Remember to click G+1 if you like a post... It will make me happy :-)

15 January 2013

Argapa Ukuleles

Argapa Ukuleles is a gentleman by the name of Sven Nyström, based in Sweden. I ran into Sven just before Christmas on Google+'s new sparkly Ukulele Community. I don't know how it happened, but I see that I'm one of the moderators for that community. Rest assured that I will use my new-found powers only for good. Having seen some of Sven's beautiful ukuleles I'd threatened that I would do a post on him and here I am doing just that!

Argapa Ukuleles... One size löuder!

As you know, I'm always on the lookout for talented instrument builders. I love talking to them in the hope that some of their magic might rub off onto me. There is always something to learn! Thank you Sven for taking the time to talk to me... I've enjoyed every second!

The first thing I'm going to point out is that Sven is making ukuleles in his spare time. Sven calls it a "hobby"... a means to funding the purchase of "hideously expensive cutting tools". I'd call it a vocation... this boy's got real talent!

Argapa are not into mass-production. If you commission Sven to make you an instrument, you will get a one-off. At the time of writing I think I'm right in saying that there are less than 50 Argapa ukes out there in the wild and I haven't got any of them! Depending upon size and model you can expect to pay somewhere in the region of £300-£500 for an Argapa original. Contact Sven through his blog to discuss the possibilities. And in case you're wondering, Argapa ("Arg apa") translates to "Angry Monkey". Ha ha. Who wouldn't want Angry Monkey uke!

This many ukes!
Sven Nyström of Argapa Ukulele attempts a new uke-holding world record
...and what's that t-shirt I spy there?

Sven has coined a new term... "apartment-style lutherie". I like the sound of this! His main workshop is in his house and like a lot of us, Sven is having to deal with the problems of noise, mess and not having enough space. I must say that Sven's workshop looks brilliant... and he's not adverse to giving a few fashion pointers too. Check out the cowboy boots, apron and some sort of all-in-one that I don't even know the name of! Ha ha... I really have no room to talk... sorry Sven... I won't mention it again... promise! ;-)

Sven has managed to squeeze a lot of kit into a very small space and the output just speaks for itself! I'm sharing here some pictures of Sven's Workshop from his blog. I'd recommend that you go and check it out for a load more pictures and some great insights into how Sven makes his instruments.

Here is a picture of a ukulele that had been terrorising the Swedish village
of Kiruna in early 2012. Unsure of what to do, local police called in uke-expert
Sven to capture it. Okay... I confess I made up some of that story. Sven's
blog is jam-packed with tools and building techniques that he has tried.
Like all great artisans he is constantly experimenting and refining. This
picture is actually from an update Sven gave where he was gluing the back
on a soprano ukulele. I love the spider-web look, but really... what a jig!

"Tidy workshop... tidy mind"
There is so much going on in this picture! See how Sven has every tool
close at hand. I could learn a thing or two from this; My tools are hidden
in boxes secreted all over the place. This photo is of an update Sven
gave on a tenor ukulele he was building. See also the smaller uke.
That's a "piccolo" ukulele. Read on... 

This picture was taken from Sven's update on the production of a batch of
piccolo ukuleles. Sven had been inspired to try his hand at these - the
smallest of ukuleles - having seen a 1920s piccolo uke at the Hollesley
Ukulele festival. You don't hear much about piccolo ukes, but I think I'm
right in saying that they are made with an 11 inch scale (a soprano is
13 inch). The only mass-produced piccolo I can find is the
Kala PU SSFM 'pocket' ukulele. It really doesn't come close to the
Argapa piccolo. BTW Sven is a regular visitor to the Hollesley Uke
Festival; He's been attending since 2009 after being put onto it by
his pals on the Ukulele Cosmos forums.

Of the many beautiful ukuleles that Sven has produced,
I want to call out a tenor he made in 2008. See the images
in the top half of this picture. Here Sven is experimenting
with a shallower body depth and by all accounts it was a
success. I like the idea of a thinner body. Also pictured
is the Kala KA-SSTU-T (no, I'm not on the Kala payroll),
a commercially produced uke that utilises this same feature.
The Kala looks like it may be even slimmer than the Argapa.
Both are fantastic. I first saw the Kala uke last year when
  I attended the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain. Someone had
one strung across their back. Brilliant! It reminds me
of the Jimi Hendrix song Highway Chile... "His guitar
strung across his back... His boots are his Cadillac..."

