How to Choose the Right Wood in a Ukulele

Kamaka-ukulele

When it comes to choosing a ukulele, the quality of the sound is almost always going to be the most important element. While there are several aspects that go into creating that final sound, the most significant is the type of wood used in the construction, hands down. Below is a breakdown of why wood type is so important, how it influences the final cost, and some basic guidelines to help you make the right decision when you start looking at specific models.

Effects on Sound

The way the type of wood used in a ukulele affects its overall sound can get pretty complicated if you go too far into the science, so the easiest way to think about it is in terms of resonance. When you strum the strings on a ukulele, they vibrate at different pitches to create the different notes. These sounds go into the hole in the body of the ukulele, which is called the sound hole, so that they can reverberate inside the hollow body and come back out to create the full sound that we hear.

Certain types of wood are denser than others, allowing the sounds to resonate more. Basically, this means that the sounds are louder and richer, with a deeper sound that feels more natural to the ear. Once you start looking at particular types of woods, the difference can come down to a matter of opinion and the person’s familiarity with musical sounds. However, most people can usually tell the difference in sound between quality wood and cheap wood. This is what makes some ukuleles sound strong and professional, and others like toys.

Effects on Price

Generally speaking, denser wood is more expensive, which means that ukuleles designed to deliver a higher quality sound can end up costing more. This isn’t a rule, though, because some companies can sell more expensive ukuleles based on a lot of other factors outside of the wood. You’ll need to take a look at all of the elements that go into the instrument, including the hardware and extra components, to understand how it all affects the price.

Certain types of wood are also more scarce than others, such as those from an endangered or rare type of tree, but these don’t necessarily provide a better sound. Shipping costs also play a role in the price of wood, as companies with manufacturing centers close by a particular type of wood are usually going to acquire it for cheaper than one that has to ship it across the country or overseas.

Effects on Appearance

While appearance doesn’t really affect the sound of a ukulele, it’s worth mentioning that the different types of woods are all going to have a different look. Just remember that a specific look isn’t going to signify anything about the quality of the wood or the sound of the ukulele. Some companies use one type of wood for the inner construction, and then place a veneer on top to change its look. It’s also common to see one type of wood used for the top of the instrument, and a different type for the rest of the body, neck, bridge, and even the fretboard.

Types of Wood to Look For

If you’re looking for a ukulele with a deep sound, you should focus on mahogany and rosewood. These woods are incredibly hard, which means that they are capable of creating more resonance than other types of wood. However, they also typically fall on the expensive range, though the actual price of the ukulele can vary significantly depending on how much of the wood is used in the different components.

Softer wood like maple and agathis are frequently used in less expensive ukuleles, since they are among the more common types of wood available to manufacturers in different areas of the world. Though they don’t provide the same level of resonance as harder woods, they can still give you a great sound; without coming out too hollow or distant. Just know that these types of woods can lead to quieter sounds in addition to more dull sounds.

Materials Other than Wood

In recent years, more manufacturers have started using plastics and composites as the base for the body and neck of ukuleles. This is because the materials are considerably cheaper to obtain compared to wood and, unfortunately, in many cases these result in an inferior sound. You’re most likely going to find composites in novelty ukuleles or models that are described as being children’s models. However, there are some ukuleles made out of composites that are able to achieve a substantial level of quality sound, thanks to special design methods and attention to detail. These models are still going to sound different than wood ukuleles, but they don’t necessarily mean that the sound is going to be subpar.

One Last Tip

As you continue your search for the right ukulele, always remember to find out exactly what type of wood is used in each part of the instrument. Some products will claim to use only one type of wood, but in reality they only feature it in a single area and instead use a cheaper material for the rest of the construction. With a little extra research and attention to detail, you can usually find out the full makeup of any ukulele, so you can always make the most informed purchase possible.