A Super Concert for Joe

I just finished up a resonator with a Concert body and a Tenor neck for Joe in NM. Joe asked that the uke play more like a guitar while still sounding like a classic uke. We decided on this configuration.

SONY DSCThe smaller body of a concert-sized ukulele attached to a tenor-scale neck.


It was important to Joe that we not use wood that was endangered or improperly imported. He also wanted something that was rugged for travel and able to survive the dry climate of NM. My first thought was “sycamore”. The back, sides, top and neck are made of sycamore. Gorgeous wood and extremely tough and stable.



The resonator cover and headstock veneer is made from wood my friend Ed from Ohio gave me. Ed used to live in Greenville and moved back to Ohio to help out his folks. They heat with wood and he is always generous in bringing me some interesting samples. We think this highly figured wood is ash.


The fretboard is spalted dogwood. VERY tough wood but not something you can buy in the store. I found this beautiful batch waiting on a neighbor’s curb on trash day.


I love the look of sycamore! Joe decided to upgrade to Peghed tuners. These are made in Columbia, SC and are quite ingenious. They are precise, helically-geared tuners made to look like traditional friction tuners. Very lightweight and accurate.

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One its way to The ABQ!

Here is a sound sample and slide show:

Published in: on May 26, 2013 at 12:57 am  Comments (1)  

Building Clamps

Building ukuleles is great fun but I miss the projects that can be completed in a day. Recently, I realized that I could improve one of my glue-up procedures.clamps 050

Notice the clamps in the middle of the hole. They are the ones that clamp the soundwell to the top. Once I put a few in, there is no room for more. Time to buy more clamps! After looking online I realized that, not only did no one sell exactly what I wanted, but I wouldn’t be able to afford them even if they did exist. Time to get creative.

I poked around my scrap pile and found some nice mahogany that would do the trick. I also had some 1/2″ aluminum tube. I made a few drawings and created a prototype with what I had on hand. It’s always better to make your mistakes on one prototype than on the production run (in this case, 12 clamps). After fixing a few problems with this first clamp, I bought a few supplies at The Home Despot and started production.

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I used a jig on the drill press to drill all my holes in the appropriates spots.


clamps 055I moved to the lathe to turn the clamp handles. I used a variety of hard whitewoods for this.


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Drilling a centered hole using a forstner bit


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clamps 059I then snugged up the tailstock for support and proceeded to shape and decorated the handle.


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Once I was done on the lathe, I found that I could press fit the screw into the handle by mounting the two pieces in my vise and using it like an arbor press.

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Next, I moved to the bandsaw and cut the handle roughly to shape.

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Shaping and smoothing on the sander.

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Time for assembly. I used Loc-Tite on the nuts to hold them in place.

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Completed clamps. I added pieces of cork to protect the instrument body and I finished the wood with walnut oil.

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Oh yes – you mustn’t forget leaving your mark for posterity!

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Once completed, I promptly put them to the test. There’s a uke in there somewhere!

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Published in: on May 23, 2013 at 6:02 pm  Comments (6)  

A New Bandsaw

When we moved last year, my large Grizzly 21″ bandsaw never joined us. I kept putting off bringing it over (it weighs 600 lbs) and it languished in the old shop while my house was on the market. I made do in the new shop with my old Jet 14″ bandsaw during this time and eventually, due to money needs and sheer laziness, I sold the Grizzly. The buyers arrived and dragged my beast away. I was sorry to see it go but I was relieved to have avoided moving it. Well, my new shop is finally starting to function properly and I need a large saw again.


My old shop. Bandsaw on right.

I started shopping Craigslist for a used saw. I found several good deals but it was still gonna cost around $800. Then I thought about Matthias.

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Matthias Wandel (muh-TEE-us VON-dl) is one of my favorite geeks on the internet. He’s a clever Canadian who would rather make what he needs than buy it – he’s very self reliant. I highly recommend his website http://www.woodgears.ca and his YouTube channel (just search for his name and you will find him). And, when I say geek, I mean that in the most flattering way.

Matthias began experimenting with building bandsaws out of mostly wood. He tweaked his design and technique so that most builders could construct one without many special tools. I realized that this was going to be my new bandsaw.

I started last week. Check it out:

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The frame.

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Laying out the wheels.

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Cutting the wheel with a router.

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Each wheel consists of two discs glued together.

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I’m about half-way done with this wheel.

I’m having a great time building this! The cost for materials really depends on how much scrap wood you have on hand. I think I will end up spending about $150 in supplies. Quite a deal.

More later.



Published in: on April 23, 2013 at 1:31 am  Comments (3)  

In The News


article by Neil Shurley


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photos and video by Heidi Heilbrunn

Published in: on March 15, 2013 at 11:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Big Rusty Dobro Tribute

So, what do you think?


I like it!

The Dobro Original                    The Big Rusty Tribute

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Scale is 13.5″

Body and neck are mahogany

Reso cover and portals are magnolia

Fretboard is Indian rosewood (1.5″ wide at nut and 1.75″ at neck)

Nut is black horn

Tailpiece and biscuit cover are aluminum

Cone is 6″ National

Tuners are deluxe friction tuners

Strings are Aquila

Finish is Tru Oil






This was built as an experiment. It is a prototype. It plays great and sounds fabulous. There are a few minor dings and the biscuit doesn’t line up perfectly on the body but these things don’t affect the playing or sound. I imagine I will sell this one at a reduced price in the near future after I am done gleaning all I can from it. I have a new cone on the way from National to replace this one as it is slightly damaged. You can hear a sound sample below.

