View Full Version : Acoustic- Electric Travel Uke - $40 & 2 Hours Work

Kayak Jim
01-09-2014, 07:33 AM
Thought I’d share the AE Travel Uke I made for very little cost and effort. Well not really “made”, more like “modified”….

I was interested in playing around with a few things- a slightly smaller bodied uke for travel, “cigar box” style uke building, and my first amplified uke. Although I’m a competent woodworker, I'm not a luthier and didn’t want to make the neck, inlay frets, etc., etc. for this “experiment”. Likewise the cost of ready made parts was adding up, so I decide to try modifying an existing uke. I tried on kijiji/ craigslist to buy someone’s discard uke, even a broken one, but no luck. So I bought a $30 Mahalo and went to work.

The Mahalo had the to-be-expected sharp fret ends, cheapo guitar size tuners, rough dry fretboard, nondescript stings, etc. But with a compensated NuBone saddle, the intonation was surprisingly good.

First step was to cut off a portion of each bout resulting in a narrow body. I know there are other ukes out there with this design but all I came across were built from scratch. Then made new sides and kerfing using some 3 mm mahogany ply leftover from a boat building project (yes, a kayak).


Before gluing on the sides I installed a piezo disk ($3) under the bridge and a jack ($3). I also dressed the fret ends, rounded some of the sharp edges on the bridge, and applied some varnish oil to the fretboard. Added some top and side fret markers with the touch of a drill bit and a drop of white paint.

A few coats of shellac on the new wood and it was ready for a new set of Aquilas. A few scuffs around the original painted body but I don’t mind those as it gives it a bit of a distressed look.


The verdict- not too bad at all! Yes it’s still a cheap uke. A bit top heavy but I use a leash anyway. Unplugged it’s still loud enough for practice on the road. Sounds decent plugged in (I don’t have a lot to compare it to). Small and sturdy so little fear of damage.

This fills my need for something to just throw in a bag so I can get in a little practice on the road (which was really all I was looking for). Next time I might move up to a Kala!

Jim B

01-09-2014, 08:05 AM
Neat-O. What are you gonna do with the cut off sides??

Kayak Jim
01-10-2014, 01:58 AM
Neat-O. What are you gonna do with the cut off sides??

Thanks. The cut offs are pretty stylish so I might incorporate them into a box lid or something.

01-10-2014, 02:03 AM
That is ever so clever!

01-10-2014, 02:24 AM
What a great idea. Cool way of turning a cheap uke into something useful. I have one in the boot of my car right now I bought at our local Lidl supermarket for £14.95 (they do them from time to time), maybe I will try this. Thanks for sharing

01-10-2014, 03:07 AM
Really superb.