Category Archives: Intermediate

Building a Ukulele with Basic Hand Tools

Over the years I have accumulated a collection of specialized tools for building ukuleles.  But for this project, I wanted to scale back the needed tools and see what I could build with simple tools.  I am a big fan of Leatherman Multi-tools, so I decided to build a travel style ukulele only using the Leatherman Super Tool 300.  This tool is one of their “heavy duty” multi-tools, and it has a great selection of tools.

Even if you don’t have a Super Tool 300 (or its little brother the Leatherman Rebar), you can still build this instrument with the tools most people will already have in their garage.

Tools:

  • Pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Slotted screwdriver
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Knife
  • Saw
  • Awl (for drilling holes)
  • File

Parts and Supplies:

  • 9.75″ by 1.5″ by .5″ wood (for neck)
  • 2″ by 1.5″ by .25″ wood (for where the neck meets the body)
  • 16″ by .75″ by .75″ wood (this will be cut in half for the body)
  • A set ukulele strings
  • 4 – beads for the ukulele strings
  • 4 – ukulele friction tuning machines
  • 1 – 5/32″ by 1.5″ cotter pin (for zero fret nut)
  • 6 – 3/32″ by 1.5″ cotter pins (for 12 frets)
  • 1 – 1/4 by 3.5″ carriage bolt
  • 6 – 1/4-20 jam nuts
  • 10 – 1/4 by 1″ fender washers
  • 4 – 1/4 by .75″ nylon washers
  • 2 – 3/16″ ground wire straps
  • 3″ aluminum or steel tube (for bridge)
  • 2 – 3/8″ screws
  • Wood glue
  • Super Glue (also known as Cyanoacrylate glue, or CA glue)

Other instructions:

  1. Cut 16″ by .75″ by .75″ wood in half to make two 8″ pieces.
  2. Drill holes for the turnaround and two tuning machines on both of these 8″ pieces.  .5″ from the end, 3″ from the end, and 5 ” from the end.
  3. The neck is glued to the two 8″ body pieces with a 2″ overlap.
  4.  The 2″ by 1.5″ by .25″ wood is used to fill in the overlap area to flatten out the back.
  5. The string slots up by the headstock should be 1/4″ to 3/8″ deep.
  6. The jam nuts, fender washers, and nylon washers can moved around to adjust string spacing at the bridge.

 

Printable Fret Template: 

Print this template at 100% size on 8.5″ by 11″ paper (normal printer in the USA) for a 13.5 inch (soprano) scale length.

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Watch this video to see how this ukulele was built.

Crutch Guitar

Difficulty: Intermediate

Cost: $$

Sometimes it is really fun to gather up some wood and miscellaneous parts and throw a silly instrument together.  That’s what I did with this build.  I found a thrift store crutch and slapped a fretboard, bridge, a pickup on it.

Here’s the completed guitar.

I used a Stratocopy bridge, pickup, and volume knob.

The headstock was made some classical guitar tuners, some 1/2″ oak and some nylon spacers.

I didn’t even bother to cover up the underside.  I grounded the bridge by running a wire from a bridge screw to the back of the potentiometer.

 

See this beast in action!  And see me [fake] breaking my leg.

Kamaka Style Cigar Box Ukulele

Difficulty: Intermediate

Cost: $$

I decided to make a ukulele modeled after the Cigar Box ukuleles made by Kamaka. I like the way the headstock is made.  It’s an interesting way to make strings angle down without having an angled headstock.

 

The neck is made with 3 pieces of 1/2″ mahogany and 2 pieces of 1/4″ poplar.  Not only does the wood contrast nicely, I like the idea of the foreign and domestic lumber working together.  (If I don’t watch out, I might get philosophical)

I used a bunch of clamps and glue to laminate the neck together.

After the glued dried, the tapered and carved the neck.  I also drilled the holes for the tuners.

I added a little cleat to the heel to help with the tension put on the neck.  The cleat went into the box and was glued to the bottom of the box.

The wood always come to life with a little Tru-Oil.

I glued the neck and glued the Ashton box closed.  Sometimes I make it so the box can still be opened, but for this I want to not have a “through neck” and the side of this style of Ashton box bulges out. The bulge would be hard to fit a neck to.

Ready for strings!  The fretboard is walnut and the bridge is rosewood.
Now, sit back and enjoy the glamour shots of this ukulele.

  

I built this ukulele for my friend Andrew James.  He’s a fingerstyle guitar player and enthusiast.  He’s also a ukulele builder.  I met him through YouTube and Facebook.

Check out the links below to find out more about Andrew James:
http://andrewjamesguitar.com
https://www.youtube.com/user/drewdjt74

Video time!

Homemade Guitalele

Difficulty: Intermediate

Cost: $$

This was a project that didn’t take a whole lot of time.  Having the neck and body already done really made this project go fast.

 

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The neck was from a cheap kid’s guitar, and the body was from a grizzly kit.

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I attached the neck with glue and a dowel.

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I got an undrilled ukulele bridge from StewMac.  The fretboard is made of purpleheart.

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I strung it up with a light set of classical guitar strings.

See it in action:

Travel Ukulele

Difficulty: Advanced

Cost: $$

I really love making compact travel ukuleles. In fact, if there is someone that has made more varieties of travel ukuleles than me, I’d love to get to know them. 🙂

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Here’s another travel ukulele that I built. It’s concert size made with a hunk of maple.

