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The soundboard and its bracing are among the most critical construction elements, not only in determining the quality of your  sound, but also in setting the parameters of how your instrument will play.  While the first part of that statement may seem obvious, the second part is just as important. Look, for example at the difference in top thickness and especially bracing between a steel string guitar and a classical.  Since steel strings exert so much more force on the soundboard, the bracing has to be very substantial to keep the soundboard from caving in on itself.  If, however, you were to put the lighter tension “classical” or “nylon” strings on such an instrument, the sound would be weak and lifeless.  Having built a top and bracing system to stand up to the force of steel strings, you now will absolutely need all that force to get decent response from your instrument.  Therefore tension, and as a result, how you will need to play to achieve optimal response, are largely determined by your soundboard bracing. With the first Ukuleles, the tops were thin, and other than reinforcement for the soundhole, there was no bracing at all.  Of course these were small instruments and the gut strings used on them were of very light tension.  The light construction was necessary in that setting to produce the vibrant responsive tone that made the Ukulele famous.  As time went on, and larger sized Ukuleles came into being, that construction began to change.  With US guitar companies leading the way on the bigger designs, the soundboard and bracing systems became more like the instruments they knew and understood - in other words, more guitar-like.  As a result, the tensions on these instruments needed to be higher.  They, in effect, became more like “little guitars” than like those early Ukuleles.  It probably seemed only logical that as these instruments became bigger - more guitar-like in size - that they would need to be more guitar-like in their construction, sound, and the way they played.  Builders have copied that formula since those 20th century designs were introduced, but is it really necessary after all? Building in Latin America gives us an additional perspective on these designs.  Down south, there is another 4-stringed instrument called the Cuatro Venezolano.  While it’s roots are in Iberia, as with the Ukulele, it’s been around about 400 years longer. It’s considered to be the most direct descendant of the earlier Renaissance Guitar, it has a size comparable to a Baritone Ukulele, and it’s primary development occurred in a time and place where wound strings were not generally available. Even today, it’s often played with plain strings, at light tensions, and its bracing and top thickness are not substantially different than a Soprano Ukulele.  It’s extremely responsive in that setting.  Why, then, are modern Ukuleles braced so heavily by comparison? We alluded to one reason earlier, and that is that the design came mostly from mainland guitar companies.  Another reason, however is that these were manufacturing enterprises, and you do not want to push the envelope in mass production.  That’s exactly what a Cuatro does, as construction this light on an instrument of these sizes is notoriously short lived.  Stability is one of our primary goals, but still, the example of a larger 4-string instrument that could be played and sound like the traditional Ukuleles was there before us. In the end we found a very happy medium.  Our soundboards all have the same construction, and as with traditional Ukuleles there is no true “bracing” below the soundhole.  There is some reinforcement, however, both in the form of carbon fiber and wood.  The result is that our larger models have soundboards that can be played at the light tensions associated with a Soprano Ukulele and be extremely responsive all the way up to the size of our Tenor Guitars.  At the same time this is a stable construction, both because of the reinforcement system and the woods we use as soundboard material. This is not to say our larger instruments can’t be played at higher tensions.  At normal tensions they maintain their quick response and hold their vibrato.  While they can stand up to high tensions, at that point they will begin to “lock up” a bit, losing some of their vibrato and sustain.  While high tension big Ukuleles can certainly be fine instruments, we believe the original approach to sound and feel will appeal to many.  Perhaps the lighter construction we use on these larger instruments would have evolved with Ukuleles if their development had not come so late - in the era of factory made mass production guitars. On the other end of the spectrum, our light reinforcement actually gives the option of a higher than normal tension in our small models.  In saying this, bear in mind that typical tensions on a Soprano are normally on the low side, so I’m suggesting more of a medium tension for these instruments.  Therefore, in addition to their typical use as strumming accompaniment for vocals, with their long scales, they also are excellent in more of a lead role, picking high note melody lines as these instruments were most often used in Portugal. It is important to note at this point that no element of an instruments’ design should be viewed in isolation.  The sound we strive for in our instruments comes not from a single element of the design, but the combination and interaction of all.  For more on these other elements, refer to the Sound section of the Design page, and the pages on the individual models themselves   

Soundboards and Bracing

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