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The Ultimate Guide To Ukulele Tonewoods





Ukulele Tonewoods

When choosing a ukulele, the absolute biggest factor in sound quality is wood type. All tonewoods have their own special aesthetic and tonal properties. Your preference of sound and looks will have a major impact on the wood you should choose. At Kala we consider a lot of variables when designing our products, and as a result, the quality reflects that. Understanding your instrument is one of the first big steps to becoming a master at it!


Here are some of Kala's most popular and distinctive wood options:


Mahogany:












Mahogany has a very warm and woody sound. Unlike rosewood it has a higher mid-range tone although it isn’t necessarily bright. Mahogany is best for players searching for a very clear and direct sound with not a lot of overtones. This can be very advantageous in a recording environment. A favorite of many of our Kala luthiers, Mahogany is very light with darker brownish coloring, it has long been a staple for instruments of all kinds.


Spruce












Spruce has been one of the most common top tonewoods on acoustic guitars for decades and it’s no surprise it has found its way into the hearts of uke players as well. There are many variances in Spruce wood strains but it is usually favored for its well-rounded properties that suit a wide range of playing styles. The wood is very stiff and relatively light which makes it great for full-on strumming and quite responsive to delicate fingerpicking. The sound is bright, full, and all around probably familiar to most. It has a very recognizable look that can best be described as a light blonde color that yellows with age. 


Cedar











Cedar makes an excellent top tonewood. Cedar is softer than spruce, and while it similarly adds articulation and punch as a soundboard, the tone is warmer, more woody and more full-bodied than spruce. Cedar richens beautifully in look and tone over time.


Maple












Maple in some cases possesses even lighter coloring than Spruce but is a much more dense wood with an even-keeled sound. Often used for back and sides because of its ability to reduce feedback and unwanted overtones, it has an almost transparent quality to the tone that essentially means it rarely adds or takes away from the sound of the instrument. Maple sounds tighter tonally than many woods, and is sturdy and beautiful.


Koa












Koa, the holy grail of ukulele tonewood. The classic island choice is prized for its gorgeous figuring. All our Koa is sourced directly from the Hawaiian islands where we pick out the most beautiful strains we can find to craft our instruments. Koa has pronounced mids that sound warm and clear. In abstract terms, the Koa tone is very relaxing with smooth overtones that give it a clear yet full quality. Koa is a slightly pricier wood and very sought after by many players. Having a Koa ukulele is a great source of pride for some in the uke community as tradition can be tough to beat. 


Acacia












Acacia bears curling that is similar to its close relative Koa. The Acacia’s resemblance to its cousin is apparent in its beautiful, varied grain pattern. Its tone is almost identical to the quintessential smooth and prominent mids of Koa.


Bamboo













Bamboo is the most eco-friendly material choice for an ukulele. Highly renewable, Bamboo regenerates quickly without being replanted. The multi-layered, vertical sequencing of bamboo as a building material lends to this collection's light and natural appeal.



A part of the Poaceae family, Bamboo is categorically not a wood, despite what its immense durability and initial appearance may suggest. Incredibly, bamboo still provides a bright tone with great volume, harmonics, projection and sustain. The strength of bamboo also makes for an extremely durable and resilient instrument.




Solid Wood vs. Laminate



We'd love to share some info on what distinguishes solid and laminate wood, and the benefits of each:


Solid Wood

Solid wood is in essence one solid pieces of wood that make up the body of the instrument. It is the most resonant and pure form of the tonewood and requires much more finesse to assemble. However the wood is meant to sound — whatever unique tones the instrument might have — it will be most apparent in a solid wood instrument, and they will mature in look and tone over time. The meticulousness required during the build process and richness of sound make solid wood instruments more expensive to purchase than laminates. Solid woods are somewhat more delicate in comparison to laminate, and they require more attention to adequate humidification. 





Laminate

A laminate (or layered tonewood) soundboard is comprised of several sheets of wood that are attached together to form a durable piece of material. While in many cases solid wood is the preferred tone option, laminate instruments can still sound absolutely brilliant, and possess authentic tonal properties of the woods used. Laminate instruments often have very attractive looks, as the most visually appealing piece of the wood is chosen as the external layer. Many popular instruments are made with this layered tonewood technique, and they are usually the more affordable and resilient option.




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