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Pete Howlett
10-03-2017, 11:23 PM
Not many of my contemporaries actively participate here; we've either said it all, have lost interest or are too busy. Unlike them, I am not circumspect when it comes to observation neither am I shy of controversy, poking the bear or stiring ther hornet's nest. However, everything I say is merely my opinion and it works for me and is not meant as a criticism of your values and ideas. One thing that keeps crafts alive is the constant challenging of tradition and received wisdom.

So, 'bout 5 years ago I was entrenched in the 'koa/mahogany only construction makes a real ukulele'. Bit narrow but I think I argued the position well. However because of CITES, the astronomical price of koa and the growing awareness of a whole new wave of players looking for a different sound something had to give! Eating my hat I tried the spruce top/hardwood back and sides combo and found it worked.

I don't design for disappointment which of course is my code for experiment or work with clients realising their ideas. I am not that brave - it is only 2 years ago that I started taking a regular salary doing what I have always done - small batch production of tried and tested designs. My focus has been paying down business debt and to do that you have to make payroll! If you called me then, as now I certainly would not entertain any unusual wood combinations, neck length or nut and saddle widths. - I find it very disruptive altering jigs and tools. And when I did try to satisfy a client's whims, usually out of financlial desperation, I often fell short of the client's expectations. I guess I am just not wired to do that type of work.

Working full time at this, trying to make a salary involves little risk taking. Up until very recently, innovation to me, equaled risk. In the last 2 years I had to focus on production because I had to pay my employees. However, they have gone, the debt is all but paid and now I can relax. Nevertheless, instead of going crazy I am still risk averse and will until the last instrument I ever build leaves my bench, design for certainty. All of you amateur luthiers out there keep going, keep experimenting, ignore what we say. You want to feed yourself with this business and not end up like the countless also-rans who thought they could do it, avoid the amateurs luxury of being able to design for disappointment :) Avoid risk... avoid the client 'who knows better than you what they want'. An established builder once said to my friends at SUS, "We don't ask the client what they want... we tell them what they want!". I'm with him :)

tobinsuke
10-04-2017, 04:21 AM
Thanks for the thoughtful post, Pete. I curious to read what some other pros have to say.

hoosierhiver
10-04-2017, 05:41 AM
Glad you are still poking around here Pete

DownUpDave
10-04-2017, 06:18 AM
From the customers point of view there are lots of respected high end builders that follow your way and others that will customize. Depending on what I want I can choice to deal with either type of builder. Mya Moe was very successful following your formula Pete. You got what they offered, no fat necks, different fret wires, sound ports (pitty that one) etc. , etc. Or someone like David Ingalls who will customize to a certain point and seems successful doing that. I have owned ukes from both builders..........wonderful instruments all.

Pete Howlett
10-04-2017, 06:35 AM
I think the MyaMoe model is very interesting because it allows the customer to 'design' their 'own' uke within some carefully defined constraints. Very clever!

EDW
10-04-2017, 06:41 AM
You mean it is like the only Henry Ford line- "You can have a car in any color you want as long as it is black"

I always enjoy your perspective. Certainly some people want something different just to be different and want to disregard experience. It is really worth it to work with someone who has had countless instruments pass through their hands and who knows what the results will be rather than take a chance on "what if...?" Also tougher for you to experiment as your name is on it. If it doesn't turn out right, the customer is unhappy and others who play it will think poorly of your work. After that the only choice may be the fireplace.

ProfChris
10-04-2017, 09:38 AM
Pete's point about professionals needing to be conservative is important. If an experiment doesn't work, they have to fix it or refund the customer. That's not a feasible business model.

But amateurs like me (motto: No Two Ever The Same) can play around to our heart's content. Just as examples:

1. I made an all-Western Red Cedar soprano which sounds pretty good, and whose owner is very fond of it. But it's horrible wood to bend, and even nastier to carve a neck from. Not recommended.

2. I made an all-oak camp uke, which Phil Doleman owns and tells me he plays quite a bit. That sounds really good, and the wood was a pleasure to work with (carving the neck was some effort because oak is hard, but it carves cleanly).

FWIW, I've found that spruce tops on figure 8 sopranos sound shrill and jangly (though they work well on tenors). However, for a soprano cigar box or camp shape, spruce works really well.

maryagn3s
10-05-2017, 10:18 AM
I actually take offense at the comment about professionals having to be conservative or that those who do experiment are amateurs.

My partner makes his living (full time) as a ukulele luthier. He has built nearly 500 instruments and has *never* run his business at a loss. He has paid people in the past but has not amassed business debts.

I'm not naming him here because (though many of you will know who he is) I am speaking for myself.

I think that attempts at professional luthiery are as personal as the man (or woman) behind them. Some will work on set models and even those will often lead to disappointment. I have been been disappointed and thrilled by ukes by many professional makers over the years. Some will experiment. Others, like my partner, will make ukes to unique specifications. But to call considered use of materials informed by decades of experience as a luthier and chartered engineer is to belittle that work.

I honestly do not understand why there is a need to be so expansively negative taking sly digs at other people.

Pete - everyone respects your work and appreciates what you have done for the ukulele world but there are other professional luthiers and they do not deserve to be even indirectly disparaged for daring to feed their children with the work for their hands.

Everyone else, if you want to take issue with this post, feel free but remember that I too am human.

I welcome debate but I am increasingly tired with the negativity of social media.

-Mary Agnes Krell

ukantor
10-05-2017, 10:39 AM
I find a lot to agree with in Mary Agnes's response. I know both Pete and the other (unnamed) uke maker personally, and have a deep respect for their work. Pete's comments apply to Pete alone. He has a certain approach to his business and to his dealings with customers and prospective customers.

Other professional builders will have a different approach, depending on their own attributes, opinions, and how they view their customers. Don't take it personally, M.A. It's only one man's opinion. As they say, YMMV, and in this area of human endeavour, it certainly will.

