View Full Version : HoneyBell Ukes, handmade in Florida

04-21-2010, 04:34 AM
Yesterday I was in Orlando for business and paid a visit to the Guitar Factory, where Douglas Montgomery and Bill Fels have been hand-building custom guitars, an also doing restoration work, for a couple of decades now. They've built guitars for Jimmy Buffett, Warren Haynes (Allman Bros.), Derek Trucks (ditto), Chris Squire (Yes), Dominic Miller (of Sting's band), Mike Rutherford (Genesis), Kirk Hammett (Metallica), and many others. And now they build ukuleles, too, called HoneyBells.

Despite having made instruments for rock royalty, and despite my showing up out of the blue, the guys at Guitar Factory could not have been nicer to this beginner uker. He showed me around the shop where all the instruments are made, and pointed out the different pieces of wood that were destined to become guitars or ukuleles. One of the pieces still had bark on it, which I thought was pretty cool. We flipped through a book of photos of all the luminaries who have played their guitars. Douglas Montgomery was working on a guitar at the time but stopped and said a brief hello too.

Bill and his son Corey, who works alongside his father, then showed me the ukuleles they had on hand, all of which were sopranos (they also make concerts). One was an all-solid mahogany with a rosewood fretboard, another was solid mahogany with a solid spruce top. The third was made entirely of solid chinaberry, including the fretboard. Though it is a non-native species, Chinaberry trees are common in Florida -- as a kid I used to climb one in my neighbor's yard, and in fact this particular uke was made from wood grown locally. In terms of color it was in between the mahogany and spruce-- not as dark brown as mahogany and not as light as spruce -- but with darker vertical stripes, a little bit like the zebrawood or ohai used by some manufacturers, but more subtle and more widely spaced.

Each of the ukes had lovely wood, a pretty and not-too-thick gloss finish, and side fret markers made from what looked like mother of pearl, but other than that were unadorned. As a nice touch, each HoneyBell uke comes with one of several "vintage" style, humorous labels designed by a local artist. In the hand the ukes felt both very light and very solid, which seems to me is how a custom uke should feel. And they sounded sweet.

This was only the second or third time I've ever played an all-solid-wood instrument, and the first time I've played anything hand-built, so I am not the best judge of these things. But I left very impressed with HoneyBell ukes. And the prices seemed reasonable for an all solid, totally hand-built ukulele -- $495 for a soprano. Mr. Fels said concerts would run closer to $700.

They also build HoneyBells to order. I didn't get details on the custom ordering process. But after meeting them and seeing their handiwork lining the walls, I think they'd be great to work with, and could probably do whatever you wanted them too. In addition to the tonewoods discussed above, I know they build with cedar, koa, brazillan rosewood, maple, myrtle, and others.

All in all it was a very fun visit. Bill and Corey spent a lot of time with me talking about their ukuleles, tonewoods, and the history of the shop. I wish it weren't 3 hours from my home!

Here is their bare-bones website: www.guitarfactory.us

Here is a blog post by the designer (http://oneswellillustrator.blogspot.com/2009/05/my-dog-has-fleas-and-i-have-new-ukulele.html)who made those HoneyBell vintage labels.

Here are some youtube videos (http://www.google.com/search?q=Honeybell+ukes+youtube&hl=en&rls=com.microsoft:en-US&source=univ&tbs=vid:1&tbo=u&ei=HwnPS-W9OInW8ASZ2bnCDw&sa=X&oi=video_result_group&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CBQQqwQwAA)of people playing Honeybells.

If any of you are in the Orlando area, pay them a visit. I'd especially love to hear the impressions of those of you who have more experience with custom / hand-built ukuleles.

04-21-2010, 05:04 AM
Very cool thanks for sharing this. I would like to find a local luthier that can rebuild a neck for my Tacoma THunderchief bass. (FMIC bought out Tacoma and ceased production fo the entire line). I visited the Loprinzi shop once, but I did not get a full tour or anything. I gather its a much smaller op than what you described.

04-21-2010, 05:09 AM
I love the look of the china berry! It would be awesome if they came in a tenor size.

04-21-2010, 05:18 AM
Thanks for sharing. Looks like somethng to check out. Great one more builder to consider when buying a uke :).

I am going to be in Florida next week but not Orlando, I will be in Ft. Lauderdale area, bummer.