The Four Ukes Project

Builder/Blogger: Steve Eubanks

The four ukes project was the last set of prototypes for the Balboa production model. The production instruments are basically the same as these prototypes, with some minor changes based on some last lessons learned from the four. Variations on bindings and rosettes were tried out, and I used some odd combinations of materials, and ended up with four very interesting instruments.

I started by getting sides bent on the forms, and neck blanks rough cut. You an see here two walnut necks, one mahogany, and one mahogany and maple 5-piece laminate. I ended up having to make the laminate blank twice after I mis-estimated the necessary width of the maple in the area of the headstock. These blanks also got slots in the heels to accept the sides. This technique works fine for the instrument, but since the neck is fully attached early in the assembly, it gets in the way of details like bindings and makes neck shaping harder. Switching to a more traditional heel block and separate neck that gets attached later is one of the changes I made to the production models.

Before attaching the necks to the bodies I did some rough shaping of the heels, then the bodies get tail blocks and come together with their respective necks in the forms that they'll live in until they are closed. The forms leave enough of the edges of the sides revealed so that linings can be attached in the forms, then when the linings are in, backs are attached. All this time in the forms helps the bodies keep their shape while I work on them.

The racing stripes instrument (the one withg the mahogany/maple laminate neck) gets a multipiece rosette (the others got simple maple or redwood rings). Using some mahogany, purpleheart, and ABS binding offcuts, I glued up a cross pattern, then sanded it smooth.I cut a ring from that, and added a hardwood veneer strip to the inside edge. The completed rosette went into a sugar maple top.

Next the tops were installed, bindings installed, necks shaped, and fretboards slotted and installed. For some reason, I don't have a lot of pictures at this stage. You can see two instruments got spalted poplar tops, one spruce and one maple. You can also see two purpleheart fretboards, one maple, and one padauk. Necks are shaped by hand with rasps and files and headstocks are planed to thickness with a Saf-T-Planer.

Bridges were cut, shaped, and slotted for saddles. Each instrument got a bridge that matches its fretboard. Bridges were glued up on their respective tops using stabilizers through the saddle slots to keep them from shifting during the glue-up.

Each instrument got a headstock veneer matching its top with the Caltone logo laser cut in the center. Holes are drilled for tuners and frets are installed. Then lots (and lots) of hand sanding in preparation for finish.

The instruments are finished with Tru Oil and hung to dry in the shop after each coat. Tru Oil initially penetrates the wood, then builds up and hardens so it can be buffed out to a high shine. This finish is exceptionally stable in my experience, and if damaged, can be repaired by simply find sanding the area and reapplying oil. It also gives a very natural finish to the wood, which I prefer to the 'encased in glass' look of nitro lacquer. Then the last steps are to shape and install the nuts and saddles, install tuners and string them up.

The result of all this work is very satisfying. It was good to refine some of the build process for the production Balboa models, but even better, I ended up with four instruments that are both beautiful to look at and to listen to. They feel great in the hands are are a joy to play. Depending on when you are reading this, these instruments may be for sale in the online shop, so feel free to head over there and take a look if you are interested.