Almost all ukuleles have a strip called a “lining” around the top and bottom of the sides. For a detailed explanation of linings, see my earlier post on “SOLID VS. KERFED LININGS.” I’ve recently started using laminated rather than bent linings. By laminating each lining out of two or three thicknesses of thin wood, I can match the curve of the lining exactly to the shape of the side more accurately than can be done with a bent lining. This reduces the stress caused by a mismatch and helps to preserve the desired shape of the side, insuring that the two sides are symmetrical. When two or more different woods are included in the lamination, the linings also look nicer when you peek inside the box!
Some players swear by radiused fretboards and others prefer flat fretboards. Some don’t care either way. A number of players who have some sort of impairment to their fretting hands have told me that a radius is genuinely helpful in forming chords. After a long period of indecision, the pro-radius contingent convinced me that this would be a desirable option. There are a number of ways to radius a board and after trying one of the strenuous manual methods, I built a jig to do the job more quickly and with considerably less effort. The board blank is attached to the jig with double-sided tape. The router is on a carriage that slides both longitudinally and in an arc across the blank. By running the router back and forth along the length of the blank a dozen times or so and incrementing the arc a bit with each pass, the router cuts a smooth and perfectly radiused board. This is always done before slotting. If done after, the router bit can chip the board surface as it hits the slots. Choosing a radiused board sets off a chain reaction of related changes: the top of the nut and the saddle are curved to match, the frets must be bent in an arc matching the board and, while it’s not strictly necessary, I find it aesthetically pleasing to curve the top of the bridge. These details are a nice addition to the appearance of the instrument.
The CNC bandwagon started to look like a good ride so I invested in a CNC router and set about learning to use a CAD program. The first application that I got working was creating the inlay and pocket for the “Ono” name on my pegheads. After the CAD files were created and refined, it has been very easy to do neat inlays. I’m mostly using mother of pearl for the inlay but on a few occasions have used wood when it was aesthetically desirable and on instruments that are to be shipped overseas. For a small builder, it just doesn’t seem practical to go through the CITES approval process that is necessary for MOP. I can also do other inlays, such as the Thai symbol that an owner requested. In this case, both the logo and the special symbol are wood because the instrument will be shipped to Thailand.
Creating the fretboard files was a challenge because I have a dozen different combinations of scale length and number of frets. It’s turned out to be well worth the effort for the amount of work that is saved and for the precision that can be exactly repeated every time. Also, CNC can cut pocket slots that result in a board that conceals the fret ends as if it were bound. A board looks so much cleaner if the fret ends don’t show. Of course, binding can still be used in the conventional manner if desired for decoration. The downside is that removing the ends of the tang on each fret is quite time consuming. Installing the frets on a board with exposed tang ends takes fifteen minutes on a bad day. The same job on a board with concealed fret ends takes a couple of hours or more but the result is worth the extra work.
The job of neatly trimming off the tang from each end of a fret is tedious but I’ve found that it can be done a little more easily with a mill.
In the end, the result justifies the investment:
I’ve been busily building ukes and improved tooling so the blog has been ignored for too long. Above are some glimpses into things that I’ve been working on lately.
In November, I was again able to attend the annual exhibition of the Ukulele Guild of Hawaii. This year's event was much larger than last year's and was very well attended by both builders and enthusiasts. I showed two tenors that were left after the show with Andrew Kitakis of theukulelesite.com (Hawaii Music Supply). Sound samples of both by Kalei Gamiao are on my OnoMAS page. I was also able to do a podcast with Andrew: epi-17-david-ingalls-ono-ukulele.
Here are a couple of photos:
I recently found some very nice quilted maple that has amazing 3D depth to the grain pattern. It's on its way to being turned into a 16' concert with an Adirondack spruce top. The appointments are bloodwood and bubinga and it will likely get a rosewood fret board. Here are some photos taken today after the initial coat of finish.
Whether bindings are purchased or cut in the shop from larger stock, they have to be accurately dimensioned for the particular instrument. Getting them to the right thickness is easy. Just run them through the thickness sander:
Getting them to the right height is a little more work. In addition to the correct height, the edges need to be square with the flat side. I've been using a funky method that took too much time and finally got tired of it so a new fixture was in order.
This clamps the binding strips between two straightedges that are 1/8" thick. The one on the right is fixed and the other slides laterally over a range of 1/2". The binding strips are placed in the slot between the two straightedges and the left one is slid firmly against them so they can't wobble from side to side. The sliding side is held in place with hex head screws.
The whole assembly is then run under the thickness sander. There are always any number of ways to skin cat but this works well for me.
One of the members of the Ukulele Underground Forums recently posted this comparison:
I once owned a Collings tenor and have the highest respect for Collings instruments so it was treat to follow this thread!
Here is a review of this tenor that the owner posted on Ukulele Underground:
"Well, I confess, I was the lucky person who got the latest Ono tenor (Adirondack Spruce top with Bolivian Rosewood). I am really enjoying it.
"Here are my first impressions. This new beautiful Ono tenor is an outstanding instrument. David Ingalls builds as light as anyone, and his perfection in build execution is on par with very best (John Kinnard, Chuck Moore, Ko'olau,...). As an example, look at the end seam in the lower bout, the grain match is as perfect as you can get. There is no gap at all. One can only faintly make out the seam because of the flash photography. I thought the sides were 1 piece when I first saw it. The neck thickness and profile are just right (not too thin or thick). No pain at all playing this one for an hour or more. Another cool and important feature is the cantilevered fretboard. It allows the entire top to vibrate more freely.
"The finish is a good, oil finish. The thinness of the finish must surely help create the large sound this uke produces. The tone is nicely even with crisp notes, good warmth and resonance. This Ono is currently in reentrant B tuning, with South Coast Medium strings. Not sure if I prefer C or B tuning better with this tenor.
"Here’s a sound sample in B tuning. It sounds terrific, even though it is still opening up.
"Decided to add a C tuning sample:
"I highly recommend David Ingall’s work. My Ono is a stunning instrument."
The linings that are installed along the edges of the sides have two important functions. First, they widen, and therefore strengthen, the glue joint between the sides and the top and bottom plates. Second, they increase the thickness of the side at the corner so that binding and purfling can be added. Wide, multi-layer purfling can be done only where wide, kerfed linings are used inside the box. Kerfed linings are very flexible and easy to install. I use solid linings that are much thinner but have to be bent to match the sides. This is often a two step process of first bending the linings over a form in the same way as the sides are bent and then perfecting the shape by hand on the hot pipe. Also, solid linings are more demanding and time-consuming to install even when properly bent. For visuals, take a look at the prior post on the 16" concert. The point of this technique is to maximize the surface area of the top that is free to vibrate and results in a top that has a vibrating area nearly 1/3" wider across the box. A ukulele top doesn't have much surface area. In comparison to a guitar, the proportion of the top that is taken up by wide, kerfed linings is much greater. Does this make a difference in the tone of the instrument? Like so much in lutherie, it isn't possible to say for sure but one of the important goals of this craft is to improve our instruments in small increments. It has been said by others that there is no single thing that can be done to improve an already good instrument by 10% but perhaps we can do five things that each contribute 2%.
This concert is well underway. The back and sides are claro walnut and the top is Port Orford cedar. After some experimentation, the owner and I decided on bindings made from some super curly maple heartwood that is light brown rather than the usual white.
More to follow, so check back.
This one is now finished and will soon be on its way to Canada. I've posted a set of photos in the Gallery.