Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ukulele (guitar-like thing megapost)

A few days ago, I started building an ukulele.  I've wanted to attempt a stringed instrument for a while, and winter break seemed like a good time to start.  
First, I browsed uke pics to get an idea of the proportions.  I learned from Wikipedia that ukuleles are classified by size.  

TypeScale length[26]Total lengthTuning[27]
soprano or standard13" (33 cm)21" (53 cm)A4-D4-F#4-B4 or G4-C4-E4-A4
concert15" (38 cm)23" (58 cm)G4-C4-E4-A4, or G3-C4-E4-A4
tenor17" (43 cm)26" (66 cm)G3-C4-E4-A4, G4-C4-E4-A4 , or D4-G3-B3-E4
baritone19" (48 cm)30" (76 cm)D3-G3-B3-E4
I settled on a tenor because I figured I could get away with larger tolerances, but I still wanted some degree of portability.


I first found some diagrams to get an idea of scale.  A search turned up this diagram of an ukulele neck, and I  used this as a template for mine.  

A great little program called FretFind helped me layout the locations of the frets, as well as sizes of the neck, nut and bridge.


  I started by carving the neck out of a chunk of tulip poplar.  I made rough cuts with a pruning saw then followed up with a chisel and a gouge.  It's a pretty soft wood with a dead straight grain.

I'm using a machinist's vise.  I duct taped some thin ply scrap to the jaws so it wouldn't mark up the wood

done with the first round of chiseling.  

I wanted to inlay a fretboard, something a bit more durable and nicer looking than the poplar.  To make room for the inlay, I set the blade on the table saw to about 3/16" and took some slices out of the top of the neck. 
After that, it was easy to clean it up and flatten it out with a straight chisel.

glue applied

The fretboard - It's a piece of bloodwood scrap that my Dad had lying around.

The spring clamps weren't as snug as I would've liked, so I later used C clamps instead.
Tuning Pegs

I opted out of using geared tuners since the tension on the strings won't be anywhere near that of a steel string guitar.  Instead, I made wood tuning pegs.  

That's a small piece of white oak that I sloppily cut with a coping saw.  I whittled it down with a knife until it stopped looking so boxy, but it still wasn't round enough.

I hesitate to use the word lathe...

Enter the inverted cordless drill in a vise!

This worked surprisingly well.  I'd put the smallest end of the peg in the chuck, operate the drill with my left hand, and manipulate a chisel with my right.  I don't know the technical name for it, but I used a roller that's supposed to support long pieces of stock as the thing that I rest the chisel on.

 Here's a little test head I made so I wouldn't ruin the real one.  The outer hole is drilled to something like 9/32".  The inner section is first drilled to 1/4", then the opening is expanded just a bit to 17/64".  I can approximate a taper that way.  I used calipers when sanding the peg in my "lathe" to match the taper of the hole.  

The peg is a bit blackened in this photo because I rubbed it in coal dust.  That seems to give it a bit more of a hold.

Back to the neck

I trimmed the excess inlay from the neck with my trusty coping saw.

After some sanding...

With that done, I started shaping the head to accept tuners.  I bored some holes and chiseled the rest.

Box Building
I read somewhere that cedar makes a good soundbox, so I dug through a stack of some old cedar siding that used to be installed on our house until I found some sufficiently not rotten pieces.  

They're about 7/8" thick on one side, then they taper down to 1/4" or less on the bottom.  I wanted the sides of my box to be thin, less than a quarter inch.  I got to work with a plane to get them down to size.

It took a few hours.  If I'd had access to a proper woodshop, I probably could have done it in a few minutes.

Here's the soundboard and the sides.  I made the soundboard thinner than the sides because a thinner membrane generally means brighter sound.

Here's the tail end of the box

more to come..

Update 1/3/12:  It's done as of a few days ago - here are the rest of the build photos:
box!  I glued and tacked it together

A piece of juniper harvested from our woods a few years ago

piece of juniper carved into the nut
first fret!  I used the fret calculator mentioned earlier to position it just right
clamping the bridge to the soundboard.
I could have used about five extra hands while setting this one up.
more frets

flush cut saw used for cutting fret slots

the soundboard was a bit flexy for my liking, so I added some maple bracing on  the back (soon to be inside)

done and strung!  I cut the soundhole by tracing out a circle, then drilling out small holes all along the perimeter.  

linseed oil gives it some character 


  1. found your blog! also, this is beautiful!

  2. سباك بالمدينة المنورة
    عزيزي العميل إذا كنت تبحث عن أفضل سباك بالمدينة المنورة فإليكم رقم سباك بالمدينة المنورة
    والذي يعتمد في كثير من أعمال السباكة فهي واحدة من الأعمال الضرورية جداً بكافة الأماكن سواء بالمنازل والفلل والقصور أو حتى بالشركات والمصانع والفنادق والمستشفيات والمطاعم والكافيهات، فكل هذه أماكن تحتاج إلى سباك ممتاز بالمدينة المنورة
    لأنه الأفضل في عمله دائماً.
    فني سباك بالمدينة المنورة
    يعتمد في عمله على كل ما هو حديث ومتطور من معدات وأجهزة تساعده في كشف تسربات المياه، وفي تمديد مواسير المياه وأنابيب الصرف الصحي، كما تعتمد علية شركة الصيانة والخدمات المنزلية على تقديم أفضل أعمال السباكة التي تحتاج إلى خبرة كبيرة، وهذا لا يتوافر سوى لدي شركة سباكة بالمدينة المنورة.