A Uke named Richard Parker

 

Richard Parker?

Indeed. Richard Parker is the curiously named tiger who floats across the Pacific on a makeshift raft with Pi in the Life of Pi. The back and sides for this instrument are commonly called tiger myrtle, and this tree made one heck of a tiger!

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But there’s more. When I started building instruments, my physicist sister Colleen lobbied me to name my vast enterprise “Pi Ukuleles” or “Pi Stringed Instruments”, and put the Greek symbol for pi on the headstock. After all, it is the Greek rendering of the first letter of my name, I was a math major in college and remain something of a geek, and it’s just cool.

AND I like pie, seeking out pie places up and down the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, which by the way has remarkable pie in some highly scenic places; pear-cheddar at 10,000 feet at the Rock Creek Lake lodge, anyone? Yum!

It all seemed obvious and settled to Colleen, but I decided to use my own name and the crescent moon for even more compelling reasons, if that can be imagined. However, the idea of building a special instrument each year to celebrate Pi day–March 14 (i.e. 3.14)–was too good to pass up.

These factors converged in Richard Parker. The specs:

  • Top: bearclaw Swiss alpine spruce, with Paua abalone rosette.
  • Bracing: 3 fans and bridge patch of euro spruce, tranverses of Sitka, hide glue
  • Bridge: Palisander, with compensated bone saddle
  • Back and Sides: curly tiger myrtle
  • Binding: East Indian rosewood
  • Neck: Port Orford cedar. Ziricote headstock overlay with MOP moon logo
  • Fingerboard: ebony, with bone nut and MOP side dots
  • Finish: Nitro lacquer on top, finishing resin on body
  • tuners: Gotoh UPTL
  • tuning: currently strung with low G Worths, easily converted to re-entrant.

I love this Swiss spruce–light and stiff, it rustles at the slightest touch, rings like a bell when tapped, and is a joy to work with. The bearclaw requires extra-high sharpness for hand-planing the top, but the result is so delightful! Here’s a closer look, though it’s still better in person:

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RP has some serious go power, and will travel with us to Uke U-4 in a few weeks–Exciting!! Come and say hello if you can.

Watson

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For many years I wasn’t much for naming instruments; they were “the Les Paul”, “the mandolin”, and so forth. Then in my 40s Cecilia came about as a way to describe the desired voice of a mandolin that Steve Gilchrist was building for me; Cecilia Bartoli is a golden-voiced mezzo soprano who sings with gorgeous warmth, verve, and line. I later heard that Steve listens exclusively to bluegrass and probably didn’t know Bartoli from Madonna, but he built a spectacular instrument so it all worked out.

Now, with multiple instruments in process at once, I often name them as an amiable way to think about and discuss them with others. Watson got his name by having English walnut back and sides and a big heart.

The specs:

  • Top: Carpathian spruce. Lynn Dudenbostel describes it this way: like great Adirondack without a decades long break-in time!
  • Bracing: 3 fans and bridge patch of euro spruce, tranverses of Sitka, hide glue
  • Bridge: Macassar ebony with compensated bone saddle
  • Back and Sides: curly English walnut
  • Binding: Bolivian rosewood
  • Neck: Honduras mahogany. Ziricote headstock overlay with gold MOP moon logo
  • Fingerboard: radiused ebony, with bone nut and MOP side dots
  • Finish: oil varnish, with light shellac top coat on soundboard
  • tuners: Gotoh UPTL

This walnut is almost good enough to eat:

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It’s hard to capture in a photo, but the Carpathian top has striking silking, a term used to describe the lustrous appearance of the ray cells that cross the growth rings. Their prominence is an indication of well quarter-sawn wood.

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Watson has lived in a loving home, but his owner dreams of an orculele, so he is available on consignment and will be available to audition at Uke U-4 in Bend, or by contacting me to arrange a visit.

Oak-ulele: a fashion shoot

Ed Hodney, Director of Albany Parks and Rec, came by last week to shoot pictures of the oakulele for the Lumber to Legacy auction program. It brought to mind Tina Fey’s description of photo shoots in her book Bossypants; the apparent glamour is compromised by the feeling of your extremely tight clothing popping apart in back, straining at pins and duct tape while you try to appear hip, natural, sexy, or whatever the shots call for.

The uke wasn’t 100% complete–I was freaking out–but to my great relief it doesn’t show:

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Not a safety pin in sight!

The oakulele is complete now, and the strings are settling in. After playing it and hearing a uke teacher play for me–it’s important to hear from in front as well as from the players perspective–we concluded that it sounds…juicy. The Oak/Engelmann combination (along with the zillion other choices of a build) have provided lots of resonance and sustain, a warm and legato line that would suit campanella and claw hammer playing beautifully, but with the articulation needed for sing-alongs, pop and jazzy tunes.

The auction is approaching, and we’re ready with…holy smokes, more than two days to spare! I’d better be careful, I’ll jinx it and a string will break right on the auction podium.