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Guitar #018  

Koa Soprano Guitar.  Ya, I used to call it a Steel String Ukulele.... 
Or - maybe I should just call it a little 4-string guitar?  Either way, Ukulele players would pick it up, try to play Ukulele stuff on it, and you just can't do that in this little instrument.  Read on and you will see why.
Featuring a Sitka Spruce X-braced Top,  Koa back and sides, Flame Honduras Mahogany Neck, and Macassar Ebony Fret board, Bridge, and trim.



Completed Dec 19th, 2009

There are ukuleles, then there are Ukuleles! And then there is this Ukulele!!

A good Ukulele is every bit as much a valid  instrument as any guitar.  Don't laugh - they are.  It's unfortunate that so many Ukuleles are built in trinket shops resulting is so much junk out there.  Just because they are small and "cute" doesn't mean they can't have killer sound.  A few aspects of that classic sound of a Ukulele are the nylon strings and the internal structural design that is required to allow such light strings to drive the instrument.  Being strung with nylon means that they have a very light bracing, usually a simple ladder bracing, and just as in the case of nylon strung Classical Guitars, you can't put steel strings on those instruments - steel strings will implode the box.

Then there is this Ukulele.  It is an X-braced steel strung cannon - crystal clear to the highest fret, and with amazing sustain.  Steel makes the note attack crisp, with a bright tone.   Steel strings distort less during playing allowing for much better intonation, along with a very low action for faster playing.

To accommodate steel strings, the design of this instrument departs form standard in a number of ways.  In addition to the internal X-bracing, changes include the bridge to allow bridge pins, a bridge plate inside under the Solid Sitka top, an intonated bone saddle, and an adjustable truss rod inside the neck. 

 The steel strings also require enough tension to make them responsive, that means tuning them up in pitch.  With an 18.5" scale length, this corresponds to about the 6th to 7th fret on a standard sized guitar, or A - D - F# - B.  The sound port on the side of the upper bout improves sound projection and lets the player really hear the instrument.  The extended fret board goes all the way up to a high E at the 17th fret.  That is another unusual feature, most Ukulele fret boards end at the body at the 12th fret.
The steel strings may be a radical departure form tradition but the Koa (endemic to Hawaii) reclaims that a little.  Koa is the classic choice for all forms of Hawaiian guitar family instruments, partly for it's sound, and partly for the wonderful colour and figure Koa presents.

Click on this icon to see a large format image of the Ukulele. 

Ok... do I call this instrument a Ukulele?  Or always specify the "Steel String" part of the name?  Or is it just a little 4 string guitar?  These two photos at right don't appear much different from photos of guitars under construction, and that is the point.  The X-brace takes up sound vibrations, and the load of the steel strings, then distributes these all across the top, while the back reflects sound pressure out the two sound holes.  There is so much liveliness to this instrument that touching the back when played feels just like touching a speaker cabinet when sound is being produced. 
Top Sitka Spruce
Rosette Koa
Bracing X-braced Sitka Spruce
Back and sides Koa
Body Binding Macassar Ebony
Purfling Red/Black/Red
End graft Macassar Ebony
Heal and Tail Blocks Honduras Mahogany
Kerfed Lining Mahogany
Neck Two peace Flame African Mahogany with a maple pin line down the middle.
Head Cap Macassar Ebony
Head Inlay "Dickert" in Mother of Pearl
Truss Rod Twin rod two-way adjustable at head
Fret Board Macassar Ebony
Position Marks Mother of Pearl 3mm Dot Position marks on the top surface and 2mm at the side.
Fret Board Binding Macassar Ebony with side Maple pin line and top Red pin line.
Bridge Macassar Ebony
Bridge pins Ebony with Mother of Pearl Dots
Bridge Saddle Bone, compensated for intonation, graduated for string thickness
Nut Bone, Graduated for string thickness
End pin Ebony with Mother of Pearl dot
Tuners Grover  Mini 2 plus 2
Finish   French Polished Shellac