Hana Lima 'Ia
>> Ukulele Hints >> Soft sound board wood

Message started by mblue on Jun 7th, 2009 at 5:06am

Title: Soft sound board wood
Post by mblue on Jun 7th, 2009 at 5:06am
The Western Red Cedar that I an using for the sound boards seems to be very soft.
It is very easy to ding. Just a fairly light touch with my fingernail leaves a mark.
When about 10 coats of Tru Oil are applied, it is a little more resistant to marking, but not much.
I am wondering if all of the woods that are good for making sound boards from, are so soft.
The black walnut that I am using for the sides and back of my second uke is so hard, and very difficult to scratch or mark.. If I used walnut for the sound board, would the finished uke sound bad?
Any thoughts about this would be much appreciated...

Title: Re: Soft sound board wood
Post by unkabob on Jun 7th, 2009 at 5:34pm
I had a similar experience with cedar. Scratching with my fingernail to lift a corner of masking tape left nasty dents. The sound of cedar is either soft or dull (you can choose).

Mahogany is harder and sounds brighter. After sanding koa I suspect that it is hard as nails.


Title: Re: Soft sound board wood
Post by Matt Blacka on Jun 15th, 2009 at 6:05pm

Cedar and Spruce are indeed very soft, and do end up getting marked quite easily once an instrument is in use. This is more a problem when a thin finish is used (such as Tru-Oil), but isn't so bad if a hard and thick laquer finish is used. This also highlights the importance of protecting the end grain of the soundboard around the perimeter with binding, as the end grain is typically even softer.

The hardness rating for timber is normally measured with a Janka Hardness test:


You will notice in the list of results for typical timbers from the wiki and the links that Ebony is very high, cedar is very low, and there are a whole range in between (where things like walnut, rosewood, etc etc all fall).

This can be a quick check guide to see how hard your timber is going to be (relative to something you are familiar with), and therefore design your instruments to accomodate for this (binding, pick guards/scratch plates etc).


Title: Re: Soft sound board wood
Post by mblue on Jun 16th, 2009 at 4:58am
Thanks Matt. That is cool to see a rating of wood hardness..
Some surprising things in the list, such as some varieties of Mahogany appear to be quite hard and some are soft. A couple of Mahogany's are softer than Cedar.
Great information...

Title: Re: Soft sound board wood
Post by mblue on Jun 16th, 2009 at 5:09am
I think that it would be cool if any people on this forum would post a list of the woods that you consider suitable for making sound boards from.
Also a list of any woods that you consider to be poor sound board wood.
From what little I have read, it seems like acceptable sound boards are Spruce, Cedar, Mahogany, and Koa.
I have several more questions about sound board wood, but I better save them for a different post...

Title: Re: Soft sound board wood
Post by Matt Blacka on Jun 16th, 2009 at 1:09pm
Ahh yes the joys and complications of wood name classifications.

When assessing a type of timber to find out its properties, its always best to be specific about the actual timber type, not just the general name. For example, its not good enough just to consider Cedar, as there are many different varieties of Cedar. Some Cedar varieties are actually classified as softwoods, while other are hardwoods - this translates to big differences in mechanical properties (and useability for lutherie).


Title: Re: Soft sound board wood
Post by sweetgum on Jun 17th, 2009 at 5:31pm
I just started building ukuleles, and use black locust because it grows everywhere and is actually considered an invasive species.  I got a large log from an arborist.  I actually just met a guy named Cai Kabrell who makes guitars with it (he uses spruce for the tops) and he purchased three truck loads of logs for about $400 dollars.  so anyway black locust i think is rated high on the jenkens test (1700???).

I'm not really a musician so my opinion is maybe questionable, but I like the sound of the harder soundboard.  but i haven't made any with spruce or cedar to compare. I would like to see other builders try out the locust to see if they like it too!!!


Title: Re: Soft sound board wood
Post by jack on Jun 25th, 2009 at 1:07am
It is interesting that you bring up black locust.  I build guitars professionally, and many blue grass flatpickers, who tipically have to be heard on a single mic with a bass and banjo swear that black locust as a bridge plate, is louder and more bassey than maple.  I now use black locust bridge plates on about many of the dreadnaught guitars I build.  My only concern using it as for backs/sides, is that it splits so easily as a log, that I would worry about cracks if quarter sawn.

Title: Re: Soft sound board wood
Post by mblue on Jul 18th, 2009 at 1:23pm
I am about to purchase a HanaLima kit, and i see that black walnut is one of the 3 options for the soundboard.
Anyone here have experience using black walnut for a soundboard? If so, how does it sound? Thanks.

Title: Re: Soft sound board wood
Post by msrvfx on Aug 6th, 2010 at 2:30pm
I love to experiment with many local woods and foreign.
Often the results are wonderful, and the really desirable woods are always becoming more expensive and harder to find. I find that as i am more interested in selling an instrument, there is always the "buy in" of a client making a leaf of faith for a less than familiar wood.
I have used Oregon Myrtle and Oregon Walnut with great results, but when it comes to a sell, the wood sometimes creates a hesitation. Something t consider.

Title: Re: Soft sound board wood
Post by unkabob on Aug 10th, 2010 at 3:11pm
I haven't managed to give one of mine away yet so buyer hesitation is a new consideration. If you deal in the guitar-world the adherance to things Martin is fantical.


Hana Lima 'Ia » Powered by YaBB 2.4!
YaBB © 2000-2009. All Rights Reserved.