For this project, the goal was to design and build a musical instrument that was capable of both producing an adequate musical sound and fitting into a backpack. Ideally it would be something that you could play or practice on the bus to work in the morning, and then be able to put away and forget about it for the rest of the day.
The final product had to be:
· Compact-able: Enough to fit into a standard backpack.
· Tune-able: To ensure its ability to produce a quality sound.
· Moderately durable: Enough so that travel with it is feasible.
· Headphone option: Must be able to play into headphones.
After doing some research on homemade string instruments (specifically cigar box guitars), I found that the basic formula for a project such as this would be some sturdy type of neck, strings that could be purchased specifically at music shops, and a box (commonly a cigar box) that the neck and strings would be attached to. The box serves to amplify the sound created by the strings so that it is audible. However in terms of storage, the box part was easily the most cumbersome. Fortunately, due to the existence (and relatively low price!) of a piezoelectric pickup, I was able to replace the box completely.
With the box out of the way, it also opens up the design to the ability to fold!
For materials I used:
· A solid wooden neck, cut in half so as to allow it to fold
· Standard hinge
· Small eyebolts and wingnuts for tuning
· Ukulele strings (guitar strings, while they may produce an admirable sound, would likely be unable to withstand the constant folding and bending associated with the design)
· Electronic pickup
· Two mechanical pencil erasers
· Separate mini amp
· Frets (or nails/similar substitute)
The first part of this build is to cut the wood in half. Then attach the hinge. Now, drill four to five holes at one end of the wood for the tuning pegs (for hole configuration see photos). Next, drill an equal number of holes on the opposite side, side by side by side. Now string up the ukulele in the exact same way that one would go about making a cigar box guitar, just MAKE SURE that the strings are on the opposite side of the wooden neck as the hinge, so the strings are on the front and the hinge is on the back. Finally, add the tuning eyebolts, and glue on the pickup.
This design is basically just the neck of cigar box guitar, just using ukulele strings and doesn't include any carving or finesse. However, if your looking for more detailed instruction on the ukulele part of the build please check out discontinuuity's awesome instructable. It is for a cigar box guitar, but definitely can be applicable for a ukulele.
I would also recommend finding actual frets (off any old ukulele or guitar) and using those instead of my rather crude nail frets.
To use, one must first open the ukulele up, tune the strings and plug the pickup into a small amp. Radio Shack sells an excellent portable amp for this project. Then plug headphones in and play!
Here is a demo video, keep in mind this is an un-tuned version (I cannot actually play ukulele) but I think you can get the gist of the sound!