The Ultimate Guide To Ukulele Tonewoods
When choosing a ukulele the absolute biggest factor in sound quality is wood type! More specifically, the wood that makes up the top/front of the ukulele otherwise known as the soundboard. When selecting a ukulele your preference of sound and looks will have a major impact on the wood you should choose. All tonewoods have their own special properties so we will go over our most popular choices here:
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 has been one of the most common 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.
Maple in some cases possesses even lighter coloring than Spruce but is a much heavier wood with a flat 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 neither bright nor dark nor warm. I personally love the way it feels as it is a sturdy and beautiful wood, but it all depends on your personal preference when working with this tonewood.
As important as the soundboard is to the tone of an instrument, if the backs and sides are neglected you’ll quickly realize the value of overall quality. I’ll start off by saying two things about Rosewood. The first is that this wood is one of the most popular back and sides woods of all time and is well beloved by many for its beautiful, dark, rich-looking wood and resonate warm tones. The second is that this wood used to be heavily regulated for international import and export. In 2017, Rosewood was a CITES-protected wood that was added to the list of woods that take further permits for commercial trade. However, in November 2019, restrictions were lifted and Kala ukuleles containing Rosewood can once again be shipped worldwide! George Harrison himself was a major proponent of this tonewood and it is easy to see why!
Koa, the holy grail of ukulele tonewood. The classic island choice and in this writer’s humble opinion the most beautiful looking wood on this list. 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. But how does it sound you ask? Koa has extremely pronounced mids that sound warm and clear. In abstract terms the Koa tone is very relaxing with low 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. However, all these woods are terrific core categories to start with and it comes down to individual preference when making a selection.
Hopefully with this information you will be able to make a more informed and confident purchase in your next ukulele. 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!
Please leave any comments, questions, or suggestions below as we’d love to hear them as we seek to better ourselves and our products through this blog!