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View Full Version : A traditional mastergrade koa tenor...



Pete Howlett
09-09-2008, 07:02 AM
Its not loaded yet but when it does, check it out. Koa doesn't get any better than this:

Mastergrade (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQC1I7BouIc)

HI@heart
09-09-2008, 09:01 AM
BEAUTIFUL! Again.

[drooool] :p

Some day I might be worthy of a mastergrade. :worship:

wearymicrobe
09-09-2008, 10:20 AM
I really have to order one from you sooner then later.

Quick question, I understand you don't like modifying the bridge shape but a compensated saddle has made major improvements in my builds and I have been able to correct as many as ~9 points out with it. How far out would you say that you average without one.

Yours sound dead on, do you shape the nut or install the bridge at a slight angle to compensate. Any tricks on placement of the bridge at all, I have been using the old martin way with locating drilling a small hole and running two screws into the soundboard. But it seems to shift the bridge ever so slightly

Pete Howlett
09-09-2008, 10:32 AM
There are no tricks. I think one of the problems with intonation may stem from the incorrect position of the nut. When this slot is cut it needs to be zero minus half the thickness of the saw blade. Work it out? The frets have their centre pint in the middle of the saw slot. That very first slot advances the nut position by exactly half the saw width tonally - therfore in most cases you start with the whole fretboard out. It is a minor measurement but I think this is what causes intonation problems. Just slant the nut back slightly or fit a zero fret.

The other side of the argument is the obsession with intonation. If you have a classical left hand then you will be intonating each string in each fret position accurately. You will need perfect intonation (a paradox anyway given the logarithmic nature of the fret scale). As 99% of people out there don't and can't tell the difference, I am not going to pander to the nerdy end of the market and couldn't even tell you why or how my instruments play in tune - straight saddle set back 1mm - it's the way I have always done it with never any complaints.

Compensating saddle do not compensate for poor tone, projection and finish. These are the things I am interested in, not a cocnept of perfect intonation because as soon as you get a hand built uke in a hot room you are asking for trouble. The skill is in the player who can do the necessary workarounds these problems that makes the instrument.

A classic example would be the rev, Gary davis - if you tried and played his guitar you would struggle - he tuned it the way he wanted to hear it. Does it sound out of tune? To some, maybe but to me - anything he did was cool.

Sorry wearymicrobe - I am not a technical builder...

deach
09-09-2008, 10:49 AM
I don't understand something. In the video, you did the intonation check and then you tuned the uke ( before you played the sample). Wouldn't re-tuning it change the accuracy of the intonation?

wearymicrobe
09-09-2008, 11:07 AM
l.

Sorry wearymicrobe - I am not a technical builder...

I just wanted to get the jist of how you approced your builds.I obsess over the technical, using CNC mills for slotting/carving and measuring out my varnish on scales designed for cancer drug production.

In the end your really do sound a lot better then mine no mater how much science/tech I put into them. I can make them look great but consistently good sound quality is something I just have not achieved.

Pete Howlett
09-09-2008, 11:31 AM
Well it's obvious where you are going wrong - being too scientific ;) .

The real trick to this building business is found in these three things you must do:

Chose the best materials you can afford
Build light
Build accurately
If you do these things it will turn out right. Just try not to innovate - it's not worth the effort.

The fourth thing is that mojo that only the gifted get... some people say I have it, Jonah Kumalae certainly had it +:worship: I dunno; I let my clients be the judge:rock:

Let me know when you are building next and I'll give you some critical dimensions..

Pete Howlett
09-09-2008, 11:34 AM
Deach

It was almost in tune - intonation isn't altered by wether or not the instrument is in tune. It's a mechanical thing. I can't explain it - Dave Means is the best guy to go for technical answers. Truth is, i just build 'em and they seem to turn out OK and just occassionaly, great:rock:

deach
09-09-2008, 12:06 PM
Deach

It was almost in tune - intonation isn't altered by wether or not the instrument is in tune. It's a mechanical thing. I can't explain it - Dave Means is the best guy to go for technical answers. Truth is, i just build 'em and they seem to turn out OK and just occassionaly, great:rock:

He doesn't live too far away from me. Maybe I'll knock on his door and tell him you sent me.

I still consider myself a noob. I understood intonation to mean - being in tune all the way up the fretboard. I understand that mechanics of how a note can be flat or sharp when fretted and the action is too high or low. So I guess it went against my logic that "intonation isn't altered by wether or not the instrument is in tune".

I guess that's why I buy them and you build them.

acabooe
09-10-2008, 09:30 AM
Looks great Pete,
I am gonna be to your level of building some day.
How long have you been building, and where did you learn form?
Aloha
Bob

Pete Howlett
09-10-2008, 09:48 AM
I am an autodidact...

