By The Weekender
Howard Replogle can’t play the ukulele, but he sure knows how to make them.
The Napavine area resident has meticulously crafted 34 of the small, stringed musical instruments since he initially took up the hobby on a whim four or five years ago.
These days, he’s adamant that he’s a luthier hobbyist, not a business, though he does sell his instruments through a small enterprise called Ebi Ukuleles.
The son of an engineer, Replogle grew up in the Bay Area of California. That’s where he carried out a full career in accounting before eventually retiring and spending his time traveling. When it came time to put down permanent roots, he settled on Ryderwood before later relocating Napavine.
“I just decided to stop in a place that I liked,” he said late last year during an interview with The Weekender.
Just a short stroll away from his home is his center of operations when it comes to woodworking and sharpening his skills as a luthier. The shop, which is well maintained and not cluttered, is filled with jigs and fixtures that were all created by Replogle.
“I’ve always been handy,” Replogle said. “My career was in accounting, but I’ve always done home repairs. I was doing other woodworking projects and decided to try a ukulele kit just as a one-off project. I was intrigued and challenged to do it from scratch. That was about seven years ago.”
Replogle estimated he spends about 100 hours on each instrument he makes, though it often takes much longer.
“Rather than getting faster over the years it seems like I’m getting slower, really,” he said. “(I’m) more careful and doing more things.”
“These will probably be in the vicinity of $1,500,” he added, gesturing toward a pair of in-the-works instruments he was creating for clients.
Replogle said he always makes the ukuleles in pairs as a matter of practice, utilizing a broad range of wood to make each instrument unique.
For the past four years, Replogle has been involved in showing his instruments at ARTrails of Southwest Washington, an artist studio tour that typically takes place during two weekends in September.
He’s found that the tour has enabled him to reach a larger number of potential customers as he partners with another artist to bring people to them.
Beyond selling his instruments, though, Replogle said he most enjoys the process of building them.
“It’s solving problems,” Replogle said. “It’s coming up with creative solutions to problems that I really enjoy.”