Now I also make jewelry

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Revisiting an old friend

With new projects continually in the works, "older" instruments I built two years ago sit unattended. While looking at them reminds me of trials and errors, mistakes I should not repeat, they have their own virtues as well.
Here is one with a body shape I really like. The neck is beech, which was surprisingly easy to work with, and the sides solid walnut. But for once, I used plywood for both the back and the soundboard, a very thin (1/16" inch) high quality Finnish plywood, very strong and light as a feather. While I love
working with solid wood, such good quality plywood has a number of advantages and it is not "cheap", neither in appearance nor cost. As for the sound: well, there's enough raging controversy out there, I'll stay clear of the subject.
I used tigerwood (goncalo alves) for the fretboard, cocobolo for the bridge, padouk for the peghead sides and veneer.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Cordelia's baritone

This one was completed a couple of months back -- my last instrument for this season. It was intended as a surprise birthday present for my daughter and thus had to wait until now before I could put up pics on this blog. My best work so far, and the sound is really good.
The back is a single piece of maple. The soundboard, a single piece of yellow cypress, or Alaskan cedar, extends all the way up the neck, made of cherry. Bloodwood for the fretboard and for the headstock veneer, with bird's eye maple. Ebony bridge, saddle and nut. Figured makore for the banding, cherry and walnut dots for the soundhole decorations, tulipwood for the bottom joint between sides.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Another one

I like to build them in pairs.
This one has the same silhouette but narrower sides. The soundboard is a single piece of yellow cedar. I've used some of that chakte kok for the neck and hid the joint line on the headstock with lacewood veneer which I also used to surround the soundhole.
The back is made up of two bookmatched plates of figured maple.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Another baritone in the rough

Body and neck assembled (the soul will have to wait). Back and top trimmed. That's it for now.

This is a new silhouette; also a new mode of construction for me: the piece of wood (two bookmatched pieces in this instance) making up the soundboard extends all the way up the neck; so it is glued onto the sides and the neck as well, ensuring perfect horizontal flatness. The fretboard, made of hardwood, will come later.

The soundboard is made of Western red cedar: I just chanced upon a board with an unusually yellow tinge and a diversity of hues, full of character.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Veneer on back of headstock

The mahogany veneer has been glued onto the back of the jatoba headstock, and walnut veneer on the walnut headstock (there are several more of those on the go). Next stage will be shaping the contour of the headstock and then veneering the front, or vice versa.
Went to the annual "wood show" in town today and actually picked up some more black walnut strips for necks.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Narrow pieces of wood (black walnut in this instance) are glued onto the sides of the headstock to make it wider: this way you don't waste wood as you would if you were to trim a wider board down to the width of the neck proper.
The disadvantage is that the uniform appearance of the headstock is lost: it doesn't really matter for the front since one often covers it with veneer anyways, but it means glueing an additional piece of veneer onto the back. Here mahogany veneer will cover the back of the jatoba headstock... and my sins, since I've had to fill with wood putty some gaps where splinters had broken off the neck while I was shaping it with rasps and files (jatoba is not really easy to work with)!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Chakte Kok Neck

Lo and behold! I had forgotten about this one: a chakte kok neck in the making from last year: I had done the scarf joint, glued on the heel (part of it is padouak, also a red wood) and bandsawed the sides. So today (we still have mild weather and no rain), I went outside and shaped the arc of the back and the heel.
The wood was purplish red on the surface, but actually pink and rose underneath with lovely darker lines: I can see why it is apparently used for jewelry, so rich and delicate it looks. Precious, really... hence the question: am I going to be able to make
something worthy of that natural beauty?
It is easy to work with and something of a relief after carving another jatoba neck yesterday.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Chakte Kok

One of the joys of learning to build musical instruments has been the discovery of wood and its many beauties. I am very fortunate that there are not one, but two lumber stores around here that stock domestic as well as exotic species. I visit them regularly because they often have items on sale, offcuts and odd pieces at prices I can afford. Today was a lucky day: 40% off on some pieces of chakte kok. I had had my eye on them for quite a while and here was my chance. I bought two lengths from which I should be able to get 6 necks.
It's a lovely reddish-orange wood with prominent veins. I had used a small plank last year for two necks of my early ukuleles and the color is still intact.
Aside from its visual appeal, this wood has a name that makes it irresistible, so exotic it sounds. I finally googled it today and ended up finding "chakte", meaning "red tree", in a dictionary of Mayan glyphs: knock on a door and sometimes a whole world opens up!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Bari in the making

Another baritone: the rough work is done, the neck and body properly joined. Now it will go and rest in a corner until next spring when I can start sanding outside again. As for my first baritone, I've used lacewood and ivory for the back, jatoba for the neck, that wonderful maple for the sides, but spruce for the soundboard. The body is deeper at the bottom than at the top, the waist is "plumper", and the shape of the headstock is also different.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Neck 2

Here is another one, made of cherrywood: I've glued on a plate of cherry veneer on the back of the headstock to hide the lines of the scarf joint and of the "ears". The heel is birch (I didn't have any more cherry).
There are more in the making of course, but this could become tedious...

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Neck 1

I am working on assembling a couple of new instruments, but the bulk of my time is spent preparing various parts of future ukes: messy operations that generate a lot of dust and for which I have to work outside the house before snow season. Such is the shaping of necks.
Here is one neck made of jatoba which is quite a bit harder and more difficult to work with than mahogany. The headstock has been covered with a burl veneer: unidentified wood, beautiful shimmery velvet.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Ukulele on a shoestring

When you need a strap for your uke so that your left hand has greater freedom, here's a cheap and convenient way to go.

A plastic mini-hook on a strip of adhesive: it has a little tongue that you pull on when you don't want it on your uke any longer: whether after a day, a month or a year, it comes off like a charm and leaves no trace whatever, so it's perfectly harmless to your most treasured possession. Place it on the tail end, slightly off-center (horizontally and vertically closer to your body), attach one end of a shoe-lace to it and the other end just behind the nut.

This way, I was able to splurge on a fluorescent elasticized band which provides even more freedom (and glows in the dark!! -- just kidding, but possibilities are endless).

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


I haven't posted in a month, but I have not been idle...

My first baritone, and a bit of a gamble at that since I used the same maple veneer for the soundboard as for the sides: gorgeous wood but more akin to skin than to a piece of wood.
A lot of work went into it, in particular the general design, shaping the headstock and the bridge the bridge, and then, the last three days spent shaping 4-5 different nuts and 3 saddles before I could get the action exactly right.

I'm pleased (overlooking minor flaws), not only by the beauty of the various woods once finished, but also by the sound: like re-discovering the uke all over again!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Bottom inlay

The bottom joint is often prettified or disguised with the use of an inlay. First, I saw the sides down to the bottom block and chisel out the channel, then fit in a sliver of wood of the same thickness and shape, tulipwood in this instance. It looks easy, but can be quite a challenge.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Bracing the top

Fan bracing design: this may be overkill for a uke, even a baritone like this one, but I'm using such a thin top that erring on the safe side seems like a good idea.

The braces are shaped to combine strength and lightness.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


Two plates of lacewood, or leopardwood, with a strip of ebony sandwiched in-between: I've wetted it for the picture to show its remarkable grain and color.

The inside view shows the center graft and the three braces which are shaped so as to give the back a slight horizontal curvature.