All of my students whether it be guitar or building say that they are going to be at my level one day. Not met any who have achieved it because, surprise, surprise, I keep on improving. If I didn't there wouldn't be any point carrying on would there?

It's flattering to receive praise and I humbly thank you. However, be your own benchmark - aspire to a standard you want to reach and then when you get there, you will not be disappointed! Try and get the design right - gobble up everything to do with fitness for purpose - furniture, glass, pots, architecture. After a while you will recognise common 'rules' regarding form and function. Take a look at the classic builders - they reached their zenith on all counts and in my estimation (for what it is worth) cannot be beaten! Do not try to innovate - carbon fibre balony, compensated saddle crap, Kasha bracing... what's the point I ask you? If you want a guitar, build one!

Dominator
09-10-2008, 12:36 PM
Do not try to innovate - carbon fibre balony, compensated saddle crap, Kasha bracing... what's the point I ask you? If you want a guitar, build one!

Remember folks that it's good to have an open mind regardless of whether we are talking about building ukes or practicing music or whatever. This reminds me of someones signature line that used to post on FMM that said. "Remember, don't believe everything you read on the Internet" :p.

deach
09-10-2008, 03:09 PM
Remember folks that it's good to have an open mind regardless of whether we are talking about building ukes or practicing music or whatever. This reminds me of someones signature line that used to post on FMM that said. "Remember, don't believe everything you read on the Internet" :p.

http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL1302/4819541/17784501/334012428.jpg

wearymicrobe
09-10-2008, 05:44 PM
Take a look at the classic builders - they reached their zenith on all counts and in my estimation (for what it is worth) cannot be beaten! Do not try to innovate - carbon fibre balony, compensated saddle crap, Kasha bracing... what's the point I ask you? If you want a guitar, build one!

Such a load, had to say it, but hopefully you typed it in jest. There are modern builders out there that surpass in tone and build anything that came out in the last 100 years. I truly mean that, and only through experimenting with new tech.

Progress is not always good but take a look at the constancy and build quality of the shops that are doing large batch ukulele production. Without innovation in build techniques they simply could not exist, and the world would be poorer for it. Less instruments in less hands and all that, or poor expensive instruments in the hands of few.

Also I think using guitar tech on ukulele builds is not the boogie man that we have all been led to believe. Provided it leads to better tone, playability, or access what possible harm can come of it.

Pete Howlett
09-10-2008, 11:44 PM
No I did not type it in jest! There are quite a few builders whose work is superb but there are not, to my mind, building ukulele. They are building small guitars. My Yewkulele, because of it's sustain and tone is very close to sounding like a guitar capoed at the 8th fret...

Lets take a look -

Carbon fibre: I have never seen a uke with a bent neck. If you want a rigid neck you simply add mass to the fingerboard.
Compensated saddle - only the truly perfect pitch playing person needs this. With my playing, the further up the neck I go the more I push the strings out of tune. Most players will do this so any intonation problems are usually caused by playing technique and are often not helped by having the instrument in perfect tune. See also my comments about nut placement affecting intonation.
Fan bracing - this is necessary on a clasical guitar to distribute the very complex frequencies of that instrument. Ukulele are simple, direct and immediate. If you are making something to behave like a guitar then that is what it is: a mini guitar. Hence my comment.


I surprise myself when I say these things because I am usually quite open minded. However, when it comes to making ukulele I think there are some things that simply don't need to be done or improved upon and this is my point. Why fix something that ain't broke.

This is not to say other people are wrong. It is simply my position and I respect theirs. As a professional builder with a defined market I have no need or desire to innovate. I'll play around with ideas and instruments but that will usually be shape and form. For me the mechanics have reached their zenith.

acabooe
09-11-2008, 09:57 AM
I suppose that in the end, it will be just a difference of opinion on what a person likes, and what works.

I do like Kasha bracing, side sound ports, intricate inlays, compensated saddles, and designing new and innovative Ukulele designs. That is not to say , however, that I am all show and no go. I belive there needs to be a fine balance between the form and function of an instrument.
As long as there are innovators, there will be customers to buy their products period ( as long as the products are good quality, and not poorly designed and built ).
I am an innovator, and I will refine my design until it is commonplace in the market. And then the people can decide if they want to buy it or not. For those that do, great, for those that don't, that is fine, because others will.
Pete, I respect you as a luthier, but we just don't see eye to eye on a few things, and that is fine, to each their own.
Good luck in your business.
Aloha
Bob

Pete Howlett
09-11-2008, 10:57 AM
Bob - I been doing this for 14 years. There are a few people in the market place who enjoy innovation and buy it. However, why do you think there is only one company making bowlback composite guitars, mandolins and ukulele? Well its because they suck and everyone out there knows they suck except the company making them. And the only way you get them to sound good is by putting a very high grade pickup sustem in them...

