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Icelander53
07-22-2014, 10:06 AM
The thread on favorite tonewoods got me to thinking about the type music I like to play and what might be best for that.

I'm kind of a minor key guy. I play a lot of slow sad or agnst type songs and the lyrics are important in that choice.

So I'd like to hear what you'd choose for tonewoods if that was your musical preference. I'm looking for a second uke to use for focus on this type of music exclusively and I'm looking for a sound that is darker and at the same time powerful when played with some energy. If that makes any sense.

I'm going to give an example of a song here so you get what I'm talking about.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GE2MmwUbC_E

btw my gf is learning this marvelous piano part so we can play this together somewhat like this version by EJ.

Brad Bordessa
07-22-2014, 12:31 PM
I (personally) don't think it matters. Find an 'ukulele with a response and overall tone you like and learn to make your favorite styles/feels of music sound as good as you can. If you are projecting slow, sad, or angst-y music, it doesn't matter if you are playing a uke with a mango, koa, spruce, ebony, or Trex deck top. People will feel your vibe no matter what.

Just play, man. That's my two cents.

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 12:35 PM
http://www.guitarnation.com/articles/calkin.htm

This article would agree with you. The construction is almost everything it seems. Thanks for your 2 cents, It's going in the jar for my next uke.

PhilUSAFRet
07-22-2014, 01:19 PM
I'm just biased in favor of solid mahogany for acoustic blues (at least a solid top) along with low g tuning and wound 3 and 4.

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 01:45 PM
So youre telling me that a soprano uke and a tenor played by the same person will evoke the exact same depth of feeling in a minor key? Well if that's true then you can throw out much of what gets said about tonewoods, sizes, strings etc. Would you say that's correct?

I'm really going to disagree actually. I mean then you might as well play a kazoo as a pipe organ to get some depth and grandeur. I get what you're saying and agree that what you put out emotionally and with feeling is most important but I would think what you played on would make some kind of difference.

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 03:26 PM
So all this talk about this or that instrument being better than another is basically due to lack of skill rather than any quality of the instrument? One very skilled player would sound exactly the same on a $89 laminate as a $3000 koa as long as the intonation was good on both? Am I getting this right? Why do these skilled players tend to play on expensive instruments. Is it just bling?

Kayak Jim
07-22-2014, 03:36 PM
What Brad said was to find an instrument with the response and tone you like (emphasis mine). If that's the laminate, go for it.

actadh
07-22-2014, 03:56 PM
I play a solid spruce top concert which is usually described as bright, brassy, loud, or punchy. But my husband finds my playing tone to be anything but those descriptors. He describes it as introspective.

I play the same types of songs you mention as well as many slow and thoughtful ones from the early part of the 20th century in a minor key. I play mostly with the pads of my fingers. But, the spruce top gives me the tone I want as I decompress at the end of the day. Maybe I intuitively gravitated towards the sound I want.

When I got a solid mahogany soprano ukulele, I ended up playing it with a very different style - I found that I needed to use my nails to get that sound. But, I think that I do get the same depth of feeling in a minor key from two different types of ukuleles.

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 04:25 PM
What Brad said was to find an instrument with the response and tone you like (emphasis mine). If that's the laminate, go for it.

Yes I was listening to him. My question was is that tone in any way determined by the wood type of the ukulele? I'm not trying to be difficult, really I'm not, (my mom never believed that) I just want to decide what tone wood would best fit my musical preferences. If that is really not a factor then I'll focus on whatever is. This is all outside of what I bring to the music with my playing.

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 04:29 PM
I play a solid spruce top concert which is usually described as bright, brassy, loud, or punchy. But my husband finds my playing tone to be anything but those descriptors. He describes it as introspective.

I play the same types of songs you mention as well as many slow and thoughtful ones from the early part of the 20th century in a minor key. I play mostly with the pads of my fingers. But, the spruce top gives me the tone I want as I decompress at the end of the day. Maybe I intuitively gravitated towards the sound I want.

When I got a solid mahogany soprano ukulele, I ended up playing it with a very different style - I found that I needed to use my nails to get that sound. But, I think that I do get the same depth of feeling in a minor key from two different types of ukuleles.

So for you then, the type of wood you choose compliments your musical preferences? Do I have that right?

