View Full Version : Repairing the Smashed Ukulele: Part I

03-19-2015, 07:40 PM
Since not much is going on in the Lounge, I thought I would post my long struggle to repair/rehabilitate a smashed and broken ukulele. It was a huge learning experience for me as a hobbiest/enthuasist builder and not a real luthier. The building order was backwards sometimes and out of kilter to my way of doing things. A big learning experience. Let us visit the victim:


A basic mahogany (Brazilian) tenor uke sorta on the lines of a Martin. Plain rosette. No bling. Meant to be a player. Sounded good. Not great.

A terrible accident then happens! The top gets caved in and smashed.


The damage was worse than shows in the picture. Top splintered and detached from the sides. Notice the cratering on the left side of the bridge. Mirror inspection shows the bridge plate cracked half the way though, a bent left fan brace and a totally snapped off central bridge fan brace. Basically a cooked top. Not repairable. Thus begins the top replacement. Taking off the bridge:


Bridge off...


Next the fingerboard.


03-20-2015, 03:24 AM
This is going to be interesting. Keep 'em coming, I'm curious how this goes.

03-20-2015, 08:00 AM
The fretboard gives it up slowly. About 1/8 inch at a time. Much patience needed. About an hour and half shimming with nails as I go. Some damage to the neck bed. Fretboard very beat up and soaked with steam. Also immediately curls alarmingly, but no cracking...


Fretboard and top removed. Some top cross braces savable. Fan braces broken and discarded. The top came off quickly and easily with a sharp, wedged separation knife. Some minimal damage to sides.


Local sinker redwood plates for new top. Beautiful stuff from a local river given to me for free.


Plates jointed.


03-20-2015, 09:05 PM
Top thicknessed, nice rosette put in, thicknessed down to about 75, braced and ready to go.


New linings put in and sanded down flush.


Top glued on.


Trimmed top. By hand. No routers, just planes.


Binding channel routed and binding and purfling test fit.


03-21-2015, 05:22 AM
Is this a Spanish neck style?

03-21-2015, 06:18 AM
Thank you very much for sharing this.

03-21-2015, 07:58 AM
This is fantastic! Terrible accident, but your love for your uke shines through with the extensive repairs.

03-21-2015, 09:44 AM
Is this a Spanish neck style?

No. It is a standard neck connection which I decided not to remove (mistake). Herein began the problems. The neck was set for the original top which was quite thin. The replacement top was thicker and would not allow the fretboard to lay flat, but created a slight "ski jump" effect. Also, in order to fix the damage done to the neck bed when the fretboard was removed, it had to be sanded out to remove the gouges further lowered the neck and thus the fretboard. Not good. This was remedied by judicious sanding of the sides, neckblock and fretboard to get a flat profile. A lot of unnecessary work that was caused by previous errors. Lessons learned: Remove the neck and reset to the new top. Do not damage the neck when removing the fretboard. Eventually I got everything flat and straight.

Below the big problem area. A lot of fiddling and sanding and fiddling...


Scraping off the old finish


Gluing the fretboard back on (Finally!)


The finished out project. A lot of work, but a huge learning process as well. Sounds and looks better than the original.


03-21-2015, 04:53 PM
Hoorah! Looks very nice! Next time thin your binding before bending, even if you have to use a scraper. Much easier than scraping it on the body. But, good job!

03-21-2015, 05:02 PM
I found an old Kent baritone uke with a bowed top. Apparently from insufficient bracing Under the saddle. Do you think it would be worth the effort and the 30 bucks for the practice. Or is a 60 vintage Kent uke a throw away.

03-21-2015, 06:09 PM
I found an old Kent baritone uke with a bowed top. Apparently from insufficient bracing Under the saddle. Do you think it would be worth the effort and the 30 bucks for the practice. Or is a 60 vintage Kent uke a throw away.

I don't know anything about Kent ukuleles except they were made by Harmony in the 60's and thus were probably cheap crap. That being said, I'm sure there are Kent uke lovers out there who treasure them for their vintage sound and will flame me unmercifully. However, I do know that a bowed and bellied top can be repaired without taking the top off, but the top is probably plywood crap anyway so why bother? Now replacing a cheap uke soundboard with a nice top might just yield a gem if you can get a good set-up off the cheap construction. I'm skeptical though...I say it is worth the effort if you have a hankering to go at an ukulele with hot knives and hot steam. I found it kinda fun in a deconstructive way. But a lot of work. If I was you, I would find a better quality instrument that is seriously damaged, affordable and fix that.