As we all know, wood is the material that is transmitting the vibration that makes the sound. The density and makeup of their cell structure in conjunction the other factors is what determine its tonality. Do you know how ukulele tone depends on the wood? which wood makes the best ukulele?
Mahogany is a common ( possibly the most popular) wood used for musical instruments. In the hawaiian ukulele world almost everyone uses it for the neck. It has great strength at lower weights. Mahogany is a hardwood but in the middle of the spectrum. It is much less dense than other hard woods like rosewood and most exotic dark woods, yet more dense than softwoods like spruce and cedar. Mahogany produces a focused sound, thicker in the low mid- and high mid-range. As a top, or soundboard, it is less bright in tone than softwoods, but more “punchy” in the mids. The problem with having a hardwood top is they are often too thick and don’t sound “open.” But done correctly, all mahogany is among the best sounding tonewoods.
At about the same density as mahogany, there is a more exotic wood, an alluring island tree vibrant in look and sound. Koa is the wood most synonymous with the ukulele. The sound is more direct with less overtone but good sustain and great attack strumming or picking. Very mid-range. Its coloring is heard in almost every ukulele made in Hawaii.
Spruce is considered one of the softwoods but is very strong, crisp and vibrant. Known for being bright and loud, yet still full and warm. What do we mean when we describe sound as warm? Is it the emotional warmth? The harsher tones are not there. Or maybe it is heat-related warmth because of how it makes you feel good. Could sound be temperature related? Anyway, to me “warm” denotes strength in the mids and lower register, filling out the sound with a bed of warmth. LOL. Spruce excels across the range of frequencies and its dynamics are arguably the most complete.
Cedar is the second most common soundboard wood that you see in ukuleles. It is softer than spruce with less pointed mids but often more bass. You also get more complex overtones right off the bat with cedar. It’s alive, sweet and has just the right bite.
Redwood has much of the quality of cedar but is very unique. A big, full voice many think is the best while others hear something they think is unfocused. Redwood has a spatial feel but is not as cutting in the highs.
Other top choices include rosewood and maple.
Rosewood sides and back are often used for the flagship models of acoustic guitar brands. It is not often seen in the uke world but when it is, you can often be impressed with the added mid range and low overtones. Rosewood even thickens up the higher range. Most often rosewood is paired with a softwood top, but Ko’olau offers an all rosewood model that sounds great. Otherwise pair rosewood sides and back together with a cedar or spruce top and get tones many consider to be the best.
Maple is renowned for its clarity. It tends to have less overtone clutter and strong dynamic ability. Clean and also fat when done right. Maple sides and back are on some of the best sounding ukes you will find. Often paired with Spruce, Maple can be excellent for recording.
Knowing how ukulele tone depend on the wood, it is very helpful for you to choose what kind of professional ukulele to buy.