View Full Version : Making the old workhorse a little looker.

02-12-2011, 11:17 PM
Hey fellas,

I've had a Makala tenor for about three years (my first uke) and she's been more then great ever since. I've been contemplating a little upgrading though. More specifically I was thinking on adding a pickup, a side sound port and slotting out the headstock. I also thought that since I will have the bridge off for pick installation, that perhaps I could apply a gloss finish.

There-in lies my reason for this thread. Do you guys suppose it'd be easy enough to add a layer a gloss over the existing finish, or is this a case where I would need to do a complete refinish.

Thanks for any help.

Doug W
02-13-2011, 04:17 AM
How about:

1. Adding a pickup to your Makala.
2. Make a uke from scratch that has all those features you want.

I am collecting stuff to start my first scratch build. There is plenty of support here to help a body through the ordeal.

Do you guys suppose it'd be easy enough to add a layer a gloss over the existing finish, or is this a case where I would need to do a complete refinish.
My guess would be that you would want to do a complete refinish unless your Makala finish is in exceptional condition, (No scratches, dents, defects).

mm stan
02-13-2011, 05:51 AM
Aloha AncientMatingCalls,
It would be alot easier and better just upgrading and getting a better New ukulele.....
Good Luck and Happy Stummings...MM Stan

02-13-2011, 06:38 AM
Doug: I would love to do a build from scratch, but I don't think I have the necassary tools (or the skills yet quite frankly) to actually do it. Mods like this, I think could probably help in understanding some of the compenents of the uke better, therefore giving me at least a little experience for when I actually take on a build (which I enevitably will one day). Though I could just be telling myself that as an excuse to actually do the mods.

Stan: I do have a better uke. It's a Pono MTDX-E. A great uke that I play more often than the Makala. I just thought it'd be a fun project to mod the Makala a bit. I think projects like that help to keep UAS at bay. Only for so long, but it helps.

Thanks for the replies guys. Its much appreciated. I'm still contemplating though. I guess I'll wait and see if anybody else chimes in with some more words of wisdom.

Doug W
02-13-2011, 07:42 AM

It seems you are all set then to modify this uke. I just took apart a cheap uke the other day since the neck was separated from the body. Like you I would rather make some mistakes on a cheaper instrument before cutting up good wood.

I can't give you advice on cutting the side sound port (little advanced for my skills).

Whether you sand the old finish off or just start putting a gloss finish over the existing, take a look at this thread:


02-13-2011, 09:07 AM
If you are thinking of slotting out the headstock I'm presuming you want to switch to slot head tuners. I don't reckon that you're going to have much luck with that, as the thickness and the general dimensions for a slot head are completely different to a paddle head. Slot heads need to be around 20 mm thick whereas most paddle heads are in the 10 to 12 mm range.

Sound port is easy to cut, but they would usually be planned on and you would reinforce the area prior to closing up the box when you build. But if you're dead set on doing it, a drill, a dremel tool, files, sandpaper glued on a stick will all get you there eventually.

As for finish, it depends on what's there now. If it's oil then it's uncertain if anything else is going to adhere to it. If a catalysed finish then they are usually not that hard to refinish.

02-13-2011, 09:31 AM
Well nothing is dead set just yet. They are all ideas at this point and this thread is to see which are feasable. The slotted headstock idea came from watching RJCulp's ukulele build project on youtube:


So it might work if it worked out for him. (that's me being hopeful)

As for the side soundhole. Are there any negative reprocussions that might occur if I were to attempt it? Not so much immediate but rather cracks developing over time and the like?

And I guess I should find out what finish the uke has on it already then ey?

Again thanks for the response.

Liam Ryan
02-13-2011, 06:18 PM
My suggestion would be to go and buy a $10 uke and give all plans a practice run with $10 of consequences.

02-14-2011, 02:55 AM
Thats a good idea, I think it'll work for the soundhole and the slotted headstock. However, I don't think I'll find a cheap uke with a finish comparable to the Makala. The cheap ukes that I've seen seemed to be finished pretty thick polyurethene or something of the like.

Edit: I just checked out the link in Doug's post. I think maybe I will attempt to impose my will on a Grizzly kit instead. Doug, you may have just saved my Makala and she thanks you for it.;)

02-14-2011, 08:48 AM
I am taking the same approach Ancient. I don't really have a "shop" but have experience with wood model building and gunstock work with small tools. I built a kit dulcimer many years ago. I may have to get the new Dremel RotoZip though. Can do soundholes, slotting the head, cutting holes for pickup controls/eq, etc. etc. I agree with others, enough info on this site and others to get you through any modding project. I googled the subject(s) and have enough sites saved in my "favorite places" that will walk me through most projects, video for many of them.
Good luck

02-14-2011, 03:35 PM
It seems to me that your descision it going to hinge on what type of look you'll want on your finished product. You definitely could sand a bit and shoot laquer over your soundboard, but if you have the bridge off , go for the complete refinish(just keep in mind your thinning you soundboard as you sand)

Doug W
02-14-2011, 04:11 PM
I think maybe I will attempt to impose my will on a Grizzly kit instead. Doug, you may have just saved my Makala and she thanks you for it.
Then I can leave this world knowing I accomplished something. I enjoyed putting the Grizzly kit together. I posted lots of questions here about the finish process which people were kind enough to guide me through.

I did buy better tuners and a bone nut for my Grizzly kit. The saddle that comes with it is wood, it would probably be a good idea to replace that with a bone saddle also. Keep us posted on how your project progresses.

Keep in mind that I know next to nothing about uke building. Anything I know about uke building, I learned from others here. I did get my first uke close to 50 years ago. If I had started building ukes then, I could be the sage of this forum but I got distracted with other things for half a century.