Design Philosophy

   
While our designs for years were in the realm of wooden furniture, musical instrument design was a field that always had it’s attraction - it always held our interest.  The years of work in Latin America gave us an opportunity to absorb a traditional philosophy and outlook on guitar family instrument design that is very foreign to most modern builders.  When guitar family instruments first came into Europe from their ancient African homeland, there was a tremendous variety in their form and purpose.  That variety held for a long time, but with the advent of factory production, variety began to fade.  As the Ukulele began its short history in the years when manufacturing protocol began to come into prominence, only traces of that old outlook can still be found in the Ukulele. But for an example of the old style, we only need to go down the Gulf Coast a short distance to a culture not that much different than we have here in Louisiana, the old State of Veracruz.  The Jarocho music played there is not only an example of the traditional outlook on music and lutherie, but the instruments produced there also have a sound that Ukulele players will immediately find familiar. Here we have a video of this music, although the group is not typical of the assortment of players one would usually find.  We see a conjunto with one lead instrument (Requinto Jarocho) , one rhythm instrument (Jarana), and a “string bass” (Leon o Guitarron Jorocho) along with the “marimbol” or ”rumba box” as Mento folks in Jamaica would call it.  We picked this video because it gives an identifiable sound for each single instrument (though the multi-course Jarana is a bit out of microphone range).  Typically, however, groups have a large chorus of these Jaranas, along with one or two of the other stringed instruments. We see an immediate difference here in philosophy between Jarocho music and the Ukulele.  Can anyone today say what the function is of any sized Ukulele?  The smaller sizes had their function at one time, and even the larger models once had a sort of misguided, largely commercial intent, but now all sized Ukuleles are played in all sorts of ways and used for all sorts of purposes.  We don’t want to say this is always a bad thing. There are many who laud the Ukuleles’ ability to perform a number of functions, and versatility is an asset.  But at the same time, it is only logical that if a luthier knows what he’s doing, and designs an instrument for a specific function, it should perform that specific function better that an instrument designed without a true purpose in mind.                                                                                          So while it’s true that the Ukuleles never evolved for the purpose of true conjunto (group) playing, nonetheless their players today often develop preferences for specific styles of playing.  Our designs will not be as general as modern Ukulele design - while they sometimes may allow for more than one function, they will have a specific purpose as their goal.     The other noticeable difference in Jarocho instruments and the Ukuleles are the varieties found, even among these instruments designed for specific functions.  To begin with, often when a young person expresses a desire to play, they are first told to build their instrument.  Of course they are given advice along the way, and that advice generally contains the old knowledge of how to relate string, scale and body size to give sound and playing comfort to the young novice.  But with this knowledge as their base, and the ability to build to suit their own particular preference, what results is that even among general classes of instruments you will find pronounced differences in body size and scale.  Tunings, for that matter, have their custom, but are far from standard either.  All is done for the individual and his particular form of expression within the necessities of the group. Look at this photo of a tienda in Veracruz province. Here, those who don’t learn to build for themselves can come to find an instrument that fits their preference.  An Ukulele player shopping for an instrument would generally have no more to choose from than woods (a relatively minor consideration) and neck width.  In the south you see a tremendous variety in the things that truly effect sound and playability: the scales and the longer / shorter / deeper / thinner bodies.  Luthiers in the north are used to working with relatively standard forms.  They think of those forms as some sort of absolute in and of themselves, not as simply options for producing a certain sound and feel.  They become good at tweaking their standard forms to produce slightly different flavors, but are often limited in that they lack the foundation of traditional lutherie to substantially change these forms when the need arises with any sort of confidence as to what the result will be.  So true variety of sound in the Ukulele is limited as well. Therefore, in addition to designing our instruments for rather specific intent, do not expect us to limit ourselves to standard forms  to achieve those ends.  So what sort of instruments will we build?  As you may guess from what we’ve outlined above, there will be no general philosophy.  We won’t necessarily build for high tension, for low tension, for bright sound, for soft sound.  Each design will have specific goals, and drawing on the background we are fortunate to have, we’ll present our best interpretation of how those goals and sounds can be achieved.  We won’t expect our instruments to be for everyone.  We aren’t designing the common Ukulele, but a specific one. There is a very widespread misuse today of the term “custom” instrument.  Too many people think it somehow has to do with a choice of woods and trim.  In other words, with the most superficial aspects of design.  And today, there are few luthiers even capable of a true custom instrument.  Those who have that knowledge also know that few customers would pay for truly custom form and design.  Part of that stems from the fact that a player must have the experience to know what truly fits his purpose, and in the Ukulele community, the number who have that experience is also relatively small.  Our instruments aren’t truly custom creations either, as they don’t take into account individual preferences in tension and tone.  But with designs focused on a narrower function, when that function matches your preference, you’ll have the benefits of an instrument tailored for a specific purpose at a more affordable price than you could ever expect with a true custom design. 

