Category Archives: Medium Cost ($$)

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.

13.5_in_travel_uke_fretboard

 

Watch this video to see how this ukulele was built.

LEGO Ukulele

After planning, gathering the parts, and designing this ukulele, I was finally able to start  build this LEGO ukulele.

Here is the ukulele before I glued the top on.  As you can see in the picture, I followed the traditional building method and installed bracing on the top and back.

This is the completed ukulele with Strings.

Any idea why I used these shirts for this picture?

I hired a new setup technician to help me adjust the string action.

 

Here is a video about the building of the LEGO ukulele.  Towards the end there is a playing demo.

Walking Stick One String Bass

This is a walking stick for bassists that have a need to ramble.

Watch the video below to watch the major parts of the building process.

If you have some experience with woodwork and instrument building, here are some helps for making your own.

List of materials:

  • Sturdy hardwood at least 1″ by 1.5″ by 44″  (I used cherry wood)
  • Bass tuning machine
  • Rubber tip
  • Cane handle
  • “D” or “G” bass string
  • Medium sized eye screw
  • Short piece of bass fretwire (for the zero fret nut)
  • Few feet of guitar fretwire (for the rest of the frets)
  • Angled aluminum
  • Plastic tube
  • Piezo rod
  • Strat-style jack plate
  • 1/4″ mono jack
  • Miscellaneous screws

Below is the printable template for the fretboard. The scale length is 31 inches.  The outside edge of the template can be used for shaping the main shape of the shaft.  Then, it is up the builder to determine how long the top and bottom need to be extended for the tuner, tip, output jack, and handle.

Walking Stick One String Bass Fretboard (31 inch scale length)

If all of this hasn’t scared you off yet, then good luck with your project.  This isn’t a great “first instrument” project, but there are a few of those in my “Free Plans” section.

 

Tennis Racquet Ukulele

Difficulty:  Advanced

Cost:  $$

I made a tennis racquet ukulele before, but this time I wanted to do a few thing differently.  I wanted to have a wooden top and back, and I wanted to widen the neck enough to use a normal sized fretboard.

Here is the racquet before the strings were removed.

Goodbye strings!

I planed down the body and the handle.

To make the neck wide enough for the fretboard, I glued cherry wood pieces to the side.

Gluing on the basswood top and fretboard.  It has a tenor (17″) scale length.

 

After gluing on the bridge, I applied a few coats of Tru-Oil.

Check out the beautiful lamination of this racquet.

With the tuners installed, this uke is ready for strings.

I used a string retainer since this ukulele doesn’t have an angled headstock.

Here is the ukulele compared with Tennis Racquet Banjo ukulele that I made a few years ago.

 

Check out the demo video of the tennis racquet ukulele.

Backpacker Travel Ukulele

Difficulty:  Advanced

Cost:  $$

If you follow this website, you know that my Travel Ukulele plans are popular.  This ukulele is a variation of that design.

 

I took my travel ukulele design and cut off the back portion. I also omitted the pickup and jack. Requiring an amp definitely make a ukulele less portable. Not having the pickup also meant that I could start out with a piece of wood only .75″ instead of the normal 1″.  This uke has a concert scale length (15″) but the overall length is just 17.5″.

Because I took out the pickup, I decided to add a thin piece of wood to the back to help out with the resonance.

I stamped my last name into the back.

The main wood is maple and the back piece is basswood.

Even after applying a few coats of Tru-Oil and adding strings, this ukulele weighs just 11 ounces.

This uke even has a working compass inlayed into the neck.

This ukulele would be great to throw in a backpack, keep in a car, or stow in some luggage.

If you want to use a strap, there are strap pegs at the back and where the headstock would normally be.

This ukulele is heading on an epic trek.  Check out Her Odyssey to follow along with the journey.

Video demo time!

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!

Utah Uke Fest – 2015

On July 18th, 2015 I was able to attend the 4th Annual Utah Uke Fest in American Fork Utah.  Well, we will get to that a little later.  Two days before that I was on live morning TV to promote the Uke Fest.

Here is the video of the segment I was on:

 

Ok, back the real Fest.  It was a full day of fun.  The morning had a workshops taught by M. Ryan Taylor (the founder of the Fest) and the headliner of this year’s festival Danielle Ate the Sandwich.

IMG_2296_2

After the lunchtime open mic contest (I was a judge again this year), it was time for my 2 hour workshop.  During this time, we assembled my travel uke kits.  The workshop was limited to 5 people, and it sold out quickly weeks before the festival.

Completed travel ukulele ready for strings.

A whole of completed travel ukuleles (including my demo model).

A happy bunch of fellows.

A highlight video of the workshop.

 

That night I played one song at the main concert.  I used my electric harp ukulele and played a cover of “The Blur, The Line and the Thickest of Onions” by Little Comets.

Video of my performance:

It was another great Utah Uke Fest.  I’m looking forward to next year!

 

 

 

Building a Travel Ukulele

Difficulty: Advanced

Cost: $$

A lot of people seem to like my travel ukulele.  I’ve been asked a lot of questions about how to build one over the years.  I’m not going to write step by step plans on how to build it, but I will give give some hints and helps.  This project doesn’t lend itself to straightforward plans.  If this is your first time building an instrument, go over to the FREE PLANS tab and try a few of those projects.

Print out the body template below.  Make sure to print out the pages on 8.5″ X 11″ paper and print at 100% size.  Check to make sure that scaling isn’t wrong by matching up a ruler to the one on the page.  (NOTE:  The ruler is on the pages for size checking only, not for lining up the pages.  Line up the pages by matching the two template pieces.)

Concert Travel Ukulele Template

UPDATE:  Christopher Allan emailed me a cleaned up template that also has the backpacker travel ukulele.  Get it here —–>  Concert Travel Ukulele Template  

(And make sure to check out his cartoons and illustrations at his website cjksallan.com)

Print out the fret template below.  Make sure to print out the pages on 8.5″ X 11″ paper and print at 100% size.  The distance from the “zero fret” to the 12th fret should be just under 7.5″.

Travel Uke (15 in) Fretboard

Check out the video of my travel ukulele being assembled.

 

Here’s how another one like it sounds:

 

One String Zigzag Bass

Difficulty: Advanced

Cost: $$

I’ve done regular fretboards, fanned fretboards, and regular fretboards.  But I’ve never done a zigzag fretboard.  This type of fretboard only works with one string, and I thought that one string is best suited for a bass instrument.

IMG_1249

What’s up with this crazy fretboard?

Here’s a progress shot of the bass.  The body is two small cigar boxes joined together.  The scale length is 24 and 7/8 inches long.  I did that for a very specific reason…because that the longest scale length I could do with the neck wood I had laying around.

The bridge is a single individual bass bridge.  The pickup is a single coil tele-style neck pickup.

Eventhough the frets look random, the frets intersect the middle of the fretboard right where the frets normally would.

The pickup is connected to the jack after going through a volume control.

It’s a weird looking instrument, but it might but so ugly that it looks kind of interesting.    A bit like a Picasso painting,  something is wrong with its appearance, but you can’t look away.

See it in action: