Matte, Satin, & Gloss... Oh My!
Before we get started, can I just call out the huge elephant in the room? It’s FALL! Well, not technically since the official start of Fall is September 22. But we all the know the season truly changes when Starbucks brings the spice.
No, not that spice! (Can't believe DUNE comes out next month!)
Yeah, this one!
I remember posting about this last year with gifs of leaves falling and pumpkin spice lattes, and here we’re at it again! Before you know it we’ll be hearing Christmas songs on the radio.
Now that your back from Starbucks with a “venti” iced pumpkin spiced latte with cloud foam, lets get to the matter at hand. In my last post I wrote about ukulele finishes. I went over the different types of finish, how they are applied, and how they effect the instrument. To check out that post, check it out here. Now, we are gonna take a deep dive on how these finishes are applied and ‘finished’. You’ve seen and heard these buzzwords before;
”Matte, Satin, semi-gloss, full gloss, tuxedo, and ‘supah dupah’ shiny.”
But what do these words actually mean? Let's talk about it!
Matte, Satin, & Semigloss
So let‘s get something big out of the way. All of these words are synonymous! So if your shopping for a new ukulele and see any of these words, they mean that the finish is very thin, rough to the touch, and doesn’t reflect light. Matte finishes are created using the same finish materials as gloss finishes, but are left un-buffed or not rubbed out at the factory. And in most cases they need less coats of nitrocellulose or polyurethane. This makes finishing a ukulele in matte quicker and easier than gloss.
A huge benefit to matte finishing is the tonal supremacy achieved over those that are glossy. Using less coats of finish means less material on the body of the ukulele. Less material buildup means less vibrational obstruction. The body of the ukulele is an “air pump”. The more the body vibrates, and the more intense those vibrations, means more air is pumped out of the body. When this happens, you got an amazing instrument! So typically people wanting a great sounding ukulele go for matte versions.
There are a few downsides. With less finish, you have less protection covering the wood. Typically matte ukulele scratch and ding a lot easier. Another downside is that matte ukulele eventually gloss up with use since you are ‘rubbing’ out the finish with your arms and oily hands.
As we learned above there are really only two types of finish, matte and gloss. Now gloss proponents love that mirror shine look. So if looks matter most to you, than gloss is your pick!
Gloss finishes are achieved by buffing out the layers of finish. The finish on gloss ukulele tend to be thicker due to the fact that there is more work involved to achieve that ‘glossy’ appearance. No one wants to sand and buff through the finish and into the wood.
Some advantages of gloss finishes are they offer more protection, are easier to clean, and give the grain and color of the tone wood a pop! Ukulele finished in gloss are more ”sexy” than their counterparts since it reveals more of the wood!
A perceived downside to gloss ukulele is a dampening of tone, sustain, and projection due to the added weight of the finish. Though this is debatable with modern applications and techniques.
So has been the mantra for decades;
”If you desire looks, go with gloss. If you desire sound, go with matte.”
But what if you desire both? Like choosing a partner. Wouldn't you want someone who is both gold on the inside as well as the outside?
Now this brings us to…
The Tuxedo Finish
Tuxedo is a finish that we use here at Leolani. We decided to take the middle road and achieved a finish that is both thin and glossy! Our goal was to have our tuxedo finish look as if the ukulele had just come out of the spray booth… sleek and wet! This is where we got the name Tuxedo. We thought everyone looks good in a tailored 3 piece suite.
We achieve this finish by meticulously buffing out thin layers of finish. Seriously check this out…
In the end, all that matters is what you want. Most players want the shine and added protection. If this is you, I recommend going full gloss. If looks don't matter too much, and what you want is a ukulele that has more resonance, and patinas over time, go with matte.
Some builders use both finishes on their ukulele. They gloss up the body and leave the neck wood matte so its easier to slide up and down the fingerboard. There are options.
There you have it! I hope I cleared some things up over the last few posts about ukulele finishes. Now that your informed, maybe it’s time to choose your next ukulele? I mean, come on! Christmas is just around the corner...🎄😁
Keep jamming and aloha!