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View Full Version : Looking for a custom build, what you should be thinking about?



1014
05-01-2009, 08:06 AM
Aloha kakou,

Seeing that I do not have a mindset for building (or at least not yet), I do plan on eventually taking the route of getting a custom build from a known luthier. Prior to going in to speak to a luthier, what should I be thinking about and asking myself to be somewhat prepared? What are common questions you ask for your clients/customers/patrons?

Hopefully, this thread will kokua people who eventually would like to go the custom route.

a hui hou.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
05-01-2009, 08:57 AM
The first thing I like to know about a potential customer is what your expectations are. A good place to start for me is to ask what you like or dislike about the ukes you may be currently playing. That can tell me a lot about what you want. Knowing your playing style and level of playing in helpful in setting the action, whether you are primarily a chord strummer, a picker or play on the dusty end of the fret board a lot. I'd like to know what your playing environment is likely to be; do you play for your own entertainment, are you a stage musician. Your hand size will help determine the neck profile, nut width, etc. Have a budget in mind and don't expect a $2000 uke for $300. Be aware that the highest price does not guarantee you'll get the best instrument, and sometimes a low price turns out to be no bargain at all. I would also ask detailed questions about the construction methods and materials used. You should expect/demand solid wood construction from a custom builder. What type of neck connection is used? What type of glues and finish are used. These questions are important to know in case your uke every needs repair from damage it might incur. Artistic adornment can be nice but it adds drastically to the finished price. If you don't need it, don't get it. If you decide you need inlay work, ask if the materials are natural, synthetic or laminates.
For a builder, determining these crucial factors and trying to match the proper instrument to the customer can sometimes be the hardest part and demands good, honest communication. Try to think of and ask as many questions as you can, then be as specific as you can about your needs and desires. Be thorough but also be respectful your builders time. I often spend three to five hours a day on the phone or on the computer answering customer questions. It's an important part of the business but it also keeps me away from the bench.
I believe Seeso just posted a list of custom builders on the forum. Get busy and good luck!

1014
05-01-2009, 09:04 AM
mahalo Chuck.

I actually have a luthier in mind and am on the verge of putting down a deposit. i just started thread to kokua myself and others to what we need to be prepared for. great post!

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
05-01-2009, 09:40 AM
Good idea for a post as well. The worst thing for a builder is to be midway into the project and THEN get questions asked. I like everything spelled out up front.
One thing I forgot to mention that I believe is critical is to make sure that the builder constructs your ukulele is a climate controlled environment where the humidity is carefully monitored. That can alleviate a lot of headaches for your ukulele down the road. Another nice thing is that some builders will also send photographs of the process to involve the customer more and keep them up to date.
Enjoy the collaboration, it can be a lot of fun.
PS, say hi to Dave for me.

Kekani
05-01-2009, 04:59 PM
Wood selection can be quick, or take a lot of time. The "worst" clients are usually the ones that surf the internet for research and suggestions and come to you and say, "I want a Spruce topped Tenor with Brazilian Rosewood back and sides because so and so said this and this and this. And it HAS to have an Ebony Fretboard for sound, but a Rosewood bridge for movement. I want a high gloss finish, but I want the finish as thin as possible. And since I'm a guitar player, I want a thicker profile neck out of Honduran Mahogany, with an Ebony stringer for stabilization, and epoxy glue for the fretboard because I don't want added moisture from PVA glue to warp the neck, etc etc etc. . . Oh, and I want Aquila strings because they are the best."

That one was not for you Neil, but you know what I mean. Certain builders are more comfortable with certain woods, and this is not a bad thing. Find out from the builder what he (or she) can do as well. You don't want to force the builder to do something that is going to be a prototype, unless you really want it that way (I've had that before). And you may find that the builder may change your perceptions of what you thought you wanted.

Bottom line for me though, is that the custom instrument is for one person, and one person only, you. Because wood is alive and has mana all its own, the builder manipulating the wood will have his (or her) mana manifest in the final product. You as a player should have faith and confidence in your builder. You don't have to be best friends, but as Chuck stated, there is a bunch of time spent developing a relationship throughout the build, which starts from the first conversation.

The music that you play will come from your tools. The best part about a custom instrument (besides building it), is the day it leaves your hands, and the owner handles it, strums it, cradles it and smiles, as if they were made for each other. This is, to me, the essence of a custom build.

Taking it one step further, and I have to go here, inlay. I've stated this before, inlay can be bling, or it can carry with it the spirit of the build. If you don't know what this means, it'll take a while to explain.

