Common and not so common Luthier terms.
This is a collection of terms, as I understand them, which you may hear around the Ukulele campfire. If you feel that any of these are wrong, or an important term is obviously missing, please feel free to send a correction, and I will check it out. All comments welcome!
Abalam is a form of laminated Abalone shell, in which several very thin small sheets of Abalone shell are laminated together with epoxy to form one Large sheet
What's the point? Abalam is slightly easier to work and allows larger inlay patterns than solid abalone shell.
Binding is a strip of material, usually contrasting the main building material, which is inlaid along the edges of the instrument, or covering seams. Here is an example of Ivoroid binding.
What's the point? Binding is not only decorative, but also helps to protect the edges of the instrument from dings, as well as helping reinforce the seams of the instrument. Different types also can have an effect on the overall tone of the instrument.
This is when you saw two planks from one piece of stock and lay them out like an open book
What's the point? When you book match a piece of wood, you're cutting it in such a fashion that you end up with two pieces that are mirror images of each other. Basically, you split the piece of wood and open it up as if you were opening a book.
It is common for better instruments to have book matched tops and bottoms and should have book matched sides. Aside from the aesthetic aspect, some disciplines feel that it also "balances" the instrument. Because most tops are made from two pieces joined together, it is important that those two pieces be as physically alike as possible, as the vibration is going to be affected by the makeup of the wood, and hence affect the overall sound quality. Book matching the sides is also important because of the stress on the instrument. Anytime you bend wood, it will to some extent try to straighten out. Because the sides are held in the bent position by the top and bottom, tension is created as the sides exert pressure on the rest of the instrument. If this tension is equal through out the instrument, a better "balance" of forces is archived, and ultimately a more stable, and better sounding instrument.
Bout (upper/ lower)
This term is used to describe the curved portions of the body, which is divided in half. The upper bout is closer to the neck meets the body, the lower bout is below the sound hole.
Braces are strips of wood which are attached to the top and back, inside the body, usually across the grain
What's the point? Because the top and back of an instrument are the largest surfaces, and also need to be the thinnest, they are also the most susceptible to distortion and damage due to the stress applied to the instrument. Bracing is one of the more crucial aspects of Ukulele building. To heavy and you lose sound quality and volume. To light and the top can buckle and crack, and ultimately break under the pull of the strings.
The break angle is the downward turn of the strings behind the bridge and/ or in front of the nut. The string area between the nut and bridge would be considered to be 0 degrees and perpendicular to that would be 90 degrees. So, an average Ukulele bridge break angle would probably be around 35 degrees.
What's the point? The break angle is important for several reasons. On the bridge, it determines how much pressure is being asserted, and hence, how well the vibrations will transfer from the strings, through the bridge, to the sound board. too much of an angle, and the force is pushing forward rather than down. Too little angle and the downward pressure, and hence transmission of vibration to the sound board, is decreased. A proper break angle also keeps the strings in their proper positions.
The function of the bridge is much like the nut, but is located on the sound board, creating the other end of the scale length. The bridge is also the main point of transmission of the string vibration to the sound board
A method of attaching the strings to the bridge using pins inserted through tapered holes. Few Ukuleles use this method.
What's the point?A well matched set of bridge pins in properly tapered holes in the bridge can slightly improve or change the tone on a Ukulele, but it is more applicable to guitars. Any material that touches the strings is going to have some effect, and just as solid friction pegs are the most efficient way of transmitting a small amount of sound from an open string at the peg head, bridge pins have a similar effect on the bridge, but the difference is slight on an ukulele. Also the material used for the bridge pins can effect the sound as well. An interesting experiment is to dampen the strings before the nut, and after the bridge while playing, and notice the difference to the sound.
This is a piece of material on the sound board, under the bridge, on the inside of the body. it helps to reinforce the sound board from distorting under the pull of the strings on the bridge.
What's the point? A proper bridge plate helps to reinforce the sound board from distorting under the pull of the strings on the bridge. This is especially important in larger Ukuleles, as well as the Tiple and Taro patch types, as due to the additional strings, the resulting tension is far greater
"Checking" generally refers to small cracks that appear in untreated, dried wood due to changes in humidity. The term is also used to describe cracks in a finish, such as lacquer or shellac
Made of different materials bonded together
Small adjustments to the usually to the bridge or saddle. Compensation also refers to bridge placement to adjust for the stretch of the strings when fretted in the higher positions up the neck. Here is a saddle with compensation on the C string.
