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GX9901
01-15-2009, 06:05 AM
Is there a guide or standard of some sort that tells you what grade a particular piece of koa is? We hear about AAAA, master grade, etc, but is there actually a standard that define these grades?

SuperSecretBETA
01-15-2009, 09:30 AM
Generally, koa grades are based on the amount of curl. Unfortunately, there's absolutely no standardization on grading it. The two easiest to define are A grade, which usually isn't quartersawn and has very little curl, and master grade, the type that makes you perform a bowel movement just by looking at it. If the person thinks the curl is sorta between AA and AAA grade koa, they'll choose one based on other factors like colour and striping. It can get pretty subjective.

Kanaka916
01-15-2009, 11:26 AM
As SSB mentioned, really subjective and what one builder/company may think is AA maybe to another. I bet the luthiers can help on this one.
General Guidelines

A. Little or no curl; off-quarter cuts allowed
AA. Medium curl, generally quartersawn
AAA. Full curl, generally quartersawn
MASTER. Premium full curl, quartersawn

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
01-15-2009, 12:10 PM
You're forgetting about select grade, one grade lower than A. A lot of less expensive ukes, furniture and veneer are made of select. Some of my sawyers are offering AAAAA grade koa now, probably to justify the outrageous increase in koa prices. 5A is the same as the old 4A. It was less confusing not long ago when the grading was S=select, C=curly, FC=full curl, and PFC=premium full curl. Also the designation "Instrument Grade" which doesn't have anything to do with curl but rather denotes that the board is quarter sawn and that the grain is rather parallel and defect free. Then there is green koa with a high moisture content, air dried, which many luthiers prefer over kiln dried, in which the wood cells have collapsed during the forced drying process.

GX9901
01-15-2009, 12:42 PM
I asked this question because I'm curious as to what's the actual grade of koa on some of my ukes as well as wanting to know how koa is classified in general. For instance, in the picture below, I'm guessing the one on the right might be classified as 5A, but I have absolutely no idea what the one on the left would be. 2A maybe?

http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL66/846716/15024071/319567201.jpg

How about these:

http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL66/846716/15024071/346660219.jpg

Pete Howlett
01-15-2009, 01:12 PM
I've just sent out a 'mastergrade' kit. It just falls into what I would call this category which is much more tha just figure...

koalohapaul
01-19-2009, 05:09 PM
Somewhere along the line, the spruce/evergreen grading scale got adopted, as a marketing effect. Like Chuck pointed out, koa was once sold under 1&2 common, select and better, and curly, full curl, then premium curl.

1&2 common was basically the rubbish of the pile. Full of knots, crappy grain, and other defects all around. If you were lucky, you might find a couple of useable boards, but it was koa, that's about it.

Select and better was generally knot free - You might score a semi curly board in the mix.

Curly was a separate category, simply becase it had curl. A board could actually be a #1 common and if it was curly, it would be sold as so. The curly grades were as before mentioned.

In shop, I use the older grading scale and I also keep a pile of wood that is unique, but not always curly. One of the joys of working with koa is the diversity of colors and grain patterns that naturally occur. Most people judge a piece of koa by it's curl, but there's much more to it than that.

Ukulele Friend
01-19-2009, 05:45 PM
Aloha Paul,

I certainly agree. The variation in colors, grain, and character of the wood alone are wonderfully complex and beautiful each in its own rite.

...that's what I absolutely love about using koa wood on ukes. Each uke has a sense of 'personality' unique from the rest.

Mahalo,
Shawn

ukulelefriend.com

upskydowncloud
01-20-2009, 06:01 AM
Somewhere along the line, the spruce/evergreen grading scale got adopted, as a marketing effect. Like Chuck pointed out, koa was once sold under 1&2 common, select and better, and curly, full curl, then premium curl.

1&2 common was basically the rubbish of the pile. Full of knots, crappy grain, and other defects all around. If you were lucky, you might find a couple of useable boards, but it was koa, that's about it.

Select and better was generally knot free - You might score a semi curly board in the mix.

Curly was a separate category, simply becase it had curl. A board could actually be a #1 common and if it was curly, it would be sold as so. The curly grades were as before mentioned.

In shop, I use the older grading scale and I also keep a pile of wood that is unique, but not always curly. One of the joys of working with koa is the diversity of colors and grain patterns that naturally occur. Most people judge a piece of koa by it's curl, but there's much more to it than that.

That makes a bit more sense to me, I ordered a uke with 4A and it was billed on the invoice as premium curl. I saw a video of Fred Kamaka (Jnr I think, I can't remember but it was Fred Kamaka) who referred to 4A as the best you can get which confused me because I thought 5A was the best, so he must have been talking about the old 4A.

I think koa is beautiful and an amazing wood. Nature is very impressive. Even if we do rip it up to make instruments and the like.

Pete Howlett
01-20-2009, 07:13 AM
Wood was put there for 2 reasons - one was so that it would provide beauty, food and shade in its lifetime as well as helping to oxygenate the planet. However, when a tree reaches it's prime it should be cut down because then it has its second use - to be brought to life in furniture, buildings and musical instruments. I'm not a tree hugger - I think they are misguided because some trees well past their life with rotten cores on unstable soil constitute a real threat and danger in a storm.