Tell Dave I said "Hi" as well, and contact me when he gets a chance.

-Aaron

UkeNinja
05-02-2009, 05:13 PM
The "worst" clients...are the best."
This is one of the most intimate looks into the luthier's kitchen I have seen up to date :D
It will make a few feel ashamed for having acted like you said, others irritated at your stubbornness ("Aquilas ARE the best!"), and then again, there are those in the process of excavating the internets for the perfect wood and spec combo to swamp their local luthier with, and are now crying behind their keyboard ("What have I down wroooonggg...?!").

But I can imagine what you are saying. The spread of knowledge through the internet is very broad but less deep and most of all, not always practical.

To the TS: On the other hand, if you don't know what to look for in a custom, maybe the time is not right yet? What do you miss in the factory ukes?

Good luck and lots of fun with the process of thinking up your wishes for the custom.

Pete Howlett
05-02-2009, 06:53 PM
Budget, budget, budget: it affects you and the builder and is the first consideration.
Next is personalization: is it a keepr or an investment? Personally if it's the latter, buy a Martin.
Last: Am I prepared to wait? A good builder has a long waiting list...

Kekani
05-02-2009, 10:51 PM
. . . others irritated at your stubbornness ("Aquilas ARE the best!"), . . .
. . .if you don't know what to look for in a custom, maybe the time is not right yet? What do you miss in the factory ukes?

Not sure what you mean by stubborness. Making a comment about the, dare I say, general perception about Aquila's means I'm just making an observation. Search the threads, right now, and you'll see comments along those lines. . ."what strings should I get now, Aquila?"

I used to use Aquila, exclusively. But that was years ago.

I beg to differ as to when the time is right for a custom. If you are looking, and wanting, the time is right. If you don't know what you're looking for, better yet - find your builder first, and work with him.

Pete said it right - budget. If you have the budget for a custom, you're ready. If you're squeezing your budget, you may still be ready, but other influences will have you unprepared. You pay for what you get, and time, skill and execution is all part of the collaboration.

I think Neil's going to have fun with this one.

grappler
05-03-2009, 12:23 AM
The first thing I like to know about a potential customer is what your expectations are. A good place to start for me is to ask what you like or dislike about the ukes you may be currently playing. That can tell me a lot about what you want. Knowing your playing style and level of playing in helpful in setting the action, whether you are primarily a chord strummer, a picker or play on the dusty end of the fret board a lot. I'd like to know what your playing environment is likely to be; do you play for your own entertainment, are you a stage musician. Your hand size will help determine the neck profile, nut width, etc. Have a budget in mind and don't expect a $2000 uke for $300. Be aware that the highest price does not guarantee you'll get the best instrument, and sometimes a low price turns out to be no bargain at all. I would also ask detailed questions about the construction methods and materials used. You should expect/demand solid wood construction from a custom builder. What type of neck connection is used? What type of glues and finish are used. These questions are important to know in case your uke every needs repair from damage it might incur. Artistic adornment can be nice but it adds drastically to the finished price. If you don't need it, don't get it. If you decide you need inlay work, ask if the materials are natural, synthetic or laminates.
For a builder, determining these crucial factors and trying to match the proper instrument to the customer can sometimes be the hardest part and demands good, honest communication. Try to think of and ask as many questions as you can, then be as specific as you can about your needs and desires. Be thorough but also be respectful your builders time. I often spend three to five hours a day on the phone or on the computer answering customer questions. It's an important part of the business but it also keeps me away from the bench.
I believe Seeso just posted a list of custom builders on the forum. Get busy and good luck!

Wow chuck, thats awesome knowing that you would like that much detail before the building process. It actually shows that your such a genuine bloke . Thanks for the kind information for the guys here on the forums because i've learned quite abit about your character by just reading this thread. Your a great guy mate.
All the best

UkeNinja
05-03-2009, 04:10 AM
Not sure what you mean by stubborness. Making a comment about the, dare I say, general perception about Aquila's means I'm just making an observation. Search the threads, right now, and you'll see comments along those lines. . ."what strings should I get now, Aquila?"

I am sorry if my comment put you off. The "stubbornness" part was meant to be a play on the exact situation you drew out for us: you daring to question the sacred "Aquila=best"-meme, as witnessed by the countless "Postcount:1, Topic: string choice". So I was actually complimenting on your interesting post (+ rep was given ages ago but still not allowed to give again), and your sober look into the agonies an average luthier may have to put up with. My apologies.

