View Full Version : Wenge Tenor Build

09-27-2009, 07:09 PM
After lurking around here and seeing all these awesome build threads (Moore Bettah o_O amazing work) I've decided to attempt my own ukulele build. I built an electric guitar last year but this is my first attempt at anything involving all the challenges that come with acoustics so we'll see how this goes..

I started out building a side bender powered by two 200W bulbs. Pretty standard I guess. Bending the sides was initially my biggest concern but I bent a couple sets without incident so I went ahead and did the set of wenge sides. These didn't bend quite as easily as the first couple woods I tried (walnut, monkeypod) but no real problems.

Side Bender (http://mpatton.org/Uke/uke1.jpg)

Inside the side bender (http://mpatton.org/Uke/uke2.jpg)


After the sides were bent I glued up the wenge back. I did a stripe of curly koa down the center with a fine bwb purfling bordering it.


Full shot (http://mpatton.org/Uke/uke6.jpg)

I made the mistake of getting mahogany tone bars and spruce kerfing. Hopefully it won't be a problem and will just look a bit different inside...guess it goes with the color scheme at least.


Gluing the back on the sides. Borrowed this idea from Pete Howlett's very informative Youtube videos.


Try to ignore all the junk on the back...I use carpet tape to fix the wood on the workbench when I thickness it with the router, normally works fine but I tried some different tape the other day that was an absolute mess...been a nightmare trying to get the residue off, hopefully nothing's ruined. If anyone has suggestions on thicknessing parts without a planer/thickness sander I'm all ears!

Anyway that's where I'm at for the moment. I've got a mahogany neck cut out, but still deciding on the top material. I think the contrast of spruce & wenge would look nice, but I also have a cool looking piece of monkeypod. Decisions decisions...open to any suggestions or feedback you guys might have, thanks for looking!

Pete Howlett
09-27-2009, 08:30 PM
That looks fantastic - koa bindings I suppose to match the back strip? You can build a very simple vacuum chuck for holding down wood and routing off. It consists of 2 layers of 12mm ply and one layer of 6mm in this order: 12,12, 6. The 6mm piece is the top and is drilled out like peg board. This is glued to the next piece which has the centre routed out leaving around 1" at the end. The "back" piece has a hole drilled into it as an inlet for your shop vac (I've even used a domestic vacuum cleaner). I also had one of these for ribs and fingerboards before the days of my Safe-T planer and subsequently thickness sander. I used to screw these to the bench and suck away with my vac and they worked fine. In fact I'm building a fingerboard one tomorrow... shall I video it?

09-27-2009, 09:33 PM
That is amazing work. Especially considering that it's your first build. My first build wasn't very pretty.

09-27-2009, 09:47 PM
Pete make the video. What ever happened to the mini soprano you were making?

09-28-2009, 03:11 AM
Make it Pete! I love your videos, they are what motivated me to begin my first ukulele build journey.

09-28-2009, 04:19 AM
I tried planing some wenge just the other day. It instantly removed the edge of my block plane, as if magical. So I had to sand it. And sand it. With belt sander and thickness sander. It was damn hard.

I was surprised when I bent sides from it though, bent fairly easily.

Your build looks very good, especially for a first.

Good luck with the rest, I'm going for a cedar soundboard btw.


Pete Howlett
09-28-2009, 04:22 AM
The only problem I see with wenge is it's very open pored. Lots of grainfiller required for a smooth finish. Great colour though - dark chocolate yummy.

09-28-2009, 04:25 AM
Yes. I'm afraid you can expect some questions about pore filling in a few weeks Pete.

Edit. Those questions are gonna be coming from me. Chuck is of course right about the priorities; sound first, finish later.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
09-28-2009, 07:21 AM
Nobody said the grain needs to be filled. For a first build, you're a long way from thinking about advanced finishing techniques. Put your energy into producing a good sound until you get a grasp on that. Some of the most beautiful sounding and looking guitars I've seen have had open grained finishes.
Nice work BTW.

09-28-2009, 08:51 AM
Wow that looks good. Alot better than my first uke projekt.

Good luck and have fun on the journey of making a uke :)

09-28-2009, 11:47 AM
this is just waay over my head...astounding

09-28-2009, 12:32 PM
Nice, looks impressive allready! Can't wait to see more pics.

Pete Howlett
09-28-2009, 12:38 PM
I think I'd go for epoxy filler on this one...

09-28-2009, 12:45 PM
Looks fantastic for a first build. Nice work on the jigs too.

Matt Clara
09-28-2009, 01:04 PM

What they said. Really nice work with the koa strip. Looks like you've done it lots of times.

