Bambina Panormo Style Soprano Ukulele

A few years back Boston area luthier Craig Sullivan began a project to document his ukulele designs. The goal of the project was a set of plans that captured all of the design elements he had developed over the years. To be sure he had the plans exactly right, he built a family of ukes (soprano, alto, tenor), checking and updating the plans as he worked. The result of this effort was the plans currently offered by the Guild of American Luthiers. Craig built this family of ukes in a sort of American Southwest style, featuring light colored woods and accents of turquoise and silver. This inspired me to consider the idea of simply picking a decorative style for some future lutherie project.

Fast forward a few years and I am visiting the musical instrument collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Always prominently displayed, they have a gorgeous late 19th century child's guitar. The instrument's label contains the name of Madame Sidney Pratten, a prominent guitar teacher in late 19th century London. From the features of this instrument it is likely that it was built by George Lewis Panormo. I stop to admire this instrument every time I am there and always consider building a copy of it. But a guitar of this size really doesn't have much musical utility and I never quite found the time to build a copy just for the sake of whimsy.

It turns out that the dimensions of this instrument are very close to those of the soprano ukulele. The confluence of this fact, my admiration for the original instrument, and Craig Sullivan's good example of building in a pleasing decorative style resulted in the Panormo style soprano uke shown here.

Initially appeared: May 30, 2018
Last updated: September 11, 2018

About the Instrument

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The soprano uke pictured here is a structural departure from Craig Sullivan's plan. It uses a Panormo style ebony pin bridge with pearl dotted exclamation point bridge wings, and a slotted headstock. Classical guitar style tuning machines are generally not available for ukuleles, so this instrument uses a cut down set of classical guitar machines. Although Craig's plans feature fan braced tops with five braces, this instrument uses only two fan braces.

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The instrument features a one piece European spruce top which is fan braced. The neck is mahogany. Back, sides, bindings, head plate and fretboard are Brazilian rosewood. Nut and bridge saddle are bone. The instrument is finished with French polish, the top antiqued using pigmented shellacs.

Plans and More Information

Although I do not offer downloadable plans for this ukulele here, plans for the beautiful and more typical uke on which this is based, drawn by the late Craig Sullivan, are available from the Guild of American Luthiers.

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Construction Notes

Construction of this instrument is conventional in every way with the exception of the Panormo style bridge and the slotted headstock. As noted, cut down classical guitar tuning machines are used on this instrument.

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• Latest American Lutherie article: "Book Review: The Caldersmith Papers", American Lutherie #148 Table of Contents

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