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.
Tuesday, November 6. 2012
Thanks to all of you who have recently asked about new custom ukuleles but I am not planning to make any customs next year. I do plan to make one or two tenors now and then as time permits and offer them for sale here in my builder's journal. Thanks again for your interest in my work.
Saturday, November 3. 2012
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 ...
Tuesday, September 18. 2012
I've spent the last 6 weeks making an unexpected and unplanned home and workshop move and am just now getting settled in to the new place. I'm now back to working on finishing outstanding orders for Minoru, Alex and Kory and am not taking new orders until I get the new workshop sorted out. Apologies to those of you who have contacted me recently to place orders and to those of you waiting to receive instruments you ordered earlier this year. I hope to open my build list in the new year for a few instruments.
I received a nice email recently from Mariko, a customer of mine in Japan for whom I built a solid body tenor with a somewhat challenging (for me) cherry blossom inlay she designed herself.
Mariko plays her new tenor on her set 'Bye Bye Arizona', which she just published on CD Baby. Check out her relaxed and laid back island style tunes.
Domo arigatou Mariko !
Thursday, July 26. 2012
Here are some photos of a new 14 fret long scale tenor ukulele I've finished recently. It features select grade koa top, back and sides, a paua rosette, a Spanish cedar neck, Macassar ebony body bindings, top purfling, an
ebony faceplate, ebony fingerboard with MOP face markers, an ebony pin bridge with snake wood pins and an ebony scalloped heel cap. Its fittied with Gotoh SG381 geared tuners with faux amber buttons, finished in a gloss lacquer finish and strung with Worth fluorocarbon strings.
It has a clear and singing voice with good volume, intonation, sustain and playability.
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.
Tuesday, July 10. 2012
A good hat, a folding Opinel carving knife, an Optimus 8R stove and a ukulele ...
What more does a fella need for a visit to the cabin in the outback ?
Maybe some grub and an ice chest !
This is a model N5 soprano ukulele in curly koa with a Spanish cedar neck, koa
faceplate, koa fingerboard, koa nut, koa pin bridge with snake wood pins, bone saddle,
rope top binding and a rope rosette.
It's fitted with peghed ™ geared tuning pegs, finished
in Waterlox Original tung oil sealer and wax and strung with custom gauge
Savarex Alliance KF fluorocarbon strings. It is super light weight and has a crisp
sweet and resonant voice with good intonation, loudness and playability.
Its on its way to Australia soon !
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.
Friday, June 15. 2012
I'm in the process of finishing out a few custom ukuleles this month and next. Here are two I finished recently.
The first is a 14 fret long scale koa tenor in select grade koa. The second is a model N5 soprano in curly koa. Both have Spanish cedar necks, ebony fingerboards with MOP face and side inlays, paua rosettes, rosewood binding, rosewood scalloped heel caps, ebony faceplates, ebony pin bridges with snakewood bridge pins, and bone nuts and saddles.
The soprano has paua top purfling and is fitted with Gotoh Deluxe friction tuners. The tenor has white fineline top purfling, a radiused fingerboard, a Mi-Si Acoustic Trio setup, is fitted with Gotoh black chrome SG381 geared tuners and is tuned in low G tuning. Both are finished in a hand rubbed gloss lacquer and strung with Savarez Alliance KF fluorocarbon strings.
They both have clear, bright and resonant voices with good loudness, intonation and playability.
Saturday, May 19. 2012
I thought I'd come up for air for a second and write a short note. I've got 7 ukuleles in various stages of construction going right now; customs for Minoru, Kory, Lisa, Harvey and Alex and a couple spare for sale from stock (a tenor and a soprano). I'm hoping to clear outstanding orders between now and August so I can spend some time working on a couple of new projects through the end of the year.
We had a nice, reasonably temperate and wet early spring this year and by almost any measure its been summer in Austin for the last month. I planted a small salad container garden last winter and the lack of a serious freeze during the winter meant we had some nice garden vegetables in March. Its mostly all gone now, with the exception of some shallots and garlic which will get harvested in another month or two, and a couple of volunteer cherry tomato plants which just keep on giving.
Here are 2 pictures of a custom model A3 12 fret standard scale tenor in 5A koa I finished last month. It has a Spanish cedar neck with carbon fiber structural reinforcement, a radiused ebony fingerboard with MOP snowflake markers, an ebony faceplate with MOP crown, macassar ebony bindings, a paua rosette, paua purfling, a cutaway and an ebony tie style bridge. Its fitted with black Grover mini rotomatic tuners and a Mi-Si Acoustic Trio pickup, finished in a hand rubbed gloss lacquer, and strung with Savarez KF fluorocarbon strings.
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