Inspired by the Lyon and Healy “camp uke” from the 1920’s-30’s, the Scout is a handmade ukulele with a simple design, sweet tone, easy playability and maximum portability. This one has an Oregon Myrtle body, old growth Douglas fir neck and pistachio everything else.
Quarter-sawn white oak such as this is common in the furniture trade and was also used in parlor guitars, mandolins and banjos at the turn of the 20th century. To my ears, it has the volume of maple but a dustier sound, more old timey in a way. I paired it with a spruce top, pistachio fretboard, headplate and binding from California orchards and a fir floorboard neck. This oak is from the Carpenter ant stash in Portland and I have more like it. Drop me a line if you would like it in a uke or a banjo.
I really was going for a classic look on this uke, reminiscent of mainland designs of the 1920’s. The curly mahogany on the back and sides looks like some of my favorite higher grade Harmony ukes and the rope binding ties it to West coast builders like Knutsen and Weissenborn. The old growth Douglas fir top and pistachio head plate and fretboard are my updates, of course. The fir is salvaged from floorboards, the pistachio is from California orchards and the mahogany came from Char at Mya-Moe before she retired.
When I first imagined this little banjo design, I though it would be most useful in a higher tuning, like a piccolo banjo. But, it seems to have found its niche in standard g tuning. It makes for a small and pleasant version of a normal banjo. Easy to travel with, fits on a lap easily, easy on your back and hands. The walnut neck on this one is lightly curly stuff from Goby in Portland. The rim is mosaic of scrap pieces from the cutoffs from earlier banjos. It makes for a truly unique rim with lots of asymmetrical layers and a striking visual appeal. The pistachio is from woodfromthewest.com.
Dana asked for a tenor scale banjo uke tuned cgda, like a Tenor Banjo. We tested some different string gauges and were surprised by the good sound. I find this setup, especially when played with a pick, to be a lot of fun. The tone is rich and dark but with the sparkle and punch Maple is known for. I can’t wait to see what Dana uses it for. The maple is hard, straight grain stuff from Henry’s dance floor stash and the pistachio is from California orchards.
Have you ever had the experience where you hear a new word and suddenly it is everywhere? With this ukulele, it happened with the cool knot in the fretboard that looks like the eye of Horus. It then showed up in the neck and in the knots in the back. A nice bit of synchronicity that happened during wood selection. The top is Port Orford Cedar from the Oregon coast, walnut is urban salvage from Goby in Portland, the fir neck was a floor joist in Portland and the pistachio is from California orchards.
This instrument shows me experimenting a bit, admittedly within the narrow guidelines I give myself to stay on brand. It is my normal five string banjo, but with two main changes. 1st, I stained the maple a nice reddish brown. 2nd, I added a small rolled brass ring to the top of the rim. Overall, I am quite pleased. I played it for a rehearsal today and liked the tone and feel of it. You can hear this banjo in the video below, compared to another with a different setup. It is available for sale, FYI, drop me a line.
I recently sold my ukulele to my friend Danielle. I needed another one for this month’s gigs so I got right to it. I was inspired by the simple sap wood streak in the back and sides to keep everything else simple too. Tight grain spruce top, no front dots on the two tone pistachio fretboard, no rosette or sound hole binding. I used multi colored pistachio binding to mimic the streak on the back. The neck is a fir floor joist from the Level beer property in Portland. The walnut is from Goby and the Port Orford Cedar and pistachio are from woodfromthewest.com.
Oregon walnut with a subtle curl, multi colored pistachio, raw brass and textured natural goat skin. It seems that these aren’t just musical instruments, they are also mixed media works of folk art. Yes, I am always trying to perfect each step and raise the quality level, but the hand made touches, natural flaws and contrasting textures keep it humble. What was once a pile of raw materials is now ready to sing. Walnut from Goby and pistachio from California orchards.
Sometimes when you select a rough board, you can imagine exactly how it is going to look under finish. Sometimes, it’s a surprise! In this case, the walnut back and sides were much fancier looking than I anticipated. Bonus! The Curly Port Orford Cedar top looks amazing and gives a balanced voice to this Baritone. The Oregon walnut is urban salvage from Goby, the pistachio and POC come from woodfromthewest.com, the neck is salvaged old growth hemlock.
