Monday, November 19. 2012
Here are a couple of photos of a 6 string polyphonic solid body baritone ukulele I just finished. It features a solid maple through-body neck with dual carbon fiber composite structural rods, a 22" scale radiused ebony fingerboard with MOP face and side inlays, a bone nut and a Macassar ebony bridge with 6 RMC Acoustic Gold pickups. Its fitted with Gotoh open back geared tuners, finished in white lacquer and strung with D'Addario J52 (alto guitar) strings. Its fast, sweet and on its way to Japan soon.
I'm hoping to get my photo studio set up during the holidays. Apologies for the ad-hoc photo set !
Monday, November 12. 2012
I've been doing final assembly and setup on a custom solid body polyphonic (midi ready) baritone ukulele.
The next step is to wire up the leads from the RMC Acoustic Gold ™ pickups to the DIN connector shown.
A special cable will carry the individual pickup outputs available at the DIN connector to an equipment chain including a preamp, frequency discriminator, midi converter and finally a synthesizer or midi audio workstation.
An aggregate analog signal is available at the preamp via a 1/4" RCA jack for use with conventional amplification equipment.
Thursday, November 1. 2012
Some time ago I was contacted via email by an ardent young craftsman seeking advice. Needless to say, this put me on the spot and made me feel a little uncomfortable right away because I'm the type of person commonly found in the group of people who work in the arts and crafts field who will readily admit, if asked, that they know little of that which may be known and are continually learning about their craft, even after many years of work. So I didn't respond, but I've found myself thinking about his question now and then over the last few months, and I think I now have a reasonable reply.
By way of introduction, the young craftsman announced that he was a dedicated and sincere craftsman, having spent most of what little money he earns on tools, and that he was a student of the ideas and work of the well known and respected woodworker Sam Maloof. So far, so good. He said that he wanted to make ukuleles and seemed to have some well developed ideas about the right way to go about designing and making one already, though I'm not sure he had made any yet.
He wrote that he had an acquaintance who owned a nice collection of ukuleles, including one of my tenors. This person had told him that the neck on my tenor was the nicest playing neck of the lot. So his question to me was "what is the secret to making a great playing neck; how do make your necks play so well ?"
In an early 2005 journal entry I wrote: I have discovered that there is a secret to guitar making that is not taught by any book or teacher. The secret is: There Is No Secret.
As young craftspersons, we all start out looking for that magical formula that will make our work special. One builder has a bracing design fetish, another is wed to high tech materials, yet another is convinced that only a particular type of wood from a particular side of a volcano in Hawaii will do. The fact of the matter is that many different things all need to come together to enable that special state of existence where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Design, material choices, aesthetics, construction techniques, finishes, strings, playing technique and more all contribute.
So my advice is to try to develop a feel for what is right, what works, what doesn't, and why.
In design, form is driven by function. Especially in the world of stringed musical instruments, there are few aspects of their construction which don't have a purpose, so consider the questions of function and purpose when you think about designing your necks. Copying won't get you where I think you'd like to be.
The player experience should be one of comfort, ease, responsiveness and fluidity.
Nut width, string spacing, string span at the saddle, neck profile, material choices, finishes, string selection and little details like land width (the distance from the string to the edge of the fingerboard) play an important role in comfort.
Scale length, string selection, neck rigidity and string height (action) plays a big role in fluidity.
The design and construction of the sound board plays a very big role in the perceived responsiveness of the neck. So do the way the neck is attached to the body, how it is tapered, the weight balance between the neck and the rest of the instrument, how its weight is distributed and what if any techniques are used to stiffen it. The shape of a neck should encourage the hand and eye of the player to move along the neck with an intuitive feel for where it is placed.
Here are the specs I sort of follow for my 14 fret/body long scale tenor necks. The 12 fret/body standard scale necks are a little different.
Scale length: ~460mm
Nut width: 38mm
Width at 14th fret: 46mm
Depth at nut: ~14mm not including fingerboard
Depth at ~10th fret: ~16mm not including fingerboard
Neck material: Spanish cedar
Neck profile: Hard to describe, D with flattened corners
Fingerboard material: African ebony
Reinforcement: 3mm x 10mm x 200mm CF
Frets: StewMac 0764
Radius: 16" if present
Land width: 3mm++
String span at saddle: 43mm
Strings: Savarez Alliance KF (1) .0224, (2) .0260, (3) .0291, (4) .0244
Build style: Traditional Spanish foot
Fingerboard thickness: 4mm (flat) 4.5mm(radiused)
Fingerboard sealer: Waterlox Original tung oil based sealer
Fingerboard treatment: Howards Feed 'n Wax
Head: 11-12mm Inc. 2mm faceplate and thin cedar backplate
Reason through your own design, try a few ideas out and solicit feedback from players and customers. Above all, avoid wedding yourself to any particular ideology. Clinging to ideologies limits your ability to develop the intuitive knowledge you'll need to become a good builder. And remember, you'll probably need to forget everything you thought you knew several times in your building career and you'll be developing your skills for many years to come.