09-28-2009, 02:35 PM
Lookin' good.

Wet sanding with an oil finish (varnish/poly) works well to fill in the pores.

Sand to make some mud then squeegee off.
Final coat just apply without wet sanding.

09-28-2009, 04:01 PM
Wow thanks for all the responses guys!

Pete I think you may have your answer already but I would definitely be interested in seeing that video, and thanks for the advice! Yes, the plan is to do curly koa binding with the bwb purfling same as the back strip.

On that note a quick question about working with the purfling; it's obviously easy to bend one way, but I'm not sure if there's some technique for bending it the other way for the bottom of the binding channel (not sure if this makes sense).

As far as grain filling goes we'll see...I did something similar to what RonS suggested with Tru-Oil & padauk on the electric guitar I built but I'm not sure what I'll be finishing this with so I guess I'll worry about that when the time comes.

Small update for today, flush trimmed the back down to the sides.


Still need to make a decision on the top...I've got a set of Sitka spruce but I think I may have taken off a bit too much when I was trying to take it down to the right thickness :( Still have enough to make a top, but also have a pretty interesting looking piece of monkeypod.


This might look better as a back though so I may use that for another build.

Thanks again for all the response guys, appreciate the replies!

09-28-2009, 04:44 PM
wow my brain says the right choice is the sitka but my natural obsessive compulsive matchingness says the monkeypod would look amazing with the binding

09-28-2009, 08:29 PM
I've never used wenge in a build before, but I am familiar with it. The owner of the local Woodcraft franchise is always showing me his wenge collection when I go down to their shop. I think you'll find great results with a spruce top. Should produce something similar to spruce/ebony or spruce/rosewood. Not to say that the monkeypod wouldn't sound good. I think that the spruce would be a better combination.

In theory, the spruce should provide good quick response and clarity, while the wenge will help deepen the tone and sustain. Kind of the yin/yang you get with a soft top and stiff sides/back.

09-29-2009, 03:07 AM
Skita spruce is nice but takes a while to open up with nylon strings.
Steel string guitars can take a couple of years with this wood..

Cedar, Redwood and Englemann spruce, (in this order) open up quicker. I have no idea about monkey pod but that is a nice looking piece.

09-29-2009, 04:59 AM
My mistake, it actually is Engelmann spruce, not sure why I was thinking Sitka. I know there's no one number for top thickness, but what range would you recommend for the spruce? I'm hoping I can salvage the top I thinned earlier..

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
09-29-2009, 07:47 AM
The Engelmann I've come across is pretty consistent. In the spruce top builds I've done I seem to remember starting at somewhere between .075" and .072". Someone one with more experience with spruce might be able to give you a better answer.

09-29-2009, 08:22 PM
I take my spruce to about the same thickness as Chuck, off the surface sander. From there, I dome the tops until I get the sound I like by tapping, singing in the hole, and blasting the air gun to create a very noisy ring.

09-29-2009, 09:38 PM
Looks like I'll be alright, then. Top is glued together now, I'll start on the bracing tomorrow.

Quick question, hope I don't sound too foolish: When's the best time to attach the neck, and what method is normally used? Straight up glued on, dovetail, or..? Also, does it matter if I use mahogany bracing with a spruce top?

10-03-2009, 04:26 PM
Quick update:



Moore Bettah Ukuleles
10-04-2009, 08:21 AM
The part of a sound board that tends to cave in if too thin and needs the most reinforcement is the area from the bottom of the sound hole to the bridge. In the case of your drawings, it's my opinion that the peak of the braces need to move to move toward the sound hole a bit. I like the high point to be roughly midway between the lower sound hole brace and the saddle location. Otherwise it looks good.

10-04-2009, 01:00 PM
Thanks Chuck, I'll definitely keep that in mind for my next build.

Cut the soundhole and bound it with koa:


The top is being glued on the , I'll grab some pictures tomorrow when the clamps are off and it's flush cut to the body.

10-04-2009, 01:23 PM

10-04-2009, 03:11 PM
Thanks Ron!

Decided I couldn't wait until tomorrow to break the clamps off:


10-04-2009, 06:34 PM
Last one for the day, promise.


Need to clean it up a bit, then do the binding tomorrow. Looks like I only have enough purfling to finish the bottom for now so looks like I'll be working on the neck next.

Anyone have a good source for purfling? I got it from LMII.com before but looking to avoid paying $8 shipping on a $4 item.

10-07-2009, 06:43 PM
Couple updates, some good, some bad.

