the lovely Char and Gordon Mayer at Reno Uke Fest. Photo by Craig Chee.
Daniel Ward and I are thrilled to be playing beautiful instruments hand built for us by Mya-Moe. Mine is a myrtle wood (from within 50 miles of their shop) and ebony concert with a warm sweet tone, and Daniel’s is a loud and sassy miniature flamenco guitar made from sitka spruce with a rosewood back and sides and bloodwood binding. The instruments are very different, but suit our playing styles and are especially beautiful played together. We received them in January and have not put them down since.
For me, having an instrument which is so alive, crafted just for me, has inspired me to work harder- digging deeper into chord inversions and daring to lift a melodic voice. Daniel’s instrument has allowed his own voice to rise. Listen HERE to him playing at the Reno Ukulele Festival…(thanks Ivan Olarte for the video!)
We recently enjoyed spending time with Char and Gordon in Reno- sipping cocktails and talking all things uke and culinary, and I thought you might like to be introduced to these two lovely people, so we posed some questions to Mya-Moe:
When you offered to build me an instrument I had NO IDEA what wood to ask for. My partner Daniel, however, knew EXACTLY what he wanted. We ended up with instruments that have very different voices, but voices that sound beautiful together and match our needs as players. How did you do that?
Of course, this is the outcome that we’re always hoping for and working towards. We work with each individual to-be owner to try to understand what they are looking for tonally and aesthetically. Usually we can get a pretty good idea of what to build.
It’s actually much easier for us to work with someone like you (versus Daniel). You were very open to a variety of sounds/looks, and I think you went into it with a very open mind. We think of each instrument like a child–it will have the genes of the parents (our design & building), but it will also be unique. So, the “easiest” to-be owners are people that understand this.
Daniel had a pretty fixed idea of what he wanted. That’s the hardest to deliver–try to make sure we get that right. We do pretty well with that, but it did cause some restless nights 🙂
It’s a love story- we LOVE our instruments! photo by James Barnett wetakenicepictures.com
Daniel loves the size of the tenor and I love the concert. They seem a little smaller then other instruments we have played. Do tell.
I think of the design of the instrument (size, top/back thickness, bracing, woods, soundhole area) as a “system” where everything works together to produce a given tone. So it’s impossible to pull out one of those elements from one builder & try to apply it to another builder. If we decided to build a larger bodied tenor, for instance, we would change many of those other parameters and still try to achieve the tone that we already have.
When we designed the instruments, as an engineer, I tried to work with a body volume (cubic inches) that would produce the range of tones (low-g to 19th fret of the a-string) that we wanted to produce. We tweaked it a bit to bring reality in line with theory.
Your string sets are custom and very specific. Indulge our inner geek. Tell us more.
Early on, strings were one of our biggest nightmares. There are so many different types, brands & materials out there (unlike guitars). In the beginning we stocked and experimented with all of them: black nylon, clear nylon, fluorocarbon, nylgut. But, it quickly became clear the the best strings for our instruments are fluorocarbon, with wound string(s) for the bass. We worked with Worth and D’Addario to figure out the best “sets” for our instruments.
The most challenging was the baritone set. For our ears, no existing baritone set came close to the tone & feel we were looking for. We wanted to bring out the warmth that the baritone is known for without sacrificing the treble.
We laughed at Reno about how the instrument ordering process ought to be like eating at Nobu, a fancy sushi restraunt where the diner trusts the chef. Would you really like to do just that?
Yes! We call it “luthier’s choice”. We’ve now had 3 occasions where owners have given us carte blanche to design and build their next instrument. It’s where we have the most fun.
A vary happy family of Mya-Moe owners (Craig Chee, photo)
Your shop is a very intimate operation, with just 3 of you involved from order to delivery. Who does what over there?
There are actually 5 of us, which is the key to our building. 3 of us (me, Char & Aaron) work out of our main shop and build the final instrument. But, we have two others: Kerry Williams and Ben Bonham, who do “parts” that go into the instrument. So, they do rough necks, fretboards, internal blocks/braces, joining of the top/back, profiling the sides, and “polishing” the top/back. That allows aaron, char & me to focus on building the final instrument. Char does all wood selection, thicknessing the top/back, and bending of the sides. Aaron does all the bracing. After that, at least two of us are trained on each operation.
Besides building gorgeous instruments I hear rumors of epicurean delights. Music be the food of love, and food is love’s music? What’s on the menu?
Ha! Cooking is our 2nd passion. We joke that for Aaron, the greatest benefit of working at Mya-Moe is the lunch we make him everyday. Lunch is really our dinner, so we go all out for that meal. I think Aaron would tell you that our cooking has varied depending upon what new kitchen tool/appliance we’ve acquired. Also, while we eat anything, we have a lot of guests with a variety of eating specificities: vegan, gluten-free, etc. So, we’ll vary it up as the needs require.
A year ago we got an immersion circulator (check out “sous vide cooking”), and love to cook with that. And then this year we got a smoker, so we’ve done a few briskets and racks of ribs. Lately we’ve been into cured meats & salamis.
And just yesterday we had a very successful morel mushroom foraging expedition on the slopes of Mt. Adams, so this week its “all morels, all the time”…