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View Full Version : Building my first ukulele (An electric solid body travel concert) step by step



UkuLincoln
03-05-2016, 07:08 AM
I'm giving it a go! I have made many things over the years, but none of them musical instruments. I love ukulele, and I love making stuff so I figured I should give it a shot.

I am probably going to have some questions along the way for you kind luthiers, and thought it would be helpful for others wanting to try this to see the progress and learn from my mistakes and successes. So I will post progress pics (and maybe videos) here.

The important bits of the design are being based on what Daniel Hulbert so kindly shares the plans for on https://circuitsandstrings.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/building-a-travel-ukulele/

I have a Risa Stick, which I like quite a bit, and this design is similar. So, I thought I would start with his design and change some of the look for fun, but keep the parts that are important to it working musically. So basically I am going to change the outside shape of the body section.

Here's the before picture. The wood I am using. It was gifted to me by someone who said all they remember about it is that it is some type of African hard wood. Should I assume this is a good wood to work with, and can you tell from the photos what type it is?

It is 1in x 5in x 19in.

8894788948

I am debating between doing it all by hand or using CNC for either all or part of it. I have done some CNC and I have a friend who has a degree in it willing to help as well as access to the equipment. I also have access to a small wood shop at a maker space that has some standard wood working tools, but nothing related to making instruments.

Are their any lutherie tools (or a link to info) that I absolutely should buy that are not likely going to be in a small workshop?

Lincoln

Inksplosive AL
03-06-2016, 10:45 AM
I haven't worked with wood in awhile or with any big machinery like metal lathes or a Bridgeport miller in quite sometime now.

This CNC movement I see lately has made a group of people who balk at manual lathes or millers. Within the last 8 years I offered to set up a kid with a lathe and a BPT miller if he could make it pay for itself and the space we need to run them. He had not a clue what could be done with them yet currently hes running a CNC for some big company...

Tattooing I use photoshop a bit to set up or alter certain designs many which I have hand drawn. At times after an hour or more struggling to get the computer to do what I want I find a few minutes with pencil and paper and I'm done.

Wasting time to make simple cuts on a CNC seems just that unless you plan to mass produce your work multiple times. As far as the tools you will need Im pretty sure the member that is circuit and strings offers up what he uses for tools to get the job done. Part of the beauty of the instruments he makes is using simple tools. Otherwise if you are seriously setting up to become a luthier there are many threads in this very forum on that subject if you look a bit.

BTW as I mentioned in his post where he introduced the backpacker design (https://circuitsandstrings.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/backpacker-travel-ukulele/) somewhere round here this is the only time I can get behind anyone not in the industry buying and using any tattoo equipment as this will never have the capability to harm anyone.

~remember to always have fun~

EDIT: As that is a concert scale design it could use a few more frets up the neck.

UkuLincoln
03-06-2016, 12:57 PM
Thanks for the feedback Al. Yeah, I am only going to CNC it if I end up deciding on a complicated 3D design carved into it. I totally agree that the time it takes to make the file, lock the wood down to the CNC and then run it, I could have just done it by hand by tracing a drawing on the wood with a saw. Assuming it is a simple design.

Lincoln

DanielHulbert
03-06-2016, 04:28 PM
Good luck with your project. I'll be following.

UkuLincoln
03-06-2016, 05:01 PM
Thanks Daniel! And thanks for the inspiration too!

I know you said on your site that you don't recommend this project for a first time ukulele maker, but I figure if it doesn't come out right, I can always do it again.

Croaky Keith
03-06-2016, 10:38 PM
Interested in seeing you make one with simple tools. :)

Booli
03-07-2016, 12:14 AM
Interested in seeing you make one with simple tools. :)


Me too!

I'd think that you might get more personal satisfaction working with hand tools, and a more intimate connection to the build as opposed to using a CNC machine. Also, you can develop some real skills doing it by hand, and making mistakes can sometimes turn out to be informative or educational surprises.

The little bit of woodworking and hack-luthery that I've attempted has served to be a meditative process and somewhat cathartic for me.

Good luck with the project! :)

photoshooter
03-07-2016, 12:53 AM
Good luck with your project, I'm very interested in seeing your progress as I hope to start my solid body project very soon.

Kayak Jim
03-07-2016, 03:25 AM
Here's the before picture. The wood I am using. It was gifted to me by someone who said all they remember about it is that it is some type of African hard wood. Should I assume this is a good wood to work with, and can you tell from the photos what type it is?