All my best to you and the "mystery" man. (Who WAS that masked luthier?:))

John Colter

maryagn3s
10-05-2017, 11:02 AM
Oh Colt!

You are always so thoughtful and so spot on!
:)

I appreciate you (as always).
And I do appreciate all of you luthiers.
Many a happy memory at Hollesley and elsewhere seeing everyone's creations.

<faith in humanity temporarily restored>
mx

ProfChris
10-05-2017, 12:46 PM
Dear Mary Agnes, I had no intention to dig at your partner. Sorry if it came over that way. I had in mind the generality of builders, who tend to build to a reasonably standardised set of designs, and suggested why. To build a business as your partner has is truly admirable, but you must admit he is quite unusual in what he has done and how he goes about it. I regularly sing his praises and only today recommended him to someone who was looking for something out of the ordinary.

So, correction: most professionals tend to be conservative, but some experiment. Experimentation is commercially risky, so those who succeed at it are well worthy of admiration.

sequoia
10-05-2017, 07:07 PM
Such an interesting thread... Pete once said a couple of years back that a student luthier should build a fixed model design of an ukulele over and over again without changes until you get it right. He was criticized at the time by some for being too restrictive. However I think he made a good point. The point being that you need to learn how to build a structurally sound instrument before you start adding the doo-dads and the odd shapes etc. This is sound advice (ha!). It should be remembered that lutherie is a trade just like laying bricks or building houses. You gotta learn your chops and that means boring repetitive work. In other words: do it over and over and over again. Boring!

I don't consider myself a luthier. I made and sold a few ukes sure, but I don't do it for a living. My ukes are one offs. Making and selling ukes as a way to make a living is a whole nother kettle of fish and it would do well to listen to a pro like Pete. If I was a young person who really wanted to make my living making stringed acoustic instruments my advice would be: Seek another trade because like all artists, you are going starve. Sell insurance instead. If you do decide you want to be a luthier I recommend you take Pete's advice and build the same design over and over again until you get it right. Then you can inlay the penguins and do the dodads that we all love.

Pete Howlett
10-05-2017, 10:18 PM
Mary

As you have named me I will respond.

No one except you could possible construe that I was having a dig/criticising or otherwise what others do. At the front of my piece I clearly state this.

Rob entered the scene long after the pioneers like myself. Standing on the shoulders of giants (and I am simply using a metaphor here - let's make this VERY clear) is a great way to get going. I did it. Most of us have. He would not have suervived in 1994 when there was no internet or direct means of promoting yourself. Bragging that he has no business debt and has always paid his staff ignores the fact that he had a previous well paid job and was running his busienss in tandem with this before he went full time. He was set to go when making ukulele full time became a viable business model. Before then I had tried 4 times to get going in the UK and this despite my high profile clients and reputation. It just was not doable in the UK to make it as a sole ukuele builder before 2006. Some of us have not had this. He had a great idea as 'tin guitar' and develooped it into a uke business with good business acumen. Well done. I remember him pulling up to my shop in his Lotus (previous well paid job perk I guess) to visit with me... Not many luthiers out there driving one of those eh? And I am not poking you in the ribs - when you tell a story, tell all of it. It's a pity Rick Turner doesn't post here any more - he would tell you that to be successful in this business I (and this is for all those grunt workrs like me who don't do that brilliant inlay stuff) you have to have an independent income...

Great that he and others experiment. Great that he jumped in full-time and the right moment. Great you both have businesses that indulge your passion for ukuleles. Great that you post your thoughts here...But for crying out loud, stop looking for offence where none is intended, criticism where none is implied and just chill gal! We know who you are, that what you and Rob do is a good job. No-one, especially me is trying to chop you off at the knees. I have and will always have my opinion. As an American citizen Mary, you must respect my right to express it. Don't confuse it with THE opinion if there ever is such a thing. We and me specifically are not 'out to get you'. I do wish you would understand this and stop these occassional outbursts that imply we and me specifically have some sort of sinister intent towards you and Rob. I can assure you that is not the case, has never been the case and will never be the case.

Just spread your arms out. See? There is room for everybody. And HEY, this goes for you all. When I post I am not shooting hidden barbs at anyone. If you know anything about me at all, you know I call a spade a spade and if I have anything to say to you personally, you'll get it in a PM.

I respect all who post in this forum. That we have strong views is great. Gone are the days when we had sniping garulous posts and pintless 'point scoring'. Please for Pity's sake (and I believe that Pity is a proper noun) let's avoid taking lumps out of each other. Life is far too short - as a cancer survivor, you of all people should know that Mary. And as someone who at one point was going to withdraw from ukulele promotion but had a change of heart, you are a shining example of tenacity and grit. Winning a Queen's award is no small thing - just let your light shine and we will all bask in the radiance of it :)

My very best wishes
Pete

So let's take a breath while I restate - Thank you all you experiment. Keep doing it. It's not for me and my initial post tells you why. Thanks Mary for explaining to us that successful luthiers like Rob can and do experiment. I take my hat off to him and them.
Y'all have a good day. I've got to find £540 to fund a repair bill for my CNC machine. Being a half-wit I misaligned the gantry by sending it beyond its limits one too many times!

Graham Greenbag
10-05-2017, 10:38 PM
As an onlooker I am completely baffled by how anyone could take offence with the comments that had been posted by the Luthiers, whether they are part time ones or full time builders. All their comments seem logical enough to me and I’m often surprised with just how pleasant the conversation and remarks are on this social media site, I’ve posted on other sites of interest to me and few if any are as friendly.

