Steve Helme

Workpage -12-14

That is a Young Steve playing in the background along with many nice things he has sent me from the U.K
We share many passions, Banjos, Aircraft, Motorcycles....Hot Foods...etc.

Custom Banjo Uke
Made in the style of Abbott 'Monarch'

English Sycamore Neck with Mahogany/Ebony Heel Cap
Frets installed
Brass Rim assembly
Mahogany Resonator
I will get it completed, with fresh nickel plating

The finish will be Mohawk Nitrocellulose Lacquer

Examples of the parts being sent over (Sans neck)

Work in progress

Tuner drill outs complete (repaired small chipout)
Compressing the frets

Sealing with #10 Stew Mac Cyano.

Staring the level, I see a low spot in 3 places.
This means fingerboard had a few dips in it, not perfect level.

a little more, still some low wires

Remarked to see where I am

After one pass, I see some lows in the center which means a little cupping too.

That much more leveling, and I finally "kiss" the one low wire, I will halt right there.

After recrowning and polishing, dressing the ends and fine wool to smooth it all.

Ready for marker dots

Repaired the area of the chip out in the sycamore from the drilling
 It should hide behind the tuner collar and look like a shadow.
Nothing ever goes perfect!

Ready to add  amber tint
I will use my Cup gun furnished by You know who...

Steve says "OK" on this shade so lets stamp it before going further

Ready for center stripe, I will do Medium brown, it should batch up with the heel color very well on this tint

Fineline tape for the inside

Cover for the rest

1 thin coat of medium brown
Its the light tape that looks light here.

Went on good

I like the match better than black

Now adding 3 coats clear and then cure
Marker dots at 5-7 and 9 are next, that will hold us until the "spinning"  arrives with the other parts

all set, waiting on parts.

Hell of a time to find my Christmas Card eh???
Sorry Steve, didn't know it was in there!
OK, I got the Rim assembly out to get going on her.
Found a big whammy dent, i will dollie that out.

First thing I see is that the shoe alignment with the hole in flange is off on every hole.
This must be addressed if the hooks are to be able to tighten properly.


I will 220 then 400 sand this spinning to get all the old oxidation from it.

Ready to machine buff and polish
That will be all I do on the metal until i get the assembly all sorted out then I will tear it down for plating

After polishing 
I did do the same light amber inside the rim to match the neck

I will measure out this radius after the rim is together and see how much runoff should stay to obtain optimum bridge position.
Steve can tell me the exact scale I should have.

I will not use the premium vellum for the first setup, I want to use a cheap hide so I can learn the ways of the Abbott tension nuts.
The hooks have to be just long enough for now, until I see if Steve allows me to oblong the hook holes so that an end may pass thru.

All installed, not to bad a job considering its not a perfect union with holes out of alignment but at least I can build it up from here.
Nothing is ever perfect, tis a damn good replica.

You can see how much I need to elongate here

All are almost the same, it was lost in the radius of the spinning from wall to flange.

And with no room to go thru I can only go so tight or they will touch flange
 if you cut hooks more, you would never get a vellum on it.

So we need to relieve those holes a bit.

I tapped the nuts to 8-32 NF and used all new 8-32 hooks, not the old ones.
Made 4 extra to go home with it.


Steve's friend Dave sent me a pic of how the attachments look, and it appears the heel cap is sliced a bit.

Heel work

I will have to reduced the overrun substantially, a factor I had overlooked from the onset.
For some reason I thought it would just need the radius work but i got the correct info from Dave as to basically how much runoff is needed.
After much studying I will make the reduction.
It is very easy to remove wood, much harder to add it back on has to be right the first time.

I have used the hoop to mark the area to be reduced

And the black line will be the depth, allowing for head adjustment room

The bottom of the line is my mark

Main cut completed
Sadly, the "D" on Fleetwood went away with the cut.
I did not visualize in time,the amount of reduction as I said, so I missed the mark here and must regroup.

I used my hand piece, taking my time and built in the radius for the top cut first.
I do not recommend this to anyone with no experience with using a burr in a hand piece.
I do not want to build some fancy jig to do the work as I do have the experience.

I am close enough here to stop for now

Making the bottom cut, a different radius against the spinning

Neck is attached with proper hardware, I will trim the threads to length later

I still have to alter all of the holes for the tension hooks, elongation

With the Tension hoop, I have my distances very close on this first fitting.

I still have some angle to build in for the proper neck angle, and you can see I am shaping it t go up into the curve in the spinning


With the neck set tight to the flange and spinning, I have 1/16" of fingerboard over the plane of the head bearing.

The only way to drop that height would be to reduce heel cap thickness by 1/16, so I need to know...
"Is this why the heel cap looks like it has been reduced by half of Dave's example?
Does it need slicing just outside of the flange and 1/16 taken away?
It is the only answer I can see to get the head and fingerboard plane equal.


After I  talked with Steve...I reduced the heel to proper depth ,
 I could not live with one missing "D". after the heel cut reduction so off came the finish and the letters are next.
 I toyed with saving the stripe here, but off it came too, I can do it over  in the time it takes to try and save this one

Heel reduction gave me what I needed

Now I am level with the plane of the head
but I do not like the way the fit is to the spinning, no matter how much profiling you can only get close so I intend to make it up with a custom spacer around .050"

using "Friendly plastic" from Luthier's Merchantile Co.
This plastic melts at around 150 F so boiling water is perfect for it
I use it for cauls and spacers, custom tool handles, you name it
Some used is in the can, I will cut a piece off for this.

