Ukulele Variations: Gourdelele, Baroq-ulele, Lute-kulele

Is it me or are you noticing the evolution of the ukulele?  Take another stringed instrument and make it with 4 strings and you have a somethinglele.

Maybe this is trend of lele-izing everything comes from the bounding popularity of the tiny instrument.  Mabye it’s because the ukulele is so portable, so small.  Maybe it’s just so intriguing that luthiers experiment with its size and shape.  Doesn’t take as much wood in case the exploration doesn’t work.


It’s been interesting to look at the Baroq-ulele and the Lute-kulele.  I wonder if anyone will try the dulci-lele.  That would be different from the dulcimer strumsticks.

Gourdelele in Honeysuckle Garden

I am guilty of experimenting with the concept of a ukulele.  For almost a year I have been working off and on on a small gourdelele.

Recently I finished the gourdelele.  The adventure started with a visit to a gourd farm.  One gourd  looked to be just right for a gourdelele although I walked away with two large bags of gourds that are still waiting to morph into one-of-a kind instruments.

The process led me through learning how to scrub off the outside dirt, cut the gourd (carefully) and clean out the inside mould.  I learned how to stretch goatskin over the top, secure it to the sides and wait for the goatskin to dry.

EAch step has been an interesting learning process. The neck, light birch goes through the entire gourd to strengthen it. Truly it’s a small gourdelele. The sound is like a banjo and it’s a fairly big sound for the small gourd that it is.  The one difficulty I didn’t anticipate is that it’s like a tiny armadillo and difficult to hold. So a strap or a fancy extension of some sort needs to be invented for it.

The gourd takes paint well, and I added a paduak veneer on the headstock. As if it needed anything more fancy.  Currently it hangs on the mantel over the fireplace while the strings get strummed into tune little by little.  It’s very cute if I say so myself. Fortunately I haven’t been in a rush to get it done.  It’s taken almost a year.  But I think I will try a larger gourdelele this year.

If you have a lute-kulele or Baroq-ulele send me a note and tell me what you think of it.  I’m curious. And if you’ve ever made a gourdelele, send a note.

Update: March, 2011.  Found Michael’s site with a “Gourdtar”.  As Michael writes,

The gourdtar is a lap steel fretless dulcimer thingie that I built from a really big gourd I found at the NC Farmer’s Market in Raleigh, NC. The bridge is carved from bamboo (harvested from my backyard in Louisiana). I constructed this thing years ago with a professor of mine from grad school, but only recently have I outfitted it to make it more readily playable. This included adding the new bridge and measuring out fret markings.

Most recently, I added a pickup. With its three strings, it makes a pretty decent bluesy sound:

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2 Responses to Ukulele Variations: Gourdelele, Baroq-ulele, Lute-kulele

  1. In 1990 I made an orange juicerlele. I wonder now about a fryingpanulele. Or saucepanulele.
    The baroqulele seems like an excellent way to start! Where can i buy one?


  2. Wally Jones says:

    I just bought a lute-kulele after wanting one for months and months. It is a very beautiful instrument which is very well made but it is not as easy to play as a regular ukulele. The action is rather high and requires much strength to hold the strings without buzzing. This makes it very tiring to play for very long. This might be a fixible problem if I take it to a luthier.
    Other problems (let’s say difficulties instead) might be more related to the design of the lute itself. This instrument makes you realize that the evolutionary changes from lute to guitar make a lot of sense – that slanted peg box makes it very hard to manuever on the first few frets and the round back (in imitation of earlier gourd-based instruments) makes it hard to hold. (I’m beginning to experiment with a strap to help.) And pegs…I am a cellist and am used to pegs, but I had gotten used to the ease and precision of tuners. The lute-kulele is very difficult to keep tuned (I recommend putting Aquila Nylgut strings on it right away – they sound better and even look more authentic than the clear ones included). For the first couple of days I had to tune constantly (couldn’t get through a couple of measures, much less an entire song.) Now that the strings have stretched it stays in tune pretty well, but I must admit I am willing to settle for a bigger ball park when tuning it than my regular uke. BTW, I know that one reason the lute is a candidate for a ukulele version is that original lutes had re-entrant tuning (high outside strings, lower inside strings) too, but I used an Aquila red series low-G string for some bass backup. It doesn’t look as authentic but gives a nice grounding to the harmonies. The red series sounds like the other gut strings instead of a wire-wound string, too.
    Given that original lutes had variable tunings and courses of strings, this instrument can truly be called a lute, and produces a beautiful tone which is authentically like a lute’s.
    It’s challenging to play, but it’s worth it. I feel like it will never be as much fun as my regular uke, but for special occasions it is great.


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