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Sounding Board: Tonewood Choice

Lurkers, luthiers, and enthusiasts have all likely encountered the term ‘Tonewood’. Learn more about general types of Tonewood, and how the right choice can impact the sound and response of your ukulele!

 

An instrument’s voice is decided by a number of modifiable and inherent factors. An example of a modifiable factor is string choice and material, while the body and bracing style used are permanent features. By carefully choosing the attributes of your ukulele, you’ll be more likely to play and enjoy your ukulele for many years to come.

 

There are certain generalizations one can make based on the material being used. Spruce tends to be bright and punchy, Cedar tends towards warmth, and Mahogany sustains. The tone produced by a certain wood or sample of wood is unique to each piece used and its structure on a cellular level, and how those cellular structures interact and mesh into the Soundboard of the instrument.

 

When deciding what type of material to use for the soundboard, Ohana considers a number of factors. These include the historical hallmarks of the instrument, and the type of music or musician likely to play it. We consider how the final finish might affect the sound, and if the instrument is set up to be plugged in. All of these factors have some bearing on the final voice of the instrument, and on the tone and projection that make it unique.

 

We’ll discuss the three main types of Tonewood below, and why one might pick one type over another for their playing needs.

 

Spruce

Spruce has been used for making musical instruments for centuries. The wood type is found in many locations, making it plentiful and easy to source responsibly. At Ohana, we use spruce for a number of models as it tends to create a bright tone, perfect for cutting through a music class. A great example is our VK-70, the Vita based on the popular model from the 1930’s preferred by ukeist Roy Smeck. The combination of the spruce top and large bottom bout allows this model to project far more than most sopranos.

Ohana VK-70

Many of our Friends of Ohana prefer spruce for unplugged gigs, as the rigidity of the material allows for maximum projection, even while playing acoustically. Alissa loves her SK-75G, while Mark prefers his TK-470G.

 

Cedar

Cedar is sought after for its warmth and fullness of tone. For artists and music that require a softer, mellower touch, this tonewood is the way to go! Based on the classic guitar pairing, the -50G series is a great example of this tonewood’s beautiful voice.

CK-50G Cedar Details

For Cedar that maintains some punch and brightness, we suggest a Port Orford, or white cedar– as used in the -80 and -85 models. Redwood is another great option that is a nice compromise between these two popular tonewoods, and is paired nicely with solid Rosewood in our -40 and -42 series.

 

Mahogany

Marvelous Mahogany! Where would the world of musical instruments be without you?! Ohana is particularly beholden to this incredible wood type, as it comprises our core line and many of our unique and vintage-inspired models.

Within the Ohana line, you’ll find two main designators: Mahogany and Premium Mahogany. Our models labeled as using Premium Mahogany will be lighter, and even more resonant than our standard Mahogany models.

Ohana CK-35GCE Mahogany Details

Sustain is what it’s all about with this tonewood. For long-lasting notes that are full without being brittle or too bright, a solid mahogany soundboard will carry. Excellent bass and midrange tones are one of the main characteristics of beautiful Mahogany.

 

Other Tonewoods

There are many, many other tonewoods used in instrument-making today, each having its very own signature sound. Some of our favorites have been used for centuries, while others are just starting to be explored by the instrument-making community.

Ohana All-Solid Koa CK-350G Details

Hawaiian Koa has been used for making ukulele in a long-held tradition. This beautiful wood often has figuring and striations to the grain. Koa is a type of Acacia tree, only found on the islands of Hawaii.

 

Ohana Sinker Redwood TK-42 Details

Redwood is sourced by Ohana through domestic channels in the Pacific Northwest. Guitar builders, ukulele makers, and aesthetic builders of all types love the natural play in color found in Redwood. The tone produced is said to be the very best parts of cedar and spruce, and can be paired with any number of woods for elegance in appearance and sustain of tone. Ohana chose to use Rosewood to build a pleasing instrument to both ear and eye.

 

Ohana Solid Maple CK-75CG Details

Maple is the standard material for most violins, and is often used for building other musical instruments as well. We love the sound of Maple paired with a Spruce top for projection, brilliance, and ability to cut through background noise.

 

Keep your mind open and your ears alert— your next ukulele just might be made of something really special!