When I mentioned bamboo ukuleles before, there was a bit of discussion about whether you should care about the environmental impact of your uke and it got me thinking about the issue.
And, of course, there’s the ever increasing selection of woods there are to choose from.
Neither issue I’m particularly knowledgeable on. So I threw a few questions at Evan from House and Mill Tonewoods in hopes of enlightenment.
Can you tell us a bit about House and Mill?
We are a brand new company dedicated to providing quality woods to builders of Ukuleles. We know that Ukuleles are capable of being wonderful instruments when made well, of excellent woods and we want to establish ourselves as the suppliers of the very best of those classic instrument woods, spruce, cedar and maple. We will also offer a limited list of accessories such as a great capo, colored strings, and other ukulele related items that meet our standards for quality and uniqueness.
We are a family organization as our website relates, three generations of folks who love and respect wood and music, and ukuleles.
Why have you chosen to focus on ukuleles?
Firstly because we are passionate ukulele makers and players. We think this great instrument is being largely ignored by most of the purveyors of luthier supplies. Our own uke building led us to a major supplier of spruce, cedar and maple to the nations largest guitar makers. We discovered that a great amount of perfect wood, too short for guitars but perfect for ukuleles was simply being wasted. Saddened by the waste of this precious resource we saw an opportunity that would advance the ukulele cause and create a business opportunity for us.
Your wood is responsibly sourced, what does that mean. Why is it important that ukulele woods are responsibly sourced?
The wood we sell, despite it’s excellence, would be discarded and burned if we did not rescue it in the shorter ukulele lengths. The old growth Spruce and Cedar used in top grade acoustic instruments is a precious resource that must not be wasted. Much of the worlds supply is already gone, and we must use what is left responsibly. One can make the argument that no more of the old growth forests should be cut. Our point is that if any is to be cut, it must not be wasted.
What should people consider when choosing wood for their ukulele?
Ukulele tonewood should be perfectly quartersawn, stiff, and tight grained, and properly dry. While color and figure are important aesthetic considerations, only the first mentioned attributes are essential to tone and construction integrity. We firmly believe that the beauty of the wood is also very important to a player’s enjoyment of their instrument. Early in our building experience we realized that if you are to put the hundreds of hours into building a fine ukulele it is silly to do so without beautiful wood. As a result, we sell and stock only highly figured maple for backs and sides, and the best, unblemished and fine grained spruce and cedar for tops. The goal is to create an instrument of great beauty that has a lovely tone.
The immortal violin makers of Cremona, Nicolo Amati, Antonio Stradivari and Guarnari del Gesu learned in the 1600’s to make their instruments of maple, spruce. Their violins remain the worlds best. The great American guitar builders of the 1950s, John D’Angelico and James D’Aquisto built their classics of Maple and Spruce. We build our ukuleles of Maple and Spruce, and those are the woods we sell.