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View Full Version : Rickenbacker-style Electric Uke build



brianeharmonjr
08-12-2010, 11:15 AM
Hello to all. I've only got a few posts here and this is my first build thread, but I thought I would share my project now that it's almost complete. I'm quite happy with it overall and it done outside of a couple screws and a good nut and setup.

This project started when a good friend and coworker (and member here) decided to build a Brian May Red Special-style solid-body Uke. I'm a big Ric fan and thought I'd like to have an electric uke to compliment my acoustics (and my converted Epi Mandobird wasn't really doing it for me). I've done a lot of repair work and assembly on instruments, but never built anything form the ground up, so I figured I would give it a try.

Well, it started with a trip to the closest Rockler store, where I picked up a piece of Maple with some bird's eye and figuring. I knew it would make it heavy, but I planned to hollow it out a bit and I wanted it to be more Ric-like, so I took the plunge. I based the shape off Mike Campbell's (from Top Petty and the Heartbreakers) Ric-shaped electric Mandolin and manipulated it a bit in photoshop. I printed out a rough template and traced it on the wood. The piece of maple I got was 3/4" thick, so I chopped it into 4 pieces and decided to go side-by-side and top and back. Not the best decision for looks, but what the hell.

http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC03988.jpg

I traced the printed out shape onto a piece of plywood as a makeshift template. After refining the lines, I traced the shape onto the maple (after glueing the sides together).

http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC03999.jpg

After crudely rough-cutting with a Jigsaw, I took it over to my Grandpa's for a little closer cut with his bandsaw. After having the rough shape cut, I routed out relief on both sides of the body, front and back and cut out the cat's eye soundhole.

http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04012.jpg
http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04013.jpg

brianeharmonjr
08-12-2010, 11:15 AM
Using the template, I cleaned up the shape a bit with my router, but routers scare the shit out of me, so after a few chunks were taken out, I decided to go the tougher rout and sand it. I made a make-shift spindle sander out of a drill press and a sanding drum and got the shape nicely refined.

http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04019.jpg
http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04020.jpg

After I got the shape down to where I wanted it, I started to round over the edges. I did this with a scraper and sand paper and though it's not incredibly rounded over, it worked quite nicely. After a lot of sanding, I got the body just about finished.

Next I started on the neck. After trying out several different woods, I got a piece of what I think is Maple from the leg of an old piano that my mother actually took lessons on (Pretty cool). Although it had some worm holes, I went for it and cut out the basic shape with the bandsaw and refined the edges with a belt sander. The most work on the whole project may have been shaping the back of the neck. Maybe I just need better tools, but it took a helluva lot of scraping and sanding to get it to a good round. Probably could have gone further, but feels pretty good.

For the fingerboard, I decided to cheat a bit and got a pre-slotted mandolin fingerboard from Stew Mac, so it ends up between a Soprano and Concert scale. I glued on the fingerboard and cut it to the shape of the neck roughly with a scroll saw and cleaned it up with the belt sander.

I had some sticks of plastic side dot material for the side dots and just decided to use the same for the fingerboard markers as well.

http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04064.jpg
http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04065.jpg

brianeharmonjr
08-12-2010, 11:16 AM
After getting the neck shape down, I traced the shape of the heel onto a piece of thin plywood and made a template for the neck pocket. I forstnered out the biggest part of it and then used the template to clean it up. I also my strat-pickup routing template to rout out for the pickup, drlled the hole for the output jack, and drilled holes in the headstock for the tuning keys.

http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04063.jpg
http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04066.jpg
http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04067.jpg

Bridge was a problem. I couldn't find anything pre-made that would work well, so I had to make my own. I may end up replacing this with something else in the future, but this works for now. It's a piece of aluminum from inside an amp chassis. I bent it into shape and wet-sanded it as smooth as possible before drilling everything. I drilled holes in the body, including holes for stringing through, and holes for the string ferrules on the back.

