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View Full Version : A First Time Build: Walnut/Sitka Spruce Concert from Scratch



GossyHawk
12-13-2010, 05:42 AM
Story:

My wife has been talking about getting rid of her guitar because she no longer plays (she finds her standard body guitar too big and she has just not really been playing lately). She talked about getting a ukulele as this would allow her to still have something to play for our young son for some live music in the home.

I've been a hobbyist woodworker for several years, but from a woodworking perspective this was something quite different for me - especially given the fact that I had no knowledge of how to build a musical instrument (and I actually don’t know how to play any either). There is a "body" and a "neck" was about the extent of my previous knowledge...I've come a long way ;)

I thought briefly about buying a kit, or even just the soundboard, but decided I wanted to make everything from scratch.

I thought I'd make a post here as I've reviewed a lot of threads and taken a good number of helpful hints from the forum.

Thanks for looking.

Cheers,
Keith.

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Gritty Details:

Plans: Fan-braced Concert Ukulele from Hana Lima ‘Ia
Tuners: Gotoh Gold with Amber Mini-Tuners
Strings: Aquila Nylgut (High-G)
Sides/Back/Neck: Walnut
Soundboard: Sitka Spruce
Bracing and kerfing: Sitka Spruce (except bridge bracing which was hard maple)
Fretboard and Bridge: Cocobolo
Fretboard plugs: Hard Maple
Saddle and nut: Corian
Binding: Walnut and Hard Maple
Rosette: Walnut and Hard Maple
Headstock Veneer and Tail Inlay: Hard Maple
Finish: KTM-9

fitncrafty
12-13-2010, 05:48 AM
Wow .. It is quite beautiful.. would love to hear how it sounds....

Gmoney
12-13-2010, 05:49 AM
Lovely, just lovely.

Lexxy
12-13-2010, 06:03 AM
Magnificent creation.

Dane
12-13-2010, 06:22 AM
wow I really like it. And I like how your coating has a little texture to it. Very cool. How does it sound? =)

GossyHawk
12-13-2010, 06:36 AM
wow I really like it. And I like how your coating has a little texture to it. Very cool. How does it sound? =)

It sounds good to me...again, I know little of what it should sound like ;) I'd say "bright" if that is a term that makes sense. I know there is nothing dramatically wrong (e.g. buzz), but my wife is the musical expert so we'll see what she has to say after Christmas morning (it might be a little sharp, but I have play in the saddle if need be).

Regarding the finish: I forgot to mention that I didn't pore fill the walnut even though it is something I've done on other projects with open grain woods, and understand the "glass top" look is traditional here. As I'm a wood worker significantly more than a luthier, I like wood to look like wood even if that means grain showing in the finish. Just my preference.

Thanks everyone for your nice comments...it is nice to see that those who are much more "in the know" than I am think it turned out okay.

Cheers,
Keith.

fitncrafty
12-13-2010, 06:54 AM
It sounds good to me...again, I know little of what it should sound like ;) I'd say "bright" if that is a term that makes sense. I know there is nothing dramatically wrong (e.g. buzz), but my wife is the musical expert so we'll see what she has to say after Christmas morning (it might be a little sharp, but I have play in the saddle if need be).

Regarding the finish: I forgot to mention that I didn't pore fill the walnut even though it is something I've done on other projects with open grain woods, and understand the "glass top" look is traditional here. As I'm a wood worker significantly more than a luthier, I like wood to look like wood even if that means grain showing in the finish. Just my preference.

Thanks everyone for your nice comments...it is nice to see that those who are much more "in the know" than I am think it turned out okay.

Cheers,
Keith.

Keith.. If my husband took the time to make me something so beautiful. I would be floored and in tears (happy ones). That is one beautiful instrument. I know NOTHING about building them and little about playing.. but the workmanship is stunning.... How could she could NOT like it! Not to mention the time you took to build it and learn about it...Its a winner!

rickmorgan2003
12-13-2010, 06:55 AM
Very nice work, great job laying out the sides with the wood grains mirroring each other. It's those kind of details that show you know how to work with wood.

Doug W
12-13-2010, 06:57 AM
Very pretty,

What method did you use for bending and how difficult was walnut for bending?

GossyHawk
12-13-2010, 07:19 AM
Very pretty,

What method did you use for bending and how difficult was walnut for bending?

