Do Laminates Open Up?

deadpool

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OK, first of all I know the whole opening up thing is a can of worms. Opinions vary widely and wildly on both sides of the "do ukuleles (guitars, mandolins, etc.) open up with time and playing. My Kala KA-C is laminated wood (it is the only laminated instrument I have ever owned). Assuming you buy into the opening up question, would the same thing apply to a laminated wood instrument do you think?
 

Bradford

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One of the theories as to why instruments improve with age deals with the finish. Nitro lacquer takes years to fully cure and starts to break down after that and some attribute the opening up of the instrument to that. So, depending on how your uke was finished, maybe.

Brad
 

RichM

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Without commenting on the "opening up" phenomenon, I would not expect the tone of a fully laminated instrument to change much over time. Laminated wood can be several thin layers of wood, generally glued up with the grain on layers perpendicular. The laminate "sandwich" is generally stronger than solid wood and resists the shrinking and expanding that solid wood is prone to. Laminate instruments tend to be very strong and resilient which is a double-edge sword; they don't react to weather changes the way solid instruments do, and they are much more resistant to humidity changes. However, any beneficial tonal changes that result from playing an instrument are unlikely to occur on a laminate.

As always, YMMV. :)
 

lindydanny

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Short answer, yes.

Case in point: I just purchased a 1994 Takamine guitar. Compared to a more recent and similar 2001 model in the shop, the 1994 has a much brighter tone. Both are laminate tops of the same materials.

There is a lot of confusion on this subject that seems to be put forth by the Tonerite product. Personally, I believe that to be snake oil. But, I have witnessed (with my own ears) how instruments properly cared for and "played in" can over time slightly change tones and get warmer and/or brighter.

The majority of this phenomenon has to do with the build quality of the instrument itself. You cannot expect a $50 uke to do much changing no matter how long you wait. But, a $200 or $500 uke (and you can find some/very few laminates out there in that range) should "age" well if you, again, take care of it and play it regularly.

~DB
 

Huna

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I used a hole saw on the side of my dolphin and it opened it right up!
 

SailingUke

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I agree about an "opening up" debate, but I do believe as we play an instrument we discover its little nuances.
Our ability to get the most out of an instrument improves as we play.
The better tones and volume can be as much due to our knowing the instrument as the physical opening up process.
 

RichM

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I agree about an "opening up" debate, but I do believe as we play an instrument we discover its little nuances.
Our ability to get the most out of an instrument improves as we play.
The better tones and volume can be as much due to our knowing the instrument as the physical opening up process.

Amen to that! Whether or not there is a meaningful physical change to the wood is up for debate. But what is beyond doubt is that over time, you will learn how to get the best response from an instrument-- and that instrument will sound better, not necessarily because the instrument has changed, but because you, the player have changed.
 

PhilUSAFRet

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I can't swear to it, "but I swear" (LOL) my OU5 is more resonant and sweeter than when I first got it about 5 years ago....with Aquilas of course.
 

DeVineGuitars

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I would say yes. I have heard some upright basses that were plywood that have opened up very well over time. It may be a small difference in sound but it will probably get better.
 

hmgberg

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I would say yes. I have heard some upright basses that were plywood that have opened up very well over time. It may be a small difference in sound but it will probably get better.

Wow! I would have answered, "no" to this question had I not read your post. You don't have any thoughts about making plywood ukuleles, do you?
 

Ghuyduk

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I have a Kaka KA-SEM (soprano exotic mahogany laminate) that I bought in April, 2010. I changed out the strings several times, and finally settled on Worth Clears. This was over the course of a couple of months. Still, the sound was just ok to me, nothing special, just competent. The sound never changed. But in late February of 2011 (10 months later), I took it down to Sayulita, Mexico, on the western coast. It was kept on a table in a beachfront house, in the shade, but exposed to 80+ degree Fahrenheit temperatures and salty sea breezes for a week, with light playing. When I got back home, the tone of the uke was radically different, the tone warmed up, it was less strident and there were more resonant overtones present when plucking individual strings. The lesson, of course, is to take your laminate on an expensive Mexican vacation. :)
 

ichadwick

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I would say yes. I have heard some upright basses that were plywood that have opened up very well over time. It may be a small difference in sound but it will probably get better.
Better or worse is subjective. It may also be an external change in the playing environment. I can play any instrument in a stairwell and get echoes and harmonics I can't hear outdoors. A change in microphones, how a speaker is facing, the material of the stage, the closeness of walls, whether the floor is carpeted, the size of the room - they all play a role in how the sound is affected.

As for laminates, if the glue dries and the plies peel apart, the sound could become duller, deader, too. If it separates under the bridge, you could end up with a pocket of dead air.
 

lindydanny

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That's the problem with this issue: It is very subjective.

I remember reading one review of the Tonerite where the person playing actually used some equipment to measure frequencies coming from the guitar and it only showed slight changes which he admitted to be within a margin of error or environment changes. But, even with that he swore it sounded different...

I would say that one summer or one year of even solid playing isn't enough to do it justice.

Here's the thing, it is an inarguable fact that wood moves. There are pieces of furniture from the 1700s that show this to be true. From that same era, there are pieces of furniture that demonstrate how a talented woodworker can plan for this and give the piece a chance to "age" well. (Take a wood end table and leave it next to a water heater for a while if you want to see how much it can move.) With wood instruments, it is the same.

A good luthier chooses wood based on several characteristics of the wood. One of those is how he/she believes it will move over time. Steps are taken during the building process to ensure that when it moves, the movement does not damage the structure of the instrument (bracing isn't just for tone). Also, it is typical for woodworkers/luthiers to build in slightly more humid environments than standard atmosphere. So, from day one the instrument is changing shape ever so slightly. Over time, the deepest parts of the instrument's materials will start to dry out to acclimate to their surroundings. Depending on the wood, this can take years.

Laminates are no different in that they do move over time. The only difference is that it should take longer since the drying has to happen through many layers of wood and glue and it most cases many different species of wood. The good thing about a laminate in this process is that unlike a solid wood, the laminate is much, much more predictable on where and how it will move. It was said that laminates are generally built with crisscrossing grains. This is true, but that is done to maximize symmetrical movements in the wood and to prevent unwanted cracks, splits, and bows. The wood still moves.

Does all this movement and drying make an instrument sound better? Again, subjective. Personally, I want to believe that an older, "played-in" instrument will sound better than a brand new one will. I want to believe that, so it is what I believe. I don't necessarily believe it has to do only with humidity and wood movement, though...

~DB
 

slimbob

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I asked the same question about these same brand of ukes. (uke talk 6/18/2011). Most replies said my ears or my improved playing made the difference--- I still believe they sound better than they used to. slimbob
 

hungry4adobo

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In my opinion they do but, they take a little longer then a regular solid wood instrument or it's the way i play. But don't judge a uke if it is a laminate or solid as long it sounds good. Don't judge a book by it's cover. :D
 

Brad Bordessa

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I used a hole saw on the side of my dolphin and it opened it right up!

Nice.

There are some good opinions here. I'll add my own (which probably isn't very good):

First off, there ARE some nice laminate 'ukuleles out there and they sound good. But, I can't imagine an "opened up" laminate sounding a whole lot better than a brand new solid wood uke.

I'm probably going to regret saying that, but it's how I see the matter in my head. Maybe I'm totally wrong (in which case we are all going to go back to playing our starter ukes eventually and put Koaloha out of business!:p). I would rather fork out a bit more now for a solid wood instrument than wait 5, 10, 20 years and hope my laminate will open up (it's passed the first number and nothing's happened yet).