Back in blighty now, and Got A Ukulele can return to normal service. Time to share with you my initial review of my purchase - a traditional Canarian Timple, handcrafted in Teguise on the island of Lanzarote by luthier Antonio Lemez Hernández.
First a little bit of background to the Timple - this is the traditional folk instrument of the Canary Islands, a Spanish outpost off the western coast of North Africa. Whilst the Timple is played on most Canarian islands, it is considered to have originated in Lanzarote, and in particular in the old capital of the island, the pretty town of Teguise. The instrument is very similar to a ukulele and is a probably candidate to being a pre-cursor to it. I say 'probable', as the origins of the Timple on the island are somewhat unclear - being a Spanish dependency, it is likely that the stringed instruments of the mainland were introduced to the islanders. These instruments predated the modern spanish guitar and and its possible that the Spanish themselves brought something similar to Lanzarote, where it developed into the Timple. There are other possibilities though. It is considered that the strung instrument was introduced to Spain by the Moors of North Africa in their long occupation of the south, and as such they should be credited with the introduction to the Mainland. We should also bear in mind that in the 16th Century, pre the Spanish, the first occupants of the islands were from North African or Moorish descent - and as such it may well be the case that they introduced the stringed instrument to the islands directly. Either way, the instrument has it's roots on Lanzarote and has done for nearly 300 years.
The instrument is similar to many other small stringed instruments such as the ukulele, the cuatro, the machete and the tiple. You may have seen my earlier post regarding my visit to the Casa-Museo Del Timple on the island which charts it's history and its wider family, showing of examples of all sorts of similar instruments. The Timple is strung with 5 strings, and tuned gcEAD. In other words, it shares the GCEA of the soprano ukulele on the last four strings (the four strings from the ceiling downwards), but adds another new first string tuned to D. You will note that I typed the G and the C above in lower case, and that is because they are both tuned re-entrant. The standard tuning for ukulele has the G string higher than the next C, but on the Timple both the G and the C are higher. This makes for an even brighter shriller sound than the soprano ukulele. As such, the string thicknesses are a little different too. As the G and the C strings are re-entrant, it is the E string which is the thickest (unlike the ukulele in which the C is thickest). Other differences include the naturally wider neck to accommodate the fifth string, a narrower longer body and strange neck design with far fewer frets - the neck is actually as long as a concert but this one only comes with eight frets. Turning the instrument over however and we see the real difference - the hump! The back on the Timple is hugely rounded to create more sound out of what is a smaller top on the body (and it certainly works). In the Canaries the Timple has the nickname "Camellito Sonoro" meaning the Sonorous Camel on account of the hump!.
So on to this instrument in particular - having visited the museum we took directions to the workshop in which Antonio crafts his instruments - right in the centre of Teguise itself. They are all handmade from solid woods and the smell of his workshop has come back with me to England via this Timple - the smell from the sound hole is glorious! Antonio is in his 60's and has been making these instruments all his life. This particular model is a fairly plain one. The top is solid spruce with a very thin matte finish (very thin, I managed to ding it already, sadly - something that is bound to happen with soft spruce), and the back, sides are (I believe) Mahogany or something similar. The sound hole has some simple inlay and the top is actually in two pieces, nicely book matched. The sides are nice pieces of wood two in a lighter coloured wood than the back with some nice grain patterns. As you will see, the wood used for the top actually extends up and on to the end of the neck as an extension which I think looks nicely different. Over to the the humped back and this is darker wood, again nicely matched, with a lighter inlay joining the two halves.
Inside the instrument we see the makers label and what looks to me to be similar kerfling and bracing as that found in a ukulele.
The neck itself is wide and made of two pieces. The main part of the neck and the heel are a single piece of wood, but the large traditional shaped headstock is quite a piece of wood and as such I can see how it would need to be carved separately - the join employs a joint type I have not seen before which adds to its "different" air. The short fingerboard is in a darker wood and mounted on to the neck, and wood binding finishes the edges. The frets look like nickel and are nicely set. The nut appears to be bone and is cut well.
At the other end of the strings, the bridge is traditionally wide, and is a tie bar design. Interestingly there is no bridge saddle and the wood of the bridge itself serves this purpose. The result of that and the nicely cut nut means that the action is superbly low and easy to play.
Back up to the headstock and this is large piece of wood with a facing cap of the same wood as found on the fingerboard. The tuners are friction pegs, which sadly are not of the best quality and I will be likely swapping them out for something smoother (I like friction pegs when they are good, but am fussy).
All in all, the instrument is clearly very well made by a craftsman. Whilst not loaded up with bling, he does make higher priced instruments that fit that bill if you want them. It's nicely balanced and light to hold too.
So how does it sound? High! It's got such a bright tone to it on account of both that extra high D string, and the re-entrant G and C strings - if anything it makes a soprano ukulele sound like a bass! The sound produced from such a small little thing is extremely loud, helped along by that humped back, and it has some great sustain provided by the thin solid woods used. It's different to play on account of that extra D string, but not really complicated, involving only the additional finger on some of the standard ukulele chords. For example the G chord is exactly the same as the uke, but is played on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings. The C however is played the same way but requires a finger on the second fret of the 1st D string. Strummed or plucked I like the sound, and whilst I am in no way proficient with traditional Canarian song, am having fun with it and will try to get some YouTube sound samples up soon.
Looks - 7
Fit and finish - 8
Sound - 7.5
Value for money - 8.5
OVERALL - 7.8