Introduction: How to Build an Electric Ukulele!
When I saw the telelele on tumblr, I was inspired to start building one of my own. I had never built anything instrument related before, and it sounded like an easy way to prep me for building my dream project; an archtop/hollow body electric guitar. (possibly looking a bit like the Gibson Trini-Lopez) This project taught me a lot about making fretboards, wiring, and the importance of being patient while the paint is drying! Although its not perfect, and although i'm not quite ready for the hollow body yet, this experience was very important (and really awesome!) and I plan to build an acoustic guitar next to give me a little more experience with building guitars. This instructable is not specific to this design, but instead gives you the steps you need to build an electric guitar/uke/bass personalized just for you. If you want instructions specific to my design, just ask me on my orange board or inbox, and I will try to work something out! And for all you experts out there: yes, I probably did some things wrong; feel free to correct me! Hopefully you will understand what iv'e done! Enjoy!
Step 1: Lingo
After I finished the instructable and read it over, I realized that people may not know what some of the guitar parts/ building related words meant. So, I made this list. Here we go!
- Pots: Potentiometers; Used to control the volume and tone of the instrument.
- Nut: Bone or plastic piece at the beginning of the fretboard that holds the strings in place
- Bridge: In this case the metal piece at the bottom end of the guitar that also holds the strings.
- Pickup: Electromagnetic pickup; helps amplify the guitar string's sound
- Machine Heads/ Tuning Machines: Guitar strings are wrapped through and around these to tighten or slacken the strings.
Step 2: Materials and Tools!
For this project, you will need some basic woodworking tools and experience. All the materials you need can be ordered online. Here is the list!
- Band Saw
- Table Saw
- Scroll Saw
- Drill Press
- Dremel (optional)
- Plastic/Rubber mallett or hammer
- 400 and 600 grit sandpaper
- steel wool
- Soldering Gun/Iron
- Flux Paste
- Dial Vernier (optional)
- Metal File
- Piece of wood for the body (1+'' thick)
- Piece of hardwood for the neck (1+'' thick)
- Maple, Rosewood, or Ebony for the fretboard
- 4 String Bridge
- Jack and Jack Plate
- Volume and Tone Pots (1 of each)
- Volume and Tone Knobs (1 of each)
- Fretwire (4 - 6 ft)
- Fretboard Inlays (dots)
- Machine Heads (4)
- Bone Nut
- String Ferrules (4)
- Spray Paint Color of Your Choice (acrylic or lacquer)
- Clear Spray Paint (same kind as color)
- Pickguard Blank
- Guitar Strings
Step 3: Making the Design: Part One; the Scale Length
The first thing I did was find a really big piece of paper and start scaling down my design to the length I needed. To do this, I first had to decided what size ukulele I was going to be building. I picked Tenor, because I like their sound better than the soprano and the concert Ukuleles, but did not want to have to put in a truss rod, which I heard are used in Baritones. (not sure if this is true, but I figured I should play it safe) Next, I determined the scale length of the average Tenor Ukulele. The scale length is the length of the ukulele from the bottom of the nut to the top of the bridge, which can otherwise be thought of as the length from top to bottom of where the strings vibrate. My scale length (for the tenor) was 17 inches. I then made a 17'' line on the big piece of paper.
Step 4: Making the Design: Part 2; Body
From then I got lucky and found a Telecaster template on the internet. I found the dimensions for the average Tenor body and adjusted the Telecaster template to fit the Tenor dimensions. I printed it out in this size (which I had some help with, because it was rather complicated) and lined up the top of the bridge (On the Template) with the bottom of my 17" line, and traced it onto the paper. Here is the template link.
