Monday, January 5, 2009

The custom order process - William King tenor

Custom built ukuleles could be considered the ultimate in fine instruments for the ukulele enthusiast. Having ordered five custom built ukes with two having been delivered, I would like to share a little bit about the process of ordering a custom uke. In this case, I will describe the process of ordering the William King long scale tenor ukulele.

I learned about William King's ukuleles mainly from the Flea Market Music bulletin board. It seemed that just about everyone who has played one of William's ukes had nothing but superlatives for them. I also frequently visited his website, where he keeps a journal of his builds and shares many insights into instrument building. It's a fascinating place to visit and I found myself reading the journal entries and anticipating new entries quite often. When I finally decided to order a custom ukulele from him, I came up with a list of specs that I wanted and made a sketch with all the details and sent it to William. The sketch looks like this.

I wanted a tenor uke with the fretboard joined at the 14th fret, which William makes with a longer 18" scale so that the saddle falls at a better spot on the soundboard. I specified a slotted headstock with a custom inlay on it and shaped similar to Jake Shimabukuro's Kamaka headstock. For the body, I wanted a spruce top with curly koa back and sides. Coming up with the specifications for a custom uke is a lot of fun and I really enjoyed coming up with all the details I wanted on this ukulele.

Once William received my list of specifications and the sketch, he sent me a quote for such an ukulele and an estimated completion date. I inquired about this ukulele in November of 2007, and William quoted a completion time about 4-5 months after order placement, putting the completion date around April, 2008. He said he would contact me for any changes I may want to make before starting build in early 2008.

The uke was started in February, 2008 with no changes from the original sketch I sent to William. I did send another sketch to detail the headstock inlay in early February to confirm the headstock shape and custom inlay I wanted. William was hoping to complete my uke in March or April, but the final completion date was toward the end of May. To me this was quite acceptable as the originally quoted time of 4-5 months seemed pretty fast to me anyway, and I've dealt with much longer leadtimes for custom ukulele orders.

During the build process, there wasn't a lot of communication going on between William and I other than emailing him a few questions I had for him such as the neck profile shape (I wanted to make sure it's a "C" or "U" shape and not a "V" shape) and setting up the uke to be high-G. William was always very prompt in his responses and I appreciated that.

Everything was pretty smooth except for a little hiccup on the body binding. I had specified maple fretboard binding and ebony body binding. William had mistakenly bound the entire uke in maple and asked me if that was OK. I reviewed various ukes on his website and decided that for the combination of wood I had, I really preferred ebony binding. So I told him that was my preference and he said it was no problem to switch the body binding to ebony. I can say that on the finished uke, there is no evidence, at least to me, that the binding had been changed, so William did a great job correcting that mistake.

When the uke was completed, William shipped it via Express mail and sent me a tracking number. I received the uke on May 31st and I was definitely extremely happy with the finished ukulele. It was more or less as I've envisioned, and the rosette actually looked better than what I thought it might look like. Of course, the uke played and sounded awesome as well. All in all, it was a great experience. So much so, I've placed an order for a concert sized ukulele from Mr. King. Stay tuned for news on that William King concert ukulele!

Oh yeah, I have been meaning to do a commentary on the King long scale tenor for some time now, perhaps it will happen soon. Stay tuned for that as well. Thanks for the read!

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