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Thread: Breaking in (opening up) an ukulele?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Maui, HI

    Default Breaking in (opening up) an ukulele?

    What up,

    You know how there are some guitars out there that play and sound better with age, ie they were broken in (or opened up). Have any of you experienced this with an ukulele? If so, how long did it take?

    I have a relatively new Kamaka Tenor with a koa top (and I think back and sides as well) (exact model is HF-3 D2I) and while it does sound great, I was wondering if it would improve in sound with playing. I play it almost every day for anywhere between 30 minutes - 2 hours. It doesn't really have the sound that other notable Kamaka have (like Andrew Molina's or Kalei Gamiao's or Kris Fuchigami's, albeit theirs are customs and mine is just a glorified tenor).

    I have also been experimenting with strings. I know the most popular strings among those artists is the D'Addario J71 (I think now called EJ65T). I'm currently using the D'Addario EJ87T and it honestly doesn't sound too bad, but it doesn't sound too good either. It's a little too bright for my liking. I think the first set I used on this ukulele was the EJ65T, but I figured why not try something new...haha, kind of regretting my decision. Well, you live and you learn.

    Mahalo nui,
    Last edited by aarondelacruz; 07-17-2016 at 03:47 PM. Reason: added string discussion

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2009


    Hi Aaron, I've got a couple of thoughts on this. I'm pretty skeptical about the whole "breaking in" thing in that I tend to believe that if a uke (or guitar, or other wooden instrument) doesn't sound somewhat *great* from the start, it's not going to get any better. But I do know that the uke I've had the longest (a Kamaka HF-2 concert) did gain some volume and resonance after... oh, about 5 years of daily playing. It was a definite improvement and it's the best-sounding (and oldest) of my three Kamakas, but then it sounded great to begin with. So if that's "breaking in," then yes, I guess it happens, but definitely not quickly.

    As for strings - I know some of the pros swear by D'Addarios, but I don't care for them. I do like a bright uke though (I use Martin fluoros on my Kamakas). A few other players I know who like a warmer/mellower tone use Worth Browns, so you might try those.
    Last edited by janeray1940; 07-17-2016 at 05:56 PM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Stone Harbor, NJ


    Hello Aaron, I would also recommend checking out the Southcoast strings site. Dirk the owner has a wealth of information and is glad to share same. The site contains everything you need to know about strings. As to the "breaking in", thankfully all of my ukuleles have sounded great from day one. Changing strings brought different tones, some I liked some I didn't. We all have different equipment, play in areas with different acoustics and hear things differently. Thankfully strings aren't that expensive and we can experiment. Only you know what sounds best on your ukulele. Enjoy the journey.

    In order of age:

    Martin C-1K Concert, C Re-entrant Tuning 4/2014
    Pono MTD-CR Tenor C Linear Tuning 6/21/2016
    Ko'olau Model 100 Tenor C Linear Tuning 7/27/2018
    Kamaka HF-2 Koa Concert C Linear 6/26/2019
    Cocobolo Concert #433 C Re-Entrant 2/3/2020
    Martin S1 Soprano, C Re-entrant Tuning 3/19/2020

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2015


    I have noticed it a bit with some ukes. My #1 sounds a little stiff and thin when I first take her out of the case but after a few minutes of play she opens up and seems to be more resonant and full. In the few months I have had her she has opened up a good bit but that may just be because she was sitting in a case in the shop for a while without being played at all. I think it is just the woods getting used to vibrating again and being in the open air more. The effect is really noticeable on my early 60-s Gibson J-50. If I don't play it for a few days it sounds like a dead log but after an hour or so of playing it is the best sounding guitar I have found.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Oak Park, Illinois


    I still think breaking in is a myth.
    If everybody wanted peace instead of another TV, then there would be peace.
    -John Lennon-

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Toronto, ON


    I don't believe breaking in a Uke is a myth at all. I have several which have improved with play.

    I recommend using Clear Worth Strings ... more sound and sustain.
    How bad is your UAS?

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2013
    Santa Monica, CA


    You might as well be talking politics or religion when discussing acoustic instruments "opening up." Many swear they do. Attempts to prove it scientifically have not settled the argument. But, even among those that do "know" it to be true, most will agree (a) it depends on the top wood (e.g., spruce more likely to improve noticeably with age, cedar and redwood won't open up as much) and (b) the change won't be "dramatic."

    Strings can have a big impact on sound and I'd wager more so than any opening up -- certainly more immediate. ;-). Which strings sound best will depend on your preference in sound, your playing style (hard attack, soft, nail striker, pad striker, etc.), your preferred musical genres, etc. Strings are relatively inexpensive. Keep experimenting. That's all you can do.

    I generally don't like the D'Addario strings as I find them too hard for my liking. On your Kamaka, I'd consider trying Worth Clear and/or Brown, Fremont Backlines, Living Waters and Oasis Bright (the name is a misnomer, they are not bright at all they are simply thinner than Oasis Warm as I understand it). I've also used Aquila Reds a lot and have found them to add some warmth to an instrument that seemed bright to my ear. YMMV.

    Experiment and let us know where you land!

    Best, Eddie
    More an appreciator of the ukulele than a true player. My motto is: "Don't matter how good it ring if it ain't got some bling."

    Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.—Voltaire

    Curious about the relative importance of tonewood vs. the luthier? See Luthiers for a Cause to learn more!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2013


    Well, this topic has been discussed countless times and opinions on it are always controversial.

    My take on it is that I don't doubt that the materials an ukulele is made from change over time and from wear, but I don't believe that "changing" necessarily equals "sounding better". Just different. I think it's just as likely that an instrument may sound worse.

    What I do know is that my own ears aren't a good judge for it. My ukuleles sound different to me from day to day, depending also on where I play them, the weather, and so on. Different strings have a substantial impact on sound. And we adjust to what we are exposed to, both in terms of getting used to the sound and developing technique specific to the instrument (we learn how to make it sound better to us).

    My view on vintage instruments sounding good is the that the poorly built or poorly sounding instruments probably didn't survive long enough to become vintage ukuleles.

    As for strings, the Aquila Red Series strings have made the biggest impact on the sound of my ukuleles. By far the best strings I know. It's very subjective, though.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2013


    I would caution you NOT to use the same strings as another uke player, especially one who is a professional, i.e., 'just because Jake/Kalei/Taimane uses them'...

    Doing so negates the 15+ yrs and 10,000 hrs of practice to develop their unique talents and tries to boil it down to THAT uke, THAT pickup and THOSE strings, which is an insult to those players as well as sets you on a path that is nearly GUARANTEED to end with disappointment.

    Are YOU willing to invest the time and sweat with the tiniest hope of having a copy-cat sound of someone else?

    Why not try to find YOUR OWN SOUND?, and one that YOU like and that NOBODY ELSE has...huh?

    just sayin....
    Guinea proverb: "A cow that has no tail should not try to chase away flies."

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2015
    Upper Hale, Surrey/Hants border, UK.


    Find the right strings for you & your uke, & then just enjoy.

    I have only 'cheap' ukes, but with the 'right' strings, they sound good to me, but maybe not to others, especially the way I play them!
    Trying to do justice to various musical instruments.

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