"I would like a cavaquinho inspired by this one, which belonged to my father," the client said as an old cavaquinho was placed in my hands. The cavaquinho is a traditional Portuguese instrument that originated the ukulele. This old instrument had been patched and covered in a dark synthetic varnish on the back, neck, and sides, with a fragile sculpture on the headstock.
The customer didn't want an exact replica but an instrument inspired by it. "I want a sculpture of a guy with a mustache twisted at the ends, like a minhoto, you know? And a 'raia mouth' since a cavaquinho looks beautiful with a decorated raia mouth," he said.
I had to draw, measure, and look for inspiration to conceive what could be done from there. The customer was the son of a player and knew the sound he was looking for. He also wanted the cavaquinho to be amplified with volume control, which added to the complexity of the project.
Before I started building it, I regretted taking on the project since it was a lot of work, and I couldn't guarantee the right results. I had never built anything like this before. I decided to alternate between building a Braguesa - another traditional Portuguese instrument - while working on the cavaquinho.
Despite the challenges, I persisted and eventually started enjoying the process. I named the obstinate, depressed guys I sculpted, which helped me get to know them better. It was like an archeological excavation looking for a hidden body under the wood.
Varnishing the instrument was like alchemy, a mix of natural elements that smelled of different countries. The wood showed a shine that I liked, reflecting my reflexes. I did not glue the bridge on the top before the varnish, believing in the maintenance of the acoustic phenomena that had been defined until then.
Finally glue the bridge on it, wait anxiously, I already like this cavaquinho and already regretted one day I regretted having started doing it. The time comes, final adjustment of the frets, placement of the nut and the first string sounds, says little but tastes a lot. The wood vibrated all together for the first time as a result of the vibration of a string, I put the other strings, tune, lift string by string, adjust the nut and the bridge, tune and lift the strings again, what is harmony after all? I take and put the strings over and over again, now it sounds good.
Tomorrow comes the person who ordered the cavaquinho, I still don't have confidence, will he like it?
Text written in 2015.