- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2017

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. (AP) - Having an activity to escape to now and then is good for the mind, body and soul. A hobby, like water colors, crocheting, wood working or music.

Pastor Dale Brown found his quiet time more than 20 years ago. He builds ukuleles from scratch.

“I’ve made almost all of them for fundraisers for various needs,” Brown said. “Then I’ve made them for my grandkids and for my kids as gifts.”

Brown said the only “ukes” he’s ever really sold are the ones people requested him to make.

“I’ve had about half a dozen people who come to me and ask me to make them one,” he said. “I charge $600 to $700 dollars for them. I tell them that they can buy a ukulele for around $100 if they want one. But they say, ‘We want one made by you.’”

So, one might wonder how does a pastor in Scottsbluff, Nebraska get into building ukuleles?

“Years ago, in the early ‘80s, I was pastoring my first church,” Brown said. “I thought it might be fun to make a guitar and get into guitar making. So, I bought some books. I began to read and study up on it, but I got discouraged. I thought to myself, I don’t have the tools to do this.”

So, he just set the idea aside and moved on.

“When we moved here, and we bought this house back in 1993, I started buying some tools and power equipment for working on the house,” Brown said. “One day, and I don’t exactly remember how, but I saw a book on making ukuleles, from a guy in Hawaii. So, I bought it and I read it. And I thought, ‘Hey, I can do this.’”

So, he did. He started making ukuleles and it turned out he had a knack for it.

“I still have the very first one I made,” Brown said. “I made it out of poplar (wood) and it is actually one of the best sounding ones I ever made.”

The Scottsbluff Star-Herald (https://bit.ly/2ii66ZJ ) reports one of the ukuleles Brown made just for fun found its way into a museum 2,000 miles away.

“I love lighthouses, so I made it like a lighthouse,” Brown said. “I actually made two of these. The other one is in, I think it’s called the United States Lighthouse Museum in Rockland, Maine.”

Over the years, Brown has honed his skills and built more than 60 ukuleles.

“I’ve developed a lot of my own techniques that I use now,” Brown said. “I started from what the guy showed in the book and followed that. Then figured some other ways that I thought I could do it better, or what would work better for me.”

Brown makes all of his ukuleles out of solid wood and prefers the natural look and feel as opposed to the lacquer finishes.

“I have tried the lacquer, I just don’t like it,” Brown said. “I prefer to hand rub the wood to bring out the wood grain. It’s become my favorite part of the process.”

He also loves to experiment with different woods.

“Everything is solid and it’s all different,” Brown said. “Koa wood, myrtle wood, hickory. I’ve even made one out of pistachio. Bob Wills asked me to make him a baritone ukulele and I decided to make it out of pistachio wood.”

While Brown was constructing the ukulele for Wills, he dropped it.

“It broke right along the edge just like plastic,” Brown said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is really brittle wood.’ So, I was just going to chuck it, but then I thought I could salvage it, and I did. Then made Wills another one out of different wood.”

The pistachio wood is beautiful, but Brown said he probably won’t ever use pistachio again. But then he said, “Never say never.”

Ukuleles that Brown has made himself are not the only ukuleles in his collection. He purchased and was given a couple that he’s proud of for different reasons.

The first was an eight-string Lanikai uke.

“I won this in a Lanikai contest for writing a jingle,” Brown said. “I wrote the jingle and it shocked the socks off of me. I mailed it in and pretty soon I get a phone call saying that I won.”

He turned his attention to a little soprano ukulele that was on the table.

“The little soprano was given to me by Roger Frank,” Brown said. “It is a Martin and it is probably one of the first ones they made. It goes back to the early 1900s. It is a treasure. It was left in one of the old cars that he (Frank) bought and it even has the case with it. Frank just said, ‘I thought you would like to have this.’”

Brown also builds guitars. He built one to be raffled off for the 2016 Festival of Hope.

Brown’s plan is to continue charity work with his craft. For his next project, Brown will be building guitars to donate to Guitars for Vets, a program that works with veterans that suffer from PTSD. Guitars for Vets has provided more than 20,000 guitar lessons and distributed over 2,000 guitars.

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Information from: Star-Herald, https://www.starherald.com

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