View Full Version : Self Made Ukulele Questions

10-02-2008, 12:31 PM
For a while i have been having the urge to make my own ukulele, but i do not know where to start. I am not making it to sell, or make money off it, just something i can say i made and its mine. The only problem is i do not know where to start, and its not like i got a garage i can do this in. To be perfectly honest, i don't own any tools or anything except your basic, hammer and screwdriver set. I was hoping someone here could kind of lead me in the right direction of where to start, and where to go for materials and tips. I am looking to make a Tenor, and i would like it to be Curly Koa, and i want to put an inlay in it. I know its wishful thinking :rolleyes:, figuring i have no clue how to do it, but i just want to have a piece i can truly call "my own". any ideas anyone?

and just if you can what do you think this is going to cost me? would it just be better and cheaper to buy a new uke? I still really want a Kanile'a!


10-02-2008, 01:00 PM
You don't want to build a uke from curly koa with inlay as your first build. Curly koa ain't cheap, and it would be a shame to ruin it while you're learning on the job.

I'd try building a few kits first. StewMac has a kit, Hana Lima 'Ia has kits, and Russ_Buss recently completed a two headed monster ukulele made from 2 Grizzly kits.

After you complete a few of those, then I would try building without a kit from found wood or cheaper wood. This takes much more time, but you can start to tailor the plans to your preferences. Jigs, side benders, etc. must be built.

After you're confident in your building expertise, then I'd say go out and find some curly koa and make your dream uke.

Not the answer you were looking for, probably, but it's what I would do.

10-02-2008, 01:12 PM
seeso has the wise words. taking baby steps is a good idea. here's the kit that i used. it's only $25 so it won't hurt too bad if something goes completely wrong.


also, it only really requires wood glue, sandpaper, a screwdriver, some clamps, and very little woodworking experience. a fun and worthwhile first time project. if you ace this one, then move on to pricier and better quality kits like the ones seeso mentioned. good luck and have fun!

10-02-2008, 01:13 PM
I'm on this mission as well. I'm building a grizzly kit for my son. Next I will move on to the Stew-Mac kit. Then I will move on to the manual and plans I bougt from hanalima.

10-02-2008, 08:27 PM
also be sure to check out the luthier section. like what seeso said, after going through some kits, venture out and create your own. I've been reading great things about Hana Lima Ia's manual. It goes over lots of things when building your uke. I also know that many of the things that they do can be done with hand tools so if you don't have space or the money for power tools, it's still possible.

10-02-2008, 10:06 PM
First thing you do is join the `Ukulele Guild of Hawaii (there's my pitch for the year).

Next, get to know the guys that are teaching classes - you'll meet them at the Annual Exhibition in November (I'll probably be teaching a seminar on inlay). Of course, everyone is going to tell you Mike Chock (who runs Hana Lima I`a). I'm not sure if Norman Takeya is still teaching, but you may get lucky and run into Mike Uyeno (who taught me).

Either way, your final product will be worth what you pay.


10-03-2008, 03:11 AM
I built one of the Grizzly kits, and while the uke is really cool looking (custom paint on the back), the darn thing can't play in tune.

It appears you have to be quite precise when installing the bridge/fretboard/nut. Never would have guessed :rolleyes:

Started from where you are (no tools) and spent about 60-80$ for kit + shipping + basic supplies. Even if I ended up with an unplayable piece of crap, it was a fun little project. I now have a better appreciation of the artistry that goes into making these little instruments.

Good luck with the project.


ps: I didn't have a garage either, and I got some crap from my wife for leaving my stuff in the kitchen (especially during the relatively long varnishing phases).
ps2: The result of my experience should not be taken as indicative of your prospective success. I can't do anything with my hands; I almost stabbed myself in the eye with a fork while eating at least 5 times.

10-03-2008, 04:33 AM
I used to build guitars and such for a living. You do NOT want to start with koa wood(fairly expensive) and inlay(hard with not the right tools). There are plenty of things you can do with just plain old maple or something like that. If you really want to make it unique, you could add a burn pattern using a soldering iron.

Assuming you're going to buy the tools. It'll be fairly hefty. If you go on stew mac, they used to have these books where all it was, was just like, 400 pages of tips on building/repairing guitars(which can easily apply to a uke).

Basically, everything but the headstock is really really really really really really important. As for the garage type deal, you could do it in the backyard or maybe the front yard, as long as there's cement and a place you don't mind sweeping up.

I started by customizing my first electric guitar from the inside out. Then I built an acoustic. So I wouldn't know much about how the kits are. If you need advice feel free to message me or something like that.

10-03-2008, 07:54 AM
Thanks for the advice, yeah i dont have a front or back yard either...i live in an apartment....but i have a huge lanai, maybe i can do it out there. i just really wanted something i can say was all mine, and i created it, and i took the time. i dont know. but i will definitely after hearing all of your words of advice, start off with a kit, Grizzly and then work my way up from there. has anyone taken that 500 dollar class? let me know. thanks guys.

10-03-2008, 08:12 AM
has anyone taken that 500 dollar class? let me know. thanks guys.

Are you talking about the Hana Lima class? If so, I know that acabooe and hoosieruke have taken the class.

There's a little bit of info about it here:


10-03-2008, 09:35 AM
I don't know what a lanai is, but you might want to tell your neighbors that you're going to be doing some work. Either that or put up some sort of cloth or something to make sure all your junk/dirt/dust stays in your area.

10-03-2008, 11:57 AM
its a balcony...its huge...get choke room...with solid walls separating our neighbors...da only issue is da "Jealousy" windows...

10-03-2008, 03:29 PM
its a balcony...its huge...get choke room...with solid walls separating our neighbors...da only issue is da "Jealousy" windows...

With solid partitions the neighbors will probably be ok. But the jealousies will suck in plenty dust maybe. try check home depot for some plastic sheeting for the windows and keep down the noise and you should be ok.