September 21, 2007
I should probably append this to the previous post about building this ukulele, but I’m still not used to the way that Wordpress postings are displayed. My mind is still working in website mode rather than blog mode.
Anyway…if you have any interest in Louis A. Gaspar ukuleles or if you own a Louis A. Gaspar uke or just don’t have anything better to do, take a quick look at my other postings. I made a category to contain all things Louis A. Gaspar – its all right there.
My Gapsar copy is finished…Finally. It came out pretty well. Not really a perfect copy of my original Gapsar uke, but it certainly captures the flavor of the Gaspar uke.
It is a nice loud uke and has good sustain. It is actually quite a bit louder than any of the ukes that I have made before. Rings nicely – OK its a damn nice uke if I do say so myself. I am getting better at this.
I used Martin strings on this one. I usually don’t care for Martin strings. They are just too heavy for my taste. Especially the C string. Maybe the monster strings are real boomers?
I am already working on another Gaspar pattern uke. The second will be either mahogany with dichromate stain – or not. Probably with a little more gingerbread than the true Gaspar. Hopefully this uke will go a little more smoothly. I think I can avoid most of the rookie screwups that made the prototype so time consuming.
The upcoming uke will be Spanish neck construction. I may build in a little back angle into the neck to help tighten up the action a bit. Again, not sure.
Meanwhile…check out the first three pics of my Louis A. Gaspar copy!
August 13, 2007
OK…I just couldn’t wait. I had most of the parts to make a soprano uke (top, back, sides) lying around. I had made them from an old mahogany board my father gave me. I still had a nice chunk of this original board, so I made up a Louis A. Gaspar style neck.
Naturally, I hit snags. I made a one piece neck, but I cut it too thin (ugh!). One-piece necks waste wood, and wood just doesn’t grow on trees like it used to.
Next I made a 2-piece joined neck. This one came out much better than the one piece, but it was still a hair too short. Close enough though for a prototype.
I covered the joint on the front of the pegboard with a piece of veneer which doesn’t match very well. At this point it looked like this uke is quickly heading in the direction of ugly-town. Looks are not the overall point. I want nice tone and a little more insight into the mind of Louis A. Gaspar — the mysterious ugly uke-builder.
A spline joint to hold the neck on was out of the question. The frets are set directly into the neck…so a spline would show through the fretboard above the 12th fret. I added some dowels to the neck to reenforce and register the neck and top body block. Overkill? Probably.
I also didn’t make a Gaspar body mold. I just fudged the general shape using my generic Martin-looking body mold. My guess is that in his day, Louis Gaspar wasn’t sticking very closely to a particular body shape – so no biggie.
The ancient mahogany that my father gave me was a mixed blessing. Very dense with crazy grain. One side bent easily, but the other side was torture. Somehow I got the sides to be fairly symmetrical. Overall the uke is a bit fat around the middle, but close enough for the prototype.
I started this project by trying to stick as closely to the Louis Gaspar uke design as possible. But I made a lot of changes. Hopefully all the changes are for the for the better. I have two-piece top and back wood. My top is nice and thin – the sides are very thin – actually so thin that I might reenforce the area near the neck with some veneer. I tried to add bow in the back of the Uke like the Gaspar has. I had never done that before. It isnt as noticible as I had hoped, but its OK.
One of the things that I noticed about my genuine Gaspar Uke is that it is extremely light in weight – much thinner wood that I would have ever dared use on my own, plus the freaky aluminum tuners are almost weightless. I heft a package of uninstalled Gotoh banjo tuners that are sitting on my desk and they almost seem as heavy as the entire Gaspar uke.
My kerfing is poplar and I have some light spruce for cross braces. I had to make a soundhole ring, I’m too big a chicken to just leave it unsupported, but it isnt that much. Somehow though, my Uke (without tuners) is already heavier than the Gaspar Uke. I used maple veneer for the bridge pad, rather than the tounge-depressor that Gaspar used. My pad is actually lighter than his. But somehow its not a light uke. I have some more learning to do.