SuperSecretBETA
01-20-2009, 07:28 AM
I believe paper is a 3rd use for wood. Despite our digital world, we'll never get rid of paper. Paper mills have tree farms these days to be more sustainable, so don't worry too much about deforestation.

:cough: toilet paper :cough:

liquid_wind
01-20-2009, 06:20 PM
Does anyone have pictures samples of each grade. I especially like the bell concert on kamaka's page would that e premium then?

SuperSecretBETA
01-20-2009, 06:59 PM
Does anyone have pictures samples of each grade. I especially like the bell concert on kamaka's page would that e premium then?

That definitely looks like premium to me.

koalohapaul
01-20-2009, 08:12 PM
Regarding the grading scale:

5A is not necessarily a grade in and of itself. It's more like super 4A. AAA is full curl. AAAA is premium full curl. Beyond that, some pieces are not only AAAA in terms of curliness, but they are also perfect density and straight grained, with no run out. Basically, the cream of the crop of the 4A. So in the video, that's probably what Fred Kamaka was talking about.

I used to buy spruce from a guy in Colorado. In the mix, I got anything from AA to AAAA wedges. I thought ukulele builders were picky. Violin makers are even worse. What I purchased were basically the rejects from a high end violin maker. To date, I don't know why some of the wedges were rejected. Then again, I don't build violins and I'm not as experienced in grading spruce. Works for me, though.

Bluke
02-04-2009, 10:14 AM
I never heard of a 'standard' of grades. It's generally whatever a builder or wood supplier wants to say. I have a guitar of super double throwdown premium mega turbo plus plus select AAAAAAAAA Koa. It's real nice. I have an equally gorgeous guitar with koa to die for, and it's just called premium or curly.

It's all marketing.

khrome
02-04-2009, 10:33 AM
When you talk about curliness, are you talking about the ripple-like patterns that are perpendicular to the grain?

SuperSecretBETA
02-04-2009, 10:53 AM
When you talk about curliness, are you talking about the ripple-like patterns that are perpendicular to the grain?

Yup, that's exactly what they mean.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-04-2009, 03:57 PM
With all this discussion lately about curly koa I've got to mention something. First, I'm no expert but I build only with koa, and only curly AA to AAAA koa. I don't even offer softwood tops anymore. Only koa. But just because koa board may be super curly, or flamey or have cool, wild, erratic grain, doesn't mean it's going to make a better sounding uke that the more mundane stuff. In fact, more often than not, the opposite can be true. The real crazy grain can also provide joining/gluing difficulties that can show up later. Going one step further I personally find that the lighter, blonder koas will yield me a fuller, richer sounding uke than the very dark koa does.
Koa is unique in that it's specific gravity/density range is very broad. I've got koa here at the shop that is so light and "open" it almost feels like balsa, while other koa I've got is so dense and "tight" that it's impossible to resaw straight, like ironwood. A good builder will know how to work within a piece of koa's parameters to get the best sound he can out of it. I'm not taking into consideration specific construction techniques, thinning and bracing etc, but it's more of a tactile thing than it is a visual thing. An experienced builder can be in a dark room and run his hands along a koa board and give it a few raps and be able to give a pretty fair assessment as to how it will sound as a ukulele. I've heard that the koa that luthiers use represents less than 5% of the koa that's cut. Even that seems high but it just shows that we're a pretty picky bunch of folks. I don't even use half the koa that I personally buy. Lots of it gets resold to frame makers.
I only say this so that you don't think that super physcho gonzo curly koa is necessarily going to make the best sounding ukulele. In the right hands it can. But it's misguided to think that your AAAA koa uke, by nature of it's curl, is better than someone else's AA or AAA uke.
And BTW, there's no such thing as AAAAA koa. This designation was started a while back by a desperate dealer trying to get one up on everyone else. As Aldrine might say "Let's stop the madness".

khrome
02-04-2009, 04:45 PM
I only say this so that you don't think that super physcho gonzo curly koa is necessarily going to make the best sounding ukulele.

That is good to know. I love koa but I'm not crazy about too many curls that make it look like tiger stripes. I've always liked the blonder pieces with a lot of irridescence. The pattern didn't matter too much to me as long as it looked "balanced." Hopefully someday I can have someone knock on my uke and tell me if it's good. :-)

Koa_Supplier
02-18-2009, 04:18 AM
Hello All! This is my very FIRST post and felt it was probably the most appropriate place to start and share the DEEP SECRETS to how we come up with the grades of Koa.

First of all... I will premise this by saying our family has been supplying koa from the Big Island for almost 40 years! I am 4th generation wood guy and 2nd generation koa supplier guy... I started specializing in supplying the instrument market about 5 years ago and have had a helping hand in luthiers around the world...

disclaimer... I think a few of the builders in this thread will recognize me - ("Hey Paul!") and as I am sure the buyer / builder and supplier can attest, it isn't always the easiest thing to "get it right" with the grade, even as much experience as I and the builders have with koa.

So, grading... First a little history... there is NO rule for grades for koa. Unlike oak or cherry that have NHLA grading rules, there is no rule for koa. But there must be a way for buyers and sellers to talk the same language to know what to expect when conducting a transaction, so the NHLA grading rules were used as the base standard, and the rules used for Walnut were used for koa, since it is the closest specie as far as the type of lumber you get and the kind of tree it is (the way it grows). Even within NHLA grading standards, the rules change with the specie, and without the specie koa listed with a bunch of rules, it gets very difficult.

