October, 2007 ~ It all started when a local bruddah handed Chuck Moore a Samoan coconut – “Hey brah, you make me ‘ukulele out of dis?” Now years later Chuck is one of the Big Island – and the world’s – finest ‘ukulele luthiers, with his work being found in many fine Music stores across the globe.
Visit Chuck at his website: http://moorebettahukes.com/index.html
Thank you Chuck for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some of my questions!
Brad Bordessa: When did you become interested in building ‘ukuleles and why?
Chuck Moore: I’ve had a deep interest and fascination with Hawaii and the South Pacific for as long as I can remember which naturally included the culture and the music. In 1985, while on Moloka’i someone gave me a basket-case in the form of a tenor ‘ukulele which I immediately tore apart with the intentions of repairing it and learning to play the ‘ukulele. I was intrigued by all the odd bracing and the detailed workmanship and was immediately hooked. Living rather frugally at the time, I began building ‘ukuleles from large Samoan coconuts. These things were huge! Eight and nine inches across. I started with a single nut being the body of a soprano, eventually cutting and fiberglassing to and three nuts together to make larger ‘ukulele. They all had spruce tops and hand-carved ivory tuning pegs. I made several dozen; no plans, no internet, no outside resources, and some were even playable! It was a good learning curve.
BB: What is your favorite kind of wood to work with?
CM: Well, koa of course! Being on the Big Island, saying anything else would be heresy. It’s also the Hawaiian standard for the ‘ukulele. Koa is a fascinating material to work with, with gem-like qualities, and like anything beautiful it can also be a heartache, especially with the intensely curly stuff I like to work with. Don’t visit my shop while I’m bending sides. You’re apt to get an education in creative expression! I particularly enjoy resawing through a newly acquired log and discovering the wonders within while watching the grain become even more vivid as I work with it during the next few weeks. Koa is somewhat unique in that the range of quality, grain and specific gravity is hugely diverse, and all these characteristics have a dramatic effect on the sound of the final instrument. Needless to say, at $40 to $50 a board foot, great care is taken when choosing wood to build with.
BB: What is the most challenging obstacle that you have had to overcome while building?
CM: Getting people to try out my new ideas! (laughing) The web site has helped a lot though and I’ve had tremendous response to it since launching it earlier this year. Aside from that, finishing a ‘ukulele is the most demanding part of the process for me. I usually build three or four ‘ukuleles at a time and a full week will be spent in applying the nitrocellulose lacquer, sanding and buffing to a mirror finish. Sanding is mundane work but critical and very demanding. If the mind wanders and you sand a bit too aggressively, the uke goes back to the spray booth and it’s another few weeks before the process can be continued. Koa has open grain pores and these pores first need to be filled and sanded a couple of times before 8 to 10 coats of lacquer are applied. After the lacquer is allowed to cure for up to two weeks, the ‘ukulele is wet sanded with six grits of sand paper beginning with 600 and finishing with 6000. After a couple of days of this sanding marathon I develop Popeye forearms, then I’ll take the uke to the buffing wheels where three grades of polishing compound are used. It’s a tedious process but the finish result is spectacular.
BB: You live in Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawai’i, right?
CM: I’m hoping that no one will read this because I live in the most beautiful part of the Big Island in Opihikao, a small ocean community just down the hill from Pahoa. It’s an amazing collection of wonderful local Hawaiian people who live “the old Hawaiian way” and a diverse mix of people from all over the world who are here to celebrate life and pursue it to it’s fullest. Moloka’i is a magical island that I hope never changes and I loved my ten years there, but I’ve got to admit, it’s nice to have a Wal-Mart and Home Depot only 45 minutes away.
BB: Pu’u O’o is erupting at the moment I believe; are you at all worried about lava getting to your home?:
CM: A drive along the amazing Red Road in lower Puna will immediately invoke a state of denial that your life and worldly possessions may be threatened at any moment! The pre July 21 flow from Pu’u O’o is about 10 miles South of us and the computer models show the lava from fissure D to flow a predicted 10 miles to the North. But who knows? Madame Pele is in charge here. She constantly reminds us of the impermanence of our nature. If the flow crosses the highway it’ll effectively cut us off from Hilo and the rest of the Big Island. Most people I’ve talked to look forward to that. We have work toward being more self-sufficient here with our solar power, garden, fruit trees and chickens so as long as the lava doesn’t take our home we should be fine. It’s an amazing concept though, to be an island within an island.