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Tenor ukulele

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Paul Bodiam15/05/2012 09:00:45
107 forum posts
68 photos

This is my latest project.

Built over the last 10 weeks. The build has been fully documented and will (I hope) be appearing in The Woodworker later in te summer.

There are a few more pictures of stages of the build in my "instruments" album.

Wolfie16/05/2012 12:18:54
406 forum posts
76 photos

Hi Paul, I can't believe I missed this post. I have been looking at your work and must say you are a very talented woodworker. Those instruments are simply superb. Congratulations and thanks for sharing.

cheers. Ian

The Admiral16/05/2012 19:57:30
12 forum posts

Stunning - a beautiful looking instrument. Congratulations.

And just in case anyone thinks they are a 'toy' guitar or not a serious instrument, you may want to check this Youtube video : **LINK**

Julian19/05/2012 14:35:53
553 forum posts
28 photos

Hi Admiral -- I don't think anyone could say that the ukulele is a toy, although I don't play it both my Father and Grandmother played them brilliantly, Jake of course is probably one the best in the World.

Simon Reeves19/05/2012 17:19:31
622 forum posts
227 photos

10 weeks Paul - what took you so long?? smile Only kidding - I think this is a fantastic piece of work, so add my congratulations as well.


Flounder29/05/2012 07:52:05
10 forum posts

Hi Paul,

That is some great work! I was impressed with your jig for assembling the sides to the boards! Is that your own design? The 'clamps' that put downward force on the sides, are they just circles of mdf or similar?



Edited By Flounder on 29/05/2012 07:52:25

Paul Bodiam29/05/2012 14:14:34
107 forum posts
68 photos

Hi Lee

Thanks for your kind words.

The building jig is called a "Solera" and it is the method used by traditional Spanish classical guitar builders. American folk guitar builders tend to prefer to build guitar bodies inside a hollow mould. I started out building classical guitars so prefer the solera build technique.

The advantage of using a hollow mould comes in batch production where you can be sure that each instrument is dimensionally identical, whereas solera-built instruments can have a little more variation. My instruments are one-offs, either built for myself or for clients and I doubt I'll ever go in for batch production.

The "clamps" you refer to are simply long coach-bolts and wing-nuts purchased from my local hardware shop. The clamping jaw itself is a 20mm dia MDF cylinder (19mm thick), faced with a scrap of leather. This cylinder is a sliding (but snug) fit on the coach bolt. It is needed to ensure that the clamping force is directed straight downward - if we simply used a large washer, there is a danger it would tilt due to the asymmetric loading and direct the force inward as well as downward.



Flounder29/05/2012 19:11:53
10 forum posts

Hi Paul, thanks for your reply. I am starting to look into building my first guitar and doing as much research before hand so I have at least an ounce of an idea what i am getting myself in to! I looked up soleras online, most of the info suggests that the base is dished in order to get the dome on the sound board of a classical guitar. Is this also applicable for a steel string acoustic? My son covets my Martin electro-acoustic and so I wanted to make something similar.

Many thanks for any help or advice you can offer a newbie!



Paul Bodiam29/05/2012 23:03:25
107 forum posts
68 photos

Hi Lee

Most guitars do, indeed, have a slight dome to the soundboard, centered on the bridge. It is there to pre-stress the soundboard and counter the force of the strings on the bridge - a strong twisting force that would otherwise cause the soundboard to bow inwards between the the bridge and the sound hole. The dome is created by carving a dish into the solera, cutting the same curve into the struts that sit inside the soundboard, and applying pressure directly to the struts to force the soundboard into the hollow while the glue holding them to the soundboard dries.

The Panormo guitar in my Instruments album has a 4mm dome on the soundboard, a steel-strung folk guitar may have a 6 or 7mm dome. Ukuleles, on the other hand, do not usually have a domed soundboard since the forces are less (4 strings instead of 6 or more), and over the shorter distance between bridge and sound hole the natural stiffness of the soundboard+struts is sufficient to cope.

I wish you the best of luck with a steel-strung accoustic. The Martin design is an excellent instrument and should give you an extremely rewarding project. A friend of mine recently built one, and it is a real joy to play. I would strongly recommend joining a forum dedicated to guitar-building, even if only to lurk for ideas and techniques. A good forum to hang around on is the Musical Instrument Makers Forum ( which has a mix of professional and amateur makers.

