View Full Version : Holy Grail

Pete Howlett
10-05-2011, 09:42 AM
Two years ago I was at the workshop of Juha Lottonen (http://www.lottonen.com/uk/index.html) and we were looking at the wood pile and stuff and he let me into 2 very well kept secrets: Finnish alder is a great tonewood and Santos rosewood makes great fingerboards. Juha had a hastily put together soprano that sounded great and since then I have been on the prowl for some.

I had a billet of estate Alder - bit wild with some exciting figure but more appetising to a wood turner. I have used it for necks but it is not good enough for backs and sides. I also had a pile of heat dried alder (don't ask me, I've got no idea of the process) from a mill in South Wales that yielded so much waste I ended doing some laminated necks but still a decent board to experiment with was until last week, out of my reach.

The billet I acquired was a short 7" quartersawn board of English alder (same genus as Finnish but this variety has some lovely brown flecks in its snow white surface). I spent some time today preparing it for bodies. I have to report that it cuts sweetly, sands cleanly, is as light as a feather (comparable to cedar) and looks set to produce some outstanding blonde sopranos. When I have cleared my backlog I'll document it but I am confident that I have found the light colour wood I am looking for to style up the retro Art Deco designs I am working on at the moment. The other great thing about this wood is that it is close pored like sycamore/maple/birch so none of that pesky grain filling - HOORAY! It takes lacquer well and has an irridescent look that birch often has but that eludes most of the maples.

We'll see if I can replicate Juha's little beauty with a simple build slotted into my soprano schedule next week.

Before you jump in this is NOT like American alder which can have a green tinge and is a lot like poplar...

10-05-2011, 09:52 AM
This post is on the other end of the spectrum from your high cost of luthier tonewoods post. I think overall, everything equals out. I’ll be looking forward to seeing your build.


Steve vanPelt
10-05-2011, 09:54 AM
Congrats, Pete. Just reading your story put a smile on my face. I can imagine you're ear to ear right about now.

Pete Howlett
10-05-2011, 10:09 AM
Yes Steve, when the boat comes in it's worth docking. You are right Stephen. However I just don't know how well recieved these new instrument are going to be. I may be on a hiding to nothing... I have piles of walnut that will never make it into ukulele despite my love of the wood and how well it performs in the concert configuration. Walnut is a disgracefully hard sell and I have no idea why. I know Rick uses it and some guitar makers rave over it but I have only made 5 instruments out of it in the last 16 years... I just do not understand it :(

10-05-2011, 11:23 AM
I've built some alder ukes, and I like it a lot. I now have huge amounts of Swedish alder, both dry and drying.

10-05-2011, 11:37 AM
Hey Pete!

I hate to put my ignorant nose in this forum, but I have to ask about what kind of Art Deco designs you're planning, because I'm a big Art Deco fan. Any teasers?

Pete Howlett
10-05-2011, 11:45 AM
Contratsing white/light woods with tortoise shell binding, painted black finishes with white accents, incredible birdseye maple line of resonators... just trying to make the pieces elegant and stylish.

10-05-2011, 12:14 PM
We've used santos/morado for fretboards quite a lot and it is indeed an excellent choice.

Alder we've used for solid bodies, an e-bass and two e-guitars, not yet for ukes or other "acoustic" instruments.

10-06-2011, 10:27 AM
Anxiously looking forward to any and all photos of this wood and parts of and finished unique ukuleles.

10-06-2011, 11:07 AM
Might have to ask my sister's Finnish housemate to bring me some Finnish Alder next time she goes back home. Have a pile of maple at the moment but it has quite a pronounced grain and would like something a bit plainer. Foreign wood wise, I'm still on the hunt for some Tibetan spruce, amazing grain that should look great on the parlour guitar I'll be building next summer.

Pete Howlett
10-06-2011, 12:26 PM
How's the tenor sounding Jim?