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Sunday, June 25, 2017

A couple more projects

The first of the koa sopranos is coming along. The second will take a break for now, I was thinking only one project would be good for me now. 

But then my boy wants a miniature guitar, after seeing a guitalele in a store. And my friend challenged me to build a cavaquinho. And I saw a super compact travel model uke and I want one. 

So we picked out some walnut for the sides and backs for the guitar and the 'quinho, and split it in three pieces so we have one spare. My condition for building the guitar was, predictably, that Johan would assist me at every stage. Here he works the kerfing plane. 

And here we use the frame saw - so much easier being two. Li took the pic. 

And here's the result, together with a cherry board that'll transmogrified into a wee travel uke. 

Monday, June 12, 2017


It was a while since I braced a soprano top. I went with the, hopefully correct, muscle memory and it was no problem at all. I went with a spruce bridge patch but will consider hardwood patches next time because of the string through bridge I use. But spruce works, with beads above the knots. 

I deliberatly left the braces square because I enjoy shaping them in place. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Scaling down

Since I made those sides for the two sopranos I've been working in Pakistan, but today I looked at the tops. I wasn't a hundred percent happy with one of them so I thought about using a spruce top. And why not that ancient spruce I salvaged from an ancient boat long ago?

Haven't decided yet, I did think that spruce should go onto a mahogany body but I was surprised and happy that I found the set easily. 

And didn't I get some yew..? Time to sort the wood pile I think. 

But now you must be wondering what that giant fretboard is doing in the pic. 

Recently I saw a strange Vox bass guitar with a body made from a wah pedal chassi. I want one of those but it was ridiculously expensive. So I thought I'll build my own won't I. First I bought some stuff to build a neck from, and a wah pedal chassi, but didn't get started until I stumbled upon a used neck that I thought would work. I bought it but it was a bit too long - it would give me a scale length that wouldn't fit the length of the wah pedal. And you can't shorten a neck, but you can shorten a fret board! I popped it from the neck with an iron and some patience. 

Two frets must come off from the nut end, quite easy. And removing only two will throw the least amount of fret markers off position, four must be removed and two new installed at the new ninth and twelth fret.

I could have left a marker at the first fret, I saw a bass once that had that. But it was fugly so no, it goes. 

Using the wood from the two sawn off frets I made diamond shape plugs to inlay where the MOP dots were. 

And having missed taking pics of the cavity, here's the first plug glued in. Inlaying diamond shapes of wood is easier than those from other materials. I spot glued the plugs on top of the dot markers and traced the contour with a marking knife. I chose not to use the router and made the cuts with a chisel. Once the cavity has the necessary depth, straight sides and sharp corners I could plane the sides of my plug a shaving or two at the time until it fit precisely. I made the sides so they slanted outwards a wee bit, giving a good snug fit after just a little thumping with a brass mallet. 

Fanx for reading. I'll post more about this, and about the sopranos. 

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.