Plastic Ukuleles VS. Wood Ukuleles: A Detailed Analysis

A lot of factors go into perfecting an instrument. From the placement of the keys/strings, to the tuning, and even the material used, instruments react differently to changes. What type of material is best for your ukulele will depend a lot on your personal taste, but there is a fair amount of technical aspects to be considered before making the purchase. Wood and plastic are two of the most commonly used materials for the body of a ukulele. Today we analyze these two to answer questions like, “Which one reigns supreme in plastic ukuleles vs. wood ukuleles selection?” “Do these two sound the same?” “What’s the main difference?” and the ever so intriguing, “Which one is better?”

Wooden Ukuleles

A few common woods used in the making of ukuleles would be basswood, mahogany, and Koa. But variations like black acacia, mango, spruce, lacewood, okume, bamboo, and others are also seen. The reason these wood types are selected from the endless list of available options may either be due to their produced sound qualities, or cosmetic appeal, and occasionally both. 

On top of that, wood ukes are offered in variations of “All solid,” “All laminate,” and “Solid top with laminate sides and back.” If compared side by side, there isn’t one version that stands out from the rest because it’s “significantly better” but the tone of the solid wood generally improves with age. The more it’s played, the more refined the tone will sound.

With that being said, the laminate’s tone quality won’t degrade with time. So if it was sounding good when you bought it, it will continue sounding good as long as it’s in proper condition.

Do you know how guitars are made?

The internal bits are the things that people are most interested in, starting from the “spines” to even more complicated sectors. Let’s jump straight to the point.

Thanks to the wood’s porosity, the wooden ukulele features resonance. What do we mean by porosity and what does it do for the sound, you ask? By porosity, we mean that the wood has very small “holes” that help the vibrations or sound bounce inside the instrument at all times. Plus, that striking yet peculiar shine you hear on a few ukes? That too can be accounted to the pores. As a general rule, laminates are less costly.  

The kind of wood which has been used for the manufacturing process will determine the porosity. For ukuleles, the selection can be between Koa (the wood hailing from Hawaii); ebony, pinabete, mahogany (widely used to make guitars in Paracho, Michoacán), among others.

This porosity depends on the type of wood with which it is manufactured, in the case of the Ukulele it can be the same Koa that is the wood originating in Hawaii; mahogany, ebony, pinabete (widely used in guitars from Paracho, Michoacán), ziricota among others.

Two woods are conjoined to become the arm; it bears the strings as well as the mere comfort to be considered while making chords. This small factor often plays the deciding role in many people’s ukulele choices.

The mast is termed as “the back”. This is where you have support, or the thumb is reloaded. The “dark” bit, or where the sticks are engrained to form the dishes – nearest to the top “bone” bridge is the fretboard.

The job of the bridges is having directions for the ropes as well as their height. In simpler terms, if it were, suppose, four cm high with the standard bone a cm taller than the fretboard, the strings would be quite high. The feeling resembles playing spring. That’s what happens with the composite/plastic ukulele but we are getting there.

Plastic or Composite Ukuleles

Plastic, or composite ukes have a much simpler working mechanism alongside needing less maintenance. However, not all are created equal. Like any other instrument variation, some are better than others – some don’t feature gig bags, some do. Majority of the companies only bring out plastic ukes in Soprano size and you can make the pick from a wide array of options available in the market.

Concert sizes are found in limited quantities and the other sizes are even rarer. As the popularity of this instrument increases sharply, it’s expected that the industry will see a change in this aspect. The structure is much similar to the wooden ukuleles, but expect to see a single material for these.

The obvious advantage plastic ukuleles have over their wooden counterpart is they are resistant to water, cold, or heat, making them a great “all weather,” “all terrain” companion to stick by your side as you play on a kayak through the rives snaking along the mountains, or decide to do some trekking to play tunes from the crevices of mountains. As far as the sound is concerned, a few more expensive models could rival the sound of wooden ukes.

Unlike the porous wood providing incredible brightness and resonance in the sound, a plastic ukulele doesn’t have those tiny holes. As a result, there’s no scope for the vibrations to bounce around, leaving you with a less “brighter” tone.

If there is a bridge, it will also a fingerboard and a neck, but all the material is the same. With the loss of the material variation, the instrument faces some reduction in points for the “ease of play” and “brightness” section. In addition, the plastic bridge is pre-attached with the resonance cap at the factory. There’s no way to modify it.

Bottom Line

There are obvious advantages and disadvantages when it comes to plastic ukuleles vs. wood ukuleles, so there’s no sure way of saying one takes precedence over the other in the quality department. A lot of people care about the overall feel of their instrument, aesthetics, and minute details. This is why it’s best you look over the specifications while selecting plastic ukuleles vs. wood ukuleles of your choices, compare, and decide which matches your personal preference.

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