Good luck and stay tuned !
This custom midi equipped 22" scale solid body baritone ukulele gets a final bridge position check before I glue the bridge on. The threads are used to check string clearance from the sides of the fingerboard and the precision Starrett ruler assembly checks nut to saddle distance.
Thursday, October 25. 2012
Here is a model A3 14 fret long scale tenor I just finished. It features Cloud Race koa (see my recent Cloud Races journal entry below) with Macassar ebony body bindings and scalloped heel cap, an African ebony fingerboard, MOP face and side markers, an ebony pin bridge, snake wood bridge pins, bone nut and saddle, koa face plate, a simple wood ring rosette and a Spanish cedar neck. It is fitted with light weight Gotoh open back geared tuners, strung with Savarez Alliance fluorocarbon strings, and it has a hand rubbed gloss lacquer finish.
It has a clear, bright and resonant voice with good loudness, sustain and intonation.
Tuesday, October 23. 2012
Some time ago I was talking on the phone with a customer who grew up in Hawaii and still visits the islands frequently. He described one of his favorite pastimes when visiting ... to make a long story short it involved relaxing in a deck chair overlooking the sea watching clouds gently drift by. He and his friends would each pick a cloud, and the first one to reach some point or another was declared the winner. I think in one way or another a Mai Tai or several were involved and the loser paid the bar bill, but I'm just guessing now ...
This is by way of introduction to the special big island koa I made this soprano from. Unlike a lot of figured koa which just jumps up and hits you over the head, when you look into this wood you can imagine groups of clouds gently rolling overhead with the pacific and the hills in the distance. Its very subtle and pretty. Peer into it, relax the analytical mind, and have a look around !
This is a model N5 soprano in select figured koa with Macassar ebony body bindings, a simple wood ring rosette, an ebony fingerboard with Brazilian boxwood face markers and MOP side markers, an ebony pin bridge with snake wood bridge pins, an ebony faceplate, a scalloped ebony heel cap and a Spanish cedar neck. It's fitted with smooth and accurate Gotoh Deluxe friction tuners, strung with custom gauge Savarez Alliance fluorocarbon strings and finished in a hand rubbed lacquer.
It has a crisp, clear and sweet voice with good loudness, intonation and sustain. Its on its way to California soon.
Editors note: I haven't set up the photo studio in the new workshop yet so I shot these on the dining room table. Makes a nice change but its hard to beat the photo acuity and color accuracy that comes from a couple of light stands placed just so and a smaller aperture ...
Wednesday, July 25. 2012
Here are some photos of a custom model A4 concert ukulele I finished recently. I've made 2 different concert ukulele models over the last few years, the A4 and the N4. The model A4 was my original design for a concert and the first concert model I built. The N4 was based on a Leo Nunes style body shape. Of all the ukuleles I've made the concerts are the most rare, and the A4 the rarest of the concerts. Having said that, I think perhaps the sopranino sized ukules are the very rarest because I've built just 2, but the A4 body style concerts are few and far between.
This A4 features master grade koa top, back and sides, a Spanish cedar neck with a slotted headstock, a radiused ebony fingerboard, ebony tie style bridge, ebony scalloped heel cap, an ebony faceplate, a paua rosette and a bone nut and saddle. It is fitted with Gilbert zero backlash tuners and a Mi-Si Acoustic Trio ™ pickup system, finished in a gloss lacquer finish and strung with Savarez Alliance KF strings.
It has a clear and articulate voice with good intonation, loudness and sustain.
Thursday, June 21. 2012
Here are some photos of a new model N5 soprano ukulele for sale. Its all koa, with a Spanish cedar neck, ebony faceplate and fingerboard, curly maple rosette, bindings and scalloped heel cap, an ebony pin bridge with bone bridge pins, bone fingerboard markers, and a bone nut and saddle. Its finished in a gloss lacquer, fitted with Gotoh Deluxe friction tuners and strung with Savarez Alliance KF fluorocarbon strings. It has a clear, sweet and resonant voice with good sustain and intonation.