In the end, idk when someone buys their first, second, third or n-th custom uke. Just hoping they will enjoy it as much as the labor and money that was put into making it, hence the caveat. All in good spirits and trying to think along with the thread.

Kekani
05-03-2009, 10:23 AM
My apologies.

None needed. I think its good that intent is defined, but shouldn't always be necessary. In my narrow mind, I guess sometimes I can't see the big picture. Although, opposition is not always a bad thing - provides for fruitful discussion - and I really do think that you have the perception that Aquilas are the best (there's a dig for you there).

Of course, calling someone stubborn (when I already know I am) is indeed wanting of a response. I wasn't going to, but I didn't have any tea in my system at the time. . .

I'm not without my digs every now and then as well, so in rereading the posts, I can appreciate your thoughts.

As you notice, I leave some comments that could leave some readers with a "?" on their forehead, such as "Koa laminate or Honduran Mahogany? No question there." I'd take a guess that some are answering to themselves "Koa", some "Mahogany" and some are asking "Why don't I know the answer to this question?"

So, here's a question: Does Aldrine like Koa `ukulele, or does he like Koa because that's what his `ukulele is made out of (basically meaning he likes his `ukulele)?

Just my $.02 - Aaron

Ahnko Honu
05-03-2009, 11:23 AM
So, here's a question: Does Aldrine like Koa `ukulele, or does he like Koa because that's what his `ukulele is made out of (basically meaning he likes his `ukulele)?

Just my $.02 - Aaron

You probably didn't want a answer to this question but here goes anyways. I believe allot of local boys myself included prefer Koa because it is a native hardwood, and traditional for a Hawaiian made 'ukulele so there is a form of loyalty to this wood even though some may argue that Mahogany is a superior tone wood. My Hawaiian 'ukuleles must be made from native Hawaiian woods though not necessarily Koa (a Milo, or Kamani 'ukulele my dream). When I eventually order a custom pineapple baritone from Mike Pereira it will have Black Walnut sides, and back with either Redwood or Red Cedar top to honor the region where it is made.

UkeNinja
05-03-2009, 05:54 PM
opposition is not always a bad thing - provides for fruitful discussion - and I really do think that you have the perception that Aquilas are the best (there's a dig for you there)
You wanna step out for a second, buddy? http://www.clipartof.com/images/thumbnail/763.gif

Unfortunately, my non-nativeness keeps me from grasping the full intention of your "dig", but the aggravation that is causing me now will be gone soon when I strum my Aquilas. Man, are they sweet.

My main uke is a "simple" (no decoration at all) style instrument made by an individual luthier. I was shopping for something in the range of a good island made tenor, and it surprisingly came on my path. What caused me to take it over the "factory-made" ukes was its light weight and buttery smooth tone (at least to my ear, it was a premade model in a shop). Later on, I found out it was made of Koa. Hey, what do you know, it's the real thing.

A question that may be helpful for the TS as well: if you have a sound in mind for your custom model, and you want those-and-those woods, how big is the chance you will actually get that sound in the finished instrument? With growing expectations due to the proliferation of internet knowledge, I can imagine that some customers expect way too much (or something unrealistic) and upon receiving their custom, they find it is a different from what they thought. Is this an issue / how do you cope as a luthier / do you need a disclaimer for this?

I hope the TS ends up with a uke that makes him smile with every strum.

P.S. My main uke insists on being strung with Worths :worship:

1014
05-04-2009, 09:39 AM
mahalo nui loa to all those who contributed to the discussion. Again, this discussion was started to benefit not only myself, but to create a foundation for others looking into a custom build. I have had fishing poles wrapped for me, as well as surfboards and bodyboards. so i've had experience with going the custom route, but since this is my first, i thought this would help give me an idea to what i should have in mind. i'm not thinking of solid answers, but ideas to share with the builder.


I've already started a mini discussion with the luthier I have in mind, David Tachera of `Oiwi `Ukulele based in South San Francisco, and am already planning to put down the deposit for a commitment.

Why not a factory build? Truthfully, because I can't find what I want in a factory build. I've played around enough `ukulele to determine, for myself, that the amount of money I would have to find and spend on a facotry `ukulele to my liking would be near equivalent to having one created for me. That being said, do I believe this will be the last `ukulele I'll ever purchase? No! I think we all evolve in our wants and dislikes, as well as our skill level. This being my first custom `ukulele, I understand that it may not suit my playing style in the future, but as my first it will always hold sentimental value, but it will share the mana Aaron speaks of, from both my self and the builder and the parts and effort put into it. Keeper for sure. Also, like fishing and surfing, each instrument will later be developed for distinct purpose. I think backyard kanikapila and performing require different tools.

