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View Full Version : First Uke done! Carbon fiber unibody.



Psychsurf
05-15-2011, 10:19 AM
Ok, I've used this site as a guest a LOT during the creation of this instrument, so I figured I'd register and show the fruits of my labors now that it's done.

I make surfboards in my spare time (http://psychsurf.blogspot.com), and I'm a dedicated tinkerer, but this is my first experience with building and using a negative mold on carbon fiber. Usually I mold CF (and other stuff) over a finished surfboard via vacuum bagging. That was an experience in itself, let me tell you. Once the body was molded, the rest came together relatively easily and conventionally.

The extended neck cutaway was my big innovation (although I'm betting it's been done before by others), and while it ostensibly to make it easier to play higher frets (which I probably never will), I think setting it up like that will make for a stiffer neck to body joint. It seems plenty stiff, that's for sure! The neck is hollow all the way through to the headstock.

The finish is only about 80% of what I wanted, some bubbles and wiggles in the weave, and the Upol #1 from a spray can was a disappointment for a final gloss, but overall I'm happy with it. Most importantly, it sounds GREAT! Now I just need to get my guitar-centric fingers to get used to some uke chords!


http://i56.tinypic.com/3354852.jpg

http://i55.tinypic.com/11tybnd.jpg

http://i55.tinypic.com/2kgei1.jpg

Psychsurf
05-15-2011, 10:20 AM
More photos:
http://i55.tinypic.com/125m9ok.jpg

http://i55.tinypic.com/1z64b6d.jpg

http://i55.tinypic.com/282ouoh.jpg


BIG THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO CONTRIBUTES HERE AND MAKES THIS SUCH AN AMAZING RESOURCE!

fitncrafty
05-15-2011, 10:21 AM
So unique and creative.. can't wait to hear some sound samples~

Tikas
05-15-2011, 10:22 AM
wow, that looks fantastic!
but how does it sound?

Psychsurf
05-15-2011, 10:29 AM
Excellent question! I think it sounds great, but I don't have a whole lot of experience with Ukes, mostly guitars and basses. I have a 10-string charango from Ecuador, and this is definitely louder, but that could be expected from the larger body of a tenor uke.

My initial inspiration to do this was an episode of "how it's made" I saw where they were molding high-end cellos from CF, and extolling the resonance virtues of the material. I have a couple of friends who are Uke aficionados, so I'm going to get it in their hands for a more objective review. I'd love to upload some sound clips, but what's the minimum quality considered adequate to convey an instrument's tone? All I really have to record with is my cell phone.

geetee
05-15-2011, 11:19 AM
Looks a lot like a Blackbird. http://www.blackbirdguitar.com/ukulele.html
but they only make a tenor. There must be something about CF that inspires this design.

geekinpinkhat
05-15-2011, 11:34 AM
This is beautiful! I'd love to hear how this sounds..:)

Aldrine Guerrero
05-15-2011, 12:05 PM
That looks great! Are the tuners upside down...?

wolfybau
05-15-2011, 02:03 PM
thats just awsome, especialy that heel joint

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
05-15-2011, 02:16 PM
That looks great! Are the tuners upside down...?

I had the same impression. Then I realized it was probably the uke that was upside down, not the tuners.

Psychsurf
05-15-2011, 02:25 PM
LOL, busted! Good eye, Aldrine! Yeah, I miscalculated when figuring the thickness of the headstock and since it's slightly tapered in thickness I had to make the holes as far out as possible, that made the tuning pegs look funny so I just swapped sides. I could have trimmed and reskinned the headstock, but I didn't want to mess with it at that point. I'll tell you though, I turn the tuners the wrong way EVERY single time!

Going to try to upload a vid for sound. My camera does take video, but the sound isn't wonderful (neither is my playing). So, as long as everyone promises to make allowances for the crappy audio and my playing of three simple chords, I'll give it a shot!

Psychsurf
05-15-2011, 02:45 PM
Ok, here's some sound. And no fear, I'm learning more uke chords by the moment! My goal is to play "Sweet Pea" for my wife by the weekend. :)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeFq0gCqS9A

Pete Howlett
05-15-2011, 10:04 PM
Great job - love the concept and it appears to have a decent sound. Have often thought I'd like to do this... any chance of a description of the process for non-vacuum process?

allanr
05-16-2011, 01:34 AM
Next Step: Learn to play while surfing! Just shake out the sand and wipe it dry before putting it back in the case :-)

BTW that uke is beautiful. I wish that I could do work like that.

