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View Full Version : My trip to Dasilva's shop



Stevelele
04-02-2012, 11:50 AM
I had the privilege of visiting Mike Dasilva's shop in Berkeley, CA this past week. I've seen pictures before, but wasn't sure what to expect. Mike was super busy, preparing for the Reno uke show, so he only had a few minutes, and I wanted to be very respectful of his time, so I only stayed for about 10 minutes--just long enough to choose some wood that he will use for a custom. Here's a short documentary that I've seen before, in case you are interested: http://www.levinvideo.com/madebyhand/

Mike's shop is kind of crazy, but in a good way. It's in a cavernous workshop space that is adjacent to several other artist spaces. He had a big boat/canoe suspended in the air, hung by wires, and some puppets hanging on the door. And you could see broken ukes in one section--repairs that Mike is planning to make. Some were so messed up that I can't believe that Mike would even take on those projects. Personally, I think that he's such a great artist that his time is better spent making originals rather than repairing ukes.

Mike's wood stash is extremely unusual. He showed me some pieces of koa that looked like nothing I had ever seen. One set had curls with loops that looked like the links of a chain. Some really wild and crazy patterns that you wouldn't really be able to appreciate unless you went to his workshop and took a look.

Someone else was working in the shop at the same time--probably a friend or student--didn't seem like an employee--looked like someone who was fixing his own uke. That guy seemed incredibly happy just to be there.

Anyhow, I didn't take any photos, because I didn't want to bother Mike or waste his time. Afterall, he was working and time is probably his most valuable commodity. But I still wanted to give you at least a taste of what it was like. Overall, I felt like a kid visiting Jim Henson's studio. I could've stayed there for hours, checking out the wood, his partially done projects and all of the other curiosities in the shop.

GX9901
04-02-2012, 12:10 PM
I thought Mike DaSilva moved to Hawaii. Did he abort the move or is he splitting time between California and Hawaii?

rpfrogner
04-02-2012, 12:59 PM
I thought the same.....maybe the move was temporary?

Hippie Dribble
04-02-2012, 02:34 PM
Awesome Steve! Sounds like a true artist's space with the hanging puppets, broken wrecks, crazy wood...wonderful 'mad scientist' kinda stuff. Can't wait to hear more of your custom. His work really is incredible. Gonna take a look at that doco now, cheers mate! :)

janeray1940
04-02-2012, 02:52 PM
Thank you so much for posting your experience, and the video. I'm having fantasies of my own right now about getting a DaSilva. Please keep us updated as the work on your custom progresses!

laundromatt
04-02-2012, 02:53 PM
I had the privilege of visiting Mike Dasilva's shop in Berkeley, CA this past week. I've seen pictures before, but wasn't sure what to expect. Mike was super busy, preparing for the Reno uke show, so he only had a few minutes, and I wanted to be very respectful of his time, so I only stayed for about 10 minutes--just long enough to choose some wood that he will use for a custom. Here's a short documentary that I've seen before, in case you are interested: http://www.levinvideo.com/madebyhand/

Mike's shop is kind of crazy, but in a good way. It's in a cavernous workshop space that is adjacent to several other artist spaces. He had a big boat/canoe suspended in the air, hung by wires, and some puppets hanging on the door. And you could see broken ukes in one section--repairs that Mike is planning to make. Some were so messed up that I can't believe that Mike would even take on those projects. Personally, I think that he's such a great artist that his time is better spent making originals rather than repairing ukes.

Mike's wood stash is extremely unusual. He showed me some pieces of koa that looked like nothing I had ever seen. One set had curls with loops that looked like the links of a chain. Some really wild and crazy patterns that you wouldn't really be able to appreciate unless you went to his workshop and took a look.

Someone else was working in the shop at the same time--probably a friend or student--didn't seem like an employee--looked like someone who was fixing his own uke. That guy seemed incredibly happy just to be there.

Anyhow, I didn't take any photos, because I didn't want to bother Mike or waste his time. Afterall, he was working and time is probably his most valuable commodity. But I still wanted to give you at least a taste of what it was like. Overall, I felt like a kid visiting Jim Henson's studio. I could've stayed there for hours, checking out the wood, his partially done projects and all of the other curiosities in the shop.

Cool, thanks for posting. Do you know if prospective customers can visit, or is it only for people who've placed orders?

jackwhale
04-02-2012, 03:19 PM
I can't speak for Mike but I have attended the Berkeley Ukulele Club and taken group classes with Mike in the past, and he has always been very welcoming and open to conversation. If I were planning a visit I would call ahead of time.

We are so lucky to have several world class ukulele builders in the SF Bay Area: DaSilva, Pohaku, Graziano, Turner and there are others I'm sure I'm leaving out.

hapuna
04-02-2012, 03:56 PM
+1 I thought he had a great opportunity on Moku O Keawe. Wonder what gives. Isn't he on here?


I thought Mike DaSilva moved to Hawaii. Did he abort the move or is he splitting time between California and Hawaii?

Stevelele
04-02-2012, 04:12 PM
Mike's plans to move to Hawaii fell through so he's staying in CA for now.

Mike is not unfriendly, but he is very focused on his work, which I really respect. I wouldn't say that you're only allowed to visit him if you have a commission, but as with any luthier, I think you have to be very respectful of his/her time, since these individual luthiers usually can't take time out of their day to do tours without cutting into their work time. I would feel like taking too much of his time would be like taking money out of his pocket, so the only reason why I spent time visiting is because he suggested it so I could pick out a wood set, and even then I tried not to stay more than a few minutes. I know that he still hosts some jams, meetings and classes. If you can schedule your visit to coincide with any of those events, then it would be a far more leisurely visit. I definitely would have joined if I had been around then. Anyhow, I will keep you all informed of my commission. I think it will be really cool

Dan Uke
04-03-2012, 06:08 AM
Curious on the repairs...He is known to make his tops really thin and which in turn could cause problems in the future. Can you tell what were the common repairs?

Drew Bear
04-03-2012, 07:08 AM
Thanks for posting that link. I hadn't seen the video before. Excellent production quality. Here's one that's rougher, but it gives additional insight into Mike's design philosophy. I wish more builders were as articulate.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyBE3heF4Mg

Scrub to the 2:13 mark to hear James Hill talk a little about his DaSilva.


http://youtu.be/juRM7YbnO4g

Here are detailed photos of Mike's shop:
http://www.leroybeal.net/oddsandends/dasilva/shoptour/index.html

For anyone concerned about thin soundboards (or any other aspect of his builds), here's his written warranty:



I believe in 100% customer satisfaction. If for ANY reason that the original owner of a DaSilva Ukulele Co. instrument is EVER dissatisfied with the product, I will repair, replace or provide a partial or full refund as is appropriate. Of course, neglect, abuse or accident is not covered.