So, once that was established, grades were used for the "regular" lumber, which were previously: #2 Common, #1C, and Select. there is also a FAS grade and in Europe, FEQ. Quarter-sawn / Rift Sawn is a type of cut (not necessarily a grade) that commands a premium. Anyway, somewhere along the line, the "instrument grade" was thought up for the boards that were curly, quarter-sawn, and could make instruments (met certain size specs an mostly guitar sizes).

Somewhere along the line, the "curly" koa started becoming more and more in demand and expensive. in the early 70's the curly was pulled out because it was NOT desired! Oh how I wish I had a container of that! True Story: in the 80's my father supplied a CONTAINER of curly koa that was filled over the course of a year. If you can imagine cutting 10's of thousands of BF a month and pulling the best curly, guitar sizes, over the course of a year to get around 8,000 - 10,000 bF... anyway, it got to their factory and they claimed it wasn't curly enough and wanted to renegotiate the prices. my father said to not touch one board of it and sent it to a friend in the midwest who sold it somehow... I bet they now they wished they never rejected that container or haggled a few cents per BF. I think my father said he was charging them something like $5 / BF but that's when select green in container-loads was going for around $2.50 or something like that. In todays prices, that same lumber in bulk would probably be $60 / BF... in guitar set form it's probably $150 / BF. they probably rejected 4,000 sets worth of lumber and at a discount of $250 / set... WHOOOA... $1,000, 000 bucks worth of wood that 25 years ago probably only cost my father $5,000 - $10,000! and you guys thought the stock market was good...!

So, a system had to be set up to separate the curly from the regular. in the early days, there were no levels of curl. But once the demand started picking up for the curlier boards, which was evident when you sell it on a regular basis. we would see customers sifting thru piles to find the curlier boards. I think one might find it interesting to hear my father actually came up with the various names like Select Curly, Full Curl, and Premium Full Curl to reflect the differences in demand and allow us to separate it on the wall to make it easier for our customers to find and buy and charge a premium to do so.

My father's company had those grades and then made the "instrument grade" to separate out the boards that were curly and quarter-sawn. this was mostly for a few select builders who asked for that to be done. in the early days not much koa was used for guitars, and not too many ukuleles were being built.

He never used the "A" system and I'm not really sure who first started using it in Hawaii for koa- perhaps Bart was the first, but it did come about for a better way to determine the level of curls within the instrument grades. I guess it was modeled after the maple grading system, which uses a A-AAAAA system, generally.

In my own business I started out with only 1A to 4A, but what I found was when you are doing a large volume like we do and you start to have enough wood to separate it out, 4 grades just weren't not enough.

In the non-instrument wood side of my business I went away from the kind-of-confusing-to-me: select curl, full curl, and premium curl to regular terms: select, light curl, medium curl, high curl, and SUPER Curl. so if you attach a letter to it, you get 5 different levels. Select (no curl) QS = 1A Light Curl QS = 2A Medium Curl QS = 3A High Curl QS = 4A and Super Curly QS = 5A

to put it into perspective- the pictures shown above of the ukes. first pic with two ukes- the one on the right is clearly a 4A or if you have a 5A grade, then a 5A. but the one on the left could either be a 2A or a 3A, and in my opinion, it's closer to a 3A. if you only had 4 grades, then it would have to be 2A because the jump from the one on the left to the one on the right is just too broad.

so, you might notice that grading starts to change based on what else there is available... I used to only go up to 4A but as I produced more, and it turned out the 4A had some killer 4A and then some so-so. that's where I figured I did need a 5A grade- not to mention it made it easier to talk in the same language to the guitar luthiers who are used to the maple grading.

basically, as Paul said, the perfect 4A could be called the 5A. As a seller, it allows one to charge a higher price for something that would clearly be chosen over another set, if one had the choice, and kind of evens the playing field. Also, many buyers of koa do not have the luxury to come into our place and choose their own wood, so they are reliant on buying mail order, and often without pictures. I would get customers saying- I want your "best" 4A... which basically means a 5A. theorectically all the sets within the 5A should be the same, but when you only have 4A grades, it is harder to refine it more like you can with 5 grades. there are pros and cons to it. interestinly enough, these days, I don't even separate out the 1A/2A grade (for wholesale) so in a sense I've gone back to having only 4 grades! oh how confusing it can be.

As a supplier to Taylor Guitars, I had a meeting about this with them a couple days before the NAMM show last month. basically it didn't matter what my grades were- they were only going to buy what they could use, of course... but it turns out what they can use, is basically only the best 3A, 4A and 5A grades (according to my grading system). a couple of years ago it was a little different. so when I sent them a mix of 3A and 4A, there was a lot of reject which is what prompted the meeting. so, as a supplier, I have to adjust my own grading for each customer. but that's the wholesale side, which can get a bit messy. it comes down to knowing your customer's needs.

FIGURE- there's another factor that can change the grading, which for koa, is generally not used as a factor to change the level of A's or the type of curl. but it is true, like Chuck Moore said, you can go through a lot of koa to find those pieces that appeal to the builder and that not always has to do with level of curl. stripiness, variegation, color, etc. Oh... the beauty of koa and how every one is difference.