Step 5: Making the Design: Part 3; the Neck
Next, I decided how many frets I wanted on my ukulele. The average Tenor ukulele has around 18 - 22 frets, so I originally picked 22 frets. I used a Fret calculator to determine the length of my neck (fret calculator link), which was 12.230" from the nut. (seen on the 22nd fret from nut measurement) After this, I had to figure out how much to widen the neck as it gets closer to the body. And unfortunately, I have no idea how i did it, so you're on your own for that part. (my measurements are very messy). You could just guess at it, as long as it is comfortable it doesn't really matter. sorry. After that, I found approximately how wide the top of the neck needed to be, in my case 1.43 inches. Use your widening scale (that I am unable to provide you with) and draw the neck which ever length it needs to be (in my case 12.230") Make sure it overlays onto your body to where ever the neck ends. (in my case it is marked on the paper, but if you are using your own design, be creative with it)
Step 6: Making the Design: Part 4; Headstock and Finishing Touches
You will now need to design your headstock. make sure the base is as wide as the top of your neck, and then make sure you have enough room to fit your four machine heads. (in my case a little more than 5") I again used a template for this. Print out your headstock template, and trace onto your paper directly above the neck. Almost done with the design, you now have to hand draw in the aproximate bridge size, volume tone and selector switch plate, pickguard, and make a measurment regarding wood thickness (this depends on the jack plate you will be using) for the bridge, you can normally find dimensions on the site you buy it from (here is the link for the bridge that i bought.) as for the switch plate, just find the measurements for the knobs you will be using, and come up with a good size.
Step 7: The Build: Part One; the Body's Basic Shape
To make the body, I got a piece of wood (I used pine, because I had it lying around, but hardwoods work much better) and planed it down to my desired thickness of 1.5". I got my telecaster template from the design, (if you are not using a template, just copy the body from your blueprint and cut it out) and TEMPORARILY glued it onto the block of wood with a spray adhesive. I cut out the body with a band saw.
Step 8: The Build: Part 2; the Neck and Head Stock's Basic Shape
For this step, you will need a piece of hardwood, I used maple, that is the width of the widest part of the neck; may that be the headstock or the bottom of the neck. In my case it was the headstock, and the width was a bit more than 2 3/4". It also needs to be either the length or a bit more than the length of your headstock and neck combined. Plane it to however the thickness you would like it to stick in the body. (I suggest pretty thick. also take into account how thick you want the neck to be). Once you have finished that, you will need to get out your blueprints.
Step 9: The Build: Part 2 Continued.
For this step,draw a straight line down the middle of the entire piece of wood. Next, Either copy the neck and print it out on a new piece of paper, or draw new one the EXACT size of the one on your blueprint. Cut this out and glue it down with spray adhesive exactly where it needs to go on your wood. Make sure it is even! Now refer to your blueprints and measure how far the neck goes into the body. Make a straight line on the bottom and sides of your neck at this length.Cut out the sides of the neck, and the headstock. (remember that they are attached)
Step 10: The Build: Part 2 Continued..
Now you need to cut the BOTTOM side of the neck. Make a straight line down the side of the neck, starting a little bit high by the headstock (SEE ILLUSTRATIONS) having it increase in thickness as it goes down toward the bottom, and stop when it reaches the line where the body will be going. Cut this out, using the scraps from the sides you cut earlier to keep it even. You will now need to cut out the top of the headstock. take enough off the top of the headstock for your machine heads to sit a tad below where your nut will go. (SEE ILLUSTRATIONS)
Step 11: The Build: the Headstock and Neck Final Cutting and Sanding
Next step: making the curve at the end of the neck. For this, make a piece of wood the thickness of the body where the neck is connected (see photos). It should also be the width of the neck. glue it on the neck where it comes out of the body, clamp it down, and let it set overnight. The next day, when it is dry, Make it into a smooth curve with a bandsaw. Now you will need to sand the bottom/outside of the neck. (where your palm goes) I used a rasp for this, and then sanded it with different grits of sandpaper to make it smooth, but if you can find a easier way to go by doing this, feel free. (and tell me about it!) That step was rather time consuming, so I chose not to make the full curve in the neck, as you can see, but it would look and feel much better if you do. After this, sand up the headstock however you want. Your neck and headstock is now completed!
