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….  


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