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Thread: What's the next size smaller than a Sopranissimo?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2020
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    123

    Default What's the next size smaller than a Sopranissimo?

    A luthier I follow on facebook is doing a "mini guitar" contest. The main requirement is that the overall length of the instrument must be 14" or less, and it must have string(s) that are "playable." I've never built something so tiny and feel like it's pretty clearly in the "novelty" category (at least for someone like me with normal sized hands) but it sounds like a fun and creative challenge, and I'm waiting on parts to get my table saw back in action so I can't really do anything serious right now anyways.

    I'm planning on entering a uke. I did some googling and it looks like sopranissimo ukes typically have an 11" scale length and 17" overall length. Too big!

    While eating lunch today I took out a clean sheet of paper and started drawing. I settled on a 10" scale length. If I use a 12th fret body join, that means I need 5" of neck proud of the body. If I allow 2.5" for a nice squat headstock (which is barely enough for tuners by the looks of it) that leaves 6.5" for the body, which seems slightly squatter than a typical sopranissimo. Those dimensions mean I can get from the 17" typical down to the 14" requirement. Not sure what this would be called though - a mini sopranissimo? Maybe I should just call it, "unplayable."

    As mentioned I've never built anything near this tiny. Do any of you build in the sopranissimo size? I'm assuming the typical bracing is pretty minimal just because there's really not much width in a body this small. I'm wondering if there are other size related factors that aren't obvious?

    I am going to build this from offcuts and scraps - looks like that means it'll be an all walnut body, maple or cherry neck and maple fretboard. I have a discarded bridge from a tenor uke that got a nasty chip on the corner, but if I cut it down to this size the chip will be cut away. Glad I saved it. I might have spruce scraps large enough for the top. Heck, this pattern is so small, I bet I could dig through my scrap bin and come up with enough bits to make a dozen of these. Should be fun. Wish me luck!

    IMG_20200717_154439.jpg

    (I put a partially finished tenor fretboard in the photo to give a sense of size. That bridge, as is, is almost as wide as the body!)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2020
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    123

    Default

    I had half an hour between my day job and dinner, so I glued up the top plate and neck blank and went ahead and bent the sides. I had a single discarded side from another project for the sides on this versus two matched sides, so I bent it as one piece. I'm wondering if I'll even need a tail block?

    The top is a bookmatched set of offcuts from a pair of sides I'm using on a tenor ukulele.

    I was recently resawing some walnut for back and sides and I had one slice that curled significantly. I kept it anyways and I'll use it as a one piece back for this. I wanted the back on this to have some radius to it, so I'll just use the wood as-is with the radius already built in and sand the braces to match - it looks like it's maybe 4 or 5 feet radius.

    Time to figure out bracing, to be continued....

    IMG_20200717_180057.jpg

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Little River, California
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    2,534

    Default

    Here is a tiny uke for you:


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Location
    Cumbria, NW England
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    587

    Default

    Interesting/nice video. A quick search on Youtube tells me this is a Brit called Ian Emmerson. On one of his videos he says the uke is made by Chris Reid aka Prof Chris-I assume that's the same Prof Chris who is a member of this forum?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    UK
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    765

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    Yes, that's me!

    It was a challenging build, to say the least. I bent the sides over the barrel of a soldering iron, and luckily koa bends quite easily. From memory the top had one brace below the sound hole (about the size of a matchstick) and the back had no bracing but I sanded a curve (tail to heel) along the back profile, which was enough to give it strength.

    Ian demanded friction tuners, so I had to invent some from brass tubing, interlocking inside the headstock.

    I swore that I'd never build another, and so far I haven't been tempted.

    The dimensions are half those of a normal soprano in all directions with one exception. If you make the neck width at the nut half size, it's almost unplayable even for Ian (and he can play anything!). So I made a mockup with the nut just 1/8 inch wider and sent it off to Ian, who agreed that it was just enough to make the difference. I think you can see that it doesn't appear to have different proportions from a normal soprano, which was the brief.

    An alternative approach is the one taken by Andy Miles, also in the UK, who makes ukes with the same body size but a much wider nut. They can be played by a less exceptional player. You can find his builds on Facebook.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Location
    UK
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    1,114

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    It's a Uke built on the atomic level. Think I would have to take a coarse rasp to my fingers!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Location
    Yakima, WA
    Posts
    1,653

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    Here is the smallest size uke I have built. It has a 9 1/4" playing scale, but I don't remember the overall length. Played fine, a bit trebley to say the least.
    http://www.blackbearukuleles.net/detail.html?itemid=196

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2020
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    123

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    Wow Chris and BlackBearUkes! Those sound really tiny!

    I got the fretboard cut and bound, glued a scrap of walnut in for a neck block, rough cut the neck blank...

    I didn't want to just eyeball the task of sanding the sides to match the curved back, so I came up with a makeshift curved sanding form which happened to produce an exact match!

    I'm trying to attach more photos but I can't seem to get the attachment feature working today...

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jun 2020
    Posts
    123

    Default

    IMG_20200719_103302.jpg

    IMG_20200719_104945.jpg

    Let's see if it works this time...

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    765

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    Your back curve sanding device is what I used, though I nailed down my battens rather than using weights and clamps - nails are so satisfyingly quick, a rare chance to use them in instrument building!

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