Tuesday, April 3. 2012
Here are some photos of a 4 fret long scale tenor I finished recently. It features select non-curly dark koa top, back and sides, a Spanish cedar neck with a slotted headstock, rosewood faceplate, rosewood body bindings with top and side purfling, a paua rosette, a rosewood scalloped heel cap, a radiused ebony fingerboard with 2mm MOP side markers, bone nut and saddle and an ebony pin bridge with snake wood pins. It is fitted with Gilbert zero-backlash geared tuners with ebony buttons, finished in gloss lacquer and strung with Savarez Alliance KF fluorocarbon strings.
It has a clear, bright and resonant voice with good intonation and playability.
Sunday, January 22. 2012
Here are some photos of a model A3 14 fret long scale custom tenor I finished recently. It features master grade koa back and sides, a spruce top, curly maple body bindings with paua top and back purfling and a paua rosette, a Spanish cedar neck with a slotted headstock, a macassar ebony faceplate with curly maple binding, paua purfling and crown inlay, and Gilbert zero-backlash tuners. The ebony fingerboard has MOP crown face inlays and 2mm side inlays. It has an ebony pin bridge with snakewood pins and a scalloped ebony heel cap. It is finished in a gloss lacquer and strung with Savarez Alliance KF strings. This tenor has a bright, resonant and clear voice with good intonation, loudness and playability. Its on its way to Australia soon.
Tuesday, January 17. 2012
I just finished a new 14 fret long scale tenor in koa. It features dark select curly koa top, back and sides, curly maple body bindings, paua rosette, Spanish cedar neck, ebony
fingerboard, pin bridge, and scalloped heel cap, macassar ebony faceplate and a slotted headstock with Gilbert zero backlash tuners. Its finished in lacquer and strung with
Savarez Alliance KF strings. Its a very nice sounding instrument with a bright clear voice, excellent sustain and good loudness, intonation and playability.
Saturday, December 10. 2011
I have 4 instruments in the works and finishing up in the next few weeks. 3 are customs and one is a handsome little soprano in master grade koa with ebony trim, rosewood binding, Gotoh deluxe friction tuners, lacquer finish etc. that will be available for purchase. If you are enterested, please email. I'll have photos of it in a couple of days.
Friday, November 11. 2011
Here are some photos of a custom order sopranino ukulele I finished recently. It features Indian rosewood back and sides, a swiss spruce soundboard with simple black/white/black rosette, a Spanish cedar neck with an ebony fingerboard, ebony faceplate, ebony binding, top purfling, an ebony bridge with snake wood bridge pins, and a bone nut and saddle. The scale length is approx. 288mm (11.3"). It is finished in a hand rubbed gloss lacquer finish, fitted with Gotoh Deluxe friction tuners and strung with Freemont fluorocarbon strings. It has a loud and bright voice with good playability and intonation.
Friday, October 14. 2011
Here are a few photos of a custom tenor ukulele I finished recently. This model A3 14 fret long scale cutaway tenor features Indian rosewood back and sides, a Swiss spruce soundboard, a curly koa rosette, a Spanish cedar neck, curly koa binding, a rosewood faceplate, a radiused ebony fingerboard bound in curly koa, an ebony tie style bridge and a bone nut and saddle. It has a slotted headstock fitted with Waverly tuners, its finished in a gloss lacquer finish and its strung re-entrant with Savarez Alliance KF fluorocarbon strings. Its has a very smooth tone and action and is on its way to Hawaii soon.
Friday, September 2. 2011
Here are some quick photos of two new ukuleles I finished recently for auction on ebay. Both are made with Honduras mahogany, a wood traditionally used by Martin for their ukuleles and a wood in increasingly difficult supply.
The first is a soprano ukulele with an ebony faceplate, fingerboard, pin bridge and scalloped heel cap. It has curly maple body bindings, snakewood bridge pins, a 35mm bone nut, a bone saddle and a rope style rosette. Its finished in a gloss lacquer, fitted with Gotoh Deluxe friction tuners and strung with Savarez Alliance KF strings. It has a nice chunky bright sound with good intonation , playability and loudness.
The second is a Model A3 14 fret long scale tenor ukulele. It also has an ebony faceplate, fingerboard, pin bridge and scalloped heel cap. It has curly maple body bindings with top purfling, a paua abalone rosette, snakewood bridge pins, a 38mm bone nut and a bone saddle. It too is finished in gloss lacquer, fitted with Gotoh openback geared tuners and strung with Aquila strings. Its has a nice tone with good playability, intonation and loudness.
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