Most of the innovation in ukulele building is to improve the sound - well it don't mean a thing if you are playing out because the sound engineer is going to model that sound to what he believes to be the correct acoutic attenuation. Whne it comes to acoustic comparissons - you know when you've got a dud. I think all that Kasha bracing just adds unnecessary mass to the top of what is quite a crude instrument.

As you say - horses for courses. Have you seen my recent sound samples where there is not intonated bridge, simple bracing and trad design. I think they speak for themselves... but hey, I'm a fan:rock:

deach
09-11-2008, 11:02 AM
Bob - I been doing this for 14 years. There are a few people in the market place who enjoy innovation and buy it. However, why do you think there is only one company making bowlback composite guitars, mandolins and ukulele? Well its because they suck and everyone out there knows they suck except the company making them. And the only way you get them to sound good is by putting a very high grade pickup sustem in them... .....

Only one company makes Tim Tams and damn, they do it well. It's a major reason my butt is so big.

http://torontoist.com/attachments/Alison/tim%20tam.jpg

russ_buss
09-11-2008, 11:18 AM
Bob - I been doing this for 14 years. There are a few people in the market place who enjoy innovation and buy it. However, why do you think there is only one company making bowlback composite guitars, mandolins and ukulele? Well its because they suck and everyone out there knows they suck except the company making them. And the only way you get them to sound good is by putting a very high grade pickup sustem in them...

Most of the innovation in ukulele building is to improve the sound - well it don't mean a thing if you are playing out because the sound engineer is going to model that sound to what he believes to be the correct acoutic attenuation. Whne it comes to acoustic comparissons - you know when you've got a dud. I think all that Kasha bracing just adds unnecessary mass to the top of what is quite a crude instrument.

As you say - horses for courses. Have you seen my recent sound samples where there is not intonated bridge, simple bracing and trad design. I think they speak for themselves... but hey, I'm a fan:rock:

you have got to be one of the biggest snobs in the world.

deach
09-11-2008, 11:22 AM
you have got to be one of the biggest snobs in the world.

Wow! I'd expect this type of response from deach, yeah I spoke of myself in 3rd person, but coming from mild mannered you it really means something. I have to admit Pete, a lot of your post have put me off as well.

Pete Howlett
09-11-2008, 11:31 AM
I'm not aiming to be popular and it's not snobbery. There is, in the music business, a lot of flummery. I tend not to talk up what I do and just do it. You'd think after 400 ukulele I'd know what I was doing but hey, it appears not? Oh well; each to his own. At least I don't have to get personal to put my point across, that is supposing I'm allowed a position that isn't with everyones else....:nana:

I've posted a few more vids on Youtube and am processing the requested tutorial.

russ_buss
09-11-2008, 11:56 AM
I'm not aiming to be popular and it's not snobbery. There is, in the music business, a lot of flummery. I tend not to talk up what I do and just do it. You'd think after 400 ukulele I'd know what I was doing but hey, it appears not? Oh well; each to his own. At least I don't have to get personal to put my point across, that is supposing I'm allowed a position that isn't with everyones else....:nana:

I've posted a few more vids on Youtube and am processing the requested tutorial.

i wasn't suggesting you don't have great uke building skills. just that you're a snob. it is possible to be a great builder and a snob at the same time. congrats on being both.

Pete Howlett
09-11-2008, 12:03 PM
And you are?:rolleyes:

russ_buss
09-11-2008, 12:12 PM
And you are?:rolleyes:

...a very observant a-hole. i'll end my hijack of your thread. this is way off topic now.
:D:):rolleyes:

Pete Howlett
09-11-2008, 12:21 PM
Yep - they say, "When you are in a hole stop digging!"

LoMa
09-11-2008, 12:32 PM
Well, you can be a great builder, and use great materials, and build a beautiful looking instrument, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get a great sounding ukulele...

I'm completely sure Pete Howlett has made lots of fine sounding and resonant isntruments, but several years ago I had a concert uke of his that was stunningly spectacular and beautiful highly flamed koa with a truly lovely paua shell purfling and all the rest. But it sounded deader than a doornail and had wolf tones on two particular notes (I don't remember which notes they were now). I bought it from Bernunzio, sold it to a private party shortly after I got it, and saw it back on sale at Elderly a few months later and then sold again, and saw it again for sale on ebay a couple of months after that.

The same builder using similar materials won't always get "the" sound. Maybe the best and most mature builders are those who won't sell an instrument whose sound is subpar, regardless of how beautiful it looks, even if built on consignment.

