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View Full Version : Why does a good ukulele sound better as it ages?



NOTLguy
02-16-2014, 06:16 AM
I have often wondered why a well built stringed instrument sounds better with age. Is it the wood changing or the actual playing of the instrument that changes it?

Regards,
Bill

Bao
02-16-2014, 06:19 AM
It's a number of things.
1. wood opening up from the playing etc.
2. you getting used to your ukulele's sound
3. your technique getting better.

That's about all I can think of at the moment!

Steveperrywriter
02-16-2014, 07:54 AM
What Bao said ...

Also, if you want to read more about it, here's a link to several postings about this on UU:

http://tinyurl.com/n297apw

OldePhart
02-16-2014, 07:58 AM
Bao pretty much nailed it. Not all instruments open up, in fact I believe that relatively few do. I've only had one uke and one guitar (out of dozens) that I could say without reservation that they clearly opened up in the first few months I had them. Some of my best and most expensive instruments I have to say if they've improved it's been slight enough that I couldn't swear it's not just my playing adapting to the instrument. I've had my Taylor guitar for twelve or thirteen years, gigged with it weekly for five of those years, and I can't say that it sounds one bit different than the day I bought it.

I think Bao's items 2 and 3 are responsible for more of the perception of instruments opening up with time than item 1 is - though item 1 does happen in some cases - you just shouldn't rely on it.

John

kohanmike
02-16-2014, 11:23 AM
My understanding is that solid tops will improve with age more than laminate (if at all). I found that the Lanikai solid monkey pod I got a few months ago (and subsequently gifted) definitely resonated better after a few months then when I first played it.

The solid spruce/maple mandolele I received last Thursday also resonates better today after keeping it in my humidified uke shelf in between tuning and strumming. Coincidentally, just a few minutes ago I played it and the tuning does not gone off too much now, and I even said to myself, "ah, it sounds better today."

Hippie Dribble
02-16-2014, 11:47 AM
My understanding is that solid tops will improve with age more than laminate (if at all). I found that the Lanikai solid monkey pod I got a few months ago (and subsequently gifted) definitely resonated better after a few months then when I first played it.

The solid spruce/maple mandolele I received last Thursday also resonates better today after keeping it in my humidified uke shelf in between tuning and strumming. Coincidentally, just a few minutes ago I played it and the tuning does not gone off too much now, and I even said to myself, "ah, it sounds better today."

Mike, what you're hearing is not the instrument opening up mate, but the strings stretching in and bedding down.

kohanmike
02-16-2014, 12:47 PM
Ah, good. So now I can look forward to even better sound.

wdonley
02-16-2014, 01:48 PM
Uke luthier Ron Saul's answer. Complete with video- http://youtu.be/NC2DyP6bI54

jackwhale
02-16-2014, 05:17 PM
I don't know much about opening up but my older ukes and guitars sometimes seem to change sound from one day to the next. Gordon from Mya Moe has a great series of videos and he has covered this topic in at least one of them.

As far I as I know there are no objective measurements that have demonstrated opening up. I have wondered whether the glue changes over time.

Some things are destined to remain mysterious.

coolkayaker1
02-16-2014, 09:44 PM
I have often wondered why a well built stringed instrument sounds better with age. Is it the wood changing or the actual playing of the instrument that changes it?

Regards,
Bill
It's that one's ear becomes more familiar with the sound of that particular instrument, better to hear nuances, with time and repeated playing.

Sort of like how, over time, a new mother can tell from the other room if her baby is crying because he's hungry, or because he's overtired, or because he has his head stuck between the slats of the crib. Subtle but different, each.

pakhan
02-16-2014, 09:59 PM
Agreed with the change in the perception of the sound and also the technique-

certainly solid wood instruments change with time:
- the resins in the wood crystallize
- nitrocellulose finish loses particles
- glues and fillers have more time to solidify

Think of it as a run-in time, like engines or speakers. There isn't a way to quantify or predict how much difference it will make, but there will be changes, it's just how much that change will affect the sound.

YVMV

NOTLguy
02-17-2014, 02:36 AM
Thanks to everyone who replied to this thread. I think there are many factors that change the sound of an instrument, and the one which stands out to me is familiarity with the instrument and the sound you are creating with your playing style. Over time I think you get used to how it sounds when you play it and as your skill increases, the sound gets better as well. Just my 2 cents.

Regards,
Bill

mds725
02-17-2014, 06:49 AM
....Gordon from Mya Moe has a great series of videos and he has covered this topic in at least one of them....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OseOMjJVvSc&list=PL9AF2972D40BFF2AD

Bill Mc
02-17-2014, 07:17 AM
Drink a glass of red wine while playing your ukulele. The sound will definitely open up.

OldePhart
02-17-2014, 03:57 PM
Drink a glass of red wine while playing your ukulele. The sound will definitely open up.

Drink a couple of bottles of wine while playing your ukulele. The sound may not open up but you won't care...

John

OmegaMatt
02-18-2014, 06:02 AM
I think different woods react differently. I understand that spruce resins harden over time and improve the resonance... but that cedar resonates better at the outset but won't show a great deal of improvement. This is what I've been informed, I can't say I've sat for ten years by any of my ukes just to check!

Warbulele
02-18-2014, 04:39 PM
A bunch of great replies.

About longer term aging, I'd add that there's a difference between the aging that happens in months or years with a new Uke, and the kind that happens over multiple decades. Some woods/instruments improve as they climb up there in years. Some don't, and some probably get worse.
Other than the resins crystalizing, mentioned earlier, there are oils and oleoresins, changing in structure (oxidizing, "curing"/polymerizing), volatile oils evaporating, and waxes and soft resins shifting around in response to the vibrations of the instrument being played.
Construction can also affect how they settle.
And there's the "unknown" changes at the molecular and subatomic level, and how aging objects tend to "fossilize" for better or for worse.
And what the air/temp/humidity is where it "lives", and how that interacts with the wood etc...

Something useful from Gordon's video mentioned earlier: (in regards to new Ukes "opening up")
Softer woods "open up" in ~3 months, medium woods ~6mo, and hardwoods ~a year or even more. He mentioned mango is a hardwood, to my surprise.

I've also read some people noticing Ukes that sit around "lose" a lot of their openness, but it comes back when played regularly again.

chuck in ny
02-18-2014, 06:43 PM
jeez eugene you don't have to add reality to the conversation.

coolkayaker1
02-20-2014, 05:38 AM
Drink a couple of bottles of wine while playing your ukulele. The sound may not open up but you won't care...

John

Drink three bottles of wine and John's ukulele will open up, if you can still hear it with the ear not against the ground.