Introducing: New Wave Ukulele Company
My name is Eric Vossbrink. I am a Luthier originally from the Los Angeles area. I’ve spent many years working in the music business both in retail and manufacturing. Right out of high school, I took a job in a small retail music store learning all aspects of guitar repair and setup. During this time I enrolled at the Roberto-Venn School of Lutherie. Upon graduating I took a job at a small electric guitar factory in North Hollywood. There I did set-up, electrical harnessing and some minor woodwork. In mid 1990 I took a job in San Diego at an acoustic guitar company making parts, processing lumber and eventually traveling around the world in search of raw materials.
The New Wave Ukulele is an idea that I have been nurturing for nearly a decade now. In recent years, ukulele players had developed a more sophisticated approach to making music, and now there is an instrument to meet their needs. It is that perfect blend of traditional looks, smooth playability and unmatched tone all in one instrument, The New Wave Ukulele.
A little bit about me…
Many years ago I started playing music. No one is quite sure why, because no one in my family ever played music before me. in the beginning it was the flute, followed by the saxophone. I played in concert bands, jazz bands, marching bands and symphony's. After high school I went to work for a small full line music store. there we sold the tools of my passion, musical instruments, accessories and sheet music. One bread and butter aspect of the small shop were guitars and their accessories, something that I knew nothing about.
At one point I was asked if I could re-string and tune a guitar… I had no idea,and I had no idea where it would lead me. that day I learned the basics of the guitar and how it works. I was picking up a lot during this time and I started taking lessons with the teacher at the store when he had no shows. I got two or three lessons a week for a couple years.
one afternoon a guitar student asked if I could install a humbucker to replace a single coil pickup on his Ibanez guitar. I had never done anything like this before, so I asked him to give me a week to see what it entailed to do the job right. I found a guitar repair book at a local store, bought it and read it cover to cover that night. the next week I routed a cavity in the body and installed the pick-up. the job was so clean that one of my co-workers remarked, “You’re becoming quite a luthier.” After a little research, I finally figured out what a “Luthier” was.
Months later I was on my way to the only school (at that time) to learn how to build guitars. the Roberto-Venn School in Phoenix AZ. Four months and four thousand dollars later I was a Luthier. out of work and in debt. I went back to the music store, but much had changed and the doors would soon close.
I took a job at a machine shop making parts for injection molds. I learned much about machining parts to high tolerances after a year or so, I was making a good living for my age, and then the call came in. on the other end of the line was Bill Eaton from the RV School. He gave me a lead on job building guitars in North Hollywood CA. after careful deliberation and some soul searching, I quit my well paying job and took a 50% pay cup to go to work for Valley Arts USA. My time there was short lived, but I spent my time wiring up and then setting up electric guitars… five a day.
That January, two weeks after I started at Valley Arts, I ran into Bob Taylor at the NAMM show in Anaheim. I struck up a conversation and came to learn that he was located in Santee, a suburb of San Diego. My then girlfriend was attending SDSU at that time, and we had plans to marry, so I figured I should look into moving 130 miles to the south. After a 6 month game of phone tag, a tour given by Bob himself, he called me at work, offered me a job with a slight pay raise and I was on my way to San Diego.
A little bit about me… (Part Deux)
When I got to San Diego, I realized that I was on my own. My parents gave me $1,000 as a gift to start my life out… my dad also told me that he had a bill for $23,000 for my life up to that point. I imagine that he billed me a grand a year for all the years I lived at their house…So I started my life out 24k in the hole, not bad since I was on my way to making a little more than half that my first year.
I quickly realized that all of the guitar knowledge that I had cultivated would thrown out the window. My job description…make parts. I had to learn the ins and outs of woodworking, table saw, band saws and shapers were my tools. and I wasn’t making parts for one guitar at a time, but many hundreds of guitars for the months ahead. Back in 1990, we made 10 guitars a day with 25 workers both in the factory and office. I decided that even though it wasn’t what I set out to do, it was a stepping stone, and I might work for the company for a year or two. In my time, I became very capable on most aspects of woodworking from joinery to wood bending.
Every month we would receive a unit of lumber to chop up into backs and sides and misc. parts. we would inevitably have to ship a portion back to the lumber company because the material was not what we would use for our guitars. I was only at the company a year when I said to Bob… Why don’t I go to the lumber yard, sort thru the material and we could get what we need without having to pay for return shipping. after one trip to the local yard, my unit of lumber came in, and the yield was excellent, and another line was added to my job description… Grading lumber. In time, the local lumber yards were not able to keep up with our consumption, and my trips to find material became a cross country search and eventually it took me around the world. I traveled to the East Coast to grade Mahogany for necks backs and sides. I would spend a week at a time grading 30k -40k board feet of lumber to get 10k. that would keep us for a couple months. the trips became more and more frequent eventually taking me to the jungles of Hawaii to grade material for the Koa line of guitars. it was there I met a good friend that would eventually throw me a life line.
