Jake Maclay & Hive Ukuleles
by Joe Mendel
While looking for a builder to interview for this edition, I came across the Hive Ukulele website and was taken with the elegance of the ukes pictured there: http://www.hiveukuleles.com/ Jake Maclay was a name that I was not familiar with, I am very glad that I am now.
Jake’s background is in art, he had never done any woodworking before attending the Roberto-Venn School of Luthierie: http://www.roberto-venn.com/ after a friend suggested guitar building as a creative outlet. Aside from being the creator and builder of Hive Ukuleles Jake also heads up the ukulele department at Rick Turner Guitars.
Joe: When did you first have an interest in music as a listener and player?
Jake: Well, my dad got me interested in music. I remember looking through his album collections mostly to study the artwork and one day he suggested that I listen to Led Zeppelin. I have been a huge music fan since. My interest for playing came in college, which is when I fell in love with instruments. I played a lot of guitar in college, but since becoming a builder I hardly have time to play anymore. All of my creative energy goes into building. About the only time I play anymore is when I string one up.
Joe: How was the experience at Roberto-Venn?
Jake: It was a great experience; it was a 5-month course, which covered construction and repairs. Books and videos are great resources to learn from, but having someone physically walk you through the process jumps comprehension to the next level.
Joe: How did you wind up working for Rick Turner?
Jake: I was one of the top students at Roberto-Venn that semester and was lucky enough to be recommended when Rick called asking for candidates.
Joe: Had you built any ukuleles before going to work for Rick?
Jake: No, my only experience was with guitars. I originally went to work for Rick building guitars. It just so happened that the current uke builder was moving and I was given the opportunity to take over the position. I thought it would be great training for acoustic guitar building as the same principles are involved and it was a chance to build instruments from start to finish. After building ten or fifteen of them I fell in love and have been building them ever since.
Joe: What is your shop like?
Jake: Actually, I build out of Rick’s shop. He has been incredibly supportive, allowing me to build off hours. Needless to say, his shop has every tool a luthier would need. My favorite machine in the shop is the pin router. It’s an old 7 ½ hp Ekstrom Carlson and weighs in at about 1,500 lbs.
Joe: What size of ukes do you currently build?
Jake: Currently I’m building only tenors, down the road I would like to build concert and baritone ukuleles. Life is really busy right now juggling two jobs and my family. I have a 3 year old son and 1 year old daughter.
Joe: What type of neck joint do you use?
Jake: I use a two-bolt system; I’m looking into a joint somewhat like the Taylor joint and eventually will offer a floating fingerboard. I want to get away from glue in the neck joint; if any adjustments need to be made later it is much easier.
Joe: Are there any parts of building that you find most enjoyable or satisfying?
Jake: I really enjoy the artistic parts, selecting the woods and designing the rosettes. Each rosette I design is unique. I also enjoy building the box and carving braces. The best part is when you string it up and you get to hear what it sounds like.
Joe: How do you go about building the box? Are your braces pre-shaped.
Jake: The process goes something like this: determine the overall look, select the wood, join the top & back, design and inlay the rosette, thickness sand then brace the top & back, bend the sides, glue in neck & tail block, kerf the sides, glue on the back and top, and then install the binding and purfling.
My braces are partially pre-shaped. I rip the braces on the table saw, round over the tops with a table router, radius them on a dish, then glue them on. The final brace carving is performed after gluing.
Joe: What glues do you use?
Jake: I mainly use LMI white glue; it is good for keeping your work nice and clean. Plus it was designed specifically for instrument use. I occasionally use hide glue for repairs, but it is more difficult to use and it smells. Using the right amount of glue is an art form, I’ve spent years working on using the right amount, minimizing the squeeze out. I’m crazy about doing the cleanest work possible.
Joe: How many models are you building? How did you come up with the designs?
Jake: My current models are the Hornet and the Honey Bee. The Hornet is my take on the modern uke. Michihiro Matsuda inspired its design, he’s and amazing builder and I love his style. The Honey Bee’s design is my tribute to Rick’s Compass Rose, it has a similar body shape.
Joe: What finish are you using on them?
Jake: First of all let me mention who does my finish work, his name is Addam Stark. He is a local finish expert and is just great. I prefer to use a poly finish because it is more durable and Addam can get it nice and thin.
Joe: Do you build one at a time? How long does it take to build each one?
Jake: I usually build three at a time. How long does it take? I get asked that a lot and I never have a really good answer. It is hard to calculate the time, but my waiting list is currently 8-10 months.
Joe: Do you have a favorite woods or combinations of wood for your instruments?
Jake: My personal favorite would be Adirondack spruce with rosewood back and sides, I really go for that resonant sound. I also enjoy using walnut, maple, wenge, ziricote, and mahogany.
Joe: What bracing pattern do you use?
Jake: It’s basically just two cross braces, three fan braces and a bridge plate.
Joe: I notice you are using pin bridges, is there a particular reason for that?
Jake: There are a couple of reasons. The first being aesthetics. I think bridge pins look nice. They are like guitar jewelry. The second being structural, when the strings are tied to the back of the bridge it can cause the bridge to lift.
Joe: In the pictures on your website it looks like the nuts are laminated, is that correct? What do you use for your nuts & saddles?
Jake: I use bone for both the nut and saddle. I laminate the nut with thin layers of graphite on both the front & back. Graphite is a natural string lubricant; it helps ease the strings through the slot. Plus, it looks cool. I do something with the saddle that I learned from Rick, I angle it back seven degrees. When the strings ramp up and over the saddle, it increases the downward pressure on the saddle driving the top more. This is particularly useful if you are using an under the saddle pickup. It gives it just a little extra pressure on the pickup.
Joe: Jake is building some very striking instruments; understated elegance is how I would describe them. The recordings I listened to sounded excellent. If you would like to check out Jake’s work, his website is: http://www.hiveukuleles.com/ if you would like to hear them his Facebook link is: http://www.facebook.com/pages/hive-ukuleles/290924552444
or you can view his YouTube videos here: http://www.youtube.com/user/hiveukuleles
Jake may contacted through the above link to his website.
Joe may be contacted through his website: http://jmendelfrets.com/Default.aspx