This has been quite the learning experience. Since each uke is so unique and required such individual attention when it came down to the details, it all added up for an intense lutherie learning experience. I loved it. The details on each one make for their individuality, but time and strumming will bring out their tonal and unique character.
This past weekend, when I finally had all the ukuleles corralled in one room of the house with all their parts completed, they did not look like a big project. They all fit into one container for their ride to the show place.
But they sure felt like a big project. At some point, I had bridges and saddles in one room, necks in the yard, bodies/boxes all over the TV room and fretboards on the workbench. It seemed that at all the parts were bigger than a house — or is it just that they’d taken over the house.
I had been collecting the cigar boxes for about 2 years now. And I started work on some of the bodies/boxes when I’d found the boxes almost 2 years ago. Some have two sound holes; some one. Some the neck goes right through; others are joined. Some soundboards are sitka spruce (I love the tung oil finish on these) and other soundboards are the unique cedar that of cigar boxes from Nicaragua, Columbia, or Dominican Republic.
Even though I knew the size and depth of the box and the type of wood used for the soundboard would make a difference in the volume and tone, I could not wait to get a uke together in order to hear the different sounds. And the sounds are very different. Each one.
A large Cohiba box has a very mellow tone that is wonderful for fingerpicking. After I thought I was tired and had spent time adjusting the saddle on the Cohiba box, I played it for an hour afterward because it was such an unusual, intriguing tone. The Arturo Fuente box (what an interesting Web site) is small, attractive and seems like it’d be a great travel uke. I put a bocote fretboard on it and the fretboard and colors on the box are a striking combo.
A little tiny Olivia with a poplar neck is another of my favorites. Although it is not a large sound, it is just a lot of fun to strum and play fun songs. The Montesino surprised me with its a very big sound.
I’ve been thinking over all the things I’ve learned. But what I’ve learned is the experience of having reinforced what I know to be true from other experiences — whether building web sites, creating multimedia or writing. The tools tremendously change the nature of the task. The tools don’t change the goals or the task itself, but how you reach the goal is different according to the tools you have.
For example, in the early stages of building necks, I cut the wood with a hand saw. It took a lot longer and after several hours, my muscles asked to stop working. I don’t know why I waited so long to buy a bandsaw. But what a difference in time, energy and stamina.
Also, I ultimately purchased a #50 Nicholson rasp and it made a huge difference in shaping the necks — speed, accuracy, and sanding time. Then I found a belt sander on sale and shaved hours off of hand sanding time. Next, I purchased tools from Stewart-MacDonald for fret levelling and shaping. What a difference these made. I stopped using my all-purpose, oversized files and immediately was relieved because these tools enabled me to keep hands from getting so rough. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. The tool changes the nature of the task.
I’m dreaming plans for the next cigarbox ukulele — I will focus just on one and try some new things. It will have a cocobolo fretboard (which turned out very well) with a matching rosette. I think the sitka spruce for the top. Perhaps a sopranino…
But for a week or two I’ll catch up on other things and be pleased that one dozen cigarbox ukuleles are hanging on the wall.