Perhaps I’m insensitive, perhaps I don’t notice things, perhaps I’m thick skinned and perhaps sometimes all of those things are an asset. I’m amazed at how non-adversarial the responses from the Luthiers have been, there must be a lot of respect ‘cause elsewhere the responses would be far from it. If there’s ‘history’ please could it be left as such and undisturbed.

maryagn3s
10-05-2017, 11:06 PM
I don't often post on here because if I don't just politely agree with stuff I get belittled, dismissed or told what to think.

You know what, I'll just go away and do what I do which is invest thousands of hours of my time helping uke players and makers from around the world to find audiences.

Thanks for basically making me feel like I don't belong on the UU folks.
Feeling the ukey love!


As an onlooker I am completely baffled by how anyone could take offence with the comments that had been posted by the Luthiers, whether they are part time ones or full time builders. All their comments seem logical enough to me and I’m often surprised with just how pleasant the conversation and remarks are on this social media site, I’ve posted on other sites of interest to me and few if any are as friendly.

Perhaps I’m insensitive, perhaps I don’t notice things, perhaps I’m thick skinned and perhaps sometimes all of those things are an asset. I’m amazed at how non-adversarial the responses from the Luthiers have been, there must be a lot of respect ‘cause elsewhere the responses would be far from it. If there’s ‘history’ please could it be left as such and undisturbed.

ukantor
10-05-2017, 11:18 PM
Mary Agnes said, "I actually take offense at the comment about professionals having to be conservative or that those who do experiment are amateurs."

With respect, M.A. (and I do have a lot of respect for you, and what you do) I can't see why you would interpret Pete's original post in that way. I took it that Pete was offering his opinion/advice on the subject. We can all take the option to disagree with opinion, and to disregard advice. I do it all the time!

Please don't think I'm siding with Pete against you - I'm not. Just stating my point of view.



ps. I can only assume that there must be a back story or subtext to this spat.

Graham Greenbag
10-05-2017, 11:38 PM
I don't often post on here because if I don't just politely agree with stuff I get belittled, dismissed or told what to think.

You know what, I'll just go away and do what I do which is invest thousands of hours of my time helping uke players and makers from around the world to find audiences.

Thanks for basically making me feel like I don't belong on the UU folks.
Feeling the ukey love!

I suspect that the work you put into the Uke community is very, very respected and appreciated. If I could make you feel anything then it would be the appreciation felt by those people and that words of disagreement should not be taken as insults. A wise person once told me that we are often not able to control what happens to us in this life but we are able to control how we react to it; you can choose not to feel belittled, dismissed or told what to think, you have the power to do that.

If your posts on UU have not gone down well in the past then perhaps you might care to ask yourself whether you are interacting with this site correctly, and if you are not then how might you alter what you do. Without intending to be rude those are your choices and, of course, I genuinely wish you well and hope that posting on UU will become a happier experience for you. I’ve found a lot of good on this site and barely an adverse comment towards me so it must be possible for others to do so too.

Please will someone tell me where the ‘like button’ is for Timbucks post above - he must have entered his response whilst I was typing up mine.

Kevs-the-name
10-06-2017, 12:08 AM
I actually take offense at the comment about professionals having to be conservative or that those who do experiment are amateurs.


I honestly do not understand why there is a need to be so expansively negative taking sly digs at other people.


-Mary Agnes Krell

As an 'on the fence' reader, and new hobby builder, I am confused by this response? What is there to be OFFENDED by?
I certainly can't find the part where Pete comments about professionals 'having' to be conservative, and I also recall his previous advice about people learning by repeating the task.

Pete clearly uses the word 'I' (which means 'him') when he explains his findings, actions and experiences that are personal to him.
Surely he can offer some words of experience advice on an open forum.

The reader has the right to agree, disagree, compare and contrast the reams of advice that is offered, allowing them to process their own rounded option. Its only talk!

I also struggled to find any sly digs at anyone? this actually comes across as a dig at Pete for openly voicing his opinions?

*these are also only 'my' thoughts on what I'm reading

Croaky Keith
10-06-2017, 12:54 AM
Interesting, if someone doesn't break the mould, then they're doing it right, & the others might be wrong(?). :wallbash:

If that were the case, we'd still be living in the Stone Age, (or even before that!).

If I want a uke, I look for qualities that I want, & I can buy any number from quite a few different manufacturers that fit my needs.

Buying from a luthier, is a form of one upmanship, in the main, most to the average player just sound the same as the next uke.

Yes, It's a specialist trade, but if you want to do something the same all the time, that's where machines come into the equation, & costs can be reduced, & are, by mass production.

If I wanted something special, that would be when I'd look to a luthier, & I'd expect them to accommodate what I wanted, else I'd go elsewhere, it's as simple as that. :cool:

anthonyg
10-06-2017, 01:35 AM
As a grumpy old due, I don't agree with everything another grumpy old dude says, yet, I'm old enough to know that there is much to be learn't from other grumpy old dudes so you don't need to start a fight with them ALL the time.

Booli
10-06-2017, 02:28 AM
I've been following this thread and was not going to post, for I am not a luthier, nor do I have any skin in the game for either side, however, for better or worse, I feel compelled to speak now...

I wish folks would be able to find within themselves, the compassion to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

It saddens me deeply to see that one person's opinion has made another feel unwelcome or slighted, despite the absence of malice.

If a mutual understanding is not possible, maybe it is possible to agree to disagree without folks feeling that their ego has been bruised? (remember opinions are like belly-buttons, in that EVERYONE has one :))

I am no expert in these matters, but I am asking those that have been involved to please forgive each other, at least for a moment, and step back and have a think about what has happened here.

I have no authority, nor do I want any here, I am just an observer trying to facilitate decorum...

