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View Full Version : How long to open up? (in general, of course)



bellgamin
03-01-2014, 10:29 AM
For a uke w/solid mahogany top, about how many hours of playing should it take in order for the soundboard to "open up"?

billten
03-01-2014, 11:46 AM
Further question, does it actually have to be played? Does the wood 'open up' if it's hung on the wall while other music is being played? Just wondering...

coolkayaker1
03-01-2014, 01:01 PM
It requires precisely, down to the millisecond, the amount of time that it takes one's old ears to appreciate the new uke's sound.

itsme
03-01-2014, 01:24 PM
I don't think "opening up" can be measured in hours. It's more like months/years with regular playing. It is very subtle and happens slowly enough over time that you may not even notice it until one day you just think to yourself that it's sounding better than it used it.

Part of that is probably attributable to the fact that during that time you've likely become a better player, so naturally, the uke will sound better to you than the way you remember it the day you got it.

And then there are people who think the whole "opening up" thing is a myth but I'm not one of them. I do believe that it varies a lot by the wood. Cedar is softer and known to open faster, while spruce takes longer. I think mahogany's a fairly hard wood.

billten, I've heard of experiments where people set stringed instruments up to vibrate to pre-played sounds but I don't think anything was ever proven. Even at a loud volume, I doubt the instrument would vibrate in the same (beneficial) manner as actually strumming the strings, which is how hollow-bodied instruments like ukes are meant to vibrate.

Ukulele Eddie
03-01-2014, 01:26 PM
Depends how much wine I've had. Oh, wait, you mean the instruments. :)

While many people swear an instrument opens up, there isn't yet scientific evidence to back that up. Doesn't mean it won't be demonstrated at some point. Here (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2012/01/02/violinists-cant-tell-the-difference-between-stradivarius-violins-and-new-ones/#.UxJ3Tty4mlI) is an interesting read on top violinists comparing violins. It does not address the specific question you ask, but it does provide an interesting read highlighting that sometimes what people "know" to be "true" simply "ain't".

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2012/01/02/violinists-cant-tell-the-difference-between-stradivarius-violins-and-new-ones/#.UxJ3Tty4mlI

E

Icelander53
03-01-2014, 01:27 PM
I think there's some controversy on this issue from what I've been reading. I always hope I like the way my instrument sounds from the get go.

JordanK
03-01-2014, 01:33 PM
Just play the crap out of it...hehehe.

I'm not convinced about the whole opening up thing...hehehe. My secret theory is that it takes a bit of time to get used to playing a new instrument and that it eventually sounds better because you play it more efficiently. As a tech weeny, the only other scientific explanation I can think of is the finish slowly cures and this changes the sound properties of the instrument. That being said, most instruments you buy new were probably manufactured half a year ago so that theory doesn't really hold true.

Just play it everyday and enjoy!

Jordan.

bellgamin
03-01-2014, 03:32 PM
Uke-Eddy: Great blog! Veddy interesting.

OldePhart
03-01-2014, 04:36 PM
I've owned dozens of acoustic guitars and ukuleles. Of these, I can say with conviction that precisely two of them definitely opened up in the first few months I've owned them. I've owned some that seemed to improve, but the difference was subtle enough that I would not strongly claim that it wasn't merely a case of my finding the "mettle" of that instrument or what have you. I have had a couple that even seemed to get worse. The vast majority, though, have changed little if any. I've owned two Taylor guitars, one for around 12 or 13 years. I cannot say that either "opened up" and if my present Taylor, the one I've had longest, has changed one whit from the day I bought it you could not prove it by me.

So, is "opening up" a myth? Not entirely, but neither is it automatic and one absolutely should not rely on it. If the instrument doesn't sound great in the shop do not purchase it thinking it will get better just because it is of solid wood. You have more chance of being disappointed...or at least of having to rely on self-deception...than of the instrument truly improving.

John

ricdoug
03-01-2014, 08:05 PM
I own two Ovation/Applause acoustic/electric soprano UAE20's. They are about two years apart in age. Everyone wants to buy the older stained black one. It is not for sale. The difference is night and day. Ric

bborzell
03-02-2014, 04:56 AM
I own two Ovation/Applause acoustic/electric soprano UAE20's. They are about two years apart in age. Everyone wants to buy the older stained black one. It is not for sale. The difference is night and day. Ric

Well, there is a confounding variable if I have ever read one. :DSeems to beg the question of whether "opening up" is solely the purview of instrument tops.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the top is the primary producer of tone in an instrument, but we all know (or suspect) that backs and sides have some significant effect on how an instrument sounds. Anyone doubting that premise should pick up a well constructed uke with a soft top and maple back/sides.

Your Ovations have back/sides (so to speak) with sound characteristics that might theoretically change over time, but I would not want to make it my life's work to successfully detect such change. So, my guess is that the tonal preference you cite for your older model can pretty much be attributed to whatever the respective tops are doing at a given point in time.