Step 12: The Build: Making the Fret Board
To make the fretboard, click on this link or find a website of your choice that has a fret calculator. Enter the number of frets, scale length, and instrument (ukulele!), click the button, and there you have it! the exact spacing for all of your frets. Now you will need to get another copy of your neck, and work on measuring out where your frets go, or print it out from the site. I was lazy for this step and used a computer program, so all in all it took me about ten minutes to do this. With a ruler and a pencil, I imagine it would take much, much longer. The frets should be exact! After you are finished with this, either print it out or cut it out and save it for a little later. Before you do ANYTHING, you need to plane out a piece of wood; preferably maple, rosewood, or ebony. Plane this to your desired thickness, but keep in mind how far the frets need to go in; you don't want it to be too skinny! Now you can glue your fretboard paper you made earlier to your fretboard wood with temporary spray adhesive. Next comes the tricky part, or it was tricky for me anyway. Find a scroll saw blade the thickness of the part of the fret that goes into the wood. Put this on your scroll saw backwards; so the blade is facing inward. I did this so I could see where I was cutting. Now find a piece of fret wire and see how far it needs to go into the wood. Mark this length on both sides of your fretboard, marking a line clearly from top to bottom. Now you need to cut it! This takes some practice, so be careful, but making sure it is straight down and level on the scroll saw, cut where the frets are marked to the line you made on the side (for how far the fret needs to go in). When you are done, check the other side where you marked the fret depth. Fix this if it is not even. Make sure it is the same depth in the middle, also. Once you have done this, go to your band saw and, with a thick piece of soft wood (pine, etc.) under it, cut out the fret board's sides and top (leaving room for the nut if you didn't mark it on the template!!!!)
Step 13: The Build: Putting in Frets and Installing the Fret Board on the Neck!
For this step, find the aproximate length (width of fret board) for each fret, and cut with some wire cutters. Get your plastic headed hammer, and carefully hammer in place. If they do not stay in place, it means that your fret holes are either to wide, or not deep enough. Once you get all the fret wire in place, glue the fret board onto the neck with wood glue and clamp it in place overnight. Once it is dry, file the edges with a dremel tool or hand file.
Step 14: The Build: the Final Touches (Of the Building Process)
Get out your pickguard material and your blueprints, and cut it out! (be exact)
Step 15: Inlays!
For this step, you will need your mother of pearl dots or whatever you managed to scrounge up. Find the width of them, and then get a drill bit either the size of or a tad smaller than your inlay dots. measure how thick they are and set the stop on the drill press to that length, so you know exactly where to stop drilling. find and mark where you want to put an inlay, (in my case, the middle of the 5th fret, 7th fret, 10th fret, and 12th fret.) and simply drill into the wood. I had many extra dots, so I decided to make a little design in the headstock with them! after you do this, simply hammer them in with another piece of hardwood/plastic to protect the inlays.
Step 16: Installing the Tuning Machines.
to do this step, find where you want to put the tuning machines. You then need to find out how far you want the bottoms to be under the headstock. I decided to place mine at the very edge, or else it would end up looking funny. mark where your holes go. find a bit either the size of or a tad smaller than the washer type things that rest inside the holes you will drill. drill holes with your bit straight, all the way through the headstock. Insert your washer type things (I don't know what they're called) and then screw in your machine heads. Voila! They are installed and ready to go.
Step 17: Getting Ready to Bolt on the Neck
To do this, you will need a router and a pencil. first measure how far the neck will go into the body (from where you put the wood piece). make a straight pencil line the width of the bottom of the neck on that measurement (how far the neck goes into the body). Now mark the sides by tracing the neck on the wood. measure the thickness of your neck and slowly rout INSIDE the lines you made until you reach that thickness. Keep doing this until your neck fits snuggly in the body.
Step 18: Making the Nut
To make the nut, I placed the bridge in the middle of the body in the direct line of the headstock. I made sure that it was exactly 17 inches between where the strings begin to vibrate on the bridge to where the bottom of the nut will be. I put pencil lines on the top of the neck where I thought a good distance between strings would be. I then made sure it would work by lining up the marks I made with a yardstick to the string holes on the bridge. Next, I cut the nut to the width of the top of the neck (where it is going to be placed). After this, I found scroll saw blades around the width of each of the gauges of my strings. I cut the lines where I marked them with the pencil on the neck. I kind of guessed at how far to cut down for the strings, so just guess at it or find a standard length I guess. You can always fix it later.
Step 19: Installing the Nut
To install the nut, I cut a small crevice in my neck just wide enough for the nut to fit snuggly. I then just hammered it in until it looked right!
Step 20: Making Room for the Wiring!
