View Full Version : My first eight string uke

10-01-2011, 09:45 AM
Hi folks. I'd like to show a bit of the build I'm completing now, an eight string tenor of mahogany.

I made a new tenor mold, I was never really pleased with the old one. I haven't made a tenor in a long time (those pesky piccolos...) but now my dear friend Ronald's request had worked itself up to the top of the list, so I had to make the new mold. I tried to make it a bit more like my parlor guitar in shape. I made a concert mold while I was at it.


Then I bent the sides on my Ibex bending iron.


Fast forward to calculating the proper scale length. I thought I had one picked, but something went a bit **** during neck shaping. So I chose another one. I use the Stewmac fretting template for classical guitars, with the 650 / 660 mm scale lengths. In Autocad it's easy to chose which slot to start with, and in this case the result was a scale length of 440 mm and a 14th fret body connection.


With skillz and awesome technology, I show both sides at the same time. Fretboard is from a hardwood floor board sample that turned up at the office. I used the same board for my own soprano a couple of years ago.


And tonight I put on the second coat of shellac, using the french polishing method. The base coat / sealer / pore filler was vernice bianca. I stumbled upon a recipe and wanted to try it. I don't know yet if it was a clever idea or if it was a gesture of little importance.


I will put mandolin tuners on it, Grovers from Stewmac. They're four on a plate, and they stick out. That's my first uke with ears as well!


Oh, I forgot. The blog covers about the same things, but with more rantings:

10-01-2011, 10:16 AM
I love this uke.

LOVE it.

10-01-2011, 10:23 AM
Looks great Sven, can't wait to hear it.

Michael N.
10-01-2011, 11:04 AM
I'd like to hear it too.
If you are applying shellac with a bit of cloth. . . it's French Polishing. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking you have to do magic circles and other such rubbish.
Vernice Bianca? I tried that on a couple of occasions, always did remain a sticky mess but for some it does seem to dry. Maybe there is some magic to it afterall.

10-01-2011, 11:20 AM
I'll have to follow this thread ...Somethings bound to go wrong :)...Sven! I've heard that the Swedish Embassy in Tripoly needs a refurb, Too many bullet holes? or something like that :(so get ready to pack your suitcase and AK47 for a sudden trip.:D

Steve vanPelt
10-01-2011, 11:23 AM
Looks great, Sven. And I thought a soprano looked big coming from you.

What are you using for string spacing on the doubled strings? I'm kind of winging it with roughly 3mm centers, giving about 2mm between strings. Found plenty of reference for mandos, but nothing for ukes.

Thanks, Steve

10-01-2011, 11:34 AM
Heh. I'm so tiny I'll make any uke look huge!

Thanks for the nice comments (except Ken, you rotter).

Michael, the vernice bianca dried quickly but since there's water in it it raised the grain a bit. The mahogany isn't that bad but I suspect I'd have been more nervous with another species. My impression so far is that the shellac popped the grain after two coats, and got some depth after three. It usually takes a few more coats for me to make that happen. But that might have happened with any base coat, there's so much I don't know.

And string spacing then, I haven't made the nut yet, nor drilled the holes through the bridge (I always use string through bridges and drill the holes last). The neck is a tad wider at the nut end but only 36.5 instead of my usual 35. We'll see how it goes!

Michael N.
10-01-2011, 11:49 AM
2mm between strings is narrow for early instruments but you might be OK with the increased tension of Uke strings. You have to avoid them clashing of course. I assume you are referring to the Nut end?

Steve vanPelt
10-01-2011, 12:04 PM
Sven, I didn't mean to imply anything of your size, I just happen to be in awe of those little piccalos you do so well.

Michael, yes it is the clashing of the paired strings I'm concerned with. I was thinking that the pairs themselves would be equally spaced at both ends, but I really just assume that to be the case. Close enough to fret as one, yet enough room not to vibrate into each other. A new nut is no problem but I'd hate to have to peel off the bridge if I get it wrong. Any input is surely appreciated. Sorry to hijack your thread, Sven.


10-01-2011, 12:13 PM
Please, be my guest and hijack away... I need that string spacing as well! No implications regarding my size percieved Steve, and I also think it's huge. Might actually be as heavy as my resonator, with tuners, pre amp and end pin jack. *shudder*

Michael N.
10-01-2011, 12:56 PM
I can only speak of early instruments and even then everything is as clear as mud.
The spacing at the bridge end is wider than at the Nut end. The measurements found on historical instruments are all over the place, hence the clear as mud comment.
I suspect that the width of the Neck of a double strung Uke is also less. For four courses (pairs of strings) I would expect the width on an early instrument to be nearer 40 rather than your 36.5. Then again most of this sort of thing is not set in stone and surely down to hand/finger size.
The intra-string spacing can also vary dependent on string gauge and whether you are using octaves or unisons.
Told you it was clear as mud.
So here are a few thoughts. At the bridge end we can have as much as 4 mm between each string and near 3 mm at the Nut. This is on a much longer string length and lower tensions than found on any Uke. It is logical to decrease these.
As a guide I'm going to suggest spacing at the Nut of 2.5mm, perhaps less on thin unison strings. Bridge end I would increase to nearer 3 mm.
It might also be a good idea to draw it out on paper. Set the outside clearance for string 1 and string 4 to fretboard edge. Draw the outside maximum width at the Bridge. Play around with spacing the strings between. See how it looks visually.

10-01-2011, 01:02 PM
One of the guys at our orchestra has an 8 string. I'll take my callipers down and measure it for you if you want.

