Instructables
Picture of Playable Cardboard Ukulele...
This Instructable will show you how to create a playable soprano ukulele from cardboard and items found at your local hardware store (plus some tuners and strings).

A video of the cardboard uke in action can be found on YouTube.
 
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Step 1: Materials...

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Items you need for this project:

Several large shipping boxes made from corrugated cardboard.  The tighter the corrugation the better.
Several sheets of non-corrugated composite cardboard like cereal boxes or the back of notepads
2 fully threaded bolts or a threaded rod
4 geared guitar or ukulele tuners with flanged bushings
1 set of soprano ukulele strings
12 1.5" long cotter pins
2 small hinges
1 bottle of wood glue
2 wood screws (1.5 - 2 inches)

Tools:
Sharp hobby blade
Pencil
Measuring tape/Scale
Drill
Screwdriver

Step 2: Templates...

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Attached are word files (now also in PDF!) with templates for the body and neck.  Print and cut out each template.  Glue these templates onto some thin cardboard or cardstock (I used a file folder) because you will be using them a lot.  In the files, the templates are labeled as follows:

Body A: Top (aka Soundboard)
Body B:  Middle
Body C:  Back

Neck A:  Edge
Neck B: Middle

Step 3: Trace templates...

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Trace the templates on to the corrugated cardboard.  You will need the following number of pieces (save some extra pieces of cardboard in case you need more later):

Body A: 1
Body B: 9
Body C: 1

Neck A: 6
Neck B: 7

Tips: 
1)  The majority of the body pieces should be cut with the lines of the cardboard running along the length of the piece.
2) Mix in a few pieces of "Body B" cut in other directions to provide strength in all directions.
3) For the neck, cut the pieces in a variety of orientations, but avoid any with the lines running along the neck.
4) Avoid any areas of the cardboard that has dents or wrinkles. 

Step 4: A couple more...

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Trace Body A and Body B onto non-corrugated composite carboard sheet (the back of a legal pad or thick cereal box should work).  Do not cut the notch out of the Body B piece.

Step 5: Cut out pieces...

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Using a very sharp blade, cut out all of the cardboard pieces.

Step 6: Stack the body...

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Stack the cardboard in the following order:  Corrugated Body C, composite Body B, corrugated Body B.  The corrugated Body B pieces can be stacked in any order (because I am an engineer, I like to stack it in a symmetric pattern).  Check the height of the stack, it should be just over 2 inches.  Add or remove Body B pieces to get the height to approximately this height. 

Step 7: Glue body...

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Using a thin coating of wood glue, glue the stack together.  Place a book on top of the stack.  Check back after a few minutes to ensure that nothing has shifted.

Glue the corrugated Body A piece to the composite cardboard Body A piece.  At this point DO NOT glue these to the rest of the body.

Step 8: Soundboard bracing...

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Cut 2 strips of composite cardboard 1" x 8".  Cut 3 score lines running along the length of the strips 1/4 inches apart.  Bend along the score lines to create 2 triangular brace pieces.

Step 9: Cut bracing...

Cut the triangular bracing pieces to cross the body as shown in the picture.  You'll have to cut a notch in one of the pieces to be able to cross them.  Reinforce the brace where it has been cut.  Notch the body where the braces will touch in order to get a good bond when it is all glued together. 

Step 10: Glue bracing to soundboard....

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Glue the bracing to the soundboard with wood glue. 

Step 12: Glue neck...

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Glue the neck so that you have the following stackup:
3x Neck A
7x Neck B
3x Neck A

I like to glue these pieces together in increments in order to ensure they're all lined up.

Step 13: Create bridge....

Picture of Create bridge....
While you are waiting for some glue to dry, you can work on the bridge.  Cut a rectangle of composite cardboard that is the width of 2 hinges (about 2.25 inches) by 4.5 inches.  Score a line at 2.75 inches from one end and crease the cardboard.  This will hold the saddle and also wrap around the bottom of the ukulele in order to hold the hinges.

Step 14: Saddle...

Using some leftover bracing, create a triangular stop for the saddle.  Cut a bolt or threaded rod to a length of approximately 2.0 inches.  While you are cutting the saddle, you can also cut the nut (this can be confusing terminology, but its the thing like the bridge that goes out at the end of the neck).  The nut should be cut to a length of 1.5 inches. 

Step 15: Saddle...

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The saddle height should be approximately 3/8 inches above the soundboard.  Shim under the bolt to get a height near 3/8 inches.

Note:  This will result in high action, which is not typical for a ukulele, but with the imperfection of the fingerboard and frets, the higher action will result in a cleaner, less buzzy sound. 

Once you get your height set, glue the stackup together including the bolt.  Make sure the bolt is pressed up against the stop.

Step 16: Finish head...

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Once the neck pieces are set, cut 4-6 strips for either side of the head.  They should maintain the thickness of the head and could be used to get a little creative with the shape of the head.  Glue these pieces onto the neck.

Step 18: Drill holes for tuners...

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Once the neck is completely dry, drill the holes for the tuners.  I find that 1.5 inches back from the bend in the neck is a good spot for the first pair of tuners, then draw a 1 inch by 1.5 inch rectangle centered in the head to locate the other tuners.  Drill a hole large enough so that the bushings for the tuners press in with some resistance.  Clean up the holes and glue the bushings in the upper surface.

