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Prototype Site - Orca Carbon Fiber Ukuleles
Available soon in tenor size, eventually soprano and concert, maybe baritone. Price to be determined...
We learned a lot when developing our carbon fiber violins. Years of messing around, testing, audio spectrum analysis and prototyping went into those efforts. The violin is a particularly complex instrument to work with, and violinists/fiddlers are typically pretty serious about getting the voicing, tone and projection they're after. Bench made, one at a time, we now have 45 violins sold and out in the world. There are Elixir violins in most US states now (including Alaska), as well as Africa, Bali, Austria, Israel, England and more.
I love wood, and I particularly love the combination of wood and carbon fiber. As we've learned from our violins -- often used in extreme conditions -- wood is an excellent engineering material when surface permeated with a high grade of marine epoxy. The epoxy resin (which is clear with UV filtering) is not only water proof, but is a significant barrier to water vapor. It also strengthens the wood itself. The result is a material that is naturally beautiful, tough and highly resistant to warping, checking or cracking. Why not just treat traditional tonewoods -- like koa -- with epoxy and make a uke? Because it would sound like Tupperware. The very properties that make epoxy treated wood so durable also kill the tone when used in the body of the instrument.
Enter carbon fiber. For many years now instrument makers have been messing about with carbon fiber as a body material for stringed instruments. Although on the basis of strength to weight carbon fiber is stronger than steel, it is also remarkably resonant. The trick comes in taming and focusing that resonance when designing an instrument.
Our current prototype -- which might turn out to be the final design -- is a far different instrument than we started out with. Although the body, neck and headstock are layed-up all in carbon fiber, the neck is not hollow. It turns out that the mass of the neck has a definite impact on voicing and sustain, and we ultimately found that filling it with a blend of epoxy resin and colloidal silica provided the best results to date. This also provides a nicely balance feel when playing the instrument.
The back and sides of the instrument are sculpted into a continuous piece -- no corners or linings. The resultt is continuous resonance over the entire surface area, allowing for a somewhat thinner body while maintaining depth of tone and actually increasing projection.
Robert, upon reading a particularly thread on Ukulele Underground, figured out how to bevel the edge of the top of the instrument and reveal the steam-bent, epoxy treated maple lining. We love the look of it, and it's particularly comfortable when your strumming arm in resting on the edge of the uke for long periods.
The current headstock design (as shown here) will likely change, but the Orca image will remain (resin inlay in carved wood). Tuning machines are still up in the air, but Pegheds are under serious consideration. The pin-less bridge works extremely well, but we're completely open to thoughts on that matter (as well as any other details).
Does it sound like a wooden uke? That depends a lot on which wooden uke you choose to compare it to. Does it sound like a uke? Absolutely, and we think it sounds great!
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Introducing the Orca tenor ukulele prototype from the makers of Elixir Carbon Fiber Violins.
We're a small shop located on San Francisco Bay in California. Literally on the Bay -- in a boat; a 60', 50 net ton steel trawler. All of our instruments are made one at a time, on the bench. When Robert Edney -- who developed the Elixir Violin -- got hooked on ukuleles it just had to happen: A new and different uke with great sound and maximum durability.
The ukulele is an incredibly user friendly and fun instrument. It's easy to start learning to play but unlimited in its musical potential -- just listen to Jake Shimabukuro or any of the other fabulous players who are exploring the potential of the instrument.
I developed a serious craving for really well made ukuleles and did a lot of shopping -- as well as some buying. There aree some wonderful makers out there doing some truly excellent work in a variety of woods -- and wood is my first and enduring love.
However, I found myself wanting to take the uke with me pretty much wherever I went. Using a strap, I'd slide it around so it comfortably rides on my back and is always ready to play. It's great to walk the dogs on the beach, sit down on a chunk of driftwood and strum, pick out a tune or practice some.
Carbon fiber is incredible stuff. It has been used in a variety of demanding applications where high strength, low weight and extreme durability are specified. It's found on spacecraft, race cars and a growing variety of musical instruments.
This latest prototype is a few weeks old now and it's never been in a case or gig bag. It's been all over our harbor, out on fishing trips, to barbecues and parties. It's been handed to kids to do what they well with it, and it's been used to teach people a few chords and let them have at it. At one gathering it got particularly sticky (ice cream), so it got washed in the sink, dried off and put back into circulation.
Moreover, it's got some seriously good acoustics going on -- like carbon fiber can produce when designed well. It's powerful, resonant and rich in tone.
For me, it's what the ukulele is all about: Fun! Go anywhere, play anywhere fun. No worries, be happy!
Pricing and availability of the tenor model
Videos and sound samples
Details regarding wood options for headstock, fingerboard and bridge
Updates on availability of soprano, concert and baritone models
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