Story of Pau Hana ‘ukulele

What is Pau Hana? First of all, pau hana is a state of mind. In Hawaiian pau hana means the work is over and it is time to enjoy, kind of like that old ad “It’s Miller Time!”.

Why Pau Hana ‘ukulele? I hope it might be a ‘company’ some day that makes and sells ‘ukuleles, perhaps when I retire from my day job. Right now it is primarily a hobby company, so to speak. I build ‘ukes for myself, my family and friends and I help others do the same.

It all started when I enrolled in an online inlay course through the Musical Instrument Maker’s Forum in 2004. During the basic class we learned to do a traditional vine and flower inlay on an ebony fingerboard and a torch set for the peghead. Then in the advanced class we needed to come up with something a bit more challenging. So, I decided on this theme of palm trees on a small island under the moon with a porpoise. Well, one thing led to another and I came up with my design which I then had to execute with pearl, abalone, various types of wood and bone. See my blog post about getting started.

Playing the ‘ukulele will put a smile on your face!

But after completing the inlay I needed something to put it into, and decided that the only appropriate thing would be an ‘ukulele. I had previously started working on a guitar neck, but while cutting the scarf joint to make the headstock, I miscalculated it and ended up having to make another neck, but the “error neck” was plenty good size to re-work for an ‘ukulele. I split the neck lengthwise and inserted a thin strip of pau ferro (bolivian rosewood) to add rigidity and prevent warping, kind of like a through-spline. After carving the neck I routed the headstock and inlayed the palm tree scene. I’m happy to say this first ‘uke is enjoying a life making music with a friend.

Inspired by the Zen Guitar Dojo!

The inlay in the headstock of my ‘ukulele #3 are Japanese characters (pronounced unsui) inspired by the book, “Zen Guitar” by Phillip Toshio Sudo. A quote from the book best explains it:

“In Japanese, unsui means traveling monk or truth-seeker. Literally, it translates as “cloud and water.” To be an unsui is to embody the spirit of Zen Guitar – floating, flowing, at once with and without form. If you learn to view yourself in this way, your journey on the path of Zen Guitar will have no end.”

If you have not yet read this wonderful book, you owe it to yourself to do so. You might also want to pay a visit to the Zen Guitar Dojo.

You too can build your own ‘ukulele! If you’re interested, please take a moment and visit the pages showing pictures of my 1st two completed ‘ukuleles (‘ukulele #1 and ‘ukulele #2). Later on we built a pair of matching walnut/spruce tenor ‘ukes: ‘uke #3 & ‘uke #4 which my daughter and I are building together. Her’s is finished, mine just needs a bridge put on. We used the method defined in the Ukulele Construction Manual, published by the Hana Lima ‘Ia which I highly recommend you get if you’re interested in building your own ‘uke. The folks as Hana Lima are great to do business with.

‘Ukulele building is a fun, fascinating and rewarding hobby. But, best of all, once you complete one, you can string it up and make music with it! I hope to make some interesting ‘ukes in the future, including a baritone and a soprano.

So, why call it Pau Hana ‘Ukulele? Perhaps, someday I’ll actually make ‘ukes for sale, but I just liked the name. Pau Hana is a reference to a Hawaiian phrase that means it’s time to relax, stop working and have fun (kind of like Miller Time or Yabba-Dabba-Doo!). Here’s the definition of pau hana from the Hawaiian Glossary: “– Finished with work. eg. Yeah!, pau hana time. Let’s hit the surf.” There’s a great CD called Legends of the Ukulele with a recording of Dueling Banjos by A’lea on it and at the end of the tune one of the players shouts out “pau hana time”. It just caught my fancy!

How I got started

It was largely due to visiting Al McWhorter’s web site that I was inspired to try my hand at ‘ukulele building. I highly recommend paying a visit. Take a tour of the web site “Building a Concert Ukulele” at LUTHERIE: The art of stringed instrument building.

As I started looking around for information I was fortunate enough to discover some great web sites that have a lot of specific information to share. The Ukuleles by Kawika, Inc. web site (David Hurd) maintains a wealth of building tips and references. So if you’re serious about building an ‘ukulele, you must visit the Site Map or Shop Tips pages. Kawika also has a very nice page called Kawika’s Eclectic Link List with links to suppliers of various materials used for ‘ukulele construction.