You can see it getting clear in the hot water.

You have about 45 seconds so I warmed the brass spinning as well.

After tightening, it is time to remove the flashing

A little more shaping and I'm there

You can see now, the perfect fit of neck to spinning.

I am using my 3/8 carbide burr to bring the holes out
It is better than a bit because I can go thru slowly and push sideways to help line up the uncentered ones.

Taking off the burr, getting ready to reassemble for testing action and such

Setting back up, I am shimming to hold the nut whilst I start the nuts

2 or 3 threads, all the way round...

...Then set on the hoop, easier for me at least, on these style nuts.
head is wetted again, as I will pull down until hoop is level with fingerboard.
It is important I figure right where I want to be so when it comes back from plating and I install the new vellum I have an idea how to tuck it for proper crown height.
If for some reason this hide turns out excellent I will mail it home with it on, and the new unmounted  can ride home for the next install.

I have it marked with red shim wood, that .050" is all it will need to pressure onto the tension hoop properly.
It will be in black and glued onto the end of the fingerboard on final setup

Tapered reamer for fitting Grover Champions
If you do not use a taper, this defeats the purpose of the  tapered collars.
It will remove most of that other hole repair and tuner base will hid the rest

All in tight

Tailpiece bolt aligns perfectly with hole in flange

When I do the refinish I will go with a more Traditional Mahogany look and a lighter stripe

I will make a nut for it and string it up
I will not use these strings, I will see if I have some plain junk nylons,
or I may even use bronze/steel since its only for an action test and to test how it frets out
 I want to do all adjustments I can before going with final finish and plating.

First Assembly - before plating

Strung to pitch on a standard 1/2 Grover bridge.
I have made a bone nut for it, not ebony
I have a couple of issues so I will first cut the nut slots and bridge slots to match the strings and work on the action.

The main issue is the Grover champion tuners are made with a shoulder so they can ride on the washer...

... but the peghead angle is very shallow, 3-4 degrees and this makes the G and A string want to "Flatten out" and they do not have enough tension.

You can see clearly that I am spun down onto the capstan as far as I can go and string is flat, no angle.

The sound is tinny on the G and A until I press an angle into the string in the manner of Fender electric guitars with string guides to build in angle.
This must be addressed in the tuner post is my belief because you cannot add angle and guides will probably not be what Steve wishes.
Having holes already to the size of the Champions would make me loathe to plug and re-drill so I need to decide how I will work over the posts.

I have chucked the post in my Variable speed drill and taken a file to do the cutback on the brass base.

One completed, I will gain a little angle here.

All done

Also, the base washer has been reduced in thickness by 1/4, hopefully we will get some pressure into the nut slots on the G and A now.

Ready to go to plater after I clean the spinning once again to remove all the burrs from the drilling I did when widening the holes

First coat of sealer on the neck as we go back with its new finish

Amber tint

First coat, show next to blond maple.
will ask Steve again as before... "Darker"?

Ok, darkened up a bit, ready to add the stripe back onto it.

Plectra is working hard and not working.
2 kinds of tape, Fineline is on the inside.

Tint shot

Ready to re-stamp name and town before adding more clear.


I got in 2 jobs today and this was one of them, and I'm happy that I can get back on this and final out.
They always do a good job for me at ACME, thanks Bob and Priscilla

Signed the inside of the rim and then it can be hidden in the spinning.
Alwas nice to be able to prove something is yours if the worst happens.

Ok, now to take of the temporary hide and install he premium polished vellum sent by Steve.

I always feel for the thickest spot (no 2 are alike) and then position that on the bass side of the instrument

It is 100 F in my shop today, I will take some moisture out and then set it aside a day

Ok, trimmed up and snugged down, looks like a good pull.

Ready to string up, I will just put on the strings at no tension for one more day.


All snugged up , still nothing at tension.
I will pull it to pitch to check things once,. then it will be up to the Master to dial it in for his playing style.
I have studied all the Formby things I can and taken in all the tips so I hope that I have done Steve a good job and he finds the uke to his liking.

Reflections and flash made name look unclear, does not look like that.

The nut is free floating, Steve can glue it if he wishes
This has been fun, working on something I normally would not have done being as the Formby style of playing is not as prevalent here as in the U.K. .
Working with the English Sycamore was a treat, so Flamey that it wants to catch afire.
My hope it is a Tone Generator  that is easy to play and can haul the mail when put thru it's paces.
I will allow it to settle a bit more then across the pond it shall travel.
I will add some pics of it with Steve and its resonator then hopefully we can cajole his wonderful daughter Kirsty to rip us a video that we can upload with the pics.

ARRIVAL in the U.K. 7-15
I love a good outcome!
After some shipping scares (late date) we had a good arrival over at Dave's place and he set to on the resonator.
Dave's resonator is beautiful and a work of art in itself.
It feels good to be a part of this team.
I posted a video (Thanks Kirsty H.) to my Facebook wall and to "Banjolele Underground" on Facebook if anyone wishes to hear it.

"Thank you again for your help on the uke.It is turning out to be one of the finest instruments that I have ever played,
It plays beautifully and it's so powerful and light to hold,
Really is a joy to play and I am so proud to own it.
You certainly worked your. Magic on this one and so has Dave and I will be forever grateful."

Cheers, and thanks for watching