Home Home About Southcoast About Southcoast Design Philosophy Design Philosophy Availability Availability Strings Strings

Design Philosophy

   
While our designs for years were in the realm of wooden furniture, musical instrument design was a field that always had it’s attraction - it always held our interest.  The years of work in Latin America gave us an opportunity to absorb a traditional philosophy and outlook on guitar family instrument design that is very foreign to most modern builders.  When guitar family instruments first came into Europe from their ancient African homeland, there was a tremendous variety in their form and purpose.  That variety held for a long time, but with the advent of factory production, variety began to fade.  As the Ukulele began its short history in the years when manufacturing protocol began to come into prominence, only traces of that old outlook can still be found in the Ukulele. For an example of the old style, we only need to go down the Gulf Coast a short distance to a culture not that much different than we have here in Louisiana, the old State of Veracruz.  The Jarocho music played there is not only an example of the traditional outlook on music and lutherie, but the instruments produced there also have a sound that Ukulele players will immediately find familiar. Here we have a video of this music, although the group shown is not typical of the assortment of players one would usually find.  We see a conjunto with one lead instrument (Requinto Jarocho) , one rhythm instrument (Jarana), and a “string bass” (Leon o Guitarron Jorocho) along with the “marimbol” or  ”rumba box” as Mento folks in Jamaica would call it.  We picked this video because it gives an identifiable sound for each single instrument (though the multi-course Jarana is a bit out of microphone range).  Typically, however, groups have a large chorus of these Jaranas, along with one or two of the other stringed instruments. We see an immediate difference here in philosophy between Jarocho music and the Ukulele.  Can anyone today say what the function is of any sized Ukulele?  The smaller sizes had their function at one time, and even the larger models once had a sort of misguided, largely commercial intent, but now all sized Ukuleles are played in all sorts of ways and used for all sorts of purposes.  We don’t want to say this is always a bad thing. There are many who laud the Ukuleles’ ability to perform a number of functions, and versatility is an asset.  But at the same time, it is only logical that if a luthier knows what he’s doing, and designs an instrument for a specific function, it should perform that specific function better that an instrument designed without a true purpose in mind.                                                                                          So while it’s true that the Ukuleles never evolved for the purpose of true conjunto (group) playing, nonetheless their players today often develop preferences for specific styles of playing.  Our designs will not be as general as modern Ukulele design - while they sometimes may allow for more than one function, they will have a very specific purpose in mind.     The other noticeable difference in Jarocho instruments and the Ukuleles are the varieties found, even among these instruments designed for specific functions.  To begin with, often when a young person expresses a desire to play, they are first told to build their instrument.  Of course they are given advice along the way, and that advice generally contains the old knowledge of how to relate string, scale and body size to give sound and playing comfort to the young novice.  But with this knowledge as their base, and the ability to build to suit their own particular preference, what results is that even among general classes of instruments you will find pronounced differences in body size and scale.  Tunings, for that matter, have their custom, but are far from standard either.  All is done for the individual and his particular form of expression within the necessities of the group. Look at this photo of a tienda in Veracruz province.     Here, those who don’t learn to build for themselves can come to find an instrument that fits their preference.  An Ukulele player shopping for an instrument would generally have no more to choose from than woods (a relatively minor consideration) and neck width.  But in the south, you see a tremendous variety in the things that truly effect sound and playability: the scales and the longer / shorter / deeper / thinner bodies.  Luthiers in the north are used to working with relatively standard forms.  They think of those forms as some sort of absolute in and of themselves, not as simply options for producing a certain sound and feel.  They become good at tweaking their standard forms to produce slightly different flavors, but are often limited in that they lack the foundation of traditional lutherie to change these forms when the need arises with any sort of confidence as to what the result will be.  So true variety of sound in the Ukulele is limited as well. Therefore, in addition to rather specific purposes for our designs, do not expect us to limit ourselves to standard forms  to achieve those purposes.  So what sort of instruments will we build?  As you may guess from what we’ve outlined above, there will be no general philosophy.  We won’t necessarily build for high tension, for low tension, for bright sound, for soft sound.  Each design will have specific goals, and drawing on the background we are fortunate to have, we’ll present our best interpretation of how those goals and sounds can be achieved.  We won’t expect our instruments to be for everyone.  We aren’t designing the common Ukulele, but a specific one. There is a very widespread misuse today of the term “custom” instrument.  Too many people think it somehow has to do with a choice of woods and trim.  In other words, with the most superficial aspects of design.  And today, there are few luthiers even capable of a true custom instrument.  Those who have that knowledge also know that few customers would pay for truly custom form and design.  Part of that stems from the fact that a player must have the experience to know what truly fits his purpose, and in the Ukulele community, the number who have that experience is also relatively small.  Our instruments aren’t truly custom creations either, as they don’t take into account individual preferences in tension and tone.  But with designs focused on a narrower function, when that function matches your preference, you’ll have the benefits of an instrument tailored for a specific purpose at a more affordable price than you could ever expect with a true custom design.