"I want a cavaquinho inspired on this one. It belonged to my father". An old cavaquinho (the one on the right) comes to my hands. A cavaquinho, for those who might not know, is a traditional Portuguese instrument that gave origin to the ukulele, you can read more about it in a post called Dalarnas ukulele. This old exemplar was patched, covered with a dark synthetic varnish on the back, neck and sides. It had a fragile sculpture on the headstock.
He did not want a replica of the instrument, he wanted it to be an inspiration. The sculpture can be of a "guy with a mustache twisted at the ends, like a minhoto, you know?". And a "raia mouth, that a cavaquinho looks beautiful is with decorated raia mouth" - “Boca de raia” is the name given to a specific type of sound hole, typical on traditional plucked Portuguese instruments. Everything gets complicated, it is necessary to draw, take measurements and then look for inspiration, to conceive what could be done from there.
Whoever orders the instrument plays well, is a son of a player and knows the sound he is looking for, "and can it be amplified? Like the one I have at home?", -Yes, of course, this is not a problem. "With volume control and everything?". The scenario is becoming more and more difficult to decipher, the top has to be made in two pieces, the wood cannot be local and the neck "could be like the ones you use on guitars, like that with olive in the middle, that never warps, right? ", - maybe not, at least makes it more resistant ...
Even before I start to build it I already regret it. Too much work for an instrument where I couldn't guarantee the right results. I had never done anything like this before. In between I was building a Braguesa - another traditional Portuguese instrument, that goes to Coimbra, always better to alternate between jobs.
I made three sculptures, one without a mustache and the other without ears, the ears were making my life really difficult -the wood did not offer enough hardness so that the gouges and chisels could work in great detail, the gouges and the chisels also did not offer enough quality for the wood to be allowed to work. But the path was drawn and I was going to carry this to the end. The ears were covered with hair like the 70s and the thing has to go.
I started to like it, took time but became engaging. There I was, sculpting faces. Only obstinate, depressed guys appear. Giving them names helped to get to know them better. It's a type of archeology to look under the wood for a body that might be there, I define the layers and, of course, the end of the excavation.
Varnishing the instrument: alchemy, mix of natural elements, it smells of Morocco, Greece, India and Thailand here, it is good to travel. The wood shows a shine that I like, it reflects my reflexes. I did not glue the bridge on the top before the varnish believing in the maintenance of the acoustic phenomena that until then had been defined.
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.