New Uke Opening Up

I tried to get mine to open up (see avatar) but it bit me. So, I cut a hole in its side (sound port), which served a similar (not identical) purpose and took far less time. As someone correctly noted, I could have otherwise waited the rest of my life for this cheap veneer (plywood) uke to open up, without success.
Did you paint that yourself? I like it.! I’m planning to do the same once i find the right “canvas” at the local thrift store.
Did you paint that yourself? I like it.! I’m planning to do the same once i find the right “canvas” at the local thrift store.
Yes, I did, and thank you! The sound board pays homage to the 1970’s uke art of Robert Armstrong. He called that one (a custom built instrument by Kenny Hill) Yowl-A-Lele & back side was the back view of the same tomcat and his adoring feline fans.
Yes, I did, and thank you! The sound board pays homage to the 1970’s uke art of Robert Armstrong. He called that one (a custom built instrument by Kenny Hill) Yowl-A-Lele & back side was the back view of the same tomcat and his adoring feline fans.
Ha! I'm sitting here playing an early 20's Kumalae with my new Mickey Rat patch just within reach. A friend just sent it to me last week. Small world!

IMG_3015 copy.jpg
Well, I've heard of some historic instruments in museums (violins I think, maybe Strads) where the conservators have players come in to periodically play them, like routine maintenance I guess. That must go along with the theory that great instruments, presumably already "opened up", can regress, or "go to sleep" if not played. There's much talk in the guitar world of intruments opening up, going to sleep etc. So even though I've never experienced it, I'm a believer, at least on the finest instruments. YMMV.
I have noticed that instruments have a particular sound for about a week or two after I receive them. Then that sound starts to loosen up and change. Sometimes it's pronounced other times it's subtle. Discounting the strings changing, the wood in the instrument changes as well. Not to mention the clues and the finish. They all react to changes in the environment. And shipping can put the instrument through, as Wiggy said, some pretty radical changes in temperature, humidity and air pressure. These changes are noticeable in just a few weeks.

Imagine what happens over longer periods of time. The largest is the absorption and loss of water in the wood as the instrument "breathes."

And, I know that my mood will change my perception of the sound an instrument makes. Some days I pick up a favorite to play, and I realize, no I don't want to play this one. I want to play this other one instead. It suits my mood better on that day.

Instruments do change over time. Whether it's opening up or something else, you'll have to decide for yourself.
I talked to Liam Kirby about instruments opening up (I’ve always been rather sceptical myself), he said that he definitely hears a difference in the first 24-48 hours after stringing up, and I’ve heard of other builders saying the same thing. He also said that he thinks there’s a longer much slower change over time which is probably to do with the wood ageing and drying out.

But I also agree with what Kenn says above about the player’s perception of the instrument at any given time. And I think we become accustomed to the sound of the uke/s that we play. I find that if I’ve been playing the piano for a while, when I pick up a ukulele again it’ll sound rather thin in comparison, my ears just need a bit of time to adjust and tune back in to it.
A new build off the luthiers bench will take at least a few weeks for finishes to completely cure and glues to dry. The individual parts that were joined together will have to become one and vibrate together. I would call those first weeks or months settling in and not opening up. This is probably not relevant to mass produced instruments that will spend many more weeks than this in warehouses and shipping containers as they make their way around globe to final consumer.
I have zero experience with a Luthier-built uke but as noted by @Kenn2018 and @TheBathBird, my brain/ ear "perception of the instrument at any given time" changes drastically, regardless of temperature, humidity and passage of time. There are times that I hear far greater volume and sustain from my kit-built uke, regardless of whether or not I've elected to turn on the "personal amplification device" I use in my right ear.

Slightly off topic, I find it humorous that there is an extreme inverse relationship between the length of a hearing device's name and its cost. My PAD cost US $39.00 and works precisely the same as the $1,700.00 HA that I test-drove for nearly a month and then returned, largely because I remained so disgusted by its ridiculous cost. How do I define "precisely the same"?, you ask. When I wear it, I'm consciously able to hear better. Should the benchmark really be any more complicated (and the difference less financially burdensome) than that?
Two different things:

Opening up happens in the first few months of playing when an instrument is brand new. It is glue and finish curing and wood settling into shape, allowing itself to vibrate, releasing tension.

Ageing happens throughout an instrument's life.