I find, for some reason that I absolutely don't like spruce top when strumming with the fingernail. It seems to amplify the sound of the nail on the string in an almost plastic sounding way. My gf has a spruce Pono and she thinks so too. Picked however I find these spruce topped ukes very pleasing. We have two of them.

hawaii 50
07-22-2014, 05:10 PM
I (personally) don't think it matters. Find an 'ukulele with a response and overall tone you like and learn to make your favorite styles/feels of music sound as good as you can. If you are projecting slow, sad, or angst-y music, it doesn't matter if you are playing a uke with a mango, koa, spruce, ebony, or Trex deck top. People will feel your vibe no matter what.

Just play, man. That's my two cents.

I kind of agree with Brad....
I have all different combinations of tonewoods...but none of them make me sound like Brad...

practice makes you a better player...not the tonewood...this is just my opinion....:) as I am not even close to being where I want to be...and I practice as much as possible

so grab your uke and start practicing.....
btw I still think Brad in his teens...wow!

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 05:33 PM
I kind of agree with Brad....
I have all different combinations of tonewoods...but none of them make me sound like Brad...

practice makes you a better player...not the tonewood...this is just my opinion....:) as I am not even close to being where I want to be...and I practice as much as possible

so grab your uke and start practicing.....
btw I still think Brad in his teens...wow!

When did I ever say anything about being a better player? That has absolutely nada to do with the question I asked here. I'm asking a very simple straight forward question about whether the tonewood on a ukulele will have an effect on the sound produced.

So I guess all your tonewoods sound the same. That's what you're saying, am I getting this right? So you bought them why?

Steveperrywriter
07-22-2014, 05:44 PM
I dunno, I think it makes a big difference. I have an all-Koa uke and one with a spruce top and hardwood back and if I play the same song the same way on each, they sound different. Koa seems warm and woody, the spruce is brighter and louder. While I can adjust my strum somewhat for tone and volume, there is a difference.

A kazoo is not a pipe organ, a uke is not a guitar, and a koa uke sounds different than a mahogany. At least to my ears.

Now, whether minor key blues sound better on one than the other is going to be affected by construction and the players and listeners, but "better" is different from "different ..."

Hammond
07-22-2014, 05:54 PM
So all this talk about this or that instrument being better than another is basically due to lack of skill rather than any quality of the instrument? One very skilled player would sound exactly the same on a $89 laminate as a $3000 koa as long as the intonation was good on both? Am I getting this right? Why do these skilled players tend to play on expensive instruments. Is it just bling?
When trying to understand why most very skilled players are playing with high-quality decent uke. Here are some thoughts,

Sponsor: Professional players are sponsored by uke brands so they have their unique top quality uke. Brands are doing marketing, showing off their high-quality, attracting the fans to buy their brand, etc..

Reliability: What makes the uke won't fail during performing. Skilled players they choose a higher priced uke, because they desire the reliability from the uke being made with more stable materials - mostly the wood. Then it comes to a well seasoned, selected, pricey wood. Along with higher handcraft quality, to make sure the uke is very well constructed. And the construction gives much in how the uke sound.

I believe all players are able to make beautiful music, not limited with what wood & price of ukes.

Many players with different style, technique,and different type of music. It is easy to find that most of them are playing beautiful Koa ukes. One tonewood - Koa, has made all kind of music by those players.

Now lets brainstorm together, what is more important when making music.:cheers:

I hope some of my humble opinion may help you create new thoughts and find answers.

hawaii 50
07-22-2014, 06:00 PM
When did I ever say anything about being a better player? That has absolutely nada to do with the question I asked here. I'm asking a very simple straight forward question about whether the tonewood on a ukulele will have an effect on the sound produced.

So I guess all your tonewoods sound the same. That's what you're saying, am I getting this right? So you bought them why?


sorry seems like you had a duplicate question/thread about tonewoods...kind of confused....:)

what I am saying is more practice less talking my way of getting answers and the goal to sound better....:)

and I did my homework on tonewoods...but I talked to luthiers who built my ukes....

Rick Tuner can give you good advice...send him an email..he will help you

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 06:40 PM
How do you know how much I practice? I didn't ask about sounding better. I asked if tonewoods effect the sound of the instrument and if so what people thought about tonewoods for the type of music I like to play. I've already agree that how you play has a profound effect on how the musics sounds but that was not my question. I don't know how to say it in a way that can make this any plainer so I guess I'll just give it up and move on. I know when I'm beat. :cheers:

Yooke
07-22-2014, 06:42 PM
The thread on favorite tonewoods got me to thinking about the type music I like to play and what might be best for that.

