Monday, January 19, 2015

Ukulele in Progress - Bling

I am pleased and privileged to own three handmade ukuleles, from luthiers with high-level skill and artistry. Two of them were made for other folks and I bought them, one used, one because the sale fell through. The third was custom-built with my input. The luthers are, in order of acquisition: Woodley White, Alan Carruth, and Michael Zuch.

Above, top to bottom: White, Zuch, Carruth

Above, top to bottom, White, Zuch Carruth.

They are all, insofar I can tell, outstanding instruments. All tenors. All strung low-G. Quality woods and tuners, and they all sound different, but great, to my ears.

As you can see in the photos, all of of them are made with minimal bling; by that, I mean little in the way of decorative inlay. They are all bound and purfled. The White has an abalone shell rosette and a stylized heart inset into the headstock, with small abalone fret marker dots. The Zuch has a solid wood rosette and a script-Z inlaid into the slotted headstock, along with MOP fret dots. The Carruth has a classical-guitar style rosette, but no other inlay, not even fret markers.

With the White and Carruth, that’s how they came, and I allowed when talking to Michael Zuch that plain was fine with me: Inlay and custom decoration add to the cost of an instrument, because they take a lot of time and effort from the builder.

One of them now lives at my daughter’s, and I play the other two about equally. They are way better gear than I am a player.

When I started talking to Beau Hannam about another instrument, I didn’t intend to have any more bling on it than on the others. I did want it to have a couple of accents, one of which was snakewood, and Beau allowed as how this wasn’t a problem.

Pretty much I told him the same thing I told Michael: Build something you like; that if somebody asked you to hold up a uke that represented your best? Make that. 

As the build went on, Beau would ask, when he came to different places, if I wanted to add something. Sound port? 

Wasn’t in my original plan, but Michael had also asked about this on his build, and I liked the results, so that seemed okay to me. 

So, Beau said:

How about some bits of snakewood in that Michi-style rosette? And to bind the sound hole? 

Yeah, go for it. 

You’re a science fiction and fantasy writer. How about some elements that might bring that out? I have some agate that kind of looks like the surface of Jupiter I could put in the headstock, does that sound interesting?  

It does. Go right ahead.

Hey, I’ve got some walnut burl, want to see that on the headstock?


On the butt, around the pick-up jack, more snakewood?

Oh, yeah.

The heel cap? Got some more snakewood.

By all means.

Tuners? Here are some choices. And you know, with the high-end Robson’s, you can get those with snakewood buttons.

Then we should certainly do that.

Now, about the fret markers, I have some Tahitian Black MOP we can use next to some snakewood …

Well, why not?

So what we have is a nearly-complete instrument that, from the photos I have seen, is absolutely gorgeous, and with more accoutrements than I had considered when we got started. With any luck, I'll have my hands on it in a few weeks.

Couple others recently arrived:

They say that you eat with your eyes first, and I believe it. While the bling might not make a difference in sound or playability, it does add a visual wow-factor element I much enjoy. Nothing wrong with that from where I sit …


steve-vh said...

That's gonna be something! I can say I'm glad I got one custom made for me. cost was certainly much higher but the sound quality is amazing vs. a simple one from the music shop.

Mike Byers said...

Nice! You should really do a CD: gotta let the rest of the world hear these in action. Oh, yeah...and you should cover Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", as it would sound cool on a uke.

Steve Perry said...

Yep, that would be a good one, Mike. Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground's "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" sounds pretty good on the uke. Played that one out last round and had a whole bunch of folks singing the back-up Doo-doo-doo-doo part ...

Nothing remotely politically-correct about that one.

Steve Perry said...

Steve --

I try to get the best I can reasonably afford. Always seems to pay off in the long run ...

Neal Hinerman said...

Question? Given you are becoming an accomplished musician, what are your thoughts on the Renaissance lute. It's popped up lately in a couple of books,
"Smarter" by Dan Hurley, and the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss.

Curiously yours,


Steve Perry said...

I like the sound of a lute, but I have had a chance to see a couple up close, at a local instrument show, and after talking to the owners and a builder, didn't see my going down that road. Lovely instruments and tone, but according the folks to whom I talked, if you have owned a lute for thirty years, twenty of them would have been spent tuning it ...

Greg said...

Just happened on this site. That is some amazing craftmanship on those ukes. Thanks for sharing the pictures. Interested to see how the new one turns out.

Dojo Rat said...

Holy DNA; those are all lovely, but that snakebite Uke is f-in awesome.

gregc said...

Wow, Wow, Wow! Congrats and enjoy that uke. I would spend a lot of time just gazing at it. Beau's work is stunning in both design and execution~