2000s Stan Pope Cavaquinho/Steel String Ukulele

Ok -- this instrument was apparently supposed to be a regular concert ukulele (it has a 14 3/4" scale length), though the friend who sent it to me for consignment described it as a "bird house." Eek! That usually brings to mind the "ukulele-shaped-objects" I'm familiar with in Asian-import-land, not "luthier-built" instruments coming from Canada.

It seems Mr. Pope and his wife mostly build mandolin-family instruments, and I have to admit: the stiffness of this instrument immediately brought to mind something definitely designed for steel strings. There's not a ukulele "bone" in it save the shape. The entire thing is overbuilt for a uke to the point that, strung with fluorocarbon/nylon/nylgut strings as a uke, this had less volume than an old birch Harmony soprano. It does have fan-bracing and a sturdy frame, however, so I figured -- let's give it a shot and fix this puppy up -- it's pretty, right?

I leveled and dressed the frets as they were poorly-fit, compensated the saddle for steel strings, and then strung it up (and set it up) as a cavaquinho with steel strings for DGBE (octave above baritone uke or guitar) tuning in gauges 22w, 18, 13, 9. The result is something perfectly functional and with a bright, jangly, decent-volume, sustained tone that perfectly suits the steel set. I suppose one could string this for other tunings, too -- like a 4-string mandolin in GDAE (though the G would be weak, I would guess) or GCEA like a steel string uke. I do like the chime of that high E, though (I have a soprano uke setup the same way as this -- higher DGBE -- but with fluoro strings).

The whole instrument is made from solid, flamed maple and is fan-braced on the top. The fretboard and bridge are both ebony and the saddle and nut are bone. It has a satin finish with a few minor imperfections here and there, but an overall good look. I'm not sure if the imperfections were at the time of the spray-job or just use-wear after-the-fact.

We can admit it: there's lots of nice wood in this, and at $450 new (judging by the maker's Etsy page), there's certainly some dollars sunk into the wood itself. The tuners are sealed, gold-plate units.

The neck has a solid, flattened-D profile to it and is made from two pieces of flamed maple. It's sturdy and in the realm of an oversize mandolin neck -- 4 steel strings are not going to give this any trouble at all. I wouldn't be surprised if it could handle 8 easy-peasy.

The classical-style rosette is a nice choice and, actually, fits with the modded "cavaquinho" theme -- if we're talking Brazilian-style ones.

The bridge has a pretty big foot and had, thankfully, enough saddle width to easily compensate it for steel string use.

Nice stuff, isn't it?

So -- there you have it! Another pretty-looking lemon that's been lemonaded into something delicious, functional, and fun.

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