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Thursday, May 25, 2017


We're enjoying a short holiday, weather's fine and it's nice and warm. We went south to the secondary cottage this morning, I brought some uke stuff. You might, as an avid reader, recognize the background - it's where I cut my hand last summer. 

In the first pic the first side is trimmed. Tiny saw, tiny bench hook, tiny square. 

Then the first side is used to transfer the line to the second piece. 

And here's the end block clamped in, neck block awaits on the step above, and I'm repeating the process for the second set of sides. 

I will post an update in a wee while, it's getting close to dinner time. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

It only takes one...

First One:
One deal gone wonky led me to questioning the whole building thing. And it wasn't the uke that came back for adjustments, it was before that. Some people are better as mates than as customers, and some are... just people. 

Building resos to sell is hard. As a small scale builder I must depend on hardware from suppliers, and the cones and coverplates are not only totally crucial for sound and playability, they are also very individual. I've compared cones from the same batch and some cones buzz, some sing and some are deadish. So from now on I won't send resos out, I'll only part with one if the recipient tries it out in my company first. 

Second One:
It only takes one kind message to lift my spirits up again. I got it last week from Darren, a short note with kind words  about this wee blog. 

It only takes one kind message, but I got two - today I got asked if I want to participate at a ukulele builders' event in the UK, running a workshop and whatnot. The remarkable Pete Howlett is at the helm and I am humbled. 

Third One:
Will it only take one koa soprano to get me back into building at regular speed? I think so, but hey - I've got two just in case. Pretty much erased all lists of prospects, these two I'll build for the fun of it. 

So tonight I bent the sides for the first. Because I've been thinking of Pete Howlett today I decided to try what I think is his method, bending on the pipe and setting the bend with the blanket. 

The koa is from... Pete Howlett. Anybody notice a theme? I left the sides at 1.8 or 1.9 mm when sanding ages ago, and bending them directly on my form with the heating blanket might give me creases at the waist, but the pipe won't. Especially since I have the spring steel bending caul to press with, a Ken Timms inspired tool. 

Sorry for the lousy pics, I will clean the bench. Soon. Here's the first side resting on the form. 

And here it is, cooking for a few minutes. 
I wish sometimes my form and blanket were wider to accommodate both side pieces at once. 

So there, in the holding mould to cool off over night. This cheered me up! Too bad it's time to go to sleep. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mojo rising..?

The other day something happened. I got the urge to build a couple of acoustic sopranos. Didn't see that coming. 

I went to the pile and looked for wood, narrowed in on the koa and found, much to my surprise, two sets already sanded to thickness. Off we go!

One set is rather heavy with a nice figure, the other one is lighter but not as exciting in looks. 

Below is the first, getting a rosette channel. 

I'm building these to my own taste. Once they're done I'll see what happens, if I sell them or keep them. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Getting closer to getting a result

The neck's back on, back plate and binding is in place. Time to partially re-finish the poor uke. For some reason the shellac goes on beautifully, better than usual. Which is a welcome break. 

The mahogany binding goes pop! under the first coats. 

Front edge binding with a very subtle maple line inside the mahogany. It's 0.5 mm I think. A bit more visible in real life, and it does look good. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Body bound and neck attached

I bound the front edge, then took a deep breath and attached the neck. It went on straight. Then I glued the back back on and routed a rebate for the binding. Around the heel I had to make the rebate with a chisel, as the router wouldn't fit. 

The first two pieces went on with some careful taping and a wee clamp. As the glue dried I bent the rest of the binding. 

Here's a pic of the front, with maple and mahogany. 

And the back, with only mahogany. 

Time to mix some shellac!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Aligning and binding

To properly check the neck before re-attaching it, I made a jig of perspex and carbon fibre rods. The slots make a centre line and the rods slide up against the edges of the fretboard. 

I love one piece tops but sometimes miss the centre line you get on bookmatched ones. Anyway this is looking better and better. 