There are several books available on guitar building, about the best of which is called "Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology - A Complete Reference for the Design and Construction of the Steel-string Folk Guitar and the Classical Guitar" by Cumpiano, Natelson, and Herlitz. It's currently available on Amazon for £16.99. It takes you step-by-step through the build of two guitars, one classical and the other a Martin-style steel-strung. The only fault I can find with this book is that it is an American publication so all the dimensions are imperial, and I like to make metric sawdust.

Hope this helps.



Ciaran Lavery25/11/2012 10:54:08
1 forum posts

Hi Paul,

I must say how much I enjoyed the articles - good detail and easy to follow.

I am really interested in trying the tru-oil finish you used, so I have a few questions, I hope you don't mind.

Would you fill the grain before you use it? I was also wondering if you think putting an oil finish on the 'belly' soundboard affects the sound. And would you consider using this type of finish on a bigger instrument e.g. a classical guitar, and finally does the finish need reapplied after a few years or after much use.

Someone had a query about guitar making books, I have a book that I really like, it is called 'Classical guitar making, a modern approach to traditional design' by John S Bogdanovich, Can't remember how much it cost but its very clear and has lots of pictures.



Paul Bodiam27/11/2012 17:13:46
107 forum posts
68 photos

Hi Ciaran

Thanks for your kind words.

It was an interesting exercise to break down the steps and operations in making an instrument and then describe them in a way that would be intelligable to readers who are not necessarily familiar with guitar-building techniques.

Putting any finish onto the soundboard of a guitar will inevitably change the way the wood responds to the vibrations in the strings. It is important to avoid "soft" finishes such as polyurethane since this will act like a damper on the vibrating surface and soak-up a lot of the sound energy - especially the higher frequencies. The traditional finish for a guitar is French Polish - a skill I have yet to master!

Mass-produced instruments will usually have an all-over spray finish - usually something like nitro-cellulose lacquer - which is fine if you have a dust-free and humidity-controlled environment in which to spray - my workshop is neither of these.

I was alerted to tru-oil by a fellow guitar-builder whose instruments are absolutely beautifully finished, and sound fantastic. It is available on David Dyke's website (**LINK**): follow the links to catalogue-->classical guitars-->papers oils and polishes.

There was an article published quite a while ago - I think in Woodworker - entitled "Well oiled with Adamson" in which Stewart Adamson (a guitar builder) discusses using various oil-based finishes in conjunction with preparing the wood surface with micromesh. A reprint of this article is available from David Dyke by sending an A4 self addressed envelope. It is Adamson's finishing technique that I have used on this instrument.

On this ukulele I used two coats of tru-oil on the soundboard, and 3 coats on the rest of the instrument (Adamson advocates up to 6 coats!). When applying the coats - especially on the soundboard - I wipe the oil on with a cotton pad and immediately wipe it off again with another clean cotton pad. This ensures that the oil is not allowed to soak in to the wood to any depth, but only penetrate the surface fibres. In this way, changes to the acoustic properties of the soundboard are minimised.

I did not use filler on this instrument, but I did use shelac sanding sealer before polishing the wood with micromesh, which will have some some way to filling the pores. I am very happy with the results.

I am currently working on another ukulele commission, and after that I will be building a pair of Torres-pattern classical guitars - one for me, the other for a client. I will be finishing all these intruments with tru-oil.

I don't know about re-finishing, yet. The oldest instrument I have finished with tru-oil has been in regular use for 2 years and seems to be holding up well. The uke in this article has been in regular service for six months so far and has picked-up a couple of small knocks (the inevitable fate of an instrument that works for a living!) but the finish still lools pristine.

I am familiar with Bogdanovich's book, it is on my bookshelf next to Cumpiano/Natelson. His website is worth a visit as well: (**LINK**). His guitars are spectacularly beautiful and the book is a rich resource of theory and practice. My only concern with his technique for laminated ribs is that if there is any fault in the gluing or clamping of the ribs it can result in a void which can cause unpleasant resonances on certain frequencies.
I do like his attention to detail, however, with things like sanding the internal surfaces and applying a coat of shelac before assembling the instrument, and using laminated continuous linings instead of kerfed linings.

I wish you the best of luck with your instrument.


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