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matchubouye
02-19-2009, 02:13 PM
can anybody tell me the difference between solid wood and laminate?

Brad Bordessa
02-19-2009, 02:49 PM
Solid wood is ....solid wood. When someone says an uke is "solid wood" they mean that the top, back, and sides are
cut out of a solid piece of wood.

Laminate is a bunch of thin pieces of wood stacked and glued together. Most of the time, unless an uke is bound, you can look inside the soundhole or around the edge and see the layers. Laminate does not sound as good as solid wood, in my opinion. Laminate is cheaper to make though, so unless you spend more than about $300, you will most likely get a laminate ukulele.

Howlin Hobbit
02-19-2009, 02:56 PM
Laminate = plywood. Sometimes only two plies (the main wood and the pretty veneer on top) but plywood nonetheless.


...unless you spend more than about $300, you will most likely get a laminate ukulele.

Often true until you hit a company like Ohana (http://www.ohana-music.com/) or Mainland Ukuleles (http://mainlandukes.com/).

ichadwick
02-20-2009, 02:57 AM
Laminates are two or more very thin slices of wood glued with their grains at 90 degrees from the grain of the previous one. Depending on the type of laminate, it may have different woods on the top from what is underneath (i.e. the top plie is often a veneer for aesthetic effect).

Solid woods used for instruments have rather different physics. They expand and compress with play; the wood actually changes its structure over time. Solid woods also transmit sound better because they vibrate more freely. There are several good articles online about the physics of tonewoods.

Laminates are built for strength so they do not vibrate or expand/compress the same way. In fact, the alternating 90-degree grains tends to dampen vibration, so some tonal qualities will be lost.

Although laminates used for instruments may have a nice piece on top, in general wood chosen for plywood is not the prime selection: it's more often the less attractive, or 'seconds' selection because appearance or flaws aren't as important. Your laminate top may hide more than blemishes: it can contain knots or holes you can't see in other plies.

In a solid top, the grain has varying areas of wood density. Each density transmits sound a little differently. Because no two slices of wood are identical, and each of us plays music differently, over time the wood will change to match our style and volume as well as the particular piece of topwood. That gives your instrument a unique voice.

Each solid-topped instrument has a 'break in' period during which it will undergo the most of these changes. Sometimes this is called 'settling in'. if you play it a lot, your instrument will have a different sound in a year from what it had when it was new. The time and the amount of the change will depend on the construction, the wood, your style, your environment (humidity in particular) and the phase of the moon (just kidding - but each instrument ages differently).

Laminates by their nature tend to average out tonal and playing effects, so they will not change as much or as noticeably. This can be a positive if you don't want your sound to change much.

Woods used on sides and backs do not transmit sound as much as the top does - they are predominantly reflectors - so they can be laminates without compromising the overall instrument's sound. There's even an argument that back and sides may be better choices as laminates than some some tonewoods because laminates reflect the sound waves better (less absorption) than some tonewoods.

After all that - what matters most is the sound you like from your instrument. If you like the sound of a laminate-topped uke, get it. If you like a solid-topped, keep in mind that it will eventually alter - perhaps insignificantly and so slowly you won't notice, but it will do so.

PS. Kala also has some reasonably-priced solid-tops, under $300 - and there is a soild-topped Amigo uke that is under $100. Not to mention the many previously-enjoyed bargains up for sale on this and other uke forums.

geoffsuke
02-20-2009, 04:01 AM
i know this has probably been said above, but i'll put it sweet and simple

laminate is cheap, solid is more expensive. and with ukes you get what you pay for, my advice is to go solid wood anyday

ukantor
02-20-2009, 06:40 AM
I'd like to try one of the Kiwayas made from very thin, intrument grade laminated wood. Not all ply wood is the same.

Regular three ply can make a very sturdy, but not wonderful sounding uke. There are some very interesting 'special' laminated woods around.

Ukantor.