Prior to making that commitment, I've done some quiet inquiries about the builder (including asking Kekani/Aaron). Again building on past experiences, I asked for their mana`o to kokua me into a right decision. David makes instruments that have challenged for tops in sound, and sound, not bling, is what I am after. I would not ask a rod builder who makes primarily bass rods to make wrap my long distance casting rods.

I understand where Aaron is mentioning about how the worst clients are this this this. As opposed to when I had boards made for me, the first fishing pole i had wrapped, I went all out telling the guy what i wanted rather than listening to what was functional. not only did the price go up, but the rod sat because it wasn't of much use to me. it was just pretty and hi-tech. i have that expensive rod as a reminder, though i could probably fetch a pretty penny for it.

with David, instead of coming in with what i definitely want, I'm coming in with what I don't like in mind and I already told him up front, I'm not sold on anything.

time? i've got all the time in the world. he's informed me nothing until next year, which i'm fine with. during that time, we'll talk alot and i'll play a lot, so we can shape what i want in mind.

wow! long pane aku post!

Kanaka916
05-07-2012, 05:44 AM
Bumping this to get inputs/comments/advice/recommendations/insights from other luthiers/builders/customers. I think it would be beneficial to both builder and customer if some sort of guide will aid on the process of an order/consignment.

Rick Turner
05-07-2012, 09:07 AM
In order of priority...in my opinion...

#1) Sound...good basic design approach, appropriate use of woods, appropriate thicknesses, appropriate bracing

#2) Playability...which starts with neck shape and relationship of uke body to human body...you have to decide about string spacing at nut and bridge. Action can always be tweaked

#3) Aesthetics...which is totally subjective and is where the money comes in.

That's all there is to it, though the devil is in the details.

Any good luthier (and in the uke world many post right here) can nail all of the above, so beyond these things, you just have to work with someone whose general approach you like and with whom you get along. Beware of luthiers who try to sell bling before performance...I don't see any here, but they exist. Try to work with a luthier who has several dozen ukes under his or her belt. Remember that we all seem to think that guitar makers overbuild their first ukes. Understand that we can trade off sonic projection for a sound that envelops the player, so be clear on what you want.

WOBster
05-07-2012, 09:08 AM
This is a great thread with some superb information...Thanks for "bumping"!

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
05-07-2012, 09:27 AM
In order of priority...in my opinion...

#1) Sound...good basic design approach, appropriate use of woods, appropriate thicknesses, appropriate bracing

#2) Playability...which starts with neck shape and relationship of uke body to human body...you have to decide about string spacing at nut and bridge. Action can always be tweaked

#3) Aesthetics...which is totally subjective and is where the money comes in.

That's all there is to it, though the devil is in the details.

Any good luthier (and in the uke world many post right here) can nail all of the above, so beyond these things, you just have to work with someone whose general approach you like and with whom you get along. Beware of luthiers who try to sell bling before performance...I don't see any here, but they exist. Try to work with a luthier who has several dozen ukes under his or her belt. Remember that we all seem to think that guitar makers overbuild their first ukes. Understand that we can trade off sonic projection for a sound that envelops the player, so be clear on what you want.

That's a good list Rick, and in the proper order. Although I add a #4 to my list and that is Longevity. It should be built with materials and techniques that will allow it to last for generations without constant repair. Otherwise the first three items don't really add up to much.

caukulele
05-07-2012, 10:20 AM
That's a good list Rick, and in the proper order. Although I add a #4 to my list and that is Longevity. It should be built with materials and techniques that will allow it to last for generations without constant repair. Otherwise the first three items don't really add up to much.

Great thread and excellent summary.

whit
05-07-2012, 05:45 PM
Great question and great thread! Is it too early to give this a sticky?

Patrick Madsen
05-07-2012, 08:11 PM
For me it's all about the neck. How it feels and low action. I like a radiused fretboard but sure wouldn't kick a flat one aside if it feels right. I really enjoy a custom mainly for the inherent energy the builder leaves from so many hours of intense concentration creating it. Looks come last for me as I leave most of that up to the maker to do his thing. It's all about playability, sound and the artists energy radiating from it.

My custom guitars and ukes will never be sold. They'll get added to the family instrument library after I'm gone. We on our fourth generation coming up. Anyone in the family gets to choose an instrument. As long as it's played they get to keep it or trade it for another in the collection. they are never to be sold.