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View Full Version : Bowl/round backed ukulele



greenscoe
02-08-2015, 10:33 PM
I was wondering about soundbox back shapes. There are ukes with flat, tapered and curved backs (and from the violin family come archtop/archback instruments though I appreciate here the back is not just a reflector of sound).

But then there are bowl/round backs as used on the lute, oud, mandolin, bouzouki etc. Given that they are more difficult to make than a flat back, there must be a good reason why they evolved. I wondered whether anyone had made a uke with such a back, how it would sound and whether it would still be considered to be a uke. Then I found this on Ebay:

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Baroque-Ukulele-Tuners-Balalaika-Round-Back-Ukulele-Ukulele-/231071145227?pt=UK_Musical_Instruments_Sting_Instr uments&var=&hash=item35cce9dd0b

I'm not about to buy one of these but maybe someone else has?

There's the technical challenge of making a segmented back (I've be researching on Youtube). 'If you are up for the challenge, why not make a Neapolitan mandolin?', I hear some of you say. It's difficult enough trying to play guitar and uke, unfortunately I'm not musical, so I don't want to start learning to play another instrument.

So, has anyone made a bowl back uke, what does a bowl back do soundwise (on any instrument) and is it as difficult as it looks to get all those staves accurately joined together to make a bowl back?

Timbuck
02-09-2015, 12:34 AM
Go on youtube and search up "Oud Making" and you'll find loads of vid's showing different methods of construction of a bowl back...The main tools seem to be a load of pins and a hammer and a large upside down plane, Err! and a blowlamp :uhoh:...They make it look easy ;) Here is one to start you off
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltMI7FOe08Y
And another two.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PvDan32-TI
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThXwKuf_WRQ And This one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4xUMosfigQ

greenscoe
02-09-2015, 02:39 AM
Thanks for the info Ken. I have just watched these and a few other videos on lute and oud making. As you say craftsmen always make everything look so easy.

If I were building a traditional wooden boat, I wouldn't be too concerned about the fit of the planks because I could always caulk the gaps with old rope and tar (before anyone asks, I've never built that kind of boat). But here the staves need to fit precisely to form the back and they should look symmetrical: the mould should take care of the box itself being symmetrical.

I see the sort of former (mould) needed but I'm hoping for a little guidance on the optimum shape for the back/appropriate stave profile from anyone who has made a lute, bowl back mandolin or similar. I could just have a go but I'd prefer to save time and 'stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before'.

As a hobby builder, I have the time and inclination to try new things, but my original post was in part to ask whether a tenor uke with a bowl back would have any merit musically or just be an item of curiosity.

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
02-09-2015, 04:29 AM
This is the book if you are wanting to know about such things.

http://www.luth.org/books/lute_book.html

I bought the book but it all seemed such a different and difficult way of doing it, I didn't go through with it.

mzuch
02-09-2015, 07:26 AM
Have you ever tried to play a bowl-back instrument? Not easy! They like to twist in your hands. Some neopolitan mandolin players use a sheet of tacky plastic shelf liner to keep them in place.

ksquine
02-09-2015, 07:52 AM
There are a couple clips on youtube of these... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9SVo-Iwr7E
Sound recording on youtube can vary a lot, but after hearing that, I don't really feel the need to build one.
You might check on the Mandolin Cafe website for bowl back builders. A soprano uke and a mandolin have similar scale lengths (just under 14") so you could use a mandolin bowl design and adjust the neck width.

greenscoe
02-09-2015, 08:37 AM
Thanks for the info, its all welcome, so keep it coming. I hadn't found the sound samples on youtube but all those I've now heard are soprano sized instruments, I'm a tenor maker and player. For anyone else considering travelling in his direction here's an interesting site I've found today documenting someone's first oud construction, warts and all (you need to return to the heading on the first page to select the next page to follow the whole process).

http://www.khalafoud.com/Jameel_OudConstruction.htm

itsme
02-09-2015, 09:33 AM
Have you ever tried to play a bowl-back instrument? Not easy! They like to twist in your hands. Some neopolitan mandolin players use a sheet of tacky plastic shelf liner to keep them in place.
I have a Mid-East Baroque-ulele and, indeed, they are hard to keep from sliding around, even with a strap.

greenscoe
02-09-2015, 09:44 AM
I have a Mid-East Baroque-ulele and, indeed, they are hard to keep from sliding around, even with a strap.

