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View Full Version : Ukuleles sound better with age ? Myth or True



tangimango
09-04-2013, 10:25 PM
you may have heard from many players that if you play your insturment alot and as time goes by , the instrument will open up and sound better. what do you guys think? any old timers here that experienced this?

i have heard some old timers say the old martins which was built like a tank (some models) that survived the 50 years sound incredible.

AndrewKuker
09-04-2013, 10:42 PM
True as that is is.

tangimango
09-04-2013, 10:56 PM
True as that is is.

shootz :) that means our incredible sounding uke already will sound even better as long as build holds up.

Hippie Dribble
09-04-2013, 11:03 PM
Yep, true. For sure...

mm stan
09-04-2013, 11:51 PM
I've got spruce tops that matured and yellowed and sounds alot better...but the better the quality to start, it only gets better....

sugengshi
09-05-2013, 12:18 AM
I've got a solid mahogany that gets played a lot. It sounds so much better compared to my new mahogany.

armchair_spaceman
09-05-2013, 12:58 AM
I don't know about age but my ukes seem to sound better with beer.

uketeecee
09-05-2013, 01:07 AM
I'm not sure...

I've owned a lot of stringed instruments and yes, they do sound better as the years pass but that might be because I've improved as a player and I have gotten to know how to make the instrument sound its best.

One thing is certain, the better quality you start with the better it will sound. Now and in the future.

coolkayaker1
09-05-2013, 02:07 AM
Wine tastes better with age. Beer gets skunky and tastes worse.

Ukes are somewhere in between.

bluesuke
09-05-2013, 02:17 AM
I think it's true at least to my ear

phil hague
09-05-2013, 02:27 AM
Possibly. But I am getting better as I get older!

stevepetergal
09-05-2013, 02:54 AM
The question is almost unanswerable. There are experts that say an instrument will open up over some period of time and others who say a player simply develops the skills to make that instrument sound better over that initial period of time. Is there a way to test this phenomenon? Probably not one that would really answer the question. I tend to agree with the latter. I've bought used ukuleles that seemed to open up as I played them. But I knew it was either imaginary or I was getting better sound through practice with that instrument.

One thing's for sure. At some point wood begins to deteriorate. Once it's old, dried out, and cracked up, it's old, dried out, and cracked up.

stevepetergal
09-05-2013, 02:57 AM
Wine tastes better with age. Beer gets skunky and tastes worse.

Ukes are somewhere in between.

Hey Kayak boy! You have to drink the beer the same day you open it up.

Ukejenny
09-05-2013, 03:36 AM
I don't know about age but my ukes seem to sound better with beer.

Gotta try that. Wondering if margaritas would be a good substitution.

Ukejenny
09-05-2013, 03:41 AM
I want to make sound samples of my two ukuleles and want to come back in a few years and see if I can discern any change in tone. Simple, slow chord progressions and nothing technical. Of course, even a string change can make a big difference, so not a very controlled test.

As a wind player, I've never heard this discussed much in the clarinet world. The best clarinets, with that sweet tone, are said to always have that sweet tone. Some people believe the older the better as far as "they just don't make'em like they used to" and some folks have told me that after 10 years, you need to chuck your clarinet and start over. I have a 40+ year old clarinet and am not giving it up any time soon.

Cheeso
09-05-2013, 05:15 AM
I've heard it takes a good 20 years or so for the wood to open up. I don't think there's any scientific research on the matter. Who knows? I dunno...

coolkayaker1
09-05-2013, 05:35 AM
Hey Kayak boy! You have to drink the beer the same day you open it up.

Particularly, Bud Black Crown.

