One of the big questions when buying any ukulele is whether to go with one made of solid wood or laminate. This is especially true of acoustic-electric ukuleles, because people are more likely to want to play them in public and want the best sound possible.
Conventional wisdom says that solid wood is better, but this isn’t necessarily true for an acoustic-electric ukulele. This article will discuss the pros and cons of each, as well as a great compromise between the two that might be the best solution for you.
WARNING: “Solid wood” doesn’t just mean that the ukulele is made entirely out of wood. Like I said, that’s true of most ukuleles! Instead, it means that the front, back, and sides are each made out of a single piece of wood, carved and molded into shape. Many sketchy ukulele makers will say “solid wood” to make their ukuleles sound fancy, when they’re not actually made with true solid wood. If in doubt, look at reviews and stick to brands that have a good reputation.
Not sure which ukulele brands to avoid? Read our guide, which includes suggestions for better brands.
Laminate Wood Ukuleles
“Laminate” means that, rather than being made out of one solid piece of wood, the ukulele is made out of multiple thin sheets of wood pressed together, in the same way that plywood is made. This makes a material that still acts a lot like solid wood, but is much cheaper to make.
Most “beginner” and inexpensive ukuleles are made out of laminate wood. Sometimes, people think this means that laminate wood is bad, or that laminate wood ukuleles are poorly made. This isn’t true at all! In fact, some higher-end ukuleles like the Martin X Series use laminate wood. And well-respected brands like Kala, Lanikai, and Ohana all make very popular ukuleles from laminate wood.
Many of the differences between solid wood and laminate wood fall away once you plug in a ukulele to an amplifier or PA system. For example, one issue people bring up with laminate ukuleles is that they can be quieter than solid wood ukuleles. But for an acoustic-electric ukulele, that’s less of a problem—that’s what the pickup is for!
One big benefit of laminate wood is that it’s more durable and cracks less easy in extreme weather. If you live in a very cold or warm area, or are going to be traveling a lot with the ukulele, laminate might be the best way to go. Many people buy acoustic-electric ukuleles in order to play out at gigs or open mics. Durability can be a key factor in a busy bar or when loading and unloading your ukulele from car to venue and back again.
- More durable
- Won’t crack or warp in extreme climates
- Less volume
- Less resonant/rich tone
Wanna unleash your inner rocker? Check out our guide to the best solid body electric ukuleles on the market today…
Solid Wood Ukuleles
Many people think of solid wood as the “Holy Grail” of ukulele making, and for good reason. Overall, solid wood ukuleles have more resonance, volume, and a richer tone than laminate wood ukuleles.
This can be important if you’re planning on playing your acoustic-electric ukulele unplugged a lot. Ukulele jams and traditional Hawaiian kanikapila can be very fun, but bringing an amplifier is usually frowned upon! If you’re planning on playing acoustic a lot, it’s worth taking a look at solid wood ukuleles.
One great thing about solid wood ukuleles is that they get better with age! As the years go on, the resins in the wood harden, creating an even more resonant and vibrant tone. Imagine, an instrument that improves with you!
The big issue with solid wood ukuleles besides cost is maintenance. Solid wood ukuleles are a big more fragile than laminate wood ukuleles, and can’t be knocked around as much. They can also be more prone to warping and cracking if the temperature or humidity changes quickly, or in extreme weather conditions. This shouldn’t be overstated, since a good case and a humidifier will generally be enough for even the toughest climate, but it does mean that you need to put a little more care into your solid wood ukulele.
- More volume
- Richer and more resonant tone
- Tone improves over time
- More prone to warping and cracking
- Less durable
- More expensive
Now that you know the pros and cons of each, there is one great compromise:
Solid Top Ukuleles
Most of the tone production in a ukulele comes from the top. So, why not just make the top solid wood, to take advantage of the improved tone and resonance, while keeping the back and sides laminate? That’s what a lot of ukulele makers do, and it works wonderfully!
Solid top ukuleles are usually a little more expensive than all-laminate wood ukuleles, but cheaper than all-solid wood ukuleles. You still get the durability on the back and sides, probably the areas most likely to get knocked around, while still getting most of the tone benefits of solid wood. There are a few sacrifices in tone and volume due to the laminate back and sides, but for an acoustic-electric ukulele, this is less of an issue (remember, the pickup is doing most of the work anyway!). Overall, solid top ukuleles might be the best compromise for a lot of players looking for an acoustic-electric ukulele that will sound nice, but won’t break the bank.
- Most of the tone of an all-solid wood ukulele
- Less expensive than all-solid wood
- More durable than all-solid wood
- A bit less volume and resonance acoustically than all-solid wood
- More expensive than an all-laminate ukulele
- Top still needs same maintenance as an all-solid wood ukulele