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Thread: Red oak/ white oak

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2019
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    Default Red oak/ white oak

    Has anyone used red or white oak for back and sides? How about soundboards? I lucked into some highly figured boards of each and am contemplating its use. Thoughts?

    Thanks!

    Ian

  2. #2
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    Aug 2019
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    Ian,

    I have tried QS red and white oak on instrument projects and although it being a lovely wood to look at, oak has a tendency to be a very dead wood in the tone department. That is unless it is cut very thin and then it becomes a bit brittle. I even tried it as a fretboard once and it sucked the life out of the tone. I replaced the fretboard with flame maple and the difference was unmistakable. If you were going to build an instrument with steel or nickel strings it could work but with nylon you would need to use an internal amplifier just to get past the muddiness of the tone. At least that was my observation. Your mileage may vary. I have heard of some folks that had some success by adding a stabilizer to the wood (something like the resin used in fiberglass) but it still was nothing like the sounds you can get from any standard tone woods. Like anything else everyone's ears hear things a bit different. You may like the sound. But in my case it turned a lovely instrument into a wall hanger / dust collector. Hope this helps.

  3. #3
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    Marin County, CA
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    Not sure if this matters for instrument building, but red oak tends to be more porous vs white oak, which is why the latter is used for making wine/spirits barrels.
    Current UAS fallout:

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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2019
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    @Log Dog
    Interesting thoughts on tonal quality -

    I can understand why oak might cause a problem if used as the soundboard - but I thought that the wood for the back and sides had minimal impact on tone - I'm still learning - so I might be talking rubbish.

    I have some pieces of English and European (picked up in Italy) oak which I've been thinking of using - but only for backs and sides - the English in particular has nice figuring and I don't want to waste it. Do you thing that this would deaden the sound. I'm not sure of the difference between red/white/english/european/japanese etc.


    I'm pretty new to Ukulele building - but certainly not new to oak - it can be sublime to work with - or it can be a complete sod - often in the same piece ! ! - I know where you are coming from when you say it can become brittle when thin - it might be 'interesting' when trying to bend it

    @Ian

    If you have the time and inclination - why not give it a go - I'm going to build one from the oak I have anyway - If the sound is muted - it might be a help for when I'm practicing so that I don't disturb the rest of the house - or the neighbours - and if it goes on the wall - at least it'll look nice.

    Cheers
    Mike

  5. #5
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    Like I said.... Your mileage may vary. I have seen instruments made from cardboard that have great tonal qualities. Actually I built a practice/travel open back banjo with a cardboard rim that sounds good enough to join in on a bluegrass round robin jam. I was just posting my experiences with oak. Also you are correct about the inconsistencies in two pieces of oak. I found this to be true even cut from the same board. I have never worked with European oak but it sounds as if your issues with the workability are pretty much the same. I like the sound of making a wall hanger.... Quarter sawn oak has nice figuring. I made the mistake of building a cypress dulcimer once and it ended up one of the best examples of a wall hanger I have ever done LOL
    Last edited by Log Dog; 08-11-2019 at 08:50 AM.

  6. #6
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    There's a builder of mandolins in Bakersfield that has built with white oak and the one I heard sounded wonderful, F5 style. It was good enough that I bought a couple of sets to try on ukes. Now I'm a little nervous about trying it......but I will, LOL
    My Real name is Terry Harris

  7. #7
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    Apr 2019
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    I appreciate your experience here -
    I'm seeing my venture into oak more as a learning experience - how will it bend - how will it sound - and yes - lol - will it look good on the wall if it sounds that bad.

    Cheers
    Mike

  8. #8

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Franklin View Post
    Here's a good discussion. ... ... ...
    Nice read - gives me hope

    Cheers
    Mike

  10. #10
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    Aug 2019
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    Mike,

    In regards to the back and sides and their effect on sound. If you have access to an acoustic instrument I have several tests that will answer your questions pretty quick.

    1. Strum the guitar while simultaneously lightly touching the back or side of the guitar with your little finger. Do you feel any vibration from the back or side?

    2. Place the back of the guitar on a pillow and strum it again. Is the sound or brightness of the guitar diminished in any way?

    3. Do the same as above with a pillow on top of a side and ask the same question.

    If you answer is yes to any of these questions, the answer if bottoms or sides have effect on the sound should be obvious. Although the sides and bottoms do not have as much of an impact on the sounds as the top, they can and will impact the volume, tone, resonance, and sustain. The tops are designed to work as a head on a drum and to transmit as much volume as they can. Many old world instrument makers were not as concerned with the look of a musical instrument as much as the sound. An obvious example is a Stradivarius violin. They would chose a wood type that gave a desired tone and volume for the top. Then they would pick wood that would fine tune the resonance and sustain for the back and sides and even necks.

    Although these points are moot if you just want to have a uke that you can be happy plinking along with like a plastic guitar center special (that sounds ok). It seems obvious that you wish to impart a lovely look to your instruments (something that all of us wood workers love) go with oak. But if tone is as important to you I would use as little oak as I could get away with. Now as I mentioned many times, these are just my opinions they may be correct or not in your case. But I have wasted a lot of fine wood on sad projects by just going for looks.

    I'll hop off the soap box now..... Best of luck with you projects. I very much desire to see and hear your completed ukes and to be proven completely wrong.

    P.S. If you use oak for the back or sides, Consider building the body a bit larger than standard. The added volume of air inside will help with the sound volume issues.

    L.D.
    Last edited by Log Dog; 08-12-2019 at 12:42 PM.

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