It matters what you’re made of: Bamboo Plywood Pieces for a Ukulele?

Brian Chan’s folding ukulele is a work of art.  Much the same as transformers were. And origami, Brian’s ‘also’ fascination.  The number of intricately designed pieces — flat bamboo plywood — needed to make his folding ukulele must be incredible.  I’d like to know how many pieces.  Seeing the tuners on the soprano ukulele as two pieces of the bamboo plywood makes me think there are thousands of pieces in this construction.

Clever.  Artful.


Let me digress about my jaw-dropping amazement with meeting people who make musical instruments who do not actually play them — or even play at them.  I think Brian does play some musical instruments because he alludes to such and we need to take him at his word, but he does get his friend to demonstrate how to play his new ukulele rather than strum a simple song himself.  So does he play the ukulele?

Recently, I met someone who made a beautiful ukulele — it was beautiful because the wood had amazing character to it.  The sound was ok but I didn’t get to make much sound because it actually hurt to play.  The fret ends were sharp, pointed, slicing.  As you slid your hand from a C chord up the neck, you were certain the inside of your fingers would slice open and blood would spurt onto the beautiful wood craftsmanship.  Yes, it hurt that much.

If you play and make ukuleles, you know you need to file and finish those fret ends carefully — often one by one.  Yes, it is time-consuming, but (need I state it?) crafting a ukulele does take time.

Which brings me to the selection of material for making ukuleles.  Plywood is not a resonant material.  Bamboo plywood is strong and cheap, but again, not particularly resonant.  Cherry, walnut, mahogany make wonderful backs for ukuleles. For clarity of sound, spruce makes a beautiful tonewood for ukuleles. Koa is beautiful in tone, vibration and aesthetics.

My challenge to Brian Chan would be to create the pieces of his ukulele out of mahogany rather than bamboo plywood.   The ukulele is not about space so much as it is vibration.  For tonal quality that will strike a chord in the hearts of ukulele enthusiasts, it matters what your uke is made of.

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