Uke Republic
02-23-2009, 06:07 PM
There are plenty of nice sounding laminated ukes out there. Kala and Ohana I feel make both versions quite well.If you get to play or hear a MaKala set up with good strings you might be impressed. Just remember that if you are taking your uke in and out of diff temps and diff humidity levels, those lammys are much more forgiving.Solid Koa and Mango need a more stable and moist environment to prevent cracking. I do love the tone of a solid instrument. Try out both and see how they look and sound. Hey its a personal thing.Kala has a solid acacia uke coming out in April at a close to lammy price.:anyone:

ichadwick
02-26-2009, 07:23 AM
Yes, the sound from a solid top is richer and more complex, but the overall sound effect is what you should look for, and if you like the sound from a laminate top then that's what you should get.

I have a Fluke in my collection, and it's a laminate, but since it has a different physical model (body shape, size and plastic back), the result is quite different from any other uke I have. Ditto with the Applause. Not bad: just different. I like the plinky Fluke sound, and play it a lot.

Personally, I like bright, clear, long sustain and a bit woody in my sound. The Kala solid cedar, satin finish is perfect for what I like right now. But my wife prefers the sound of my Pono mango because it's warma nd mellow. Another local player wants to buy one of my spruce-tops because that sound spoke to him.

eleukeusa
03-11-2010, 12:54 PM
...unless you spend more than about $300, you will most likely get a laminate ukulele.
Often true until you hit a company like Ohana or Mainland Ukuleles.
True and having personally seen these solid top Ohanas (http://www.ohana-music.com/sopr/sk15/master.html) in each of the four colors, I'm amazed that they come in at a $89 list price. (the pics don't do them justice. Its a transparent finish... I'm a sucker for transparent)

kissing
03-11-2010, 02:47 PM
i know this has probably been said above, but i'll put it sweet and simple

laminate is cheap, solid is more expensive. and with ukes you get what you pay for, my advice is to go solid wood anyday

I disagree. While solids do generally sound louder acoustically, the reason why they cost more is because solid wood costs more tha laminates and more work goes in.
But this doesn't mean that laminates are inferior to Solid woods, and that they shouldn't be considered at all.

My first good uke was an all-solid mahogany tenor. Sold it because I hated having to refill the humidifier and always think about how to keep it from cracking.
I eventually ended up preferring laminate ukes. And the good laminates do sound pretty darn good. I think most ears can't differentiate between solid and a good laminate anyway.
I actually don't even consider solid wood or solid-top ukes when purchasing.
I love the freedom of not having to give a second thought about humidity and maintenance with laminates. It truly lets me carry them around and focus on the music.

Lanark
03-12-2010, 01:17 AM
I disagree. While solids do generally sound louder acoustically, the reason why they cost more is because solid wood costs more tha laminates and more work goes in.
But this doesn't mean that laminates are inferior to Solid woods, and you should just go with a solid anyday without considering laminates.

My first good uke was an all-solid mahogany tenor. Sold it because I hated having to refill the humidifier and always think about how to keep it from cracking.
I eventually ended up preferring laminate ukes. And the good laminates do sound pretty darn good. I think most ears can't differentiate between solid and a good laminate anyway.
I actually don't even consider solid wood or solid-top ukes when purchasing.
I love the freedom of not having to give a second thought about humidity and maintenance with laminates. It truly lets me carry them around and focus on the music.

I can pretty much guarantee that in terms of quality, tone, sustain and volume any of my solid tops would differentiate themselves pretty handily. There may be some decent laminates around (Kiwaya has a good reputation) but solid wood is prized for a reason. It's a musical instrument and you will get what you pay for and I think most people find it worth the extra money and effort to get a solid top. A plywood soundboard just isn't going to be able to vibrate or respond the same way as a solid piece of wood.

