Jupiter Creek baritoneJupiter Creek headstockJupiter Creek input jackJupiter Creek bridgeJupiter Creek backJupiter Creek fretboardJupiter Creek neckJupiter Creek

Jupiter Creek

As I play more baritone, I decided I needed a solid-body electric in my collection - I always like having an electric version to play with, mostly to play a different sort of music than I play with the acoustic instruments (blues and rock I play along with backing/jam tracks). And, after playing guitar for several decades, I still find it a little easier to jam along with guitar music on a baritone than another scale where I have to make some mental adjustments as to the scale.

Not many companies make this beast. Baritones aren't as popular as other scales, and electric solid-body, steel-string ukes of any sort are rare. Getting one in a baritone scale looked tough. Until I discovered Jupiter Creek Music, that is.

Jupiter Creek is a small, one-man Australian company that produces a limited output of instruments - ukuleles, guitars, mandolins, stick-dulcimers and lap steels. All solid body, all electric, all steel stringed. Perfect match!

Rob Dick, the down-under luthier, notes on his web page, "...I find ukes to be the most satisfying instruments to make, especially baritone and tenor ukes. I'm primarily a (bad) guitarist, and of course guitar tuning intervals and chord shapes translate easily to the ukulele. Ukes are happy instruments, and generally uke players are happy people - I think that helps!"

Okay, I'm not sure how happy any steel-stringed instrument screaming the blues on full distortion is, but uke players, I'll agree, are generally happy folk. Those I've met, at least.

Rob's designs vary wildly from traditional guitar shapes to modern (many of which look like oversized can openers to me, but that's my personal taste). His instruments are sometimes done in natural wood with a light, hand-sprayed finish, sometimes finished with painted, gloss coats.

Natural finish is alway a hit-or-miss thing. The look depends on the grain of the wood, which depends on how it was cut. I'm okay with how this uke looks, but the visual texture of the grain is something you have to look at carefully before you buy one, to be sure you'll like it. 

Jupiter Creek doesn't take orders for instruments any longer: instead he sells everything he makes on eBay. I missed a few of his previous offers before I was finally able to snag this baritone. I had expected a long wait for the mail, but it arrived in less time than it usually take me to get ukes from the USA!

His woods are mostly native Australian timber, and he explains his choices on his Web site. The body of my baritone is Australian Hoop Pine, the same wood used as a laminate for the top board of my Fluke. It seems a reasonably dense wood and the uke is heavy, but that's to be expected. Rob writes, "Auraucaria cunninghamii - also called Colonial Pine and Queensland Pine. Hoop Pine is a rainforest native but also occurs in both native hardwood forests and plantations. It can grow to 60-70 metres in height. Hoop Pine has a deeper and warmer tone than Radiata Pine (Monterey Pine for visitors from North America), but is similarly easy to work and finish."

The neck is Australian oak with Budgeroo for the fretboard.

The instrument I got is based on the popular Fender Stratocaster guitar design. It's 9 3/4" wide at the widest and 1 7/16" thick. It's not a perfect clone of the Strat body, but close enough to be recognized.

While Strats and their clones usually have three single-coil pickups, this uke has a single, high-output humbucker pickup. It is wired so I can switch between single coil and humbucker modes.

You might notice from the photos that Rob uses six-magnet guitar pickups, not four-magnet uke-specific pickups. I'm not sure how this affects the sound. I would think they would give some audible emphasis to the outside strings because the outside magnets can still pick up some of the nearby string activity. When I have some spare time, I may disassemble the unit and see if the outside magnets can be disabled. I also want to see which pickup is used as single - and whether swapping them makes any difference.

There are also separate, chrome-plated Telecaster-style volume and tone controls mounted on a '51 P-bass control plate. The bridge is also the Telecaster-style guitar unit, with adjustment on each saddle for height and intonation (only four saddles are included, not the guitar six). Input jack is just below the lower bout on the edge.

The bridge and pickup unit are a bit wider than they might be if a four-magnet pickup was used, but Rob confirmed to me he uses stock guitar items to keep costs reasonable. For a custom-built instrument, the price was very modest, less than half what I would expect to pay in Canada for a similar instrument.

Strap buttons are described as "my usual sensible large diameter ones. If the strap is hard to get on it'll be just as hard for it to fall off!" I'm used to these guitar-sized strap buttons, so they pose no difficulties to me, and suited the guitar strap I bought for this uke.

Strings go through the body, and are held in a small, metal-lined well. This is a popular style with many electric guitars, and suggest a ball-end string for better anchorage.

From the eBay description:

To my way of thinking a baritone uke should have a distinctive baritone uke sound, not a little version of a guitar sound or a big version of a plunky soprano uke sound.

For my baritone ukes I start off by working on the principles that I need a body timber that gives plenty of sustain but has a fairly dark sound as well as looking good, a neck that isn't shrill or chimey, a medium to high output pickup, and volume and tone controls optimised to give a good tonal range. I've now built a few baritone ukes to this recipe, and they sound great!

For this uke I've used the top four strings from a 10-46 set... D 0.026w G 0.017, B 0.013 and E 0.010". The action is medium, the neck balances perfectly and it sounds cool! Very interesting and a lot of fun!

The action is amazingly low right along the neck with no buzzing at all. Rob had identified it as "medium" but it's really, really low by my standards. Which is great, because I love low action, especially on electric instruments. Intonation is also great.

Sound is, of course, whatever you make it. Your amplifier and your effect settings control the output. there's no audible difference between a solid-body uke and a solid-body guitar. The pickups are good - very sensitive and strong output. There's no noticeable hum, either.

The humbucker setting gives a little fuller sound than the single coil. Both seem well-balanced; neither setting seems as hot or prone to distortion as some guitar pickups I've played in the past (that Tele squeal is not present).

I only have three minor niggles. First the Fender-style headstock looks a little oversized for the body. I haven't measured it yet, but it looks like a guitar-sized head. Second, the frets feel a hair high to my fingers. Not unplayably so, but a little higher than I am accustomed to on the electric guitars I prefer. I might consider filing them down a very, very small amount. Third: Rob doesn't put fret markers on the front of the fretboard. They are there as small dots on the side of the fretboard, but I also like them on the front, so I had to purchase some fretboard stickers to add them.

Overall: Rob notes, "If can't forgive the odd sanding mark or scratch, or the lustre of a hand sprayed finish, then please don't buy a hand-made Jupiter Creek Music instrument. These minor blemishes and imperfections are your guarantee that this instrument was built in my home workshop in suburban South Australia. Choosing an instrument by Jupiter Creek Music gives you something different. A unique instrument made with care by one person for another, giving satisfaction to the maker and pride of exclusive ownership to the player."

There are some very few minor imperfections as Rob suggests (although you have to hunt for them to find them!) there may be, none of which affect the sound or playability, so I'm quite happy with his build quality. I think he's being modest about his skills. Besides, this uke is a lot more beautiful and well-made than I could ever build!

UPDATE: Rob passed away in late 2012, so his instruments are no longer available except from current owners..

Would I purchase another Jupiter Creek? Yes, probably a tenor.
Would I recommend them to others? Yes.
Rating (0-5): ****
Still owned and played.

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