The fret markers are homebrew shell dots. The frets are made of narrow mandolin fretwire. This wire seems significantly heavier than the vintage brass wire on the original Gaspar Uke. I have never seen that style of fret wire for sale, but it seems to be on many of the old ukuleles that I have seen.
At this time the not-so-curvy curved back is on and drying.
I still need to make the bridge, and install the tuners, install the 12th fret then finish – should have more pics soon.
August 1, 2007
I looked a little further into my Louis Gaspar ukulele. I measured the heck out of it, and ended up doing some serious head-scratching.
Who was Louis A. Gaspar?
I think that the overall design of this uke is fantastic. After measuring the instrument, it makes a heck of a lot more sense than the blueprints I have for a Martin and Bruno ukes. Everything is laid out logically on the Gaspar. The design seems to take final product and construction into consideration. This is a real uke, it wasn’t designed as a mini-guitar.
Everything would be make more sense if the uke wasn’t so crudely built.
The odd neck shape started to make sense when I measured it. The neck is straight along one edge. The bass side of the fretboard…the “fleas” side (my dog has fleas tuning) of the fretboard is straight. The other side of the fretboard (the “my” side) is angled. The frets are roughly perpendicular to the “fleas” side of the neck. When you measure the frets against the top edge of the neck they are at an angle. The wonky-looking frets are mostly an optical illusion, because all the taper of the fretboard is on one side. Both sides of a traditional fretboard are slightly angled.
I had a bit of an ”AHA!!” moment at this point. This design makes sense in so many ways. If you have one straight edge, construction is much simpler. You can use the tablesaw to run the fret grooves and the nut groove w/o making any jigs or having to trim the edges later. Always a straight edge present to refer to if you need a line.
Brilliant idea right? Yeah. Well forget it…even by that logic, this Gaspar neck is still bunged up. The frets are a degree or more out of true no matter which way you measure them.
Next stop: The heel.
The heel was cut from a 1 3/4″ cube glued onto the bottom of the neck blank. The heel shape was probably roughly formed at this point (taper of heel cut, rounded heel cut-out made). Then a 1/2″ section of the end of the neck and block was sawn off to use as a heel block inside the body.
This is another great idea. I have had lots of trouble making heel-blocks match the inside curve of the body and then somehow getting a neck to match the whole package and stay straight, is very difficult. It seems like this method of sawing the end of the neck and heel off to make the heel block is at least one less step work and might even be easier to align.
The back of the neck is more or less flat, rather than radiussed. The sharp corners were knocked off the blank a bit, but not much finishing lavished on the back of the fretboard.
Flipping the uke over, the back of the heel tells the whole story of the slightly off kilter look of the body. The sides were overlapped at neck (!!). I get the feeling that the whole area was probably slobbered with glue and jammed between clamps – just sort things out on the belt-sander later I guess.
This is one of the big head scratchers. On one hand, its a pretty cheesy joint. But that cheesy joint is still very strong. Actually the neck joint is about the only joint in the uke that is still intact after all these years. So depending on your sense of humor, this method is either a lazy shortcut or another construction/design innovation on Gaspars part. I’m still on the fence.
The flat wood on the Gaspar uke is all very thin. The top and back are nearly dead on 1/16″ thick. The sides seem to be thinner, but I think they are thinned a bit on the visible edges when the uke was finish sanded. Thicker toward the center, but I don’t have a micrometer which can get past the clunky binding.
The side-wood actually looks thicker inside the neck joint – so I’d bet that the sides are 1/16″ in thickness like the top and back are.
The back has a slight arch across the waist, a little more than 1/16″ but not really 1/8″. Its Hard to see behind the square in the picture.
After all the measuring and obsessing. I really have come to admire this ukulele. I love the overall Gaspar look. The angle along the top of the neck combined with the 4-in-line tuners give the uke a jaunty modern look. It’s one fast looking uke - looks like it is flying, even when its standing still. Some of the construction details are pretty amazing. Gaspar may have not been a very good craftsman, but he certainly was good at designing ukuleles. A savant of sorts?
