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View Full Version : So....how hard is it to build a decent ukulele?



Photojosh
02-07-2015, 10:18 AM
So, on my list of "life stuff" for a few years has been "learn to build a ukulele". Mostly just for the project aspect of it and playing something I made myself. But in the back of my head, I have a "someday" dream of being able to make some ukuleles for my friends/family. Maybe this never happens, but: daydream.

But, in reality, what are we talking about here as far as difficulty? I know my way around a woodshop and tools but I've never built an instrument. I'd take a building workshop, just to get some hands on instruction, but that's not logistically feasible based on family life and where I live. I have a tenor stewmac kit sitting in my music room waiting for me to get to it. And I've looked at a number of videos/websites that talk about those kits. For the most part, they mostly seem like following "be careful and go slow" will get you where you want to go.

But I've never done any high-end finishing. And I'm unsure how far the stewmac kit is from a real uke build.

Timbuck
02-07-2015, 10:26 AM
It's easy..If you know what you're doing and got the right jigs and tools and materials..After the first 80 or so builds you should be doing ok (Apart from the odd ones that still go wrong) :o.....But don't let this put you off ;)

Photojosh
02-07-2015, 10:40 AM
But don't let this put you off ;)

Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of. :)

Allen
02-07-2015, 10:42 AM
When you break down each of the tasks in building a uke. None of them in them selves are difficult. Precise work one step at a time, getting all the parts to come together as a functional instrument.....well lets just say that you might spend the rest of your life trying to improve over the last.

Photojosh
02-07-2015, 10:47 AM
Is the gap between "sounds nice" and "throw it in the trash" the hard one to master? Or is it the "sounds nice, looks odd" to "sounds nice, looks nice"? Or is it both?

jcalkin
02-07-2015, 11:59 AM
Just clear away a bench and build the kit. Buy the StewMac/MyaMoe DVD to help you out. You have nothing to lose. Its a quality kit. Don't compare yourself to the guys on this forum, some of them are many years and hundreds of ukes ahead of you. You can't over-build it with the stuff in the kit, so decent tone will be there. If you get the neck on straight it should play OK. If you have some woodworking background you can surely out smart a little box of parts. It'll do you good just to conquer the intimidation that's keeping you from starting.

ProfChris
02-07-2015, 12:52 PM
Is the gap between "sounds nice" and "throw it in the trash" the hard one to master? Or is it the "sounds nice, looks odd" to "sounds nice, looks nice"? Or is it both?

You've missed the third side of the triangle, plays well.

My progression was: no 1 sounded quite good, played just about adequately, looked rustic. No 2 looked a bit better. No 3 played a lot better, but looked very odd indeed (my first figure 8, and definitely after Matisse). From there on I hit Adequate or better for all three.

I think that round about no 10 you could be consistently decent/good on sound and playability. You should also hit good on looks in terms of shape, lack of scars, etc.

But good on finishing is a far longer road. A decent, non-pore filled Tru Oil finish could be managed before you reach no 10. Beyond that there seems to be no end to the search for the perfect (whatever that is) finish.

But, I had fun making and playing no 1, and if I'd stopped there I'd still be playing it. Everyone who didn't make ukes was very impressed.

Pete Howlett
02-07-2015, 12:56 PM
I'm still trying..

Titchtheclown
02-07-2015, 01:53 PM
Try a different tack and build an indecent uke first. Describe the flaws as character and the sound as folk, or bush band as we call it here in Australia. Whatever you do, try to enjoy it. I have never even tried to build a decent uke and yet I hve made dozens of dodgy ones. On the other hand I see many people post first builds that would fool me at least into thinking they had been making them for years.

Underling
02-07-2015, 02:10 PM
Its more time consuming then hard. I love the one I built. It sounds good and looks good from head on. (I made the neck too thick so it looks funny from the side) You don't need to many tools and jigs to make them. They just make the process go faster. I built mine with basic hand tools and a router. The one thing I wish I had when I built mine is a good flat suffice to work on. I got a 1/4 sheet of mdf to build my second uke on.

tangimango
02-07-2015, 03:03 PM
building the ukulele is not hard or the problem, its when you get hooked after your first build then your in trouble in a good way.

