View Full Version : Ukes you regret building... or at least remember very well

12-11-2009, 10:57 PM
I'm sure we all have at least one. It could be something artistic, something about the tone, or a pain in the butt client.

Here's my story. About 1998, we were barely two years young. I was a kid near fresh out of school and hadn't seriously devoted myself to my craft at the time. I had no wife and kids, no hobbies other than work, and lots of time to kill when I wasn't doing my hobby or working.

I built a number of "Hey, I wonder what _____ would be like?" ukes at the time. One of which was made entirely of 2X4s. The sound box was fashioned somewhere between a balalaika and Martin Backpacker design. I might have used a koa neck and fret board. Anyway, it ended up sounding like crap. I was still building my fundamental skill set and I barely had an idea of how the acoustics of an ukulele work. Nonetheless, I put good effort into the build and it was something I was proud of. If not for only the lesson learned about what doesn't work, not of the sound.

Although it sounded like crap, it did look really cool. Koa and mahogany are popular ukulele wood choices, while ukulele built from 2X4s are somewhat rare. I lent it to one of our dealers who had just opened his store for a display only model. Basically a window looker, to enchant the eye of a whimsical passer by. A couple weeks went by and I got a call from him. A customer saw it in the window and absolutely wanted to buy it. When I lent him the ukulele, I gave him specific instructions that it was NOT for sale. It sounded like crap and I didn't want something like that with my name attached to it. When I say crap, imagine hearing everything through a crappy am radio on a half broken speaker. The thing had no volume, and the tone of a can of spam. I asked him if he told the customer that the ukulele was not for sale. He did explain it, but the guy wouldn't take no for an answer. He refused to leave the store until he heard with his own ears that the builder will not sell the instrument. Moments later, I was speaking to the customer and he wasn't pushy, but very much wanted to buy the ukulele. I explained that I wasn't proud of the way it sounded, but he actually loved the looks and sound. It did produce a unique sound... Eventually I caved, after speaking with the man. I figured if he really likes it that much, he can have it. While it may not have been an instrument I liked tonally, if he liked it, that's all that matters.

I don't really regret building that ukulele, or selling it. It did allow me a building and life lesson in one crack. I do remember the experience well, though.

12-12-2009, 02:58 PM
Hi Paul, I have a similar story. I got back into building ukes a couple of years ago and in 2008 at the GAL convention, I picked up an absolutely gorgeous piece of koa that I could resaw and make into four ukuleles. Being very excited I promptly built a terrific looking soprano uke, abalone purfling, Brazilian rosewood fretboard and bridge, the whole works. Problem was, I left the koa just a little too thick and the bridge a bit too high and it does not sound very good to me. I had decided that it was to be a wall hanger. Before even starting to build it however, I had mentioned my intention to do so to a customer of mine. I ran into him a year later and he wants to see the uke, so I show it to him saying it is not for sale. He insists he wants to buy it for his five year old niece. I eventually relent, figuring if a five year old is going to have a uke, it should be overbuilt. I hope I don't regret that decision.