I have built a number of banjos, and have been building ukuleles for some years now. Why ukuleles you say? Well, I have always found guitars to be ‘large’ and cumbersome to hold. For that reason I have always liked the feel of a ukulele. Something small and delicate, and very personal. If holding a guitar is holding an adult, then holding a ukulele is holding a baby. They are a lot tougher than we give them credit for, but all the same, we hold them with a sense of gentleness and marvel at their delicacy and beauty.
In this vein, I also built some “parlor” guitars. These are based on a baritone ukulele body, with a guitar neck and tuning. I am very pleased with these instruments. They are ‘personal’, sound great, sit comfortably in ones lap, are easy to hold, etc. This is what the guitar was before it went ‘on stage’ and got big. Even though the body is small, these are surprisingly loud.
Any musical instrument, particularly one hand made out of pieces of wood, needs to serve a dual purpose of making lovely sounds and also looking wonderful. I have always loved wood and its endless variability in looks, handling, and now musical properties. Building ukuleles gives me a chance to use all of those pieces of wood I have accumulated over the years, even the smaller pieces, as well as an excuse to acquire more wood.
I live in Eastern Pennsylvania and realize that this region, indeed the whole Appalachian chain, is kind of ‘hardwood central’. While there are lovely tropical woods, and I certainly have a few pieces around, I have become interested in using our local woods. Sycamore (if sawn just right) is spectacular. Dogwood is lovely, and very fine grained. I have acquired some spruce from some rather old local trees which sounds great and is beautiful to look at. Locust is very intriguing, and I have been told by a reputable source that it is our best local tone wood, comparable to the tropical rosewoods. Then there is the old-growth redwood that I have come across that used to be water tanks on top of apartment buildings in New York City. Really lovely stuff and that sounds absolutely wonderful.
There are endless variations on wood, construction, adornment, etc. Each instrument produces a unique sound. While I am still learning (an endless process) to tune things to yield one sound or another, the “best” sound is in the ears of the player, and what that player is looking for. I try to make great sounding instruments, that are also beautiful objects, so that every time you open the case and take the instrument out you feel a certain joy and good fortune to be able to hold this musical object that then makes beautiful sounds when played.
I hope you enjoy browsing through the instruments and find something you like! If you would like something different, please contact me. I really enjoy making things for particular people, with particular attributes. Want a particular kind of wood? A particular bracing structure? Particular ‘ornamentation’, be it wood or pearl? Lets discuss it!
– Jonathan Dale