Thank you sincerely, for reading my humble words. :)

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
10-06-2017, 07:45 AM
I happen to agree with you Pete but I'm just a stubborn old fart like you are. I'm just not sure why you felt compelled to make your case here. Having said that, you do have the right to do so. Just wonder what your motivation is. I read your post simply as a general observation and not as a particular criticism. I also think you were trying to offer some guidance. But even as a beginner builder I ignored most of the guidance I was given as I wanted to forge my own path without regard to what anyone thinks or is doing. And I'm still doing that. We as builders will each find the path that works best for us. I don't see that as something debatable.

tobinsuke
10-06-2017, 10:08 AM
I happen to agree with you Pete but I'm just a stubborn old fart like you are. I'm just not sure why you felt compelled to make your case here. Having said that, you do have the right to do so. Just wonder what your motivation is. I read your post simply as a general observation and not as a particular criticism. I also think you were trying to offer some guidance. But even as a beginner builder I ignored most of the guidance I was given as I wanted to forge my own path without regard to what anyone thinks or is doing. And I'm still doing that. We as builders will each find the path that works best for us. I don't see that as something debatable.
I'd like to have a clever comment on this post, but I am too busy clapping and vigorously nodding my head in approval. :agree:

Pete Howlett
10-06-2017, 02:16 PM
I dunno Chuck... you tell me. You got this far :)

BlackBearUkes
10-07-2017, 08:32 AM
When I first started building ukes, I learned early on what I would allow and not allow for the construction. Never build anything you don't want your name on. I made a few instruments to the specs of the client even though it was against my better judgement. I don't and won't do that again. Never let a beginner/player design the instrument they think they want. I won't build a super wide neck or add long necks on small bodies or small necks on big bodies.

That is simply against my standards and I have lost commissions because of it, but that is OK with me. I also have limited patience with those who continue to ask questions for a long period of time, because they can't make up their mind. I try to build quality ukes with quality woods using quality construction. I try to let the instrument speak for itself. I agree with Pete, good luck to those who want to experiment, but if you want to make a living doing this trade you are going to need more than luck. You have to find out what works for you and the market. If you can't make a wage, you're screwed.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
10-07-2017, 10:16 AM
When I first started building ukes, I learned early on what I would allow and not allow for the construction. Never build anything you don't want your name on. I made a few instruments to the specs of the client even though it was against my better judgement. I don't and won't do that again. Never let a beginner/player design the instrument they think they want. I won't build a super wide neck or add long necks on small bodies or small necks on big bodies.

Every word of this is excellent advice IMO. I go one step further in that I won't build anything I personally wouldn't love to own myself.

Graham Greenbag
10-07-2017, 11:18 AM
Every word of this is excellent advice IMO. I go one step further in that I won't build anything I personally wouldn't love to own myself.

I quite see where you are coming from and am sure that that ideal is right for you, no questioning or criticism intended but let’s explore the concept. At one point a Luthier who’s a well know member here made some Concert size Martin Style ‘0’ solid Mahogany Ukes, if I won the lottery, etc., then that’s something I’d quite like. Unfortunately he’s stopped building them, that’s his choice but if every Luthier restricted what they built then some very playable, worthwhile and perhaps relatively affordable instruments would not be made. IMHO that’s not a good situation.

My own take on building things or doing practical work of any type (for me or anyone else) is never to do something or let work out of my ‘shed’ which I would be less than pleased to have my name attached to. The job or piece must look right and work well, for me there’s no need for perfection just for functionality, satisfaction, positive reputation and affordability.

I appreciate that what works for me might not be ideal for others, we’re all different.

AlohaKine
10-07-2017, 05:04 PM
When I first started building ukes, I learned early on what I would allow and not allow for the construction. Never build anything you don't want your name on. I made a few instruments to the specs of the client even though it was against my better judgement. I don't and won't do that again. Never let a beginner/player design the instrument they think they want. I won't build a super wide neck or add long necks on small bodies or small necks on big bodies.

That is simply against my standards and I have lost commissions because of it, but that is OK with me. I also have limited patience with those who continue to ask questions for a long period of time, because they can't make up their mind. I try to build quality ukes with quality woods using quality construction. I try to let the instrument speak for itself. I agree with Pete, good luck to those who want to experiment, but if you want to make a living doing this trade you are going to need more than luck. You have to find out what works for you and the market. If you can't make a wage, you're screwed.


Having people jerk someone around is understandable, no one wants that, but if you are dealing with someone via email, like how you just dealt with me, you have no idea as to why someone asks questions like I did with you.

People ask questions for various reasons, and if you are calling yourself a professional and dealing with customers, then you need to have patience, otherwise you should not be dealing with customers, and have someone work for you that has the patience.

People like myself ask questions to also get a feel of who we are dealing with, a relationship is an important thing, your building Ukes is more then that, you need to establish and maintain customers, that means keeping future customers.

Everyone makes mistakes, and you need to place yourself in other people's shoes when dealing with them too. Because someone might make things hard for you, and you loose out, maybe if you maintain your cool and professionalism with someone, you might end up making a great long term customer.

I've worked in sales to amount a life time, never try to judge any situation, because the truth is no one has a crystal ball to read the future or tell what's on someone's mind. A sale that is crap in the beginning can end up to be major success in the future.

I have personally worked in sales, selling high end art to rich eccentrics, who would drive you crazy for peanuts, then I'd make a measly sale, thinking what an extreme amount of time for nothing, but because I treated the person with the utmost respect, at a later time they came back and bought like mad from me, because I treated them right and took care of them.

I contacted Mr. BlackBear and only sent him 6 emails with questions and concerns and I was going to buy the Uke concert now present on his site for sale, but because of his lack of patience, whatever you want to call it, he told me I should look elsewhere locally to buy a ukulele, for my many questions and concerns he seemed to not want to be bothered by.

The truth is, I never did anything wrong and this is not being profesional, or considerate, especially how you can hurt people's feelings, just as you hurt mine.

I understand you might have a name for yourself on UU, but you don't know me, I just asked questions, and then you show me as a potential customer a lack of respect.

