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  • Sam Mangakahia

"Why the heck do you carve guitars and ukuleles, won't that wreck the sound?"

Over the years while I have been doing this ukulele and guitar carving thing many people have asked "Wont the guitar or the ukulele get destroyed if you carve on it?"


The short answer is Yes, it wont get destroyed.


Let me explain.

Ok, so most ukuleles are made of thin veneer of various woods. Sometimes the wood is solid all the way through meaning if you carve it, it will show the same color all the way through. Other ukuleles, mainly the more affordable builds have a hard wood on the top and underneath is a plywood which actually can sound just as good. For the most part 90% if not all of my ukulele pieces have been on the Makala ukulele done by Kala. They sound great the design pops and they are affordable. https://kalabrand.com/collections/makala-classic/products/mk-t


Because I use a dentist dill and dentist bits I'm able to just skim the surface of the wood allowing me to get the contrast of the design without DESTROYING the instrument. YES, if i went too low I could potentially put a hole in the wood which would not be good which I have done before, oops. Luckily for you I've done almost 400 of these suckers so if you get one from me it's very likely you wont see any holes.




Back to the questions will it get destroyed?

I'm sure by now you are figuring out that It really doesn't make a difference. if your still not convinced you gotta keep reading to the end. If I had a $5000 dollar instrument I would want to know too.


My experience

In my experiments over the years I have seen many different looks and effects take place which carving on various woods and surfaces. My ultimate goal is to make the piece look beautiful and tell a story. I try to do this in the best way possible to preserve the sound and the integrity of the instrument. HOWEVER, what makes me unique is the fact that I actually carve into the wood with an extremely high speed dentist drill which takes away the top coat of the wood. IT ACTUALLY DOSENT DESTROY THE INSTRUMENT OR THE SOUND.




The next question might be "Ok, I get it, It doesn't destroy the instrument but do you just leave it exposed?"

Actually, Yes I leave it exposed. I tried so many ways to coat the ukulele without dimming the contrast and 90% failed. I then just decided that eventually the oils from you hands will naturally coat and protect it. So far so good, no angry customers.


What about guitars?

Guitars are a little different. Guitars Already have a thick enamel coat covering the entire body. When I carve into the enable it's essentially bringing back the coat to the surface of the wood. On guitars I DO APPLY A COAT it's called bees wax. I rub the wax into the underwood which protects the open wood. Again so far so good.










Conclusion


If there are still some of you that just can't swallow carving into that Kamaka, Kanile'a or that Taylor guitar there is hope I have been developing a solution!

The solution is FILLING THE GAP. This mean filling the carved groves I make on the instrument. This not only makes the design POP like crazy but it completely seals and finishes the piece. It does have a different look, however, just in the last year experimenting with fills I have more confidence moving forward with this technique. What I'm still discovering is how to sand back the fill when it sets while maintaining the original shine on the guitar. The short answer is high grit sanding until polished.




P.S

If you haven't fallen asleep yet I'm very impressed. No really, If you are considering getting a piece done by yours truly I hope this little article has helped you easing your fears. Just know that I'm always discovering NEW ways to improve my practice in all areas. Honestly I'm not sure why I'm so obsessed with this whole process but to me it's been a very fulfilling and enjoyable journey. I feel like I have just scratched the surface, pun intended.


If you have any more questions that I didn't think up for you let me know below. Also if you have any new ideas or advice on how I can improve LMK.

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