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The friction tuners have white buttons. The wraparound for the strings is chrome along with most of the other hardware.

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Even with a scale length of 15 inches, the overall length of this uke is right around 20 inches. It’s small and sturdy; perfect for travel.

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Here it is with a travel ukulele I built back in 2012.

 

Vintage Harmony Ukulele Repair

I fixed this broken Harmony Ukulele for a friend at work. She has had it since the 1960s and sometime along the way it had developed a few cracks along the top of the body.

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It is tuned A,D,F#,B.  That’s one whole step higher than standard ukulele tuning.

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Here are the cracks in the body.  Someone along the way tried to repair the loose neck with a long metal nail.  (Just in case anyone is wondering, this isn’t a great way to repair a loose instrument neck)

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I carefully pried off the neck and then was able to glue the cracks.  I then glued the neck back on and reassembled the uke.

 

Now this ukulele is playable again.  😀

Video Time:

Film Can Strummer

Difficulty: Intermediate

Cost: $

Strummers (Strumsticks, stick dulcimers)  are very easy to play and super fun to build.  This is a smaller strummer with a 17 inch scale length.  I tune it Low G, D, G.  I used an old film can, but any type of wooden, plastic, metal, or even sturdy paper would work for the body.  By printing out the fret guide and watching video a few times, you should be able to make a cool instrument.  Let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment.

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Parts needed:

  • .75 by 1.5 by 25.5 inch wood (for neck)
  • .25 by 1.5 by 10 inch wood (for fretboard)
  • Wooden or metal box
  • 3-on-a-plate tuners
  • Assorted small screw.
  • 1.5 inches angled aluminum or steel (for tailpiece)
  • Small piece of wood for bridge
  • 20 inches of fretwire
  • 3 thin, metal guitar strings

Printable fret guides:

(Make sure that you print these at 100% size)

8.5 by 11 paper

A4 paper

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Don’t use the 1st, 3rd, 6th, 8th, or 13th frets.

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Learn how to build this!

 

Banjo Guitar Repair

A friend brought me an old banjo guitar to see if I could fix it up.  He inherited from his grandma who had had it for years.  From the look of it, it seemed that someone had taken an old banjo body and added a 6 string guitar neck to it.  It was missing strings, the bridge, and the tailpiece.   20140117-170107.jpg 20140117-165829.jpg   All of the banjo hardware was in fairly good shape.  The banjo head didn’t even need to be replace. 20140117-165841.jpg 20140117-165854.jpg   The neck was probably from a a Tele or a Strat kit. 20140117-165904.jpg   The tuners were old, but still serviceable.  I only had to replace one tuner post and one tuner gear. 20140117-170059.jpg   Everything was taken apart and cleaned.   The neck and banjo rim were given a coat of Tru-Oil to brighten up the wood. 20140117-165918.jpg

The banjo guitar is playable again!  This type of instrument is really fun to play.  If you play the guitar, then you can get the banjo sound without the learning curve.20140117-165928.jpg

Video time!

Quad Neck Ukulele

Difficulty: Intermediate

Cost: $$

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No matter how impractical the end result turns out to be, it is still very satisfying to see an idea come to fruition.  The point of this instrument was to combine all four major sizes of ukuleles into one uke.  This uke has a soprano (13 inch scale),  a concert (15 inch scale), a tenor (17 inch scale), and a baritone (19 inch scale) neck.

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This uke started as a La Flor Dominicana cigar box from eBay.  I picked this particular one because it is oversized and has a unique, triangular shape.

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The four rough cut necks.  I used the same sized headstock for all four necks, and identical tuners.

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Getting ready to glue everything together.  I got the bridges for an eBay seller in Turkey.

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This ukulele will “spin you right ’round, baby”.

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I installed a single locking strap peg on the back to allow the instrument to rotate.

See it in action!

Lightsaber Ukulele

Difficulty: Intermediate

Cost: $$

“I see you have constructed a new lightsaber. Your skills are complete. Indeed you are powerful…”

A few months ago, I received a YouTube message suggesting that I make a ukulele shaped like a lightsaber.  After thinking about it, I decided to do it.  🙂

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The neck/blade and the fretboard is made of poplar.  The handle portion is some PVC pipe that is just big enough to fit a 9V battery.  I wanted to have the neck as long as possible while still staying in the ukulele realm, so I went with a 19 inch scale length.

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The whole instrument was primered, then the blade got florescent green and the handle got chrome spray paint.  At this point I had installed the SPST switch to control the LED fret markers, so that had to be masked off.

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To add some extra pizazz to this project, I installed 4 LEDs in the fretboard.  To accommodate the wires and resistor, I routed out a channel under fretboard.  I then drilled a long hole from the handle to the channel to connect everything.

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The 4 green LEDs are powered by a 9V battery in the handle.  This tool is handy for figuring out what resistors to use and generating the above image.

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The bridge has a under saddle piezo rod connected directly to the combo strap peg/jack.   Because this has no soundboard, it needs some amplification.

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It is tuned in standard ukulele tuning (high G, C, E, A).

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With and without blade extended.  😀

The Force is strong with this one.