Bruce Wei travel tenor - Agony and Ecstasy

bbkobabe

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I really wasn't going to buy another uke... Until I saw this Bruce Wei on eBay and couldn't resist the amazing inlay work. It just dazzled my senses... I'm sure I'm not the first to have this experience when seeing a Bruce Wei for the first time!

This company seems to make such a wide range of styles it's hard to keep up. I think this tenor might be a prototype or experiment as I have not seen another one like it anywhere. This beauty is a shallow body "travel" style uke with a round back that looks like acacia. The top looks like mahogany(?), with twin inlays that strongly resembles the Ovation design... two "wing" like mixed wood and abalone inlays on either side of the neck on the upper bouts with multiple holes drilled through them. Then, the 1.5" tall walnut sides feature 3 small square holes cut into them that point directly towards me as I play. (The square holes appear to have been cut by hand and look strangely improvised. I'm fighting a strong desire to grab a small file and perfect their shapes.) The bridge and saddle arrangement is also unusual, with two parallel holes for each string for a unique string tie entirely underneath the saddle. The bound walnut neck has a beautiful floral inlay, a unique joint with the body, and the whole thing has a lovely flat finish. The head stock is blank, and sports Der Jung tuners. Their are no identifying features inside the body, either.

Curious...

Price was $340 + 65 for shipping. It arrived fairly quickly from Vietnam, and was well packaged, including a flimsy plastic gig bag case.

Inside the box was a sealed bag, and also in the bag was a card admonishing me to use a humidifier at all times... Hmmmm...

So, I pull it out of the box and start playing... Amazing! Of course the tone is as thin as the body, but I've owned a KALA travel uke (KA SSTU-T) for a couple of years now so I'm used to that. But this thing had such a sparkly and bright tone, it more resembles a mandolin. And those three 1/2" square holes on the side make it sounds really loud to me without being really loud in the room, which my family appreciates. The intonation is truly outstanding. Once I got it in tune and broke the strings in a bit, each string really seem to be in wonderful agreement with each other. That is also true for the volume from string to string. The set up has clearly been labored over. My affection for it began to grow immediately...

Then I started really digging in, and playing as quickly as I can. From triple strums to furious finger picking, it plays like a dream. I could instantly play faster than ever before. The playing effort is really low and I kept finding that I could sneak in an extra note into a run and indulge in last minute additions just by thinking about them. Wow! I would end a run, and then grab my Pono tenor and try to duplicate it. I simply could not play as fast and as cleanly on my "daily driver" AT-CR. After a couple of hours of this fun, I set it down on the couch and went to bed. Ecstasy!

By the time I got up in the morning, the Agony part began... Overnight, two fat parallel cracks had opened up below the bridge. ARGHHHHHHHH!!!

I immediately soaked my humidifier and put both into the tightest closing case I have... and didn't touch it for two weeks.

Finally, I dared to crack the case a take a look...

Well, the cracks had shrunk considerably and were no longer super obvious. Thank goodness they had not extended up under the saddle, which stopped their upward progress, or all the way down to the lower edge of the face. <sigh of relief>

I played it tentatively, soaked my humidifier again, and then put it into the case for another two weeks.

It's been about three months now, and the cracks have stabilized. I have been leaving it out of the case a bit - since it's not as hot and more humid now - here in Northern California. I've been rubbing the face up daily with me oil, which is slowly sealing up the cracks. I think I dodged the bullet this time...

I'm happy now, but this stupid uke almost gave me a heart attack. I love the damn thing, but I'm not sure I would buy another one.

Too much pressure!
 

bazmaz

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A luthier will have a better take - but surely if the wood is cracked, it's cracked - irrrespective if humidity expanded it back together - it's still broken?

Not the first time i've heard this about this brand either.
 

merlin666

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They are built in small workshops without climate control, i.e. in an extremely humid tropical environment. It is probably best to keep them initially at at least 90% relative humidity and then very slowly decrease humidity maybe by 5% every two weeks until it is at around 50%. Hopefully the slow adjustment will stabilize the top and prevent the cracks from opening up again.
 

Teddy

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I really wasn't going to buy another uke...

Yeah I feel like I used this line at home all the time 🤣

Like Baz said, good luthier should make quick work of it. I bought a cheap, old, kamaka pineapple off ebay a while back that had a crack in it. Luther was able to stabilize it with a small piece of wood on the inside and really was not expensive.
 

VegasGeorge

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I have several Bruce Wei Ukuleles, and haven't experienced any cracking. Of course, they've been in climate controlled storage for over a year now, so when they come out in a couple of months from now, the story may have changed. I hope not, but we'll see.
 

KohanMike

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Can you post a couple of photos, I'm curious to see it. Judging by your description, I gave him the idea of the ovation leaf design about two years ago when I was considering another custom dual cutaway with myrtle wood. Over the last 8 years, I've had a number of custom ukes made by Bruce, happy with them over-all, but because they're solid wood, it's very important to keep them in the proper humid zone of 45 to 55 degrees. I made a humid controlled display in a bookshelf that works very well. Here is the last one he made, a bass uke, carved archtop and back, spruce, walnut and maple.