I joined the GAL (Guild of American Luthiers, which is a non-profit educational membership organization, formed in 1972 to advance the craft of string instrument making and repair (lutherie), through a free exchange of information. I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my first issue of American Lutherie. I have read much of Volume 2 of The Big Red Book, then purchased Volume 5 and last year I acquired Volumes 1, 3, and 4.

I joined the MIMF (Musical Instrument Makers’ Forum as well. This is a great participant-contributed site that provides a wealth of information, resources and assistance for lutherie, whether you’re a beginner or an advanced builder. The MIMF has a wide range of folks participating in discussions, from complete novices to professional builders.

Stewart MacDonald has just about everything for instrument building and repairing stringed instruments and is the source of many of the materials that I have needed for my projects. Stewmac is also a sponsor of MIMF (Musical Instrument Makers’ Forum as well. I’ve also had great luck getting supplies from Luthiers Mercantile International as well as obtaining some woods through auctions on EBay.

Lots of cool stuff on the Web!

The web is a tremendous resource for finding various kinds of ‘ukulele information. There are many links on the left, but here are a few highlights. For example, Uke Dominator creates and publishes a terrific list of contemporary uke music.

If you are looking for a set of plans to build an ‘uke, there is a Martin Tenor Ukulele Plan available, which includes front and side cutaway views of the tenor, plus solid front views of Martin soprano and concert sizes for comparison. This plan is available from the Guild of American Luthiers as Plan #43. There is a scaled-down version of this plan printed in American Lutherie #56

And Kawika (aka David Hurd) maintains a very comprehensive list of historical ‘ukulele instructions manuals.

There are so many links and sites to visit on the Web!

I’d also recommend a visit to the Mike Lynch’s ‘ukulele YouTube pages which is a tremendous resource for ‘ukeists, especially if you want to strum along to a wide variety of quality videos and video lessons.

Ukulele Boogaloo maintains an extensive set of links to ‘ukulele sites.

Jim Beloff’s Flea Market Music is an essential place to find a wealth of information about the ‘ukulele. Jim has worked tirelessly to revive interest in the ‘ukulele. Jim’s company produces the Flea and Fluke ‘ukuleles.

The Ukulele Guild of Hawaii is dedicated to the preservation, perpetuation and promotion of the ‘ukulele as a significant musical instrument worldwide.

Music and Videos in the “collection” . . .

I’m a huge Jake Shimabukuro fan!

I discovered Jake Shimabukuro early on when I became interested in the ‘uke. Jake is a phenomenal player and showman. I have bought all of his US-released CDs (Sunday Morning (2002), Crosscurrent (2003), Walking Down Rainhill (2004), Dragon (October 4, 2005), Gently Weeps (September 19, 2006), My Life (September 18, 2007), Hula Girls (September 18, 2007), Live (April 14, 2009), Yo-Yo Ma & Friends – Songs of Joy & Peace (October 14, 2008) on which Jake plays a duet with Yo-Yo Ma playing “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” , Peace Love Ukulele (January 4, 2011), Grand Ukulele (October, 2, 2012). . . . and videos Play Loud Ukulele (September 6, 2005) and Million Miles Away (March 8, 2005).

I have been lucky enough to meet him and see him perform eight times so far (Johnny D’s in Somerville, MA, St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, The Firehouse in Newburyport, MA, The Center for the Arts in Natick, MA, The Morgan School in Clinton, CT, The Regatta Bar in Cambridge, MA, Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, NH and most recently at the Govenor’s Academy in Byfield, MA. He is a genuinely nice person and displays a true sense of graciousness and humility.

Meeting Jake Shimabukuro 2008
Meeting Jake Shimabukuro 2008

In addition to the CDs and DVDs listed above, I managed to acquire copies of two promotional pieces for Jake Shimabukuro. One is an analog recording of the Dragon CD. Interesting note: track #5 on the promo is titled “Floaters”, but on the production CD is titled “2 B Organic”. The other item I found was a promotional DVD with 4 videos on it. These videos were released commercially on the Million Miles Away DVD, but still it’s kind of fun to have them in this format as well.

