Now I also make jewelry

Monday, 17 October 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, 16 October 2011

Tweedledee at last

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

Saturday, 15 October 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, 12 October 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...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Thanksgiving - Eating humble (pumpkin) pie

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada, so, yes, I baked pumpkin pie. And indeed, there is a certain similarity between the shape of this last uke and a pumpkin, isn't there?

But why "humble"? Look closer and you'll see there's a new bridge on (Honduras rosewood instead of purpleheart).

I had completed the uke and was stringing it when, as I was tensioning the last string, the front of the bridge broke under the pressure. A couple of flaws: the bridge was not thick enough and therefore, the saddle was too high, and also the saddle groove was too close to the front end. Anyways, though I was aware of those shortcomings, I ignored them... with the entirely predictable result.

Murphy's law, yes indeed, and I've had innumerable occasions to verify it while building ukes. But mostly, I have only myself to blame: good enough won't cut it, one has to observe the rules and proper measurements every step of the way, especially as you near the end of the process and just want to be done with it. And greater fool am I, since this not the first time (nor even the second) I succumb to impatience, laziness, cutting corners.
This by way of a public confession (however, I'm not so masochistic as to have taken pictures of the heartbreaking sight of that split bridge). Mostly to acknowledge one of the lessons of crafting objects with one's hands, which could be of great benefit for so many other areas of activity...

The other lesson is that, after eating my humble pie, it's time to rebuild and repair. All is not lost, and having learned how to repair once (and overcoming the heartbreak), that knowledge can be used again if/when one falls prey to the same mistake (as I'm prone to do). So I unglued and re-sanded and re-finished and fashioned a new, thicker bridge with a properly positioned saddle slot. While at it, I'm salvaging the saddle I had made by shortening it and am now shaping a new, improved nut... (Is there such a thing as a reformed nut?)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Bridges on

Finally, the bridges have been shaped and then glued on, so have the peghead overlays with a very dense and very dark Brazilian wood (cumaru?). Also drilled the holes for the machine heads.
Almost ready for applying the finish.

Sunday, 25 September 2011


I've kept postponing this because I've always had great difficulties making bridges, having to build complicated jigs while trying to use various routing tools to dig out the saddle slot, always with very uneven results and a lot of frustration and anxiety using power tools . So, I'm giving up and reverting strictly to hand tools: a couple of saws and a 1/8" chisel.
Here, I am using purpleheart. (I started with ebony, but botched it: perhaps because of my own ineptitude, but I have found ebony to be quite brittle when using chisels and gouges. It's quite good for nuts and saddles though.) Simplify, simplify...
I am also reverting to the simplest and sturdiest bridge design: a saddle slot and four string holes drilled all the way through the soundboard.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Fretboard continued

Position markers in. Not silver: I restrained myself and stuck to wood: walnut dots, in keeping with this ukulele's theme: mahogany dominant, walnut as an accompaniment. But I did indulge in a little bronze disc at the bottom. Made sure all the frets were level: easier to correct at this stage than when the fretboard has been glued on.
I've also rough-shaped the peghead which I will cover with a veneer later.
The neck is wider than the peghead: it's better to have more than not enough at this stage. I will make it narrower next.

Something furry wanted in...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Back on track (sort of)

I'm afraid I've gone astray and left aside ukulele building since February as I became engrossed in a new adventure: learning some rudiments of jewelry making. Actually, after three years of uninterrupted "homegrown" instrument-making, it was good to get away (nothing like a new obsession to free oneself of an older one... much as in other sorts of passion or complusion when I think of it). Still, I have seven new ukes and one guitar in the making and I can't just abandon them. So, I took advantage of these few days without rain (we are blessed with continual showers and cold spells this year) to go through the various sanding stages on one round-bodied uke and proceeded to inlay the frets on the fretboards that will go onto those two very similar ukes.
I now take a lot of time being super careful with my fretwork, especially in dressing the frets to eliminate those tiny pesky burrs which are so hard to eliminate without marring the surrounding wood.
Anyways, here are the fretboards still at an early stage: I still have to do a lot of dressing to do and then I will inlay the position markers (I'm thinking silver dots this time). The wood is canary wood: I could not resist the unusual figure.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Third time lucky

Actually, luck has nothing to do with it: just good old sweat and tears.

One of my goals during the present building season was to achieve symmetry in a more consistent way. I even made molds for all five types of ukuleles I'm in the process of assembling now, but somehow, things always go awry at the stage of gluing the soundboard to the sides. At any rate, I was particularly discouraged with this, a new tenor shape: while I'm rather pleased with the contours, a silhouette shape I have been striving towards for a long time, the first one turned out skewed, and then the second one as well (I will still complete them, since I want to hear what they sound like). Finally, I devised a way of going through the process that seems to be working. At least, it did for this third attempt (the rightmost one).