Goodall guitars also attests to the golden, lighter density koa had much better acoustic properties as a top, rather than the dark, dense koa that can look killer, but not necessarily make a better sounding instrument.

Finally, buying unfinished, raw koa, even if it has been surfaced, doesn't mean you'll always get the exact level of curl you were hoping for. it can go up and down a grade sometimes, unless it is just that rippling, deep 3D super curl that you can see before you even cut into the tree!

someday on my site I'll actually put up pics and examples of each grade with the explanation... probably would have saved me hours and hours of explaining...

Finally, there is no "best" koa grade- most things that are "better" or higher in quality tend to cost more (cars, clothes, etc.), but unlike those things, it does not hold true for koa. the $150 tenor set may not make a better sounding uke than the $30 tenor set. it might look nicer, but to who?? curly is "IN" now and it probably won't be "OUT", but 30 years ago it was undesired.

I think koa just has far too many variables to ever have a grading system that can be used across the board. with 16 different "types" of koa (difference in color and curl TYPE, not strength) and then add the strength of curl factored in, and then add in the variable of how DEEP does the curl have to be to be considered MED or HIGH... multiply all those variables to get a number of potential different koa types, and you get a LOT- probably 100's!

Hope that was informative and helpful to all those out there (and not too long...

Jorma Winkler :shaka:
www.winklerwoods.com

deach
02-18-2009, 04:29 AM
Wow! Thanks for the insight. Do you have pictures of each grade so we can see a side by side comparison?

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-18-2009, 06:22 AM
I just scored some 6A.;)

uluapoundr
02-18-2009, 10:18 AM
Good to see Jorma here, I use to work for his dad, probably where I got KAS (Koa Aquisition Syndrome).

dnewton2
02-18-2009, 12:18 PM
I just scored some 6A.;)

I'll take one of those!;);)

Pete Howlett
02-18-2009, 12:34 PM
Jorma

Good to see you here. I used to buy koa shorts from your dad's company. He'd select some boards out of the kiln, I'd send money and hey presto, beautiful quartersawn boards would arrive - lovely pink koa, light as a feather and superb sounding. Those were the days when I could trust that I'd get what I asked for - it was called pfc then and a phone call to Renee would make me wish I was 8000 miles from home on the beach in the Big Island...

GX9901
02-19-2009, 06:02 AM
Wow, awesome insight from Winkler Woods. Thanks!

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-19-2009, 06:44 AM
I'll take one of those!;);)
I just checked. Over night it turned to 7A !

GX9901
02-19-2009, 06:52 AM
I just checked. Over night it turned to 7A !

Damn, I wanted that 6A too. I don't think I can afford 7A. :eek:

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-19-2009, 12:36 PM
Damn, I wanted that 6A too. I don't think I can afford 7A. :eek:
Maybe you can afford it. I just got a lead on some 8A so the 7A will be going on sale.

dnewton2
02-19-2009, 12:58 PM
Maybe you can afford it. I just got a lead on some 8A so the 7A will be going on sale.

I don't understand it but somehow his koa keeps getting Moore Bettah.

anomoly40
02-22-2009, 10:25 AM
I think in a few Moore Bettah Koa buys he'll get ahold of the elusive "Pele grade Koa". It does not shimmer but instead looks like flowing lava. It even glows.

khrome
02-22-2009, 11:41 AM
Hello All! This is my very FIRST post and felt it was probably the most appropriate place to start and share the DEEP SECRETS to how we come up with the grades of Koa.


THANK YOU! This is a terrific first post. So based on what you said, when a seller says the koa grade is 4A we need to ask "how high does your scale go".

I guess the grade is just based on supply and demand. Which is good cuz I don't like the super curly koa. Mine will be less expensive. :D

Pete Howlett
02-22-2009, 11:46 AM
Ultimately it doesn't matter and what I think us makers look for is 'pretty wood'. Maybe we should have that as the grading system - pretty, prettier and prettiest... because lest's face it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder ain't it?

seeso
02-22-2009, 01:32 PM
Just want to chime in here and express my gratitude for the awesome builders and suppliers who take the time to post here at the Underground. The information you supply this community does not go unheard or unappreciated. Thanks.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-22-2009, 02:09 PM
Ah, shucks......

koalohapaul
02-26-2009, 06:20 PM
Great explanation, Jorma!

Koa_Supplier
02-27-2009, 01:08 AM
Hi again all,

Thanks for the kind words about appreciation for the insight to koa grading. I just got back from the Big Island this afternoon- was busy over there checking on my koa production and buying more koa and all that kind of stuff. Flew back in late in the afternoon to inspect a batch of green, quarter-sawn, curly koa that someone was offering me for sale.

My advice when buying koa- no matter who you buy from- even if from us- don't be afraid to say NO and check on your suppliers experience. Some people don't have as much experience as others, and the claims I hear all the time, today included, don't often justify the price being charged.

If you have the luxury of inspecting before you buy- please DO! I as a supplier wish every one of my customers could look at the wood before they buy. And if you are choosing your own wood, if for any reason you don't like the wood or don't want to buy it, you shouldn't feel pressured in any way. know your budget and what you want and try to stick to it. believe it or not, koa can be found out there if you look hard enough- even if you don't live in Hawaii.