I don't think you realize, I love Ukes and playing, I have a little money, and if you would of just been professional, you would of had a customer for life! Oh well...

I guess as a business person, somewhere along the line you forgot the saying;

Do unto others as you'd want them to do to you!

ALOHA

ukantor
10-07-2017, 09:58 PM
Selling an existing product, and accepting a commision to produce a bespoke article, are two different scenarios. The former should be fairly straighforward - you know what you are getting. The latter requires the prospective customer to state a clear proposition, or specification. The maker has the right to accept or to decline the proposal.

You are not a customer until some sort of deal had been agreed.

Pete Howlett
10-07-2017, 10:19 PM
Little did I know that my post would really poke the bear. Respondents here always argue best from their position. Because we are not government employees, we makers can do what we like and how we like. You don't own us, have to like us or buy our products. It's a simple equation best defined by my own experience:

I don't shop at a particular local store (don't name names unless there is a public health issue that you are experienced to diagnose) because the checkout staff are rude. It's a national chain that seems to cultivate in its employees a complete distain for its customers. When I am in Menai Bridge 25 miles away I shop at the well known supermarket there. The workers have a bonus scheme that is linked to their productivity. Are they polite? You bet! Do they get on with their work and not chat to each other while serving custimers? You bet? Is it a pleasant shopping experience ? Of course. Are they crusty old ex -luthiers? Heck no!

You come looking for a listening ear here or offer what you think is a useful public informatioin service disguising a opersonal beef, you gonna be in for a surprise buddy. We ain't no government agency or grocery store! It is a hard road getting to the point where what you charge is what you SHOULD be paid. Few of us forget the pain of that journey and the mistakes we made taking on anything no matter the mental anguish because we had an impending rent bill to make... Are we going to respond less than generously - some of us are...

Sorry 'bout that. But it's good to know who you are dealing with eh? And hey, I am jsut speaking for myself here.

buddhuu
10-08-2017, 06:07 AM
Loads of stuff...

ALOHA

Thanks but no thanks for the thread hijack. Please knock it off now.

Also, maybe consider the tone of a post before finishing it with "Aloha".

Thanks.

southcoastukes
10-08-2017, 08:02 AM
Lots of stuff going on here. As to the recent posts, of course any business should be able to decide how they relate to customers. And as to the earlier posts, don't know Mary, don't know Rob, and so (thankfully) don't know what any of that was about.

But the central question (I think) about "designing for disappointment" is one that has always struck me as somewhat odd. It seems the idea that deviating from very specific design parameters constitutes experimenting. On the other hand, there are whole classes of luthiers down south who seldom build the same exact instrument twice. That leads to a better and more common understanding of the relations between string, scale, body volume and body shape.

Builders might refuse commissions if a customers ideas seem impractical, but more often they'll just suggest a better approach to whatever the clients particular goals happen to be.

I understand completely what Pete is saying about profitability, and that experimentation has its costs. But while building free form might not meet customers expectations up here, if basically every instrument you build is something new, it's not experimenting anymore. There might be a small surprise; some little variable you didn't take into account but still, these sorts of luthiers are not afraid to "step outside the box". They didn't start out in a box to begin with.

Michael N.
10-08-2017, 09:01 PM
I've done a number of experimental guitars. Most of them I've abandoned, went nowhere. One I'm in the process of developing into my own model. All of this has been done over the last 6 or 7 years when time has allowed. I'm not sure you can call any of it wasted time, even the abandoned attempts inform in some way. Of course the time spent on these experiments really should be tagged on to the price of the eventual instrument that is presented to the buying public. That can be a problem. The public see a finished instrument, they haven't seen all of the work that went into developing the model. I estimate that I have something like 5 or 6 hundred hours in that one model (including the abandoned) and that's before I've built one for the commercial market. That's a lot of money hours to claw back. Just because I like the model and sound doesn't imply that the buying public will. It could sink like the ubiquitous lead weight. It's a risk but I was always aware of that risk even before I started the project.

Michael Smith
10-08-2017, 09:31 PM
Doing a lot of experimenting can do you in if you are trying to grow a business. What you need is constiancy, quality and service. I see this over and over in the restaurant business which my family was in. Everyone has some new fantastic idea that is going to be all the rage. This new fantastic idea usually leads to bankruptcy. All they had to do is go a couple of towns over find a restaurant that is killing it and do exactly what they are doing. But God Bless the experimenters and innovators for they have brought us pretty much everything worth anything in this world, though often at great personal expense.

robedney
10-09-2017, 10:13 AM
Just catching up on this thread and have a couple of comments: Having made nearly 100 bench-made carbon fiber violins now, I can attest to the fact that there is a certain "Zen" to it, and that every single instrument has produced some small refinement in how I do things. Am I sick of making violins? Kind of. I go back and forth on that. Have I been able to take that big sack of accumulated knowledge over to prototyping a ukulele? You bet.

Repetition -- something I don't come to willingly -- presents endless opportunities for refinement -- unless you behave like a machine and stop thinking while you're working. In fact, you can't really refine something without repetition. This does not necessarily mean that the next made object must be identical to the last made object -- but that you work within certain contained parameters. I periodically rebel and go of on a tangent of an idea. This is healthy, I think, and sometimes even works, in part or in whole. That may result in my own working parameters expanding.

There is, perhaps, a relationship between the art of refinement through repetition and age -- or maturity. Youth tends to bring with it an impatience with constraints and a certainty about being able to do nearly anything. That's a very good thing. Speaking as an old fart I can say that we continuously need youth to shake things up and spark new pathways. We all, I think, need to preserve some of that in ourselves as we age. On the other hand, things often do need to be refined and evolve -- even in very small increments. That requires a level of patience and an expanding understanding of the making process.

