Now I also make jewelry

Friday, 31 December 2010

Working in circles

Nothing new about the circle design, but I wanted to try it out.
These will be tenor ukes with necks joining the body at the 17th fret. I'm using a "Spanish" joint, i.e. the sides fit into notches cut into the base of the neck: ideally, those notches would be cut with a table saw, but since I don't have one, I cut them with a hand saw, and it's a bit difficult to saw on a slant and get the proper width and depth so that the sides will fit in snugly without skewing the symmetry.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Joining bookmatched plates

I prefer using a single plate for the soundboard and even the back but larger instruments, like the baritone uke and the terz guitar, require joining two bookmatched plates. To join two plates that are 1/8 in. thick edge on edge requires some doing, especially with fairly rudimentary tools. The difficult part is to get the edges perfectly matched to each other before gluing so that you cannot see any light in-between the plates. It's easier for soundboards because the plates are softwood and tiny gaps will disappear when the plates are pressed together in the joining process. Hardwood plates for the back are more exacting. I also like to insert a strip of contrasting wood between the two back plates, which makes it a double joint: first gluing the strip to one plate and then gluing that assembly to the remaining plate.
Here are a few pics of a spruce soundboard held against the sky to check that the seam is indeed flawless, and of backs (maple, walnut and lacewood).

Monday, 20 September 2010

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Soundhole binding

It took me two years to figure a way to do this (the tortoise way, I suppose). There are five layers of different veneers lining the soundhole: mahogany, anigre, makore, figured makore and cherry.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Size comparison

The Terz between a baritone uke and a standard size classical.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Terz guitar (classical)

While all the ukes that came out this summer were started last autumn, I began working on this last April.
The classical terz guitar originated in the nineteenth century and Giuliani composed some pieces for it. It is smaller than an ordinary guitar: this one has a vibrating string length of 57 centimeters.
The name is a deformation of the French "tierce", since it is tuned three intervals higher (GCFA#DG): what you would get by placing a capo in the third position. By raising the third string one interval lower, you get a lute or vihuela tuning, which was what interested most since you can then play the whole vast repertoire of lute or vihuela directly from the tablatures for those instruments.
This is not a reproduction of earlier guitars but a "modern" version: in particular I've used a fan bracing pattern rather than the traditional "ladder" and the neck is as wide at the nut as a regular guitar. I've also used the same type of bridge as the one I've used for my ukes this year.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Autumn baritone

"C'est pas vilain les fleurs d'automne..." (not so shabby, those autumn flowers): I could not help but think of those words in George Brassens' song Saturne as I was putting the finishing touch to this last baritone amidst the late-flowering creatures in Jacqueline's garden.
Basically the same shape as the second baritone (August 7th). The body is about 1/4 inch shallower and the string length 19" instead of 20". I've used some of that sumptuous carmine chokte kok for the neck with bloodwood veneer on the front and back of the headstock and the sides of the neck as well. The heel has curly maple in-between the chokte kok layers.
I'm also very pleased with its sound, different again from all the others: I just keep playing all five of them and have yet to pick a favorite one... Tough!

Saturday, 4 September 2010


J'aime ta couleur café...

Yes, I was in love with the previous baritone, but then this creature came along with its unusually dark cedar soundboard: caramel, chocolate, café au lait, pain d'épices, honey and spice... irresistible. Wonderful sound, deep and clear and crisp and it purrs against my chest just as much as the other one. Entre les deux, mon coeur balance...

These baritones are just getting better and better, each with its own singular voice. However, I'm so taken with their sound that I may never return to smaller sizes -- concert and tenor -- for playing tunes in low 4th tuning.

Walnut back and sides with cherry bandings and bloodwood fretboard. Joined plates of very thin western red cedar for the top. Ivory, bocote, tulipwood here and there.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Mandrake ukulele

In keeping with the medieval theme, this is a second soprano I made alongside the previous one and very similar to it. The freshly dug out mandrake root and the celtic cross provided a perfect accompaniment for its coming out.
Nice piece of highly figured burl veneer on the headstock (no doubt what attracted the mandragora).

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Friday, 27 August 2010

Red, red rose

Actually, not red: variegated...
To cliché or not to cliché?

Thursday, 26 August 2010


Cantantes licet usque (minus via laedit) eamus.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Another barytone - I'm in love

This one was completed about a week ago and I can't stop playing it.
Same silhouette as the "deep baritone" of the end of July, but with a shallower body, a more pronounced slope of the back and a different bracing pattern.
I love the sound of this instrument, but also with the fact that it feels so "alive" as I'm playing it (maybe because of the way it fits my body so well that I can feel it vibrate all the time). This may be a familiar experience to players more experienced than I am, but it's definitely new to me. Though I dislike hocus pocus as much as any man, it would be tempting to wax a little bit lyrical about it. At any rate, there's certainly an ounce of magic in this for me.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Third nut

Irresistible title, but I must be allowed some levity after spending the morning fashioning three of those to get one exactly right: right thickness, right length, right slope angle, right depth and shallowness of the string slots and right spacing of the slots so that they fit with the spacing of the slots in the saddle and bridge. Test with the fourth and first strings for optimum spacing from the edges of the fretboard. Test for proper action. Make adjustments or re-do the whole thing (twice). All right; check for possible buzzing: only one small buzz easily corrected by pressing the guilty fret further down: relief!
One saddle was enough, so I'm counting my blessings.
I've put on all four strings, brought the tension to proper tuning, checked for buzzing with all four strings, checked the intonation: so far so good. I'll let the strings settle and re-tune them several times today before really testing this new baby.
Hard to take a proper picture of the beast: so tiny. Everything done with razor saw, files and sandpaper: a fraction of a millimeter here, a fraction there... un travail de bénédictin !

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A Proustian moment

Freshly baked madeleines and scones: a nice occasion to bring out some of last year instruments.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Carpe diem tenor uke

Time to smell the roses... literally, since these are the last, albeit no less glorious, of this abundantly sunny season.
A lot of experimentation with this one, including a double layer (padouk and anigre) of very thin banding veneers. A lot of veneer dots too (I did go a bit dotty with the veneer for a while), inlaid in the fingerboard or just glued on around the soundhole.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Frugal molds

I'm making preparatioms for my next building season. Along with new designs and building ideas, I'm planning for less improvisation and more discipline this time around, which means framework and, among other things, frames or molds.
I've glued blocks of wood together and bandsawed them: the mold for the larger instrument is big enough that I can fashion a second mold out of it for a smaller size ukulele.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Second coming of the baritone

This is my second baritone this season, with a brand new silhouette, more slim-waisted.
I really love the way that back shimmers.
The soundboard is made of Western red cedar: I chanced upon this stunning yellow-hued piece and it did not disappoint.
The neck is yet another experiment in gluing various woods together.
Nicely veined canary wood for the fretboard and bird's eye maple veneer over the headstock.
I'm enjoying the baritone sound more and more. This one is mellower than the previous one.