Thanks for confirming that. What size do you have and are you able to assess the quality of construction and give an opinion on its sound as compared with a standard uke? Does having a bowl back bring any benefits soundwise or is the instrument low down on your list?

Booli
02-09-2015, 10:27 AM
Does having a bowl back bring any benefits soundwise or is the instrument low down on your list?

I should preface this that I am not a luthier, but had been interested in these Baroque Ukuleles due to them being 'different' looking than most.

However, I was put off by several reviews/comments here on UU from fellow members that bought one, and were quite disappointed with the sound.

Maybe it is difficult to construct one that will please certain folks as far as sound or sound quality. Of course this is all subjective to each individual player, and I do not remember the details of what others have said was lacking, but you should be able to find those comments by searching for these threads...

itsme
02-09-2015, 02:16 PM
Thanks for confirming that. What size do you have and are you able to assess the quality of construction and give an opinion on its sound as compared with a standard uke? Does having a bowl back bring any benefits soundwise or is the instrument low down on your list?
I have a tenor. It's decently built for what it is. The sound is okay, nothing to write home about. I never could get used to the tuners it has, and found it very hard to tune, as well as hard to hold. It's probably my least played uke (out of ten).

Basically, it's a novelty. It's cute, but I feel that in that price range, there are much better playing instruments to be had.

If I'd had the chance to try it first, I wouldn't have bought it.

mzuch
02-09-2015, 03:50 PM
I can't speak to bowl backed ukes, but I can to mandolins. There is a reason that Orville Gibson's Florentine style (aka "F style) quickly eclipsed the traditional Neopolitan style. They just sound better. Less sustain, more percussive and greater complexity of tone. Try a bluegrass chop using a bowl back mandolin to see what I mean.

greenscoe
02-09-2015, 10:04 PM
Thanks for all your responses, they are much appreciated. However I am still left wondering why we have bowl back instruments given the effort/skill needed to make them?

Sven
02-09-2015, 10:52 PM
Most people prefer them because they lend themselves well to drunken playing.

75956

Others use them just to look manlier.

75957

Titchtheclown
02-10-2015, 01:17 AM
Reading this I am tempted to knock up a quick body shape in Carlson's hull designer. Ostensibly it is for designing boats but it generates fully fitted panels for boats but could easily handle the task of knocking out bowl like shapes, with as many staves as you like. Things like the flea/fluke are just as easy.
Handles CNC machines or printing to paper patterns.

Link to software here
http://carlsondesign.com/software/add-ons/shareware/hull-designer

Also generates frames.

lauburu
02-10-2015, 09:04 AM
I am speculating here so take what I write with a grain of salt. The first resonators on string instruments were probably gourds so people would have linked an instrument's volume with a certain bowl shape. As instruments moved more upmarket, richer people wanted better looking instruments so perhaps copied the bowl shape in wood. The rebec was a medieval bowl shaped 3 string fiddle carved from a single piece of wood. The ud was a moorish instrument often made from strips of thin wood in a bowl shape.
When the moors conquered Spain about 1,00 years ago, they brought their instruments and music (and in fact most of what we now call civilisation) . In many parts of Spain, the climate was different (wetter, more humid) from North Africa so the original materials (gourds and stretched animal skin soundboards) didn't work so well. They got replaced with thin wood. As the instruments spread across Europe, they continued to evolve but the old shapes persisted.
So, there we have a possible explanation for the use of the bowl shape in stringed instruments.
Miguel