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Joe Wiese

Building a Ukelele

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Yeah, I know. No violins.  But there are a lot of smart diverse people here.

I have three requests to build a ukulele.  Friends who will pay for materials and bit more.  Normally I need this like another hole in the head, but it is for friends, and family, so a good excuse to learn a new skill at low cost. 

I have experience building many violins, viola, some cello.  No guitar or Uke, but have been researching.

I live not too far from Stew Mac.  I am aware of kits, but I will make  these with the intent to make several more.   That means molds, proper equipment. 

Any good instructional books?  Reliable correct plans?   Contacts in Ohio?  

Thanks. 

 

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I built a baritone uke recently and basically just went about it the same way I build a violin.  Maple and spruce with an inside mould and carved neck.  
It takes a lot less time to make because the plates are just thicknessed. 
I would recommend this circle cutting attachment for a Dremel tool if you have one.. 
71GIKIWpNvL._AC_SL1500_.jpg

It's great for the sound hole and purfling.  
If you're making your own fingerboard then you'll need a saw with the correct kerf for fret slots. 
You'll need a flush cutter for the ends of the frets.  I just bought one of these and ground the end until it cuts perfectly flush..

51RkVlGOitL._AC_SL1063_.jpg
Then depending on if you want to do binding (not all ukes have them) you could get one of these for easy routing with a Dremel..

s-l1600.jpg

Those are really the only specialized tools you'll need.  
Everything else you already have. 
Best of luck.

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As far as books go some would argue that “ Guitarmaking tradition and technology” is  comparable to Courtnall and Johnson. 
(not uke specific but the steps are all the same) 

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There are a few serious historical uke development folks out there, I've run into a few in the Baroque cello, gamba, guitar circles. I would read up a little on the development, you might contact some folks at Oberlin and see if they have any input.

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The Uke Book Illustrated : Design and Build the World's Coolest Ukulele 

https://www.leevalley.com/en-ca/shop/tools/books-and-dvds/110536-the-uke-book-illustrated

This book is a graphic instructional of 1500 captioned watercolour illustrations with plans.  This is an eminently useful and beautiful book.  The author was a classically trained luthier working for many years in Italy. I own this book and highly recommend it. I have worked on all sorts of string instruments (including guitars and ukuleles) and have read dozens of scholarly books on lutherie.

The ukulele/4-string nylon guitar is a serious instrument for serious music, despite its undeserved reputation as a toy for children or a prop for comedians.  Do a web search to hear and see some of the virtuosi (soloists and ensembles) of the ukulele.

Regards,

Randy O'Malley

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On 4/25/2020 at 12:07 PM, Thomas Coleman said:

I used this book and plans from Hana Lima along with Guitarmaking Tradition and Technology by Cumpiano

https://hanalimastore.com/products/hana-lima-ia-ukulele-construction-manual

 

I've made several guitars and so approached the uke as a mini guitar.  The book is well worth the money in my opinion.

image.jpeg

IMG_4415 (1).JPG

IMG_4418.JPG

Very Nice!

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The difficulty is in the string choices and the stresses on the top. Nylon strings, since they just keep pulling can be an assortment of thicknesses but the tensions on the top and tonal range can be weird. I did not try enough of the variety of nylon strings out there. 

I bought a cheap Baritone Uke and tried different strings but was never super happy. Both the tenor guitar and tenor banjo tune c- g- d- a-, though the scale of the bari uke is much closer to the real viola. I lend it our to kids from time to time, but they adapt to the normal uke tuning.

I tried some cheap viola strings on a smaller uke, but the a- felt tight and the c- did not sound full. They were probably Helicore. 

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I made one for my wife from a kit sold by stew mac. It went well and I used my finishing skills from violin making. A good way to start. Also, there is a real neat Ukulele Store in Waikiki, Hawaii at 226 Lewers St. Suite 218, Honolulu, Hawaii 96815. There phone # is 808-888-5469 and web page at www.Ukulelestorehawaii.com; e mail is ukulelestorehawaii@gmail.com.  They sell high end instruments made on the islands. The top end sell for about $5-7000.0. Over the last six years they have been there. I picked their brains on the finishes of the best ones. True Oil is on many of them. They may be able to give you some information or contacts with makers there on Oahu. Every time we go by the store I want to go in and look around. They have low end instruments starting around $3-400.00. They specialize in selling hand made instruments from Oahu.

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I just went to the website, it is correct. You need to look at their instruments. They are works of art!! I wouldn't be surprised to find out that I was way low in the estimate of their high end instruments.

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Thanks everyone.  I'm kind of laughing how many views this thread has, over 300. 

I have been listening to Ukulele podcast where they had a few podcasts with makers etc.   They had some makers on, talked about wood, bracing, strings.  Pretty interesting. A lot subjective and preferential, much like the world of violins etc. 

 

 

 

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If you're at all interested in the origins of the instrument try looking up the Portuguese Machete de Braga.
They're really beautiful little instruments similar in style to romantic guitars..

01machete_0.png&h=450&w=978&zc=1&q=100&a=c

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On 4/26/2020 at 3:58 PM, GoPractice said:

The difficulty is in the string choices and the stresses on the top. Nylon strings, since they just keep pulling can be an assortment of thicknesses but the tensions on the top and tonal range can be weird. I did not try enough of the variety of nylon strings out there. 

I bought a cheap Baritone Uke and tried different strings but was never super happy. Both the tenor guitar and tenor banjo tune c- g- d- a-, though the scale of the bari uke is much closer to the real viola. I lend it our to kids from time to time, but they adapt to the normal uke tuning.

I tried some cheap viola strings on a smaller uke, but the a- felt tight and the c- did not sound full. They were probably Helicore. 

Talk to the Baroque folks, they are the ones who experiment with strings and try to replicate tuning with all manner of instruments we never see any more.

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