I'm kind of a minor key guy. I play a lot of slow sad or agnst type songs and the lyrics are important in that choice.

So I'd like to hear what you'd choose for tonewoods if that was your musical preference. I'm looking for a second uke to use for focus on this type of music exclusively and I'm looking for a sound that is darker and at the same time powerful when played with some energy. If that makes any sense.

I'm going to give an example of a song here so you get what I'm talking about.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GE2MmwUbC_E

btw my gf is learning this marvelous piano part so we can play this together somewhat like this version by EJ.

I see what you're saying. After discovering Jake Shimabukuro, I have really began to like fingerstyle music. From my limited knowledge and info I gathered from the Favorite Tonewood thread, I would choose Cedar, Redwood, or Mahogany for you.

If someone were to look for an instrument that would suit happy, upbeat music, more strumming than picking, then I would go for Spruce, Koa, Mango, even Acacia.

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 06:49 PM
I dunno, I think it makes a big difference. I have an all-Koa uke and one with a spruce top and hardwood back and if I play the same song the same way on each, they sound different. Koa seems warm and woody, the spruce is brighter and louder. While I can adjust my strum somewhat for tone and volume, there is a difference.

A kazoo is not a pipe organ, a uke is not a guitar, and a koa uke sounds different than a mahogany. At least to my ears.

Now, whether minor key blues sound better on one than the other is going to be affected by construction and the players and listeners, but "better" is different from "different ..."

Well thanks for addressing the question. I hear that term woody but don't know for sure what that describes. I do think however that warm works well for the music I like to play as compared to bright.

I do think that the build quality (guessing) has the most to do with how a uke sounds but it would seem reasonable that the type of wood would have some effect. That's what I keep hearing on these boards anyway. If wood type has no effect on sound then there is a lot of nonsense posting about it going on here.

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 06:52 PM
I see what you're saying. After discovering Jake Shimabukuro, I have really began to like fingerstyle music. From my limited knowledge and info I gathered from the Favorite Tonewood thread, I would choose Cedar, Redwood, or Mahogany for you.

If someone were to look for an instrument that would suit happy, upbeat music, more strumming than picking, then I would go for Spruce, Koa, Mango, even Acacia.

I've heard redwood described as cedar on steroids lol. I'd really like to hear one, especially since I live very near to the Northern California redwoods. They certainly look like they're on steroids, in a dinosaur kind of way. :D

Yooke
07-22-2014, 07:13 PM
I've heard redwood described as cedar on steroids lol. I'd really like to hear one, especially since I live very near to the Northern California redwoods. They certainly look like they're on steroids, in a dinosaur kind of way. :D

It would be nice to own a piece of such old history that's for sure. Yeah, I'm really intrigued as well, haven't heard about it until someone mentioned it in the other threads. I read that its an endangered species so even cooler if a ukulele made of Redwood was from an old Church where they played music all the time.

Steveperrywriter
07-22-2014, 07:16 PM
Check out the tone of the redwood-topped uke reviewed here: http://theukulelereview.com/2013/09/12/beau-hannam-ukulele/

barefootgypsy
07-22-2014, 08:19 PM
Interesting thread, thanks for asking the question - I've enjoyed reading all the answers! One point worth mentioning, and something I have only realised relatively recently, is that the sound you hear when playing your uke (up above it - is not the sound that someone hears from out in front of it - which makes it all harder still to fathom! Good luck..... :)

kohanmike
07-22-2014, 08:26 PM
I consider myself a fair player and I can tell the difference between my ukes. I have five, all tenor cutaway, one has a solid spruce top and laminate quilted ash body with Worth brown BT, it has what I call a muted sound, not much sustain. I have a solid mahogany with laminate body and Worth CT that has a little brighter sound and more presence and sustain. The laminate koa has more presence and fuller sound and good sustain with fluorocarbon strings. The solid cedar top/laminate koa body has the most presence, fullest sound and sustain with Aquila strings. My new custom solid curly maple top, solid Indian rosewood body is brand new so it needs time to open up, but it has good presence and a full sound and sustain with Aquila strings which I'm going to change to Worth CT when I install the preamp in a couple of days.

