Do Ukuleles Sound Better with Age? (Or is Yours a Dud?)

Today I’m going to explain what causes ukuleles to sound better with age – and hopefully give you some good news about your ukulele!

I own ukes built out of several different materials and I’ve found that some sound better with age and some don’t – but why is that?

Let’s jump right into the details!

Do Ukuleles Sound Better with Age?


I’ll start with a quick answer to this common question:

Ukuleles with solid wood tops may sound better with age, but laminate top ukuleles will not. Solid wood tops can “open up”, leading to increased volume and tonal improvements. This process is gradual and can take many years, and it is impacted by the species of tonewood used in the ukulele.

I know that’s a lot of info to digest, but allow me to explain further. First, let’s break down exactly what “opening up” means.

Some Ukulele Woods “Open Up” with Age

The idea of wood “opening up” is heavily debated in the fretted instrument world. Generally speaking, “opening up” refers to the natural relaxation of wood fibers, resulting in a louder and more tonally expressive instrument.

When you play a ukulele, the vibrations from the strings travel through the material of the soundboard (or top), picking up unique sound qualities along the way. How long sound is able to travel through the material and what sort of qualities it picks up affects the instrument’s tone.

So, given that there are a bunch of different materials that ukuleles are made from, some ukuleles are capable of “opening up” and some aren’t.

Solid Wood Ukuleles (And How the Tone Changes)

Ukuleles with solid tops feature soundboards constructed using a single thin piece of wood and are prized for their superior ability to resonate. Fully solid ukes also use solid pieces of wood for the backs and sides. This all translates to better sound.

Because the wood grains are all fully intact, soundboards made of solid wood resonate better. This just means that the top moves around more, allowing the vibrations to travel through it unimpeded. Good resonance results in better projection, a greater range of tones, and an overall fuller sound.

Ukuleles made of solid wood are capable of “opening up” as the wood fibers dry out and resin breaks down within the cells – literally opening up the wood. The degree to which this occurs and the amount of time it takes depends on the type of wood.

Due to the variety of tonewoods used, there is a greater variation in “voice” of solid wood ukes. Over time, “opening up” will increase the volume as well as bring out the unique qualities of the wood species used (more on this later).

“Opening up” isn’t a sudden, miraculous transformation – it gradually improves upon the characteristics of the wood that are already present – so make sure you like how the ukulele sounds in the beginning!

Is a Solid Wood Ukulele Worth It?

As a result of the higher quality materials used and the skill required to build them, solid top ukuleles are more expensive – expect to spend at least $200 for a good one. They are also more fragile and require some specialized care.

Solid top ukuleles must be kept properly humidified or the soundboard could shrink, which results in warping or cracking. This will harm the tone and could permanently damage your ukulele. Buy an in-case humidifier or keep the room in which you store your uke at 40% to 60% humidity.

Laminate Wood Ukuleles (And How the Tone Changes)

Laminate ukuleles are constructed by gluing several pieces of wood together. Typically, three pieces of wood are used for the soundboard, with the grain of the top and bottom pieces going the same direction and the middle piece going opposite.

As a result, laminate ukes are stronger but far less resonant – that is, their tops do not vibrate as much. This results in a less dynamic tone (what some would call “dead”), reduced volume, and an overall thinner sound. The bass end is less-defined and the highs are less crisp.

Laminate ukuleles are also physically incapable of “opening up.” Due to the thick layered build and use of adhesives, the subtle changes in wood grains are not expressed.

If you don’t like how it sounds at the store, don’t expect it to get better. A laminate uke will sound the same forever.

Is a Laminate Ukulele a Good Idea?

Laminate ukes are cheaper – typically costing $50 to $200 – and are often dressed up with inlays or by using attractive wood for the top layer. For this reason, they appeal to beginners who may be less likely to notice the sacrifice in tone.

Of course, material is only part of the equation. Builder skills factors in – and ukulele production technology is also improving. Nowadays it’s possible to find a well-built laminate that sounds far better than a poorly built solid top!