Psychsurf
05-16-2011, 04:38 AM
Pete, I wish there was a way to do it without the vacuum bagging process, but it really needs that pressing action to get a good carbon to resin ratio. The less resin the better. Some makers of carbon fiber parts use presses to accomplish the same thing, but that would be even more technical and involved than what I did. When I ordered all the stuff like bridges, fretboard, etc, I got enough for three ukes (didn't figure I'd spend all those hours on the mold and only make one!), so when I do another I'll try to document the entire build. If I get it to where I'm 100% happy with the bodies coming out of my mold, I could be talked into selling some moldings for others to use.

Allan, funny you should mention that! I'm not necessarily going to take it in the water, but being able to take it to the beach, leave it in the car, etc without worrying about damage from heat/humidity/environment was definitely a driving force behind making it this way. As for wishing you could do work like this, I think the very same thing when I see the amazing woodwork being turned out here! Working with resin and fibers is kind of my comfort zone, I go into a full scale panic attack when I start to think about all the jigs and specialized tools involved in making an uke from flat pieces of wood!

Twitch
05-16-2011, 05:13 AM
Simply beautiful. If your camera has bad audio, then I couldn't imagine how the uke sounds live.

You probably just found a niche for yourself. Can't wait to follow your next build.

fitncrafty
05-16-2011, 05:31 AM
Ok, here's some sound. And no fear, I'm learning more uke chords by the moment! My goal is to play "Sweet Pea" for my wife by the weekend. :)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeFq0gCqS9A

Sounds Great.. I agree you may have found a niche for yourself!

ksquine
05-16-2011, 07:29 AM
Very cool. I like how it sounds....bright sound with big sustain
How does the carbon fiber neck feel? Any worries about rubbing through the finish into the carbon fiber?

hoosierhiver
05-16-2011, 07:33 AM
I hope this isn't the last one you make, very cool!

cursley ukulele's
05-16-2011, 01:02 PM
umm... just wow... im a big cf fan... and i love ukes...

Vic D
05-16-2011, 08:39 PM
Seems like it sounds awesome, as I thought it would. Fantastic job man! Can't wait to see more.

emcgee
05-19-2011, 06:48 AM
How did you make your plug for the mold? Any pics of the mold-making process? I've been researching doing just what you have done, and have a pretty good grasp of the essentials, but would sure like some tips from someone who actually completed a mold.

Thanks

shrink9
05-19-2011, 07:21 AM
Never thought I would say that I want a carbon fiber uke; however, the sound quality of this one is definitely a winner!! You may have just found yourself a new market. Thanks for sharing.

hmgberg
05-20-2011, 02:12 AM
I had the same impression. Then I realized it was probably the uke that was upside down, not the tuners.

Nah, I flipped the picture but the tuners still look the same ;-)

Psychsurf
05-20-2011, 03:56 PM
How did you make your plug for the mold? Any pics of the mold-making process? I've been researching doing just what you have done, and have a pretty good grasp of the essentials, but would sure like some tips from someone who actually completed a mold.

Thanks

My best advice on making a plug and mold is... DON'T! kidding, but seriously, it was a pain in the butt!

I started by making an outline template out of masonite to dictate the overall look, then I glued several layers of blue foam from home depot to that. That was my first mistake, since the gluelines between the layers always wanted to stand proud of the shape I was making. I shaped that down to the overall shape I wanted, then coated that with epoxy, sanded again, coated with epoxy, sanded again, coated with fairing compound mixed with epoxy, sanded again, coated with automotive fairing compound, sanded again, sprayed with primer, sanded again, sprayed with primer, sanded again, sprayed with primer, sanded again, sprayed with primer sealer, had some weird reaction take place which ruined all the primer, sanded/scraped it all back down to the automotive fairing, primered/sanded x 3 again... Then the partall wax I used to try to coat the plug caused the primer to bubble up, so it was back down again, this time with the added complication of wax on the surface, back to setp #532 again...

Finally got it to a state I was happy with... Don't forget to take your draft into account, I'm sure you've seen references to negative draft (or is it positive) when making plugs.

