Heaukulani 'ukulele & guitar

Tone vs. Looks

I have a scribbled note on my wall in my shop that reads "Before you decide on the wood for your instrument ask yourself, what would Ervin say?" which I point to when a customer requests highly figured koa wood for their 'ukulele or guitar. Ervin Somogyi is a master luthier who apparently knows a lot about wood acoustics and wood physics. This is what he says about certain woods that builders use as a "tonewood" and what he also says about figuring.

        What Ervin says about tonewood:

“Many rosewoods, spruces, cedars, redwood, cocobolo, wenge, padauk, etc. are bona fide tonewoods  Bubinga, teak, maple, cherry, oak, ash, African blackwood, zebrawood, Goncalo Alvez, ebony, olive, myrtle, koa, walnut, bocote, ziricote, and mahogany are generally not -- or very little, at best.”   [Koa emphasized]

“Tonewoods, by definition, make a sound -- all by themselves. You have only to tap the good ones to get a surprisingly bell-like ring, when they are suspended inthe air while held from just the right nodal spot. Compared with ordinary woods that merely go thud, thunk, or boink regardless of how or where they are held, such a response indicates a liveness and, especially, a high-frequency capacity. Indeed,

tonewoods are sometimes described as being vitreous, which means glass-like -- and of course having the ringing and sustaining vibrational quality associated with that material. If you tap these same woods while holding them at different nodal points they will also give you a lively and sustaining low-pitched hum."

So you want highly figured soundboards do you?

What Ervin says about figuring

“Figuring is a direct functions of plentiful movement and irregularity in the grain; the greater the figure, the crazier the grain. This feature always makes the wood less stiff than the straight-grained sample of the same material and is, therefore, less able to vibrate in a vitreous, sustained manner; thy’re ropey and floppy rather than brittle. The sheer beauty of such woods sometimes makes up for the less than full sound, but the fact is, such materials serve, mechanically, to absorb string energies rather than move with them. The sound will consequently be shorter in duration (sustain), and will be mellower, less rich, with less bite and sparkle. Nonetheless, under string load all of these will make sound.”

Now when you hear builders say koa has a mellow tone it's not a compliment. Likewise with old Martin mahogany ukes.

There is no comparison between a padauk straight grain instrument and a highly figured koa. You can definitely hear the padauk "sparkle" with a rich sound with longer duration.

And of course you will have differences of opinion. StewMac calls padauk "alternative tonewood" and doesn't really explain what that means. Just place them side by side and play it yourself and you decide.

Padauk pterocarpus soyauxii  - African variety. Burma and Adaman (Bay of Bengal) varieties are superior but rare like Brazilian rosewood. I have a set of Padauk woods for the back plate and sides. I will use a spruce top plate. Would you like to order a guitar? 

Web Hosting Companies