Because they are stronger and less sensitive to humidity, laminate ukes are also ideal for people who travel, children, and those who live in dry climates.

Hybrid Ukuleles (And How the Tone Changes)

If you are attracted to the tone of a solid wood ukulele but the price tag of the laminate uke, great news – there is a third option!

Because the soundboard most directly impacts sound and tone, many builders focus on this component and cut corners elsewhere. Solid top ukuleles with laminate back and sides are therefore an affordable compromise.

Because they have solid tops, they produce a tone similar to fully solid wood ukes – but the laminated back and sides keep the cost down. You can find a hybrid uke for $250 or less.

Wood Species That Improve Their Tone with Age

The wood of many different tree species’ are used in instrument-building and each one is valued for different reasons. Strength, beauty, and sound profile are just a few.

Wood valued for its sound transmission properties is known as tonewood.

I’ve chosen to highlight the qualities of the tonewoods most commonly used for ukulele soundboards. This is by no means a comprehensive list!


Most ukulele soundboards are made of mahogany. Tonally, it is a perfect medium – that is, it has a good mid-range. Common descriptors for this sort of sound include “warm,” “woody,” and “sweet.” Such adjectives have now become associated with the ukulele!

Mahogany is less dense than others hardwoods. As a result, it does “open up,” but it takes many years. “Opened up” mahogany becomes “darker” in sound, with deeper bass tones, richer overtones, and an overall “warmer” quality.


Spruce is the second most common ukulele tonewood. It is popular on acoustic guitar soundboards and works just as well on ukuleles! Spruce is bright and loud with good note articulation, offering a full range of tones.

As a softwood, spruce is strong but lightweight. It takes less time to “open up,” as the resins within the wood quickly begin to break down due to the vibrations of playing.

An increase in volume is often noticeable after just a month. Tone continues to improve for years – typically resulting in an enhanced version of its already great tonal qualities: deeper lows, brighter highs, and increased sustain.


Native to Hawaii, koa is the original ukulele tonewood. It is loved for its clarity, warmth, and sustain and is often described as “mellow” and “warm.” Koa offers a well-defined mid-range but also the bell-like highs characteristic of the ukulele’s voice.

Koa is a denser hardwood than mahogany and takes considerable time to “open up.” Some players notice a change in just a year, others have waited decades to really enjoy it! “Opened up” koa typically has an even greater mid-range and longer sustain.


Cedar is similar to spruce but is considered softer in tone – it is less bright with more of a bass focus. It features more complicated over-tones, which some say makes it sound “darker” and more “alive” than spruce.

Cedar “opens up” significantly, and this happens much faster than it does with other tonewoods. Often, its effects are less noticeable because your cedar uke probably “opened up” before you even bought it! Subtle improvements in tone will continue for years.

Strings “Break In” with Age (Most Common Sound Issue for New Ukuleles)

If your new ukulele is having sound issues, the most common culprit is the strings. Ukulele strings are made from stretchy material and take time to break in.

Brand new strings go out of tune often and this can be frustrating for new uke owners. Many ukuleles have been returned (and possibly smashed) due to this all too common and fixable situation!

Luckily, it is completely normal and there are even ways to speed the process up.

Conclusion (Is There Hope for Your Uke?)

If you have a laminate ukulele and you are not thrilled with the sounds it produces (and the strings are broken in), it might be time for an upgrade.

Laminate ukuleles do not improve over time. The good news is they are usually starter ukes anyway! It’s a great excuse to buy a new solid top ukulele.

If you have a solid top ukulele, give it a little time and it may “open up.” Be aware that this process can take many years, though, so it’s best to make sure you like the sound of a ukulele before you buy it.

Each tonewood has its own unique “voice,” and if you aren’t enjoying your solid top uke now you likely won’t love it any more when it “opens up.”

If you like how it sounds but are hoping for increased volume or slight tonal improvements, just give it some time!

And don’t forget that the best way to “open up” your uke is to play it!

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