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Wildestcat
12-08-2016, 10:39 AM
I have been asked by a friend if i could build her a soprano ukulele using locally sourced (UK) beech for top, back & sides and as much of the rest of the instrument as possible. There are personal reasons for the request which are not relevant here, suffice to say this is non-negotiable. It is beech or nothing!

My experience is limited to using it to line the jaws of my woodworking vice, so all I know is it is hard and featureless.

The wood database yields the following: "Overall good workability; it machines well, and glues, finishes, and turns well. Beech also responds superbly to steam-bending. It does, however, have a large amount of movement in service, so movement and wood stability must be taken into account."

So ... on the face of it not really a suitable material due to the movement in service, which is probably why I have never heard of it being used.

However, before I break the bad news I thought I would ask has anyone ever tried it, and is there any way it could be made to work?

Sven
12-08-2016, 11:12 AM
I have built sopranos from alder and ash, and those have turned out really good. I haven't considered beech as it's quite bland in appearance and, at least here in Sweden, associated with really bland furniture from the 1980's. Having said that, I am positive you could make a decent soprano out of the stuff. Often I am surprised how good ukes can sound even if they're built from non traditional woods. Give it a go.

stepasha
12-08-2016, 01:13 PM
If you plan to use beech, make sure it is quartersawn. That will probably provide sufficient stability in an instrument as small as a soprano uke. I have seen non-quartered beech do crazy things, but I've seen some nice stable quartered stuff. As to sound, I have no idea how it will turn out. Only one way to find out!

sequoia
12-08-2016, 06:19 PM
Never worked with it so can't comment on that. However, I spent a year in Pennsylvania and beech is very common there. The local Amish and Mennonite farmers used it for all sorts of things so it is workable. As I remember, it was plain in the extreme which suited their philosophy being the "plain people". Pretty grain would be showing off and showing off was considered a sin. I guess that makes me sinful cause I like grain.

stevepetergal
12-08-2016, 07:17 PM
If it's beech or nothing, why question it? I say build it and if stability is the eventual problem, Eh...so what?

Wildestcat
12-08-2016, 09:42 PM
Thanks for the encouragement everyone. My concern is not to disappoint her by producing an instrument which tries to tie itself in knots or pull itself apart every time the humidity changes. However, as suggested above the soprano size itself should be a mitigating factor, and if I mitigate further by using only quartersawn, then we can give it a go. I did wonder if finishing the inside of the instrument might help as well? Tone will be whatever it is - I'm confident it will still sound like a ukulele!

greenscoe
12-08-2016, 10:01 PM
I made a pineapple soprano using spalted beech for the back and sides. That deals with the issue of it being a plain wood. The soundboard was cedar so I cant comment on the character of a beech soundboard: I would expect it would work though. As for stability, this uke has experienced no issues.

http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?106172-Soprano-pineaffle&highlight=pineaffle+soprano

Ken Franklin
12-08-2016, 11:46 PM
[QUOTE=greenscoe;1918243]I made a pineapple soprano using spalted beech for the back and sides. That deals with the issue of it being a plain wood. The soundboard was cedar so I cant comment on the character of a beech soundboard: I would expect it would work though. As for stability, this uke has experienced no issues.

Very pretty instrument.

Dan Gleibitz
12-09-2016, 01:02 AM
I did wonder if finishing the inside of the instrument might help as well?

Good question. I've been wondering about this lately. I reckon it must, both by adding strength and slowing the rate of moisture content change. Hopefully the experienced luthiers can give some insight.

greenscoe
12-09-2016, 01:26 AM
I spend a lot of time looking at instrument making on YouTube. I have noticed that quite a few classical guitar makers and some uke makers do coat the inside of the instrument in shellac to help avoid issues with changes in humidity.

ProfChris
12-09-2016, 03:58 AM
I'd build some dome into top and back so that any movement has somewhere to go. I doubt finishing the inside would help much, as the moisture will get through, just more slowly.

sequoia
12-09-2016, 08:03 PM
This is an oft discussed subject and I'm not sure there was ever a definitive conclusion. Accomplished luthiers like Beau shellac the insides and the reasons for doing so are obvious: stabilizing wood etc. and slowing expansion contraction etc. etc. I get that. Everybody wants a stable uke. The question has always been: Does it work? I don't think anyone has ever proved one way or another. Can it hurt? Don't know if that has been ever ascertained either. Personally I don't do it and every thing seems to work fine. But I think the idea has merit. Another one of those shrug ideas. They don't call it an art for no reason.

Wildestcat
12-09-2016, 11:56 PM
Thanks again everyone for your observations. This project is still a long way off from starting (I'm in the middle of three guitar builds!), but I'll update if/when it does get moving.

Michael N.
12-10-2016, 01:29 AM
I've worked with Beech but not on an instrument. It can be pretty tough to work. I have come across guitars made with beech necks and beech fretboards that have been stained black, so it has been used. I can't ever recall it being used for back/sides though, certainly not soundboards. Might be a case of just doing it and allowing time to tell us the full story.