Exclusive Interview : Peter Howlett

There is a photo of Peter Howlett with his first ukulele, a plastic Woolworth’s ukulele, at the tender age of 4. He has been into ukulele’s ever since and now builds and teaches others how to build them. He build’s ukuleles from only the finest woods available either as acoustic or electric. He has made over 500 ukulele’s to date, that are played throughout the world by professionals, collectors and amateurs alike.

We were lucky enough to interview him and ask him all about his build process. At the bottom of this article, you will find his series of Uklectic (electric ukulele) build video’s on you tube.

You can find out more about Peter Howlett and the ukuleles he builds, his concert and tenor ukulectic‘s, or the ukulele building courses he runs over on his website.

Ukes have become very popular over the last few years. Most people who like them play acoustic ukes. What inspired you to make electric ukuleles?Like all designers I have a head full of ideas – this was one of them, to answer the bried of playing venues with a ukulele at high volume with no feedback

Your ukes (and other instruments) are very unique. What are the most important parts of the build process for you?
Wood choice. Most people buy or like with their eyes so my instruments have as their primary ‘hook’ fantastic and expensive face woods

If you could make a uke for someone in specific, who would it be and what special features would you include?
I’ve already done this many times. My most recent piece went to Bluesman Catfish Keith – a tenor resonator ukulele in birdseye maple veneer with tortoise binding and art deco hbound headstock. The whole thing had a 1930s vibe…

Which materials do you prefer when you build bodies and necks? What ones should builders avoid?

Spanish cedar – nice and light. Avoid African woods because of the spiral growth. I am looking at using European alder for builds next year.

Sourcing four string parts such as bridges and pickups can be very difficult. What’s your approach with these?
I wimp out and use piezos in a standard acoustic style pin or tie bridge because my instruments are nylon strung.

What’s your most important luthier tool? Do you use cnc or power tools at any stage?

My Sabatier knife made from surgical steel. I could make and entire instrument with this just about.

Do you play or build other instruments too? How does your uke building knowledge transfer to them and vice versa? Are there common techniques?

Everything I do is informed by the furniture making I did back in the 1980s and the guitar making I did between 1994 and 2001. However the greatest influence has been my religious beliefs which can be best defined as “Hands to work – hearts to God”. With that in mind, every build is conducted with an eye to making it as perfect as possible in design and execution. Those long ago learnt hand skills are what makes a Pete Howlett Ukulele what it is – a dedication to a Creator who provided me with raw beauty and perfection with which to futher honour Him. (probably not the answer you were looking for eh?)

When it comes to electrical components, how do you prefer to configure them? Have you ever tried different pots / resistors / pickups in the same uke to compare the sounds? What wins it for you?I’ve never tried these although I am building a 5 string bass ukulele with fibre optic lit side dots and an on – board pre-amp. Richard Cross of Shapely Wood has helped me with the electrics on this build – check out his ukulele…

If you could have played electric uke on one classic rock or blues track which would it be?

I don’t class myself as an electric player – my technique is too heavy handed. However I admire many players and since I have loved the Clapton/Mayall ‘Beano’ album since I bought it as a kid vinyl when it first came out I’d have to say Hideaway, Eric’s version…. Although I would dearly love to show him how to play Hey Hey by Big Bill Broonzy properly

Pete’s ukulele build videos.

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