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'Ukulele Design and Construction' by D.H.Wickham

The Stagg Soprano Ukulele.

K-Wave Rock Uke 'Les Paul'

Book Review – 'Ukulele Design & Construction' by D. H. Wickham

Before I comment on this book, a few words about my own experience and background may help readers to evaluate my comments.   I am an ex aero-modeller who fell under the spell of the ukulele.   Wanting something better than the adequate, but undistinguished, cheap oriental offerings, but baulking at the cost of an upmarket uke, I thought, “If I can make a flying scale model aeroplane, I can make a ukulele.”   I borrowed a library book on guitar construction, and examined all the soprano ukes I could lay my hands on.   I was lucky to have a tolerant friend with a workshop.   My first uke was an unsophisticated little instrument, but it looks charming, plays well, and sounds fine.   I now have five homemade ukes, all different, all very satisfactory.

 The general appearance of the book is excellent.   The photos and illustrations are clear and instructive, the typeface and layout are easy on the eye, and in general the descriptions are clear.   There is no doubting the author’s workmanship, and knowledge of his subject.   The “open flat” method of binding is very practical for a book to be used in a workshop situation.  

 One area where the book disappoints me is in matters of spelling and grammar.   It would have benefited greatly from the services of a good proof-reader.   Unfortunately, many modern publications rely on the spell-check to ensure accuracy.   This is totally inadequate when, for instance, the word “does” is rendered as “dose”, (on more than one occasion).   There are many other such errors, and some sentences   resemble alphabet soup.   Chapter 15, step 3 is an example, and then at step 4 there are faulty, and contradictory instructions for tuning.   Photo 6-13 is referred to in the text, but is not present in my copy, and there are a couple of other suspicious gaps in photo numbering sequences.   There are two photos both marked 7-17.   I have tried not to be too critical and pedantic, but these basic flaws occurred often enough to be a major annoyance.

 As the sub-title suggests, this is a book for an experienced woodworker with good workshop facilities.   He/she will spend more time and effort making the various jigs, moulds, formers, and special tools, than on the instrument itself.   The method of bending the sides is particularly complex, and I would not advise a novice to attempt the intricate matter of fitting a rosette around the sound hole.   The author’s decision to cover two different methods of neck construction could lead to unnecessary confusion.

 The preface is a clear and honest statement of intent, and suggests that the reader should use other sources of information in conjunction with the book.   This is good advice.

 For me a Hawaiian ukulele is really a simple soprano, the book only refers to the larger tenor.   If you wish to make a beautiful small guitar, and the construction of all the various formers, moulds etc. is all part of the pleasure you derive from the project, then, on balance, this book should serve you well.   I can’t help thinking that if I had seen it before I got started, it might have put me off the idea.   Perhaps it’s just me – try to have a good look at a copy before you buy.

John Colter

THE STAGG SOPRANO UKULELE    A brief review by Rufus Yells

Stagg Soprano on left. Mahalo 'Special Edition' on right.

 Frequently, visitors to this house ask me what my recommendation is for a new, reasonable quality ukulele. The search is for an instrument that is affordable for the new player, that sounds good, looks good, is well made and could last as the player’s main instrument for the forseeable future. After encountering the Stagg soprano last night, I feel no hesitation in putting it forward as the instrument that meets all these criteria with ease. And it has one other great thing going for it: a price that is not only affordable, but a bargain in any player’s book.

The instruments I saw (two, both new: one strung with the GHS black strings that come as standard, the other strung with Aquila Nylgut concert strings) were identical – no variance in standard at all, implying excellent quality control. The mahogany was fine in both cases: no flaws or knots. The frets were well finished, with no sharp edges to shred unwary fingers, extending on a rosewood fingerboard all the way to the soundhole. Binding to top and bottom was excellently laid with no protruding sections or unevenness. The binding also extends around the headstock – a very nice touch, setting off the instrument beautifully. Another nice touch is the shape of the headstock itself: so many manufacturers routinely follow the early island/Martin shape and pattern. This headstock has a pleasing shape of its own (more like a National headstock than anything else), and is clear of any logo or marks. The Stagg label itself is visible through the soundhole – and the whole package includes a soft gig bag – though owners will certainly wish to purchase a hard case to protect an instrument this nice. The bracing is conventional horizontal style, above and below the soundhole.

Stagg Soprano Back

 My first (and only) criticism might be the quality of the pegs: they are off-the-shelf Grover all plastic style with white buttons which, while perfectly functional, would perhaps benefit from being replaced by pegs with a metal barrel, more in keeping with the quality feel of this instrument. This is unnecessary fault-finding, however. Both the examples I saw featured a satin finish (not my finish of choice, but perhaps gloss will become available in future batches). As I said, GHS strings come as standard – a refreshing change from the supposed ‘Martin’ strings fitted to so many midrange instruments coming from the far East.

 So what of the all-important sound? Excellent; warm, bouncy and decidedly ‘ukey’. Perfect intonation, excellent sustain, a clear sound with fine projection whether strummed hard or stroked with the thumb. At both extremes of the range, the Stagg gives a fine sound.

The feel of the instrument is solid but light – not as light as a vintage Martin, of course, but considerably lighter than a Mahalo or other starter instrument. It is inevitable that conjecture should arise as to whether the Stagg instrument comes from the same stable as the Bushman Jenny, Praiseland Soprano, and one or two others that are surfacing at the moment. Without having seen at first hand these other newcomers, I can’t say for sure, but the overall appearance leads me to believe this may well be the case. A quality instrument at last from China – not just affordable, but highly playable. When Rigk Sauer introduced his RISA solid soprano a year or so ago, he was aiming for exactly the same market as the Stagg – a high quality, affordable ukulele – and he predicted then that we were possibly only months away from the production of an instrument in the far East that matched European quality, but beat the price by miles. Well, here it is, finally. Rigk was right, and all UK ukers can reap the benefit.

