• written by Ray and edited by Su

A new journey begins with the Ukulele.

When I was in grade 3, I had a teacher who brought in his Ukulele and would play it for us. He offered anyone who wanted to learn, to meet up at lunch for lessons. I was one of many that did just that and remember really loving it. Then suddenly he had to leave and never came back. The supply teacher that took over never really said what had happened. Reflecting on this recently, I wonder where I would be had he stayed.

I have always considered myself mostly to be a guitar player, but lately the Ukulele is an instrument that has slowly been working it's way back into my life.

A couple of years ago, I picked up one of those cheap models for Su to learn to play and for when we host our music jams. I found myself grabbing it from her! It’s just so much fun to play. These days, I am so busy making instruments; I rarely have time to pick up my own guitar and practice. The Ukulele is a perfect instrument for when you don't have as much time to dedicate to an instrument. Nylon strings, simpler chords make it easier to play. I have been making a flat back version that has really taken off and I'm really proud of how it sounds and plays.

Of course, I couldn’t help but see the potential in making a shellback version of my Ukulele and its finally done. I love it! Truthfully, I can't stop playing it. I find myself sneaking out of my workshop for a quick jam from time to time. I very much believe in the shell shape. It adds a great depth to the sound and is very strong and light due to its design. Not to mention how beautiful it looks.

Being a guitar player, it made sense to make a Baritone Ukulele. I love that you can capo it at the 5th fret and have tenor tuning. I took it to one of our many local Uke Jams; this one hosted by Zan, the lovely and talented lady who you will see in some of my upcoming videos. I had a great time and naturally my unique instrument got a lot of attention. Ukulele groups are sprouting up everywhere because they are so much fun. Most groups are open to all levels and folks have a great time singing and learning to play at their own pace.

I have recently discovered Worth nylon strings thanks to a customer and really love the sound of them. I wanted my Baritone version not have wound strings (metal wound around the thicker strings) on it and the Worth strings provided that and a very beautiful warm sound. The combination of the Redwood top with the shell back gives it a soothing, deep sound with lots of room to get it loud and snappy. I recently bought some Living Water strings. I am anxious to hear them as I think they will be quite nice. I have also used D'addarios and Aquila. There are so many choices out there! The great thing about Ukes is you can switch them up easily.

So consider this to be the official launch of the Ray’s Rootworks Shellback Ukulele! Please have a look. I will be making them in Baritone, Tenor and Concert size. You may notice the different sound hole design from my other instruments. I found it to be pretty equal to the sound of the 3 or five-hole configuration. It’s up to you which esthetic you prefer.

This model has a LR Baggs Five-O active pickup with a volume knob on the side panel, which has a beautiful tone and represents the true sound of the instrument really well. It has an under saddle pickup, which limits feedback. You can choose to have this pickup or not, or another one of your choice. You can see by my design it's actually under the bridge pressed between the soundboard. I think this design helps add some of the soundboard tone.

For my version, Su did a nice burn image of a tree on the side panel. As with all my instruments, I love to make your instrument unique to you with pyrography. Past customers have chosen a short quote, a personal message or a small graphic image. I can add lots of nice extra details like the tuners knobs made with Cocobolo and a special tailpiece done with beautiful woods.

I'm looking forward to playing mine this summer at some festivals that Su and I will attend. The Ukulele is such a portable instrument and so much fun to play with a group of people or just on your own. It’s encourages like-heartedness and play, and helps even non-singers like myself find their voice. Studies are proving that group singing is good for the soul!

Check out pictures, videos and details on the Ukulele page on my website. As of right now I only have the baritone, but am working on a tenor and should be finished soon. Pictures and videos to follow.


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