Monday, February 15, 2010

Hobby Blog: Building a Ukulele

I thought a cheap and relatively painless entry into the world of musical instrument building and repair would be to build an instrument from a kit, and I figured you couldn't get much simpler than the Grizzly Ukulele kit.
The kit came with a lot of the work done for you, which is nice for the rank novice. The body was already shaped and together, and the frets were set in the fretboad, so the builder only has to attach the neck, glue on the fretboard and set the bridge saddle. The last was the scariest part, because if the bridge was not in the right place, the instrument would never play in tune.
I did a bit of poking around online before I started and found that the fret placement on the provided fretboard tended to be a little off, making the gap between the nut and the first fret a bit too long. This would cause chords to play out of tune. With that in mind, I used the fret calculator on the Stewart-MacDonald web site to work out the appropriate distance and shaved the right amount off the top of the board.
From there I did all the necessary sanding and prepped the headstock for my inlay, which I decided would be a shiny new penny, by carving out a coin-shaped hollow.

From there I glued the neck in place, and set the penny in the headstock, clamping the whole thing together with tapeAfter that, I decided to reinforce the neck with a wood screw, which I would later cover with a chip of wood to make it a bit less obvious
For the bridge, I followed the old carpenter's maxim of "measure twice, cut once." I measured and marked it in pencil before finally setting it down, which wasn't quite as frightening as I thought it would be. Finally, after giving all the glue to dry, I finished the whole think with a few coats of teak oil, which I thought brought out the color of the mahogany body nicely.

I substituted a new set of strings for the really terrible ones provided in the package and... well, it sounds like a $25 ukulele, but at least I can say I built it myself!


Tremendous Trifles: Inspiration for Writers

I discovered one of my favorite writers of all time, G.K. Chesterton, through reading some of my other favorite authors, such as Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I noticed the writers I admired kept referring to this one fellow, so I just had to check him out.
Well, it was worth the modest effort it took to track him down, G.K. proved insightful, imaginative and above all entertaining. It turned out that not only had the man inspired other authors and journalists, but politicians and revolutionaries like Ghandi and Michael Collins.
But what's of particular interest to writers, particularly free-form bloggers like myself, is Chesterton's ability to look at an ordinary object and see the extraordinary about it. It is on this that a whole series of his newspaper columns was based. These columns were later collected into a book, aptly titled Tremendous Trifles, which was published in 1909.
Each short piece in the book describes one of Chesterton's many everyday adventures, from walking home in the rain to an exploration of the contents of his pockets, to finding a piece of chalk to sketch with. Chesterton imbues each of these small curiosities with some sort of mythic significance, making a grand hero's quest out of minor inconveniences, and cheerfully building literary mountains out of mundane molehills.
This ability to find the fascination in small things, and view the everyday from a fresh perspective is of great value to any writer, but is especially relevant in the nonstop chatter of the blogosphere, where everybody is looking for their niche. There are a million voices out there, of varying slants and skill levels, yammering away about politics, sports and celebrities, making it nearly impossible to get noticed. But on the other hand, if one can find a tiny corner of the web, something small and easy to overlook, but wonderful and interesting when presented in the right light, one might just be creating something that's really new and valuable.

You can find a digital copy of Tremendous Trifles here, or have it ordered at your local bookstore.