Well six months go by and I realized I haven’t made any progress on this instrument. The roughed out shape has sat by my bedroom door almost every day since and eventually you just sort of tune those things out. Anways, the last to days: Progress!
For those of you just tuning in, a Tahitian Ukulele is an instrument from Polynesia/Tahiti that is carved from a single piece of wood, with a thin piece of circular wood serving as the soundboard overtop a cavity. The sound hole is on the back side of the instrument, which is what I’m covering here today. The instrument is strung with fishing line, with a total of 8 strings.
Carving the sound chamber wasn’t actually half as difficult as I thought it would be. I found where the bridge was going to be located, and drew a circle based off that. I was dissapointed with the size and kept drawing subsequently larger circles until I’d filled as much of the space as I could. I ended up with a soundboard approximately 8 1/4″ in size. Coincidentally this is almost exactly 75% the diameter of an 11″ banjo drum. The spacing between the outer and middle ring turned out helpful, it was almost exactly 3/8″ – the size of my largest drill bit. This came in hand, see below:
You can click on these thumbnails to see larger versions. I started off drilling a hole in the middle of the circle, all the way through. Ideally the rear sound hole on this Uke should be in line with the center of the sound board. The sound hole needs to be at least 2″ in diameter so I drilled some additional holes. Next up is a ring of perimeter holes, followed by some slightly deeper holes, and then many, many holes in the middle, each hole being deeper as you head towards the middle. You COULD hand carve this with woodcarving tools, but I enjoy being able to use my hands afterwards. By drilling out most of the wood you’re saving many hours of work. The honeycombed middle is now easy to dig out with a chisel, with perhaps 10 minutes of work involved. It’s strange but interesting, the sound of the wood breaking up sounds exactly like eating honeycomb cereal, probably due to similar physical properties of the two. The end product should look like a shallow bowl, or cone shape.
Next up, cut the soundboard from the thinnest piece of wood avalible to you. Right now, for me, it’s a piece of 1/4″ birch plywood. I’ll be looking for something thinner but in the mean time this gets the job done very well. Below are some thumbnails of me roughing out the shape. Later I went back and scraped and sanded it into a good looking circle. If you have powertools this would be a good thing to use them for, it’s a bitch to get a round circle cut by hand.
And the “final” product. At this point I need to finish roughing out the bottom of the body, carve the neck and shape the headstock. I’m torn between a Fender style headstock, or a traditional angled headstock. From a monolithic piece of wood, both require the same amount of carving. Afte seeing my friend’s Gibson style headstock break at the joint last month, I’m tempted to go with the fender style. Anyways, I’ve ordered the fret wire, so now I have no excuse to not finish. I have until then to decide if I want to go with a Banjo/Guitar Scale (24.5″) or the 19″ (banjo tenor/uke barritone scale). Right now I’m leaning towards the 24.5″. I guess that would make this a Tahitian Banjo.
Final last thought, when using woodcarving tools, you really start to understand the old phrases like “it’s all in the wrist” and “don’t go against the grain”.