Custom Tenor "Super Ukulele" # 18 166

Completed September, 2016

(click any of the thumbnails for a higher-resolution photo)


This tenor uke has a 2"-longer-than-normal scale length, along with a wider lower bout and a 15-fret neck. It also sports a sound port, a beveled edge, and a scooped cutaway. Along with an impressive set of koa for the top, back, and sides, and some abalone for accents, a superb set of Rubner tuning machines really dresses this one up. It's loud, loud, loud, with tons of resonance and tone to die for. This one is really special. Here's what the new owner has to say about it:

This new super tenor is everything I ever wanted in a uke and more! In sound, feel, and appearance it is at the top. Somehow you have given me the strong but mellow voice of a Skipper with the "pop" of a good island uke. Every part of it is alive. I can feel the music in the neck and back.

Yes, the sound port makes a huge difference. If I cover it with my hand and strum, much of the volume is diminished. I highly recommend the port for a "player's" guitar or ukulele.

The bevel edge is also very good for long playing sessions. It is very comfortable.

Thank you many times over!


Construction Photos

The first step in this project is to sketch a full-sized plan. The top and back plates are joined with hot hide glue. An external form is constructed, as well as a set of bending forms. The sides are sanded to thickness and cut to profile in preparation for bending. The sides are lightly dampened and wrapped in Kraft paper. A sandwich is made of stainless steel slats, sides, and heating blanket.

The sides are heated, then slowly drawn down to finished shape and allowed to cool. The sides are removed from the bending machine and placed within the external form. The plates are removed from the clamping devices and sanded close to finished thickness. A complicated head block is fashioned that will both anchor the neck and

provide underlying structure for the scooped cutaway. Another underlying structure is created for the beveled-edge area of the top. This and the head and tail blocks are glued into place. Kerfed lining is made and glued into place. Abalam circular strips for the rosette are cut on a shop-built fixture that cuts both the inside and outside radii in a single pass.

The rosette recess is routed into the top, and the Abalam portion is glued in first. An outer ring is made from thin ebony and glued into the recess. The top is sanded level, and then grooves for the purfling lines are cut with a fly cutter. The white purfling lines are glued into the grooves, then scraped level with the top. The sound hole is cut with a fly cutter.

A shop-built jig is utilized to guide the router in cutting a recess for the end graft. An ebony graft is fashioned and glued in place. The sound port is roughed out with a Dremel, then finished by hand. The side is cut away in the scoop section. Koa side-reinforcing strips are glued in.

Ebony bindings are ripped from a blank, sanded to size, and bent with the same machine used for the sides. The top is cut to shape, and the bracing pattern is laid out on the back. The individual braces are shaped by hand, then glued into place with hot hide glue. The back braces are shaped and notched into the back reinforcing strip.

The back braces are glued in place. Hot hide glue is applied to the top and sides, then allowed to dry. The parts are clamped together, and the glue is reactivated with a jet of steam. The process is repeated on the back. The top and back are trimmed level with the sides.

The case is closed.The binding recess is routed, and ebony bindings are glued in place. The fretboard is sanded to shape, then slotted on a dedicated radial arm saw, using a template to guide the cutting of the slots.

The fretboard is cut to shape, allowing for the thickness of the bloodwood bindings. The bindings are sanded to size and glued to the fretboard. The tape is removed from the body bindings, and the ebony is scraped level with the koa. The beveled edge is shaped with a coarse file. Low-tack tape is fitted to the beveled edge and marked to create a pattern for the ebony veneer. Because of both the width and also the grain orientation -- I don't want friable cross-grain wood at the tapered ends of the veneer -- the overlay is scarfed together in the center. The veneer is bent over a hot pipe. A bit of tape reinforces the scarf joint during bending and gluing.

The veneer is glued and taped to the beveled edge. For this application I'm using liquid hide glue rather than hot hide glue because of the extended working time the liquid variety offers. A similar process is followed for the scoop. A wrapping with long rubber bands appplies additional even clamping pressure. When the glue is dry, the clamping is removed and the ebony is scraped level with the koa.

A mahogany neck block is cut roughly to shape. Matching holes are drilled into the neck and head block for the attachment hardware. A carbon-fiber reinforcing rod is inlet into the neck. The neck heel is shaped, and the neck is fitted to the body.

Ebony heel cap and peghead overlay are glued in place. Mother-of-pearl position markers are turned on a lathe and inlet into the fretboard. Frets are cut and pressed into place. The peghead is cut to shape, and a recess for the binding is routed; bloodwood bindings are glued in place. Holes are drilled for the tuning machines.

A template is affixed to the back of the headstock with double-sided tape, and the slots are routed. The slots are sloped up toward the nut, and the corners are squared. Abalone side dots are set in the edge of the fretboard. The "Skipper" logo is cut from gold mother of pearl.

The logo is recessed into the ebony overlay, set in epoxy, and sanded flush. The fretboard is glued to the neck. The neck is shaped with rasps and scrapers, then thoroughly sanded. The neck is temporarily attached to the body, and the bridge is accurately located. The mahogany neck is given a dilute coat of dichromate to bring it closer to the color of the koa.

Areas to remain unfinished are masked off, and the instrument is given a coat of vinyl sealer. The instrument is lightly sanded, and pore filler is applied. When the filler is thoroughly cured, it's sanded level with the wood.

Another coat of vinyl sealer is applied, followed by the first of two series of three coats of gloss lacquer, with a day's curing time and light sanding between the two series. Then the entire instrument is sanded level. Since my finishes are very thin, this is a mind-numbing task that still requires constant concentration to prevent sanding through the finish. Then the instrument is given two final thinned coats of lacquer, then allowed to cure for 10-14 days. When the finish is fully cured, the instrument is wet sanded with increasingly finer grits of MicroMesh paper, then buffed on a Domet flannel wheel.

The shaping and polishing of the bridge is completed. The pin holes are countersunk. The bridge and neck are glued into place. A pickup system, tuning machines, nut, saddle, and strings are installed. A bit of setup, and it's ready for its new home.


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