There are so many great players out there to enjoy who present a wide range of musical styles. Take a look at the pics and links using the menus on the left to get an idea of just how many different players I enjoy listening to, from Jake to James Hill to Bill Tapia to Herb Ohta, Jr. I have been constantly impressed by the vast number of ‘uke players and enthusiasts out there, people ranging from George Harrison to Lyle Ritz to Ian Whitcomb. Opening for Jake at a recent concert was Greg Hawkes (who played keyboards with The Cars in the 80’s). After playing several tunes solo, Greg was joined on stage by Tim Mann & Greg Allison to perform a number of pieces as a group, mostly Beatles music. Greg recently released a complete CD of Beatles’ music for the ‘uke. It’s a must for any serious ‘uke or Beatles fan! In the fall of 2010 we went to see Greg play again at The Center for the Arts. He is very entertaining and did 2 sets, one solo and one with Tim Mann & Greg Allison again playing lots of Beatles’ music.

For Jazz ‘uke – it’s Lyle Ritz!

For Jazz on the ‘uke my favorite person to listen to is Lyle Ritz, who has been playing jazz on ‘ukulele for over 50 years. His seminal “How About Uke?” album was release in 1957! It is a must have. Also excellent is “A Night of Ukulele Jazz – Live at McCabe’s” with Herb Ohta. Last year my daughter gave me “No Frills” produced by Jim Beloff of Flea Market fame. This album is special perhaps because Lyle acquired a computer and some sophisticated software and setup his own recording station and recorded all of the tracks, playing both ‘ukulele and bass. Lyle Ritz is a great musician, long-known as a session bass player (logging over 5,000 sessions!).

Jim D’Ville, play-by-ear advocate extraordinaire has a couple of excellent tutorial DVDs on learning to play by ear and focusing on hearing the music instead of fumbling with paper and song sheets. I recently attended his Play By Ear workshop sponsored by the Harvard Volume 1 focuses on basics of Tuning by ear, Hearing “C”, basic chord progressions, intervals, diatonic chords. And Volume 2 gets much more deeply into chord progressions and the Circle of 5ths.

Jim Beloff has a couple of nice videos called The Joy of Uke 1 and The Joy of Uke 2. Both are available in DVD format and are highly recommended if you’re interested in the more traditional styles of ‘uke playing. He has some wonderful guests on the videos and you’ll watch them over and over again. Jim Beloff has also published a really nice little book called The Ukulele: a Visual History (Backbeat Books, 2003) which is well worth having in your collection of ‘uke stuff.

Jumpin’ Jim Beloff (a real ‘uke revivalist) publishes a large number of ‘ukulele books, some in small format that will fit nicely in your ‘uke case! There are quite a few titles in this series. So far I have collected Tips ‘N’ Tunes, Ukulele Beach Party, and ’60s Uke-In and Gone Hawaiian. He also publishes a more sophisticated series of books called Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Masters in which are profiled some great players on the ‘uke scene, like Lyle Ritz’ Jazz, Solos and the recently-released (2008) Lyle Lite, Herb Ohta’s Sophisticated Ukulele and John King’s The Classical Ukulele. Another of his books in my collection is Ukulele Fretboard Roadmaps, which Jim Beloff and Fred Sokolow wrote.

Ralph Shaw’s The Complete Ukulele Course is a good overall introduction to playing the ‘uke, followed on by his Essential Strums for the Ukulele.

Another book in my collection is Famous Solos & Duets, edited and arranged by John King and published by Mel Bay, Inc.

a word about Victoria!

Victoria Vox is one of my favorite player/singers. I first saw Victoria in “The Mighty Uke” and it prompted me to go to her website, where fortunately she streams some great music. I was so impressed that I bought all 3 of her CDs available at that time. If you aren’t familiar with this wonderful singer, then ask yourself “why not?”

I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with Victoria and seeing her play at Club Passim in Cambridge the following night. What a great show! At the workshop we learned to play a beautiful tune called Colorful Heart and later on she did a demo of her infamous mouth trumpet.

Meeting Victoria Vox
Meeting Victoria Vox

When she comes to a venue near you, get out there and see her. You will really enjoy it!

Great ‘Ukulele Project!

A great ‘ukulele project that everyone should check out is the Complete Beatles On Ukulele. Their mission statement is “We hold this truth to be self-evident — if every citizen spent a little bit of time playing the ukulele, the world would be a nicer place.” A very nice sentiment indeed!

Beatles Complete on Ukulele

They released a new Beatles song recording featuring a different artist every Tuesday up until the London Olympics with a short essay about the song and each performance includes a ukulele.

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