Please please note that I am not casting aspersions on Pete Howlett's work. I am just telling my experience, and this was several years ago. He may have changed his construction techniques, or perhaps that particular instrument was just a fluke in unresonant unhappiness.

Pete Howlett
09-11-2008, 12:51 PM
Intereseing - this is the first dud I have heard of... I wonder what happened to it. John would have returned it so would Elderly. I dealt with both... oh well. One out of four hundred... any more out there?

Must have been made 1997... as I said - I have improved and continue to do so. If you read my posts. watch my videos and read comments from satisfied customers you will see I don't claim to be the greatest. I can recommend building loads of instruments - that concert would have been half way through my batch building career - I can't find my book but it will be recorded.

Now I am beginning to get it really right. Thanks for this story. Far from humbling me totally, it has given me the hope that my best work is really yet to come.

lecky
09-11-2008, 11:36 PM
Hi Pete, hi guys. My first post here beyond an into. I've played a few of Pete's recent instruments - a couple of tenors and some sopranos. I've found them to be really nice instruments. The helsinki sopranos that he made are the most exceptional sops I've played, and I've played a few high end ukes. Of course that's quite a subjective thing to say - they're loud and have very clear crisp forward sound, nicely balanced and with complex undertones (yes, I know, sounds like a pretentious wine review... sorry), more like an improvement on the good qualities of a kumalae or any of those bright, warm sounding old hawaiian ukes than say the qualities of a good Martin.
As for Pete himself, I think he reads differently to how he comes across in person. Perhaps some of the negative qualities attributed to him are due to that. He's a lovely guy - very particular - but absolutely a lovely guy.

Aldrine Guerrero
09-12-2008, 06:14 PM
Yep - they say, "When you are in a hole stop digging!"

I feel tension building in this thread...
Clickie!

http://ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?t=14

rayan
09-12-2008, 06:32 PM
Pete you should probably read this post and then if you choose to continue posting here, adhere to the recommendations.

http://ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2630

Imagine if Aldrine posted stuff like that about learning the ukulele. I bet there wouldn't be very many people in the UU forums if he had that attitude.

lecky
09-13-2008, 10:28 PM
Aldrine, I hope you won't take it the wrong way, but that's quite ambiguous moderation - it could be aimed at just Pete - you quote him, and that would be rather uneven moderation - I was a bit taken aback when I read it that way, particularly when followed by rayans comment, but you probably meant it for a few people who were contributing to building tensions? Sorry to be a moany new guy, no one likes that! Just that it's important to know where you stand with moderation.
More importantly I think there's something interesting in what Pete said, and the disagreement about technology which is to do with what it is that you think of as an archetypal or typical uke - or what are the qualities of a uke that you think of as embodying what a uke is. From talking with Pete I think for Pete it's above all the tone of old island ukes which, it's true, hasn't been replicated or, in its way, bettered, but with some improvements... What's important about this is that it's a very clear goal for a luthier, but perhaps is very different to what some other luthiers or perhaps some players are looking for.
I'll start a new thread about this rather than bring people to this thread with it's unhappy disagreements.

Neal
09-14-2008, 06:46 AM
Pete has his views on technology and stated them. For anyone to take those personally is pretty outrageous.

I'm curious as to how this was turned around to be Pete's bad manners. You kids Republicans? That may explain it.....

acabooe
09-14-2008, 08:23 AM
I really don't think that it matters weather a person is a Republican, or a Democrat. The fact of the matter is, that this is an Ukulele Luthier forum, and we are getting way off topic.
How bout them Ukuleles Huh?

seeso
09-14-2008, 08:26 AM
Pete has his views on technology and stated them. For anyone to take those personally is pretty outrageous.

I'm curious as to how this was turned around to be Pete's bad manners. You kids Republicans? That may explain it.....

Hi Neal. Welcome to the boards.

I don't think Pete has crossed a line. He is entitled to his views. All builders probably have their own set of beliefs. After 14 years, Pete's views are set in stone.

Russ, however has resorted to name-calling. Please refrain from outright name-calling in the future.

Also, bringing up political stuff is uncalled for, and is dangerously close to name-calling. Please be careful.

I don't want to lock this thread, guys. Please keep it civil.

rayan
09-14-2008, 09:56 AM
I don't want to lock this thread, guys. Please keep it civil.

I'll lock this thread. This is getting ridiculous. If these new guys want to come in to UU and play, they play by our rules. Don't come in and call out how we moderated the boards. I take that as a personal offense. We mod our boards a specific way for a reason and we've been growing at an enormous rate. I wonder why? because people like what we're doing.

I had already explained to Pete in a PM why everyone reacted to his posts.