I mean, as it is it seems that the only reason you've come to prefer laminates has less to do with the quality of the instruments themselves than your own unwillingness to take care of basic maintenance routines. It works for you. That's cool, but I do have to say that it seems less like you're making a good case for laminate ukes than excuses for a certain amount of laziness on your own part. But if you're satisfied with laminates, then I'm not going to really argue that point. Your mileage varies from the average and everyone is an individual. Play on. ;)

I'd estimate though that for the average person, the amount of reasonable care to maintain a decent solid wood instrument is not unworkable. Soak a humidifier for five minutes once a month. Keep a hygrometer handy and glance at it every once a while. It doesn't really seem like all that much to me personally and I enjoy my ukes and how they sound. Most laminates I've played just sound and feel rather dead to me. A reasonable amount of awareness and care is a worthwhile trade off for me to have the sound and feel of a decent instrument. I get to focus on the music more because I really enjoy the sound that my ukes make and consequently want to play them more.

ichadwick
03-12-2010, 01:27 AM
i know this has probably been said above, but i'll put it sweet and simple

laminate is cheap, solid is more expensive. and with ukes you get what you pay for, my advice is to go solid wood anyday
Actually some laminates are very expensive. But that doesn't change the physics that affect their sound reproduction.
Soild woods require more care in planing them correctly - the builder must make sure the thickness of the wood is appropriate for the frequencies of the instrument. Too thick and it can deaden sound instead of transmit it.
Laminates can be thinner, because they are instrinsically stronger - each ply is placed with the grain at 90 degrees from the previous one. This is designed to limit the movement of the wood, which in turn affects the sound.
Solid woods will age over time with play and change their sound, sometimes called "opening up." Laminates don't.
But in the final analysis, your own perception of the quality of the sound of the instrument is what matters.

ichadwick
03-12-2010, 01:29 AM
I mean, as it is it seems that the only reason you've come to prefer laminates has less to do with the quality of the instruments themselves than your own unwillingness to take care of basic maintenance routines.
I leave my solid-wood ukes out in the open, subject to whatever humidity is or isn't in the room, clean them only infrquently, oil the fretboard maybe twice a year. Maybe once. And they still play fine, haven't seen any significant change in action.

kissing
03-12-2010, 01:42 AM
I mean, as it is it seems that the only reason you've come to prefer laminates has less to do with the quality of the instruments themselves than your own unwillingness to take care of basic maintenance routines. It works for you. That's cool, but I do have to say that it seems less like you're making a good case for laminate ukes than excuses for a certain amount of laziness on your own part. But if you're satisfied with laminates, then I'm not going to really argue that point. Your mileage varies from the average and everyone is an individual. Play on.

Umm wow.. You prefer solid wood ukes. I get the point.
But I hardly think there was a need to call me lazy for preferring an instrument I can leave outside its case and just pick up at will. As opposed to one that I have to keep in its case, worrying about having left the heater/aircon on in my room, or that the weather is particularly hot/cold and watering the humidifier every few weeks and keeping an eye on the hygrometer like I'm keeping a delicate animal alive. I guess I'm rather statistically abnormal and lazy for not having the same habits as you. For liking the feature of an instrument that I can casually pick up in my room without turning my room into a cliimate-controlled greenhouse, or travelling with me in a car in summer where the temperature gets too warm for comfort for a solid uke. And there's no denying that we do hear of solid-wood ukes warping due to the environment more often than laminates, sometimes even if it was looked after.

Obviously I haven't tried every uke in the world, but I have tried out my fair share of solid ukes in stores, and owned a Kala All-solid mahogany tenor and an Ohana solid-spruce top Vita uke.
I ended up selling them both because I found myself playing my laminate Mahalo more often, because the Mahalo could freely lie around my room, whether the heater is on or not and travel with me in rain, hail or shine - while my solids had to stay in their case being humidified. And when I tried some nice thin-top laminate ukes in comparison, I felt that a good laminate can hold its own voice against a solid anyway.

Sure, perhaps I'm not as fussy as some people about the complex tonal qualities of a ukulele.
I'm not after a $5000 vintage Martin sound. The sound of an expensive solid uke is just one kind of sound ukulele players seek after. I think laminates are simply different to those solid ukes, and often get judged too harshly because of their price tag and the prejudice that already circulates in guitar circles. Solid ukes are fantastically loud and punchy, I'll give them that, but so can non-solids (Flea, Sprucehouse S-O, Kiwaya..). I've even heard cases where people said that some laminates are "better" than some solids in this respect.

