View Full Version : What Was Your First Building Project?

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
01-24-2011, 07:33 AM
One of Dave G's recent posts reminds me of how many ukulele/guitar builders started off by building dulcimers.
I built my first stringed instrument (I still don't know what it was) when I was about 9 or 10 years old from a dresser drawer, a stick for the neck, nails for frets, fishing line and bolts for tuners. No plans, no sound, no nuthin'!
Ten years later I built a dulcimer from a kit. It was a real nice instrument. I still have it. (Too cute; rainbows and clouds in the sound holes. Well, it WAS the 60s.)
Ten years later I built the first of a few dozen ukes out of coconuts (still afraid to built that body!) Spruce tops glued on to single, double and triple coconuts. Hand carved ivory friction tuners! I only know of one that is still around, hopefully the rest have found their way to the land fill.
Then came the Kamaka-in-a-box, a real basket case I was challenged to repair and my first look into a "real" ukulele. I think I re-glued it using fiber glass cloth. When I was finished it sounded like the drawer instrument I built when I was ten.
This was in during the pre-Internet days so when I got my first Stew Mac catalog in the mail my world was rocked! You can learn a lot about building by studying a good catalog.
It's fun to think about those early days. So, what got you guys started?

01-24-2011, 07:36 AM
I built a wooden flute in elementary school. I don't remember much about it, except it was very hard to play.

Ken W
01-24-2011, 08:36 AM
Sometime in the '70s I picked up a copy of Foxfire 3 in the local bookstore and read the chapter on banjos and dulcimers. Later that year I built a walnut and cherry banjo with a wooden 1/8" cherry head (picture attached). I found some tuners and fretwire at a music store and they were kind enough to let me measure the fret spacing on one of their banjos. I cut the fret slots with a coping saw and wasn't as careful with the placement as I should have been...but it played with only a little dischord. Thirty years later I still have the banjo, though it doesn't get played much any more. Sometime around 1977 I met Homer Ledford (an instrument maker from Winchester, Ky) and made some dulcimers using his techniques. I still love the old time mountain instruments and am currently working on a banjo with a groundhog hide head for a friend who was born on goundhog's day.

Thanks for starting this tread Chuck. It is fun to think back on how this all got started.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
01-24-2011, 08:47 AM
Cool banjo. Foxfire was awesome. It influenced a lot of people. It inspired me to build a redwood hand washing machine. Loved those days!

01-24-2011, 08:57 AM
Mine was a Indian Rosewood and Sitka Dread. Built it because everyone was playing dreads. Still have it, but honestly I haven't even picked it up in 5 years. I'm 6'1" tall but still think it's too big to hold comfortably.I really don't like large bodied instruments. Much prefer to build parlour guitars and ukes.

01-24-2011, 09:25 AM
This was my first project. Seen here after its new owner tastefully modified the body with a few tiny holes :)

http://sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash1/hs483.ash1/26451_527787763713_178201655_31137190_2697955_n.jp g

The neck is a Hofner factory reject and the body is a 2-layer sandwich of meranti. The red paint was left over from respraying the wing of my car at the time...

01-24-2011, 09:46 AM
that looks awesome Rob.

01-24-2011, 10:10 AM
Grizzly soprano kit for me. Used it to experiment with routing a rosette and binding channels etc.

01-24-2011, 10:42 AM
Stew Mac soprano kit. I learned a lot of valuable lessons of always keeping the center line and measuring several times before cutting! I also glued the body to the mold thanks to the squeeze out!!! I didn't know about the wax paper trick. hahaha!!! I got it off with a chisel and somehow managed to finish the build. My daughter now enjoys playing it.

Doug W
01-24-2011, 01:21 PM
Grizzly soprano kit for me. Used it to experiment with routing a rosette and binding channels etc.
Grizzly soprano kit. I used it to experiment with building a Grizzly soprano kit. Beyond the Grizzly there is only fear!

01-24-2011, 04:45 PM
Stew Mac Tenor kit my wife got me last Christmas . Now I'm starting my seventh scratch build and each one has been a little better then the last . And I am enjoying myself more then I ever thought I would its become a real obsession

01-24-2011, 05:21 PM
A scratch build curly maple dreadnaught guitar. There is nothing like jumping in at the deep end of the pool. And the thing I found hardest then is still the hardest now - putting on a good finish.

Harold O.
01-24-2011, 06:01 PM
StewMac soprano. I built it with the intention of learning what I could, then trying my hand at a Hana-Lima kit. From there I was going to do a scratch build. I got distracted after the StewMac with some desk restorations. Still have the Hana-Lima kit in the box.

When in Hawaii recently, I visited a couple of well-known shops and am remembering all I can. My plans now include getting Pete Howlett to my shop in June and building with an instructor.

01-24-2011, 08:45 PM
Quilted Koa/Spruce Tenor, Hondo neck, Ebony F/B and Bridge, Grover tuners, spalted avocado rosette, fake tortoise binding (back when we could get it). Built it with Mike Uyeno - my Sensei.

Sad part is the only different things I've built are two compound cutaways, two thinlines, two tiples, two six strings, with all eight of them Tenor size. Okay, add on one bass (and one more in the works). But, its back to Tenors again.

01-25-2011, 06:49 AM
When I was little we'd make shoebox guitars with whatever we had for fishing line. We'd ever use tissue boxes since the sound holes were already cut out. When I was a a high school junior in 1986, I traced a buddy's tele and bought a neck from Stewmac and built my first real guitar. It's still my favorite guitar dispite the many flaws. I just bought a new bridge to fix the old one being too close to the neck.

I made my first ukulele from the stewmac kit in 2005. I still play since it's the only soprano I won't sell off:).


Moore Bettah Ukuleles
01-25-2011, 07:23 AM
. We'd ever use tissue boxes since the sound holes were already cut out. ~Stephen

Cool idea. I'm going to start using Kleenex boxes. I've always loved that dispenser shaped sound hole!

01-25-2011, 09:32 AM
I made a few instruments with my friends in high school. My favorite project was a synthesizer we made. You could use it to change an input signal, so you would play a clarinet into a mic and what came out sounded like a trumpet or a sax. With a guitar (first four strings), you could have sounded like a soprano uke (by setting the frequency up a fourth and adding a bit of limiter). Nowadays you can do a lot with amps, but back then all our ams offered was reverb and crunch.

We sampled all the instruments we had (including the ones at our school) and used the samples to create "voices" for the synthesizer. This was way out at the time. What was really fun was changing from one group of instruments to another, like stings to woodwinds and such. You could sing into a mic and set the output to trombone.

What was nice about it was that you were still in control of the articulation. So a violin still had the attack and the sustain of a violin, which is quite different from what you get from a keyboard nowadays. No matter what you do, a keyboard has keys that you press and the way you play it comes through. With this you could combine the attack and clarity of a trumpet with the big fat sound of a trombone. Really crazy stuff.

I wish I had the tapes we made. They're probably somewhere in the attic at my mom's house.

Mission Guitars
01-25-2011, 08:03 PM
Add one more to the Grizzly soprano list... :) See my avatar for the results, wish I didn't have meathooks for fingers as the fret spacing is too small!

01-26-2011, 01:40 AM
My first attempt was 1954 when I was 15 (a Gibson Jumbo Copy??or so I thought:confused:)...3 Plywood top and back..Thick red linolium nailed round for sides..Pocket Knife carved neck...Frets made from flattened copper wire (spacing guess work)..Tuning pegs made from hardwood wedges pinched from work and ground to shape on the shop 18" pedestal grinder....strings made from an unravelled Motorcycle clutch cable...I actually sold it to a workmate for 5 shillings.