But if you do come across 5A, 6A, or even some of Chuck's 7A, snap it up if you can afford it. It is hard to find.

Later, when I find some time, I'll start a thread on "koa mythbusters"

Mythbuster #1 - it is NOT illegal to harvest koa or cut LIVE, standing trees. seems odd I would even say that, since there are so many koa ukuleles out there, but many people often ask me if it is illegal to cut koa. It's odd for me to field that question, since I think, "wow, they must not think very highly of me considering my business is all about cutting koa!" Maybe they don't think about it like that, but when I bring it up, they are kind of like, "you're right, it would be odd for so much stuff to be made out of koa and it be an illegal activity."

They are probably thinking about cutting down the live trees, versus salvaging the rotting trees on the ground, but regardless, they are all legal activities. If you own your own land, you can pretty much do whatever you want with the trees, which includes koa.

Aloha!
Jorma

khrome
02-27-2009, 01:26 AM
Hi again all,
Later, when I find some time, I'll start a thread on "koa mythbusters"

Mythbuster #1 - it is NOT illegal to harvest koa or cut LIVE, standing trees. seems odd I would even say that, since there are so many koa ukuleles out there, but many people often ask me if it is illegal to cut koa. It's odd for me to field that question, since I think, "wow, they must not think very highly of me considering my business is all about cutting koa!" Maybe they don't think about it like that, but when I bring it up, they are kind of like, "you're right, it would be odd for so much stuff to be made out of koa and it be an illegal activity."


A Koa Mythbusters thread would be excellent!! Yes, please make one.

I thought it was illegal to cut koa too. Or at least, I thought it was getting endangered enough that they are under some sort of protection. So is it true they are endangered? And if so are things being done to replant them? How old must a koa be before it is mature enough to be cut?

Kaneohe til the end
02-27-2009, 07:43 PM
koa I've got is so dense and "tight" that it's impossible to resaw straight, like ironwood. [QUOTE]

i am not bad at resawing, its the one thing i do good so far.

[QUOTE=khrome;100444]A Koa Mythbusters thread would be excellent!! Yes, please make one.

I thought it was illegal to cut koa too. Or at least, I thought it was getting endangered enough that they are under some sort of protection. So is it true they are endangered? And if so are things being done to replant them? How old must a koa be before it is mature enough to be cut?

from what i learned today from one of the guys at work, the state and bishop estate own about 90% of all the koa. it is illegal to use that.
the other 10% is private land owners, which is where all of the koa for instruments comes from. so imagine, out of the miniscule 10% that is used, how much of the 10% is actually master grade.

Kaneohe til the end
02-27-2009, 07:46 PM
Koa is the largest of the native trees of Hawaii. This beautiful tree has been used by Native Hawaiians for many uses, such as canoes, paddles, housing timbers, and carved figures.-taken from jorma's website

imagine a 5A curly canoe.

ukeitup
02-28-2009, 04:09 PM
I have heard talk of black koa and seen the uke it looks awesome,any info thanks in advance.

koalohapaul
02-28-2009, 07:14 PM
Black koa? Don't you mean ebony? Just kidding. That's probably from here on Oahu, up Tantalus. Unfortunately, I've never had any to use for myself, but I have seen a couple of really nice boards. In fact, my brother and I went up with Bart Potter one day, but the logs we were planning on taking were mostly rotten.

For those who don't know, black koa is not really black. It's a darker chocolaty koa, with near black striping in the grain pattern.

Koa_Supplier
03-02-2009, 04:44 PM
Originally Posted by khrome
A Koa Mythbusters thread would be excellent!! Yes, please make one.

I thought it was illegal to cut koa too. Or at least, I thought it was getting endangered enough that they are under some sort of protection. So is it true they are endangered? And if so are things being done to replant them? How old must a koa be before it is mature enough to be cut?

QUOTE from Kaneohe til the end:

from what i learned today from one of the guys at work, the state and bishop estate own about 90% of all the koa. it is illegal to use that.
the other 10% is private land owners, which is where all of the koa for instruments comes from. so imagine, out of the miniscule 10% that is used, how much of the 10% is actually master grade.


Hello again!
I just want to make sure we are all on the same page... it is illegal to do something (i.e. cut koa) if the rightful owner says you cannot do it. That being said, if the State or Kamehameha Schools (KS) says you can go cut their koa, you can. Over the years, I've had contracts with various landowners to harvest koa, one of which was a contract with the State of Hawaii, Dept of Hawaiian Homelands to salvage, harvest, cut, and replant a particular area of koa forest. With that contract, I was legally cutting the koa, and only my company was allowed to.

The is an ongoing project to replant koa. the 100-year lease with the rancher ended and the State decided to put the lands back into a native forest again, rather than the grass-lands it turned into over the last 100 years.

Is koa endangered? simple answer, No. read on...

How old must a koa tree be before mature enough to cut? generally 30-40 years is the youngest, but ask Bart about his 18 year-old wind-blown koa tree that produced some of the nicest color, 5A curl, guitar-size material you'd ever find. that was probably not typical, but it exists, so even 20 year-old trees are sometimes ok. We did a study a few years back with the Univ. of Hawaii testing some of the different properties of koa at different ages. turns out when they are in their "teens" they are heavy with sapwood. During the teens they don't grow in diameter much, but rather grow the heartwood. And, like humans, koa trees vary in growth from tree to tree. So bart's 18-year old tree was probably like the sophmore in High School who had to shave twice a day!