Magoosan
09-05-2013, 06:06 AM
Definitely true, but with solid wood instruments only.

peewee
09-05-2013, 06:15 AM
I think individual instruments can sound different at different times, due to humidity, fingernail length, string condition, mood. I think there may be a period of the various bonds and parts of a brand new instrument settling in, or even of a long unplayed instrument readjusting to the mechanics of string tension, etc, but I think tone wood "opening up" is faith based.
I have read that vibration changes the structure of the wood on a molecular level. As a former student of organic chemistry, I don't buy that at all.
If it were true, there would be lots more of these things around: http://tonerite.com/ukulele/vmchk
If there is some real proof of the phenomenon, beyond people believing in it, I would love to see it.

whepper
09-05-2013, 06:18 AM
It especially gets better in the first months, but it's also the strings that settle. Not every uke I own developed nicely. My Wixom didn't really open up for example, but it's quite a heavy uke compared to the others.

BigD
09-05-2013, 10:20 AM
Ive never had anything old enough to really know the difference but i do agree that the first months, even a couple weeks and you can feel a difference. Of course having strings settle makes a huge difference but putting the first good solid hour or two straight through it makes a difference, whether that is my ear or the wood i guess is hard to tell.

sugengshi
09-05-2013, 08:57 PM
What I know for sure is that the more I play, the more I like my ukes. :-)

Kevin B
09-06-2013, 12:10 AM
I sort of think the "better with age" wouldn't apply as much, if at all to my laminate ukes.

FrankBungle
09-06-2013, 12:59 AM
I am kinda skeptical about this opening-up thing.
in my opinion weather and humidity influence the sound a lot. an instrument can sound different each day.

cigarfan
09-06-2013, 01:04 AM
My hearing memory doesn't last. Can't remember from one month to another, much less years. But I can tell you it sounds fantastic right now!

strumsilly
09-06-2013, 02:14 AM
I haven't kept a uke long enough to tell. I have had some nice sounding vintage ukes[Martin, Gibson,Regal], but I suspect they sounded good when new. The fact that most of us are better player with time [practice] has to partially account for the "opening up" phenomenon.

uketeecee
09-06-2013, 02:25 AM
OK, how about a THEN and NOW comparison?
Martin sold a tenor ukulele in the early 1930's:

58334

Here's that Martin tenor uke as played by Cliff Edwards in 1935 when new:
http://youtu.be/gxMVctFhO88

Here's the same Martin tenor uke 70 years later:
http://youtu.be/X9fXqOz6yAc

What do you think? Has it opened up?

AndrewKuker
09-06-2013, 03:33 AM
Well I do know what I've experienced. I built a uke 15 years ago that I know has better bass response or range. If I only had a time machine. I would totally show you. But within the first few months the finish hardens and looses mass. Not all finishes. But even still long term change happens to the cell structure. The 'loose ends' of the hemicellulose break down chemically into CO2 and H2O over time, and the wood gets a little less dense and stiff as a result. see-
https://s4ee134128e51b.img.gostorego.com/809E82/cdn/media-v2/s4/ee/13/41/28/e5/1b/wood_cell_structure.png
Let's take a closer look….
https://s4ee134128e51b.img.gostorego.com/809E82/cdn/media-v2/s4/ee/13/41/28/e5/1b/wood_cell_structure2.png
case closed!

AndrewKuker
09-06-2013, 03:52 AM
Actually I change my vote. After watching this I'm convinced that it's all hype.

http://youtu.be/E-W3iLm9RRg?t=1m21s

HBolte
09-06-2013, 04:20 AM
Well I do know what I've experienced. I built a uke 15 years ago that I know has better bass response or range. If I only had a time machine. I would totally show you. But within the first few months the finish hardens and looses mass. Not all finishes. But even still long term change happens to the cell structure. The 'loose ends' of the hemicellulose break down chemically into CO2 and H2O over time, and the wood gets a little less dense and stiff as a result. see-
https://s4ee134128e51b.img.gostorego.com/809E82/cdn/media-v2/s4/ee/13/41/28/e5/1b/wood_cell_structure.png
Let's take a closer look….
https://s4ee134128e51b.img.gostorego.com/809E82/cdn/media-v2/s4/ee/13/41/28/e5/1b/wood_cell_structure2.png

case closed!

Come on, how about a bit more detail Andrew. :)

coolkayaker1
09-06-2013, 06:50 AM
Can the human ear detect the difference between old and new?

Andrew, your blind sound test of the five or so high end ukes showed it well... even between different complete brands of ukuleles, few (and perhaps not even statistically significant) could tell which was which. The whole KoAloha "has a bright sound" compared to Kamaka theory, etc. was put to rest.

To think someone could tell the difference between my 2012 Martin 2 and my 1945 Martin 2 on a blind sound test--I doubt it will happen. I sure can't.

Dan Uke
09-06-2013, 07:18 AM
To think someone could tell the difference between my 2012 Martin 2 and my 1945 Martin 2 on a blind sound test--I doubt it will happen. I sure can't.

OK...let's hear the test!!

However, the older uke doesn't always sound better. If I heard your vintage Martin 2 uke before and heard a newer Martin 2, it would be easier to tell. Not all older ukes sound better!!

Pxduke's test was easy for me to pick out the older vintage Martin cuz I've only heard a 1920s vintage Martin and never paid attention to the newer ukes so when I listened to his ukes, I tried to spot the uke which sounded similar.

The five K brand tests was difficult for me because I have never heard all five ukes tested so it became a guessing game. I bet more people would have gotten it right if they said which one is a Kamaka vs. Koaloha only.

TheOnlyUkeThatMatters
09-06-2013, 07:31 AM
Don't forget that not-so-great-sounding ukes tend to end up buried in closets (or landfills) as the years pass, while great-sounding ukes tend to end up in the hands of ukulele players. As time passes, this process increases the ratio of great-sounding ukes built in a given year to not-so-great-sounding ukes built in that same year. (This is the same reason that it's easy to find great music from the 1960s while it's not at all easy to find great music recorded this past week.) Does each individual uke sound better as the years pass? I don't know. Does each "generation" of ukes sound better as the years pass? Definitely.

AndrewKuker
09-06-2013, 08:15 AM
Can the human ear detect the difference between old and new?

Andrew, your blind sound test of the five or so high end ukes showed it well... even between different complete brands of ukuleles, few (and perhaps not even statistically significant) could tell which was which. The whole KoAloha "has a bright sound" compared to Kamaka theory, etc. was put to rest.

To think someone could tell the difference between my 2012 Martin 2 and my 1945 Martin 2 on a blind sound test--I doubt it will happen. I sure can't.

one thing to keep in mind is that sounds are brought closer together with uploading and a big factor is the speakers they come through. I'm still working on presenting comparisons best possible given those circumstances. Any shotgun or camera mic is a joke. Most all mics under $500 I can hear noticeable compression
I believe I've experienced improved volume and warmth on a number of occasions but it's true, there is so much to factor. And even if it was proven, 3db difference is considered "barely audible". But 80db is still more than 77. SOmetimes things could be measured and proved and still not "heard". Or maybe you hear what can't be measured.
Bottom line is this. Only buy an instrument you like the sound of. Don't let anyone tell you magic will happen. "Hang in there, 'cause in a couple years…woo boy, it'll be amazing". That's the hype. But as far as the "phenomenon" being real. I'd say often and to varying degrees there is definitely such a thing as "opening up". I've had many experiences but no proof and no desire to prove it. Personally I'm drawn more toward the art than the science, but stay open minded and try to understand what I perceive. Once I can offer a Free Aging Process, then I'll work on proving it.

v30
09-06-2013, 09:08 AM
Kind of a dumb question but if a uke was totally sealed (urethaned/stained etc).....both inside and outside. Would low humidity still cause shrinkage and cracking?

Joshypogi
09-06-2013, 09:42 AM
Absolutely better with age.

mikelz777
09-06-2013, 10:06 AM
Here's that Martin tenor uke as played by Cliff Edwards in 1935 when new:
http://youtu.be/gxMVctFhO88




Not to side track the conversation, but how does that woman keep pulling lit cigarettes out of thin air?

kkimura
09-06-2013, 10:11 AM
I don't know about age but my ukes seem to sound better with beer.

