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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Vacation is here

I'm around 18 hours in so far and vacation is goooood (said in Darth Sidious voice). First a couple of pics showing where I left the body of the koa soprano, backside is contoured and fitted with kerfed lining strips.

It's gonna be a beauty. Look at the figure. 

Then we went out to the cottage, I brought tools to work on a cedar neck. (Remember the last time I worked on necks at a cottage..? http://argapa.blogspot.se/2016/07/dead-in-water.html?m=0 )

At the cottage is my larger workshop, with a big ass vise, chilly temperature and zero sea view. So I thought I'd upgrade the banjo porch with a vise to work in style. 

To attach the vise securely I put four threaded insert nuts in the deck. Three are of brass, one steel but all have the same thread. 

It's easy to think the slot at one end is for a screwdriver, but don't make that mistake - it will maul the insert and make parts snap off. Instead you should use a screw with a nut halfway up, as in the pic. 

The slot actually cuts into the wood, making the insert go down into a tight fitting hole. 

And then we use the specially enhanced hex key to screw the vise in place. What, you don't own one?

At the cottage I found some alder neck blanks as well so I'll start by planing them flat and square. Dad's no.7 will do. Or will it, he must have used it himself. Probably on some epoxy residue because the blade is shot. My Japanese whetstone is soaking as I write this.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Demo video of the Argapa Fugly Wanderer

Just made a quick vid with some comparisons between the travel uke and a couple of real ones. You know that hard to get telephone effect you sometimes want on a recording? Well it is hard to get no more.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Travel uke ready for travel

After stringing up, tweaking, re-stringing and a rudimentary finish, it is done - Argapa 102.

Is it the boiled down essence of a four course cordophone? Is it a rip off of the Risa stick uke? Or is it just plain fugly? I'd say yes to all three questions. 

But it's kind of cute too don't you think. Almost exactly as I envisioned it, and made in little over one day. 

The small ramps were needed to get a better angle for the strings. The ferrules alone were not enough and the A string snapped a couple of times. So if I were to make another I'd incorporate something with the same effect in the underside of the soundboard. Or maybe in the bridge on top. 

And here's me with it in my pocket. I'll make a demo vid as soon as my sore throat permits. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Travel uke at full speed!

I continued working on the travel uke, too much fun to stop now. First pic, cutting lengthwise with my Pax rip saw to remove the bulk of the waste. 

Then I shaped the neck with my spokeshaves. The smallest one was a gift from my mate Patsy, a fine man. 

Then slotting for frets with my slot cutting jig, the one I use for my piccolos. 

Slots cut, frets pressed in, bridge made and glued in place. The holes on the side is for the tuners, I nicked the placement (as well as most everything else) off the Risa stick ukes. The string holes are fitted with ferrules of a tiny brass tube I bought at the hobby store. 

And it's done. As I write this it's actually stringed and tuned to pitch but I'll post the glamour shots and a video tomorrow. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Travel uke

I glued the sides onto the top on the koa soprano, and then I turned to that cherry blank I shaped roughly in the planer last weekend. First job was to handplane it on three sides, making it flat and shiny on the face and the edges dead square and parallel. 

Then I laid the pattern out. I'll use 280 mm as my scale length, same as on my piccolos. Say, I haven't built one of those in a while. Hmm...

Anyway here it is. Maybe you can see the pencil lines. 

Then flipping it over to excavate it behind the soundboard. I counted the turns on the brace drill so all holes were of the same depth and none went through. Drilling out the bulk makes it so much easier. 

And then onwards. You might think to yourself by now, why isn't he using a router? Well guess what, I am. A Record no. 71 1/2. Look carefully and you'll notice that the wheel is above the notch, I had to to get it deep enough. 

More to follow!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Prepping various parts

I didn't get a pic of the actual process, as I was on my knees in front of the sander, but Johan and I got the resawn walnut down to thickness. 

We did three side pieces so we have one to break when bending, but the third back can rest in its original thickness. 

And we found some one piece spruce tops! These we didn't sand, I look forward to planing them. 

And that koa soprano, I sanded the sides and will glue them to the top tomorrow. 

Remember the Dust-E-Whacker..?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A couple more projects

The first of the koa sopranos is coming along. The second will take a break for now, I was thinking only one project would be good for me now.

But then my boy wants a miniature guitar, after seeing a guitalele in a store. And my friend challenged me to build a cavaquinho. And I saw a super compact travel model uke and I want one. 

So we picked out some walnut for the sides and backs for the guitar and the 'quinho, and split it in three pieces so we have one spare. My condition for building the guitar was, predictably, that Johan would assist me at every stage. Here he works the kerfing plane. 

And here we use the frame saw - so much easier being two. Li took the pic. 

And here's the result, together with a cherry board that'll be transmogrified into a wee travel uke. 

Monday, June 12, 2017


It was a while since I braced a soprano top. I went with the, hopefully correct, muscle memory and it was no problem at all. I went with a spruce bridge patch but will consider hardwood patches next time because of the string through bridge I use. But spruce works, with beads above the knots. 

I deliberatly left the braces square because I enjoy shaping them in place. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Scaling down

Since I made those sides for the two sopranos I've been working in Pakistan, but today I looked at the tops. I wasn't a hundred percent happy with one of them so I thought about using a spruce top. And why not that ancient spruce I salvaged from an ancient boat long ago?