What's the point? To archive a more true intonation.
Many Luthiers use this method to attach the neck to the body. It consists of a v shaped groove in the body, matched to a v shaped piece on the neck
What's the point? Allows easy assembly and de assembly during building, and after gluing, creates a strong durable joint
This is a method of reinforcing the neck joint by drilling a hole in the neck and the neck block and inserting a dowel. Here is a "cut away" view showing the dowel.
What's the point? A doweled joint is much stronger than simply gluing the neck to the body
a pin or knob on the end of an instrument where you attach a strap, often in similar in form to a bridge pin
What's the point? Sometimes ornate, sometimes not. On Ukes, they are mostly as an anchor for the strap, but sometimes are also used to house a jack in amplified instruments. in other instruments such as Violins the end pin is the anchor point for the tailpiece
Fingerboard or Fretboard
The portion of the neck in which the frets are installed. Usually made of a hard dense material such as Rosewood or Ebony.
A type of bridge that is not permanently attached to the sound board, but is held in place by the tension of the strings.
What's the point? A floating bridge is most often seen on banjo Ukes, where solid attachment is not desirable. Floating bridges are also used on Violin type instruments and Archtop guitars
A type of finish in which many very thin coats of shellac are applied by hand over a period of several days, slowly building up to the desired thichkness.
What's the point? To seal and protect the wood surface. French polish is a very tradional method of finishing instruments, and although not particularly robust, but is easily repaired, and quite forgiving of mistakes. Many Modern luthiers are moving away from French polish because of the amount of time it takes to do correctly.
Fret dots / markers
Inlay work on the fretboard indicating fret positions, usually at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th frets
What's the point? A visual aid to quickly identify fret positions while playing
The bottom portion of the neck where it meets the body
Heel Block (also called Neck block)
A block of wood that is at the top of the body on the inside where the sides and neck meet
What's the point? The neck or heel block reinforces the joint where the sides meet, and also serves as an anchor point for the neck.
An adhesive made from animal (usually Cow) hides.
What's the point? Hide glue is a strong durable adhesive, but still allows glued parts to be disassembled with the application of heat and moisture. Hide glue has been used in the manufacture of musical instruments and furniture for centuries.
The portion at the end of the neck, above the nut and fretboard which holds the tuning pegs. The first picture is a standard headstock, the second is the slotted type.
A term usually associated with a type of purfling or trim.
What's the point? Usually decorative
The process of cutting out a thin recess and filling it with another material.
What's the point? Generally decorative.
A plastic like material which resembles Ivory. Often used as binding, and for heel caps or inlay. Here is a close up of ivoroid binding
What's the point?Generally decorative.
Kerfing refers to a groove, or notches cut in wood
What's the point? In most incidents, Kerfing is used to add flexibility to a piece of wood, such as the lining
Made of several thin layers of wood (or other materials) glued together, as in plywood
What's the point? Laminates and Plywoods are an inexpensive way of making lager pieces of lumber from a smaller ones. In plywood, it is done by "peeling" the log into a large thin sheet, which is then bonded to another sheet or sheets, depending on the thickness desired. With musical instruments, the top most, or outer layer will be a "quality" wood, with the lower layers being of the lesser value. Laminating is also a way of making necks from several smaller or thinner pieces of wood. You will sometimes see necks where the headstock grain, neck grain and heel grain are different, or where the neck is made up of "stripes" of different woods. This is also done in some instances to reduce warping. Also, laminate is by no means instantly the sign of a bad instrument. In fact, when it was first applied it was quite expensive and was done as a way of making a thinner stronger piece of wood.
Lining is a strip of wood which runs along the inside of the body adjacent to the top or back and sides
What's the point? Helps strengthen the joint between the sound board or back and sides
Mother-Of-Pearl. Mother-of-pearl is the lining of a mollusk shell.It is usually the same color, composition and quality as the pearls that were produced by that particular mollusk, usually an oyster.
