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“If you want to build instruments, just start building!”
Profession: Electrical Engineer
This guy designs and builds some of the most fantastical and inventive ukuleles you will ever lay your eyes on! I was so happy when Daniel agreed to this interview, his designs and ideas for electric and acoustic ukulele have both bemused and inspired me in equal measure. Check out his blog and YT channel to see more!
Tell me about your journey… Were you a player first? What inspired you to take the plunge and build?
I started playing the guitar in 2002, in 2006 I bought my first ukulele. It was an inexpensive concert ukulele, but I really loved how it sounded and how portable it was. In 2008 I had an idea to make an instrument similar to an electric motor driven Hurdy Gurdy. While figuring out how to do that I stumbled across some instruments made with Altoids tins. My very first instrument was an “Altoids Banjo”.
After making some more rudimentary instruments, I started looking into building an electric ukulele. I love the look of electric guitars, so I wanted to capture that essence in a ukulele. I started building ukuleles in earnest in 2010, mainly building electric ukuleles and ukes out of old junk (tennis racquets, boxes, bedpans, etc.). Now I make all kinds of electric and acoustic instruments.
In the beginning what was the building process like? Were there any unforeseen events?
I’ll talk about building two ukuleles: my first electric and my first acoustic. The first electric ukulele that I made was based on a Gibson Explorer. The first acoustic was a Koa Super Soprano.
For my first projects, I had to make do with less tools and some help from friends and neighbours (there is normally a right tool for the job). One of the first things that I did was to gather parts, from all over the world. I used eBay, StewMac, and C.B. Gitty for parts. I also made a conscious effort to print or sketched out a full-sized drawing of the instrument and components. That way I could make sure that everything would fit together correctly and look proportional.
What choices were you faced with during the build process?
Buying pre-shaped panels or Bending wood was one of the first choices I faced. Bending wood panels for an acoustic ukulele can be a challenge. Buying or making a bending iron, getting wood and making it the right thickness for bending can be daunting. I watched over 20 YouTube videos, and read a lot of forum threads. In the end, I made my own bending iron with a metal pipe and a heat gun. It was very satisfying to know I had shaped the wood myself.
Deciding what finish to use is also an important choice to make. After using various other products, I found that Tru-Oil is a great and easy way to make wood beautiful. Nitrocellulose lacquer is also great stuff, but it takes more time and expertise to apply.
Component selection, another difficult choice for a first time builder to make. Parts come in all price ranges. For my first projects, I decided to find quality parts, but not spend the money on premium parts. If I want to do that later, I’ll do it after I’ve honed my craft.
What advice did you seek and where did you get it?
I found that the many ukulele forums on the internet were a great source of information, namely the “Luthier’s Lounge” on Ukulele Underground, this can be a great resource. Some of the old timers can be a little impatient. But there is a lot to learn, even just by reading dozens of the threads that already exist, without the need to start your own.
What about the results of your first attempts at building? Were you delighted or devastated?
I was quite pleased with how my ukuleles turned out. When looking at my own work, I have the disadvantage of seeing the little flaws and imperfections. But that is because I carved, coerced and crafted the pieces together.
How soon after did you do it again? What motivated you?
I starting building again right after I was done! I always have new ideas for new projects and new building challenges.
Where are you now with your luthiery and what do you see for the future?
I want to help others learn and build instruments, I want my blog to be a place for people to get help and resources. All of my ukulele plans are available to download for free from my blog. For my own personal projects, I want to challenge myself and make more interesting instruments.
How about an insight into your luthier’s philosophy? Do you have a message to aspiring ukulele luthiers?
If you want to build instruments, just start building! Don’t think that your first instrument needs to be prefect. Make a diddley bow, or a fretless cigar box ukulele. You’ll learn a lot and gain valuable experience.
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