Sometimes a hole in the shop schedule allows me to make an instrument to my specs and offer it as a stock instrument for immediate sale. I love this process because I get to pick everything and maybe even experiment a bit. In this case, I enjoyed the dissonance of paring this amazing Mastergrade Myrtle and curly Cedar with a fir neck that has several filled nail holes. The fir came from a floor joist from a barn and I filled the nail holes with oak dowels before I carved the neck. I see the neck as a symbol of the scarred beauty of each person in the world. Of course, it is a 100% functional ukulele, but I want to find an owner for it that is up for a long term relationship with me, keeping me posted on how the neck changes over time with use. (Don’t forget, the visible passage of time from use is an important part of the Wabi-Sabi idea.) The Myrtle, Cedar and pistachio for this build are from woodfromthewest.com
A set of three ready for Carla and Ryan. It was a real honor to work on great instruments like this. I can’t wait for them to make music!
The baritone Ukulele is a bit of a strange sibling to the Tenor. It is tuned to a lower pitch and often seems the odd one out at the Ukulele club. But, over the past four years, many pros have taken to them for their main performance uke because of the wide range and rich sound. You can always put a capo on it and strum it like a regular uke too. The cheaper 1960’s all mahogany baritone is usually dark and quiet, the challenge is to make a baritone that projects it’s sound and has a rich deep voice. This one uses Port Orford Cedar, grafted walnut and grafted pistachio from woodfeomthewest.com. The fir neck is made from salvaged floor boards.
This is another breathtaking example of how lucky I am to work with Oregon Myrtle. This mastergrade set looks spectacular, is easy to work and has a lovey balanced tone and volume. The Myrtle tenor has long been a flagship instrument for me and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The Myrtle and pistachio come from woodfromthewest.com and the fir floorboards for the neck come from a barn in The Dalles, provided by Portland Salvage Works.
I have a special stash of wood that I got from Char at Mya-Moe when she retired. She went around the shop and selected a few of her favorite sets for me to use in the future. This asymmetrical super Curly koa includes a beautiful bit of sap wood on the edges to really make it look unique. I paired it with a salvaged mahogany neck and a relatively subdued pistachio fretboard. I decided to leave the binding off in order to let the koa shine without getting in the way. It has a dark and sweet sound, I’m happy it found a home with our friend Michelle.
Come on people, look at that curly maple! What a treat it was to lay out the rim segments and the neck on this one. It’s hard to go wrong, just get out of the way and let the wood show you how to do it. Maple gives a bright and clear tone and is a traditional favorite for banjo makers. This maple is from the Carpenter Ant Stash in Portland and the pistachio comes from California orchards.
I don’t take the time to look at the materials as much as I ought too. It’s often the customer who comes back to me and points out the best natural features and notices the synchronicities in my improvisational wood layouts. I am just following my instincts to make good choices as I work to get the instruments out on time. In this case, I have to admit that this Bearclaw Spruce top from Alaska Specialty Woods slayed me. I actually stopped in the shop yesterday and just breathed and looked at it in the natural light. Flipped it over and checked out the grafted pistachio back from woodfromthewest.com. What is happening here? How do trees look like this? The fact that we get to use these special slices of our natural world to make music is even better. What an absolute blessing.
Although there is precedent for using oak in banjos, especially banjos from the 19th Century, there aren’t many modern banjos being made with it. After making a few, I’m really not sure why. It looks nice, has a balanced sound, isn’t too heavy, is easy to work and is readily available. I’m going to stick with it. This Oregon white oak comes from Zena Forest Products out of Salem. It is a family owned operation that sustainably manages their forest and provides high quality lumber. The two tone pistachio is culled from California Orchards. Notice how I also used grafted pistachio on the fretboard binding to off set the graft line in the fingerboard. Fun fun.
This instrument is part of a set of three this month for a loyal customer. It was fun to set up a matched pair of tenor and baritone ukes and an additional Myrtle tenor for them. I like imagining these instruments as stand alone items as well as in conversation with their siblings. This particular instrument is a great example of my best looking and sounding woods, prepared to the highest level I am currently capable of. But, it is a piece of folk art before fine art, as it shows its hand made origins, is made with local materials on hand and celebrates tiny natural flaws and textures. The Port Orford cedar top, grafted walnut back/sides and grafted pistachio comes from Oregon and California via woodfromthewest.com. The salvaged Douglas Fir for the neck comes from a barn in The Dalles, OR from Portland Salvage Works. The tone, volume, sustain and playability are spot on. It’s nice to look at but even better to play!
The walnut I get from Goby in Portland comes from the cutoffs that are too small for the furniture makers to use. They harvest dead and dying trees from all over the Willamette Valley and plant five for everyone they cut. I also pay to have a tree planted for every uke sold, also trying to close the sustainability gap. The pistachio for this one comes from culled orchard trees from central California, harvested by woodfromthewest.com. It may seem like these sourcing details are secondary to how the banjo looks, sounds and feels, but to me they are a primary factor. After all, these sourcing decisions help me to work closer to the original tree, support good suppliers and ensure that we are doing our best to be stewards of these beautiful North American resources.