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Thread: Making an Archtop Ukulele- Take Two

  1. #11
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    Thanks for the detailed answer, Brad.

  2. #12
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    Brad, do you consider that the sound of an archtop uke is just different from a conventional uke or does it sound better? An archtop certainly looks good but I havent heard a convincing argument for making one. How should a good archtop sound unamplified? Will it have more or less volume, will it have a fuller sounder, will it be tonally balanced or favour a particular frequency range?

    I've read all about jazz guitars, have Benedetto's guitar book, have made one archtop uke (disappointing) but have yet to hear anyone loudly extoll the virtues of an archtop uke! Is there something to be gained in making one?

  3. #13
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    Because we can

  4. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by greenscoe View Post
    Brad, do you consider that the sound of an archtop uke is just different from a conventional uke or does it sound better? An archtop certainly looks good but I havent heard a convincing argument for making one. How should a good archtop sound unamplified? Will it have more or less volume, will it have a fuller sounder, will it be tonally balanced or favour a particular frequency range?

    I've read all about jazz guitars, have Benedetto's guitar book, have made one archtop uke (disappointing) but have yet to hear anyone loudly extoll the virtues of an archtop uke! Is there something to be gained in making one?
    I'm not Brad and I'm not an expert, but here's what I've read. Archtop guitars are traditionally prized by those who do a lot of finger picking, as they tend to have little sustain and each note is discreet as a result. Jazz guitarists are among those who traditionally favor archtop guitars, but musicians have been known to incorporate them into many music types, including blues and rock and roll. https://caomhainn.blogspot.com/2020/...htop-jazz.html Archtops were the precursor to the electric guitar and many of the first amplified guitars were archtops. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_guitar (under history). I would assume the same is true of ukes. Discreet notes, low sustain, good for finger style. Think about a violin, it's an archtop, but if you hear it plucked, each note is more like a drum beat in terms of its length. Violin sustain is created by the bow. Oh, and I'll add, one of the original reasons for archtop guitars was they're loud, so before amplification, they were what you used in a big band. Have no idea if that's true for ukes, too, but it bears mentioning.
    Last edited by Matt Clara; 05-11-2021 at 07:59 AM. Reason: added info

  5. #15
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    Hey Greenscoe, I will be the first to admit that building archtop instruments is a bit of a Holy Grail exercise. It is difficult to explain to those that have not heard an exceptional archtop in person. They can have a power and presence that is unmatched by other instruments. I have had the chance to hear and examine 3 Loar mandolins. I have also heard 3 archtop guitars, a Gibson L-12, a D’Angelico New Yorker and a James D’Aquisto that were absolutely magical. On the other hand, I have built and played/worked on other maker’s instruments that were pretty ordinary. Ken Parker in one of his YouTube lectures said that John D’Angelico has been quoted as saying that one out of four or five of the guitars he made were good guitars! So far for me, with the exception of the first few, most of 150 mandolins I have made were good and a handful were excellent. All of 7 archtop guitars I made were ordinary at best and I am 3 out of 6 with archtop ukuleles. The main purpose of this project is learn how to consistently make good/great archtop ukuleles. The specific sound I am seeking is yet to be determined, but loud and powerful with good balance is the goal. To that end, I am employing a number of techniques such as tap tuning, deflection testing and voicing procedures.
    Brad
    Bradford Donaldson
    Kekaha, HI and Cannon Beach OR
    bradfordj48@outlook.com

  6. #16
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    [QUOTE=BuzzBD;2277912]Hey Greenscoe, I will be the first to admit that building archtop instruments is a bit of a Holy Grail exercise. It is difficult to explain to those that have not heard an exceptional archtop in person. They can have a power and presence that is unmatched by other instruments. I have had the chance to hear and examine 3 Loar mandolins. I have also heard 3 archtop guitars, a Gibson L-12, a D

