In early May 2017, one of the members of the “UAS Anonymous” Facebook Group, César Salazar Tovar from Venezuela, put some cuatros up for sale on eBay. (“UAS” = “Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome”). I thought that Kevin Parsons might be interested in having a look at these. Kevin is a semi-retired Guitar Maker whose workshop is just around the corner from me. He also makes ukuleles (he made one for me) and he has made and rebuilt some cuatros (he made a cuatro for me too).
So, I popped round to tell Kevin about César’s cuatros. Before I could get a word out, Kevin told me that he had just ordered a cuatro off eBay – and this turned out to be one of César’s. When it arrived, I persuaded Kevin to let me photograph and video the rebuild, to post progress reports in the UAS Anonymous Group. These updates prompted lots of discussion and questions. Members also suggested that Kevin should have a blog, so that this material could be more widely available.
I offered to create a blog for Kevin but he was doubtful that people would be that interested. We discussed this again recently, as I have just started to record Kevin’s progress making two steel string Resonator Baritone Ukuleles. These are being made for sale, so it would not be appropriate to post updates on UAS Anonymous like I did with the cuatro rebuild as sales posts are not allowed. In the end, Kevin suggested that I just post these updates here on my blog.
However, before I start posting about those new instruments, it makes sense to backtrack and post the Cuatro Rebuild story.
So, this is Part 1 of the “Benny Cuatro Rebuild” – the story behind the name will also become clear!
Plan for Cuatro “Makeover”
- replace the tuners
- make a new fretboard
- move the nut
- change the number and spacing of frets
- take off the top and add some bracing
- make a new bridge with a saddle.
Work in progress
- Please bear in mind that these posts do not attempt to document every aspect of the rebuild.
- I called in at Kevin’s workshop now and then and took photos and videos of work that happened to be in progress at the time.
- The posts that follow will include videos.
- These will explain some stages of the rebuild and have some “maker’s tips”.
- If you have any questions, please leave a comment.
Removing original tuners
Removing original frets
The original nut
The original label
The label was intriguing! The only bit we could make sense of was “Pax” (“Peace”) at the top.
Cesar explained that there is a long history about the St. Benedict label and that “it is all about healing, peace, love and keep everyone on the right way!”
This is how the cuatro came to be called, “Benny”!
Kevin said that he liked the way that the sides are a continuous piece of wood. He also liked the fact that the shape is slightly asymmetrical – he said there is a theory that a slight asymmetry gives an instrument a better quality of sound.
He was somewhat concerned that anyone might think that this instrument was so faulty that it actually needed all the work he was planning to do on it. He explained that his aim was to improve an instrument that was perfectly usable for the purpose for which it had originally been made:
“These instruments are meant for fun, playing for dancers with lots of percussive playing on the strings and the body of the instrument. You can get expensive ones just like you can with ukuleles and then you would expect a higher level of precision in the intonation.
. . . another factor in the variation with these instruments is that they are likely hand made by local makers and so will have more ‘personality’ than a factory-uke in the same price range.
They are not in any way ‘bad instruments’. They are traditional, hand-made, and this was very good value when you consider the work that had gone into making it in Venezuela.”
Part 2 will cover the back repair and will explain the plans for new bracing.
For more info, see: Kevin Parsons Makes and Mends