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 08:26 PM
Hey Icelander

My honest feeling is that it's an impossible question to answer, only because what you think will suit that kind of music may not be what someone else thinks. Also it may depend on whether you are going to use it as a rhythm instrument and strum predominantly or as a melodic instrument and play more fingerstyle, or both.

With a bright uke there are ways to soften it through your technique and with a darker, mellow instrument there are ways you can get more dynamic. Are you with me?

So really, I stand by my first post. But to try and help you out a bit more...in a generic sense something like an all-walnut uke would give a mellow, darker kind of rich, smooth sound from my experience, and if paired with a softwood top (cedar/redwood) would pack a little more punch in terms of responsiveness and volume. A spruce top will be bright and potentially a bit abrasive if you're a hard player. Not something I'd ever choose for a uke though plenty of folks love it. A lot depends a lot on your playing technique and also what strings you use. And on who built it and how it was built. So it's one of those kind of unanswerable questions.

As was suggested a little earlier, if I were you I would just look to buy an instrument whose tone and playability I liked best. Play it a lot. Get used to it and work within its limitations or otherwise to best express yourself and the sound you're looking for. Hope that makes sense mate. Only my opinion.

It's not impossible to have an opinion on what tonewoods sound like and that's what I was asking for, opinions. How many questions on ukes or anything for that matter have definitive answers?

I haven't disagreed with what you've been saying I just didn't see it as pertinent to my query. And buying an instrument over the internet sort of makes your suggestion on picking something you like to play a little difficult. I have to do my best with others opinions in some cases. In my local ukes to play in person are in short supply.

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 08:32 PM
Interesting thread, thanks for asking the question - I've enjoyed reading all the answers! One point worth mentioning, and something I have only realised relatively recently, is that the sound you hear when playing your uke (up above it - is not the sound that someone hears from out in front of it - which makes it all harder still to fathom! Good luck..... :)

That's funny because I was going to start a thread on that very thing earlier but forgot about it. That's especially true with both my gfs and my spruce top instruments. I like the sound of hearing them played much better than the sound I hear when playing them. I have others that sound much the same in both directions.

To go on I was wondering if the placement of sound ports would affect that? Because personally I play mostly alone.

AndrewKuker
07-22-2014, 08:40 PM
The builder and player give the voice. The wood could be likened to a microphone. It will color the voice or feature a different frequency and range, but with the same voice. Usually the most passionate uke players seek out the best ukes. These come in many different woods and are all capable of many styles.

I remember one time a guy came in the store and strummed on a uke for a while, looked at us and in a southern twang says, "Oh ya, she can play country"…Cracked me up!

Describing the sound of a wood is like describing a race of people. Often right, but oh so wrong. Certainly the tone can vary. But the style is in you. Find the instrument that lets you express that. Often better will inspire better. Better comes in all popular tone woods.

dalamaricus
07-22-2014, 09:32 PM
You said you want to play slow, sad, angsty songs. Are you sure the ukulele is the right instrument in the first place? Most people describe ukes as sounding happy, not angsty.

You mentioned darker sounds and power. I think of lower notes as being darker and loudness/resonance as adding power. So a low G tenor or a baritone uke. Someone else mentioned wound strings and (getting to the tonewood finally) mahogany, which both sound like good ideas too.

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 09:52 PM
Yeah I'm sure the ukulele is exactly the right instrument.:bowdown: I just got done playing that song on the uke and I love it. I realize that traditionally the uke has a reputation as being happy but it can cry too. That's one reason I went tenor instead of soprano and one reason I use low G on some of my ukes and I do also use a wound C string on some. So I'm considering Mahogany as one choice. Thanks for your input.

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 09:55 PM
No worries. I didn't disagree with you either, I just tried to give you the most helpful and honest advice I could that was directly pertinent to your query. If you just want to know what different tonewoods are (supposed) to sound like all things being equal - same builder, same design and so-on - there are a number of resources that can give you that kind of generic comparison. One good one is here: http://www.myamoeukuleles.com/acoustics.html#

Thanks bro. I'll be reading that one. BTW did you read the link I put up called The Heretic's guide to Tonewoods? I be very interested in hearing your thoughts on that one.

