Late October 2017

Sour gum, Red Sunset, Chinese pistachio, Stewartia, paperbark maple–my ministering angels of autumn. Their colors in the slanting sunlight are like blessings over my head, at my feet, swirling all around me in the wind.

A highlight this season was delivering James Hill‘s commission, the Swiss spruce/African blackwood tenor River. In a near mythic alignment, the handoff took place alongside the Salmon River, where he, Anne, and Alder were staying before Melany Berry’s wonderful Tunes in the Dunes festival.

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Just days later was Marianne Brogan’s always delightful Port Townsend Ukulele Festival, a dreamy lineup of performers/teachers hosted by Peter McCracken and Centrum along the correspondingly dreamy northeastern end of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.

Since then I’ve been working like crazy to prepare instruments for the Ukulele Guild of Hawaii Exhibition–a giant invitational gathering of ukes and makers at the Princess Kaiulani Hotel by the Waikiki beach, with workshops, kanikapila, and attendees from around the world. The tenor ukes Panther, White Tree, Anduin, Brandywine, and Evenstar have been making preview appearances on Facebook and Instagram.

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Early July 2017: Finally! The fair season that lures unsuspecting souls to our green (and rainy) paradise has arrived, and it is glorious. Twilight lingers past 10pm, then appears barely 6 hours later with an extravagant songbird chorus (plus roosters, in our neighborhood).

Linden trees perfume the pre-sunrise stillness as I write this; Ann’s fragrant roses will take over when the day warms, while in the shop the fragrance is all Brazilian rosewood. I’ve been carefully preparing several 50+ year old sets, so well seasoned and resonant they sing under the tools.

Brazilian has a near magical reputation, and sets like these–straight, dark, fine textured quarter-to-rift wood from the main trunk–have become very scarce; when you see D. nigra at all it’s usually flatsawn stump-wood, which I avoid because of its famous propensity for cracking.

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Chocolatey rosewood goodness.

But whoever sawed these sets long ago wasn’t feeling the magic, nor anticipating how precious they would be someday; the saw lines wander crazily. Too irregular for machine tools, I’ve been coaxing these down with handplanes. Oh darn (I love planing).

Which brings us back to fragrance–Brazilian helps you to understand why they were called “rose”-woods. Sadly the fragrance will fade, but these instruments seem destined to have–as my voice teacher once said of an English art song–“the smell of the rose”.

Look for at least one of these at the Ukulele Guild of Hawaii Exhibition in Honolulu this November. In the meantime the Bend Ukulele University is coming fast–back to the workbench.

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Late March 2017: Our snowy freezing-rainy winter does not want to give up, but the lengthening days tease with the promise of spring, and the lawn mower woke from hibernation last week.

The Palm Strings Ukulele Festival was a blast. I arrived in something of a crabby mood after two hard days of driving in wintry weather, walking into the venue just as Michael Powers, Abe Lagrimas, and James Agg took the outdoor stage–the healing effect of their set was nothing short of magic. They simply rocked the place; the wind that blew cups off the table and whipped away the flames of the outdoor fireplace were no match for the music blazing from the stage.

Along with James Hill and Anne Janelle, Peter Luongo and his hardy band of ensemble stalwarts, and several others, Doug Reynolds once again put on a great event.

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Saturday night kanikapila at da racks, behind the police station on Waikiki beach

Looking back to late fall, the Exhibition of the Ukulele Guild of Hawaii was wonderful! Between the Guild organizers, fellow exhibitors, and attendees, it was a lesson in aloha and shared enthusiasm.

I also spent time with Andrew Kitakis and the rest of the great Ukulele Site/Hawaii Music Supply gang up on the north shore before the exhibition, nearly spraining my neck from turning around so fast when Corey Fujimoto started playing the first movement of the Bach Violin Sonata in E major on Reynard–Wow/ouch! I will be supplying instruments to the Ukulele Site and to Shawn Yacavone of Ukulele Friend later this year.

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Peter Luongo test drives Richard Parker,  2016 Reno Ukulele Festival

Returning to the present, in a week my daughter Meghan and I will be off to the Reno Ukulele Festival (Gerald Ross, Victor and Penny, Abe Lagrimas, Michael Powers, Peter Luongo, Steve Espaniola, Faith Ako, and more–whew).

Closer to home a few weeks later,  the Northwest Handmade Instrument Exhibit at Marylhurst is absolutely stuffed with superb work by luthiers all over the Pacific Northwest.

July beckons with a double-header, the Bend Ukulele University, and (for us geeks) the Guild of American Luthiers (GAL) convention. Speaking of the GAL, I recently had an interview with Corvallis violin maker Jeff Manthos published in the American Lutherie.

OK, enough for now. Here is the list (as always, possibly out of date) of some of the finished and unfinished ukes in the shop, all tenor unless noted:

  • Lakshmi – East Indian Rosewood, bearclaw spruce, spalted rosette, varnish finish
  • Luna – another fabulous “Richard Parker” tiger myrtle, bearclaw Swiss spruce
  • Black Orculele – African Blackwood, bearclaw Swiss spruce
  • Mr. Fox – incredibly curly mahogany, sinker redwood
  • Jupiter – Lyric baritone in myrtle/Swiss UPDATE: now in Reno for the Festival drawing
  • Carmen – koa/Swiss spruce  (sold)
  • CoolCow/Bonita – GT model, CSA rosewood, Swiss moonspruce (sold)
  • River – East Indian rosewood, bearclaw Swiss spruce, cutaway bevel (reserved)
  • Black Mordor – GT, African Blackwood, sinker redwood, Barad-dur headstock (sold)
  • Orodruin – Madagascar rosewood (from “volcano tree”), sinker redwood (for Ukulele Site)

Pop on over to my Facebook for more timely updates. Slightly more timely anyhow;-\.

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Late October 2016: a solitary pale green cricket chirruped softly on the studio door jamb last night, a tender coda to the vast evening choruses of summer.

The sour gum trees have more brilliant scarlet leaves scattered below than remain on the branches, and I fear one good windstorm will un-decorate the entire autumn display.

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Kevin Carroll and LIttle Mac in the recording studio

But any autumn melancholy was more than offset with Kimo Hussey’s workshop/concert late September, and the Port Townsend Ukulele Festival only days later, an extraordinary gathering of teachers/performers and students.

Little Mac (Macassar ebony/redwood tenor) followed ace instructor Kevin Carroll home to Austin, Texas for some recording; when it’s released I’ll link it on FaceBook.

I’m now preparing for the Ukulele Guild of Hawaii Exhibition–a giant invitational gathering of ukes and makers just steps from the beach at Waikiki, with workshops, kanikapila, and attendees from around the world.