One last note: We sell exclusively via our website, and we have sold all over the planet. We offer an approval period, after which a customer may return the instrument for a full refund. We have held the line on our prices and we are very competitive in that regard. Corresponding with our customers tends to come out of my personal time -- when I'm not at the bench making something. I am a little jealous of that time. We also enjoy the luxury of having a waiting list. So, let me say: I am a luthier, not a salesman. Of course I do something like sales because I need to, but it's not my thing. I am, however, typically patient with repeated emails and questions. I have been down the rabbit hole with some folks, though, exchanging email after email, answering multiple questions already answered on our website, expending time and effort that -- in the end -- resulted in no order. After awhile it is natural to develop a sort of sense about this, realizing when a potential customer is becoming too much work to invest in. I'm not a big box store, I'm just a guy making stuff. At some point I get to politely suggest that someone might like to take their business elsewhere. No harm, no foul.

sequoia
10-09-2017, 06:40 PM
Repetition -- something I don't come to willingly -- presents endless opportunities for refinement -- unless you behave like a machine and stop thinking while you're working. In fact, you can't really refine something without repetition. This does not necessarily mean that the next made object must be identical to the last made object -- but that you work within certain contained parameters. I periodically rebel and go of on a tangent of an idea. This is healthy, I think, and sometimes even works, in part or in whole. That may result in my own working parameters expanding.

Good points. I changed some things on my newest model and here is the thing: Refinement and change is good, but if you can't identify the change that made the newest model sound great, how are you going to reproduce it in the next model? I worked as scientist in my former life. When things are not working, the temptation is to start change multiple parameters in order to get the desired outcome. This can actually work. Say you change temperature, pressure, the osmoality of the solution and put on new socks and the experiment works perfectly! Yea! What was it that you changed that led to the success? This is when you work backwards. Go back and change one parameter at a time and see what happens. No luck? Change another parameter and see. Still no luck? Change the third parameter only and see what happens. Often times you can then identify the parameter that made the difference using the back tracking method.

Then again here is another problem: It wasn't any one thing you changed but a combination of all them acting together which is when we get into serious head banging territory. The dreaded synergistic situation. It can be hard to chop a stringed instrument into discrete parts because they tend to work together as a system. This is where the art comes in.

I am not a luthier. I consider myself a student of lutherie and I'm still learning. So ok, what have I learned? Three big things:

It is the top (doh!)
It is how the top is braced (double doh!)
And proper scale length compensation at the nut and saddle for the strings to give accurate intonation. (By the way, the intonation on most ukes is an embarrassment if you ask me and some of my own instruments are included.)

Get those three things right and the uke will sound good maybe even great. However, the construction must be structurally sound.... I know that is somewhat over-simplistic so don't flame me too much. There are lots of other little things too. Aloha!

saltytri
10-09-2017, 08:11 PM
...put on new socks....



Damn! I knew I should have changed my socks before shaping that last neck! You knew the secret all along and didn’t tell us?

Pete Howlett
10-09-2017, 09:20 PM
You are nearly right sequoia...you also have to find a way of driving all the energy to the front. And the socks? Every day; then you have your first constant :)

Michael N.
10-09-2017, 11:25 PM
Good points. I changed some things on my newest model and here is the thing: Refinement and change is good, but if you can't identify the change that made the newest model sound great, how are you going to reproduce it in the next model? I worked as scientist in my former life. When things are not working, the temptation is to start change multiple parameters in order to get the desired outcome. This can actually work. Say you change temperature, pressure, the osmoality of the solution and put on new socks and the experiment works perfectly! Yea! What was it that you changed that led to the success? This is when you work backwards. Go back and change one parameter at a time and see what happens. No luck? Change another parameter and see. Still no luck? Change the third parameter only and see what happens. Often times you can then identify the parameter that made the difference using the back tracking method.

Then again here is another problem: It wasn't any one thing you changed but a combination of all them acting together which is when we get into serious head banging territory. The dreaded synergistic situation. It can be hard to chop a stringed instrument into discrete parts because they tend to work together as a system. This is where the art comes in.

I am not a luthier. I consider myself a student of lutherie and I'm still learning. So ok, what have I learned? Three big things:

It is the top (doh!)
It is how the top is braced (double doh!)
And proper scale length compensation at the nut and saddle for the strings to give accurate intonation. (By the way, the intonation on most ukes is an embarrassment if you ask me and some of my own instruments are included.)

Get those three things right and the uke will sound good maybe even great. However, the construction must be structurally sound.... I know that is somewhat over-simplistic so don't flame me too much. There are lots of other little things too. Aloha!

But it's even more difficult or problematic than that. Changing parameters is all well and good. . . . . but how long did it take? You are then relying on your memory of what it sounded like prior to the change, that could be hours or days. I don't think our memories are good enough, unless it's a pretty obvious change. It's bad enough trying to compare two instruments played immediately after each other, several hours apart is a nightmare. You can't even be sure that you are playing the instrument in the exact same manner. It's all fraught with danger. A very high quality recording might be the best solution and even then you will need some fixed repeatable mechanical solution to plucking the strings. Something like a harpsichord mechanism. Other than that I guess we just do what we can. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if much of the time we are just fooling ourselves.
Then of course there is individual preference. I tend to like bright sounding instruments. Other folk like dark sounding instruments. There is no wrong or right, only opinions. The only 'right' is convincing other people that you make incredibly great sounding instruments.

Timbuck
10-09-2017, 11:33 PM
Good points. I changed some things on my newest model and here is the thing: Refinement and change is good, but if you can't identify the change that made the newest model sound great, how are you going to reproduce it in the next model? I worked as scientist in my former life. When things are not working, the temptation is to start change multiple parameters in order to get the desired outcome. This can actually work. Say you change temperature, pressure, the osmoality of the solution and put on new socks and the experiment works perfectly! Yea! What was it that you changed that led to the success? This is when you work backwards. Go back and change one parameter at a time and see what happens. No luck? Change another parameter and see. Still no luck? Change the third parameter only and see what happens. Often times you can then identify the parameter that made the difference using the back tracking method.