Icelander53
07-22-2014, 10:28 PM
OK I really hope I'm not being annoying here but I'm trying to get my head around the idea of tonewoods and how they differ. I'm like a dog on scent when I get like this and I can be a little obsessive. So I apologize if that's how this appears. I'm just planning on spending some real cash on another instrument without holding it in person and I'm trying to up my odds of hitting somewhere near the bullseye.

So... Back to Koa. I'm studying all these descriptions of Koa and over and over I hear "the traditional ukulele sound" . I understand that to mean a happy sound, bright, cheerful. But then they say it is a very warm sounding wood. What does that mean in relation to to what they are saying about traditional sound?

Warm compared to what? Spruce? Cedar? Mahogany?

coolkayaker1
07-23-2014, 12:41 AM
Describing a sound with words is like trying to describe the ride quality of a lawn tractor by using guttural utterances created with the tongue and pursed lips: one may get the gist from a series of "raspberries" and vigorous clucks, but until one hops on the tractor for themself, it's all mental ballyhoo.

You can read one hundred descriptions of Koa for ukuleles from as many players, but you'll never understand it's virtues and shortcomings until you strum it yourself. After thirty-odd replies, you are still asking about the sound of Koa; it's not at all annoying, it's merely par for the course for the natural inadequacy of words to describe sounds.

I encourage you to use UU (and your automobile with a full tank of gasoline) and venture out. You live in an area with other UUers and uke groups: seek peers who own Koa ukuleles--as ubiquitous as the common housefly--and tell us how you would describe it, Ice.

You, like us before you, have but one choice: to strum the Koa, or spruce, or cedar, or mahogany, instrument for yourself.

(Déjà vous question begets déjà vous reply...lol)

barefootgypsy
07-23-2014, 01:36 AM
That's funny because I was going to start a thread on that very thing earlier but forgot about it. That's especially true with both my gfs and my spruce top instruments. I like the sound of hearing them played much better than the sound I hear when playing them. I have others that sound much the same in both directions.

To go on I was wondering if the placement of sound ports would affect that? Because personally I play mostly alone. As I'm sure you know, some ukes have a sound port on the side, another on the front nearer the side - Boulder Creek Riptide, for example... I've seen reviews and heard some players say they like this style because it throws the real sound toward them. Soem luthier-built ukes have them too.... I think it's worth considering! Look at some videos!

barefootgypsy
07-23-2014, 01:42 AM
:smileybounce:
Describing a sound with words is like trying to describe the ride quality of a lawn tractor by using guttural utterances created with the tongue and pursed lips: one may get the gist from a series of "raspberries" and vigorous clucks, but until one hops on the tractor for themself, it's all mental ballyhoo.

You can read one hundred descriptions of Koa for ukuleles from as many players, but you'll never understand it's virtues and shortcomings until you strum it yourself. After thirty-odd replies, you are still asking about the sound of Koa; it's not at all annoying, it's merely par for the course for the natural inadequacy of words to describe sounds.

I encourage you to use UU (and your automobile with a full tank of gasoline) and venture out. You live in an area with other UUers and uke groups: seek peers who own Koa ukuleles--as ubiquitous as the common housefly--and tell us how you would describe it, Ice.

You, like us before you, have but one choice: to strum the Koa, or spruce, or cedar, or mahogany, instrument for yourself.

(Déjà vous question begets déjà vous reply...lol) I'd forgotten how much you make me laugh! You have genuinely cheered up my day with a good chuckle!

barefootgypsy
07-23-2014, 01:52 AM
okay, my parting shot - here's a link with a Boulder Creek review (http://ukulelehunt.com/buy-ukulele/brands/riptide-ukulele/) - and note what Al says about playing in front of a wall to get an idea of what a particular uke sounds like... I hope this helps a little! BTW I don't have a uke with a sound port in the side. I might get one some day.

DaveY
07-23-2014, 03:42 AM
I think it takes a certain level of experience to appreciate that what eugene/Jon and AndrewK are saying is the truth. I don't mean that in a condescending way; it's something that I am still figuring out and accepting. (Last night I happened to play the same song on two very different ukes, just for that reason.) Try playing the same song on different ukuleles, and you (or I) might prefer it one way over the other, but what is different is minor compared to what remains the same, I think. And the advice to go out and play different ukes with different tonewoods (but the different ukes will be built differently, so...) is sound (pun intended). And then there's the effect of low G vs. high G. And the strings on the instrument. And picking vs. strumming. And . . .