The bottom is bound. Unfortunately my router bit bearing selection is a bit limited but I figured I'd make do. The resulting binding was much narrower than I had hoped...not quite as striking from the back and the edge figure is lost. I'll be sure to find some other bearing sizes before the next binding job.

(Also try to ignore the spots, still need to clean up the glue in some places)


I also got going on the mahogany neck. I got a bit excited and started carving before gluing the fretboard on so clamping might be a bit tricky..oops. Planning on doing a wenge backstrap on the headstock to cover up the joints on the "ears" (forgot grain on ears is 15 off that of center, oops again).



10-07-2009, 06:50 PM
That is one HAWT build.

Haha, in all seriousness, looks GREAT. I cannot wait to see the finished product!!

10-08-2009, 03:26 AM
Everything about that is beautiful in the extreme. Very, very nice work.

10-08-2009, 04:39 AM
@$%#$%$ how is that your first build?

10-08-2009, 05:23 AM
@$%#$%$ how is that your first build?

So true....

10-26-2009, 02:43 PM
Thanks guys!

Finally found a bit more time to work on the uke, nothing too major.



Still need to break down and buy the rest of the parts I need to finish this build...excited to hear it play!

10-26-2009, 03:12 PM
wow this makes me want/not want to try my first build all at the same time lol

amazing job man ! that is beautiful !

10-26-2009, 03:44 PM
oh and i was wondering if i could get the plans you used for the jig and bender :D thanks

10-29-2009, 01:09 AM
Wow, that looks amazing, can't believe it's your first one either. How did you create the ring of koa to go on the soundboard? I've always wondered how to do that, and the Moore Bettah ones look like they have marble in them.

Thanks! :)

12-07-2009, 10:41 AM
Been forever since I had a chance to work on this, finally found some free time yesterday. Got the top bound and did the fret markers on the board this afternoon:




Hoping to get the fretting done today as well, then it will almost be ready to go!

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
12-07-2009, 10:59 AM
That's impressive. Looks very nice. Maybe time to quit your day job.
In the future, you don't see many 14th fret markers but rather they are on the 15th. No worries, on my first few dozen ukes the markers were seemingly scattered about the fret board at random!
Great job.

12-07-2009, 02:59 PM
Doh! Not sure how I screwed that up, looking now at my guitars & pictures of other ukes they all have it at the 15th. Anyway thanks for the kind words Chuck, always nice to get feedback from you.

Quick update, frets are in but still need to be leveled/rounded off. I filled the side slots with CA and ebony dust, still need to clean it up a bit but hopefully with a finish applied the slots will be invisible.




12-14-2009, 10:53 AM
Despite my best efforts to ruin everything these last couple days, I actually got it strung up!

Aquilas, of course...


Full shot. With everything together I realize the headstock looks way big, doh. Might have to take it down a bit..I also might put some sort of veneer on top but still not decided on that.



Still work to be done, obviously, but I just got impatient and wanted to see how it sounded. Learned my lesson from that; if you think you've got a days work left, spend three. I rushed a lot of stuff at the end (bridge, nuts, tuners) and none of them turned out quite right. I think the most critical point (for a new builder, anyway) is right there at the end where you have to force yourself to slow down and take the time to do something right instead of getting into the "I'll do this now so it works, then go back and fix it later" mindset.

Anyhow, it does work and I'm pretty happy with the way it sounds. This is the first time I've ever laid hands on a uke so it might be a few days before I work up the courage to post clips. I think I'm going to hold off on the finish until after the holidays so I can give it plenty of time to cure. On that subject: has anyone used KTM-9 finish before? Any advice? Also, I'm having trouble keeping this in tune; is that common with new strings?

Thanks for looking!

Matt Clara
12-14-2009, 11:08 AM
Also, I'm having trouble keeping this in tune; is that common with new strings?

Thanks for looking!

Looks awesome, bro! Really nice. I just strung up my second CBU with some aquillas yesterday, and was cursing how difficult it is to get them to stay in tune for more than 10 seconds. One of the tricks I've learned is to string 'em up, and then grab one string at a time and pull on it. Not hard, just a couple inches, but that'll stretch it out. Then repeat. Do that every time you tune it for a day or so, and it'll speed up the process. I know one guy who hangs his strings from a dowel, ties a dowel at the other end and stretches them before he ever even puts them on. I teased him he was trying to get two strings out of each single one. That would be cool if it worked out that way!

12-14-2009, 12:22 PM
Yes, new string will stretch. You can stretch them by hand by pulling on them and retuning, over tighten the strings and let them set over night, or you can just play it and keep tuning it until they settle in! I usually just tug at them for a bit, tune her up, and then keep tuning as I play.

By the way, that's one beauty of a uke!!