Then again here is another problem: It wasn't any one thing you changed but a combination of all them acting together which is when we get into serious head banging territory. The dreaded synergistic situation. It can be hard to chop a stringed instrument into discrete parts because they tend to work together as a system. This is where the art comes in.

I am not a luthier. I consider myself a student of lutherie and I'm still learning. So ok, what have I learned? Three big things:

It is the top (doh!)
It is how the top is braced (double doh!)
And proper scale length compensation at the nut and saddle for the strings to give accurate intonation. (By the way, the intonation on most ukes is an embarrassment if you ask me and some of my own instruments are included.)

Get those three things right and the uke will sound good maybe even great. However, the construction must be structurally sound.... I know that is somewhat over-simplistic so don't flame me too much. There are lots of other little things too. Aloha! you forgot the strings :D

robedney
10-10-2017, 05:38 AM
You are nearly right sequoia...you also have to find a way of driving all the energy to the front. And the socks? Every day; then you have your first constant :)

Yes! Thank you Pete. It is the top, but it's not only the top. I've been prototyping and have made several instruments with essentially the same top, all of which sound different -- some just slightly and some radically. There's no avoiding the fact that it's the totality of the system -- thus the socks.

Pete Howlett
10-10-2017, 09:46 AM
About 3 years ago I made some fundamental design changes to my fronts and backs. I got more volume and sustain and a slightly more complex sound. Without letting this oen go suffice to say, I 'tightened up' certain areas of the instrument...

southcoastukes
10-10-2017, 04:02 PM
First, everybody that builds musical instruments is a “designer”. It seems like the initial thrust of this thread was to not take your designs too far afield. That was the recipe for “designing for failure”.

Coincidentally, here’s something that was just posted; something I thought was somewhat apropos to the theme of this thread.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ocv1HG8P_Ag

Obviously we’re looking at a very well-studied and talented luthier here. Here is his site:

http://lute.cepelak.cz/introe.html

But I would guess that his knowledge of how to produce sound in general kept this instrument from being a complete financial disaster. In other words, he didn’t spend as much time on this creation as one might imagine. Of course Ukulele luthiers aren’t this knowledgeable, right? They don’t get involved in anything this complicated, do they?

Well, maybe not quite this complicated, but the closest thing I can think of to something like this in the Ukulele World is the Harp Ukulele. And the two fellows I know of who have dabbled in that design have posted here: Duane “no longneck” Heilman and the OP: Pete “think payroll” Howlett.

It seems to me you guys did a great job. So what happened? Was that the experience that turned you’all against “experiments”? Were those your “designs for failure”? Do you maybe use that experience to “slap yourself in the face” when the desire to scratch that design itch hits? (though Duane has since built "ukulele-like" instruments). Seems to me that even if it didn’t make you’all big bucks, it may have given you both some cred (as well as personal satisfaction).

And here's a question. Not that they have to be mutually exclusive, but should the small batch luthier offer alternatives to standard instruments, offer simple standard instruments of high quality, or focus on fancy woods and adornments?

BlackBearUkes
10-10-2017, 05:18 PM
To respond, but keep that response short, building harp ukes of various sizes and shapes was much fun, but time consuming. It was also not possible to get paid for that time element that made it a continues effort. I certainly don't regret experimenting with harp ukes or ULO's, but the money/sales weren't there to sustain either. Same goes for the 8 violins and other instruments I have constructed over the years.



First, everybody that builds musical instruments is a “designer”. It seems like the initial thrust of this thread was to not take your designs too far afield. That was the recipe for “designing for failure”.

Coincidentally, here’s something that was just posted; something I thought was somewhat apropos to the theme of this thread.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ocv1HG8P_Ag

Obviously we’re looking at a very well-studied and talented luthier here. Here is his site:

http://lute.cepelak.cz/introe.html

But I would guess that his knowledge of how to produce sound in general kept this instrument from being a complete financial disaster. In other words, he didn’t spend as much time on this creation as one might imagine. Of course Ukulele luthiers aren’t this knowledgeable, right? They don’t get involved in anything this complicated, do they?

Well, maybe not quite this complicated, but the closest thing I can think of to something like this in the Ukulele World is the Harp Ukulele. And the two fellows I know of who have dabbled in that design have posted here: Duane “no longneck” Heilman and the OP: Pete “think payroll” Howlett.

It seems to me you guys did a great job. So what happened? Was that the experience that turned you’all against “experiments”? Were those your “designs for failure”? Do you maybe use that experience to “slap yourself in the face” when the desire to scratch that design itch hits? (though Duane has since built "ukulele-like" instruments). Seems to me that even if it didn’t make you’all big bucks, it may have given you both some cred (as well as personal satisfaction).

And here's a question. Not that they have to be mutually exclusive, but should the small batch luthier offer alternatives to standard instruments, offer simple standard instruments of high quality, or focus on fancy woods and adornments?

Nickie
10-10-2017, 06:59 PM
I've been following this thread and was not going to post, for I am not a luthier, nor do I have any skin in the game for either side, however, for better or worse, I feel compelled to speak now...

I wish folks would be able to find within themselves, the compassion to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

It saddens me deeply to see that one person's opinion has made another feel unwelcome or slighted, despite the absence of malice.

If a mutual understanding is not possible, maybe it is possible to agree to disagree without folks feeling that their ego has been bruised? (remember opinions are like belly-buttons, in that EVERYONE has one :))

I am no expert in these matters, but I am asking those that have been involved to please forgive each other, at least for a moment, and step back and have a think about what has happened here.

