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5 November 2013

Marking the Poobah

It's time for another update on my Grand Poobah ukulele build! Hooray! This one's completely theoretical... Yep, I've done no building whatsoever! How on earth am I going to manage this? Just watch me...

I've been letting my imagination run riot as I've been considering options for fret markers on the Grand Poobah. Wouldn't scarab markers be cool! Try as I might, I haven't been able to find any small enough. Damn!

(Photo courtesy of  Doug Lafon)

Here's an interesting idea. See the dot resting on this gloved finger. It's a prototype for a revolutionary 3D-printed octopus-inspired sucker. I'd consider using them as fret-markers, but you'd never be able to put the bloody uke down ;-)

While I'm talking about 3D printing. It was only a matter of time before people started making ukuleles this way. Check out the Makerlele below which has been crafted by Erik Durwood.

And here's what it sounds like...

Here's a slightly more revealing video of a very similar ukulele built by Min-Chieh Chen based upon Erik Durwood's original design. I can't help but feel that the tuners need a bit more work, but I applaud the efforts of these two 3D-printing ukulele pioneers. Is this a glimpse of the future of instrument building?

Back to the Grand Poobah. Here you can see me measuring out the fretboard on paper. I used the stewmac fret calculator to measure this out with a 15 inch (381mm) scale and 17 frets.

One interesting thing to point out here is that the calculator also measures out where you should place the saddle. I learnt the hard way with my Kingcaster build that you need to build in compensation for the position of the saddle based upon the types of strings you are using and saddle design. Since then, I've never been able to figure out how to work this compensation out on paper - I just know that the saddle goes further back than you might first think it needs to. What I did for the Sharkfin was to fit strings over a temporary bridge until I figured out exactly where the real one needed to go. stewmac have had a guess at a calculation and for a 381mm scale uke they're telling me that the saddle needs to be placed 383mm from the nut. It's only 2mm further away, but mark my words, that 2mm will make all the difference.

Whilst we're on the topic of frets, I just want to call out this fantastic video by ukulele-building superstar +Daniel Hulbert. The video is of one of the workshops that Daniel presented at the Utah Ukulele Festival earlier in June this year. At about the 3:40 mark, Daniel begins to talk about how he slots frets using the tool available on the Electric Ukulele Land site. Daniel's fantastic idea is to print off the fret template and to actually stick it to the wood he's going to slot. He then cuts directly through the paper ensuring that he gets each and every slot exactly right. I'm considering trialling this technique for the Grand Poobah. If you'd like to learn more about Daniel then check out the links on this post I did on him.

Before I move on I'm going to call out a great idea by David Hurd (author of Left-Brain Lutherie). On his website, David talks about a jig he has built to specifically discover the compensation required for different combinations of strings and uke sizes. The beauty of this approach is obviously that you can figure it all out up front. I wish I'd thought of it! I might have a go at building my own version of this wonderful tool. Be sure to go visit David's site where he gives a more detailed and eloquent description of how his jig works.

One last thought on compensation...

You will no doubt recognise the saddle at the top of this picture: It has been shaped to provide compensation knowing that each string will have different demands. You can see that the top edge of the saddle is staggered to achieve slightly different string lengths. Using a saddle like this presupposes that you already know precisely what compensation you need to build in.

See the bottom half of the picture. This is a compensated nut as produced by Lanikai that uses the same basic principle, only at the other end of the string. They do a fancy compensated saddle too.

I have no intention of using either method for adding in compensation on the Grand Poobah, but I figure that it's good to be aware of techniques like this just in case I ever need to use them.

Let's talk fret markers!

I bought some abalone fret markers as my Plan B option. Actually, these beauties might turn into my Plan A option.

Here are what I thought I might use originally. These are actually metal necklace beads. I figured that the metal look might go well with the tuners. Now, I'm not so sure. 

A lot of the fun of building your own uke is that it can be whatever you want it to be. Take the simple act of sticking in fret markers. You don't have to have them, but if you do... there are so many different configurations that you can choose from. See above that I'm having a bit of fun calling out a few different styles for you. Every maker tries to do something a little bit different. I wonder how many people have actually really looked at the fret markers on their ukes? If you were given a free reign, which style would you go for?

The "Rhinestone cowboy" was my idea. No... I won't be using it ;-) I haven't decided which layout I'm going to use yet. As I write this I feel strangely drawn to the Martin layout.

Here are some strings. The cheapo Alice strings are simply for messing about with while I get the instrument built. The Ko'olau strings are what I intend to put on at the end. I've heard great things about these strings and I figure that I need to find out for myself what all the hype is about.

These aren't my first choice strings. My first thoughts were along the lines of the Aquila Reds, but when I researched them I started to have second thoughts. It wasn't all about the colour, but the I figured that they were going to be too dark against the fretboard/body. 

I end with something out of left-field...

Many months ago I had intended to do a post on wall hangers for ukuleles. I was discussing concepts with a gentleman on Google+ who had a great idea that he wanted me to keep secret until he'd had a chance to make it. He's never made the bloody thing and I'm still keeping my promise! I'm dependable like that ;-)

Seeing the above video by Manitoba Hal has made think that I should really do the post sometime soon. The question is: How to do it without incurring the wrath of Google+? I'll think on it. Until then, marvel at Hal's creation that he's knocked together out of an old pallet. It's pretty good. I once made a bird house out of an old pallet. The hardest bit was stealing the pallet. :-O

That's it for now. I managed a whole post and I haven't actually done anything!  What did I tell you! It's so cold out in my garage that I'm not sure I'll be able to finish this build if I leave it too much longer. Wish me luck!

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