Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ook Ook

Okay, the last ukulele post for a while. 

Maybe ...

Having determined that I want to learn how to play the jumping flea, I got an entry-level tenor uke that was a good deal for the money. If you want to revisit it, plug "uke" in the search pane and have a look.

After playing the thing for a few weeks and enjoying it, I further determined that I was going forward, and that pretty quickly, I'd want another  and somewhat better instrument. (You don't want that being what holds you back, you want it to be you doing that. You can get better. In theory.)

So I started doing more research, poking around, and hoping to find a local ukulele maker who had my philosophical mind-set, i.e., sound and playability were primary, not bling.

Since these suckers can get spendy in a hurry and dazzling in their flash, I wanted to narrow my focus to those folks of like mind. 

Locals, local woods, not-too-lengthy waiting lists.

I found a couple who seemed to fit the profile. I dropped them emails to see how far out their lists were, what they would do or not do, and not incidentally, the cost. 

One wants to get a decent axe, at a reasonable price, in a timely manner.

One guy wrote back and didn't seem too interested, being a part-time maker with a day job and several months of work in the shop.

Other guy, I didn't hear from.

There were a couple others, but way outside my price range.

So, I knew the handmade instrument show was coming up at Marylhurst this weekend, and while I had no plans to buy anything there, I thought I could check out a couple of other makers who had tables. Turned out there were four of 'em, all in the bi-state area, save one, who used to live here but who retired to Hawaii and had gotten used to doing the show.

I saw the first couple, there were some fine instruments, they were willing to do custom work. Prices were still beyond my reach, but it was something to think about. Nice ones in cherry and walnut

Then I came to Woodley White's table. 

White, who was a luthier specializing in high-end classical guitars here in Portland for years, with Jeffrey Elliott as his mentor, moved to the Big Island, and there, had added ukuleles to his guitar-making. (Aside: In on of the Clancy book, I blew up a room full of guitars, and there were some from White and Elliott in that room.)

I couldn't afford White, either. He likes koa, a beautiful figured Hawaiian wood favored by high-end uke makers, which has a lovely tone, but which adds $$ to the cost up front. Such instruments were not even on my radar.

 Go ahead, he said, have a look. So I picked up a tenor, and O what a lovely sound it had, even in the too-loud room.

And guess what? It was used. The owner was buying another one, he wanted a different style headstock, and while it was two-and-a-half years-old and had a couple of dings and scuffs, it was most reasonably priced. 

I mean really reasonably priced ...

We chatted. My wife egged me on. I found that his idea of what sounded good matched mine. He only used wood harvested responsibly, and his line is called Pu'uwai, "heart" ukes, and did I mention that the one I played sounded lovely? New strings, which were going out-of-tune quickly, and a reëntrant G. Could, I wondered, he set that up for a low-G?

No problem. 

Could I take it to the cafeteria and try it in a quieter setting?

Sure, go ahead.

So ...

All the pieces just, you know, fell into place. It was fate ...

Welcome to Steve's new ukulele. Those of you not into ukes or guitars, this will sound like blah-blah-blah, and you can skip it. Body of koa, probably Spanish Cedar neck, ebony fretboard and rosewood binding, some kind of blue wood purfling and paua shell rosette and fretboard markers, including side dots, and a little stylized-heart inlay in the ebony-verneer headstock. Bone nut and and Gilbert-style bridge Grover closed-back tuners.  

Came with a fake-alligator hardshell case. 

It is the bomb, it really is ...


Mike Byers said...

Nice, really nice! I've worked a bit with Spanish cedar, but never thought about it in this application.

The Basement Guitarist said...

Oooooh, flamed koa. Of all the "pretty" woods out there (quilt and flame maple, lacewood, zebrawood, etc), flames koa has always been my favorite. Congratulations on the socre!

Kris said...

Any chance of you doing a side by side of the same material, so all of us peasants can try to discern the quality differential?

Steve Perry said...

I'll put some side-by-sides up ...

Jim said...

Don't know much about ukeleles... but I do know a bit about woodwork. Beautiful... The wood and the work.

Joe said...

I'm an amateur 'hack' woodworker who's always wanted to get into making stringed instruments. Maybe I'll try when I retire. Anyway, I've never used Koa wood, but it is beautiful. If it's sustainably harvested I want to try it as an accent wood on an upcoming project for my wife. Thanks.