I have no authority, nor do I want any here, I am just an observer trying to facilitate decorum...

Thank you sincerely, for reading my humble words. :)

I am certainly no luthier, but I know human nature pretty well. And I've met some luthiers, some very successful, some moderately successful, and some failures. The failures weren't necessarily the worst builders, but one for instance, refused to build concert size ukes. That and overpricing led to ruin, quickly. And I know lots of ukulele players, at all levels. And I know most of them have NO idea what they need or want in an instrument. We ukers can be real PITAs.
I know just enough to know that I agree with Booli. We don't all have to like each other, but we do have to get along. Anyone coming here looking for a fight can just leave, for all I care.

sequoia
10-10-2017, 07:00 PM
Damn! I knew I should have changed my socks before shaping that last neck! You knew the secret all along and didnít tell us?

Yes the socks are important, but I forgot to mention the "underwear factor". Brown is a good color. Especially when your handheld router decides to launch itself into space. I favor the "earth-tone" color scheme line from Sears when I cut in binding channels. Makes all the difference and my ukes sound great.

But seriously... Judging your parameter changes is so subjective without quantitative measurement that it makes the whole exercise almost meaningless. True, a dog is a dog and a crap sounding instrument is obvious, but the subtle changes in sound are hard to track in two closely sounding instruments. At least for me. And then there is taste and preference of individual players. I built an instrument too light to my taste with no bottom and a buyer just loved how it responded to a "light touch". So there is no one size fits all. All I know is what I like and that is what I strive for.

Pete Howlett
10-10-2017, 08:10 PM
The harp ukulele is a 'novelty'. It is hard to play well and it generall drives you into a single style of playing. I can't make one for less than $2500/$3000 and people are simply not willing to pay. Likewise, every year I get inquiries to build a Weissenborn 'like the one Jack Rose played' Bearing in mins the koa alone would now cost me landed in the UK close on $1000, when I quote $4000 for the work I get no follow up. The market will stand what it stands. Despite my 'position' in the building world I still cannot command the prices in Europe I would get if I was living and selling in the US or Japan. A lot of my materials and consummables are imported from the US which is killing profits because of the low exchange rate due to the Brexit fiasco!

It's a bald fact that business is all about cash in, cash out and making sure the former is greater than the latter. It's also an usual month if there is not some 'extraordinary expenditure' I hadn't planned for that arises, gobbling up my profits/savings. If this is the sole means of making income for anyone, they have to concentrate on the bottom line and taking it back to the theme of the post, designing for disappointment is not a major activity I will or can engage in regularly... I say regularly because I have two new designs in developoment stage that I am squeezing in on my 'free time' such as it is :) I must keep my eye in the money and if that sounds mercenary then I am a merecenary. A solvent mercenary :)

"Payroll Pete" as I am to be known from now on it seems :) :)

Debussychopin
10-10-2017, 09:52 PM
Someone make me an 11" six string guitalele nino in solid burl wood please.
And give me a good bargain price on it so I can sell it off for no loss if I don't like it after having it for awhile.

Bc I see you luthier as a vending machine service for my center of the world. I know not of your livelihood and needing to put food on the table.


Hehe

I kid

ukantor
10-10-2017, 11:23 PM
Just as no two luthiers are alike, it seems to me that no two ukes are, either. As stated above, it is difficult for a maker to evaluate whether slight changes in design or contruction have brought about any improvement. I would add that it would be extremely difficult to build two ukeleles that sound exactly the same. You could take timber that came from the same tree, and build to exactly the same design, and my guess is that the two siblings would still have their own distinctive characters. I would expect them to be very similar, but not just the same.

finkdaddy
10-11-2017, 07:33 AM
"Payroll Pete" as I am to be known from now on it seems :) :)

That's fantastic! I would wear that name as a badge of honor. :)

southcoastukes
10-16-2017, 05:35 PM
"Payroll Pete" as I am to be known from now on it seems :) :)

Ha! As "finkdaddy" said, a badge of honor indeed. I've always maintained some degree of income from furniture design, but having been involved in "trades" for much of my time, the importance Pete places on being able to generate a living from full time luthier work is essential not just for him, but as a guide for others as to how the trade can go forward. Still, it's also instructive to hear how he (and Duane) squeeze in time for the more esoteric pursuits and how they use that experience to expand their knowledge of the art.

A couple of folks have mentioned the difficulty of knowing how much of an effect a change in material or construction will have on sound. It's not difficult, it's just time consuming. After being away from instrument production for a few years, we're in the final stage of the first new design.

Based on an old model, we first built two new ones with identical construction and materials but different body shapes and volumes. Not dramatically different, but not dificult to hear the difference either. Then had to change the soundboard (a local material proved to be unavailable in knot-free boards without trmendous waste). The (hopefully) last model is underway now with another soundboard change. I pushed it a bit by including a construction change as well. Hopefully it won't come back to bite me, but I think I know what's going on now well enough with this particular design to be able to differentiate one effect from the other (if not I'll be kicking myself).

So that's the key. Build one instrument and hold onto it until you get newer version in hand. Try not to change more than one thing (try!). If there's a difference, it won't be difficult to hear. If you really produce something bad along the way, then you just have to eat it, but with a good starting point, you'll generally just have variations on a theme, not something you wouldn't want your name on.

Pete Howlett
10-16-2017, 10:53 PM
Thanks Dirk. There has to be a foil to the perceived concept of why we do what we do: this idea - "I am doing it for the love of it." Making a living from art is a fine line between ruthlessness and magnaminity. We should not be ashamed of charging a good price for good work.

As far as innovation and sound goes in the Pete Howlett workshop: I am happy the restless spirit of inspiration rarely needs to visit these days, well not for ukes anyway. It is preoccupied in me with stuff like this which is all about making a $7000 machine earn its keep!

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