When I glue the back back on it will be nigh impossible to get it perfectly aligned around the edges. So I can either make a new back or use the old one and bind it. I'll bind it. But I can't have binding around the back without adding it to the front as well, and the front goes first before the neck goes on. I'll use maple and mahogany on the front and maybe just mahogany for the back. 

The works progresses with less stress as I get into it. I feel a bit more in control but I do look forward to finishing this. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Back [in black]

Did I ever say this blog is a warts-and-all narrative of my building escapades? I did didn't I. So be prepared for a few all-warts posts then. The truth is I have received the first known Argapa in need of a neck reset. Sensitive viewers be warned, there will be pics from the operating theatre. I don't know yet how much text there will be mitigating the impact of the pictures, to be honest it's quite difficult to write about it. 

About the neck in question, I blame it on a simple curse from cruel gods who got pissed off by my hubris earlier this year. 

But first let me show you the good news that after all exists - the shruti box pedal is done and it works. 

Now a couple of gruesome pics. 

Wait, it gets worse!

Fanx for reading. Peace. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

From triumph to doubt to something else

I think I have shipped my last uke. From now on, if I build any more ukes, they will have to be tested and collected at my place. 

So today I started on a pedal for my shruti box. I nicked the concept online. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

A few glamour shots

First I want to show the gloss on Argapa 100. I modified my shellac finishing method, it got a bit awkward in the middle of the process but the result is good. 

I took a bit of a leap with the string spacing at the bridge, but it works perfectly. Quite easy to imagine the strings colliding but I don't think they ever do. 

And still, the flat bottom shape that I made nine years ago on my first soprano to facilitate glueing the end block. I like it, it's mine and I won't change it. 

Andy's reso, number 95. With pinstripe fret markers. 

The Dr. Who motifs on Kris's uke, no. 96 (a very nice number, you can turn it upside down).

The behemoth mother of pearl inlay project and f-holes for Brian, a.k.a Popmonkey. 

Brian's again, and Argapas 98 and 99. The latter is for Mike Krabbers and the first is for a hitherto secret customer. 

The pearl inlays on Mike's uke are made from the scraps from Brian's fretboard. The shark bite is Mike's own. 

And the last, Argapa 101, with the domino fret markers. To the right in the pic you can see a part of the very well managed register of all ukes I've built. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The greatest of days..!

I started the day by just repeating the steps from yesterday. Each reso took maybe 30 minutes to set up; bridge, coverplate, nut, nut slots and then strings. Stringing one up is almost always a bit disappointing, when it first comes under tension the cone knows not at all what to do. It makes muffled groans. But already after a few minutes under the load of the strings, strings that are stretching to find their pitch and tension, it wakes up. The difference is quite big and most welcome. 

After doing five resos I squeezed in Argapa 100 at its destined place in the increasingly long line of instruments. Then I made the last reso, stamped all headstocks with logo and serial number and got the wine and crisps out. Li was at the grand premiere. Remember Li was at the beginning as well, check this link out:

And this type of shot was harder than ever to take, I had to stand on a chair. 

The Argapa 100, and the first soprano taropatch I've made. Same mahogany as the first soprano, and a few others. Peghed tuners to save weight but the headstock got pretty heavy anyway. 

And here they all are. Once the strings have settled I'll make a demo vid, and then it's time to flood the market! Five are going to the UK and one to the US. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Putting it together

So, is it time for that label "finished instruments" yet? Or is it completed instruments, I can't remember and that says something about the amount of time this batch has taken me. 

After last weeks aggressive fret offensive it is finally time to install some hardware. The tuners went in without any issues, and in the first pic you can see the jig I use to mark out the holes for the cover plate screws. 

I make holes with an awl, then drilled them all with an electric drill. Time is of essence so power tools are allowed. 

I put all biscuits on the cones and made a bridge for one of them. I decided to finish this one so I finally could evaluate the new skeletons. It's quite hard to foresee all lengths and angles before you string one up. I reached for the strings and saw I'd forgotten the nut. 

When I ordered bone saddle blanks a while back I got a few of these ready made guitar saddles for free. Not something I need so I'll use them for nuts. It's much faster to plane them than to sand them so here's the first one in my planing jig for small parts. 