You will need quite a bit of room for the wiring in the body. To do this, I traced my pickguard onto the body, and figured approximately where the pickup would go. I traced the pickup on the body INSIDE my pickguard line, and then made a big circle around where wires would go. (also inside the pickguard.) Now, you don't need all that much room for wires, so just make sure there is room to put screws in where the pickguard goes. you will also need a small cavity that goes from the pickguard to the vol. and tone plate. again, make sure it is small enough so as you can still fit in screws, but large enough to put two or three wires through. Now get your pots and measure them. Again making a blob big enough for wires, but small enough for the plate to be put on. after this you will need to put your bridge in its exact location and trace the string holes in the bottom, and the bridge itself, of course. now forget about that for a little while and make a hole big enough for your jack, but not so big that you cannot fit your jackplate around the hole. Now its time to cut everything! I used a drill press for this part, though I am sure that a router would work just as well. I found how tall the pickup was, and set the stop on the drill press just a bit shorter (thickness of the pickguard). I did that because I wanted the pickup to stick up a bit, but not so much that the screws touched the strings. I then cut out the pickguard section of the cavities I made. Next I found the height of the pots, and set the drill press to their height. I then drilled out that cavity. After this, I drilled a hole in the side for the jack plate. To do this, I drilled one hole, and then drilled a smaller hole inside of it at an angle so it could go in the vol. and tone knob cavity. After I finished that, I drilled a small hole from the bridge into the vol. and tone knob cavity.(for the ground wire)
Step 21: Making Some Holes
Before you paint, you will want to make a hole in the pickguard for the pickup, and some holes for screws. I will start by explaining how to make a hole in the pickguard for the pickup. To do this you will need to mark where your pickup will be going on the pickguard. Make exact measurements on the pickguard to do this. Next, drill some holes inside the marks you just made and insert a scroll saw blade inside. cut out inside the marks and temporarily screw down your pickup exactly where it is supposed to go in the cavity. place the pickguard on top of the pickup, and file down the pickguard until the hole fits the pickup snuggly. The next steps are extremely simple. put your pickguard on the body where it is supposed to go, and mark where you think screws should be put. next, simply drill the holes with a bit the size of the screw you will be using, and countersink them. Voila! The pickguard is complete! (minus the cut out for the knob plate, but that will be taken care of later)
Step 22: Paint!
To paint the body, I used acrylic spray paints. Lacquer might work better, but I used acrylic because I could only find black in that kind. I used the whole can and sprayed in light, even coats, sanding with 400 to 600 grit sandpaper between each coat, until there was no more paint left. (in the can) Then, after two days for drying time (as noted on the can), I used a clear gloss (again the whole can) with steel wool in between coats. I waited only one day, but you should probably wait two or more days for the paint to completely dry before doing any work to it. (I ALMOST ruined the paint job)
Step 23: Making Plates
To make a plate for the bolts on neck, you just need to measure 1/4 to 1/2 inch around where you drilled holes for the screws. Then, mark it on a piece of metal, I used thick aluminum, cut it out with a hacksaw, drill for where the screws go, countersink, and file and polish until it looks good. To make a plate for the volume and tone knobs, make straight, even lines around the holes you made on the body, and about 1/2'' above the pickguard slot, mark it on the piece of metal, this time I used thin stainless steel, cut it with a hacksaw, and drill holes in the middle to fit your pots. (measure). Then shine it up, and both your plates are completed!
Step 24: Wiring and Finishing!
To wire up the guitar, and you are like me and have absolutely zero experience with anything electrical, you will need to find a good wiring diagram. A nice site to look at is seymourduncan.com. If you are, like me, using a single coil pickup with one volume and one tone knob, you can use this one! (in images) Put on some shielding tape or paint, get out the soldering gun, and some solder and flux, obviously. Then, strip a bit of coating off the wire, and solder it where it needs to go, putting the wires through the holes they need to go in, and voila! It should work like a charm! After you are done, permanently put in your pickup(s), and jack, screw down your bridge with the ground wire underneath, attach the pots to the plate, then screw down the plates, and put your knobs on top of the pots! Put on the bottom four strings (thin ones) of a guitar set, and polish it up! It's all ready to rock!
Step 25: Helpful Resources and Links
Pickup Making (I did this for a signature sound)
Other People Who Built Electric Ukuleles
Links I Mentioned Earlier