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12 November 2013

The Poobah Sings!

Time for another update in the Grand Poobah ukulele build. Sorry for the delayed write-up, but I've been ill. Boo!

The project is drawing to the end, but bloody hell... it's not getting any easier! The past week has been a real battle. I think I'm winning, but my patience is really being tested. Unfortunately, most of my troubles have been of my own making. Damn! Let me explain...

I bought some ebony to make a fretboard and bridge. Here you can see the fretboard blank I made resting on the ukulele neck. It was pretty easy to shape. The nut is a plastic one I bought. I got lucky and ended up with a blank that was pretty much the right depth without anything more than a bit of light sanding. The gap between the surface of the fretboard and grooves in the nut is about the distance of a zero fret.

I talked about using the Electric Ukulele Land fret calculator tool in my last post, but I couldn't for the life of me get it to work properly. The prints were consistently too small. In an attempt to figure it all out I ended up taking my Skylark Ukulele and feeding in its measurements to see if it would come back with the same results. It didn't.

So in the end, I stuck with the stewmac measurements I'd used when I created the original pattern. I'll need to quiz +Daniel Hulbert to find out what the magic is.

Here's a shot of the stewmac measurements I used. 

Do you recognise the jig I made for slotting frets? Yes, this is the same one I used on the Kingcaster and Sharkfin. There's no real trick to it other than to ensure that the blank is placed perpendicular to the mitre and of course you have to keep the blank from moving. The block of wood that it is fixed to slides and I took it a slot at a time. My method is to line each slot up with the saw upside down as a measure, and then when I think I've got it right, I flip the saw over and cut the slot. Ebony really is a lovely wood to work with.

I decided to use the abalone fret markers. My thinking is that the sea-faring theme demands it. Here you can see me testing out a marker on an offcut.

This is what I used to stick the fret-markers in place. Bastard super glue! I hate the stuff. Yep, I managed to stick my fingers together. It was a scary moment at a very inopportune moment... 

This isn't looking that bad at all. Can you spot the mistakes? I've not quite got all the fret markers on the centre line and that bottom marker is the wrong way round. I was fitting it and somehow it flipped over. That was the moment the superglue got me and I had to leave things while I tried to pull my fingers apart. By the time I'd recovered, the bloody thing has set and, well, it is what it is. Moving on... I'm really liking that lighter line that runs down the middle. Have I ever told you how much I love ebony?

Here's J-Uke trying out the Poobah for size. I like his pick action... A-OKAY! When I showed Mrs Uke the Poobah, she said that it looks rustic.

When people say 'rustic', do they mean 'shit'?

I asked the question on Google+ and +Julian Davies had the best answer...

"rus·tic (rstk) adj.
1. Of, relating to, or typical of country life or country people. See Synonyms at rural.
2. a. Lacking refinement or elegance; coarse.
b. Charmingly simple or unsophisticated.
3. Made of unfinished or roughly finished wood: rustic furniture.
4. Having a rough or textured appearance; rusticated. Used of masonry

Your uke looks unrefined, unsophisticated, unfinished, rough and rural. Except, I think it looks pretty bloody cool and unique."

Ha ha.. thanks Jules... I hope you feel the same way when it's finished!

After fitting fret markers, my least favourite job is fitting fret wire. This is the same bloody wire I used when I pimped my Skylark. I had all sorts of problems then and unfortunately this time was no different! At the risk of blaming my tools... Maybe I'm using the wrong bloody wire?

I trialled a new technique where I cut and dressed the frets prior to fitting. Here you can see me resting the frets on the slots they're meant to fit into. When it came down to it though, the bloody frets wouldn't stay in. I ruined the slots and generally had a nightmare. As always, I persevered. It wasn't the end to the tribulations unfortunately...

Look! I've been brave enough to fix the fretboard. I sanded the neck to remove the lacquer and then glued the two together. 

I've oiled the wood and here I am taking pictures before the oil has even dried! Ha ha. If you look closely you'll see that the height of the frets are all over the bloody place. Pah! Some are too high, some too low. Hold this thought...

I intended to use these cheapo Alice strings while I got everything tuned up, but this is what stopped me. Why is it telling me to use a D tuning? I got suspicious that these strings weren't going to be representative of the Ko'olau strings that I intend to finally put on it.

Out came the Ko'olaus and I soon had the uke strung up. I'm regretting it now because it wasn't long before I thumped the g-string with a hammer and near-as-dammit snapped it. They were sounding really nice too prior to that mishap.

With my tail between my legs, I reverted to the Alice strings. I'm not impressed with them, though they have been getting better over time. Fundamentally though, they're thin to the touch and have a thin, weak sound. Unfortunately, strings are the least of my problems...

Here's a secret code I've put together. If you know the key, then it reveals the message: "yep... you buggered up fitting the frets".  "O" denotes that a fret is sounding the correct note. "X" denotes a sound problem. I attempted to fix this through a combination of tapping with a hammer and filing. In some cases, that filing was pretty severe! Ouch! I managed to fix everything without having to refret, but I'll admit that I did consider refretting it for a sad little moment. On a positive note, it sounds great and is a dream to play! :-D

I've finally got to hear how the Poobah sings!

I mentioned that I've fitted a temporary bridge on the Poobah. Here it is. You can see that It consists of a pre-made bridge, backwards to hold the strings. This is held in place with two clamps. And for the moment The strings are resting on a banjolele bridge which in itself is resting on a ruler to get it to the correct height.  I predict that the crack in the front is going to cause me all sorts of problems when I make the proper bridge. That's a problem for another day.

The wonderful Sven Nyström of Argapa Ukuleles has a tagline of "one size louder" for his ukes to reflect how they sound louder than they you might expect them to. I think my tagline might be "one size quieter" :-) The Poobah is a genteel giant, but until I get the proper bridge and strings, I can't be 100% sure if it will always be like this.

I couldn't resist on a little soundcheck for you with the temporary bridge. Here it is. Unfortunately the picture isn't too revealing, but check out my HUGE knee!

So, I'm down to the final crucial stage of getting the bridge made. I roughly know where the saddle needs to be. You'd think that it would be a doddle wouldn't you! ;-) Ha ha... Surely there can't be many more ways that I can make things difficult for myself. Until next time!

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