Mythbuster #02... by the way, cows LOVE koa seedlings. Don't ever let anyone tell you that ranching and koa forestry mix well. The only way it can mix well if the cows aren't allowed into the area where koa seedlings are trying to grow. after a few years and the trees are big and strong enough, the cows and koa koa can comingle, BUT every time a new koa tree tries to sprout and grow, the cows will eat it. so basically they cannot really live together well. Not to mention, cows generally need grass to eat, and the grass covering prevents koa trees from sprouting. So, in reality, ranching and koa forestry don't mix well, unless the ranch is big enough and cows few enough.

Ranching has generally been the demise of the koa forests- not LOGGING or CUTTING the trees. Koa trees, like vegetables and flowers, have a life cycle but will grow back, IF ALLOWED to grow back. When non-native species of plants and animals are brought into the mix, the native forest has a harder time to survive. Ranching has been one of those killers- clearing the forest to make way for grass (100 years ago that is what happened).

Anyway, I"m starting to stray from the topic of grades, but thought some might be interested in a little bit about what is really going on with the koa forests.

By the way, we are NOT running out of koa. there is more koa falling over and dying, and coming back to life, than what we could ever use. It is just not being harvested right now. Basically, there is very little koa that is commercially available because the larger landowners, such as KS and the State, want to make sure they harvest it properly. they are responsible to far more people than say a single landowner who has a small plot of land with a few koa trees on it. That person can pretty much do anything he or she wants. Whereas the State has to answer to the taxpayers and KS is such a visible entity, they are going to be scrutinized for anything they do. Sadly, it is often easier to do nothing, than to attempt to try to do something good, since their will always be a few that will not agree with what they do.

On a brighter note, KS has been working towards an enviromentally sound project to harvest around 30,000 acres (I think that is the correct number, but it could be 20,000, either way, it is over 10,000 acres) of land with a variety of species, much of which is koa. they have been working on this for years and seem to be getting closer, but not really sure yet.

As far as material for ukuleles goes... we are SO lucky the ukulele is SMALL. The guitar world has been having a harder and harder time over the years to acquire quality woods because of the size of the instrument. With the ukulele, you can use trees much younger, and also many of the bigger branches.

Because of the size advantage, not only do you use less wood, but you can use a LOT more of the wood out there. Because of the size limitations of the guitar and the uke. If you have a 4" wide quartersawn board, pretty much no guitar maker can use that narrow of a width, but an uke maker can pretty much get a top, back or side out of it for a soprano, concert, and probably even a tenor.

Regarding 5A stock- there still really isn't all that much out there, so if your uke has the killer wood on it, please have some appreciation for what it took to get it there, no matter where it was made.

Jorma

taylordb
10-30-2009, 12:50 AM
Sorry to resurrect an old thread, but does the presence of sapwood in koa, negatively affect the sound? I've seen some very pretty ukes that have a stripe of sapwood down the center. Just wondering if it negatively affects the sound?

EdLew1s
10-30-2009, 02:07 AM
If your a first time builder the I would start with A grade koa and then work your way up as you don't want to ruin a very expensive piece of master grade koa!! The same goes with mango and most other woods.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
10-30-2009, 06:04 AM
Sorry to resurrect an old thread, but does the presence of sapwood in koa, negatively affect the sound? I've seen some very pretty ukes that have a stripe of sapwood down the center. Just wondering if it negatively affects the sound?

I seriously doubt it. It such a small percentage when compared with the heartwood anyway. I covet koa with sapwood, you can get some beautiful results with it. As a builder you need to be careful as it can be buggy, rendering that part of it useless. To a termite, koa heartwood is like brussels sprouts; they'll eat it if they have to. But koa sapwood is like ice cream, especially when green.

RonS
10-30-2009, 06:51 AM
With the ukulele, you can use trees much younger, and also many of the bigger branches.

Maybe Koa is different than other woods, but branches contain reaction wood.

It is common for branch wood to crack and split. More so with the big ones.

This is not the wood you would use in an instrument because over time there will be problems.

Matt Clara
10-30-2009, 09:48 AM
Sorry to resurrect an old thread, but does the presence of sapwood in koa, negatively affect the sound? I've seen some very pretty ukes that have a stripe of sapwood down the center. Just wondering if it negatively affects the sound?

It was an awesome one to resurrect!

taylordb
10-30-2009, 11:17 AM
Thanks for the replys everone!

koalohapaul
10-30-2009, 08:29 PM
I looooooove sapwood. A lot of people seem to associate it with defects, but there's nothing wrong with it at all. Well, aside from the bugs, like Chuck mentioned. I have a few boards that I saved, because they have an unusual amount of good white sapwood. They aren't that curly, but the width of the sapwood is unusual.

ukantor
10-30-2009, 09:34 PM
Wood with a highly figured grain pattern is considered desirable, but surely that is only for the sake of its appearance? Beautiful swirling patterns look attractive on furniture and panelling etc. but how does it affect the acoustic properties of musical instruments? I think a plain, straight grain should sound better.

