Tuesday, August 28, 2012

All dressed

I've spent several hours today inserting the frets into their slots (both hammering and pressing them in), making sure they are all more or less level with each other (this will have to be re-checked carefully and adjusted after the fret-board has been glued onto the neck), and dressing them individually with files and sandpapers before and after fitting them in. Not a task I relish, but the hours spent being meticulous at this stage pay off to prevent disappointment and more difficult repair work later when you put the strings are on the newly-minted uke only to discover buzzes and to scratch your fingers on rough metal edges (the voice of experience!!).

Monday, August 27, 2012


I had already begun working on these two fret-boards last year, one for the tenor and the other for a baritone I've also just resurrected (more on that one later). That is, I had traced and cut the slots. I have now cut the sides into a "tie", shaped the lower ends, resawn all the slots to the same depth, drilled slots for the position markers, punched those out of maple veneer and glued them in. The last dot at the bottom is nickel silver and will provide a small accent at the top of the sound-hole (both fret-boards will overlap the sound-holes by a few millimeters).
This is cochen rosewood, which is very similar to cocobolo (also a rosewood) in workability.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Yes, it's been a while and all those instruments that I began last year have been nagging at my very Katholik guilty conscience. So, since there cannot be a resurrection without a previous destruction, I started off this week with "de-konstructing" one of the tenor ukes I had abandoned. First, I removed the top by sanding down the edges with a power sander in a frenzy of ritualized violence; since the top also covered the neck, I sawed off the neck where it joins the body and proceeded to sand down the top layer of cedar down to the mahogany core. Here is the result:
So, the box and the neck are nicely salvaged and, after some adjustments, ready to be re-used. I build a new soundboard out of Nootka cypress (also called yellow or Alaska cedar), which is my favorite wood for tops. I use left-over pieces of cypress for the braces (this is all very scientifik, of course).
I then re-attached the neck to the body, glued the top back on (this one does not cover the neck) and trimmed the edges, drilled the peg holes and finished shaping and sanding the neck, and voilĂ :

 I'm relieved that the back is intact after this grand operation. I made it out of honey locust which is a decidedly lovely wood with peach-colored lines:

The veneer over the peghead also exhibits a striking pattern of sinuous lines and a terrific purplish rose hue. I don't know the name of that wood.
I'm now working on the fingerboard.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tweedledee - Wood figure, color, and joy.

A few close-ups to try and capture the wonderful figure and color of
the walnut back (the inlaid decorative discs are from two varieties of maple).

The soundboard is made up of two jointed bookmatch plates of douglas fir with unusual pinkish overtones.

The soundhole is inspired by the "quatrefoil" motif of some medieval churches and the four-leaf clover, of course.

I've strung Tweedledum with a low fourth string, but Tweedledee, this one, with a high fourth. They are (high/low) GCEA sets, but I'm tuning them FBbDG (like my Terz guitar) for much easier action. They both sound quite good, but Tweedledee has that extra special je ne sais quoi : when the instrument makes you feel you're a far better player than you actually are... strictly a self-induced illusion in my case, but nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable, and a strong inducement to play more music.

These two are fairly similar in construction and bracing pattern. The main difference, apart from the wood used for the soundboard), is the depth of the body: Tweedledee is half an inch deeper than Tweedledum.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tweedledee at last

There it is, posing as Humpty Dumpty on top of a pumpkin:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Details (rosette, etc.)

I forgot to mention the rosette and the soundhole ring.
The rosette is made up of three inlaid strips of veneer: the inner and outer rings are curly maple, and I've forgotten what the darker middle ring is, perhaps mahogany. Looks easy, but it was still a lot of work.
The soundhole ring is also a thick curly maple veneer.

In keeping with the circle motif, I've added two completely frivolous details: a small bronze disc at the bottom of the fretboard, and an highly figured veneer roundel above the label inside the uke:

The strings have now settled. The beast is sounding good. Since the neck joint is between the16th and 17th frets, it makes it quite a bit easier to play those high notes.

Strung with a low G set. I must say I always find that strings on the tenor are really tight and hurt my fingers when I use the standard tuning, so I tend to use a lower tuning pattern: is it just me, or perhaps the brand of strings I'm using?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tweedledum (waiting for Tweedledee)

All done, after all the fiddling with the nut(s) and saddle(s) to get the position and action of the strings just right.
A tenor uke, almost entirely made of mahogany... the back has alternating stripes of mahogany and walnut. The neck and its heel also have bands of walnut. The fretboard is canarywood. The bridge is purpleheart (thicker obviously that the other unfortunate one) with an ebony saddle. The nut is carved from a piece of corian.
Sounds good, but I'll know better tomorrow, after the strings have settled. Intonation is as good as can be with an uncompensated bridge and saddle.
I like that honey/caramel/chocolate combination, but that's just my sweet tooth...