I stuck the plug down to a waxed sheet of glass and used molding clay to make a fillet between the plug and the glass, waxed it all with partall green paste wax, then sprayed the whole thing with PVA from fiberglass supply. Didn't like the results, so I peeled off the PVA and did it again. And again. And again, and again. Finally had a finish I liked, so I sprayed on a good layer of tooling gelcoat, also from fiberglassupply, let that gel, then started building up the mold with fiberglass matt and resin. After I had enough layers on, I added some plywood spines for rigidity. I'll post some photos of the mold later.

What I would do differently, bigger flange around the mold cavity to attach the vacuum bag to, and a thicker layer of tooling gelcoat since the fiberglass mat printed through a little. I use sprayed PVA as a mold release though, so that smooths out any (minor) imperfections in the interior finish of the mold.

emcgee
05-24-2011, 04:17 AM
My best advice on making a plug and mold is... DON'T! kidding, but seriously, it was a pain in the butt!

I started by making an outline template out of masonite to dictate the overall look, then I glued several layers of blue foam from home depot to that. That was my first mistake, since the gluelines between the layers always wanted to stand proud of the shape I was making. I shaped that down to the overall shape I wanted, then coated that with epoxy, sanded again, coated with epoxy, sanded again, coated with fairing compound mixed with epoxy, sanded again, coated with automotive fairing compound, sanded again, sprayed with primer, sanded again, sprayed with primer, sanded again, sprayed with primer, sanded again, sprayed with primer sealer, had some weird reaction take place which ruined all the primer, sanded/scraped it all back down to the automotive fairing, primered/sanded x 3 again... Then the partall wax I used to try to coat the plug caused the primer to bubble up, so it was back down again, this time with the added complication of wax on the surface, back to setp #532 again...

Finally got it to a state I was happy with... Don't forget to take your draft into account, I'm sure you've seen references to negative draft (or is it positive) when making plugs.

I stuck the plug down to a waxed sheet of glass and used molding clay to make a fillet between the plug and the glass, waxed it all with partall green paste wax, then sprayed the whole thing with PVA from fiberglass supply. Didn't like the results, so I peeled off the PVA and did it again. And again. And again, and again. Finally had a finish I liked, so I sprayed on a good layer of tooling gelcoat, also from fiberglassupply, let that gel, then started building up the mold with fiberglass matt and resin. After I had enough layers on, I added some plywood spines for rigidity. I'll post some photos of the mold later.

What I would do differently, bigger flange around the mold cavity to attach the vacuum bag to, and a thicker layer of tooling gelcoat since the fiberglass mat printed through a little. I use sprayed PVA as a mold release though, so that smooths out any (minor) imperfections in the interior finish of the mold.

Thanks for the explanation. Did you have any problems with the layup? How many layers did you use and what weight cloth? 5.7 oz twill looks like it would layup better than heavier material, but I would think you'd need a lot more layers of it.

also, did you layup the top as well, or cut ready-made plate? If laid-up, did you use the same cloth as the back/neck, or did you include some unidirectional or 45/45?

Sorry about all the questions-I find this type of build fascinating and really would like to do one myself in the near future. I'm picturing an archtop cutaway tenor in my mind-probably will settle for a simpler design for the first one, although the extra difficulty of making the plug and mold may not be that different between the two if I end up having the same issues that you did. Maybe use different materials for the plug?

thanks again

Psychsurf
05-24-2011, 10:39 AM
The only problem I ran into with the layup was when I tried to use some plain-weave carbon layers in there. Evidently that twill weave pattern that's so quintessentially CF-looking is used for a reason, it handles compound curves infinitely better than plain weave. The plain weave really didn't want to bend, took much more time and care to get that layered in. I don't remember exactly how many layers I used, but I think it was around 4 or 6. It really doesn't take much carbon to get amazing strength, especially when it's all tied together in a monocoque structure. The twill I used was 5.7oz, the plain was somewhere near that. I used the same cloth to lay up the top on a piece of glass, four layers I think (it's been a while since I did the molding).

