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Thread: Ranking Tone Woods, Mellow to Bright

  1. #1
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    Default Ranking Tone Woods, Mellow to Bright

    DownUpDick's reply on the "https://forum.ukuleleunderground.com...-of-Mellowness thread got to thinking about the issue of Mellow versus Bright sounding tone woods. I have a number of different Ukes, made from different woods, and I think I can rank them now after spending a lot of time with them.

    Here is how I would order them, from most mellow, to brightest sounding, based on solid top construction:
    1. Mahogany
    2. Mango
    3. Koa
    4. Cedar
    5. Sinker Redwood
    6. Maple
    7. Eucalyptus
    8. Spruce

    How does that ranking conform to your experience?
    "The sole cause of all human misery is the inability of people
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  2. #2
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    There aren't going to be a whole lot of people who can reality-check that comprehensive of a list. Most folks only have experience with one or two solid wood ukes, let alone eight different tonewoods.

    I can really only speak to spruce and koa. The spruce has changed so much over the years that it might have started out as the brightest, but now, it's probably warmer than my Kamaka. But there are a million variables that might be creating that perception.

    I interviewed luthier Brad Donaldson a couple months ago for my podcast. He had lots of interesting stuff to say about uke construction: https://liveukulele.com/podcast/s2e5/. You might find it interesting from the standpoint of tonewood only being one factor in a uke's sound.
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  3. #3
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    I have two solid koa concert ukes, a KoAloha and a Romero Creations ST Concert. The KoAloha is bright, the Romero is mellow. The difference in tone is striking. These 2 instruments differ in body shape, finish, bracing, and neck join. So in my (limited) experience, tonewood is only one factor among many that determine the overall tone of the finished ukulele.

    My cedar-topped concert (Covered Bridge) is warmer than either the KoAloha or the Romero.

  4. #4
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    While there are certain characteristics associated with various woods. I have heard from some luthiers that a lot can be adjusted based on the knowledge and skill of the builder.

  5. #5
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    I find that a string change from nylon to fluorocarbon, for example, can change the mellow-to-brightness a lot; much better than wood type.

  6. #6
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    Here's some info:

    tonewood-Kala.jpg

  7. #7
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    "Ovangkol?" What the heck is that?

    Of course, there are a lot of variables that effect tone quality other than the wood itself. For instance, size is a big item. Just about any Soprano is going to sound brighter than any Tenor. It takes the bigger body to bring out the mellower tones. But there can be competition between Sopranos and Concerts, and Concerts and Tenors. For instance, I have a few Concerts that have a darker, richer tone and some of my Tenors. And there, the tone wood is a big factor.

    Another point, the whole subject gets unbelievably complicated when you introduce Ukes make from more than one wood, such as Cedar top, Rosewood back, etc.
    Last edited by VegasGeorge; 04-06-2021 at 03:24 AM.
    "The sole cause of all human misery is the inability of people
    to sit quietly in their rooms." - Blaise Pascal, 1670

  8. #8
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    Take this with a grain of salt, but I’ll rank my impressions based on ukes I’ve spent some time with from warmest to brightest...

    1. Mango (Pono pineapple tenor)
    2. Mahogany (vintage Martin and Gibson ‘ukulele of various sizes, Collings tenor)
    3. Koa (KoAloha soprano, Kanile’a super concert and tenor, and Ko’olau tenor)
    4. Cedar (2 Kala tenors, 1 Kanile’a tenor, 1 Jupiter tenor)
    6. Spruce (J. Rieck tenor, Kala thin line tenor, bevy of other instruments)
    7. Redwood (Jupiter tenor)
    8. Maple (2 custom tenors)

    As stated above, take all that with a hefty dose of salt. Among the ukes listed above, the spruce-topped J. Rieck is warmer than any of the koa or mahogany ukes whereas the all-koa Ko’olau tenor is brighter than anything but the all-maple tenors.
    Last edited by bacchettadavid; 04-05-2021 at 07:02 PM.
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  9. #9
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    My thanks to VegasGeorge and to bacchettedavid for their ranking tables. I realise and accept that the sound of a Uke is influenced by many other things too but, IMHO and all other things being equal, their rankings are a helpful start point.

  10. #10
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    My ranking of my current ukulele family.....
    KoAloha Koa - definitely the brightest by a long shot
    aNueNue Moonbird Spruce top/Rosewood body - most mellow overall
    Cocobolo- Middle of the road in tone
    My ukulele family.....
    KoAloha Koa concert - circa 2006 (Living Waters)
    aNueNue Moon Bird concert - Spruce & Rosewood - 2018 (Blackwater)
    Blackbird Clara - 2019 (Oasis Bright)
    Cocobolo concert - 2019 (Worth Brown)

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