My vacation this year was to Treasure Island, Florida. This is a barrier island on the gulf side of Florida, near St. Petersburg and Clearwater. I’d visited there several years ago and really enjoyed its relaxing atmosphere and sugary white sandy beaches. As fate would have it, I learned that the LoPrinzi studio was located less than 45 minutes away from where I was staying. I gave them a call and asked if I might be able to come by for a visit. The friendly female voice on the other end of the phone said sure, come on over and I did.
Donna and her father Augustino build classical and steel stringed guitars, along with ukuleles. This isn’t a brand new company, Augustino has been building instruments for more than 50 years. Lots of experience here folks!
When we arrived, we met Donna LoPrinzi, who greeted us and led us through the back door. For me, there is something almost magical about walking into someone’s workshop…
Walking into the LoPrinzi studio, my eyes immediately started flitting around the room, taking in the slight disarray of tools and materials. While my eyes were busy, my nose was enjoying the fragrance of wood. I’ve always loved the smell of wood dust in a workshop because it gives me the feeling of curiosity for what’s been created there and the expectation for what will be created next.
The LoPrinzi studio is small, but bright and cozy. A wooden shelf to the Left held unfinished guitar and ukulele bodies. Some were were waiting for necks to be attached…
While others were waiting to be finished.
I’m not a woodworker, but I could spend hours just looking at the different tools and materials.
Various fretboards waiting to be glued onto necks.
In another room there was a collection of Spruce and Koa ukuleles without tuners that appeared to have been recently finished.
My visit to the studio was primarily for curiosity. Since I was in the area, I figured it would be a fun little side trip to kill a few hours. I wasn’t planning to buy anything and was actually relieved that there were no completely finished ukes to sit down and play. I was just there to look.
And then the body of a Reddish ukulele sitting all by itself on a work bench in the corner caught my eye. The color and grain of the raw wood attracted me, but I didn’t Donna ask about it. Instead, I heard myself asking her about the process for ordering a custom instrument. So much for my plans to “just look”. UAS, thou are my weakness!
Donna starting talking about Spruce and Koa instruments. I then asked her if they ever build ukes from something more exotic than the woods that she mentioned. She said that she had a limited number of Bishop sets. I’d never heard of a wood called Bishop before. She told us that it was local to southern Florida and is rare because people aren’t allowed to cut down the trees. Someone that they knew had salvaged a fallen tree from one of the hurricanes a few years ago. When Iasked if she had any ukes there at the shop that she could show me, she pointed to the little Red uke body that had caught my eye earlier. As I looked at it more closely, she went into another room and brought out a finished guitar made from the same wood.
This picture (click on it for a larger view) really doesn’t do justice to the beauty of this wood. Donna told us a story about taking a Bishop uke to one of the ukulele fests that LoPrinzi had attended and that MusicGuyMic had saw it and purchased it before the show was open to the public. The person that then purchased it from him has commented that it sounds even better than a Koa instrument. I was sold!
The rest of the visit was spent nailing down details for my LoPrinzi uke. She showed me various binding samples, talked about finishes, gears, etc. This was my first time ordering a custom ukulele where I was able to stand in the same room as the luthier and see various samples in the flesh. It was fun!
It was great meeting Donna and seeing their studio. I’m really excited about my forthcoming LoPrinzi ukulele! Of course, you’ll get to hear all about it after it’s completed.