Habanera Hal
02-08-2015, 07:05 AM
As mentioned before, it's not particularly hard if you are familiar with basic woodworking and want to acquire all kinds of neat new tools . It gives you the opportunity to improve your existing skills, learn new ones, and acquire all kinds of neat new tools. I built my first few using the Hana Lima 'Ia instructions (Spanish neck style), was very happy with the results and acquired all kinds of neat new tools. Then I tried bolt-on necks and acquired all kinds of neat new tools. As you build you'll enjoy adding rich details like designing unique rosettes, endgrafts, inlays, and bindings and acquiring all kinds of neat new tools.

Did I mention one of the benefits of learning lutherie is acquiring all kinds of neat new tools?

Photojosh
02-08-2015, 07:18 AM
As mentioned before, it's not particularly hard if you are familiar with basic woodworking and want to acquire all kinds of neat new tools . It gives you the opportunity to improve your existing skills, learn new ones, and acquire all kinds of neat new tools. I built my first few using the Hana Lima 'Ia instructions (Spanish neck style), was very happy with the results and acquired all kinds of neat new tools. Then I tried bolt-on necks and acquired all kinds of neat new tools. As you build you'll enjoy adding rich details like designing unique rosettes, endgrafts, inlays, and bindings and acquiring all kinds of neat new tools.

Did I mention one of the benefits of learning lutherie is acquiring all kinds of neat new tools?

I'm just hoping I get an excuse to pick up some new tools. I mean, the rest of the stuff you list sounds cool also. But new tools would really seal the deal.

Photojosh
02-08-2015, 07:19 AM
Thanks for the thoughts everyone. The logical place to start is the stewmac kit I already own. We'll see how that goes and how much/little I want to take the next step after that.

sequoia
02-08-2015, 09:26 AM
My first uke was a Stew-Mac tenor kit and it turned out very nicely indeed. A sweet sounding and playing little ukulele... In my amateur and humble opinion there are four things you have to get absolutely right:

1: Get that head block (neck block?) in there square, flush, flat, plumb, perfect and smelling and looking sweet. Errors have a way of compounding and amplifying causing problems down the line.
2: Get the neck on in a perfect line from the tippy-tip of the peg board to the tippy-tip of the tail. Not hard, just important.
3: Glue the bridge on in perfect alignment and distance to the nut.
4: Do a proper set-up after all the sawdust settles.

You will need proper clamps (cam type instrument and bridge clamp(s). Other than that, the hardware store has everything you need (well... mostly). Count on buying more tools from SM because they sure as hell are counting on it... No, I wouldn't say it is particularly hard to build a kit ukulele. But it ain't a total cake walk either. But if it was too easy, where would the fun be?

BlackBearUkes
02-08-2015, 09:36 AM
Building ukes is not difficult, even getting them to decent is not difficult, understanding their structure and why things work the way they do takes a bit more time and study. Those of us who are in it for the long haul are just starting to get the hang of it.

Chris_H
02-08-2015, 05:27 PM
BlackBears words seem the most accurate to me, so far.

resoman
02-08-2015, 07:03 PM
BlackBears words seem the most accurate to me, so far.
Yes!
I'm getting things to sound consistently good but I can't tell you exactly why and that bothers me. It is a great mystery that I am slowly, slowly starting to unravel. Aside from that, getting a finish that I can be proud of has been very difficult but it is getting better and easier every instrument. Getting the right spray gun really, really helped.

Hluth
02-09-2015, 12:01 PM
The Stewmac kit is a good place to start because it requires less specialized equipment (like a bending iron), and will allow you concentrate the assembly. Go slow and make sure everything fits well and is properly aligned before you glue it. The important thing is to get started - it probably won't be as difficult as you think.

dkame
02-09-2015, 09:27 PM
joeguam did a nice step-by-step post of his build of the StewMac tenor kit last year. If you do a search on "water buffalo" you should be able to find it.
I also built the kit with good results. It plays very nicely but I would recommend thinning the top and top bracing a bit as the kit is designed with margin for error. It also helps to re-bend the sides as they relax from shape in the plans.

You'll have a lot of fun with it! It'll turn out great!