What it sounds like is of paramount importance; what it looks like is a secondary consideration - or is it?

Ukantor.

Kaneohe til the end
10-30-2009, 11:51 PM
Wood with a highly figured grain pattern is considered desirable, but surely that is only for the sake of its appearance? Beautiful swirling patterns look attractive on furniture and panelling etc. but how does it affect the acoustic properties of musical instruments? I think a plain, straight grain should sound better.

What it sounds like is of paramount importance; what it looks like is a secondary consideration - or is it?

Ukantor.

from what ive seen (not much) it seems like highly figured woods tend to have better grain patterns also. then again ive seen that hella curly taylor solid body made of flatsawn koa with lots of runout.

Pete Howlett
10-30-2009, 11:52 PM
Thanks for the 'hope' in your emails Jorma. I'd like nothing better than to visit Hawaii on a koa buying trip... anyone want to sponsor me? :)

I have some very dark koa - purchased from a private eBay client about 4/5 years ago - trees down on her property and converted - Most the concert size billets look like this: It was only $35 a bd/ft and has a deep rich brown colour with plenty of black streaks.

http://i51.photobucket.com/albums/f352/ukulele_pete/ChocKoa.jpg

I've processed the image slightly to remove the 'washout' from the morning light but it is as best described as chocolate.

I know I said I'd be away fro a week - I tried to go back to the workshop just to photograph this and it has done for me. I have never been this ill with 'flu before and I've had hep, pneumonia and chronic reaction asthma at one time or another. This really sucks!

ukantor
10-31-2009, 12:18 AM
"it seems like highly figured woods tend to have better grain patterns"

I regard "figure" and "grain pattern" to be interchangeable descriptions. Variegated colour comes into the discussion also, but doesn't a straight, regular, unfigured grain generally give the best acoustic properties?

We all like pretty things, but I would not pay extra for "killer" looks if a plainer instrument might sound better.

Have any of our luthier friends got any thoughts on the matter, or is this a line of enquiry you would rather not explore?

Ukantor.

Pete Howlett
10-31-2009, 12:55 AM
Grain-pattern= figure I:agree:

In my experience plain but 'light' as in mass is better than highly figured which is very often denser...

15 years ago Jorma's father supplied me with a pinky colored koa. I have struggled to get anything like it since 2001. It proved the best there was and made exceptional instruments. When I started buying koa again in 2004 all that seemed to be available from the supliers in Hawaii was the golden brown stuff. Between 1994 and 1998 I'd had plenty of red and some very spongey brown stuff sent to me by Collier Thelen of Music Exchange for the 'Island Koa' brand I built for him - these occassionally come up for resale on eBay. The brown stuff was a beggar to work but it sounded great. When I needed wood I got 100 sets from him for $4000 or eight 6 or 8 string tenors. Wouldn't happen today would it? When I called him in 2000, that same wood was now $75 a set. I guess it's up to $110 now! Collier was wise and invested in koa wood futures :D

If I buy koa now it is on eBay where WYSIWYG generally... although I have been spectacularly ripped off more than once buying privately through suppliers who I met and did business with on eBay!

ukantor
10-31-2009, 01:37 AM
Thanks for that, Pete. Hope you soon feel much better.

The new solid koa KoAlanas seem to be made from plain, straight-grained wood. They are very keenly priced, so anyone who favours good sound over fancy grain should get a great deal.

Ukantor.

erich@muttcrew.net
10-31-2009, 02:45 AM
Grain = Figure?

I don't really agree, but this is probably just a question of vocabulary.

When we talk about grain, I think we normally mean the lengthwise grain of the wood representing the yearly growth rings, whereas the figure is generally horizontal to the grain, as for example in curly koa or flamed maple.

I haven't had the pleasure of working with koa so far, but we do use flamed maple quite a lot, and when I pick up a piece of it I can see very straight, even grain in one direction and very curly, translucent flame in the other. If I compare a piece of plain maple, it has the same grain, but (almost) none of the curl. If I said “grain and figure are the same thing”, how could I distinguish these two pieces of wood?

:confused:

Erich

Pete Howlett
10-31-2009, 04:03 AM
You know erich you ought to read what i said -
grain-pattern = figure. I agree with you, 'grain' is different. Grain-pattern is an attempt to call 'figure'.

However what you are talking in your long paragraph is the effect of grain direction in curly woods. Just look at the edge of a curly koa board and it looks like the grain has had an old-fashioned permanent wave!

I do think that this is all pedantic semantics. As I said much earlier I think even vaguer terms like 'pretty' and 'prettier' would be much better... then it really would be a subjective bear-pit! There are even new definitions of curl - fiddleback, tiger, sausage; for other phenomonen like waterfall curl, beeswing mottle, pomele, spiderweb - sheesh the list is as bewildering as an a la carte menue! It's all just pretty wood isn't it?

RonS
10-31-2009, 07:31 AM
I regard "figure" and "grain pattern" to be interchangeable descriptions. Variegated colour comes into the discussion also, but doesn't a straight, regular, unfigured grain generally give the best acoustic properties?

Generally Speaking

The best tonewood is straight grain quartersawn wood

The best figure comes from flatsawn wood.