Pete Howlett
10-01-2011, 01:10 PM
Love the green apron Sven. Makes you look like a mortician :)

I'm sorry you have had to resort to FP. It is a gorgeous finish but not one I would use again for ukulele after I recently saw what 10 years of constant playing did to a thin acid catalyst lacquer I formerly used on my ukes. Peter brooke Turner of the UOOGB had completely worn the finish off the uke, front, back and neck!

Steve vanPelt
10-01-2011, 01:38 PM
One of the guys at our orchestra has an 8 string. I'll take my callipers down and measure it for you if you want.

Wow, thanks, Nixon. Much appreciated!

10-02-2011, 12:10 AM
I'm sorry you have had to resort to FP.
Don't feel sorry for me Pete, I consider FP a good choice for certain customers. I told Ronald all I know about it (took about 20 seconds) and that if he was to get it, he'd better be prepared to be careful with it. And with the extra work that goes into it, it's my most expensive finish.

I'm lucky to have been able to fit an almost full scale workshop in my apartment but a spray booth is out of the question.

10-02-2011, 01:23 AM
I've got three FP ukes here that have been played regular over the last 3 or 4 years by my family members they have not been kept in cases ..just thrown around in general..they have a few damage marks and dings and scratch marks from fingernails...but the FP has not worn thro' at all..in fact the only severe FP damage I have seen is from guy's who get cologne and aftershave/acohol on their hands, and plectrum players who want to be the loudest players in the room..I know FP won't last forever but I like it ...and it's not difficult to repair.... :bowdown: "Vive La French Polish"

10-02-2011, 02:26 AM
Love the green apron Sven....

OT: In Germany, dark green and dark blue would be the standard aprons for instrument makers.

10-02-2011, 02:54 AM
I love the fact you got a standard for that Erich... I thought Sweden was well organized.

Michael N.
10-02-2011, 03:46 AM
Some players can go through a French Polish finish in under 6 months. For others it can last decades. All down to the make up of the individuals sweat.
Then comes the factor of the shellac itself. There's an awful lot of variations. Button polish has the reputation of being the hardest and most durable. I also suspect that the type of oil used also has an influence.

10-02-2011, 05:35 AM
I love the fact you got a standard for that Erich... I thought Sweden was well organized.

OT: Actually I learned this more by deduction, as I have visited quite a few instrument maker's in their shops and they all had green or blue aprons on.

I just did a - albeit random - check by entering "geigenbauer" (German for violin maker, but also stands for instrument maker in general) in google pictures and, sure enough, almost all the aprons you see are shades of darkish green and blue. So, you're in good company with that green apron by my book Sven. On the other hand, I have never visited any coroners and have now idea what they wear, so Pete may well be on to something there :)

10-02-2011, 06:28 AM
This is mine ..but I only use it on special uke builds.:o

10-02-2011, 06:58 AM
Oh, isn't that pretty :)

10-02-2011, 08:18 AM
Oh, isn't that pretty :)
Yup! nice binding too.

Michael N.
10-02-2011, 08:34 AM
I'm afraid that's not binding. I think the technical term for that is smocking. I know because I have a Pink one.

10-02-2011, 01:38 PM
I have a Kumalae which I think is late 20s (certainly no later than 1940) with a FP finish. It's clearly been played quite a bit, but the finish shows no real wear marks, just the usual dings and scratches from life.

Of course, the shellac in those days ....

11-01-2011, 06:13 AM
Had to dig a bit to find this thread, but I'd like to post an update. First of all, I had the worst time trying to get the Shadow pre amp to work. The theory was that the tiny tele plug from the under saddle pickup would go into a small jack, then a three lead cable already soldered to the end pin jack was to be connected to the pre amp. The connection was of a small square-ish type. But no matter what I did I couldn't get it to work. I've tried another pre amp, new battery, switching positions of the cables... It was all so tiny and cumbersome. I got pissed off.

So in the end I inserted a different end pin jack that the pickup cable went directly into. And that works.

Here's a pic of the test bench while I failed the installation.

Then I tuned. And tuned. And tuned... Man, did I turn those tuners! Turns out I bought these really nice mandolin tuners from Stewmac, with something like a 14:1 ratio. Never thought of that. It got better after the strings stopped stretching so darn much, but still. I'm used to, and very happy with, wooden pegs with a sturdy 1:1 ratio. Looks good though.


And the back of the headstock. I'm very pleased with my carving on this uke. The neck was made with a scarf joint and a stacked heel, so a very rough profile was there from the start. Then I made the tapered sides on it with a hand saw. Some shaping on a stationary belt sander, mostly on the curved backside of the heel. From there on knives and chisels. I strive to use my now very large and expensive collection of carving tools for two reasons. Firstly, it makes shavings instead of dust on the workshop floor. So tidying up is much easier. The other reason is I try to justify the money I spent on the tools. Remember, it ain't reckless cash dispersal if you use the stuff. Then it is an investment (or several investments really).


What's left now is to compensate the saddle, but I'll let the customer choose strings and string order before I do that.

It turned out to be a very nice ukulele, after all the work I put into it my only regret is that I really prefer to play a four string soprano myself. But this one is for my good friend Ronald. I'll get him to sort the electronics I guess, he's much better than I am at those things. Hopefully I can get him to record some samples as well.

Oh, if you want to see larger versions of the pics everything is at the blog. Click the label "Ronald's eight string tenor".

11-01-2011, 08:38 AM
Looks really pretty.

Steve vanPelt
11-01-2011, 08:43 AM
She's a beauty, Sven. I'd sure love to see a pic of the strings with aruler behind 'em.

11-01-2011, 04:32 PM
I love the aesthetics of it! It's certainly a beauty. If you ever make another one, I'd love to see a headstock like this: