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Back to the saddles again!

San Simeon coastline!

I've been attending various workshops and camps over the past 5 or 6 years, and I've come to appreciate the break from working on guitars to take time to work with them.

View from Camp Ocean Pines

This is the beautiful campus of Camp Ocean Pines in Cambria, California, home of Pacific Song Camps!

Main building at Camp Ocean Pines in Cambria, CA.


The wellspring of inspiration!

The right guitar can actually feed you with ideas and inspiration for writing that a lesser instrument doesn't contain. The quality and richness of the sound, in addition to resonance can pull you into the creative space with warmth and depth that the average guitar doesn't have. Sounds like a guitar ad! But it's true.

Most people play one guitar all the time, and if that is all you have, it's better than nothing. But taking the time to explore different shapes, sizes and woods can be a real eye (and ear!) opener.

Dreadnaughts tend to emphasize the low end of the sound spectrum, with an open sound that's really great for accompanying with rhythmic chords, filling in and around the voice. If you tend toward a big vocal style, a dread can give you the support you need. It is usually the loudest potential choice (along with a Jumbo) if you're playing with a flat pick and need to cut through a band.

If, however, your voice is light and delicate, you may be better served by a smaller body, such as an OM or 000 (Triple aught), where the sound is full but not loud, and the chords tend to be very balanced from lows to highs. The balance of a smaller bodied guitar lends itself well to lighter finger picking than a dreadnaught, although there are those who can't live without the big bass.

Each of these qualities can be emphasized or reduced through the choice of wood for the top and the back and sides, to an extent. But the size of the box is the biggest factor. You can certainly strum chords satisfyingly on an OM, they just won't have the presence and depth of a bigger guitar.


Speaking of smaller, we began our first kit ukulele project last month and I'm having Carolyn build it, with my help, to see what it takes!

Her opinion? "Don't try this at home!" Even with a "simple" kit, not knowing what you are doing leaves you with way more questions than answers. That is why I'm offering the building classes. There is definite problem solving involved, as well as techniques that aren't explained fully in the directions, if at all.

It has been fun though, and we added little touches to the project because...we could!

Use top with simple rosette.

We started with the top of the uke, which comes already cut out, but without a rosette (the decoration around the sound hole) and added a simple, one line purfling rosette. This is done using a dremel or Foredom tool with a special circle routing attachment. Since they already cut out the sound hole, I had to adapt my jig to center the top.

Next, after joining the sides and installing the neck and end blocks, we glued in the lining, which adds thickness to the edge to make gluing on the top and back more secure. The wood is so thin that there isn't much surface for the joint otherwise.

Lining installed around the sides.

The sides are radiused, which means they have an angle on the edge, to create an arch on the top and back. This adds strength to the surface and a slight curve or dome. The red sand paper covers a concave form which angles the edges. The braces are sanded to match the curve.

Pre-shaped braces are then added to the top and back. These little pieces of spruce are what gives the instrument it's shape, strength and sound qualities. Takes lots of clamps!

Once the braces are in place, the top and back are glued onto the sides, creating the "box", or body. This is a tenor uke, one of the larger ones.

The finished, i.e. enclosed box. At this point, the normal kit would be cleaned up and done, but we added a nice ivoroid binding to keep it classy, and a maple bottom strip!

One of the final steps before applying the finish is to fill the grain of the wood. If you want a glossy finish with no grain lines showing, you have to fill them in. Messy, time consuming but necessary. Otherwise, use a matte finish and you're done, with the wood looking au natural! (The white lines around the edges are the ivoroid binding.)

Grain filling the body of the uke.

Maple bottom strip installed.

The assembled uke body or "box".

More to come!

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