View Full Version : How does someone start making ukes?

07-01-2016, 01:26 PM
Hi all -

Forgive me in advance for asking what is probably a pretty dumb question.

An old friend of mine, who has been a woodworker all his life, asked me the other day how to get started on making ukes. I am not at all experienced in this area, but what would you experts recommend as a starting point. He asked for plans, but I suspect there is more to it than that.

Thanks in advance.

07-01-2016, 01:33 PM
There's plenty of stuff on Youtube. Watch and watch and watch again. Birth of a MyaMoe series of videos is a good place to start and then join this forum to ask advice from the helpful experts here.

07-01-2016, 02:19 PM
Hello. My suggestion, as a total beginner myself, is to buy a uke kit from Stewart McDonald or Hana Lima' Ia. The Hana Lima requires a lot more tooling and skills but if he is an experienced woodworker it should be a snap. You get a detailed schematic plan sheet and a very well written handbook along with all of the necessary materials needed to build a uke. He can decide what special equipment he might need. Supplies and tools are available from several suppliers, Stewart-McDonald, LMI, Hana Lima, and several others. The kits get you started and let you discover what is involved just making a basic tenor ukulele. Then you have the option of going crazy building or buying the jigs and equipment necessary to really get into the process. Inlay work , bindings and purfling, various woods, there are all kinds of challenges and opportunities to enjoy after the first simple kit. It seems to be addictive. :D Hope this helps. I am sure many others will have additional suggestions.

07-01-2016, 04:06 PM
I bought the Hana Lima manual, not the kit. If your friend is a woodworker, he might only need the manual. That was a good start for me. That and this forum got me going. Mya moe video series is very informative.


07-01-2016, 06:35 PM
I got started by buying the Hana Lima Ia workbook and plan. If you have woodworking experience and a few tools you can start from there. They offer excellent instruction and plan. I am now working on my 85th. It is addictive.

07-03-2016, 10:51 AM
A harder question is; how does someone stop building ukuleles? I built a tenor from the Hana lima manual in 2008 since I couldn't find one to buy. Now I'm getting close to 100 of them.

Gary Gill
07-03-2016, 12:33 PM
Play and listen to ukuleles to understand what it takes to make a pleasing sound. Learn how they are constructed. Draw your own design and begin selecting materials. Get started building and play your instrument. Evaluate and then build another.

07-03-2016, 09:11 PM
For years I played a Skylark Soprano that I bought at a car boot sale for 2.50..I started looking at other better ukes like Kamaka and Martin and I was amazed how much money they cost..especially the vintage ukes. No way could I afford to spend that sort of money...I then spotted a Scott Anties martin style one plan for sale on ebay (just a photocopy)
so I bought that and decided to have a go at making one (Fool):rolleyes:..I then started looking around for some wood I had an old door frame and casing in the shed so I got a cheap saw from B&Q and started slicing up the door I got several sides, neck,blocks and linings from that door..I had a hand held belt sander and I used this to thin down the sides..I tried bending the sides on a hot pipe and broke most of them but in the end I got one or two that were usable after that I got keen and built my first bender ..I made some simple molds and jigs out of chipboard...in the end I had about a dozen part made bodies and necks minus the backs and soundboards here is a slide show of those early efforts http://s219.photobucket.com/user/shiregreenbod/media/ukulele%20pics/ukulele%202/b2cafa43.pbw.html..I bought a pair of Utile Mahogany plates from a guy on ebay and finally produced my first soprano...It looked a bit like a Martin and it played in tune but it was lacking in volume and sounded very treble..and I was very pleased with it co's I knew no better in those days...and I showed it off on the Cosmos forum..Here http://ukulelecosmos.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=6839&p=74476#p74476
The next one I put together was with some tops and backs supplied to me by Pete Howlett..Pete knew what was what and he sanded these down to .070" before he sent them off to me...I then had a good idea of how thin these had to be to get a good sounding uke...this one turned out to be a great uke...since then I have been trying to make the best sounding soprano on the planet ..but so far with no luck...Anyway thats how i started as far as I can remember..so good luck

07-03-2016, 11:38 PM
First off decide what you like best, my first efforts were inspired by the tahitian pattern ukes being played in Vanuatu. Only I had to do my own suburban Ozzie style
Then I went a bit crazy making everything from a uke'n'paddle to cigar box style biscuit tin ukes. I still haven't gotten round to bending a single side or buying a single stick of koa or mahogany or rosewood or any of those fancy timbers.
I roam at the shallow end of the uke making pool so I have fun without the danger of drowning in fancy stuff.
Follow your dreams, mine are a little weird. Some of the dream instruments people make on this forum are enough to take your breath away. Feel free to laugh feel free to be amazed. Feel free to go out and buy yourself some decent wood and build a serious instrument. It would be a rare thing indeed for the world to be made a worse place by someone building a ukulele.

07-06-2016, 07:24 AM
I started building with very little wood working experience...just a set of plans and the "Guitar Making, Tradition and Technology" book. I've made all sorts of mistakes and changed how I do each step a few times and I've even had some fun between all the tears.
I suggest your friend should just get a set of plans and dive in.

07-06-2016, 07:49 AM
I've only ever built one instrument, my electric uke. It would require more tools to do an acoustic one, which I dont have access to unfortunatly (and no space for it either:(). I dont have "much" wood working experience, as in I havnt worked professionally with it, but I tinker with stuff at home most of the time and like building and creating stuff and solutions. That's it. I dont doubt that I'd make a mess of a few sides, tops and backs but I think I could get a uke built if I had at least a table saw.
If your friend got experience, he should be able to dive right in. If he doesnt make a master crafted instrument on his first try, so what? It's all fun for us amateurs. For professional luthiers it's a different story of course :).

Tully Hill
07-06-2016, 10:17 AM
I started with a StewMac soprano kit as I did not have one. I had not seriously worked with wood since school days. I learned much from the manual and video, mostly improved my confidence. I did not like some procedures designed for those with few tools, and began watching you tube and buying books. I use Gilbert, Plant and Hana Lima Ia manuals, and read many posts in this forum as well as guitar books. I'm using Gilbert as my primary reference because you have to choose a path, and there are many paths. Each is a bit different. I'm building from scratch for my second build and learning as I go. The best way to start is to start, build one, then build a better one, etc. Gilbert is a good starter manual, Hana Lima is good if you want to build a Spanish heal style uke. Plant is good if you don't need or want too many details. I appreciate having all three, and "Cumpiano" (sp?) so I'm not thinking there is only one way to get the job done and so I have an idea source when I screw up and need to fix something. It's not how perfect your first one turns out, but how well you a just as you find new opportunities for learning. Grin.