Both are thought to improve acoustic properties, but the extent to which this is noticeable is a matter of debate.
it sounds like a classic post hoc fallacy to me: you notice some phenomenon such as you haven't played your uke in a while, then you think the uke has a closed sound. You then create a causal connection between the two. My ukes are luthier-made and I therefore have a vested interest in believing the theory as it would justify why I paid more for them. However I have a hard time believing that the change that naturally befalls wooden objects would have a predictable, graduated, and discernible affect. I have not a scintilla of proof one way or the other; it just doesn't make sense to me (but neither does watching organized sports)
Based on my experience, the change is noticeable. However, I was playing it everyday. If you've not played it for "quite sometime" (as you mentioned), I'm not sure if you'll still remember what it sounded all that time ago... so how would you know if it has opened up?

I don't know what causes a uke to open up. I used to not believe it until I experienced it myself. They sell devices that vibrate the tops fog uitars to open them up faster (the idea is that the playing vibration causes this). Then, there's also the believe that as wood age, something changes in its structure that causes the opening up sounds. I don't know what is true, but I do know that it happens (because experiencing is believing).
Quoting and agreeing with @ripock, "I have a hard time believing that the change that naturally befalls wooden objects would have a predictable, graduated, and discernible effect". Though I wholeheartedly concur that it's difficult to conceive of even "sinker" tone woods, oddly but genuinely preserved during many decades of constant submersion, undergoing some sort of physical acoustics-properties transformation after being kiln-dried, I also have yet to hear a reasonable explanation for the relatively small volume of sap that continued to seep out of the kiln-dried, primed and painted spruce corner boards on the exterior of my Georgia (US) home during at least five summers after its original construction.
When my uke opened up, I glued it back together and it's looking and sounding fine.
I have found solid wood tops seem to be better over time. I haven't noticed laminate to the point that I can notice it specifically.

Maybe it is like fine single malt scotch. That depends on seasonal changes in the humidity and how the "water" filters through the wood.

The less your instrument is affected by humidity changes, maybe the less it changes. Of course since people like to balance the humidity on their instruments... does that mean that our instruments are less likely to open up as much as instruments in the past?
I'm gonna retire from ranting on this thread after this (but not reading), like "Clear" says you know it when you know it and if you've never experienced it maybe it's the instruments you've played that aren't capable of opening up in the manner we've experienced (as we know not all instruments are created equal). I'm gonna add a few points on the way out that take both sides of the argument.

1. For a new or unused instrument to open up it needs to be played, and it needs to be played loud to "wake it up". In my assessment what opens up probably has a lot to do with the instruments natural vibrations from being played, entropy is a factor and in the chaos the structures may move around and adapt better to playing their natural overtones from the kinetic response (the key!!). If you're just plink plink plinking i don't think you'll ever notice any change.

2. Perhaps over time it's not the instrument but the player getting better and by doing so can make subtle adaptations to their playing style to get the most out of their instrument (like a battle of strong willed forces coming to a compromise).

3. A bunch of other factors including: playing in different rooms, the weather (humidity, dryness, barometric pressure), the way you hold your instrument, strings, technique, etc. When dealing with wooden instruments and humidity you can't help but think of the wood acting like a sponge when the humidity is high. Playing vigorously might move the moisture trapped in the wood around (entropy!) and by doing so improve it's volume, sustain, and tone. I'd think something totally dried out wouldn't work as well (i'm not a luthier so correct me if i'm wrong).

4. My last suggestion comes from the point of view of the individual "master" who makes a superb instrument and knows his/her materials well enough to bend to it's will as much as it can be bent. Michelangelo is a good illustration of this based on his writings and others observations of him in his time. He'd select particular slabs of marble to carve and could see a figure trapped in it, his obligation was to free it from it's geometric prison. When executing a commission he may have had a composition in mind prior to "meeting the slab" but made compromises with the stone itself, like a negotiation. I'd like to think a good luthier does the same with the selected wood, recognizing you can't stretch a bigger cut of wood to make a tenor when all the wood will give you is a good enough section in it's long cut to make a soprano. Also considering how thin can you get away with to maximize vibration and other factors. I'm certain it fluctuates from cut to cut and only years of experience will help an artist/luthier make those decisions. Even Stradivarius had clunkers, which is why only certain of his instruments are considered highly prized and are referred to as made during his "golden period".

For fun, if you're curious, see if playing with a pick and strumming as loud and forcefully as you can on and off for a few hours over a few days and see if you notice any improvement, or spring for the ToneRite and hook it up for a week. Report back.
I’m guessing that ‘opening up’ isn’t relevant for most folks because we only buy/keep instruments that sound good.

I would never buy a so-so ukulele and hope that it *might* sound better later.

‘Opening up’ is an unplanned bonus. And may be unnoticeable if it’s gradual, or the player’s skill is improving.

, or spring for the ToneRite and hook it up for a week. Report back.

Nope to $150 for a tonerite vibrator. I’ve read posts that say that an aquarium air pump is an ok vibrator for $20 (I’d rather spend the $20 on strings)

Top Bottom