Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Vicente Arkangel, in his back-yard workshop in Kaneohe, will teach others how to make ukuleles at Windward Community College.

Not a typical
ukulele lesson

In this class, students
learn how to build
their own instruments

These days, it's all about customizing your life. Your cell phone ringtone says just as much about who you are as the shirt you're wearing, and the only way to make your import sedan stand out from all the others is to spend thousands of dollars pimping your ride.

'Make Your Own Ukulele'

With Vicente Arkangel
Where: Windward Community College
When: Monday and Wednesday evenings, this Monday through Aug. 15
Cost: $275, includes all supplies
Call: 235-7433

Even the most ubiquitous of Hawaiian standards, the four-string ukulele, can be manufactured to your own exacting specifications.

But instead of spending upward of $1,000 to have someone else build you the instrument, Vicente Arkangel wants to teach you how to make your own.

"THAT'S ONE nice thing about building your own uke: You can customize it to your own style," said Arkangel, who is getting ready to start his third ukulele-making class at Windward Community College next week.

"Soundwise, they sound just as good, if not better, than the market ones," he said.

For $275, he shows students all the steps involved in building an ukulele, from carving and sanding its major pieces to the eye candy that makes each instrument unique.

"These are first-timers, people who never built before," Arkangel said. "They can't believe they actually finish an ukulele."

No experience is necessary, and all the necessary materials are included in the cost of the class. After seven weeks, students walk away with a completed instrument that will last a lifetime.


NESTLED AGAINST a hillside in Kaneohe, Arkangel's workshop is a simple space.

Like many other hobbyists, his tools are interspersed with ordinary household. In addition to a table saw, band saw, sander and drill press, his two children's toys and old bicycles compete for limited room on a concrete slab near his back door.

And while he holds down a full-time job as head of the meat department at Tamashiro Market, where he's worked since graduating from Castle High School in 1982, Arkangel has also discovered that sharing his knowledge with others is an extremely gratifying experience.

"It's a nice hobby and a good way to help other people," he said. "Building into the person -- that's my benefit. I love watching people develop."

An interest in helping others is what led to him stepping up to being more than just a backyard builder. After signing up for a class led by Mike Chock at Farrington High School in 2000, Arkangel realized that he could learn even more by volunteering to help as a teaching assistant.

For the next few years, he helped students troubleshoot as they built their instruments. Interacting with different attitudes and approaches to the ukulele helped broaden his own horizons, and eventually word spread that Arkangel was one of the people worth searching out to learn from.

"Your name gets out there pretty quick once you start teaching," he said. "I have people call with questions, and they didn't even take the class!"

THE WCC classes repeat several times during the year, and those who have already tinkered with making their own ukuleles are also welcome to join the beginners.

"It's just understanding who you're working with and giving them the information they need," said Arkangel. "The more serious guys, they come in with a serious attitude, and you can pick it up pretty quick.

"I'll usually start off asking questions so I get a real good feel for what they're coming in for. The more people building, the more it motivates me -- the teacher learns the most, usually."

Class sizes are normally limited to six or seven people, which allows for more personal interaction between the students and instructor. Arkangel will occasionally let the class grow to 10 students but prefers smaller groups.

Once he figures out the skill levels of his students, the next seven weeks are spent helping them develop. Even a person building an ukulele for the first time will leave the class with enough experience to do it again on their own.

"If you want to pursue it (further), then you have a good head start," he said. "There are a lot of garage builders ... that's why you see a lot of different brands out there."

Will Arkangel ever make the move from teaching into a commercial operation? Don't bet on it.

"I like teaching (because) it gives me time with people," he said. "If you do a production shop, it gives you more time with sawdust."

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