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Thread: Making an Archtop Ukulele- Take Two

  1. #1
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    Default Making an Archtop Ukulele- Take Two

    Around the end of January, my old thread on building an archtop ukulele got a bump. That got me motivated to revisit the process as it has been a while since I have made an archtop instrument. I wanted to start the process by reviewing my old books on the subject, but most of my books are in Oregon. This worked out well however, as both Robert Benedetto (guitar) and Roger Siminoff ( mandolin) have recently released revised editions of their books. So I happily got them and studied them again. The Siminoff book in particular has been updated considerably. The landscape around nylon string archtop instruments has grown considerably since I last explored things. Searching the Web revealed a number of people offering both nylon string archtop guitars and ukuleles. I also discovered that the current thinking in steel string archtop guitar construction has evolved a lot over the last several years. Led by names like Ken Parker, Tom Ribbecke, Steve Grimes and Steve Andersen, the trend seems to be moving to lighter and more rounded instruments than their predecessors. Armed with a number of new ideas and concepts, I have designed and built a tenor archtop ukulele. I will be documenting the process and sharing my ideas in this new thread. Hopefully it will stimulate some conversation and sharing of ideas. More to follow.
    Brad
    Bradford Donaldson
    Kekaha, HI and Cannon Beach OR
    bradfordj48@outlook.com

  2. #2
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    I wish I had time to do one along side of you. Guess I will just have to watch.

  3. #3
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    I'm interested, Brad, thanks.

    Edit: have no idea where I pulled Ken out of!
    Last edited by Matt Clara; 05-10-2021 at 05:35 AM.

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    subscribed...

  5. #5
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    Mahalo for joining the conversation. My goal is to expand the knowledge base of archtop instruments in general and especially delve into nylon stringed archtops. My research finds little nuggets of information now and then, but currently there is not a lot out there. Steve Grimes website states that the top thickness of his nylon archtop guitar is around 4 mm in the center, which leaves me to estimate that they are around 2 mm in the recurve area. Ken Parker states in a lecture that he does not believe that archtop guitars need to be any thicker than flattops. My opinion is while it may be advantageous to build lighter, an archtop requires some mass in the center to generate the power they are capable of. This aids in enhancing the monopole mode of vibration that is most important in how archtop instruments work. For the record, my newest tenor is nominally 2.8 mm thick in the center and 1.8 mm in the recurve area, for both the top and back. I will discuss tap tuning and deflection testing next.
    Brad
    Bradford Donaldson
    Kekaha, HI and Cannon Beach OR
    bradfordj48@outlook.com

  6. #6
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    My first successful musical instrument project was rebuilding an old Kay archtop guitar, including hand carving a new top from Engleman Spruce, and making a new neck from laminated Black Walnut and Maple. My top was an even 3.2mm all over. An archtop uke is an intriguing idea. Are Maple and Spruce the de facto woods for an archtop uke, or would Black Cherry or Walnut work OK for the back & sides?

  7. #7
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    Most decent woods are suitable to build guitars with.

  8. #8
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    Aloha tonyturley, good question and thanks for asking it. The short answer is most woods suitable for lutherie will be good for archtop construction. In fact, a lot of the early Gibson mandolins and archtop guitars were made of birch, instead of maple. As a North American company, they relied mostly on local wood. It was not until the Super 400 days that they started using premium materials. That said, it is important to understand that much of the information on archtop construction is based on spruce and maple. I personally have had better success with Engelmann spruce for tops, rather than Sitka spruce for nylon stringed instruments. Also keep in mind that there is a great deal of difference between European maple, big leaf maple and hard eastern USA maple. So really, it is the old adage; what you do with the wood is far more important, than the type and quality of the wood itself.

    Also let me stress that there is a lot more to archtop construction than domed tops and backs with F holes. Some of the more important elements include graduated tops and backs with a recurve area around the edge, floating bridge with tailpiece and narrower sides than flattops. It is vital for the builder to understand how archtop instruments function, that the back plays just as important a role as the top in sound production, to have much chance of a successful build.
    Brad
    Bradford Donaldson
    Kekaha, HI and Cannon Beach OR
    bradfordj48@outlook.com

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by BuzzBD View Post
    Aloha tonyturley, good question and thanks for asking it. The short answer is most woods suitable for lutherie will be good for archtop construction. In fact, a lot of the early Gibson mandolins and archtop guitars were made of birch, instead of maple. As a North American company, they relied mostly on local wood. It was not until the Super 400 days that they started using premium materials. That said, it is important to understand that much of the information on archtop construction is based on spruce and maple. I personally have had better success with Engelmann spruce for tops, rather than Sitka spruce for nylon stringed instruments. Also keep in mind that there is a great deal of difference between European maple, big leaf maple and hard eastern USA maple. So really, it is the old adage; what you do with the wood is far more important, than the type and quality of the wood itself.

    Also let me stress that there is a lot more to archtop construction than domed tops and backs with F holes. Some of the more important elements include graduated tops and backs with a recurve area around the edge, floating bridge with tailpiece and narrower sides than flattops. It is vital for the builder to understand how archtop instruments function, that the back plays just as important a role as the top in sound production, to have much chance of a successful build.
    Brad
    Hi, Bradford.

    I'm not a builder, never will be one, but I'm wondering: With a carved top on a uke, would you be placing a Sound Post, as members of the violin family use?

    I'm told that lets the back resonate along with the top, and enhances the sound.

    I don't know; I'm pretty sure that it is illegal in at least 17 states for me to attempt to pull a bow across the strings of ANY instrument.


    -Kurt
    Banjo Ukes: Southern Cross, Firefly, Stella
    Sopranos: Donaldson, Timms, Moku, Waterman, Bugsgear, Outdoor, Waverly Street, Harmony
    Concerts:Cocobolo #460 &#412, Ohana CK450QEL, CK-65D, Rosewood Vita, Mahogany Vita,
    Donaldson Custom, Epi Les Paul, National Triolian Reso, Republic
    Tenors: Kala KA-KTG-CY, KoAloha Sceptre, Fluke, Cordoba 20TM
    Bass: Fluke Timber

    Am I done?

    ...Maybe?...

    My YouTube Channel

  10. #10
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    Aloha Kurt, nice to hear from you. The only instance I know of where sound posts have been added to archtop guitars, has been to cure feedback issues when amplified. The main vibrational modes of bowed instruments are different from fretted archtop ones. In violins, the top twists back and forth sideways in the direction it is being bowed. The soundpost acts as a pivot point, while the bass bar side of the top is free to move. The main vibrational mode of a fretted archtop is the monopole mode, where the top (and back) move up and down, acting much like an air pump. A soundpost in them would greatly impede the sound production. The F holes in the violin family aid in the twisting motion. The consensus of many luthiers is that F holes in other archtop instruments tend to enhance feedback issues when amplified.
    Brad
    Bradford Donaldson
    Kekaha, HI and Cannon Beach OR
    bradfordj48@outlook.com

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