What's the point?Generally decorative, most often used in inlay and fret markers
Mother-Of-Toilet-seat. The "unofficial" term for a Celluloid material which in some instances, vaguely resembles Mother-Of-Pearl. A popular "plastic" like material used on many instruments in the 20's and 30's. Is often seen on Accordions, and lap steel guitars.
What's the point? Generally decorative, but also protective, such as in the case of pick guards
The Nut is at the top of the neck, at the end of the fretboard. Nuts are usually made of bone, or other hard dense material
What's the point? The purpose of the nut is to create one end of the scale length, hold the strings above the frets, and correctly space the strings at the top of the fretboard.
An inlay at the base of the lower bout.
What's the point? Usually decorative
Purfling is a thin strip of material inlayed around the top edges of the instrument. Here is some Abalone Purfling.
What's the point? Usually decorative, but on instruments such as violins, it adds structural integrity to the edges
Quarter Sawing is a method of milling lumber .The log is first cut down the length into quarters, then each quarter is cut, alternating sides.
What's the point? Quarter sawing produces planks with the tightest vertical grain pattern. Aside from aesthetic reasons, this is preferred because quarter sawn planks are not as susceptible to shrinking and swelling, and the surfaces are less prone to checking. Also quarter sawn planks have a more uniform surface for finishing. It is also widely believed that quarter sawn woods have a better tonal response, and as such are better suited for musical instruments
An alternating pattern of light and dark wood, usually associated with bindings and or trim
Resonator can refer to a couple of things. One would be the back piece to a Banjo that helps direct and amplify the sound, and the other is a type of instrument that uses a metal cone to amplify the sound. The two most widely known of this type are National and Dobro brands.
What's the point? Resonator instruments were designed to amplify the sound of stringed instruments before electronic pick ups became widely available, however the distinctive resonator sound has become a staple in blues and Hawaiian music.
The decorative rings around the sound hole. Rosettes range from simple lines to intricate patterns
What's the point? Usually decorative, but can also strengthen the area around the soundhole
The saddle is the strip of material on the bridge, which holds the strings above the body of the bridge itself. Saddles are usually made of bone, or other hard dense material.
What's the point?
Scale refers to the distance from the nut to the bridge
Set up usually refers to the final, or pre-delivery, "tune up" of an instrument, or the set of adjustments made to make an instrument play correctly.
Small dots inlaid along the side of the neck or fretboard indicating fret positions, usually at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th frets
What's the point? A visual aid to quickly identify fret positions while playing
Spanish Heel is a method of attaching the body and sides directly to the neck, rather than using a dove tail or dowel
What's the point?
A block of wood at the bottom inside of the body where the sides meet
What's the point? Reinforces the joint at the tail end of the body. Also provides an anchor point for a strap button
A piece, usually made of metal which is used to attach the strings to the end of the body. These are usually seen in conjunction with a floating bridge, such as on a banjo Uke
What's the point? These are usually seen in conjunction with a floating bridge, such as on a banjo Uke
Tuners are divided into two categories, Friction and Geared.
The most common type of tuner for a Ukulele is friction. There are usually one of two types. The first and oldest type is a solid tapered post which matches a tapered hole in the peg head. The peg is held in place by the friction of the peg against the hole. Here are some examples of friction tuners. One set in Ebony, and one in celluloid
Mechanical friction tuners
The next type of friction tuner is mechanical, in which the post rides on a top and bottom bushing, the friction is caused by a screw which pulls the post against these bushings.They look like this:
The next category of Tuners is geared. These come in many different types and styles, as well as ratios. you may see a tuner described as 15:1 or 4:1. this is the ratio. What this means is that it takes X number turns of the peg to make one turn of the string post. If 15 turns of the peg make one turn of the post, the ratio is 15:1 Here are some examples of geared tuners:
Planetary geared tuners
Planetary tuners combine the more "traditional" look of a post type tuner, with the precision of a geared system. Most are 4:1 ratio
A thin layer of wood or other material on the surface of a another piece. Here is an ebony veneer on a mahogany headstock.
What's the point? Usually decorative, however some veneers can add structural integrity.
the narrow portion of the body, between the upper and lower bouts.
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