Okay... I'm going to call out just one more instrument. I hope that this
doesn't get me into trouble! You may remember a post I did back in May
last year where I mocked up some "shapely" ukulele designs. One of the
designs I presented was one I called the Ukenbacker which of course
 was inspired by the Rickenbacker guitar. My mock-up is the largest
uke above. Look to the top left corner and you will see evidence of a
secret project Sven is undertaking. That design looks kind of familiar!
And what's that on the table to the right!!! I can't wait to see the end
result! If it is anything a good as the uke in the bottom right then
we're in for a treat. That uke is a one-off "ukenbacker" as built by
Tiki King in 2001. Tiki King have made some fantastic instruments.
I urge you to check out their site to see more of their wares.
Oh dear... I've probably said too much... sorry Sven... will you ever
forgive me?

Whilst I was researching this post I spent some time working my way through Sven's youtube channel where you can find Sven giving updates on his builds along with sound-checks of his instruments. I was interested to see a video of him performing at an open mic at the Hollesley Ukulele Festival in 2012. Then, quite by chance, I discovered that Sven is one half of ukulele band: Good Cop Bad Cop. Sven tells me that this first album was made a few years ago with his good mate Mange. "We never rehearse. I write the songs in hotel rooms across the world when I'm miserable (I travel a lot in my day job), then Mange records me playing the rhythm parts and adds all of the rest."

I recommend that you go download "1054" from the Good Cop Bad Cop website... for free... you'd be foolish not too!

And the good news? The fearsome duo are planning to make their second album!

Good Cop Bad Cop - 1054

"An instrumental ukulele rock opera about the parting of the 
christian church into the western Roman Catholics and the eastern 
Greek Orthodox."

Staying with music... I think that I've found a kindred spirit in Sven. I noticed that he has a Motörhead t-shirt and I just had to ask for some background. Sven's reply was perfect and has elevated him to being my favourite small-instrument maker in the whole world... EVER! Here's what he had to say... "Motörhead is the only band you'll ever need. Damn good, and very underestimated as songwriting goes. Most songs have a very distinct formula, one that you seldom hear in other band's songs. And if you ever wonder what the song is called, listen for what word Lemmy barks twice at the end of the chorus. Genius."

Amen Brother Sven!

I know I said I wouldn't mention this again, but... :-D
What do you call this fancy Swedish attire then?

Sven's other dirty secret is that he played in the metal punk band called "Kids Are Sick" when he was younger. Try as I might, I haven't been able to uncover any vintage footage! Shame ;-)

Here's something else that I like a lot. Sven is a member of the Swedish forum: The Ukulele Kommissionen. They had the great idea of producing an advent calendar of songs to build up to Christmas. Be sure to go check them out; I love the songs! Sven's contribution is one called "War headers / Mothership". I don't have a clue what it is about, but I do sense the spirit of Motörhead in the final mix ;-) If only I'd have known... and been a lot more organised... and Swedish... then I too could have joined the fun and submitted my own Christmas song!

Ukulelekommissionens julakender
Check out number 12 by Sven Nyström

I could go on forever here, but it is time to bring this to a close. Before I do... I'd spotted mention of the Argapa instruments being "one size louder" and wondered where this had come from. Sven says that he thought that this was a nifty slogan, "if a bit pompous". He'd noticed how his piccolo ukes were getting better and better until they were out-performing some sopranos, and then he made a few sopranos that sounded far bigger than other sopranos. So, one size louder it was. Following our conversation on Motörhead, Sven's now wondering whether it should actually be 'one size löuder'.

Damn right, Sven!!!

Once again... a big thanks to Sven at Argapa. I've had a great time putting this post together and really appreciate the time we've spent chatting. I do apologize for some of my cheekiness here and there, but only a little bit. Keep on building those angry monkey ukes mate! And remember always... One size löuder!


  1. Talking of "Angry Monkey" and fancy Swedish attire kind of reminds meof this -

  2. Ha ha! I hadn't thought of that Daz! This is what I call 'real' Swedish woodwork! Don't you think that these instruments look great!

  3. I reminded me of a scene out of
    "Gulliver's Travels" .-)

  4. Me too! I was going to mention that... but it was long enough already ;-)

  5. Someone took a "t" out of my last comment.
    I should be it.
    I'm going to pin it on an
    angry monkey :-)

  6. Thanks man for the great writeup! I might nick that logo idea from your first picture. Just need to find the time... where on earth did I put my spare time.

  7. The pleasure was all mine Sven. Use whatever pictures you want. I don't believe "spare time" is real!