View Full Version : Wood for Semi-hollow uke

08-04-2018, 01:47 PM
I am currently taking a summer program at college on mechanical techniques (machining, cnc, welding etc.) and one of our assignments is to prototype any design that we make using solidworks. We have access to a machine shop, CNC router, laser cutter, and 3D printer, so for my assignment I wanted to make a ukulele. I decided to make a tenor semi-hollow electric ukulele and have "completed" a model in SolidWorks. (picture attached) I plan to make the solid body, fretboard, and neck on the CNC router and laser cut the top and bottom. I will buy the electric components, as well as tuners, a bridge, and fretwire, and I will use a set of guitar strings I already have.

I am currently at the stage of selecting materials to bring to school to make the ukulele with. I went to a wood shop and home depot to look for wood. The only wood they had in the size that I needed was poplar. I haven't heard of any ukulele made of poplar, and was wondering if it would be a good wood or not? In addition, my design is such that the top and bottom are 3/16" thick, but I was unable to find wood that thin. The thinnest I could find was 1/4". Anyone know how could cut a thicker wood to that thickness? Or should I just alter the design to be 1/4" thick? (Note: I have no previous experience in woodworking of any kind)


08-04-2018, 04:11 PM
We have access to a machine shop, CNC router, laser cutter, and 3D printer, so for my assignment I wanted to make a ukulele.

Welcome to the world of ukulele building! It sounds like access to tools will not be a problem. A few thoughts:

- Building a semi-hollow uke will be a challenge. I believe these type of instruments have arched tops. You do not want to go there. Things get complicated.
- Consider just building a solid body uke instead. Poplar, while not ideal, would work
- Thinning wood to proper thickness (thinness) is one of the bigger challenges of building acoustic instruments. Use a drum sander if you have one. Poplar will not make a good acoustic top wood.
- Think about how you are going to attach the neck to the body.

Just some thoughts.

Jim Hanks
08-04-2018, 05:41 PM
First of all, poplar is used for uke back/sides by at least two fairly respected builders that I know of, but I agree it is not a good top wood. Having said that, I think you should treat this more as a design project and not expect too much out of it as a musical instrument.

08-05-2018, 12:45 PM
This is an electric instrument guys. How much is the wood really going to mater? Poplar is fine, I have two Size 5 Martin guitars in the works using poplar back and sides. Made a poplar neck for a hollow body acoustic.

No need to have an arced profile on the top and back, flat is fine. You want to keep a center block of wood from the neck to the tail piece. Maybe you could put a big bit in the CNC and shave off the extra thickness. Otherwise does your school have a woodworking department? Maybe they have a drum sander? You have to decide if you want to glue the neck into a neck pocket or do it as a bolt on.

08-06-2018, 10:15 AM
Home Depot also has maple which I find more attractive than poplar. If you have a Lowes near you I find their selection of maple is more extensive. Im working on a similar project. You might consider making the body as a sandwich with 3/4 poplar in the center, cut out as needed, and 1/4 maple top and bottom. You might have to edge join the wood to get the width you need. If youre willing to order wood online youll have more choices. Im using basswood as the center as its very light. Then Ill use 1/8 hardwood for the top and bottom.

Im not a luthier, just a woodworking hobbyist who enjoys getting in over his head :)

08-06-2018, 12:09 PM
With a sandwich no reason spruce cannot be used.

08-06-2018, 06:44 PM
Also, forgot to mention that the cnc router should be able to thin the top and bottom plates to 3/16”.