- Tin box
- Poplar trim board
- Additional wood
- 18ga copper wire
- Sheet metal
- A set of six tuning machines ($16)
- A set of Aquila Nylgut ukulele strings ($6)
- Woodcarving knife (I used my trusty Leatherman Wave for most of the carving)
- Wood rasps
- Surform plane
- Needle files
- Dremel with assorted attachments
- Vise (I used a Black & Decker Workmate)
- Jeweler's saw
- Coping saw
- Keyhole saw
- Table saw (I really did use every single one of these, but could probably have gotten away with hacksaw, coping saw, and handsaw)
- Power drill
- Electric woodburning tool
- Tin snips
- Wire cutters
- Tape measure
- Set square
I looked at several Instructables and some online cigar box guitar plans, all of which I reference at the appropriate points, but if you have any interest at all in building something like this, you need to join the Cigar Box Nation.
Fair warning: This Instructable will not end with a video of me whaling away on my brand-new uke. I did produce a functional, even beautiful-sounding instrument, but I don't yet know how to play it. One of my purposes in creating this build was to give me a teaching instrument so I could learn to play. So far, I'm still working on keeping it in tune and fingering a couple of basic chords.
Step 1: Planning and design
Ukuleles come in four basic sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The main difference is the scale length of the instrument, that is, the length of free vibrating string from bridge to nut. If I used Shelley's plan and attached the strings directly to the tail-end of the neck, a soprano or concert uke would have to have a comically shortened neck, and I'd need to extend the fingerboard over the tin box body to have enough frets to play with. Given that, I initially planned a tenor uke.
The more I played around with the design, though, I realized that the bridge would still be close to the edge of the body. I wanted it nearer to the midpoint, so that as much of the box lid as possible would vibrate. That's when I hit upon the idea of attaching a tailpiece such as banjos and resonator guitars have. That gave me much more geometrical freedom, so I settled upon a concert-size uke with a metal tailpiece. It turned out to have very nice proportions.
I also chose a trapezoidal headstock that ran parallel to the neck. In the final version, this is causing some trouble with string alignment above the neck, so future builds will have an angled headstock.