Ukulele, Flute, Kantele: Sharing Adolphe Sax’s enthusiasm for making a variety of musical instruments

Saxophones made by Adolphe Sax
Saxophones made by Adolphe Sax are on display at the National Museum of Music, in Vermillion, S.D. (Photo from the museum’s website)

What fun to be introduced recently to Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone and the creator of many other musical instruments. I learned of Mr. Sax from a tribute on NPR Morning Edition celebrating him on his 200th birthday.

Adolphe Sax didn’t create just one kind of saxophone but a family of saxophones and a number of other instruments, including the bass clarinet. He got his start as a music maker in Belgium, working in his father’s musical instrument shop.

He created his first saxophones in the 1840s when he was in his 20s. He patented a series of different-sized saxophones in 1846.

Ten of Adolphe Sax’s original saxophones are housed at the National Music Museum on the campus of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D.

I can understand Adolphe Sax’s intrigue with exploring musical instrument making. I have found it intriguing myself.

Cigar box ukuleles on the wall for sale.

My musical instrument making started with making cigar box ukuleles.  I made enough to know that I wanted to make a curved-side ukulele.

And that was when I spent a thoroughly energizing time studying with Mike DaSilva .  All that I learned led to making my treasured koa ukulele in his studio in Berkeley, Calif.

Because it was such a valuable experience for me — working and learning in his shop that was incredible, I am including the following slideshow to show you  much of the process of making the ukulele with Mike.

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Taking what I learned from Mike, I began making even more cigar box ukuleles, purchasing just the right cigar boxes from cigar stores in Tampa and St. Augustine.

Compare sizes of travel ukulele to sopranino kantele and 5-string larger kantele (left).
Compare sizes of travel ukulele to sopranino kantele and 5-string larger kantele (left).

I built a couple of “gourdeles” — ukuleles with gourd bodies — and then designed and built my own very portable travel ukulele which I wrote about on Ukulele-Perspective. I received quite a few requests from people asking me to build a travel ukulele for them.  As you can tell from this website, my interest in making ukuleles has shifted to other musical instruments.

When I attended a “flute circle” in town, I learned from two of the leaders how to make Native American-style wood flutes. Making the flute provides me the opportunity to create a family of instruments with different sizes and keys, not to mention the opportunity to own and play a range of flutes!

Ocarina by stream
Can you see the small ocarina on a rock by the stream? Very portable and beautiful to play, indeed.

One day, while thinking what to do with parts of the flute that I didn’t use (a longer story for another blog post)  I designed a wooden ocarina.  This very portable instrument, a closed flute,  went with me on all my hiking trips this past summer

Somewhere before the ocarina, I added making kanteles to my musical instrument making. I discovered this beautiful instrument, which is the Finnish national instrument, while looking for plans on the Internet to make a harp.  The ukulele can mimic the sound of the harp only to a point.   The harp has such a beautiful sound; it’s mesmerizing.  The 5-string version of the kantle is a very easy-to-learn instrument and can be played in a variety of styles — one style sounds close to a harp-like sound.

As always, I enjoy making portable stringed instruments and when I saw the kantele, I built one for myself.  After a few requests from others, I have embarked on making many more kanteles — both the portable, mesmerizing, meditation-inducing tiny 5-string sopranino and the larger 5-string kantele.

Both the sopranino and the larger 5-string play so well with the Native American style flute.  And while I have and play a mountain dulcimer, the dulcimer takes more time for people to learn to play well.

My goal in building and sharing these instruments? To create instruments that empower people to find and express their song within.


  1. Hi Chessie, Yes, I do sell the ocarinas, but only a few are sold online because they get sold before I get them posted. I have made more than 100, but stopped counting after I reached 100. Sometimes I make a special one if I am going somewhere and want a small, easy-to-take-along instrument. It is hard to categorize a process into easy/hard! It’s more about how much time it takes to make. The wood ocarinas sell online for anywhere from $40 to $55 US depending on the key, tuning, decorative features, workbook and carry bag. The shipping gets crazy for even a small item when it is shipped out of the country. So to Canada, for example, it could cost you $20 just for shipping.

    Thanks for asking, Chessie. Are you interested in putting in an order?


  2. Hi, do you offer for sale any ocarinas, like the one in your picture? I am just curious. How many have you made? You make it sound so easy too! 😉 What sort of price would one of those be as well?
    Thanks in advance 🙂


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