This section will contain helpful information you can use to help you find the perfect Uke.
Construction: This will influence the overall tone / sound of the instrument.
It will also influence how deep you'll have to dig into your pockets.
Just like it says this is made from solid pieces of wood.
Some refer to it as plywood. While technically correct you won't find this stuff at Lowes or Home Depot. They are thin layers of wood laminated together under great pressure. Many disparage laminates as being inferior. But keep in mind some of the greatest Gibson arch tops of all time have been made out of "laminated" wood.
Resonance, or how the instrument will resonate. This effects the tone and the sustain of the notes played.
Generally all solid wood instruments will resonate better than laminate's.
But remember those Gibson's.
Then there are hybrids where a solid wood top is used with laminate back and sides.
The top produces the majority of the sound and the resonance, some say
"the top does the heavy lifting of the sound".
There are some amazing instruments that fit into this category, one of my favorite Ukes to date are the Ohana 50 ME.
By using a solid Cedar top and Laminate Macassar Ebony and a very light mat satin finish they have all the desirable qualities of fine Spanish Guitars. And they are damn easy on the eye's.
The Ohana 70R's are another great choice. With a solid Spruce top and Rosewood laminate back and sides, they are much brighter and somewhat louder than Cedar or Mahogany.
Ohana has very accomplished "Artists" in their endorsement group who could play any instrument and choose the 70R for it's great sound.
Sound and tone are subjective, what appeals to your ears and your style of playing are all that matters since you are the one playing it.
* * * A note about solid woods for New Mexico, hydration.
Wood is hygroscopic it absorbs and releases moisture, and when it dries out it can crack.
If you invest in a solid wood instrument, all solid or hybrid you have to be prepared to take care of it.
That means keeping it in a hard shell case, they seal up better and you should use a good humidifier.
An Oasis is an excellent choice here. Be prepared to fill it every week to 10 days.
Yes Ukes can be very beautiful and yes you will be tempted to set your new Uke out on a stand or hanger. But if the wood splits most vendors will not honor a warranty on that.
So where to start?
Are you starting off ?
Do you play other instruments ?
Is this for a child or younger person ?
If you are not sure you or the person you are buying the Uke for will stay with it, start with a basic starter Uke.
If the answer is yes, you or they will be sticking with it, buy the best Uke you can afford.
Buying anything you will quickly outgrow is not usually a good investment.
You can learn more about this in the "Set Up" section, but even a better grade of entry level instrument well set up will be a good instrument and will serve you well for years.
The "Demo" Ukes I have in the shop are not the very bottom, they are a step up from that. But they have my full "Pro Level Set Up" and many have been blown away but how awesome they feel and sound.
Starting with a good all Laminate is not a bad choice. They are far less likely to have issues due to humidity or neglect. I stop short of using "abused" Ukes are very light and somewhat fragile instruments, they can break if your 180 pound New Foundland sits on it.
* * * Warning Will Robinson (I'm old some will get this)
Ukes are addictive, if you stay with them you will want a bigger one or a smaller one or a brighter one or a mellower warmer one.
Bottom line, you've been warned.
So if you buy a laminate "starter" instrument and start buying nicer solid instruments, it's always nice to have a knock around Uke to take out camping or .........
I will be referring to solid woods here. Many of these woods can be used as veneers, the outer layer of laminate woods.
Tonewoods help shape the sound and tone of an instrument.
Your playing style can lend itself to some woods over others, or you can look at it as the woods can lend themselves to your playing style.
Hawaiian Koa is a highly prized and sought exotic wood from Hawaii.
It combines some of the sonic qualities of mahogany and the rosewoods, together with more brightness.
As with maple, this wood can offer stunningly beautiful figures, and are a great choice for high quality ukuleles.
Acacia is similar to Hawaiian "Koa" but is not grown in Hawaii and should not be referred to as "Koa"
Mahogany aesthetically has a typically reddish color, sometimes with very exotic figuring.
The sound is sweet and focused on the mid frequencies. It is a relatively light and resistant wood.
Spruce is highly resonant, and has a well balanced and bright tone. Usually light colored, the sound improves over the time, as spruce wood changes during the life of the instrument. Spruce has been "the choice" for acoustic guitar tops for many years.
Cedar sounds a bit more rounded, softer and warmer than Spruce, but on the other hand it sometimes offers a more open and detailed tone, with more definition.
That’s why some say “Cedar is for the players and Spruce is for the listeners”. Moreover Cedar sounds great right out of the gate and changes little with the passing of time, consequently its tonal qualities will not improve much during the life of the instrument as often happens with spruce. But hey, when you start off great who cares.
Aesthetically, the difference between Spruce and Cedar is obvious, the latter being darker and reddish.
Broadly speaking, those who are looking for a brighter more aggressive sound will usually prefer the spruce. Those who are looking for warmer richer tone will prefer the Cedar. But keep in mind that this is true only if all the other construction features are the same.
Cedar or Cedro (the Spanish pronunciation) has been the choice of Spanish "Classical" guitars forever and is one of my favorites. I prefer a thin "Satin" finish on Cedar as it seems to let the top resonate more and is more open sounding.
Mango, originally from India, has been used for years for the Ukulele.
Its sonic and physical qualities (hardness and density) make it especially suitable for the construction of acoustic instruments. It can also have striking grain patterns that can make for stunningly beautiful instruments.
Redwood while not common, some builders do use it. It also comes in "Sinker" Redwood which is Redwood that has been underwater for long periods of time. It is a very soft wood with a beautiful look and sound similar to Cedar.
Back and sides
Hawaiian Koa. Many high end build's are all solid Koa and it's a very desirable combination both for it's exotic beauty and it's sound.
Koa is an exotic wood from Hawaii. It combines the sonic qualities of Mahogany and Rosewood, together with bit more brightness.
As with Maple, this wood can offer beautiful figuring, and represents a good choice for high quality ukuleles.
Again like in the tops, Acacia is a similar wood to Koa, but is not grown on Hawaii and should not be referred to as "Koa"
Mahogany, usually used in all Mahogany instruments top, back and sides.
A very traditional construction for Ukuleles. Many custom builders choice as well as traditional Martin Ukulele's.
Aesthetically it has a typical redish color, sometimes with exotic figuring.
The sound is sweet and more focused on the mid frequencies.
It is a relatively light and resistant wood.
Rosewood is a valuable and expensive wood (especially the Brazilian one), it's very strong and somewhat heavy. This translates into a warm and rounded sound together with a long sustain.
Braziian is especially beautiful, with noticeable grain patterns and a brownish color.
Indian rosewood, is less valuable than the Brazilian one for availability reasons, Brazillian is very tightly controlled. Sonically it can be equivalent or even superior and it shows more porosity, a darker color, with a less noticeable grain pattern that looks more consistant.
Maple is a very beautiful wood, with its many aesthetically striking variances.
As Maple highlights the higher frequencies in the spectrum, it is often used to balance those instruments that would otherwise sound too rich in the low end. Moreover, Maple offers a beautiful aesthetic addition to an instrument thanks to its variety of figures, like quilted, flamed, tiger, bird’s eye, curly, or spralted. Maple is often paired with a Spruce top when a really bright forward (loud) instrument is desired.
Mango like Koa can be uses for all solid instruments and can be some of the most stunning of grain patterns.
Myrtle while not common it is a beautiful looking and sounding wood, and is in the middle of the road sound wise.
Necks and Fret boards
Almost all Ukulele necks are usually made from Mahogany, although any good stable wood can be used.
Fret boards are usually hardwoods. Rosewoods, Walnut, Ebony, Pau Ferro (known by many names) and a variety of other woods can be used.