Sunday, January 15, 2017

Seafaring Ukes (IW #'s 87, 88, 89)

I have really fallen behind on posting about instruments I have made.  This trio was a real joy for a lot of reasons, not least the lumber involved.  A couple of good friends worked for a boatyard in Maine for a while, and while they were there they worked on a vessel called the "Spirit of Bermuda."  This 112 foot Bermuda Sloop was built of Bermudan Cedar (actually a juniper relative, I believe), so when they did the renovation they had to source Bermudan Cedar, and they had some off-cuts left over.  This wood is mostly extinct, I think, due to an insect blight introduced during or shortly after WWII, so it is a very rare wood.

The back of the baritone.  The grain is breathtaking
Off-cuts from a boatyard are pretty sizable to a guy making instruments, however, so my friends saved me a bunch of it and loaded me up with it a couple of years ago as I was passing through on my way back from Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.  What a gift.

Ukes have been a part of my life since early childhood when my mom played songs for us on an old Silvertone she had had with her in Guatemala when she was in the Peace Corps.  More recently, I formed a uke-based group here in Syracuse with a couple of good friends that has been going strong for several years now.  Because of that, I thought I would make a pair of sister ukes and a baritone.  I like bari ukes better than sopranos because my fat fingers struggle on the soprano fingerboards.

While working the wood, the shop smelled like a hamster cage.  It was QUITE lovely and that stuff is hard hard hard.  It did NOT like bending, and I shattered the first pair of sides.  I was able to prevail, though, and it is stunning lumber.  The tops are from a mast that my friends took off the 1913 schooner Adventress.  It was not the original mast, I think this one dates to the 1980's.  But it is the straightest grain Sitka spruce I have ever seen, and it sounds fantastic.  On the Baritone uke I purposely used the part of the mast that the sail track ran up, and the hardware holes really accent the top of the instrument.

On one of the soprano ukes I did not put a sound hole at all, I just let the hardware holes be the sound hole, and it sounds pretty great, actually.   On all three instruments I ran a strip of hard maple up the center of the neck for stiffness, and the fingerboards are pear wood. 

They really are quite an attractive family of instruments, I think, and their sound is super warm.  Here is what the baritone sounds like:

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