Don't know about my uke, but I do know that I sound better with beer.

mikelz777
09-06-2013, 10:28 AM
For you or the audience? :D

coolkayaker1
09-06-2013, 01:02 PM
Not to side track the conversation, but how does that woman keep pulling lit cigarettes out of thin air?

It's a classic palm. And she's good at it. But, despite that, I don;t know that she could hear the difference in a vintage versus newer uke.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G30vNCmMP1k

Here's Suzy Wandas in 1961:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uhtn9bIOPhA

uketeecee
09-06-2013, 02:09 PM
Does a ukulele get better with age? Yes.
Does a ukulele sound better with age? No.

strumsilly
09-06-2013, 02:18 PM
I think this is thing that is best to find out for yourself. Just identify one or two keepers from your ukuleles and make a goal to keep interested in playing long enough to find out the answer. There are several factors involved. You learn how to play better, your fingers learn where to go, and the wood changes. Even a plywood uke can sound a lot better just because you are a better player.
If you are buying a new or used ukulele, ignore the "opening up" and only buy based on what you hear when you are at the buying stage. If the instrument does indeed "open up" as many do eventually, it will just get better. But if you don't like it you wont play it and you will never know if it ever "opens up".
I think this really sums it up.

mikelz777
09-06-2013, 02:34 PM
It's a classic palm. And she's good at it.

Where is she getting all the lit cigarettes? You can clearly see that she's tossing the cigarettes on the ground before she conjures up a new one. I'm stumped.

coolkayaker1
09-06-2013, 02:55 PM
Where is she getting all the lit cigarettes? You can clearly see that she's tossing the cigarettes on the ground before she conjures up a new one. I'm stumped.

The lit cigarette is being palmed, over and over. It is one cigarette in her hand: hand-palm-hand-palm, etc.
http://video.answers.com/how-to-perform-the-cigarette-vanish-trick-325661487

The ones she's dropping are just Photoshopped in there by the producers.

lakesideglenn
09-06-2013, 03:18 PM
OK, how about a THEN and NOW comparison?
Martin sold a tenor ukulele in the early 1930's:

58334

Here's that Martin tenor uke as played by Cliff Edwards in 1935 when new:
http://youtu.be/gxMVctFhO88

Here's the same Martin tenor uke 70 years later:
http://youtu.be/X9fXqOz6yAc

What do you think? Has it opened up?

Is that the exact same uke Cliff used or just the same year and model? If its the former, would love to hear the story of how you acquired it. If its the later, not a fair comparison as two ukes, guitars, or mandolins built the same day from the same tree by the same person may very well sound a bit different.
Cheers!
As to which sounds better, sorry, Cliff wins!

uketeecee
09-06-2013, 05:32 PM
Is that the exact same uke Cliff used or just the same year and model? [snip] As to which sounds better, sorry, Cliff wins!

No, they are two different ukes. But it's interesting you think the newer uke sounds better. So do I. Why? Because Edwards is a great player and therein lies the difference.

Because there is no empirical way to test this theory the topic will always be a subjective one.

kkimura
09-06-2013, 05:45 PM
For you or the audience? :D

In my case, both!

ricdoug
09-06-2013, 07:08 PM
FACT!!! My stained black Ovation Applause UAE20 both sounds better and is much louder than any new one hanging on a wall in an ukulele storeSo many people want to buy mine and I always refuse. It took well over a year of hard playing to break it in. Ric

coolkayaker1
09-07-2013, 02:27 AM
Your mostly plastic Ovation got better with age?

I've gotta start playing my Macaferri a little more.

Dan Uke
09-07-2013, 05:09 AM
Your mostly plastic Ovation got better with age?

I've gotta start playing my Macaferri a little more.

hahahaha!!

JedSmith
09-07-2013, 06:11 AM
A relative has a white label all koa Kamaka built in the 80s that I've kinda inherited. It sounds amazing. Very nice, sweet sound. I don't know what it sounded like 30 years ago,but it sounds amazing today.

buddhuu
09-08-2013, 07:31 AM
'Ukuleles could just as easily sound worse with age. Just depends whether or not you like whatever change may occur.

