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.
When I am out and about, I will always grab an opportunity to visit my luthier friend Steve Agnew
. He has a fascinating workshop/studio in Pitscottie, a wealth of knowledge and advice, lots of beautiful stringed instruments... and cake!
On my visits I have seen so many guitars, mandolins, bazoukis, and banjos in various stages of construction and completion so I was prompted to ask "How difficult would it be for me 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.
In 2017 I took on a commission for which my young customer chose the timber and designed the details of the top. This instrument has a spalted beech body, cherry neck and spine, ash top. Some precious family heirlooms were incorporated into it, including great grandfather's veneers and abalone shell from New Zealand... making it very individual.
In 2018 I was commissioned by a ukulele player in Lancashire, who had a wishlist of features in addition to my basic principle of local or recycled timber. His requests included... a Lancashire red rose, Lakeland slate fret markers, matchstick figures of his twin daughters, an inlay of quarrystone on the headstock... oh! and an appropriate quotation in Scots.
I managed them all in an instrument with sycamore sides, neck and spine, walnut top, recycled elm back, laburnam fretboard. and recycled mahogany as the red in the rose. The finished ukulele is shown below... the quote means "take care of the small things"
The remaining instruments are available to buy. They are all concert size 18 fret ukuleles...
"You can never have too many ukuleles"