By Helen Chang
Edmond Tavares builds ukuleles in a converted in-law unit in his backyard. He lives in Kula, Maui, a small town on the slope of the majestic Haleakala volcano, which reaches high above the clouds. Vaulted trees, open pastures and dramatic views of the ocean, which hug the island’s shoreline waist, line the long drive up to Kula.
A retired contractor, the Hawaii-born Tavares spends most of his days in his workshop. His friends also spend many hours there, building their individual ukuleles.
“We get a lot of satisfaction out of making something that sounds good – hopefully – and looks nice,” Tavares said.
Interview with ukulele builder, Edmond Tavares
Video by Helen Chang
Tavares’ workshop is like a home for trees. The walls are lined with planks of raw koa wood, their furry edges sticking out like beards. The middle table is covered with tools and sawdust. In the bathroom, freshly lacquered ukuleles hang from the shower rod. And downstairs, the garage is filled with whole trunks of koa trees.
Placing wood pieces in various devices he’s invented, Tavares showed how he shaped, cured and polished the wood to make each instrument. A typical ukulele could take a couple of months to complete, he said.
Edmond Tavares describes how he builds ukuleles
Video by Helen Chang
He started making ukes as a hobby, perfecting the devices to shape the instruments over the years. In the beginning, not every uke was playable.
“A few of them we’ve tossed out and used as firewood because they didn’t come out right,” he said.
Tavares particularly likes doing inlays. Picking up one of his creations, he pointed out its rooster inlay featuring brilliant red and purple feathers. Tavares said he planned to donate that uke – the rooster is a national Portuguese symbol – to a Portuguese cultural association.
Uke's for Fundraising
Of the ukes he makes, “Most… have been given away to grandkids, charities and Friends of the Children – to auction for fundraising,” he said.
Out on the lanai, Tavares strummed one of his ukuleles, with the accompaniment of rustling trees.
Ukes are made to be played, he said.
“It’s kind of sad that you see people making beautiful instruments, but (they’re) left on the table and used as a decoration. People should play them and enjoy them.”
Do you know someone who uses his garage as a workshop? Tell us about it.