Sunday, August 26, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 17

I sat down last evening to shape the neck of the ukulele. My wife was watching a movie and our son was zonked out for the night after a busy day of splashing around in a kiddie pool and running around looking at bugs with some of his friends.

Shaping the neck was a very enjoyable process and it seemed to take no time at all. I sanded down the excess wood to make the neck even with the fretboard and smoothed the curvature of the neck to match appropriately. I also leveled the frets and polished them up a bit. After deciding that I had done enough work for one evening, I glanced at the clock as I started to clean up and saw that I had been at work for close to three hours. I aim to do some final sanding of the neck this week and attach the neck to the body.

I looked over the mighty John Colter's notes about the Stewart MacDonald kit and have to agree about his idea of attaching the neck to the body with a 1/4" dowel. Titebond is a very dependable glue, but I want the extra peace of mind in knowing that there is a solid joint at the neck. You can find his notes on the kit at:

John's notes are #12 in the table of contents. Many of my notes on building the kit closely echo his comments. I couldn't agree more with his closing comment about building for enjoyment. I have been taking my sweet time building this kit so that I can enjoy it as much as possible. I know that I will enjoy playing this uke for a long time once it has been finished, and that I will enjoy building more ukes in the future, but I can only enjoy the process of building this particular ukulele only once.

In other news, episode 223 of the Uke Cast is now available on the Uke Cast website. 223 is a music-filled celebration of the "birth" of the ukulele. For more information, visit the website and give it a listen!

See you next time,
Kanagawa G

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 16

This evening I glued the fretboard to the neck. I practiced winding the rubber band a few times before applying the glue to try to minimize the amount of fretboard slippage. I managed to line up the 12th fret and keep the overall position straight as I wound the rubber band around so everything should work out okay. Still, I have this fear that I will wake up tomorrow morning and find that the fretboard has slipped overnight and is now permanently glued on off kilter.

The glue has been drying for about two hours now, so I think that I am in the clear.

See you next time,

Kanagawa G

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 15

My week off has come to an end. I had a great time playing with my son all day, every day as well as getting some around the house jobs done as well (with a little "helper"). When the little tyke was napping, I took the opportunity to get some work done on the Stew Mac project.

I was doing some shopping at a all-in-one store the other day and took my usual swing through the harware department. As luck would have it, I saw the perfect fret hammer out of the corner of my eye. It was the last one (only one?) in stock, so I grabbed it from the shelf and tossed it in my shopping basket (gently tossed it...I didn't want to harm the pinot!). The hammer has the ubiquitous translucent yellow "soft" head and a black rubber "double soft" head. I had the chance to test it out this afternoon.

I cut the fret wire into the appropriate length- 1/4" longer than the fretboard and started by gently tapping each side into place before working from end to end on each fret to seat it in place. I started out quite gently because I didn't want to crack the fretboard but soon found that it took quite some oomph to seat the frets firmly.

Once the frets were seated, I filed down the overhang and added a bevel to the edge of each fret using some 600 grit sandpaper. The instructions call for 150 grit, but I thought that 600 grit silicone carbide would be more appropriate. The 600 grit sandpaper made a smooth bevel in no time flat.

Here is a picture of the fretboard. Keep in mind that the frets have yet to be leveled and polished.

See you next time,

Kanagawa G

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 14

I spent the day recovering at home yesterday by shaping the body of the uke. I planed the excess wood down to a hair's breadth of the body and sanded the rest off with 80 grit sandpaper. I found that sandpaper wrapped around a thick wooden dowel (3/4 to 1 inch) works the best. Unfortunately, my wooden dowel was attached to a laundry rack. I'll have to do some explaining later on...

Here is a full body shot. The label is actually centered below the soundhole, I just took this picture from slightly off vertical to try to avoid glare from the flash.
Keep in mind that these are of the rough, unfinished wood.

This should give you some idea of the bowed back. The ukulele is laying on its face in this picture.

This picture shows the body taper. The tail is slightly thicker than the neck (about 7mm).

Next up, the fretboard!

See you next time,
Kanagawa G

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 13

Well it has been a crazy week or so since my last entry.

This coming week is the "O-bon" holiday in Japan where people return to their ancestral homeland to visit family graves and welcome the spirits of the dead back among the living for a week. There are all kinds of festivals with fireworks, dancing, barbecues, you name it. This alsom means that every possible means of transportation is twice as expensive and four times as crowded. Needless to say, the Kanagawa G family will be staying put.

I woke up this morning to find that I am covered in some strange kind of itchy, watery blister. At first I thought it was a few bug bites, but was surprised (and shocked) to find myself covered in them. BOY DOES IT ITCH! What a way to start a week off! Seeing as it is Sunday, the skeleton crew at the local hospital wasn't much help and I will visit a dermatologist tomorrow if they are open (it's a holiday- remember?). Not fun. Not fun at all.

I took my mind off my itchy red bumpy friends this afternoon by trimming the back braces, applying the label and gluing the body together. If all goes well, I'll be trimming the body and working on the fretboard tomorrow.

See you next time (scratch, scratch)

Kanagawa G

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 12

My label design is complete! This is the first of hopefully many "Maun" ukuleles.

I wanted to use the following elements in the label to reflect different elements of my life:

1) The moon- "Moon viewing" is a popular late summer/autumn event in Japan.

- We live in a place that is named for its view of the moon ("Field where the moon is viewed" in Japanese)

- My son is entralled with the moon, but he pronounces it "maun" (he is 1 year 9 mos old)

- I'm pretty much building this at night, so the moon seemed apropos.

2) Mountains

- I enjoy the mountains. I like hiking, camping, looking at the scenery, you name it.

- The mountain in the label represents Mt. Fuji, which both the symbol of Japan as well as a play on my Japanese nickname "Fujiyama Takashi" (guy who's as tall as Mt. Fuji).

3) I wanted to convey the feeling of a summer-evening.

- Purple sky
- Green lettering (bamboo-ish)

- I thought about adding some fireworks, but that seemed too cheesy.

I poked around on the internet and found that there is a frontier town in Botswana named "Maun" that is a famous launching point for safaris. Perhaps I'll write a letter to the mayor and send him a ukulele out of good will. Heck, how about I become the ukulele ambassador to Africa? That would be fun.

Looking at the big image above, I just noticed that the letters are a bit off center. I'll ahve to go back and fix that.

See you next time,

Kanagawa G