That said, wood constantly undergoes change and harder woods like maple are likely to change at a slower and less apparent rate than cedar, for example. Anyone who has built (and kept) furniture from both hard woods and soft woods can attest to that fact. But, the question as to how much "opening up" of harder backs/sides on a uke affects changing tone over time is at least as difficult to answer as whether opening up is a myth, in the first place, and probably even more esoteric to contemplate.

mythinformed
03-02-2014, 05:14 AM
Its not a term I'm familiar with nor think I will bother to analyse ...........If I don't get that feel or sound about a Uke Instantly then I ain't buying it .

bborzell
03-02-2014, 06:12 AM
Its not a term I'm familiar with nor think I will bother to analyse ...........If I don't get that feel or sound about a Uke Instantly then I ain't buying it .

Given the uncertainty associated with degree and nature of wood movement, I think it would be poor investing, at the least, to buy an instrument that does not meet your sound expectations from the start.

The concept of "opening up" is real to me from my experience with some 25 acoustic guitars, mandolins and ukuleles; some have changed significantly, others not so much, if at all. But, my "opening up" experiences have made already fine sounding instruments sound better. Most of the time, the differenct is in volume, sometimes it is in the addition of complexity to the overall tone and, if you are fortunate, you get serious volume increase along with a richer tone.

But, if it don't sound pleasing to begin with, expecting the opening up process to make a marginal sounding uke sound better is likely to result in disappointment.

mythinformed
03-02-2014, 08:46 AM
Given the uncertainty associated with degree and nature of wood movement, I think it would be poor investing, at the least, to buy an instrument that does not meet your sound expectations from the start.

The concept of "opening up" is real to me from my experience with some 25 acoustic guitars, mandolins and ukuleles; some have changed significantly, others not so much, if at all. But, my "opening up" experiences have made already fine sounding instruments sound better. Most of the time, the differenct is in volume, sometimes it is in the addition of complexity to the overall tone and, if you are fortunate, you get serious volume increase along with a richer tone.

But, if it don't sound pleasing to begin with, expecting the opening up process to make a marginal sounding uke sound better is likely to result in disappointment.
As wood is such an unpredictable material its basically a gamble isn't it ? Will it 'open up' to the required level of satisfaction with age or will it lose the orginal sound which first attracted you to it ?
I would rather purchase and enjoy the instrument on its initial sound and tone which first drew me to it than second guess what it may or may not sound like months or years down the line.

We simply can't guess that hence why I would not give it my time in over analysing.

David Newton
03-02-2014, 01:06 PM
Speaking from a builder's perspective, I hear a newly strung uke open up in the first day or so, with no playing at all, and after a week or two, the majority of the opening up has occurred.
I don't think playing is necessary, but how would you know if it has opened up if you don't play it?
I would only expect a slow maturing of tone after a year of playing.
Do people keep ukes that long? It seems they flip them pretty quick.

OldePhart
03-02-2014, 01:19 PM
Speaking from a builder's perspective, I hear a newly strung uke open up in the first day or so, with no playing at all, and after a week or two, the majority of the opening up has occurred.
I don't think playing is necessary, but how would you know if it has opened up if you don't play it?
I would only expect a slow maturing of tone after a year of playing.
Do people keep ukes that long? It seems they flip them pretty quick.

A lot of builders seem to have this same general consensus re. the rapid change in the first few days and then not much. I suspect it's a case of the glue and finish curing completely rather than a significant change in the structure of the wood itself.

I despise the Gibson-style "rattle-o-matic" bridges on electric guitars because sooner or later they will begin rattling and it annoys the heck out of me. I've taken to setting the intonation once I decide on a brand and gage of strings and then filling the bridge with epoxy. The first time I did this I waited 24 hours, strung the guitar up, and was convinced I'd just ruined the bridge as there was no sustain or sparkle, it was as if the guitar was swaddled in cotton. I figured I'd have to order a replacement bridge. I picked it up a week later and the sustain and "bite" were back and then some - it had taken more than 24 hours for the "30 minute" epoxy to cure completely to where it stopped absorbing vibration.

I know most builders don't use epoxy - but I'd be willing to bet that there is a similar effect with hide glues and what have you, and probably with finishes, too, especially poly finishes.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it, anyway. :)

Oh...and re "flipping" ukes. With a couple of exceptions I've got every uke I've ever purchased :) that is going to have to change though 'cause it's gettin' ridiculous around here. LOL

John

Cheeso
03-04-2014, 06:49 AM
For a uke w/solid mahogany top, about how many hours of playing should it take in order for the soundboard to "open up"?
175,200.

That's for an all-solid uke, add laminates to the equation and the whole idea of opening up probably becomes negligible.