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Message started by oglavyandtuglavy on Aug 9th, 2003 at 1:00pm

Title: Koa Talk
Post by oglavyandtuglavy on Aug 9th, 2003 at 1:00pm
First I want to say that I'm new to ukes and I find Hana Lima and the forum to be very helpful.  

Regarding the construction of a koa uke, has anyone built a uke made of koa (top, back and sides) with a honduran mahogany neck and ebony fretboard?  The reason why I ask is that I have an all mahogany uke and an all koa uke and they look great.  It seems difficult to find koa neck blanks.  Since honduran mahogany is highly recommended for the neck I'm just wondering if it was used with an all koa soundbox would it look mismatched?  Would you need to alter the color to make it more uniform?  Also, if koa IS available for necks and fretboards is it recommended or should I stick with more traditional woods for these parts?  I appreciate your help!


Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by grasshopper on Aug 9th, 2003 at 2:40pm
Hey Nick,

I believe that whichever you choose would be just fine and I think it is a matter of personal preference.  A koa neck or a mahogany neck would work just fine.  The looks are all up to you and since you plan on an ebony fretboard, then having a koa neck doesn't seem to be all that important either.  Mahogany is also a little easier to work with in shaping the heel too.  There are a lot of guys with koa so if you really wanted to get a koa neck, I don't think that it would be a problem.  Check out http://ukulelesupply.tripod.com/.  I don't think Norman usually sells or stocks koa neck blanks, but I know he had a lot of koa and you may be able to get him to cut you a blank if he has some left over stock.  But like I said before, a mahogany neck with a koa body would be just fine and would be a personal preference on what you like to see.  (And yes, I have built both and either one works for me.)

Vince (grasshopper)

Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by oglavyandtuglavy on Aug 9th, 2003 at 3:15pm
Thanks Vince!  I appreciate your help.  Since like you said mahogany is easier to shape at the heel that's probably the way to go for me.  

Koa is such an incredible tonewood; and so very beautiful.  I never get tired of reading about it and I thought we needed a forum topic dedicated to this precious gift.


Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by achock on Aug 12th, 2003 at 10:17am
Heya Nick,

Both woods are used to make necks and excellent ukes.  I think the Koa and Mahogany look really good together.  We use Mahogany exclusively for our uke necks.  You can check out some of the examples on the http://www.hanalima.com/gallery.shtml page

(pheasant wood body w/Mahogany neck)

Looks aside, there are some other reasons why we only use quartersawn straight grain Mahogany for our ukulele necks.  Since it is absolutely crucial that the neck doesn't warp or move around, your best bet is a very stable wood.  Koa will work fine, but there is the question of stability.  Just keep in mind how the climate in your area changes throughout the year.  

In time, try them both.  Use your experiences to balance between the aesthetics and function.   ???  Always something new to find out.


Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by grasshopper on Aug 12th, 2003 at 10:11pm
Koa is such an incredible tonewood

Nick, Actually koa is an okay tonewood.  I think that mahogany is a better "tonewood" than koa.  Koa is just so much nicer than plain, straight grained, quartersawn mahogany, especially when you get the curly koa.  I think it is more of a tradition for using koa in ukuleles and also because ukuleles and koa come from Hawaii.  I know that the uke that Jake Shimabukuro was using was actually made with a mahogany body and spruce top.  Think the neck was mahogany, but not certain of that.  No koa in that uke, although one of his other ukes when he was with Pure Heart may have been koa.  Also, most of the "nice" sounding Martin ukuleles were made with mahogany. But I guess the 5K model, which sells for $ 5 - 10K was made of koa.  Never heard one of those though, but for $ 5 - 10K, it should play itself and not depend on us two left thumb kind of guys to play it.   ;)  And I believe that mahogany is more readily available and a lot cheaper than the nice koa.  Bottomline, just make um and if you don't like it, make another, and another, and another.......   ;D


Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by koloheukulele on Aug 13th, 2003 at 1:56pm
Eh, Howzit howzit everybody!  I've gotta agree wit grasshoppa dat koa not so good as tonewood.  Braddah Jake planning one full koa uke now, but braddah stay plugged in all the time so no matter anyway.  Try ask um fo unplug and play um!  Den you going see (hear) what the uke really sound like.  However koa is pretty and as long as you stay away from using it as you soundboard you'll come out with a good enough uke.  But on the other hand some songs sound good with that cha-lang-a-lang sound.  My personally opinion is gotta try um all.  If you like Hawaiian woods try Kamani.  Just like Mahoganhy.
Shoots, aJ

Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by david on Aug 13th, 2003 at 3:24pm
yep, gotta agree with all you guys out there, just make em and if sound good , its good. If no sound to good well give em to the kids or sell em cheep and make another one. my first and only ukulele teacher , (Hanalima ia class of 2000), said to us students  not long ago  the same thing, and I follow  it to this day . Yep just make em, then make another one.
   ok see ya later ;D

Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by grasshopper on Aug 13th, 2003 at 4:12pm
Hey Nick,  

Just came across a piece of koa on ebay that would be perfect dimension for a neck, actually several necks.  See this link:  http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=2340690334&category=28138   Kind of pricey though since this is just a little over 1 board ft and right now they are selling it at $25.00 + shipping + a $5 handling fee.  $30 + a board foot!!! Whooooeeeeee!!! :o  I should sell my koa.  But I guess those on the mainland are willing to pay those prices for koa.  


Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by ukeman on Aug 14th, 2003 at 10:45am
aloha out there! Thought I'd add a nickel's worth on the Koa subject. Koa is so special period! Beautiful color, grain, and relatively easy to work, and takes a beautiful finish.There is nuttin bad to say about Koa from the islands..end of story! A precious commodity so I use sparingly for backs, sides, and veneers. My soundboards of choice are the spruces, cedars and redwoods.  My neck materials of choice are spanish cedar or honduran mahogany...light, stiff, stable and easy to work and also takes a beautiful finish which indeed is stainable.Fingerboards and bridges are ebony.
Since I opt for the above materials makes my choices real easy and consistent.
    Been milling Big Island Koa for the past few months and was blessed with sources that provided me with outstanding quarter sawn curly koa. These will definitely be koa backs and side sets. There is Koa in the Islands readily avaiable but the prime sources are not easily available o the public and the purchase amount
increases to make each buy a sizeable investment.Still koa is still king in the islands.  laters  ukeman

Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by oglavyandtuglavy on Aug 15th, 2003 at 8:49am
Thanks everyone for your help.  I guess the best advice is like you say to just make one and then another and another...

Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by achock on Aug 15th, 2003 at 4:50pm
koloheukulele brings up a good point.  It was the 'chang-a-langa' sound that made the uke famous.  Many people expect the ukulele to sound that way.  My dad's latest Baritone ukes sound like mini-guitars.  In a good way of course  ;D .... clearer, crisper, more volume, and sustain.  But maybe not the sound you want for your strumin' uke.

Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by jbosworth on Jan 28th, 2008 at 7:32am
I'd posted this under a separate topic but this might be a better place since you folks are discussing wood.

I recently found a nice chunk of quarter sawn Jatoba (also known as Brazilian Cherry) at a shop that caters to custom woodworkers and contractors. It's 6' long, 8" wide and 1.75" thick. It had such beautiful figure and color I had to buy it. It has a grain very much like Koa, though it has a slightly more yellowish color. I don't know what it will look like with some lacquer on it. It's most often used for flooring but I heard recently of it being used for high-end speaker cabinets.

It is very hard and dense - the Janka is 2820 compared to Koa's Janka of 2160 - and dulls tool steel quickly. I intend to resaw this piece into planks I can use for sides and backs. I think it will look really nice. The tap tone compared to a similar thickness of Koa I have is almost the same. I'll let you know how it goes but would appreciate input from anyone who's tried it.

I also bought a gorgeous plank of Bubinga (African Rosewood from Tanzania) at the same place. It has an incredible grain, especially on the edges. The color is a deep rose. It can be used as a substitute for mahogany or Indian rosewood in necks and sides. I think a neck made from it is going to be a real eye catcher.

