Build Diary - ‘Kealia‘ - Model L in Koa / Swiss Moon Spruce / by Tom Sands

In an industry where the choices we make when sourcing materials can hold such ethical weight, it’s more important than ever to know where our wood comes from. Aside from doing one’s duty, the woods used in this build really encapsulate the importance of sourcing responsibly - often, the relationships capable of forming between builder and supplier are as joyous. Not only are you assured of the quality and heritage of the wood, but you are able to delve into the story of the actual tree that it came from. As part of ‘The Interval’ we interviewed Josh from Koatonewoods, the man who spends many months in the year out in Hawaii sourcing the best fallen trees to bring back to the UK, primarily for makers to bring to life as instruments.

Watch our interview with Josh from Koatonewoods here.

Josh has wood in his blood back three generations. He imparted so many interesting insights during his interview, (click the link above to watch, or listen here) that the process of purchasing the wood he spoke about became more than a material investment. We later asked Josh, when this guitar started coming together, if he could think of a name for it (because anthropmorphising instruments is, of course, a necessary part of a luthier’s job). He sent back this:

‘My first suggestion would be Kealia (Kay-ah-lee-ah). That is the historical name for the land area (Ahupuaa) that the tree grew on. Ahupuaa are land divisions that run from the sea to the top of the mountain and ideally would contain all of the natural resources the community needed. Kealia is on the leeward coast of Hawaii island, right next to Kealakekua, which is the place where Captain Cook was killed in 1779. I remember this particular tree well, it grew in a really high elevation on a ridge in a dry, mostly open mix of old lava and shrub grassland. It was big, maybe six foot at the base, and must have fought to grow up there for hundreds of years. Somewhere along the line, a storm snapped off the entirety of the tree and blew it over and eventually I found it. The colour and curl were outstanding, the curl figure was stronger at the base (that’s what my two lighter ukuleles are being made from). it was one of those once a year trees.’

And so, here is Kealia’s build diary.

Shooting the Koa ready for jointing.

Shooting the Koa ready for jointing.

Look at that figure!

Look at that figure!

The back being jointed.

The back being jointed.

The copper for the rosette was hand patinated in the workshop. It’s tricky to see below (no spoilers!) but the way it turned out, blue and gold, reminded us of a Michaelangelo fresco upon the roof of the Sistine Chapel - so, it’s now the ‘Michaelangelo’ Rosette. Twinned with the Swiss ‘Moon’ Spruce it provides a beautiful splash of colour, as well as reflecting the light in a subtle yet intriguing fashion.

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For this guitar, the rim assembly was constructed in a different way to the previous guitars passing through the TS workshop. Constantly preoccupied with making the best decisions for the instruments we work on, this method was one that was inspired by Dion James from Dion Guitars. More about that next week for part 2.

We hope you’ll enjoy seeing Kealia’s story unfold.

You can visit Josh and Elaine’s Koa website here.

TSG