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Thread: Can you tell how good a ukulele is in part by tapping on it?

  1. #1
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    Default Can you tell how good a ukulele is in part by tapping on it?

    I have a very nice ukulele that I am in process of reviewing for my YouTube channel...the Flight Spirit Concert. It is a stunning ukulele in just about every way, and the closest ukuleles that I own to it are KoAlohas...in particular an Acacia concert Opio and a full-fledged Koa model from 2004.

    I don't know what it is about the Koa model...certainly age has something to do with it...but its sound is transcendent.

    The acacia is pretty wonderful, too...but it lacks something that the Koa has.

    I also have a solid Acacia Bruce Wei that is still in great condition after a couple of years (no horror stories) with a smaller body and overall less sound. It is pretty and has a pretty tone, but it doesn't compete with the KoAloha or the Flight.

    What i'm noticing is that the KoAlohas have a much bigger sound with a longer sustain than the Flight Spirit. The Spirit has recently been reworked to have a thinner top and more delicate bracing. The KoAlohas mainly have the unibrace. I realize that KoAlohas are cannons and that not everyone likes their sound, either. But I have to admit...I'm pretty partial to the sound of a KoAloha.

    But what I found on accident today is that the KoAlohas (I also have a spruce/acacia concert Opio), when tap, all seem to have the same pitches on the tops and on the back. i haven't tested the actual frequency yet...I want to get some feedback before doing so. The Flight creates a higher frequency when tapped, and the Bruce Wei even higher yet.

    I seem to remember that Kamaka hires blind workers to sort wood, by tapping and hearing the sound.

    I'm wondering if there is a potential "ideal" frequency that could be created by tapping, that would result in ukuleles with the best sound, resonance, and sustain?

    Maybe that's crazy...and I certainly don't have a wide enough collection to test my theory on other quality solid wood instruments (I don't have a Pono at this time, nor do I have a Kamaka). But I wonder if ukulele bodies could be tuned to a tapped pitch which would result in a better sound?

    Thoughts?
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    I read that Kala hand tunes the ukulele tops in their Elite line by tapping. I have no idea what that means or if I've even reported it accurately, but I've had three, and currently have two Elite models and they all sound wonderful so you could very well be onto something.

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    I tend to tap any one I pick up - less so checking for frequency, more just a general feel on resonance. Frequency would surely change depending on body size.

    Saying that, Banjo players (an area I have no expertise in!) do 'tune' their heads.

    But then, a wooden uke is not tuneable, so I wouldn't personally get bogged down in frequency. If you tap it and it sounds lively like a drum, I then tend to expect the played sound will be lively with good sustain.
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    Kamaka hired deaf workers. While Chris Kamaka tapped and listened for the qualities he was looking for, the workers relied on the vibration to determine the wood possessed those qualities. Worked out well because they were unaffected by the noise in the workshop.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kookoolele View Post
    Kamaka hired deaf workers. While Chris Kamaka tapped and listened for the qualities he was looking for, the workers relied on the vibration to determine the wood possessed those qualities. Worked out well because they were unaffected by the noise in the workshop.
    That's it. I had them reversed...blind vs. deaf. My initial thought is the same...what aspect of that vibration (still ultimately sound) makes it "good" wood?
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    Quote Originally Posted by bazmaz View Post
    I tend to tap any one I pick up - less so checking for frequency, more just a general feel on resonance. Frequency would surely change depending on body size.

    Saying that, Banjo players (an area I have no expertise in!) do 'tune' their heads.

    But then, a wooden uke is not tuneable, so I wouldn't personally get bogged down in frequency. If you tap it and it sounds lively like a drum, I then tend to expect the played sound will be lively with good sustain.
    Thanks, Barry. I totally agree. At the same time, I'm curious and may investigate this further. I'll have to think about how I could test for the actual frequency. I'm not going to put loads of effort into this.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Choirguy View Post
    That's it. I had them reversed...blind vs. deaf. My initial thought is the same...what aspect of that vibration (still ultimately sound) makes it "good" wood?
    For years, Crayola had a man who was color-blind designing their colors. https://apnews.com/1611674d29abf010230350f264ed3003

    I'm sure there's some science behind tapping on the top of the uke, but it seems like dowsing for water or alchemy.
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    You can find a lot of info online about luthiers who "tap tune" their instruments, looking for certain resonance or frequencies. Some focus on Chladni patterns. You can kill a few hours reading about it in different places. It is pretty interesting stuff

    http://tommillerguitars.com/voicing/

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    Quote Originally Posted by EDW View Post
    You can find a lot of info online about luthiers who "tap tune" their instruments, looking for certain resonance or frequencies. Some focus on Chladni patterns. You can kill a few hours reading about it in different places. It is pretty interesting stuff

    http://tommillerguitars.com/voicing/
    Thanks, EDW.

    I'm pretty sure I'm not crazy--at least about this--and I'm betting that for the frequency range of the ukulele, there is an ideal pitch (or set of pitches) for the instrument...or set of pitches. I'm also guessing that some of the best ukuleles in the world approach this frequency range through trial and error (or sheer luck). That all said, while it would be lovely to buy and visit the best ukuleles in the world for an extended test and data collection, I certainly don't have the means to undertake that. It might also change with the type of wood used, but the frequencies should remain in the same ballpark.

    But if that data were known, any luthier or company could work to match those frequencies (lots of trial and error) in their builds and produce consistent, amazing sounding instruments. As we all know, even the best companies and luthiers have specific instruments that don't work to plan. It might be interesting to study the frequency response of those instruments, too.

    Again, more work for me than I can ever consider--but maybe a promising study for others.
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  10. #10
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    Yes, It could be an interesting study. I would not doubt that the best instruments may have certain qualities that would relate, whether by design or chance.

    Interestingly, sometime back I recall hearing of someone who advocated humming into the sound hole to find the resonance frequency of an instrument and tuning to that fundamental pitch. It may have been Joel Eckhaus of Earnest instruments, but I am not sure.

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