BWA Archtop done both 1024.jpg
Myrtle dual cut leaf 700.jpg
Shelf recent 1.jpg


This is Michael Kohan in Los Angeles, Beverly Grove near the Beverly Center
8 tenor cutaway ukes, 4 acoustic bass ukes, 10 solid body bass ukes, 14 mini electric bass guitars (Total: 36)
•Donate to The Ukulele Kids Club, they provide ukuleles to children in hospital music therapy programs. www.theukc.org
•Member The CC Strummers: www.youtube.com/user/CCStrummers/video, www.facebook.com/TheCCStrummers
 
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robinboyd

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I have a Bruce Wei guitalele. Like you, I love the sound and feel of it, but it has some cracks. Lucky for me, I bought it second-hand, so it already had the cracks when I got it and the price reflected that. It was a total bargain!
 

Kenn2018

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My understanding is that many of the BW instruments that are listed on Ebay are made in the small workshops without climate control.

His custom ukes are made in a shop with climate control, and modern equipment.

A crack is a crack. You can try to keep the wood humidified and swollen to minimize the spread. But you will be better off taking it to a luthier or an instrument repair tech and having them repair the crack.

I had a crack (back seam split due to lack of humidity) repaired by a Martin Guitar repair shop. They used a thin epoxy to join & seal the crack. When they were done, it was impossible to see the repair unless you were looking for it.
 

bbkobabe

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Thanks for all the useful advice!

Mostly I wanted to cry poor me. But as we all know, wood can be an ephemeral thing, despite out wishes and desires for permanence... At the end of the day, it's a $400 dollar uke that still plays fine. Not much to cry about, really.

But seriously, seeing these awesome Bruce Wei's shown here, and hearing how good this one sounds... It's a wow uke. Having this one will make me want another one someday, I fear!

I'll post a pick if I can figure out how to... but the top and inlay looks like a mahogany version of the third uke down in KohanMike's post... except it's like 2" deep. Really nice storage cabinet there, too. I'm clearly not ready for the big leagues yet! But those custom ordered BW's are amazing... I'm almost drooling right now...

As you can see, this face and the jumble of tiny holes will make internal repairs a bit of a challenge. I'm guessing you had one with a more standard shaped hole, MuyBien04?

And thanks, Kenn2018... I'll look into that.

I'm getting ready to start teaching my second Sixth Grade classes how to play. As much as I love a uke with good tone, it's even better to hear a room full of 12 year old's playing together and learning to find their own tone. Wish me luck!BW uke.jpg
 

KohanMike

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...I'll post a pick if I can figure out how to...
The best way to post an image is use the icon above.
1633648854293.png
When the next window opens, click the middle of that window to retrieve your image on your computer. Or if you click Attach File, be sure to first hit one or two carriage returns so the image inserts below the paragraph.
 

Teddy

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Yeah I absolutely had a standard sound hole. Still may be very repairable. They typically push through thin strings through the crack if possible and tie the ends to the wood, using the string to pull the glued piece up against the soundboard/body on the inside to help the glue set. Those sound holes might just make it a little more expensive (taking more time) than a typical sound hole but the material and repair should still be the same. Usually followed up with a thin epoxy to set it.

But I can't say I've repaired one like yours but I still think it'd be worth a shot. Most luthiers that would take a look would simply tell you if they couldn't do it, so doesn't hurt to ask!
 

bbkobabe

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Thanks for all the useful advice!

Mostly I wanted to cry poor me. But as we all know, wood can be an ephemeral thing, despite out wishes and desires for permanence... At the end of the day, it's a $400 dollar uke that still plays fine. Not much to cry about, really.

But seriously, seeing these awesome Bruce Wei's shown here, and hearing how good this one sounds... It's a wow uke. Having this one will make me want another one someday, I fear!

I'll post a pick if I can figure out how to... but the top and inlay looks like a mahogany version of the third uke down in KohanMike's post... except it's like 2" deep. Really nice storage cabinet there, too. I'm clearly not ready for the big leagues yet! But those custom ordered BW's are amazing... I'm almost drooling right now...

As you can see, this face and the jumble of tiny holes will make internal repairs a bit of a challenge. I'm guessing you had one with a more standard shaped hole, MuyBien04?

And thanks, Kenn2018... I'll look into that.

I'm getting ready to start teaching my second Sixth Grade classes how to play. As much as I love a uke with good tone, it's even better to hear a room full of 12 year old's playing together and learning to find their own tone. Wish me luck!View attachment 136214
I'll pull this back up to the top since still on our minds...
 

M3Ukulele

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It’s a shame you got a crack. From all the threads I’ve read on Bruce’s stuff, it’s seems always advisable to himidify the crap,out of it when you get it. By that I mean, putting it in a bag with tons of himidity, then slowly bringing it down to 45-55%. Of course a lot of this depends on your relative himidity where you play. I’m sure bringing one of BW ukes into Hawaii probably would not be as critical. I have a custom tenor. I had a crack on the seam of the soundboard where book matched top met. This was a year after I had it. It broke my heard. My builder, re hydrated it and shot some glue in the joint. Pressed it together. Did the humidity thing slowly. It’s been five years or more and it’s totally stable and you don’t really notice it as it’s on the seam of the soundboard book match. I do feel your pain as it’s Uke that I love and plays so nice. I’d get it fixed if cost if OK. My luthier fixed mine for free and did OFFER me a brand NEW replacement! Good luck. Keep on strumming!