View Full Version : A luthier in Madeira

12-01-2015, 12:15 AM
Last week, on the island of Madeira (the ancestral home of the uke), I visited the small workshop of luthier Carlos Jorge Pereira Rodrigues and son. He was most welcoming and described his workshop as chaotic: the photos give you some idea.

They make a range of traditional instruments to order, have no stock, and sell only directly from the workshop. Though they had a small store of timber such as spruce, rosewood and maple, they mainly use wood grown on the island. Several types of cedar grow on the island but are used as one of the possible neck woods rather than for soundboards. A local heavy, dark timber was used for fretboards.

They use mainly hand tools, have no drum sander or resaw bandsaw but hope to buy these in the future. They have small bandsaws and table saws and a drill press. They sometimes have wood sawn or thickness sanded elsewhere. Rosettes were cut by hand though a laminate cutter was used for bindings. Templates and a jig were used to cut fretboards on a small table saw. Titebond original was the only adhesive in use. The instruments were finished in shellac. I showed them photos of some of my instruments and told them about Tru Oil which they were keen to try.

They had a large number of templates and moulds and always build the box, cut a tapered dovetail with saw and chisel and add the neck. Necks were single piece or scarf jointed and often employed wooded pegs not machine heads. Sides were bent by hand and mostly solid linings used (kerfed linings only on guitars).

The son was making a small batch of soprano sized braguinhas (beech) for a local school (130 Euros each). The father several tenor sized instrument with 5 strings (oak or beech back and sides). All were of very light construction. They do not make ukes though are often asked to do so. I was shown videos on the internet of musicians playing their instruments: the classical guitar, the Portuguese guitar (photo), braguinhas, etc. I was told a classical guitar could be made for 1500-3000 Euros.

It was clear Carlos enjoyed his work: the son said his father spent much time meeting musicians and other visitors to the workshop, all of which slowed down progress (but contributed to orders). They were clearly not earning much, but that won’t be a surprise to forum members.

12-01-2015, 12:28 AM
This is Carlos and the instrument he was making. He's holding a soundboard and I have an example of the finished instrument (5 strings and in oak/pine). Note there are no cross braces on the soundboard. If the soundboard is flat topped, he glues the cross braces to the box first: if its curved then the soundboard is built on a dished base and the braces clamped to it.


Here is teenager playing a braguinha at the workshop; I'm sure if you google you'll find more about Carlos and his work.


Here is the son at work (and a collection of stringed instruments):


Michael N.
12-01-2015, 02:51 AM
Wow. I thought my workshop was chaotic. It is but not quite to that level. Sometimes I can actually see the bench surface.
I like the tear drop shape of those Portuguese guitars/Citterns. In fact I'm half way through doing a guitalele based on that shape.

12-01-2015, 04:19 PM
What is the difference between a braguinha and a ukulele? Is that a braguinha or a uke in the third photo in the first post? Is the tuning different. It looks like the same size as a soprano uke. Also the kid in the youtube video sounds like he tunes it gcea -- is that so?

Ah, I found some info here (http://www.madeirablog.eu/2011/02/16/braguinha-de-madeira/). At 1:56 in this video he says the tuning is DGBD (high to low) which is the same as a cavaquinho but re-entrant.


12-02-2015, 10:05 AM
The 5 stringed instrument I'm holding is tuned DGCEA and is probably what's called a Rajoa (tenor uke size). I was obviously able to play this using only the 4 strings GCEA as if it were a tenor uke. All the smaller instruments you see are braguinhas (soprano size) tuned DGBD: I dont think there are any ukes in the workshop. Both have nylon or fluorocarbon strings.

They showed me a cavaquinho which is also soprano size (its on the back of the sons bench). As you say its also tuned DGBD but with steel strings. The fretboard is flush with the soundboard which is much thicker than on the other instruments and the frets do not extend beyond the neck.

Madeira has a mandolin orchestra about 40 strong. I attended a concert where they played light classics. There were 3 sizes of mandolin, all teardrop shaped with flat soundboards. I think there are 2 hanging in the workshop above the son's bench.

12-02-2015, 10:23 AM
I wonder what the braguinha's scale is. I would think you could put uke strings on it and play it as a uke.