Louis Gaspar Uke Dissection

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:

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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2 Responses to “Louis Gaspar Uke Dissection”

  1. Mark Says:

    I have a Louis Gaspar pineapple with a Fender headstock which I play every day. It too seems impossibly badly made to ever play well. It has a sealed crack below the bridge but apart from that and the horrible aluminium tuners it is very sound. But what a player! I marvel at its resonant, harp like clarity. It brings complete joy.
    So persevere, I think it will be worth it. Louis obviously knew something but how he got away with such sloppy work is a coplete mystery.

  2. shinoteabowl Says:

    Thanks for the encouragement Mark!
    I read somewhere that the Gaspar ukes play well despite the slapped together appearence. I have done some more measuring – no encouraging news there (post to follow). I also have started making a repro of the uke (another post to follow). The more I look into this uke (and Louis Gaspar in general) the more interesting it becomes. Stay tuned!


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