Stephen Beauregard began crafting handmade guitars in 1986. When the desire to play the great summer songs of the 1920s and 1930 hit, Beauregard made the transition to the ukulele.
He brought one of his custom instruments on a family camping trip to play around the campfire. A husband and wife were so impressed with the ukulele, they offered to buy it on the spot.
Fast forward a few years later, and Snowshoe Ukulele Company was born. Producer Dave Fraser visits Beauregard in his shop and shares his story.
This story originally aired on February 13, 2020.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Stephen Beauregard began building guitars in 1986, but with a desire to play some of the great summer songs of the 20s and 30s, he made a transition to the ukulele.
He brought one along on a family camping trip and played it around the campfire. And after a husband and wife offered to buy it from him on the spot, he made his first sale. Fast forward several years later and the Snowshoe Ukulele Company was born.
Producer Dave Fraser brings us the story.
Dave Fraser: In his unassuming workshop in Chicopee, Massachusetts, Stephen Beauregard bends and shapes wood and incorporates creative inlays to make ukuleles.
It was a request to make one for the wife of a friend that first led him down this path of being what he calls an accidental luthier.
Stephen Beauregard, Snowshoe Ukulele: She loved it. She’s like in her 60s and she finally found the gift of music. And I had something to do with that.
So, that was pretty cool.
Dave Fraser: One thing led to another, and before he knew it, Beauregard had assembled a collection of woodworking tools in his basement. And with his dog Josie at his side, he formed the Snowshoe Ukulele Company.
Stephen Beauregard: We had a bumper crop of rabbits running around the yard that year. So I was like, ‘how about snowshoe?’ So snowshoe hare, and then my daughter drew up the logo. I was like, “This is perfect. This is what I want.”
I wasn’t planning on building ukuleles, but it’s all I want to do.
Dave Fraser: It takes about three months to complete a ukulele, according to Beauregard, and he makes them in three sizes: baritone, tenor, and soprano.
Stephen Beauregard: Thankfully, they’re little instruments. I’m not building stand up basses, so I don’t need a huge head room or big, big, huge tables.
I can — I built my first ukulele on my ski tuning bench. So, I mean, it’s progressed since then. But, yeah, you can build them in a closet.
Dave Fraser: The ukulele originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian adaptation of the Portuguese machete, a small guitar like instrument. Over the years, it has gotten a bad rap, thanks in part to Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”
But as Beauregard explains, the uke has become more accepted in the mainstream music scene.
Stephen Beauregard: The change was painful, but it came. Now, when I take the ukulele camping, it’s “Hey, do you know Eddie Vedder songs?” Because, you know, Pearl Jam guy.
And it’s like, oh thank God! You know, because — I mean, Tiny Tim was a great musician. It’s just that he got caught in this whole schtick of his that just ruined him and ruined the ukulele.
Ukulele Scramble: Five foot two, eyes of blue/ But oh what those five foot could do / Has anyone seen my gal?
Dave Fraser: Both Robin Hoffman and Richard Perlmutter play ukuleles made by Beauregard. The duo perform publicly as the Ukulele Scramble and as their name suggests, they play a mix of songs from the Renaissance to the rock era.
Robin Hoffman, Ukulele Scramble: We like a lot of different kinds of music. We both love classical music and pop music and rock music and all sorts of things. We use our ukuleles as sort of a a license to mess with stuff.
Richard Perlmutter, Ukulele Scramble: We have two of Steve’s ukuleles here. Robin, just was presented with hers.
Robin Hoffman: This is my brand new custom concert.
Richard Perlmutter: And this is actually a baritone ukulele that Steve made a number of years ago as a prototype. I think it was the first baritone he ever made.
Robin Hoffman: Yes, it’s an heirloom, definitely, but it’s even more special than that to play and to perform with because it represents to me the specialness of the ukulele community here.
Dave Fraser: So, what started for Beauregard as a desire to make some ukuleles for himself to play has turned into a business that requires countless hours spent in his workshop building and less time playing.
But he says he’s OK with that.
Stephen Beauregard: I had plans to build a four string tenor, a five string tenor, a six string tenor, a baritone. I build all the time now. I play a little bit — my New Year’s resolution is to play, play, play. But I just I just build all the time.
I think building is more of a passion for me now than actual playing is. But I still love to play.