Stay in Tune vol#84
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec
Well I hope everyone had a great holiday season. It comes and goes so fast . I had a great time this year watching all of the little nieces and nephews opening their gifts. It's so fun to see the excitement on their little faces when they get some new toy. That excitement is always contagious even if it is for just a moment. If only we could hang on to that emotion and hold it for ever.
Well I'm trying to go back in my mind to remember all of the things that have happened in the past few weeks and it seems as though it was months ago already. Why is that? I don't think I'll ever figure that one out. One thing that definitely stands out is the beautiful Concert Ukelele that I built for my friend Chad Ely's daughter Emma. I delivered it to her last week on her 10th birthday and her smile will live in my memory for ever.
I know that ukeleles are making a big come back in the music world in the past few years, and I think I know why. They are so damn cute! They are even more fun to build than guitars . For what ever reason the excitement of putting it all together and to hear the first notes that are played from them are overwhelming. I really have to thank Chad and his wife for giving me the opportunity to build this ukelele for their daughter. It gave me a new perspective on my business. All of my creative juices were able to be rejuvenated and it feels great! I was able to have all of the design control and I believe I came up with a very nice shape that will be a big hit in the ukelele world.
The body style is sort of a take off of a design from the Kay Kraft brand of instruments that were built in the 1930's. I changed the body style ever so slightly and added my traditional oval soundhole with the overlay ring. I adjusted the headstock shape to fit my style of headstock design that I have used on previous instruments that I have built.
Another feature that I believe is kinda cool, is that I used as many domesticated woods that I could. The back and sides were made “spalted sycamore” A wood that I personally cut, milled , and dried myself right here in Madison Ohio about 6-8 yrs ago. The neck wood was also cut and processed by me from Madison. It was a lamination of black cherry ( from my yard) and “flamed”maple (from my mother's yard) The fingerboard was beautiful piece of quuartersawn walnut that was salvaged out of a stack of firewood about 5 yrs ago. I'm always looking at wood from the woodpile. I have found a many very nice pieces through the years that I have used for different projects.
The top was from a gorgeous piece of California redwood that I salvaged from when I helped build the back deck for the “Flying Burrito “ about 10 yrs ago. The deck is solid redwood that a friend of mine salvaged from some very large wine barrels from California in the early 1900's. So the wood has been salvaged twice. How cool is that? I can only imagine that the tone that his little concert size ukelele will produce through the upcoming years ( and forever ) will emanate it's beautiful memories and the fun loving energy that I put into building it through every note that is played on it.
I also tried a new type of “hybrid” waterborne finish on it which I was really pleased with the ease of application and final results of how it buffed out. It has a very high gloss finish which with the proper cure time ( about 4 days,1/3 of the time for traditional lacquers) it can be buffed out very nicely. I have been wanting to use finish materials that are more environmentally friendly and less toxic on my health. After all, I would like to still be producing instruments as long as I can. So far this new product seems to be a good candidate for my future builds.
Another thing about building this instrument that it gave me a good opportunity to document the time and effort that goes into designing and building a new instrument. I'm sure that the time would very greatly between every different builder , but at least I got a pretty good handle on what it took for me to do it. Having never built a ukelele before I had to build a few jigs and forms so that I could be sure that my building procedures went smoothly. This process will also very greatly between builders but I estimate that it took me at least 16-20 hrs to figure out and build a couple of different forms for the uke. You then have to choose, process, and mill the woods that you decide to use for your instrument. Bending the sides ( once you have studied and know the procedure) and putting the body together after you have glued on all of the braces properly to the back and sides takes me about 16-20 hrs. I then rout and bind the top and back (8 hrs). I start shaping and sanding the neck to the final profile which takes 6-8 hrs I then cut all of the fret slots and press in the frets .After shaping, filing and polishing the frets about 6 hrs have gone by. Now I cut the mortise and tenon joint and align and fit the the body/neck joint to the proper neck angle (4-6hrs. After I'm confident that all is going as planned, I build the bridge, cut the saddle slot and build the nut and saddle from a blank of bone. This can take about another 6-8 hrs. Gluing and sanding and fixing any small imperfection that inevitably happens while building something and aligning every thing up perfectly can take another 4-6 hrs.
Now its off to finishing. This process has always been my “nemesis”. The time spent on this procedure can very widely. With drying and sanding and filling in small imperfections and curing time, buffing and final stringing it up and setup to play properly it can take up to a 40 or 50 hrs in itself. I guess I still have a few things to learn yet before I can reach my goal of 50 instruments a year. Please “Stay in Tune” at my website at liamguitars.com for many cool pics and info on the instruments that I build .
Patrick from Liam Guitars/ Wood-n-Strings