But, yes, spruce is bright, and koa can be kind of bright, and mahogany tends to be warm – but my mahogany tenor is really bright, and my low-G koa is not bright at all, and so now this is kind of falling apart.

For sad songs, you could play something deep and full (low-G mahogany or koa?) that "fits" the mood, or you could play something bright (spruce-top concert) for contrast/paradox/irony. It can work either way.

Meanwhile – and just for fun – I'll take a shot at it:

Cedar - Folk
Redwood - Blues
Mahogany - Classical
Koa - Hawaiian, Classic Rap
Sitka Spruce - Trad Jazz
Engelmann Spruce - Modern Jazz
Maple - "Moonlight In Vermont" or "O, Canada!"
Myrtle - songs about women named Myrtle
Balsa - Bieber

Dearman
07-23-2014, 04:15 AM
The reason there are so many opinions that contradict each other is that sound quality is impacted by many variables from material, construction to technique that it is hard to discern which one is giving you the sound you prefer. The other big reason is that most of us use the most variable method of measurement to compare (our ears and brain). The science given in the links from the university of south wales below gives highly summarized results with an attempt to relate the science to terms musicians understand and hear. My read says materials do mater but much less than construction style (bracing) and luthier construction methods. So short of getting equipment to better measure sound and performing a scientific design of experiments going through which variables impact you the most, I suggest the following:

Try different ukes and listen for the sound you like
-take note of the luthier or factory brand
-look at the bracing and build quality you can see
-note the wood and string material combination
-play each the same way

Eventually a pattern should develop. Even if it isn't a 100% accurate approach; if you get a uke you love - who cares?

Construction impact on sound
http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/music/guitaracoustics/construction.html

Top level link to get other supporting info
http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/guitar/intro_engl.html

Hammond
07-23-2014, 04:54 AM
The reason there are so many opinions that contradict each other is that sound quality is impacted by many variables from material, construction to technique that it is hard to discern which one is giving you the sound you prefer. The other big reason is that most of us use the most variable method of measurement to compare (our ears and brain). The science given in the links from the university of south wales below gives highly summarized results with an attempt to relate the science to terms musicians understand and hear. My read says materials do mater but much less than construction style (bracing) and luthier construction methods. So short of getting equipment to better measure sound and performing a scientific design of experiments going through which variables impact you the most, I suggest the following:

Try different ukes and listen for the sound you like
-take note of the luthier or factory brand
-look at the bracing and build quality you can see
-note the wood and string material combination
-play each the same way

Eventually a pattern should develop. Even if it isn't a 100% accurate approach; if you get a uke you love - who cares?

Construction impact on sound
http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/music/guitaracoustics/construction.html

Top level link to get other supporting info
http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/guitar/intro_engl.html
Great article about construction impact. Thanks.

davidrboy
07-23-2014, 05:23 AM
From a couple pages back:

t would seem reasonable that the type of wood would have some effect. That's what I keep hearing on these boards anyway. If wood type has no effect on sound then there is a lot of nonsense posting about it going on here.

Wood does have some effect. As do build, size, style, shape, strings, tuning, weather, fingernail length, altitude, lunar phase, etc.
And yes, there is [I]a lot of nonsense posting going on around here (but that's one of the most fun parts about this place).

Steveperrywriter
07-23-2014, 06:21 AM
Traditionally, Hawaiian ukes were made with koa, so it would stand to reason that the traditional sound about which people speak would be that wood. Early on, the smaller sizes predominated, and the concert and tenor sizes came along later, though they have been around long enough to be considered standards by now.

Maybe you might look to classical guitar makers for some help here. From what I know of it, there have been a lot of woods tried, but most often, the modern nylon stringers are softwood tops paired with harder wood backs. The "softer" of the soft woods run to cedars, the “harder” to spruces, with redwoods somewhere in between.

In classical guitars, cedar is usually considered warmer and woodier, and spruces cooler and brighter. These are completely subjective terms, and, to complicate things, the instruments with solid tops will (if you believe such things and I do) open up, i.e., the tone will change as the guitar ages. Cedar is mostly there to begin with, spruce takes longer.

When classical guitarist talk about instruments that are cannons, that is to say, louder and with more sustain, they can be talking about either cedar or spruce or even redwood. That pesky construction/string/player business.