I’ll be reassembling the uke soon.
July 15, 2007
I dug out my broken Louis Gaspar Ukulele. I found this uke on ebay a few years ago, right before the insane ukulele overpricing madness hit. I was a little too late, I just missed that time period when a ratty Kumulae uke from the 1920s was affordable to the workingman. I missed a pile of Kumulae, Nunes, even a couple of Kamakas – which went for just a few dollars more than my maximum (35$ ). Needless to say, during that time, I didn’t manage to actually buy anything. I wanted to get a damaged or cosmetically challenged uke made by a known maker so I could fix it. Fixing a broken uke would accomplish two ends: Get me a nice named-maker uke for short $$ while allowing me to practice my latest obsession, musical instrument repair and construction.
Still pretty green about all things Ukulele…I stumbled upon the Ukecat Ukulele Museum:
This site listed Louis Gaspar as a disciple of Sam Kamaka Sr. Nice! Gaspar is a Portuguese name (Gaspar is even a brand name of a local Portuguese Chourico sausage here in the northeast!). How much more solid-gold uke karma could I hope for? Short of flying to Hawaii with $1500 in my pocket .
I eventually found a Louis Gaspar Ukulele on ebay. It had a couple of cracks, some separation on the top and was missing the bridge. No sweat.
Then the thing arrived: HOLY CRAP! The uke was a dog. Kamaka…Portugal…short money…that plan derailed in a hurry.
I didn’t take any pics when it first arrived. The top was hanging by a thread. Anyway, I put the thing into an improvised humidifier (the uke in a cardboard box, the box in a trash-bag – tossing damp paper towels into the trash bag (not the box) I slowly humidified the uke to the point where it looked like it’d come together.
After taking a closer look I gave up on the dream of an easy fix. The ukulele was very crudely built? A uke simulacra?? A tourist piece?? Or possibly the uke had suffered severe environmental damage – like 30 years in an unventilated Arizona attic. Or maybe Gaspar was in his declining years when he made this uke. Whatever the case may be, the uke is in tough shape.
The uke is solid wood. The sides seem to be light punky wide-grained Koa and the top might be monkey-pod. Really odd grain for Koa. Whatever species it is, the top wasnt properly quartersawn and was probably green when the uke was assembled. It has warped and split along some wavy grain lines.
The Gaspar tag is one of those return address labels that you get unsolicited in the mail from random charities. The tuners are actually made of aluminum (aluminum tuners? what the !%$#@?). The soundhole groove was never filled with inlay. The condition of the whole instrument was very shaky…so I took it completely apart.
Inside the uke is even worse. The bridge pad was made from a birch tounge-depressor with the ends sanded thin. There are two braces at roughly the waist of the instrument. Both braces appear to be quartersawn spruce (yeah!).
Kerfing is a cheesy ½ inch wide by >1/8” mahogany strip was put on both backwards and forwards. The body shape is err…freeform to be generous. Sort of like a good old New England house – not a square angle in the place.
I can’t give up on this wreck though. It really has a quirky charm to it. I like the overall look and feel. The integrated 12 fret fingerboard is classic and the funky 4-inline tuner arrangement on the headstock is really neat. Makes me think of Hawaii in the 1960′s. Ageing Gaspar making ukes with “Fender” looking headstocks.
Two possibilities…rebuild the uke or make a new copy of the uke. From the looks of things. Plan ”B” makes more sense. The original would never be much more than a wall-hanger Even if I could force it back together. The top has shrunk to the point where it doesn’t cover the sides properly any longer. The frets are not at right angles to the body (cant be intentional?? the neck shrank/warped over the years or possibly was built wrong in the first place??) It would be much more difficult to properly repair this ukulele than it would be to just make a copy from scratch.
The body isn’t difficult and the overall neck construction is dead-simple. Hopefull will get some time this weekend.