However, this quality doesn't necessarily make them better for every situation for me. I personally find that laminates work better for accompanying myself singing, or blending with other instruments. Solids tend to stand out a lot when singing with or playing with other instruments (for me) and I didn't like that. Great for soloing, but less than optimal (for me) for modest accompanying and rhythm. And no matter how 'solid' a uke is, there is a limit to how loud it can be. All ukes need to be amplified anyway when it comes to performing in a large area. I favour laminate acoustic-electrics for this reason.

Surely it can't be that out of the ordinary to think this way...
And surely the most popular opinion is not always the best for everybody. I believe in trying things out and deciding what I like for myself. I only intend to pass on my experiences to others who may consider the same circumstances as myself, rather than regurgitating the same "laminates suck, solids rule" story assuming it applies to every "average" person.

I hope I don't upset any solid-uke lovers. I'm just expressing my personal opinion on uke preferences for my own reasons.
But hey, at least I'm not calling solid-lovers "uptight" or "typical" since I'm apparently lazy and abnormal for being a laminate-lover.

Drama on UU.. dun dun dun!

kenikas
03-12-2010, 05:31 AM
I'd estimate though that for the average person, the amount of reasonable care to maintain a decent solid wood instrument is not unworkable. Soak a humidifier for five minutes once a month. Keep a hygrometer handy and glance at it every once a while.

WOW! I wish I could get away with only soaking my humidifiers once a month. Up here in the high desert I have to check mine about twice a week in order to keep the RH in the low 40%'s. Our outside RH usually runs below 30% and indoors with furnaces in the winter and A/C in the summer the indoor can drop lower than that.

ukeskywalker79
03-12-2010, 06:11 AM
Didn't MGM have a blind test a few months ago on laminates and solid woods. The results will surprise a lot of people. :D I personally own an all solid and a laminate. They each have their place. I like being able to take my laminate to the beach, park, etc. without worrying. I don't prefer one over the other and enjoy playing them all EQUALLY.

paraclete
03-12-2010, 07:01 AM
I think that if I lived in a place that was brutally dry I would be more inclined to have laminate ukes. My violin cracked during my first winter in Iowa. Keeping track of humidity became almost obsessive there. Here in NW Washington, it is very rarely dry. However, I just bought a tabletop fountain to run in my room to offset the HEPA airfilter that I run 24/7.

As for solid v laminate for sound, I love the Kala archtop that my partner and I have. It's laminate, and it sounds just fine plugged in (not very loud as an acoustic instrument). I had a solid acacia KPK, which was cheap... and sounded cheap too. The laminate archtop sounded a lot better. Passed that uke on to someone who wanted to get a uke for his elderly mother. My solid koa/mahog Kelii is loud and rich and woody sounding. The sound has already changed since I got it a couple months ago. Jimi's solid koa tenor... well, that is kind of in a class by itself. It is an amazing uke that keeps getting better with playing time.

So is solid wood superior to laminate? Not necessarily. But if you are looking at high-end instruments, they will probably be solid wood and sound amazing. If you're looking at low-cost instruments, I think it is really a matter of personal choice, circumstance, and the particular instrument. Get what appeals to you.

Lanark
03-12-2010, 09:19 AM
Umm wow.. You prefer solid wood ukes. I get the point.
But I hardly think there was a need to call me lazy for preferring an instrument I can leave outside its case and just pick up at will. As opposed to one that I have to keep in its case, worrying about having left the heater/aircon on in my room, or that the weather is particularly hot/cold and watering the humidifier every few weeks and keeping an eye on the hygrometer like I'm keeping a delicate animal alive. I guess I'm rather statistically abnormal and lazy for not having the same habits as you. For liking the feature of an instrument that I can casually pick up in my room without turning my room into a cliimate-controlled greenhouse, or travelling with me in a car in summer where the temperature gets too warm for comfort for a solid uke. And there's no denying that we do hear of solid-wood ukes warping due to the environment more often than laminates, sometimes even if it was looked after.



