacia will tend to give a warmer sound. That being said, you get into particulars of woods (the density of koa and mahogany are comparable, yet there are many players who swear by one, and would never touch the other). And again, manufacture methods are the most important factor.

The best thing is to try some, or get onto Youtube and listen to some. Though, I would advise only make comparisons on Youtube of high quality recordings done in consistent-ish surroundings. MusicGuyMike used to record the same little tune with the same basic equipment, so you could get an idea of the differences between ukuleles by watching his videos. Mya-Moe has done some work trying to explain differences in tonewoods, both in print and in recording.

It's an enormous world you're stepping into. Ask lots of questions, and people who know much more than me will provide wisdom and answers. ;)

OldePhart
02-12-2013, 11:49 AM
To answer your first question - in the sub-$200 range there are significant differences in sound and playability between different copies of the "same" uke from the same manufacturer! In short, in this price range it's really important to deal with someone you trust and, if you can't test-drive the instrument before buying it, someone with a good "no quesitons asked" return policy. This is a "difficult" price range in that you're not up where you can expect "duds" to be extremely rare, but are spending enough money that getting a dud is really disappointing.

You can get some very good ukes, laminate or solid, at this price point but you can also get some real duds, even in the solid-wood ukes.

John

Briangriffinukuleles
02-12-2013, 07:16 PM
As I get past the very early stages of learning chords and more importantly, smooth chord changes...and learning to fingerpick...and learning to read tabs and standard notation.....and trying to not get discouraged with those #%$* bar chords(!).....I'm slowly building a vocabulary and knowledge base on what I want in a nice ukulele. I'm currently plinking away on a very cheap Diamond Head soprano, and know that there are much nicer instruments that would add to my enjoyment and the overall experience of playing a ukulele.

My question....(actually 2 questions)

#1. In the sub-$200 market, given lower priced solid bodies like KPK's and the blowout of the Kala GAC at HMS....is there really a sound difference between solid bodies and laminates in the lower price ranges?

#2. Is there a tone difference between different woods on the fronts of ukuleles? I'm after a warmer, mellower sound and was wondering if I'd hear a difference between mahogany, acacia, zebrawood etc etc. Or, is any tone difference really a function of build construction and not so much the type of wood used?

Thanks!
Dave-O, if warm tone is what you are after, forget mahogany, acacia, zebra wood, etc. etc. get yourself a uke with a good top of Western Red Cedar. second choice, Redwood. Cedar is just perfect for the ukulele size.
Brian Griffin

Rick Turner
02-12-2013, 07:33 PM
Be very careful about that myth of density...in fact it's utter bullshit. There are dense woods...and other materials...that have very high damping factor. Ebony is typically more dense than rosewoods, yet rosewoods are typically more resonant. Lead is very dense; it damps vibrations like crazy...it's a very effective anti-resonant material.

There is a whole list of mechanical engineering properties for different woods (and all other materials, for that matter), and to focus on density is just plain wrong. It's the recipe of characteristics that really count. Density, stiffness to weight ratio (aka modulus of elasticity or Young's modulus), tensile strength along grain, tensile strength across the grain, etc....

pulelehua
02-13-2013, 01:49 AM
Be very careful about that myth of density...in fact it's utter bullshit. There are dense woods...and other materials...that have very high damping factor. Ebony is typically more dense than rosewoods, yet rosewoods are typically more resonant. Lead is very dense; it damps vibrations like crazy...it's a very effective anti-resonant material.

There is a whole list of mechanical engineering properties for different woods (and all other materials, for that matter), and to focus on density is just plain wrong. It's the recipe of characteristics that really count. Density, stiffness to weight ratio (aka modulus of elasticity or Young's modulus), tensile strength along grain, tensile strength across the grain, etc....

Rick, I'm happy to say that what I know about wood would fill the tip of your little finger, but boy did you just call a whole lot of people much smarter than me wrong! Is this a case where density is totally useless in understanding the acoustic properties of wood, or where it is one factor amongst several, but is still important? Because those are two very different statements.

HeWhoTalksLoudSayinNothin
02-13-2013, 02:05 AM
For comparison of the tonewoods koa, mahogany, myrtle and walnut, the guys at mya-moe have put up a nice video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEEgdUvzJao

wendellfiddler
02-13-2013, 11:55 AM
Wow. That's a really cool comparison. I really like all of them except the one with the spruce top. To me, ukes with spruce tops tend to sound like little guitars - not that it's a bad thing, but I like the special uke sound of the others. I have a koa and a mahogany uke and I'm waiting on a walnut one - the difference between the koa and the mahogany is substantial even though they are built in very similar ways by the same maker. The Walnut one I'm waiting on is a different maker. We'll see. I'm hoping for a big sound that will work well on stage with a mic.

Rick Turner
02-13-2013, 12:41 PM
Density is not a useless factor; it's just not the only factor to look at, and so when anyone makes a broad statement that density equates with a certain sound or sustain characteristic, it's just very short sighted. Density, in and of itself, is meaningless when it comes to sonic characteristics. As one factor in a recipe of physical characteristics, it starts to make sense when you understand it in relationship to the others.