Another aspect of my job was to sort tops. The guitar top is a pretty important part of the overall sound quality of the instrument. At that time, tops would be separated labeled and stickered for dying. We would glue up and sand out a number of tops each day, and after processing, the tops were pre-sorted for the various models. The best looking tops would be left for Bob to inspect, He would make the final decision on any tops that would be set aside for the “top” of the line models. I watched him do this do this weekly and In time I had a pretty good idea about what kind of top would be the best in his eyes. Over the years I had seen just about every kind of guitar top, and had a pretty good idea about how it would sound when it was strung up.
My one to two year commitment to the company ended up being nearly 11 when it was all over. I traveled the world, met many interesting people, and got to ride a wave of success of a company that was unparalleled. Near the end I was no longer doing the things that I loved which was aspects of building guitars, but managing people. I remember one of my employees telling me that he was going to his see his parole officer, and taking a drug test after work… he added that he may not be in tomorrow morning. It was a heart wrenching decision, but I finally came to the point where I couldn't do it anymore and with tears in my eyes, I tendered my resignation to Bob. he asked me this one question that I still remember “What are you going to do, you’re a guitar builder.” however at that point in my life I had lost my love of the instrument and my will to do anything that had to do with musical instruments.
A Little bit about me Part 3: I Once Was Lost, But now…
After my going away party, Bob pulled me into his office, not to get me to stay, but to ask me a question “What are you going to do?” he asked, “you’re a guitar builder” I didn’t know how to respond. in my heart, I figured he was right, he usually is, but I couldn’t or wouldn’t muster the courage to agree. So I thought about for a few minutes and answered “I don’t know, all I know is right now, I can work here any more.”
the next few years I spent at home with my daughters age 16 months. my wife went back to work for a medical device company, and a year latter she was downsized and pregnant with out third child. for the next few months she tried to get a full time job while I did some piece work. I even met with the HR department at Taylor to see if I could get any job in the factory, at that time the answer was no. I ended up working for a local branch of a drape company. the job had me going at all hours of the day and night and all over the southwest. I did that job for two and a half years to make ends meet, while my wife was a consultant for a couple of different companies in central California,
about 5 years after leaving the Taylor Guitars, I figured I’d probably never build an instrument again. my life in the music industry was over… then an old friend threw me a lifeline. Casey Kamaka invited me to the Winter NAMM show. NAMMstands for the National Association of Music Merchants. This was their first year Kamaka Ukuleles had a booth, and Casey invited me to come on up and see what I’d been missing.
One of my jobs at the factory was to set up the booth for the NAMM show. I had plenty of memories of setting up furniture, tuning guitars, even getting a bloody forehead when a co-worker fell out of the back of the box truck and struck me in the forehead with a piece of crown molding.
A accepted his invite and met him at the show. there we talked about instruments, guitars, what makes instruments play, look and sound better, and I took time to meet, get to know and fall in love with the ukulele.
I own 2 Kamaka sopranos, but I had kept them in their cases since they actually belong to my girls. at the show that year I took the time to play different sizes and models. I was hooked.
in the years after that first meeting I carried on collaboration with a Casey from time to time. all t he while noodling around in my garage working on the miniature instrument. Three years later Yeah, I took a while I made the first uke. named it the “Blukulele” flame maple stained blue. it sounded ok, played well, but was nowhere near what I would consider a marketable instrument.
for the next six months I continued to refine what I wanted make, what would the final product look like. I decided that a ukulele that played, sounded and looked like a miniature guitar, I took a mold that I had created as one my last projects at the guitar company, made a few changes to it and bam, I was off, In January of this year I started Uke #002 a maple concert with a maple top. it took exactly 8 days to make, 25 hours. and New Wave Ukulele was born.
I took it to the NAMM show last January, but was not able to take in due to the lack of serial number and identifying markings. Security would not let me bring it through the doors. This uke was closer to what I wanted to produce, simple elegant and it plays and sounds great. there have been subsequent ukes that I have made and the feedback has been positive. My work continues daily in an effort to make a better instrument than the one before it. My goal is to create an instrument that sounds, looks and plays great.