Custom Tenor "Super Ukulele" # 19 167

Completed October, 2016

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


This tenor ukulele, like the last one, features a long-necked 19" scale length and a wider lower bout, a couple of tweaks that do wonders for the instrument's performance and turn it into a "Super Uke. The European spruce top is very old and tight grained, with spectacular bearclaw figuring. Macassar ebony back and sides are paired with quilted maple bindings and back panel. Ebony headstock overlay, radiused fretboard, and bridge are set off with engraved Rubner tuning machines with snakewood knobs, bone nut and saddle, and an ebony-and-abalone rosette. It's equipped with an L.R. Baggs Five-O pickup, and a sound port allows the musician to hear what others are hearing -- and this one is worth hearing. This instrument was designed by Dr. Gerry Snelson, and shows his artistic touches throughout.

Construction Photos

The project begins with the trading of many photos as we try to decide on the woods for this little beauty. When that's determined (maybe, since I keep sending the customer more options), I begin by joining the top and back plates with hot hide glue.

After a double-clutch on the choice of back woods, a D-35-style three-piece back of Macassar ebony and quilted maple is glued together. An ebony rosette blank is created. The rosette pattern is lightly sketched onto the top. A two-headed cutter cuts circular strips of Abalam for the rosette. A recess is routed for the Abalam, and it's glued into place. The ebony ring is cut from the blank.

The ebony ring is recessed into the top and glued into place. A fly cutter cuts lines for the white purfling lines. The sound hole is cut out and both the top and back are sanded to final thickness and cut to shape. Did I not promise spectacular woods?

The back reinforcing strips are glued in place. The sides are sanded to thickness and cut to profile. Then they are lightly wetted and wrapped in Kraft paper. A sandwich of stainless steel slats, sides, and heating blanket are placed in the bending form. The sandwich is heated, and the waist is brought down, followed by the upper and lower bouts. When the form has cooled, the sides are placed in the external form to dry.

The neck and tail blocks are glued to the ribs. The top and back bracing is shaped and glued into place. Mahogany lining is kerfed on the bandsaw and glued to the ribs. The sides are temporarily removed from the external form and the sound port is cut.

A recess is routed for the end graft, and a quilted maple-and-ebony graft is glued in place. Side reinforcing strips are installed on the inside of the ribs. The ribs are arched to match the radii of the top and back, and hot hide glue is applied to mating surfaces and allowed to dry. Then the top is clamped in place and the glue is reactivated with a jet of steam.


The process is repeated on the back. An ebony fretboard blank is sanded to a 12" radius, then slotted for frets on a dedicated radial arm saw. Quilted maple bindings are glued to the edges. I find myself low on mother-of-pearl fretboard dots, so I take the time to turn a bunch from cutoff inlay scraps. The body is removed from the external form and the overhanging plates are trimmed flush with the sides.


The binding recess is routed and quilted maple binding is glued in, then wrapped with cloth roping until the hot hide glue cures. While all that is happening, gold mother-of-pearl fretboard position dots are recessed into the fretboard. The neck-attachment hardware is installed, and the neck heel is sanded to shape.

The neck is fitted in proper alignment to the body. The fretboard is cut to match the sound hole. A quilted maple heel cap is fitted and attached The carbon fiber reinforcing bar is glued in, and the headstock is sanded flat. An ebony peghead overlay is glued to the headstock; when the glue is dry, the peghead is cut to shape.

The peghead is routed for quilted maple bindings, and they are fitted and glued into place. Tuning machine holes are drilled, and the peghead is sanded to finished thickness. The "Skipper" logo is cut from gold mother of pearl, inlet into the overlay, and set in a mixture of epoxy and ebony dust.

The fretboard is sanded smooth, and the frets are cut to length. My tang nippers don't work well on narrow fretwire, so I've devised this lathe fixture to cut the tang from the ends of the frets. The frets are set in a thin line of hot hide glue and pressed into place. The fretboard is glued to the neck.

The neck is shaped with planes, rasps, scrapers, and ultimately sandpaper. The entire instrument is thoroughly sanded. An ebony bridge blank is cut to shape and accurately located on the top. The areas under the neck and bridge are masked off from finish. The entire instrument is given a coat of amber shellac to warm the color of the ebony and to pop the grain in the maple. Then the ebony and the maple bindings are masked off, and the instrument is selectively colored with a sunburst on the neck and top.

All the while I'm staining, I'm e-mailing photos to my customer to assure we're getting exactly what he's envisioning. When the color is right, the masking is stripped from the ebony and the bindings. The rosette is scraped clean, and the instrument is given a coat of vinyl sealer. I always breathe a sigh of relief when the instrument reaches this point. Pore filler is applied and allowed to dry. Three coats are given, with light sanding between coats. Another coat of vinyl sealer is applied. After 24 hours, two series of 3 coats each of nitrocellulose lacquer are applied, with a day's curing between series. Then the instrument is sanded perfectly level and two more thinned coats of lacquer are applied. Then the instrument is allowed to cure before final setup.

When the finish has cured, it's wet sanded with Micro Mesh paper, then buffed on a flannel wheel. The tuning machines are installed, and the neck is glued to the body. The bridge is shaped first on the belt sander,

then with scrapers and sandpaper. The masked-off bridge area is cleaned to bare wood, and the fit of the bridge is tested against it. The bridge is glued on with hot hide glue. The instrument is equipped with pickup, nut, saddle, bridge pins, and strings. After some setup, it's ready for a new life.


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