Over the last few years, I have discovered the simple joys of the ukulele.
I had struggled for some years to learn the guitar, but failed to make a lot of progress, partly through the lack of musical instinct, but mostly through the failure to practice.
Several years ago a visiting friend bought my partner a soprano ukulele for a fiver in a local charity shop. She is an accomplished guitarist, but soon realised the possibilities of this ridiculous little instrument. It is very portable, it has only 4 strings and it can be played very quietly... perfect for picking out tunes without attracting too much attention.
The chord shapes are generally quite simple and it is comfortable to strum. Its size means it can be played in a confined space, even in the passenger seat of a car. Am I the only person who can enjoy live music on a long car journey?
Above all, you only have to take it out of its case and it raises a smile.
Early in the autumn 2016 a musician approached me with a challenging restoration project. He had picked up an old tabletop xylophone which was little more than a plywood box of bits.
All the bits were there though, including a full set of perfectly tuned hardwood keys. I accepted the challenge. After restoring the box, I began to try and make sense of the collection of cardboard tubes that were inside it. I quickly realised that I needed some technical guidance, so I went to visit my luthier friend Steve Agnew
Steve explained to me the principles of the Helmholtz effect, which has to do with how sound behaves in tubes... don't ask me to explain, I'll cut to the chase. On my visits to Steve's studio I saw beautiful guitars and mandolins in various stages of construction and completion and I was prompted to ask him "How difficult would it be to build a ukulele?"
The rest is history. I have now built several concert size ukuleles which, with one exception, are made from locally sourced timbers. All of them have been made from scratch, the only manufactured parts I have bought in are machine head tuners, strings, fretwire, nuts and saddles. Along the the way I have refined and simplified my bulding technique to give reliable results.
Two of these instruments are played regularly by my partner and I. Last year I took on a commission for which my young customer chose the timber and designed the details of the top. Some precious family heirlooms were incorporated into this uke, making it very individual.
The remaining instruments are available to buy. They are all concert size 18 fret ukuleles...
"You can never have too many ukuleles"