Updated: May 7, 2021
Yes you read that right. Seven ways to Frankenstein the ukulele! MWAHAHA!!!
“We are fashioned creatures, but half made up.”
As we are moving through the month of October, I wanted stick with the subject of Halloween and share with you 7 unique and interesting ways one can Frankenstein, or customize an ukulele. Some of these ways are pretty common but others are ’stranger things’. And if you have the courage, maybe you can have some of these features built into your next ukulele. Let the haunt.... I mean hunt.... begin!
1. Slotted Headstock
One defining feature of the Frankenstein monster is his oversized, flat topped, nail punctured neck. Just one look at this creature’s head and you need no introduction.
This feature on an ukulele is the slotted headstock. Taken from the stylings of the classical guitar, ukulele have been modified with this design for over 50 years. It is beefier in size, the strings are wound on ‘string rollers’, two gapping holes, with the tuning pegs sticking out the sides. A slotted headstock on an ukulele adds class and sophistication to the instrument. Some owners even have custom tuners such as Alessi and Rodger’s hand made for them. These tuners run up to $500 and over!
If your looking to having an ukulele with a slotted headstock, your looking at a $250+ upgrade. If you ask me, its totally worth it!
2. Scalloped Nut and Saddle
One of my favorite dishes in the world is sautéed scallops! Seared in a piping hot pan, olive oil, sea salt, and finished in brown butter. Hmmmmmm! Sorry if your drooling on your phone or keyboard... haha! This makes me think of the creature from the Black Lagoon. With all the oval shaped scales plating it‘s fish-like body.
Maybe the creature can fetch some sea scallops out of the lagoon for us? This scallop motif brings us to our customized feature of scalloped ukulele nuts and saddles. Check it out! Even the overall design continues it’s ocean motif as it resembles a wave pattern.
This bizarre customization is not only aesthetically pleasing but functional as well. Typically seen on guitars, scalloping the nut and saddle increases the bass. Don’t do this if you want more treble from your ukulele. This design got it’s name from resembling the shell structure of a sea scallop.
This customization doesn’t end here, but they scallop frets as well. Google it!
3. Fanned Frets
One of the easiest Halloween costumes to create requires only toilet paper. If you‘ve already guessed it, it is none other than The Mummy! Though this costume of wrapped toilet paper is easy to make, creating and fitting fanned frets on your ukulele is huge nightmare!
Fanned frets, or multi-scale ukulele, place the frets on a calculated angle. This angle has to be perfectly precise in order for the ukulele to stay in tune. But doing this gives each string a different scale length. Fanned frets give ukulele a longer scale length on the lower strings and a shorter scale length on the higher strings. When done correctly, the layout of the frets look like mummy wrappings.
Whether you're playing straight-fret or fanned, both have the same capabilities as far as tunings are concerned. On the higher frets in particular you may find that playing intricate solos is far easier on a fanned fretboard compared to straight simply your because your hand is more comfortable when playing on them.
4. Florentine Cutaway
Its a full moon night and theres a mist rolling in. A ear splitting howl rings through the trees. Screams are head at nearby cabin. What fate has fallen on these innocent weekend glampers? No ones knows. All that was left in the morning was a clawed up Range Rover.
Of course you figured it out at ’full moon’. It’s the savage on the list, The Wolfman! The CUTaway, like the slotted headstock, has been around along time. There are two main types of cutaways, the Venetian and the Florentine. In this particular post we will be focusing on the the Florentine style because it has a passing resemblance to a werewolf claw. That point it sharp! Cutaways are great since they allow for greater access to the higher frets on the fingerboard.
If you love to shred on the upper frets, you gotta get this feature on your ukulele.
5. Armrest Bevel
A newer innovation to ukulele has been the armrest bevel. The purpose of the bevel is to make playing the ukulele more comfortable. This is done through smoothing out the corners of the ukulele body where your forearm falls on the top corner. When executed properly, it is a thing of beauty. It makes the top corner of the ukulele disappear. The corner edge should be there..... but it isn’t! Using the bevel will eliminate forearm numbness. This invisible edge really doesn’t affect the sound so it is an awesome edition on any ukulele.
There are two main types of arm bevels. The traditional Laskin, or the modernized Ryan. On a ukulele I prefer the Laskin, but on a guitar I gotta go with a Ryan. Feeling the difference is really noticeable.
Now if only The Invisible Man wasn’t messing around with my post! Sheesh!
6. Sound Ports
One of the strangest of all the monsters is London born Dr. Jekyll. Or better known by his other half...... Mr. Hyde. This mild mannered scientist who turns into a hulking murderer when not taking his medicine best exemplifies the ukulele sound port. Indeed, sometimes two are better than one. Or better yet, two in one!
And this brings us to our next customized feature, sound ports. Since the beginning of the modern lutherie, guitar and ukulele were built with one “sound port”, or sound hole. Normally centered on the top of the soundboard. Recently though, the adding of a second sound port quickly gained momentum throughout the ukulele community making it an established new feature.
A sound port is an added hole, or ”air pump”, on the side of the ukulele. It can be put in the upper or lower bout of the ukulele. Sometimes in both! They act as a personal monitor for the player. This allows them to hear the beauty of their own instruments. And you know what? It definitely works! There is a huge difference in volume and projection.
Just like Mr. Hyde, pushing to be heard and experienced!
7. Cantilevered Fingerboard
Now this list wouldn’t be complete if I didn‘t add the biggest baddie of them all. Can you guess who I’m talking about? It is none other than the Count of Transylvania....
The last custom feature on this list is the cantilevered fingerboard, or the “floating neck”. If you already made the connection, bravo! Floating......NECK. Ouch!
The cantilevered neck is an innovation in engineering where the tongue of the fingerboard hovers over the soundboard. Normally the tongue is glued down on traditional ukulele. Supporters of the cantilevered fingerboard believe that glueing down the fingerboard on the soundboard has a negative effect on acoustic vibration. The glued down tongue acts like a ‘break water’, breaking down sound vibration like a mound of boulders protecting ships in a harbor from large surf.
In order to get around this they mounted the fingerboard over the body allowing the vibrations from the bridge to reach all the way up the soundboard. You have to see it to believe. It is so effective that many ukulele that use cantilevered fingerboards don’t even have a traditional sound hole but utilize a larger side port, ensuring maximum resonance! Wow, incredible!
The cantilevered fingerboard is hands down the most monstrous customization on the ukulele! Just remember to lock these ukulele away in their coffins..... um, I mean cases!
There you have it. The seven ways to Frankenstein the ukulele. Hopefully this post sparked your curiosity and inspires you to investigate further. But be warned.... you may want to hire Van Helsing so that he can protect your wallet!
Keep and jamming and aloha!
On second thought...... maybe not!🧛🏻