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Hawaii Ukulele - Rescued from the Rose Bowl Flea Market

With the guitar from the Ibanez project successfully sold, it was great timing that the Rose Bowl Flea Market came up on the calendar again this past weekend. So off I went in search of another project.

Had a Guitar in Mind

I was really looking for another guitar to restore, and I came across a couple interesting instruments, like this 1962 Gretsch Clipper 6186. I should have just bought it and kept it vecause it's awesome, but they were asking a little more than it was worth, and just didn't want to make a deal. Nothing else really sparked my imagination.

However… I did come across this little beauty:

It’s a concert scale ukulele with super-cool, Hawaiian souvenir screen-prints on the body and head stock. This little beauty was just asking to be left out in the rain by some brainless flea market jamoke, and was crying out to be rescued.

So let’s talk about what we’ve got going for and against us on this rescue.

On the for side:

The important bits are all here, and solidly constructed. The head stock and neck are straight with no cracks or twists. The neck/body joint is solid. The soundboard, sides and back are all intact with no cracks, warps or water damage. The tone seems good. There were no strings on the instrument, but based on some strategic tapping on the front and back, the tone sounds surprisingly full and responsive. The size and scale lengths are right. It’s right at 570 MM long and 382 MM from nut to saddle, which is exactly what StewMac tells me is the correct placement for a 380 MM scale length. This leads me to believe that the instrument was actually meant to be played, and not just crammed in a ten-year-old’s bottom drawer. It looks amazing. No, it’s not elegant, mahogany and spruce with an ebony fretboard. It is however, beautifully kitschy, with an unmistakable “my parents went to Hawaii and all I got was this stupid ukulele” vibe to it.

Given the solid foundation, I think I can work a little magic and turn this into a great sounding uke with a really fun, and funky look.

So what do we have working against us?

Well, the fret board is crap. Seriously – it’s just a 1/8″ thick piece of plywood, painted black with the cheapest fret wire I’ve ever seen smushed into the slots. And while the slots are mostly fairly close to where they should be, that just means that none of them are actually where they should be. So that’s got to go. The bridge is… well, the same as the fret board. Cheap, cheap, cheap. Looks like balsa wood with a plastic saddle, and two little wood screws holding it to the sound board. Again – gotta go. I’m not sure how much difference this will make, but there are no braces inside the body, on either the sound board or the back. Now, I know that uke bracing can range from pretty minimal, to fairly moderate, to oh my god, are you kidding me?!

So, I’m not sure how I’ll approach that aspect. I will likely toy with some ideas around adding some minimal bracing, but I feel like I’ll be somewhat limited in what I can do without taking the body of the instrument apart. I’ll just have to get creative, I guess.

So that’s our starting point. I’ll post some updates as I work my way through the project. Feel free to post thoughts, observations and suggestions.

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