  7. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by BuzzBD View Post
    Hey Greenscoe, I will be the first to admit that building archtop instruments is a bit of a Holy Grail exercise. It is difficult to explain to those that have not heard an exceptional archtop in person. They can have a power and presence that is unmatched by other instruments. I have had the chance to hear and examine 3 Loar mandolins. I have also heard 3 archtop guitars, a Gibson L-12, a D’Angelico New Yorker and a James D’Aquisto that were absolutely magical. On the other hand, I have built and played/worked on other maker’s instruments that were pretty ordinary. Ken Parker in one of his YouTube lectures said that John D’Angelico has been quoted as saying that one out of four or five of the guitars he made were good guitars! So far for me, with the exception of the first few, most of 150 mandolins I have made were good and a handful were excellent. All of 7 archtop guitars I made were ordinary at best and I am 3 out of 6 with archtop ukuleles. The main purpose of this project is learn how to consistently make good/great archtop ukuleles. The specific sound I am seeking is yet to be determined, but loud and powerful with good balance is the goal. To that end, I am employing a number of techniques such as tap tuning, deflection testing and voicing procedures.
    Brad
    Thanks for that reply. I have yet to hear an "exceptional" archtop instrument and so really don't know why the pursuit on the archtop has become something of the "Holy Grail". If a "loud, powerful and well balanced" instrument is the goal then perhaps I should try again. I will be following this build and hope we can all learn something from it.

  8. #18
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    I very much appreciate you joining the conversation. Even though your first archtop ukulele build was disappointing, I am sure that the experience gave you some insights that could be valuable to the group. Going through life, we all make mistakes, the real trick is not making the same mistake twice.

    When I first started making mandolins, I was going by Roger Siminoff’s book, and he is an advocate of tap tuning. As I did not have a strobe tuner at the time, I did not engage in the process. In the meantime, the technology has advanced and I have discovered that the IPhone with Pedersen’s IStroboSoft app is capable of tap tuning. I have been using this to measure my instruments body resonance for some years now, but with this build, I used my phone and recorded a number of tap tuning measurements. These measurements on their own do not convey a lot of information. But the idea is, if you make a good instrument and have measured and recorded the results, you have a basis to duplicate the instrument. I also invested in a deflection testing gauge from StewMac and performed some deflection tests as well. So far, I have built an archtop tenor ukulele and have tuned it up in the white. I am very pleased with the results so far. It is loud with a nice presence and pleasant timbre. I am going to make some minor tweaks, add the bindings and other decorations. I have taken pics of the progress and will start posting them shortly. Where we go after that is to be determined.
    Brad
    Bradford Donaldson
    Kekaha, HI and Cannon Beach OR
    bradfordj48@outlook.com

  9. #19
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    Here are some pictures of the construction process. I will talk about some of the design features in my next post.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/kwhDhobRfnjwFvzX9

    Brad
    Bradford Donaldson
    Kekaha, HI and Cannon Beach OR
    bradfordj48@outlook.com

  10. #20
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    Here are some notes on the design.

    Woods- I have always had good success using Engelmann spruce for the top. And as most of my archtop instruments the sides and back have been big leaf maple, I went with that.

    Bracing- with conventional bracing you have the option of X or parallel braces. And with parallel bracing whether the bass and treble bars are at different angles. With these curved, laminated braces, I am attempting to activate more of the top at the edges, while supporting the bridge as conventional bracing does.

    Oval vs. F holes- Like Ken Parker I have wondered, why go to the trouble of carving a delicate recurve area around the entire perimeter of the top, only to decouple a third of the area with F holes. I have previously made a few mandolins with oval sound holes, so I went with that.

    Neck- Another idea borrowed from Ken. My neck is a bolt on neck, reinforced with carbon fiber. The action can be easily adjusted by shimming the neck. This eliminates the need for the metal posts and wheels on the bridge. The bridge is a two piece tent design, that is hollow in the center.

    Tailpiece- made from ebony and brass. It is anchored by a 1/4” brass rod inserted into the heel block. This allows the tailpiece to pivot from side to side and some movement up and down, while restricting the up movement to allow for more down pressure on the bridge when the strings are tightened.

    Brad
    Bradford Donaldson
    Kekaha, HI and Cannon Beach OR
    bradfordj48@outlook.com

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