This continues my custom ukulele adventure that started in Part 1.
My custom Boat Paddle concert sized ukulele was ordered on December 19th, 2007 and I received the following info from Jerry this week that work is underway…
Jerry: Hi Julie, Here’s my first installment! Work on your ukulele will be somewhat sporadic because of other responsibilities I have. I usually build in small batches, but will be doing yours by itself, so work should go somewhat faster. Included is an option for a Redwood top. I’m offering this because the redwood will produce a wider, more clear tone than the mahogany. You sometimes have to weigh the aesthetics and functionality of the woods you are using.
The ukulele will be a cutaway concert with a 15″ scale length.
Here’s the California Big Leaf Maple stock for the neck. A view of the end-grain shows that it is quarter sawn (growth lines perpendicular to the surface). Quarter sawn lumber exhibits the least amount of distortion as the result of changes in humidity. All the wood for the ukulele will be quarter sawn.
Here, the Mahogany for the back and top is resawn into plates. The white V-shaped mark on the top edge of the stock makes it possible to keep the plates in order once they are sawn.
The plates are “book matched” so the grain in the two halves that make up the top or back are symmetrical. The plan calls for Mahogany top and back, Maple sides and neck, and a Maple bridge.
Here’s the matched plate with a Maple patch placed on it to indicate how the bridge will look. Also shown is the Maple that will be used for the sides.
Another option is a Redwood top (shown here) with a Maple back and sides. The Maple bridge will look equally as good with this choice.
After seeing the Redwood option that Jerry offered, I was very interested as even unfinished, I could tell that the wood was beautiful. I sent Jerry an email with the following question:
“…As for the Redwood option, would the back still be made of Mahogany, or would that be Redwood as well? I think going with Redwood might be nice as it is different and not seen that often in a uke. If you were going to choose between Mahogany or Redwood, which would you go with?”
Jerry responded back with:
“…Almost all stringed instruments including those in the violin family have a softwood top and hardwood back. Of the softwoods, spruce, cedar and redwood are best because of their strength to weight ratio (this combination vibrates better and makes a clearer, louder sound than a hardwood like mahogany). Hardwood is used for the back because it is more durable and does a better job of transmitting the sound produced by the top. A redwood top and mahogany back would produce a great sound, but the color and grain of the two woods might clash. A mahogany top and back would look better, but you would sacrifice some sound quality. Ukuleles traditionally have hardwood tops because (I think) it used to be the only wood readily available to local builders in Hawaii. I always consider what will make the instrument sound best first (form follows function). I like the idea of a dark top and back, but not mixing redwood and mahogany. My first choice would be redwood top and maple (a hardwood) back. Second would be mahogany top and back.”
I decided to go with his expert suggestion and changed my plans to be the Redwood top with Maple back and sides. All my other options remain unchanged (so far 🙂 ). I’m so excited to get Jerry’s next progress report and pictures. Of course I’ll post it here as soon as I receive it, so stay tuned.