The truth be told, I’ve never been a big fan of ukuleles. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve always appreciated the sound, but I never gravitated towards this particular instrument. Needless to say, ukuleles are popular with CBG builders because they’re inexpensive and relatively easy to build/modify. After assembling a handful of homemade string instruments, I decided to try building a cigar box ukulele just for fun. I ordered the soprano kit from CB Gitty and embarked on another project. Before I go any farther, I should mention this is not a builder’s diary; it’s a series of coincidences I felt I needed to share.
I received a package from CB Gitty one warm Texas afternoon and went out to the garage to start on my first cigar box ukulele. I sorted through a pile of empty cigar boxes and settled on a white HR box that I thought had a cool aesthetic. About this time, my wife came into the garage. She said she had just gotten off the phone with her friend Sara who happened to be in the market for a ukulele. I immediately perked up and responded, “Tell her she can have this one when I finish it.” I wasn’t confident in my ability to build a ukulele, but I thought the timing was an interesting coincidence. I always liked the idea of building an instrument for someone and I knew Sara would appreciate it even if it wasn’t perfect.
Here’s a little more information about Sara. She is an interior designer who has played guitar since high school. She’s a crafty type who sometimes creates her own art for the spaces she decorates. In other words, she’s an artistic lady and she's also one of my wife’s best friends. In addition, she's a really great person.
Back to the build, I was amazed at how well my first uke went together. The kit didn’t come with instructions, but it was pretty easy to figure out since I’d already built several CBGs. I decided to paint the headstock white to match the box, something I’d never done before. I had some white spray paint on hand and it just happened to match the box perfectly. I also stained the back of the neck to match the color the wood on the underside of the cigar box. Again I just happened to have the right color of stain on hand. As the project neared completion, it looked great, but I felt like it needed something extra to decorate the headstock. After searching through my parts box and failing to find the right item, I took a trip to a local craft store. I found a small metal oval emblazoned with a 13. “This is perfect,” I thought and so it became the headstock decoration on my first cigar box uke.
Once the glue was dry, I strung up my first homemade ukulele and was surprised by how well it played. I even made a video and posted it on Cigar Box Nation. I liked the instrument so much, I actually thought about keeping it for myself. However, I think that’s a bad omen. You should never promise an instrument to someone and then keep it. This one had to go to Sara. It was made for her. Besides, I could always build another just like it… or could I?
As you can probably guess, I ordered another ukulele kit from CB Gitty and it showed up just a few days later. I settled on a natural colored Casa Turrent box for my second soprano build. I made a few small design changes, but by-and-large stuck to the same idea. Again, I used stain, varnish, screws, and other things I had on hand to complete the project. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t come out as good as the first build, but I was still going to give it a try.
When I finished uke #2, I was pleased with the aesthetic, but I decided it too was missing a headstock decoration. I went through my box of parts and found an old railroad nail. I was from… wait for it… 1913. Another number 13? What are the chances of that? I know 13 is commonly referred to as an unlucky number, but I was born on the 13th so it’s always been lucky for me. One thing was obvious, 13 is the right number for these two coincidental cigar box instruments.
Finally, I strung up uke #2 and the first chord rang out. Up until this moment, I was afraid it would never sound or play as good as uke #1. Some part of me was worried I may have given away the best ukulele I’d ever build. To my surprise, the second one plays just as good as the first. It’s a bit quieter, but it has a warm woody tone. In fact, I played one, then the other, and I really can’t decide which one I like better; they’re both great in different ways. One is a little bit modern, while the other is more rustic, but let’s face it… they both look pretty darn cool.
As I stood back and admired my handiwork, I thought about all the coincidences that had to happen for me to create 2 cigar box ukuleles in two weekends, especially since I didn't have any experience, or even any interest, in building ukuleles. My grandma used to say there are no coincidences in life, they’re all just messages from the universe, and how you interpret those messages is up to you. She was a wise woman. I miss her a lot. I guess that brings me to the moral of this story. If you build something for somebody else, make sure it gets to them. Never keep it for yourself. As the old adage goes, you'll get what you give. It rang true in this case.
P.S. Sara sent me a photo of her playing the ukulele and singing. I can't remember the last time a photo made me this happy. This is why we build.