It looks like one of the mahoganies to me.

cml
03-07-2016, 08:06 AM
I feel the inspiration creeping up on me as well, this seems like a good starter project that doesnt require too many tools. Maybe I'll give it a go as well. I am thinking about using a wooden piece rather than the tattoo grip though...any thoughts on that? We'll see if I can get this started, first I need to check where I can get stuff like tuners, fret wire and stuff in Sweden, or if I have to go to Ebay...

Sven
03-07-2016, 10:45 AM
For your first I can help you out, I've got loads of fret wire and some tuners too. I'm in Stockholm.

UkuLincoln
03-07-2016, 10:50 AM
Thanks for the well wishes everyone.

Thank you Kayak Jim for the wood identification.

This would be an example of the reason I would consider CNC. 89043

I will probably just keep it simple though and if all goes well using the band-saw, router, and other non-cnc tools around the maker space I can always make something more elaborate for a second one.

DanielHulbert
03-07-2016, 11:22 AM
I am thinking about using a wooden piece rather than the tattoo grip though...any thoughts on that? ...

I tried wood at first, but unless the wood is very dense, the strings will dig into it. The tattoo grip is nice because the strings glide around it easier.

UkuLincoln
03-07-2016, 12:01 PM
For your first I can help you out, I've got loads of fret wire and some tuners too. I'm in Stockholm.

Thanks Sven! I will PM you.

Inksplosive AL
03-07-2016, 01:04 PM
Hmm I wonder if I have any junk tattoo grips laying around that might have four grooves in them. Anodized aluminum like shown in the ukulele build are crappy equipment they rot from the ultrasonic cleaning and sterilization in an autoclave.

Calling my artist now... I really should get back to work.

Edit: Quick glance he says they all appear to have 5 grooves. I'm getting down there tomorrow and I'll look through my old stuff to see if there is anything I can donate.

BTW. Carving like that can be done with hand tools as well if your artistic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wux-Evx1Vy4

~peace~

UkuLincoln
03-07-2016, 02:49 PM
Hmm I wonder if I have any junk tattoo grips laying around that might have four grooves in them. Anodized aluminum like shown in the ukulele build are crappy equipment they rot from the ultrasonic cleaning and sterilization in an autoclave.

Calling my artist now... I really should get back to work.

Edit: Quick glance he says they all appear to have 5 grooves. I'm getting down there tomorrow and I'll look through my old stuff to see if there is anything I can donate.

BTW. Carving like that can be done with hand tools as well if your artistic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wux-Evx1Vy4

~peace~

Thanks Al! That would be awesome! I would think 5 groves would be ok if I just don't use one of the grooves, but I don't know. I love that tiki carved ukulele, I am a big fan of his work. Doing a tiki theme is one of the numerous ideas I've been tossing around. I think for my first I should probably stick with something more simple though.

Sven - I tried to PM you, but it said your messages are full and can't take any new messages.

Sven
03-08-2016, 02:32 AM
Yeah the inbox will do that all the time. My email is sven.arkitekt(at)gmail.com

Edit: since you're in California I think getting stuff from me would be a bit backward - most of my stuff is imported from the US to here. I was mixing cml and you up a bit, cml seems to be in Sweden too. But hey, if you want my help I'm here. Shipping is worse than getting it from Stewmac though.

cml
03-08-2016, 07:51 AM
Yeah the inbox will do that all the time. My email is sven.arkitekt(at)gmail.com

Edit: since you're in California I think getting stuff from me would be a bit backward - most of my stuff is imported from the US to here. I was mixing cml and you up a bit, cml seems to be in Sweden too. But hey, if you want my help I'm here. Shipping is worse than getting it from Stewmac though.
This is such a nice place!

Yes I am in Sweden :), on the west coast though. When/If I start this project (and the offer is valid for me) Sven, can I contact you at the email above?

cml
03-08-2016, 07:52 AM
I tried wood at first, but unless the wood is very dense, the strings will dig into it. The tattoo grip is nice because the strings glide around it easier.
Thanks for the input mate!

UkuLincoln
03-08-2016, 05:37 PM
Yeah the inbox will do that all the time. My email is sven.arkitekt(at)gmail.com

Edit: since you're in California I think getting stuff from me would be a bit backward - most of my stuff is imported from the US to here. I was mixing cml and you up a bit, cml seems to be in Sweden too. But hey, if you want my help I'm here. Shipping is worse than getting it from Stewmac though.

Oh yeah. I hadn't thought about that. Good point. Thanks for the offer though. :D

Now I am going to do research to figure out if I should buy the about $60 shadow passive pick up or something cheaper. I'd really love to have a volume knob and a pre-amp (a tuner would be cool too, but not needed). I just get a feeling that if I spend $20-$30 on something like that, it won't sound nearly as good as the Shadow which I believe is what is in the Risa Stick.