Haven't decided yet, I did think that spruce should go onto a mahogany body but I was surprised and happy that I found the set easily. 

And didn't I get some yew..? Time to sort the wood pile I think. 

But now you must be wondering what that giant fretboard is doing in the pic. 

Recently I saw a strange Vox bass guitar with a body made from a wah pedal chassi. I want one of those but it was ridiculously expensive. So I thought I'll build my own won't I. First I bought some stuff to build a neck from, and a wah pedal chassi, but didn't get started until I stumbled upon a used neck that I thought would work. I bought it but it was a bit too long - it would give me a scale length that wouldn't fit the length of the wah pedal. And you can't shorten a neck, but you can shorten a fret board! I popped it from the neck with an iron and some patience. 

Two frets must come off from the nut end, quite easy. And removing only two will throw the least amount of fret markers off position, four must be removed and two new installed at the new ninth and twelth fret.

I could have left a marker at the first fret, I saw a bass once that had that. But it was fugly so no, it goes. 

Using the wood from the two sawn off frets I made diamond shape plugs to inlay where the MOP dots were. 

And having missed taking pics of the cavity, here's the first plug glued in. Inlaying diamond shapes of wood is easier than those from other materials. I spot glued the plugs on top of the dot markers and traced the contour with a marking knife. I chose not to use the router and made the cuts with a chisel. Once the cavity has the necessary depth, straight sides and sharp corners I could plane the sides of my plug a shaving or two at the time until it fit precisely. I made the sides so they slanted outwards a wee bit, giving a good snug fit after just a little thumping with a brass mallet. 

Fanx for reading. I'll post more about this, and about the sopranos. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017


We're enjoying a short holiday, weather's fine and it's nice and warm. We went south to the secondary cottage this morning, I brought some uke stuff. You might, as an avid reader, recognize the background - it's where I cut my hand last summer. 

In the first pic the first side is trimmed. Tiny saw, tiny bench hook, tiny square. 

Then the first side is used to transfer the line to the second piece. 

And here's the end block clamped in, neck block awaits on the step above, and I'm repeating the process for the second set of sides. 

I will post an update in a wee while, it's getting close to dinner time. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

It only takes one...

First One:
One deal gone wonky led me to questioning the whole building thing. And it wasn't the uke that came back for adjustments, it was before that. Some people are better as mates than as customers, and some are... just people. 

Building resos to sell is hard. As a small scale builder I must depend on hardware from suppliers, and the cones and coverplates are not only totally crucial for sound and playability, they are also very individual. I've compared cones from the same batch and some cones buzz, some sing and some are deadish. So from now on I won't send resos out, I'll only part with one if the recipient tries it out in my company first. 

Second One:
It only takes one kind message to lift my spirits up again. I got it last week from Darren, a short note with kind words  about this wee blog. 

It only takes one kind message, but I got two - today I got asked if I want to participate at a ukulele builders' event in the UK, running a workshop and whatnot. The remarkable Pete Howlett is at the helm and I am humbled. 

Third One:
Will it only take one koa soprano to get me back into building at regular speed? I think so, but hey - I've got two just in case. Pretty much erased all lists of prospects, these two I'll build for the fun of it. 

So tonight I bent the sides for the first. Because I've been thinking of Pete Howlett today I decided to try what I think is his method, bending on the pipe and setting the bend with the blanket. 

The koa is from... Pete Howlett. Anybody notice a theme? I left the sides at 1.8 or 1.9 mm when sanding ages ago, and bending them directly on my form with the heating blanket might give me creases at the waist, but the pipe won't. Especially since I have the spring steel bending caul to press with, a Ken Timms inspired tool. 

Sorry for the lousy pics, I will clean the bench. Soon. Here's the first side resting on the form. 

And here it is, cooking for a few minutes. 
I wish sometimes my form and blanket were wider to accommodate both side pieces at once. 

So there, in the holding mould to cool off over night. This cheered me up! Too bad it's time to go to sleep. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mojo rising..?

The other day something happened. I got the urge to build a couple of acoustic sopranos. Didn't see that coming. 

I went to the pile and looked for wood, narrowed in on the koa and found, much to my surprise, two sets already sanded to thickness. Off we go!

One set is rather heavy with a nice figure, the other one is lighter but not as exciting in looks. 

Below is the first, getting a rosette channel. 

I'm building these to my own taste. Once they're done I'll see what happens, if I sell them or keep them. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Getting closer to getting a result

The neck's back on, back plate and binding is in place. Time to partially re-finish the poor uke. For some reason the shellac goes on beautifully, better than usual. Which is a welcome break. 

The mahogany binding goes pop! under the first coats. 

Front edge binding with a very subtle maple line inside the mahogany. It's 0.5 mm I think. A bit more visible in real life, and it does look good. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Body bound and neck attached

I bound the front edge, then took a deep breath and attached the neck. It went on straight. Then I glued the back back on and routed a rebate for the binding. Around the heel I had to make the rebate with a chisel, as the router wouldn't fit. 

The first two pieces went on with some careful taping and a wee clamp. As the glue dried I bent the rest of the binding. 

Here's a pic of the front, with maple and mahogany. 

And the back, with only mahogany. 

Time to mix some shellac!