Here is my "built in five minutes" bending pipe. Temperature control = moving the heat gun closer or farther away ;)

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The walnut bent pretty well. I let the sides sit in water for about an hour and used a spray bottle to keep them wet while bending. I did have a touch of scorching, but it came out easily with light sanding that was needed anyway.

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Here is the body jig with the neck (spanish) dry fitted. I don't have a picture of the sides clamped up before this, but the jig comes apart (it is held together with bolts) so that the sides could be bent while over-length and then cut to size.

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Cheers,
Keith.

GossyHawk
12-13-2010, 07:49 AM
Very nice work, great job laying out the sides with the wood grains mirroring each other. It's those kind of details that show you know how to work with wood.

Good eye! The picture doesn't capture it that well, but the sides do have a really nice look coming off the tail with the book-matching. The back also has two matching "cathedral" grain pieces.

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Cheers,
Keith.

Dominator
12-13-2010, 08:19 AM
Well done. The end graft came out great. No doubt you are "hooked" at this point. There's no turning back:D

Dane
12-13-2010, 08:33 AM
Oh also, you can always have someone professionally set it up (You said you don't know instruments too well)

Have you been making it in secret? Or does she know?

GossyHawk
12-13-2010, 09:14 AM
Have you been making it in secret? Or does she know?

She knows I'm building something (we traditionally make each other something for Christmas - she does knitting and sewing), she just doesn't know what.

She is very nosy, so I need to have a campaign of misinformation (e.g. "It is so big I'll have to get someone to help me move it Christmas morning", "No, you can't come in the shop because even if I cover it up you'll know what it is.", etc.). :D

Cheers,
Keith.

GossyHawk
12-13-2010, 09:21 AM
Well done. The end graft came out great. No doubt you are "hooked" at this point. There's no turning back:D

I'm afraid so! It was really fun and a great learning experience for me the first time around. I'd like to try a tenor and maybe put in some more decorative inlay. Unfortunately my build list of furniture for the house, etc. is also very long. Nonetheless, I'm sure some more ukes will come out of my shop in the future.

Cheers,
Keith.

Dane
12-13-2010, 10:41 AM
She knows I'm building something (we traditionally make each other something for Christmas - she does knitting and sewing), she just doesn't know what.

She is very nosy, so I need to have a campaign of misinformation (e.g. "It is so big I'll have to get someone to help me move it Christmas morning", "No, you can't come in the shop because even if I cover it up you'll know what it is.", etc.). :D

Cheers,
Keith.

If it were me, I'd also make a birdhouse, and pretend that was the present, or a pair of those wooden sticks that you smack together, something of this ridiculous nature. Nothin like a good ole christmas joke. (Warning: I'm part of a family of jokesters, this type of joke is not reccomended for all people, as it can end quite poorly under the incorrect circumstances)

One year I got a crocodile staple-remover.... it was quite funny.

ADD
12-14-2010, 04:30 PM
That is beautiful! No doubt she'll love it. I'd put it in successively larger boxes up to refrigerator size if you can find one, then wrap it, drag it out and put it next to the tree. You'll really have her wondering.

DukeOfUkes
12-14-2010, 07:03 PM
Beautiful instrument! Well done

ksquine
12-14-2010, 07:27 PM
Very classy looking combo. Good choice going with walnut and maple. I think those are the easiest woods to bend and work with.
I'm sure you'll be getting more requests once everyone sees that baby at Christmas

Ronnie Aloha
12-14-2010, 07:29 PM
That is amazing for your first build. End grafts and bindings too!

GossyHawk
12-15-2010, 10:52 AM
Thanks everyone for your wonderful comments.

Just an update:

Before I wrapped it up, I checked the intonation and action and decided to drop it a bit. The intonation is now perfect through the first 4-5 frets. By the 12th it is sharp 10 cents (especially G and A). Probably some saddle compensation could solve that, right? However, my logic is that most chords are played around the top frets, so this is where I should be most concerned about the intonation being correct...and this leads me to believe I shouldn't really mess around with it. Does that make sense?

Cheers,
Keith.

Vic D
12-15-2010, 07:17 PM
Good eye! The picture doesn't capture it that well, but the sides do have a really nice look coming off the tail with the book-matching. The back also has two matching "cathedral" grain pieces.

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Cheers,
Keith.

Looks great. Love the maple and walnut together. She's a beaut.