When Jim started playing his baritone ukulele in the band here at our winter park, he plugged in his acoustic and it bumped up the sound. But as he got more practice and skill, he wanted to be able to play leads that would require a different sound.
After much research (of course!) on November 25, 2018 he contacted a reputable South African ukulele maker, Brian Fanner, and started a dialogue that would continue for many months.
I’ve been playing a Pono Nui Baritone acoustic for four years. I’m trying to add lead riffs and lead uke to my skills. I’m looking for a solid body electric uke to aid in my lead playing skills as I find the Nui acoustic nylon just doesn’t have the right sound. Do you have a similar scale electric baritone? What might the cost be? I’m in the USA.
Thank you for your assistance.”
After much emailing back and forth about specifications and dimensions and types of wood, he finally took the step on March 6, 2019 and said “Go For It!”
March 6 email:
“Here is my understanding of what you are building:
Custom 23” (tenor guitar scale) baritone solid body electric ukulele. The woods are curly maple on ash for the body wings – front and back. The neck is laminated maple and wenge. And the fretboard is maple with ebony inlays. A volume, bass and treble and blend pots and 2 single coil p90 style pickups with wood covers. Truss rod neck. No pickguard. I’d like the output plug on the edge of the body, not on the face. Chrome Strap buttons. Hi gloss natural wood finish.
I prefer the fret block at the 10 fret (D with standard dgbe tuning) rather than at Fret 9 as I have seen on some guitars.
Please add anything I may have missed or misunderstood.
What do you plan to use for bridge hardware? A pic would be helpful and a pic of the back.”
A similar ukulele to show Jim what it would look like: From March 2019.
Brian warned that it would be a “longish” build since it would basically be a prototype. When asked, he said that meant about six months. That would coincide nicely with our arrival back at our winter park so he could begin practicing and playing it at the monthly band gigs.
And so we wait…
Jim emailed occasionally to find out what the progress was but he was really careful to not pester him. Didn’t want anything to get held up. Often it would be days before he received an email in return.
April 14, 2019
I have done some changes. The nut (at the headstock side… the bridge piece is the saddle) is currently 34mm which would leave 9mm between stings with a 4mm fretboard overhang and the bridge string spread is 36mm. 12mm between strings. This is quite a lot narrower than your acoustic but I feel still wide enough. 16mm is very wide almost like an electric bass sort of spacing. This is kind of like comparing a nylon sting classical to an electric guitar so I’m not sure its of much worth. I just wonder how you will get along with that. One issue is if it gets wider at the bridge the strings will not fall over the pickup pole pieces. I would need to redesign the pickups if it gets much wider there. Check out the attached pic from the design. It is Just a basic design.. not much detail.
Then in September Jim got another email.
Well… I had a minor disaster at the 11th hour machining the pickup cavities when the bit broke and made a nasty tear out :/. Hence the inlaid curly ash ‘pickguard’. I think it actually really improved the look of the instrument so perhaps it was a good thing. What do you think? I hope you like it!
So I will do the frets today and have it in the booth for finishing then just to fit it all up with hardware.
Not too long now.
Then in early November 2019 he got this email from Brian:
Sorry for not getting back to you. Truthfully, I am just putting it off as it’s bad news. The neck just didn’t work out, I’m afraid. Multiple issues. I think building through necks si something I won’t take on for customers going ahead. Too much room for error as a prototype build.
So looking ahead. We have a nice body for a bolt on neck for which I have a laminated blank. This might actually be another happy accident, in my opinion.
I’m not sure how you feel about it though. If you just want a refund at this point, I completely understand. But I think as a bolt on it’ll be really nice. I’ll still sculpt the heel in nicely Alternatively, cut a whole new one from scratch. The programs are done for it. But I’ll finish this one as a bolt on regardless.
What do you think?
So basically, he had multiple problems making the neck work and in the end, he had to cut the old neck off the body! In truth, it really doesn’t matter if is a through neck or a bolt-on. It should play the same and maybe in the long run its better to have a neck that can be easily replaced. So we told him to go with the bolt-on and proceed.
Later in November 2019.
I’ve got back to a whole instrument again lol. We started laying down paint this week. I think it is much better now. I could set up the neck angle and the truss rod adjusts at the heel so it’s much stronger at the headstock side. The neck also has a nice shape. Much nicer than the one that went pear shaped. I’m going to try my best to get it out in the next week or two.
December 18, 2019
Hi! It’s all nice and shiny. I’m having problems with the wood pickup covers that seems unresolvable so I have these plastic covers now. Vacuum formed in the kitchen. The wood ones are too weak where the bolt holds it on. So they are going to probably break sooner if not later. My current holdup is the paint is still a bit soft. But I’m going to start wiring it up so long.
January 9, 2020
Sorry for slow response. I was in and out of signal. Trying to get a bit of digital detox this holiday.
Ok so current situation… basically done bar the wiring and back cover plate. With regards wiring… I’ve somehow managed to misplace the blend pot I got for you. So weird as I had it with all the other components and now its just gone. Perhaps just go with a 3 way toggle, volume and push pull tone knob so you can get an out of phase sound? Otherwise I must order another blend pot… personally I think the toggle will be better. Unless you are constantly using one sound its easier to do pickup changes on the fly with a toggle switch… not so easy with a blend.
To do the backplate I’m just waiting on a part for my cnc which is now broken again. Just a minor thing but it’s not functioning and I need to cut a template for the backplate using it.
Otherwise there is light at the end of this tunnel lol. How will you tune it up?
And then Jim got word in late February that it was ready to ship! Woo Hoo! He even paid extra to have it shipped within a week. At first the package tracked fine from South Africa to Europe. Then it appeared to be stuck in a distribution point in Europe. For several days it didn’t budge. What now? He contacted Brian and they followed up on the shipping. Even though the tracking didn’t seem to progress, it kept saying it would be delivered by end of day March 6.
And it was! The FedEx truck arrived and he removed a ukulele size package! And, as it turned out, it was delivered exactly a year after Jim gave him the go-ahead to start the build. March 6.
All in all, it was an exercise in patience, trust, communication and restraint. It paid off big time!