If you're going to narrow it down to one feature...one measurable characteristic...the most important would be stiffness to weight ratio...aka Young's Modulus or Modulus of Elasticity. It correlates very closely with the speed of sound through the material. Also, the degree to which the wood is isotropic or anisotropic is important. That is whether the wood is equally stiff and strong in the two main directions...along the grain or across the grain...or is stiffer one way than the other...which is especially true with spruce, cedar, redwood.

Density is interesting, and it's usually expressed as a ratio in comparison to water. If a block of wood doesn't quite float and doesn't quite sink, it's density is about 1.0. If it floats, it's density is less than 1.0; if it sinks, it's density is greater than 1.0.

If you are going to get all scientific about it, the highest stiffness to weight ratio to the lowest density is what we're looking for usually in a top to get the most efficient transduction of string energy into acoustical energy. In other words, stiff and light gives the luthier the most to work with. Then one can tweak towards sonic goals.

rickmorgan2003
02-13-2013, 06:26 PM
You also have to take into consideration that no two pieces of wood are identical. Depending on growing conditions, when the wood was harvested, how it was let to dry and stabilize ...... all these and more affect how that particular piece will sound. You can make general statements about wood species and tone but there are always exceptions. As mentioned earlier, the best way to judge is to play a prospective uke. If a seller had multiple ukes of the same model, play a couple to see and feel the difference.
BTW, in general I love the way walnut ukes sound, especially ones from Claro Walnut. I think they are just a little warmer and have more depth than mahoganies. Also a very sustainable wood species. Just my opinion though.

DewGuitars
02-14-2013, 05:27 AM
There is also a huge difference at times between material of the same species. Not all mahogany sounds like all mahogany. I have some that sounds like typical mahogany, and some that sounds more like rosewood or one of the acacias.
I'm not familiar enough with acacia koa from Hawaii as much as I am acacia melanoxylon from Tasmania, but they are supposedly pretty similar. I'm not sure they wouldn't yield very similar results in the hands of the same luthier. I think that damping factor has a lot to do with it as Rick describes. Blanket statements are pretty hard to make unless you're speaking in terms of Young's Modulus. That said I'm not accustomed to testing every sample to determine where it lies, I'm more likely to flex the wood and tap it to get a sense of its properties.

Rick Turner
02-14-2013, 07:28 AM
Flexing, scratching, and tapping are valid ways to evaluate stiffness once you've done it a lot. Your body becomes a finely tuned "scientific" instrument. That's the old-style luthier's way, and it does work...if you know what you're doing. There are "modern" ways to determine all the factors...Lucchi elasticity tester, deflection testing with very carefully controlled methods, density testing, etc.

I once asked Todd at Allied Lutherie why he didn't do Lucchi testing on tops instead of grading visually. His answer was basically that if he did, nobody would buy any of the lesser numbered tops!

Violin maker David Morse tests his wood via Lucchi meter and also measures density by quickly floating a billet the long way in water, marking the water line, then he flips the wood 180, and does it again. He then marks the half way point between the two water lines...then measures total length and distance from one end to that half way point. Divide one measurement by the other, and you have the specific gravity for that particular piece of wood, no matter what the shape or taper or whatever. He is then guided by the Lucchi number and the density in how he graduates the wood.

pulelehua
02-14-2013, 09:46 AM
K. This thread just got confusing. In a good way. :)

I'm going to look up some stuff, and see if I can make sense of it. Got to look into Young's Modulus. If nothing else other than to drop it into conversation at some point. "Well, you know, according to Young's Modulus..."

This is great stuff, o wise ones. Thanks very much!

John

Rick Turner
02-14-2013, 10:21 AM
Teasing apart all the measurable mechanical properties that go into any material...wood, plastics, metal, whatever...is the real trick. For instance, most folks just kind of take it for granted that strength is the same as stiffness. Well, it's not. Strength isn't even the same as strength! There's tensile strength and compressive strength, for instance. In our daily lives, concrete has high compressive strength and low tensile strength. That's why they put steel rebar...which has high tensile strength...in concrete walls, bridges, etc. Carbon fiber has very high tensile modulus...aka modulus of elasticity, aka Young's modulus...but Aramid fibers (Kevlar) have higher tensile strength, that is the ultimate yield under load point is higher. The key to carbon fiber is that it barely stretches before reaching it's tensile limit whereas Kevlar will stretch. Knowing how to use these properties...which are also found in wood...is one of the keys to understanding the very concept of "tone wood".

DewGuitars
02-14-2013, 01:09 PM
Gosh Rick, I never do tire of hearing you talk about stuff like this... There are very few of you guys out there (thinking about Al Carruth specifically) who really study this stuff on this level, to which many of us are indebted.
Still thinking about trying to find a way to get you back here in Providence to do a Campfire Uke class for all these teenagers who need a class project. I should give the folks at Moses Brown a call to see if they can host it, or even if they have facilities for it. Life gets crazy though, as you I'm sure are well aware!

csibona
02-14-2013, 05:22 PM
So, in your price range I would highly recommend a Flea or Fluke.

Rick Turner
02-14-2013, 05:36 PM
Moses Brown has a wonderful woodworking shop in the same building it was in when I graduated...1962! I went back for a reunion last spring, and there was some talk of my coming back to do a class, but nothing quite happened. I'll go through my emails and find the woman I talked to. Might be great next fall.

DewGuitars
02-15-2013, 01:41 AM
Well you know I'd love to help out in the class if you need any. I have a month of vacation this year and would gladly spend a week or so helping.