I also like Sapele for necks. It looks, works, and finishes very much like Honduran Mahogany but is more plentiful.

The Jatoba might be a good substitute for Koa. It cost just $4 a board ft. The Bubinga was $7 a board ft. and the Sapele was $6 a board ft.

I too prefer the spruce or cedar tops almost exclusively. I like ukes that not only look pretty but sound good, too. Tone woods other than the softer ones just don't seem to sound as nice. Just my opinion and worth nothing to anyone but me...  ;D



Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by jbosworth on Jan 28th, 2008 at 9:12am
Here is an image of a small section of the Jatoba plank I mention above:

And here is the Bubinga:

And finally the Sapele:

All of these are raw lumber, no final sanding or finish applied. Do you agree that the Jatoba looks pretty much like Koa?


Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by Acabooe on Jan 28th, 2008 at 10:41am
I gotta question,

It was said in a post above that Koa is not good for sound boards.

Why is that?

Is it that the sound just doesn't project like it is supposed to, or is it someting else?

What does tonewood actually mean?

If Koa is not good for sound boards, what dark brown or red wood would be, because personally I like the above mentioned colored woods for sound boards.

On the other hand, I don't want my Ukuleles to sound like crap if they are not plugged in.

Some suggestions and imput would be greatly appreciated.

Bob 8)

Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by jbosworth on Jan 28th, 2008 at 10:57am

Tone wood is generally chosen for its acoustic properties, and each kind of wood has its own unique set of properties. So it all depends on what kind of tone you want. New species of wood are being introduced by Luthiers constantly. There's quite a selection out there, experiment a little, get out of your box a bit...

A pretty good treatise on tone wood is available at:

Here's a quote from that site:

"It is rare that a musical instrument is made entirely of a single kind of wood. Since sound is generated through vibration, the instrument's primary wood is selected for the particular characteristics of its vibration. In parts of the instrument not responsible for generating tone, woods are selected for other reasons: a hard wood for the fingerboard, an easily-worked wood for decoration, etc. No wood is inherently a "tonewood", the distinction is in the use of the wood."

Each wood imparts its own personality to the sound your instrument makes. Note that the article lists Koa as appropriate for sides, backs AND tops. They say about Koa: "Koa produces a predominately bright treble response with less volume than spruce, but the slight loss in volume is overshadowed by the extreme beauty of the grain."

It all comes down to what you (or your customer) like. The heck with everyone else's opinion in that case.


Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by Acabooe on Jan 29th, 2008 at 5:38am
Hey Jeff,

Mahalo Nui Loa.

That really gave me a better understanding.

So, basically, it is not saying that koa is a bad wood for a soundboard, but it would be a quieter wood, is that right?

I guess if you are going to have it plugged in like Jake, then who cares.

As for me, I only play for my family, so I would never be in a room bigger than a living room, so I guess it wouldn't matter in my case either.

Anyway, thanks so much.
Bob 8)

Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by Jeff B on Jan 29th, 2008 at 6:03am
You are correct about the Koa. Choose the woods that please you while trying to balance the aesthetics with the acoustics (and the physical dynamics). But don't go overboard to the point where it becomes a chore. Love what you do...

A bad sounding uke that is electrified and plugged in is still going to sound bad - only louder! If you use a good acoustic pickup system (active or passive), it should faithfully reproduce your uke's unplugged sound through the amplifier. So unless you want to distort the sound, choose only really good pickup components.

Placement of those components is also critical. You could spend a couple hundred $$ on a top-end bridge pickup (i.e. L. R. Baggs) but if it isn't precisely placed and attached it won't sound good at all or you'll lose certain frequency ranges. Electrifying an acoustic instrument is an art in itself.

You can bet that Jake is playing top of the line ukes with equally top of the line pickup/amplification. ;)


Title: Re: Koa Talk
Post by Likeke on Feb 14th, 2008 at 8:29am
I've made 4 ukes so far - one with walnut b, s and top; one with koa b,s and top and two with koa sides, back with spruce tops.  No question about it the spruce topped ones sound best and louder.

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