The backs of classical guitars are usually hardwoods, and the prime choice for a long time was Brazilian Rosewood. This is now endangered, expensive, hard-to-come-by, illegal unless properly papered, and the result is that there are a lot of replacement woods, many of them relatively esoteric in the U.S. Various other rosewoods, from India or Honduras, walnuts, cherries, and in the case of one I own, Osage Orange. This latter is a pretty good drop-in for Rosewood, falling somewhere between Braz and Indian, if the maker, Alan Carruth, can be believed. I believe him.

Ukes are not classical guitars, but some of the principles seem to be similar. The harder back/softer tops will often be louder than a single-species like koa or mahogany, but not always, and as has been pointed out, there are a slew of other factors that matter, no point in me re-listing them. I'm not sure anybody mentioned finish, but French Polish makes a difference, too.

Get on YouTube and listen to comparisons of different woods and that will help some, but only in a general way. The specifics will, by the nature of the beasts, vary. However, if you listen to enough folks say “woody” or “bright” and look at what they are pointing at when they say it, it might become easier to distinguish twixt the two. And then, of course, you can learn to make a woody instrument sing louder or a bright one quieter by the way you address it.

I play a lot of blues on my low-G tenors, and while I miss the guitar’s two bass strings, the low-G gives some bottom, especially walking the turnarounds. If I am fingerpicking a solo instrumental piece and I want volume, I use the spruce ukes. If I want to strum, the koa is nice, but I can switch those around and make do. I think that’s why you are getting the “get better” advice, because the better you are, the more options. Great players can make crappy instruments sound great, and great instruments can make crappy players sound better.

Me, I think maybe the redwood tops might offer the best compromise, but again, it will depend on more than just that factor.

This is why you need more than one until you are in that Cory-Kimo-Jake class ...

Icelander53
07-23-2014, 06:49 AM
Lots of great info there, thanks. I just bought a Cedar top/ Mahogany side and back Pono and I have nothing that compares with it's warm yet lively sound. I have nothing bad to say about it sound wise and it blows all my other ukes away for my tastes. Having it inspired me towards the possibility of another Pono and so I thought I'd see if there was anything even warmer out there but I guess I might have found my best match outside of possibly the cedar/rosewood combo. I have heard some pretty warm sounding Koa ukes online though.

JoeJazz2000
10-16-2014, 01:11 PM
Describing a sound with words is like trying to describe the ride quality of a lawn tractor by using guttural utterances created with the tongue and pursed lips: one may get the gist from a series of "raspberries" and vigorous clucks, but until one hops on the tractor for themself, it's all mental ballyhoo.

You can read one hundred descriptions of Koa for ukuleles from as many players, but you'll never understand it's virtues and shortcomings until you strum it yourself. After thirty-odd replies, you are still asking about the sound of Koa; it's not at all annoying, it's merely par for the course for the natural inadequacy of words to describe sounds.

I encourage you to use UU (and your automobile with a full tank of gasoline) and venture out. You live in an area with other UUers and uke groups: seek peers who own Koa ukuleles--as ubiquitous as the common housefly--and tell us how you would describe it, Ice.

You, like us before you, have but one choice: to strum the Koa, or spruce, or cedar, or mahogany, instrument for yourself.

(Déjà vous question begets déjà vous reply...lol)

These are matters of personal preference and cannot be resolved. I heard it this way: "Arguing about tone is like dancing to architecture."

pritch
10-16-2014, 03:29 PM
note what Al says about playing in front of a wall to get an idea of what a particular uke sounds like...

That right there is a gem. Just tried it and the difference was stark.

Sabantien
10-16-2014, 08:16 PM
I get the question, not a bad one at all! And I definitely like the idea of using the 'happy' instrument for some sad songs. Mix things up a little!

My take on the myriad of responses is, the wood makes a difference, but it's probably not the major difference. There's so much that goes into the instrument that has an effect on the sound, you can't pinpoint the type of wood for that particular sound. It's probably more the size and string choice (which you've already considered) than the wood.

For what it's worth, my (laminate) mahogany uke sounds to me like it'd be quite capable of playing that sort of music, but then maybe i'm just not hearing it right either.