Drama on UU.. dun dun dun!

No drama, but really it seems a large part of your aversion to solid woods as laid out in your posts has to do with the extra amount of reasonable precaution that goes into maintaining them and which really doesn't require the level of paranoia about babying and protection that I get from your above paragraph. I think you may have some misconceptions about humidity and such. It's not that nearly that extreme. It really takes a lot less work than you seem to think to keep things happy and spiffy.
Winters in Minnesota can suck virtually all the moisture out of the air. For us it's a simple matter of running a humidifier in the room where the ukes are stored and filling it up when it gets low. (It also helps keep us comfortable too) It takes a little extra effort and I can't leave one in the car overnight, but I wouldn't want to anyway.

You seem to mostly want a cheap durable instrument to play that you don't really need to worry too much about. This is what suits your immediate lifestyle. I'm not totally knocking you for it if it works for you, but you are looking for something very different than a whole lot of folks.

I also suspect that over time, your thinking will evolve with experience and circumstance.

the52blues
03-13-2010, 05:58 AM
My two cents is the shape of the uke plays a part as to whether laminate or solid sounds better too. The arch top ukes (and even expensive Gibson arch top guitars) are laminate because of the arch and, yes, they play softer but not any less sweeter.

molinee
03-14-2010, 02:12 PM
I disagree. While solids do generally sound louder acoustically, the reason why they cost more is because solid wood costs more tha laminates and more work goes in.
But this doesn't mean that laminates are inferior to Solid woods, and that they shouldn't be considered at all.

My first good uke was an all-solid mahogany tenor. Sold it because I hated having to refill the humidifier and always think about how to keep it from cracking.
I eventually ended up preferring laminate ukes. And the good laminates do sound pretty darn good. I think most ears can't differentiate between solid and a good laminate anyway.
I actually don't even consider solid wood or solid-top ukes when purchasing.
I love the freedom of not having to give a second thought about humidity and maintenance with laminates. It truly lets me carry them around and focus on the music.

I agree with everything you just said. I do agree with most everyone else that a solid ukulele sounds better than a laminate one in the same model. But not always. I think most players couldn't tell the difference in sound if their back was turned. Some could, but most could not. Put a laminate in Jakes hands and put a solid in most anybody elses hands and Jake wins hands down. It's not the instrument as much as it is the player... I think you should own the ukulele that you will play without fear of cracking. Too many peple buy the better ukuleles and have them stored away and are too afraid to use them.... JMHO of course.

nomis
03-14-2010, 03:10 PM
Particularly when it comes to semi-acoustic instruments it may be worth noting that possibly the most popular ever jazz guitar made by Gibson, the ES 175 - played by such luminaries as Joe Pass and Pat Metheny, are made from laminate. I own an L4 (solid spruce carved top) and a 175 and my 175 sounds better both amplified and acoustically. I think any of the many owners of vintage laminate archtops would be quite surprised to to hear them refered to as ply. At the end of the day the only statement that can be made with any certainty is that "Some laminate instruments will sound different to some solid tops, but then some solids will also sound different.

I have a Kala archtop tenor which sounds great to me. Acoustically it's not too thin or bright, it's quite punchy with a more rapid decay and not too ringing. It's perfect for jazz, but a folk or country player would probably prefer a harsher tone. There definitely seems to be a slight solid wood snobery with uke players, but I would say go with you own ears and taste. I'm sure there are some really bad solid wood ukes out there.

It's funny, but time and time again I see the question "How can I tell if a uke is made from ply?" on forums, and many experts respond with advice about looking in soundholes etc - If they sound so much better why would you need to look in the soundhole?

buddhuu
03-14-2010, 11:57 PM
There are many reasons for using laminate and many for using solid wood. Neither choice is definitively better than the other. The test is in the quality of the finished instrument.