A few mockups with drawn-up paper pickguard/headplate and pickup installed:
http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04068.jpg

brianeharmonjr
08-12-2010, 11:17 AM
http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04069.jpg
http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04070.jpg

A picture of the back before grinding off the neck pocket hump and before the bridge was drilled for. This shows the drilling for the neck screws and recessed washers.
http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04071.jpg

So, after everything was sorted I moved onto finishing (all with stuff from Reranch). I sanded everything down to 320 or 400 (don't remember) and did two rounds of grain filling. Then I sprayed sand and sealer for several coats and moved onto color. I opted for a transparent red. I sprayed only until it was a good, even covering and then moved to clear (2 or 3 coats). Then on to clear. Sprayed a whole can and a few more coats. After waiting 5 weeks for it to cure (it was all nitro-cellulose lacquer), I moved on to wet-sanding and buffing/polishing. Wet-sanding started at 400 and moved up through 600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, 1800, and finally 2000 on the body and neck. Then to Meguire's Fine Cut cleaner and finally Meguire's Swirl Remover before a naptha wipedown and final polish. Got the electronics all wired up and got her all assembled. Here she is:

http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i17/brianeharmonjr/DSC04182.jpg

Now all that's left to do is drop a couple more screws in the headstock plate, make a good nut (the one pictured is just a temporary one), install strap buttons, and do a final setup.

Overall, I'm quite happy. I had one little sand-through on the headstock where I had a bit of a drip in the color coats. Also, when wet sanding there must have been some water that got into a couple of the bridge holes that caused the wood to sweel and a couple cracks to form in the finish. Not a major deal, but a bummer. Also, I feel as if I should have done more grain filling because you can see a lot of the birds' eyes in the reflection. The body shape is a bit big comparitively, and the bridge should have been a smidge further back. So, not perfect by a long shot, but fantastic just for a keeper.

Pete Howlett
08-12-2010, 11:27 AM
Be very careful about publicising this - Tony revell and I built 2 mandolins like this back in the 1990's and Rickenbacker's lawyers came after us....

brianeharmonjr
08-12-2010, 11:30 AM
Be very careful about publicising this - Tony revell and I built 2 mandolins like this back in the 1990's and Rickenbacker's lawyers came after us....

Really? Even if it's just for personal use? I have no plans to make any more.

Pete Howlett
08-12-2010, 02:19 PM
Really - you have made a direct copy of the only part of the instrument which is protected by copyright and that is the headstock. Don't sell it to anyone or have an article printed about it - I'm being serious! Both Gibson and Rickenbacker are paranoid about copyright infringement. Nice job though. I really love this design for guitar and ukulele and would do what you have done were it not for past experience :)

JBennett
08-16-2010, 11:49 AM
WOW! That is something. What a well done project. Just perfect, A+ work on that lil thing. I'd love to hear it in action.

Here is my project, still in progress, similar in spirit.

http://telelele.tumblr.com/

For the future, look at Moongazer Music (http://www.moongazermusic.com/bridges.html) for bridges. You're solution worked out really nicely.

brianeharmonjr
08-20-2010, 05:15 PM
WOW! That is something. What a well done project. Just perfect, A+ work on that lil thing. I'd love to hear it in action.

Here is my project, still in progress, similar in spirit.

http://telelele.tumblr.com/

For the future, look at Moongazer Music (http://www.moongazermusic.com/bridges.html) for bridges. You're solution worked out really nicely.

Very cool little tele-uke there! Also, thanks for the kind words. I saw Moongazer, but wanted a wider string spacing. Just out of curiosity, what scale length is your tele-uke and what gauge strings are you using?

Mission Guitars
08-21-2010, 04:41 PM
Indeed, John H@ll and his lawyers are VERY active in chasing down anyone that might even remotely be infringing on R1c's copyrights...and he spends a LOT of time searching teh intrawebz for his and his company's name, thus why I took liberties with their spelling... :)

I say this as I look at my 4003 with the blue seeping onto the binding around the body and the wings splitting off the headstock...and it's only 5 years old! :(

Oh, and AWESOME job, in case I forgot to mention that... ;)

JBennett
08-25-2010, 09:44 AM
My uke is the same scale as the old fender electric mandolins from the 50's/60's.
I think it's 13.75" or something like that. Pretty close to a soprano scale martin uke.

For strings, so far I've just used the three high strings from a set of guitar strings (9s) and an extra high e string for the "high-g" string.

brianeharmonjr
08-26-2010, 01:12 PM
Indeed, John H@ll and his lawyers are VERY active in chasing down anyone that might even remotely be infringing on R1c's copyrights...and he spends a LOT of time searching teh intrawebz for his and his company's name, thus why I took liberties with their spelling... :)

I say this as I look at my 4003 with the blue seeping onto the binding around the body and the wings splitting off the headstock...and it's only 5 years old! :(

Oh, and AWESOME job, in case I forgot to mention that... ;)

I'm a big Ric fan and thought I'd make my first project as a bit of a tribute to their style. Also, someone had the idea of making an 8-string and doing the Ric-style slotted headstock for the string. Maybe someday. Also, I changed the title of the thread to try and stay under the radar, though I've done nothing wrong.