Since it's my first attempt, it may not sound good either with a cheap or nice pick up so it may be a waste of money to get a good one.

Lincoln

Croaky Keith
03-08-2016, 11:28 PM
I think if you like the Shadow that is the one to get, you will forget about the cost later on. :)

Inksplosive AL
03-10-2016, 07:10 PM
Hey sorry forgot to get back to you. I have nothing that would work to help as far as grips go.

There are cheap piezo pickup complete with a preamp for around $10 coming from China all over eBay. Dont know where you would mount the thing though.

~peace~

UkuLincoln
03-11-2016, 09:02 AM
Hey sorry forgot to get back to you. I have nothing that would work to help as far as grips go.

There are cheap piezo pickup complete with a preamp for around $10 coming from China all over eBay. Dont know where you would mount the thing though.

~peace~

Thanks for looking into it for me. I have found a bunch of pick ups and preamps ranging from about $10 to $200 or so. I just don't think I want to put all the time into making this and then stick in a crackling low quality pick up. So unless someone can recommend an inexpensive pickup that they have had good luck with, I'll go with the $60 shadow.

Daniel's instructions go into detail as to where the pick up goes.

cml
03-11-2016, 11:04 AM
Mind if I borrow this thread a little UkuLincoln? I've started making one of these as well, or rather I've started aquiring the supplies I need :).

So far I've bought a pine board that I will do a test run on and a L-profile in oak. If I fail to find maple, cherry or something else suitable for the main body, do you fellas think pine could work?
It's soft, I know, but maybe it could work anyway? Would I need to bake it to make it hard enough if I can't get a hold of better wood?
Many questions here and I really appreciate your input :)!

I'll go the other route with the pickup. Since this is my first attempt, I'll go with a cheap one and if I like this instrument, I might replace it later!

Here's what I've got so far:

Inksplosive AL
03-12-2016, 06:19 PM
Most piezo pickups with a preamp have a large box usually mounted into the side of an acoustic ukulele. The cheaper ones use a 9 volt battery. The box holds the battery and the volume or EQ knobs or sliders. I know where the pickup goes but on a stick like design I dont know where that will look good.

CML there is a thread on a 2x4 challenge. There were links to baking wood in that thread. The tonal quality of the wood in such a ukulele design floats around zero influence on the sound of the ukulele. I think pine would be fine but a harder wood or different wood might be nice.

I happen to think one could machine the body from solid Lucite or even aluminum and have great results.

~alronto~

cml
03-13-2016, 09:03 AM
Thanks for your advice Al, I'll definetely try to find that section on baking :)!

I managed to get an hour in the shed today. You can see the progress so far below, I've roughed out the main body. It's slightly longer than the original design, which is due to the pickups I am looking at being longer than what Daniel used in his uke.

Working in the shed today (it's very much just a shed and not a workshop at all, its a shared working area for the town house community where I live) I realised how much I've missed some practical work :). Prior to moving to our town house we lived in an appartment and it was difficult for me to do things like this!

What do you guys reckon, it must be easier to cut the fret slots before shaping the neck no?

What's your progress Ukulincoln?

BR,
CML

Inksplosive AL
03-13-2016, 10:47 PM
I'm losing track of who said what.

The shadow pickup mentioned earlier in this thread is it one designed originally for the sound hole of an acoustic guitar? If so it is a magnetic pickup which will only work with steel strings.

Or is it one for under saddle on a ukulele?

The longer body for a larger pickup than the original design comment made me wonder. The neck is fairly short so if you wanted to use steel strings and a humbucker you could likely pull it off with some inexpensive grommets and get away with no trussrod.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bridge_string_thru_body.jpg

Otherwise it looks good. I think you need to flatten the fret area before cutting slots. Easier to clamp something square than a taper.

This make me want to build one but I really dont need it.

EDIT: Search: inexpensive under saddle pickup site:ukuleleunderground.com The google site switch will limit whatever search terms to whichever site you name.

cml
03-14-2016, 01:04 AM
Sorry, might be my fault for using the same thread as Ukulincoln but I figured it was better than starting a new one! Was thanks to him I got the inspiration to start =)!

The fret surface is planed on the top, I've already tapered the sides so looking on it from above, it has the right shape. I am going to use a cheap piezo rod pickup, which is why I made it slightly longer. Wouldn't fit in the body otherwise.

Who said anything about needing one =)? I am doing this just because it's fun!

