Does the type of wood used in the making of a stringed instrument make a difference? Yes … Yes … Yes! Many individuals think that the type of wood used to construct a musical instrument only affects its overall outward appearance … this could not be further from the truth. The type of wood chosen for your ukulele is responsible for its overall acoustic properties. I am sure that you have heard instruments described as having a “bright” tone or a “warm” tone … this has everything to do with the interaction of the back, front & side wood and the transference of energy from the instrument’s strings. It is important to understand the difference between the function of the top vs. the back of all stringed instruments. Sound can best be characterized as the movement of air. The front (soundboard) of a ukulele is like a pump whose function is to take the energy from the strings, absorb the vibrations and move the air up and down within the chamber of the instrument’s body. So, the ideal wood for the top of a ukulele is something light and stiff. Spruce, cedar, redwood and the warmer hardwoods (koa, mahogany, mango & myrtle) are the best choices.
The function of the instrument’s back is to reflect those same sound waves. So, the back needs to be different, something dense, like a hardwood (koa, mango, maple … any hardwood will do). By adjusting the overall thickness and bracing styles used in the construction of the top & back we can affect the overall tone, volume and sustain the instrument will produce.
One simplistic way of looking way this is on a sliding scale where on the left side
is a warmer tone and on the right side is a bright tone. Warm woods tend to deliver
a more blended and mellow tone. Brighter woods deliver greater note distinction,
and they tend to have more sustain. In general, woods with higher density (harder
woods) are brighter, while lower density woods (softer) are warmer. One thing that
you have to remember when thinking of this overall concept is that each piece of
wood, just like every one of us, is truly unique. Some woods can vary greatly from
So, with all of this in mind and looking at the more popular woods our sliding scale in the order from warmest to brightest would be laid out as follows:
Most of the exotic imported woods which are not represented above are on the brighter side of the spectrum.
If you like the look of koa but desire a brighter sounding instrument or on the other hand find maple very appealing but like a brighter tone your choice of soundboard material will give you exactly what you desire. Choose Cedar or Redwood to "warm" up a brighter wood or Spruce to "brighten" up a warmer wood.
To further complicate the issue you can also affect overall tone after the wood has been chosen and the instrument built by simply using a different type of string.
There are several different brands and types of ukulele strings available on the market today, and they all differ in the way that they feel (overall texture), their durability and the acoustic properties they impart to the instrument. If you are looking the answer to the age old question which is the “best” string for my ukulele … it’s not that simple because there isn’t one. It has everything to do with all of the acoustic elements of the instrument and how they work together. You can change the warm tone of a koa ukulele by changing to a “brighter” tone string or change the bright tone of maple through the use of a “warmer” tone string. The bottom line … it is whatever you the player prefers that matters the most. So with all of that being said I hope the following information helps. Below you will find the overall characterization of three of the more popular types and brands of ukulele strings on the market today.