So, I want to make more, but the way it works in my house in the interest of marital peace is... I'm allowed to spend whatever I want on my "projects" as long as that money comes from prior projects sold. So, that in mind, what do you think I could/should sell this uke for? Like I said initially, it isn't cosmetically perfect, although it does play well. Or should I just ebay it and let the market dictate the value?

bondandracing
05-24-2011, 12:19 PM
Im in the process of making carbon ukes to sell as well, and I am having some trouble with the pricing too. It seems that market value is much lower than what it actually takes to make these. Blackbird sells them for around 900 but I think if you take the time to make them perfect then you might be able to fetch more. But the price doesnt just come with the fact that it is carbon, it still relies on quality of the craftsmanship. If you want to try and sell this one it may not go for nearly what you want, but at least if you make it available for sale you can see what others will offer.

I think you did a good job, if you want to make more and sell them there is a fundamental change you should make. PM me for details.

soccermike
06-15-2011, 05:20 PM
Would you be willing to create another one for a reasonable price? I've wanted a carbon fiber uke ever since i got my first one and watched this documentary on CF cellos, and i dont have the know how to make it myself, and cant afford the 1000 dollar ones ive found...what did it cost you to make that one? and would you be able to make another?

Psychsurf
06-26-2011, 01:38 PM
Well, never heard back from Soccermike, so...

I'm looking to finance my next project, so if anyone is interested make me an offer! Not looking for blackbird kind of money, but have probably $250 in materials in it and countless hours of work, so just be reasonable.

Tarhead
06-27-2011, 03:49 AM
Great job! I've always wondered about the building process. I've played a Composite Acoustics Legacy guitar voiced after a vintage Martin D28. It's a beautiful instrument and never (ever) needs adjusting. If they could only put that Rosewood and Adirondack Spruce smell in it...
http://www.compositeacoustics.com/

Uke98
09-21-2011, 01:38 AM
Psychsurf made a great project, to be considered as a muster by many luthiers. Previously I did not imagine it is possible to make a unibody CF construction at home. Now we all have the proof it is possible:)

But I have difficulties understing the process of mold creation for unibody constructions. It must be a kind of closed mold of course, but how exactly it looks like, and what is the exact manufacturing process Psychsurf followed? Is it some kind of resin injection inside the mold under vacuum?

I hope the author is available to answer my questions. Thank you!

Psychsurf
09-21-2011, 02:38 AM
Very timely post, uke98! I'm actually gearing up to make a couple more of these, one to keep and one more to sell, and I had planned on doing a full build thread to document the process.

It'll be clearer once I post some photos of it, but the mold was the biggest issue for me, both building it and using it. It is an open, one-piece mold. On my first uke I laid up the carbon fiber and epoxy by hand, then put it under vacuum. I was less than satisfied with the cosmetic results doing it this way, not to mention the hassle of working under the time pressure of rapidly gelling resin. I'm going to switch to a vacuum infusion process which should result in better cosmetics, resin/fiber ratio (better tone/resonance), and ease of build.

One thing I'm considering, and maybe those reading this thread can give me input on this, is molding bodies for others to finish. I have too many other projects on my shelf to go into production with finished ukes, but I could probably turn out the body shells with relative ease. I'd have to look at the time and materials involved, but would anybody be interested in a carbon body shell if I could make them available at a reasonable price?

Pueo
09-21-2011, 04:10 AM
...would anybody be interested in a carbon body shell if I could make them available at a reasonable price?
Yes! I would.

Nickie
09-21-2011, 07:43 PM
Hey, this carbon fiber thing might catch on! beautiful work!

jinny
09-21-2011, 08:05 PM
Yes! I would.Me too! :)

gfreris
04-30-2012, 03:56 AM
I'd love a project, so me too!

Psychsurf
04-30-2012, 01:20 PM
Thanks for the reminder. I had a kid in November, or rather my wife did, so all projects kind of went by the wayside. I have a break from my masters program now though, so maybe I'll get back in gear. Thanks for the kick in the butt!

xjumper
04-30-2012, 02:53 PM
I'm in also. It's a great idea.

UK Paulie
04-30-2012, 03:37 PM
At a reasonable price? Love those words!! Count me in for one to start with!

Psychsurf
05-09-2012, 03:51 AM
Ok, I'm slowly churning out a few of these things. Just like I remembered, it's kind of a pain in the ass, ha!

So what does everyone think a "reasonable price" might be? Bear in mind, this is only for the unfinished body/neck/headstock assembly. It would still need building out and finishing.

I only have materials for 5, and of these two I'm (eventually) going to build out myself, so I'm only looking at selling 3 of the shells for the foreseeable future.