I have a personal preference for solid mahogany 'ukuleles. They have the sound that, in general, speaks to me. That said, different models and different strings make a world of difference. I have played solid mahogany ukes that weren't my cup of tea at all. If I were shopping I would probably look at solid ukes first. Not because they are "better", just that I like what I am familiar with, and I also like the way solid woods mature and change slightly with age and playing.

If anyone tells you that laminate is just a way of making cheap ukes look better, I would suggest that you take that for the uninformed, inexperienced over-simplification that it is. Listen to each instrument and judge on its merits. There are some great laminate instruments, just as there are some cr@ppy solid ones.

kissing
03-15-2010, 03:47 AM
I guess my mileage wasn't that deviant afterall :)

pdxuke
03-15-2010, 01:16 PM
I also prefer solid mahogany ukes. I like them and am pleased with them. But my Sprucehouse is a solid top/laminate side-back, and I have a Kiwaya KS1 on order (if UPS ever gets me the right uke.) So even a confirmed mahogany man enjoys his laminates.

Why not try both? :-)

Huckleberry
03-15-2010, 01:28 PM
Any pearls of wisdom between laminates and solids where humidity or lack thereof comes in to play?? I have a solid Koa and live at a 4000 ft level with very low humidity, unless it's raining, and that's not very often. I am currently using a case humidifier that keeps the Uke at 40 to 45% humidity. Is that good enough??

tad
03-15-2010, 01:40 PM
I'm sorry, folks, but you're all wrong. The correct answer is metal. The best ukes are made of bell brass.
http://www.davidholt.com/music/images/ukesteel.jpg
That is all.

;p

kissing
03-15-2010, 02:31 PM
lol, well two can play this game.

The real real correct answer is actually... dual-coiled magnetic coils!

http://ukulele.de/shop/images/product_images/popup_images/321_0.jpg

tad
03-15-2010, 05:57 PM
...Or maybe the real answer is solid steel with a synthetic head:
http://www.elderly.com/images/vintage/180U/180U-868_front.jpg

micromue
03-15-2010, 10:47 PM
Aww, cīmon. This is the 21st century. Obviously "Plastic" is the answer. Although it has to be solid plastic, of course!

luvdat
03-15-2010, 10:54 PM
Aww, cīmon. This is the 21st century. Obviously "Plastic" is the answer. Although it has to be solid plastic, of course!

Plastic is one of my favorite tonewoods.

I think some people may prefer Curly Plastic but I think it disrupts the sound waves too much...

Lanark
03-16-2010, 12:51 AM
Any pearls of wisdom between laminates and solids where humidity or lack thereof comes in to play?? I have a solid Koa and live at a 4000 ft level with very low humidity, unless it's raining, and that's not very often. I am currently using a case humidifier that keeps the Uke at 40 to 45% humidity. Is that good enough??

As I understand it, 40-60% is a good range. Pretty much the same sort of range that you might find comfortable for yourself. And it's not as if the thing will spontaneously crack at the precise second the humidity drops below 39%. You should be fine.

nomis
03-16-2010, 07:42 AM
You know, maybe PLASTIC really is the way to go. Many top of the range monitor speakers found in professional recording studios come in synthetic cabinets. I mean with plastic you can have total control over its acoustic qualities and and its consistency. Materials like graphite have been used in high end electric guitars for some time now.

Anyways, I thought this sounded pretty cool:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4teWYLFRJjU

13down
10-01-2012, 11:36 AM
While I used to have the "solid wood is for snobs" attitude, I do see the appeal of solid wood, both aesthetically and sonically. I've played a solid Pono baritone and said to myself, "This is nice, but I can live without this." I've played a solid Martin soprano, too (my teacher has one), and that blew my mind.

You know what really does bother me, though? Gloss finish snobbery. Can we all just unite and hate on that?:drool:

Rubio MHS
10-01-2012, 04:47 PM
For the beginning player, the difference is $200 to $500, and maaaaaaaybe you'll have a good enough ear to tell the difference.