Radio Flyer
09-08-2013, 08:48 AM
they undoubtedly have more mystique/history as they get older which can prejudice the ear favorably.

willisoften
09-10-2013, 08:59 AM
http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/powerhousetwins.html

Maybe not long enough time period but an interesting read.

My own take is that changing strings makes a bigger change than anything ,and , as my hearing is getting worse as I get older, so how do I tell ?

allanr
09-10-2013, 09:01 AM
True. But not always.

stevepetergal
09-15-2013, 06:02 AM
Ive never had anything old enough to really know the difference but i do agree that the first months, even a couple weeks and you can feel a difference. Of course having strings settle makes a huge difference but putting the first good solid hour or two straight through it makes a difference, whether that is my ear or the wood i guess is hard to tell.

You left out the possibility, along with strings and wood, that it might be the player. And if it might be the player, is it his/her hearing or playing? Or is it some combination of both?

caukulele
09-15-2013, 06:21 AM
Interesting thread...I have no science...but from my little experience...It seems to me that every uke needs to be discovered how it "wants" to be played...The more I play a particular uke the better it sounds because I discover how to get the best sound from that uke..... I think it takes time to develop that report with the uke and each ukulele requires a different approach to find it's best voice..and of course humidity and climate, etc. also changes the sound...

stevepetergal
09-15-2013, 11:17 PM
Interesting thread...I have no science...but from my little experience...It seems to me that every uke needs to be discovered how it "wants" to be played...The more I play a particular uke the better it sounds because I discover how to get the best sound from that uke..... I think it takes time to develop that report with the uke and each ukulele requires a different approach to find it's best voice..and of course humidity and climate, etc. also changes the sound...

I love this response. I think this is always going on, even when most of us are unaware of it. This is why a "new-to-you" fifty year old instrument seems to open up, just like a new one.

cantsing
09-21-2013, 04:25 PM
Do new ukes open up? Jake weighs in with his new uke. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMxgdR_GWBQ)

wdonley
09-21-2013, 05:24 PM
I posted this video in a different thread, buut check out Ron Saul's {RL Saul ukes} pre-ageing machine- the "Little Plucker"......http://www.fresnobee.com/static/2007/other/pittuba/

pulelehua
09-21-2013, 08:18 PM
I find if my fingernails are about 1mm different in length, it massively changes the tone. If I remember to keep the ukulele off my chest, it affects volume and sustain massively. How far I play from the bridge or neck join changes the sound massively. I think flourocarbon strings actually retain their tone pretty well over time.

It's hard to imagine anything like a scientific test being possible.

I like the idea of opening up, but I also like the idea of forming an intimate relationship with your ukulele, so you know how to get the best response out of it. My new Mya-Moe is light as a feather, and with fingerpicking, has an absolutely massive dynamic range. I do think it's changing tone since I got it, but why, I couldn't say.

I think people who come down very firmly on either side have a belief that they favour. Which I think is fine. If something can't be proven, who am I to tell them they're wrong?

Hippie Dribble
09-21-2013, 09:33 PM
I find if my fingernails are about 1mm different in length, it massively changes the tone. If I remember to keep the ukulele off my chest, it affects volume and sustain massively. How far I play from the bridge or neck join changes the sound massively. I think flourocarbon strings actually retain their tone pretty well over time.

It's hard to imagine anything like a scientific test being possible.

I like the idea of opening up, but I also like the idea of forming an intimate relationship with your ukulele, so you know how to get the best response out of it. My new Mya-Moe is light as a feather, and with fingerpicking, has an absolutely massive dynamic range. I do think it's changing tone since I got it, but why, I couldn't say.

I think people who come down very firmly on either side have a belief that they favour. Which I think is fine. If something can't be proven, who am I to tell them they're wrong?
Great post, John.
:cheers:

coolkayaker1
09-23-2013, 04:00 PM
I love this response. I think this is always going on, even when most of us are unaware of it. This is why a "new-to-you" fifty year old instrument seems to open up, just like a new one.
Yes. Yes. Yes