Inksplosive AL
03-14-2016, 01:39 AM
The fret surface is planed on the top, I've already tapered the sides so looking on it from above, it has the right shape. I am going to use a cheap piezo rod pickup, which is why I made it slightly longer. Wouldn't fit in the body otherwise.

Who said anything about needing one =)? I am doing this just because it's fun!

Ah OK I think I would have cut the fret slots before tapering the sides, as you pointed out it might be easier.

You must mean the jack to the pickup, I understand now.

I have many projects perhaps I should have said I do not need another project. I have a 50's harmony deluxe that needs the neck reset a Risa soprano and concert I would like to refret with jumbo frets and an old 60's ish Regal that needs a 12th fret.

I built tattoo machines from scratch even hand wound coils once. I still refuse to use mass produced clip cords and fabricate my own from various things repurposed from scrap like the old timers. Watching this and the 2x4 thread gets my fabrication cells horny as a 16 year old. lol

~peace~

UkuLincoln
03-14-2016, 05:02 PM
Hi CML,

I don't mind that you came into the thread to ask your question, but I think if you want to post any more about it it would be better to start a separate thread. It seems like it is causing some confusion. My aim for this thread is to document the stages I go through. I don't think it would be a bad thing at all for you to start a separate thread for your project. You are already ahead of me, so while I am glad that I inspired you to do this, I may end up learning more about the process from you than you from me. hehe So, I'd love it is you started a thread to show your progress. Just give it a different enough description that people can tell which thread is which. :)

I am still waiting on parts and I am still brainstorming different shape ideas for it. I am torn between doing something very elaborate or just keeping it simple. If it comes out just like my Risa stick, I don't see much point in doing it. But making one with a very personal design is something that really appeals to me. So, while I have made some progress, none of it is worth posting about yet. A new paid project popped up out of nowhere so I am spending most of my time on that since it has a deadline.

INKSPLOSIVE AL- The shadow pickup is the same under saddle pickup in the Risa Stick I already own. It is meant for nylon strings and ukulele. Do you think if I went into a Tattoo shop someone there might sell me the handle I need for the string turn around? I can order it on Amazon, but I would have to order a bunch of them, or pay a lot more just to get one.

Inksplosive AL
03-14-2016, 05:39 PM
The tat gun handle... ;) Cringe worthy lingo right there. Sadly there are some tattooers who actually use it.

While you shouldn't be able to walk into a tattoo shop and buy anything related to tattooing their might be a few suppliers that would help. The chances of them having a four groove grip identical to the one used in the original project are slim to none. You also might walk into an old school shop and in the least be made very uncomfortable for asking questions about buying supplies.

There is a link to the grips used in Daniels build on this page (http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?114984-Backpacker-Travel-Ukulele) post #6. Just under $11 for 10 pieces which is really dirt cheap. Maybe you can share an order with CML and split the cost or see if Daniel still has any extras he might want to let go.

Check the link in the thread and look around there are at least two sellers offering single grips for under $1.50 shipped. If you cannot find them I will assist.

Funny I own two Risa sticks with a third on the way and I never knew who made the pickup.

~AL~

UkuLincoln
03-14-2016, 06:16 PM
OK. Thanks AL!

I'll take a look.

Lincoln

cml
03-15-2016, 03:42 AM
Fair enough, I'll back out of your thread, it wasn't my intention to hijack it. Sorry mate, if you feel I did.

Al, I'm not using a tattoo grip but thanks for your support =).

UkuLincoln
03-15-2016, 09:35 PM
I have been watching some youtube videos for inspiration, and I found this video. I don't know what it sounds like, but check out an acrylic solid body electric ukulele. It even lights up!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo0akIxTDaw

Inksplosive AL
03-16-2016, 01:44 AM
Good find and an interesting build eliminating the crossbar yet adding a head stock. I imagine it would sound as good as the strings and pickup.

The light might add some interference I'm not certain. With Lucite you could put interesting things into the body as you pour it. Coins or insects come to mind. Maybe ants or fleas?

~peace~

Inksplosive AL
03-25-2016, 07:45 PM
Hey man been a week or so but when I read this I thought of you. Kissing wrote in another thread (http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?119161-My-future-Semi-acoustic-Baritone-planning&p=1829948#post1829948) that he has had very good results with this Piezo pickup (http://www.ebay.com/itm/Piezo-Pickup-ARTEC-PP404U-for-Ukulele-PREMIUM-QUALITY-/331610291574?).

He has owned a few Risa sticks and seems to know the difference between quality and junk when it comes to piezo pickups.

How are you coming along?

UkuLincoln
03-30-2016, 10:17 AM
Thanks! I'll look into it when I get some time.