 There has been concern in the USA with certain Bushman Jenny instruments that ‘bellying’ may be an issue (a potentially disastrous tendency of string tension to pull the bridge inwards and create a slight warp in the soundboard, necessitating a lowering of the action). I found no evidence on either of these Stagg instruments that this was likely to happen.

 What’s the alternative? You could go for a luthier built modern instrument – but you pay heavily for the privilege. You could opt for a vintage – but it may not be all you hoped for if you buy it sight unseen, and may well bear the cracks so common to instruments built this light. You could go for a high end Mahalo or even Lehua – but I don’t think either of these, respectable though they are, can match the sound of the Stagg.

 All in all, this is an exciting development for ukulele players in the UK . Stagg have a reputation for thorough quality control and it shows. 

Rufus Yells.


Being one of the first in this country to take delivery of one of the new Stagg model US50S sopranos, I would like heartily to endorse all that Rufus says in his review on this site.   My little Stagg (Bambi?) arrived two days ago, and it seems as thought I’ve been playing it ever since (when I can prise it out of my wife’s hands, that is).   In construction and finish it is all that you would expect of a mass produced uke, very respectable, but not exceptional.   Makers of bespoke ukes have nothing to fear, but neither will players of Staggs need to feel stigmatised by their choice.   This is a serious musical instrument, a delight to play and a pleasure to listen to.   Highly recommended to beginners and more experienced player alike.  

John Colter, (Bridgnorth. Shrops),

K-Wave 'Les Paul'  Rock Ukulele  (Review by Ray Shakeshaft. 15th Dec 2005)

Woods - The model that I have is black lacquered(?) so the only way to see the woods is on the inside. It looks as though it is made of mahogany with a rosewood fingerboard. Solid or laminate face and back? - I would think solid from the sound as it is definitely louder than I associate with laminate ukes. The face certainly sounds like a solid.

Build - It is definitely heavier than the standard soprano/concerts and in size it is 24" in length and at its widest 8". It looks very clean on the inside with no glue blobs etc.

The bottom and top are attached directly to the sides (no lining) and I suspect that the sides contribute to the weight because they look as though they are routed out of a block rather than being bent to shape. This results in the 'horn' on the cutaway being solid and the block under the fingerboard extends to within 3/4" of the hole. This is required because the neck is bolted on in the same manner as the Les Paul guitars.

The face struts are light and not those great lumps that kill the sound board that one occasionally sees in Chinese ukes.

Finish - There are three models and I have the black one and it is immaculate - not a blemish. There is a good quality plastic bone look-a-like binding on the body top and finger board.

The frets do not require any further attention. The fingerboard markers are Gibson LP shape not dots but there are side dots on the finger board binding. It also has the Gibson LP shaped scratch plate.

There is a strap button/jack plug socket on the bottom and a strap button on the shoulder of the upper bout

Tuning Machines - These are geared and covered. They work very well and with a smooth action that I wish some of my friction tuners had. They stick out of the sides of the peg head to again mirror the guitar whose shape it copies.

Set up - It is acceptable but I changed the black (GHS?) strings for Aquilas which gave the uke a better ring. The action is fine but the plastic nut and saddle will be replaced in time. There is no string buzz anywhere. The saddle is not compensated.

Intonation - Accurate and it 'sings' all the way up the neck. This is a cutaway body and there are 19 frets - they sound good right to the top though I have not tried them with a tuner. I work on the basis that if they sound right then they are right.

Sound - As stated it is heavier built than say a Martin/Jenny etc. so I did not expect that great volume but it is not 'dead' either. It is perfectly acceptable and certainly not quiet like the Samicks etc.. Tonewise it is sweet and has what I always think of as the Gibson sound rather that the Martin Style 0 brashness. Perhaps it is a little trebly but it responds very well to finger picking.

There is also an under saddle piezo pick up with an end strap button/jack plug socket. The sound from this is variable according to the quality of the amp. In my Marshall with the reverb turned up 25% it sounds good though one needs to adjust the amp equalizers as there is none on the uke. I suppose a pre amp would be useful as it would on the Applause sopranos

Any other items - The uke comes with a well made leatherette and padded gig bag that has both handle and shoulder strap. It also has a large pocket which is the same size as the body of the bag.

There is also a black webbing uke strap included.

Overall view - It is obviously built to look like a small Les Paul and as such could be regarded as a novelty but it is a 'player' too. I have played the first 'La Paula' made by Joel Eckhaus for my pal Brian Wilkes and obviously the later is luthier built and is a beautiful sounding uke but the K-Wave is not 'out of sight' and there is a big price difference.

I would consider the price in the UK (£225 - The Ukulele Shop) to be about right. It feels and sounds good and if you like this kind of 'different' uke then I would have no hesitation in recommending it. I have used it on two gigs and I quickly felt at home with it.

Minor criticisms - the uke certainly responds to a change to better quality strings and the plastic nut and saddle will be changed.

I will supply pictures of specific items or answer any further questions if I can. Due to the black lacquering/finish it is difficult to be precise about woods.

There are pictures of this uke on

Ray Shakeshaft.

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