If you can't get to a store with a wide range, or meet locals with a wide range of ukes, i'd suggest searching YouTube. There's people doing uke covers of pretty much every song ever written. Find the songs that suit what you're after, listen to how the different ukes sound. It's still only a rough guide. Many times I've heard of musicians having a particular sound, then when they hand over their instrument to someone else, it sounds completely different.

I've found some luthier websites discuss why they choose certain woods and the sound they get from them, so that might be a good guide too.

Pippin
10-16-2014, 09:53 PM
I'll post this response...


What’s the difference in tone woods? It’s a common question. I posted this long ago on Ukulele Underground. I’ll post it here for reference.

What tone, over all, do I want? A rosewood back and sides will have better low and mid-range tone than a mahogany uke. Spruce will be brighter than mahogany and will not mellow as much as cedar with age. Cedar will sound bright at first and just continue to get more mellow and sweeter with age. Then there are the exotic woods, starting with koa, very punchy with clear tone. Mango is softer and sweeter, but it doesn’t carry as well as koa. Zebrawood, pretty new on the market is bright, but it is a thinner tone than any of the others mentioned thus far. Maple is bright and combined with a spruce top will be one of the loudest ukes you can ever find, yet played softly, it can be about as sweet and mellow as any instrument. Maple is usually laminated, so a solid spruce top is important.

The “sound” changes with different combinations of wood, bracing, body size and shape. Many companies have different sounds on different instruments depending on the choice of woods used. So, here is a basic rundown…

bright sound…. maple back and sides, spruce top (very loud).
fairly bright sound, warms with age…. solid mahogany
warm sound, warms slightly with age, not as loud as koa…. mango
bright sound, with a pronounced “bark” with warm tone, yet very loud…. solid koa
warm sound, sweet tone that gets sweeter with age…. mahogany back with cedar top
bright, warm sound, mellows with age, remains loud…. mahogany with spruce top
warm sound, mid-volume, smooth sweet tone…. koa back and sides with a cedar top
warm, rich sound, good midrange & lower registers… rosewood back sides, cedar top
warm, rich sound, bright highs, good volume…. rosewood back & sides, spruce top

less common woods…

myrtle… bright, mid-range tone with good balance
zebrawood… chipper, bright tone, average volume (add spruce top for more volume)
monkeypod… sounds similar to Koa, not as pretty, but nice straight grain
blackwood… nice grain, sounds a lot like koa, warms with age
walnut… bright, loud, not commonly used in ukes… used a lot in hammer dulcimers.
sycamore… bright, mid-volume, but soft
redwood… very soft, but warm tone

There are more combination available these days, but the combinations you see listed here are the most common, especially among ukuleles. The same descriptions apply, though, for guitar construction.

Keep in mind that for guitar, attack angle can make a difference in your tone, too. So can changing your strumming position. With ukulele, the strumming hand position doesn’t change the tone as much as on a guitar.

DownUpDave
10-16-2014, 11:06 PM
My best advice to you is buy a Pono with a cedar top and macassar back and sides.

I know you will love it, I know I will love it. How do I know............because we do own them and we do love them. Don't you love old threads, can make one look like a genius. ;)

Hey Ice we haven't seen you around in a while, you just busy playing and practicing or have you discovered the bagpipes and are over on bagpipes underground forums:wtf:

tangimango
10-17-2014, 12:08 AM
personally for what your looking for , I would look for a wide grain Englemann spruce top and any back and sides you want. Kasha Muse Hybrid Bracing

kohanmike
10-17-2014, 07:26 AM
I'm not anywhere good enough to determine if certain songs sound better on my various ukes, but in order of projection, sustain and volume, here's how my stack up (all tenor cutaway);

1. Kala solid cedar top, laminate acacia koa body with Aquila strings
2. Uku all laminate acacia koa two hole (very light weight) with Worth CT strings
3. Gretsch solid 1/4 sawn mahogany top, laminate mahogany body with Worth CT strings

waiting for a new tailpiece for my custom gypsy jazz style all solid curly maple top, Indian rosewood body, but it's was very subdued with the stock supposedly Aquila strings, hoping it will improve when/if it opens up and new Aquilas.

Also waiting for the black mandolele from the same builder, all solid acacia koa, looking forward to the sound with two f holes.

I also have a Lanikai solid spruce top, laminate quilted ash with Worth browns, but is not loud, almost no sustain and does not project well. (So it might be the best one for lament songs.)