Occasionally one will find a beautiful figure in quartersawn wood and this can become very pricey.
http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showpost.php?p=219098&postcount=14


There are even new definitions of curl - fiddleback, tiger, sausage; for other phenomonen like waterfall curl, beeswing mottle, pomele, spiderweb - sheesh the list is as bewildering as an a la carte menue! It's all just pretty wood isn't it?

The name Fiddleback is at least a century old maybe even two.
When I hear someone say the wood has a waterfall figure I know they don't mean tiger. I like the different names. Otherwise it would be like categorizing all wood as just "Wood". That ain't no fun!

And yes, it is all just pretty wood.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
10-31-2009, 07:55 AM
Grain = Figure?


When we talk about grain, I think we normally mean the lengthwise grain of the wood representing the yearly growth rings, whereas the figure is generally horizontal to the grain, as for example in curly koa or flamed maple.


Erich

:agree: For me, grain is primarily a structural consideration. Figure on the other hand is partly structural but chosen more for it's appearance. The degree of figure (amongst many other variables) can effect the tonal properties of an instrument.

Pete Howlett
10-31-2009, 07:59 AM
Depends on the tree... all of the figured koa I have is perfectly quartered and the silk in the quartered Cuban boards I have is to die for... I have some amazing fiddleback mahogany again on the perfect quarter, some bear claw figure in quartered cherry and some incredible curl in quartered walnut. Now my maples are slab sawn and present great figure - quilted, bubbly and of course birdseye. But my fiddleback sycamore is again, on the perfect quarter. However my totally unstable masur birch is all over the place as is my yew tree stock. Oh and that incredibly underated fiddleback makore I have is perfectly quartered so I am not sure what you are trying to say to us Ron. Because wood is organic it can be like Bart Potter's koa on steroids (see Jorma's article above) or as sluggish as a drunk on frat night. It is wonderful because it is full of surprises.

I also don't think you can say 'the best tonewood...', and then qualify it; not really...

As always this is a pegoritive business ain't it?

koalohapaul
10-31-2009, 08:28 AM
Ukantor,

You are correct. I grade according to grain straightness, density, and degree of quartersawn first. Figure and unique grain pattern are secondary. If a wood appears to be acoustically and structurally sound and also has a good degree of figure, I'll reserve it in my custom pile. These boards are rare, having to meet a lot of criteria, and I'm super picky.

I don't pull boards just because they're curly. If the lumber doesn't meet my standards of grading, I put them on the side and clear them out to a local box maker. They aren't 'bad' by any means, just not something I would use in a musical instrument. The only pieces I do keep, if they don't seem like good instrument wood, are the insanely curly or unique ones. I put them on the side for inlays, accent work, etc.

This is why I don't like the A grading scale that was introduced. I have a lot of people that bring me their own sets, which they bought as 4A or 5A master grade, blah, blah. About half the time, the wood is either barely quartersawn or has very short choppy grain with runout. It's definitely curly according to the A system, but hardly what I would consider good tonewood.

Wood is an interesting medium, though. I have a very good general idea of how a board will sound when the instrument is finished, but it's kind of like predicting the weather. Clouds and gray sky tell you that it's probably going to rain, but you never really know exactly when or how much. Then, there's the variable of me, the builder. Despite tools like surface sanders and calipers, I can never build two ukes exactly the same.

ukantor
10-31-2009, 08:40 AM
KoAloha Paul said:-

"I grade according to grain straightness, density, and degree of quartersawn first. Figure and unique grain pattern are secondary."

I guess this is what makes the difference between a fine musical instrument and a pretty ukulele shaped object.;)

Ukantor.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
10-31-2009, 08:42 AM
I have a very good general idea of how a board will sound when the instrument is finished, but it's kind of like predicting the weather. Clouds and gray sky tell you that it's probably going to rain, but you never really know exactly when or how much.

Good analogy Paul.

erich@muttcrew.net
10-31-2009, 09:31 AM
Depends on the tree...

:agree: The flamed maple I was talking about has about 6-7 degrees of slant in the grain (off the perfect quarter) and the flame is really unbeatable top-grade fiddleback quality.

Go figure.

RonS
10-31-2009, 11:11 AM
I guess this is what makes the difference between a fine musical instrument and a pretty ukulele shaped object.;)

Ukantor.


That's it in a nutshell.

RonS
10-31-2009, 11:16 AM
I also don't think you can say 'the best tonewood...', and then qualify it; not really...

As always this is a pegoritive business ain't it?


I did qualify it by saying "Generally Speaking" as in "Not Absolute". I guess you missed that because you have the flu.

I looked up pergoritive and couldn't find it so I don't know what you mean.

Pete Howlett
10-31-2009, 12:05 PM
And that's the problem - there is no general rule with wood. It's Paul's cloudy day analogy...

RonS
10-31-2009, 01:35 PM
And that's the problem - there is no general rule with wood. It's Paul's cloudy day analogy...

Give it a break

erich@muttcrew.net
10-31-2009, 11:32 PM
As always this is a pegoritive business ain't it?


Pete, I thought you meant to write pejorative (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pejorative). If so, I'm still not sure what you mean by this being a pejorative business.

???

ukantor
10-31-2009, 11:41 PM
I think he meant controversial, opinionated, confrontational, infuriating, quixotic, outspoken......................................... .....

Ukantor.