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:

http://home.comcast.net/~ukecat/ukeset.html

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.

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Koa Tenor Uke Build

July 8, 2007

My Koa tenor Uke is coming along. This is my first tenor with a “spanish-style” neck.

The first Uke I ever made, a few years ago, was a frankenstein concert-size with a Spanish neck. Not very sucessful. Probably not a great idea to tackle a Spanish neck for a first uke. I had just finished reading Guitarmaking Tradition and Technology by Cumpiano/Natelson. I was fired up. 

…that first uke really looked like crap but it had a redwood top, a dead-straight neck and sounded great.

So somehow I associated the uke’s looking like a train-wreck with the Spanish neck (rather than the 400 other problems that the uke has). I then build a few butt-jointed soprano ukes. I liked the simplicity of the idea of the butt joint, but after I ruined three or four perfectly good uke necks and bodies with bad butt-joints. I was ready for something new.

The problem was my not being able to properly clamp the butt joint between the body and the heel of the neck.  I’d get the neck angle a degree or so out of square. Usually in the worst possible direction. Lots of work for iffy results.

I never was truly comfortable with the butt joint. I used a plywood spline between the neck and the head-block, but I still didnt think that this was quite right. Gluing endgrain of the neck heel to the sidegrain of the top?! The entire weight of the strings would be bearing on the tiny surface area in the plywood spline. Seemed like a uke that would need to be rebuilt in a couple of years. 

 The other option is to do the Martin style dovetail neck. That idea seemed to combine all the inherant problems in the Spanish and Butt-Joined methods. Insanely complicated and lots of room for problems. On the upside that method is adjustable and repairable.

I shelved dovetails for now. 

 

I thought of doing a faux-Spanish neck – Making a butt-joint neck with a long heel, drilling through the end of the heel for 3 dowels then sawing off  the end of the heel – to create the headblock for the body (the holes ideally matching perfectly) this seems to be the costruction method used on a Loius Gaspar uke from the 1950’s that I have. More on that uke later.

More to come….