Remember my gas mask comparison?

See what I mean?!

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Published in: on March 8, 2013 at 8:42 pm  Comments (4)  

Dobro Update

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Is this cute, or what?

Published in: on March 1, 2013 at 10:50 pm  Comments (3)  

Dobro Sound Ports

I wanted ‘eyes’ on this uke but I wasn’t quite sure how to manage it. I wanted the wood to match the reso cover but I didn’t know how to deal with the wire screen.

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I did some research and discovered that quite a few people said their Dobros sounded better when they took the screen out. Easy solution – no screen. Problem solved.


On the left is a blank piece of magnolia. On the right is a finished soundport.

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Turning the sound port rim on the lathe.

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I love my new soundport rims but I wanted to be sure this uke would have that ‘vacant stare’ look that the screen in the original provided.

I felt like it might be distracting if one was able to see details inside the uke through the soundports. I puzzled and puzzled until my puzzler was sore. And then it dawned on me – paint the insides with black milk paint. It worked like a charm! More soon….

Published in: on February 22, 2013 at 5:50 pm  Comments (1)  

A Tribute to Dobro

Though you don’t see them often, Dobro made resonator ukuleles. They weren’t as sexy as their National cousins but I’m rather fond of their subtle ‘dorkiness’. This model always reminds me of the early World War 1 gas masks.

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The model below is a large bodied soprano.


Nobody builds soprano resonators anymore. I’m not sure why but I imagine it’s because it is damned difficult to shove all that hardware into a small soprano body. I tried one once and wasn’t thrilled but I think it’s time to try again!

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Tight fit!

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I tried a new technique this time. I drilled the holes in the reso cover first and then turned it on the lathe – much easier.

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Half-way there.

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The lathe work is done.

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A jeweler’s saw takes care of the odd-shaped holes.

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Next I’ll show you how I handled the sound ports.

Published in: on February 21, 2013 at 6:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Six-String Baritone Resonator

You may remember the six-string baritone resonator ukuleles that I attempted for Ken and Eileen.  We were going where – to my knowledge – no one had gone before (which would explain why it was a bit of a failure). The resonator cones couldn’t hold up under the string pressure and I had to convert the ukes into six-string baritone uke archtops. Fortunately, both Ken and Eileen were very gracious about the whole thing and loved their archtops even though they weren’t exactly what they ordered. Ken went one step further and immediately ordered another resonator! No one was going to mess with Ken’s vision of the perfect ukulele!

On this build, I increased the body size so it could hold an 8″ Beard cone. I normally use a 6″ National cone but, as mentioned earlier, that wouldn’t work. Also, this time I made the body out of walnut with maple binding.

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I am using my new soundwell design.

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Ebony end graft.

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I love my old planes! My nephew Andrew brought this Stanley 220 back to life for me.

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Plane detail

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The body before installing the binding.

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Maple binding is glued in and taped up.

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The binding is purposely left ‘proud’ of the edge. It will be planed and sanded to a final fit.

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Working on the fretboard

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I’m starting to use more hand tools than I used to. They are nearly as fast as power tools and I have more control. Here I am using a coping saw to cut out the headstock.

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Shaping the neck with a small drawknife.

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My favorite rasp.

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More neck shaping but this time with my beloved chair making scraper.

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An awkward duckling hiding out by the wood pile.

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Next time he will be all dressed up and ready to go out into the world.

Published in: on February 20, 2013 at 11:58 pm  Comments (4)  

The Hurricane Model

There’s an old woodworking saying that states a good craftsman can fix her mistakes. I’m sure every trade has a version of this. When I make a mistake, I find it smart to resist the temptation to smash the ‘ruined’ item against my brick shop wall because, inevitably, a solution will come to me. This ukulele is a good example of this.

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I don’t have the best memory in the world, but I believe this is the first ukulele that I built after I left teaching school. The date inside the body reads 9/11 so I imagine I started it that summer. I remember being very enthusiastic about building full time and feeling that it was good to brush off the cobwebs and get back my chops.

Hurricane uke 075My inspiration was the national hurricane symbol. I had doodled it during a boring staff meeting and it had nagged at me ever since. Now was the time. I used some really dramatic cherry (it probably fell down during a storm, appropriately enough) that I had cut up a few years earlier for the body and I added a different batch of cherry for the resonator cover.

Hurricane uke 053Everything went together nicely. Or so I thought. The odd thing about resonators is that the neck meets the body at a different angle than it does on a regular ukulele. After I had done all this lovely work I realized that I had used the wrong angle on the neck. The uke would not work.

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It was definitely a blow to the ego. I quietly put it in the corner and ignored it. Not a great way to start my business.

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I knew I could probably pull the neck and adjust the angle but I just didn’t have the energy to do it. I guess I knew I would deal with it at a later date. That date turned out to be a few weeks ago.

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It came to me while I was lying in bed. I was beginning to realize that I could probably adjust the biscuit and the reso cover height, which would fix the problem without having to pull the neck.

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Low and behold, it worked! It has been very gratifying to finally complete this ukulele. I will post sound samples soon.

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Almost forgot to mention – it’s for sale! It can be yours in all its resonator gloriousness for $950.

Published in: on December 19, 2012 at 12:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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