Once it fit I roughed out the shape. 

And went at it with a hacksaw. The vise in the pic is from Stewmac, expensive but really indispensible once you're used to it. The hacksaw cost a fragment of what the vise did. 

And another favourite; the half-pencil. I slide it across the frets to get an idea of how deep the string slots should be. 

Going forward a bit, the strings are on and the angles look good! Neck angle, strings' break angle, they all came together. I need to lower the action a bit at the nut but will wait for ghe cone to settle before I decide upon the bridge slots. 

I'll complete the other five and make a video of them all. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Fret work

I decided to bite all remaining bullets and dedicated the available time this weekend to dressing frets. This I thought was the last chance to let a few of the six ukes drop out of the race and be finished later, I really need to ship one or two so I can get money for some stuff. 

But I chose not to. I've forgotten the order between them and don't fancy choosing between the people who've waited so patiently for such a long time. 

If you remember me fretting these you'll remember the nicely bevelled fret ends that I made with the new file holder. That's great but the fret ends do have sharp edges and a bit of burr, so I need to round them off with a fret end file. One of the tools from Stewmac that might seem expensive but is nigh impossible to live without once you've tried them. 

And do the maths - 7 fretboards, 14 frets on each, 2 ends on each fret, 20 strokes on each end... It took a long time. 

My improved fret pressing clamp left the frets almost completely level. I found one or two that was a wee bit high but chose to press them in some more rather than filing them at the top, you get a flat surface that needs to be dealt with using a fret crowning file and it is somewhat boring and nerve wracking at the same time. 

But the frets need to be polished anyway! The fret erasers from Stewmac are quite good. I like them but many people don't. I bought the whole set of grits, ranging from 180 to 1000 in five steps. Each eraser takes me about 20 seconds. 5 erasers on every fret, that's 100 seconds per fret. 14 frets on every board, 7 fretboards... My shoulders hurt. 

But now they're all done and I moved on to laying out and making the screw holes for the cover plates. And my lovely wife helped me with the secret Argapa detail (that ensures the superior sound and performance of my resos) while I was polishing frets, so that's taken care of too. What's left now is
- tuners
- nuts
- fiddling the biscuit (no smutty innuendo intended).
- strings

Saturday, January 7, 2017


As I mentioned in the previous post, I might be deceiving myself but I honestly think there's not much left. Now usually when I say that to myself I will have forgotten tuners, nuts, secret Argapa way of ensuring majestic sound, and stringholders. Well today I made the stringholders and I am on top of the tuner issue and the secret Argapa whatever. 

First I cut the blank to lengths using my wee saw and the bench hooks. I could have used a rule and a sliding bevel but I eyeballed it to relative perfection. 

Then a relief cut to make them conform to the convex shape of the cover plate. By now they were utterly impossible to clamp so I risked my fingers by holding them while carving. 

A few strokes on a piece of 60 grit paper took care of the last fraction of a mm. I got nervous after taking the pic so I masked the shiny cover plate with tape so the sandpaper wouldn't mar the surface. 

I drew the shape of the holes and drilled the holes for the screws that will secure the stringholder. After making the first one I ended up drilling a dedicated hole for a third screw in the centre. This was easier than the old method but it doesn't show in the pics. 

And before screwing it on I drill the string holes. No jig for this either, just aiming to get the angles sort of right. They were 99% perfect, all 24 of them. 

And here they all are in the last pic. 

But first, here's my list for future reference:
1. Make the blank and the string holders as shown in the pics in this post. 
2. Sand the surface of the plate between the existing holes. 
3. Drill a hole between the two middle holes. 
4. Clamp a holder onto the burr around that hole, making a mark in the wood. 
5. Drill for the screw. Thread the hole with the screw, then cut the screw to length and fasten the holder. 
6. Drill the holes for the other screws in the outer string holes. 
7. Remove the holder, mark out and drill the string holes. Countersink them and check the clearance under the ledge. Plane if necessary. 
8. Cut off screws 2 and 3 and attach the holder. Add some ca glue from the underside.