Step 19: Install tuners...

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Once the glue has set, install the tuners on the back of the neck.  Using wood glue on the screws will make them hold better.

Step 20: Test fit neck...

Test fit the neck in the body notch.  If it is too large, trim even amounts of cardboard off either side.  If it is too narrow, create shims to fill the gap on either side from composite cardboard.

With the neck in place, drill a hole from the back of the ukulele through the neck.  This will be used to install a  wood screw through the whole stack-up.

Step 21: Glue neck...

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Glue the neck into the notch in the body.  While glue is still drying, install the screw through the back.  The screw should go through most of the neck, but not poke out of the top.  This joint is very critical, so check alignment often during the gluing and use tape to hole in the proper position.

Step 22: Glue on the soundboard...

Picture of Glue on the soundboard...
Glue the soundboard with braces to the top of the body and weigh it down with a textbook or two.

Step 23: Make the fingerboard....

Cut a strip of corrugated cardboard as wide as the fingerboard and long enough to go from the bend in the neck to just past where the neck goes into the body.  Glue this piece on, you may need to shim where the fingerboard overlaps the body.

Step 24: Glue nut and bridge...

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Glue the nut onto the head, just above the fingerboard.  You will need to shim under the nut in order to achieve a string height of about 1/8th of an inch. 

Glue the bridge onto the ukulele body.  Ensure that it is centered.

Step 25: Attach hinges...

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Attach the two small hinges to the portion of the bridge that wraps around the bottom of the uke.  Use the screws provided, coated with wood glue, to attach only the bottom portion of each hinge to the bridge.  The other portion of the hinge should be free to move.  

Step 26: Add strap button...

If you plan on using a strap, at this point, you can add a strap button (aka screw) to the bottom of the ukulele.  You will want to drill a pilot hole in the cardboard to install your screw.  Be sure to not screw it in all the way. 

Wait for the glue to dry.

Step 27: Add the strings!

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Once the glue is completely dry....

Tie the strings to the hinges.  If you purchased commercially available ukulele strings, they will be numbered.  The 1st string would be closest to the ground if you were holding the ukulele to play it. 

Note:  Ukulele strings do not generally go from smallest to largest, like most stringed instruments. 

Once tied to the hinges, run the strings through the tuners and start to tighten the strings to hold them in place.

Step 28: Install frets...

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Measure the distance between the nut and the saddle (scale length).  At this point, you can research how to calculate fret spacing (if you are a nerd.  actually, the math is really easy, but its already out on the web in a million places), or you can enter this distance into a fret calculator.  I use buildyourguitar.com/resources/fretcalc/fretcalc.htm.  You'll have 12 frets... the program will ask you for that.

Mark the locations given by the calculator on both sides of the neck. 

Install the cotter pins at each of these locations.  The cotter pin will poke through each of the layers of corrugation in the fingerboard, so it will take some light pressure and some patience.  If the pins do not lay flat, you may need to use some wood glue to hold them against the finger board.  If you are going to use glue, be sure to double check your fret locations, you won't get another chance.

Step 29: Space the strings and tune it up....

Once you have some tension on each string, space them out on the nut and saddle.  The strings should get slightly wider as they run down the neck. 

The standard tuning for a ukulele these days is gCEA.  The small "g" means that it is higher pitched than the C. 

Once tuned, you are ready to play!  Click HERE  to see a video of the ukulele being played
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azrin.noor3 months ago

can we replace the nylon string with the guitar string?

mbeveridge made it!9 months ago

I helped my daughter make it for a 7th grade science assignment. We had to modify because she could only use "recycled" items and no musical instrument parts. We used different weights of nylon fishing line for the strings, toothpicks for the frets and eyebolts and nuts for the tuners. The only thing we bought was the small hinges. The "paint" job was done using food coloring and shaving cream on thin stock that we attached to the composite board before putting it together. (We did have to make the neck thinner.) When it was all together, it worked great!!!! My daughter was so happy! She wants to make more: one for her orchestra director (a ukulele fanatic) and for herself but this time using the instrument parts.

Thank you so much for creating this Instructable!!!!!

On a separate note, do you have any suggestions for a cutting utensil? We used an Exacto knife but had an extremely difficult cutting through the layers.

Ukulele.jpg

I've used this cardboard cutter with my students... takes a few weeks to come in but works quite well.

eplunkett (author)  mbeveridge9 months ago
Awesome! It looks amazing! I'm so excited to hear about your improvements to the design... The tuners and strings are exactly the updates that I wanted to make to the design so that it would be totally possible to build without buying any ukulele specific hardware. A trip to the "Fix-n-Feed" could get you everything you need. Hope she does well on her project and I am very glad you shared with me!

P.s. Love the colors!

A+, thank you! And it was the only instrument that met the criteria being heard from the back of the room AND gave her extra credit for also being able to play a tune that was recognizable. Her orchestra instructor also was impressed. I believe his exact words were "very cool!"

eplunkett (author)  mbeveridge9 months ago
Oh yeah, I used an exacto blade to cut it, but just because that's what I had. Someone said they were going to try to lay it up and glue it and then use a band saw or scroll saw. No reports back on that. I've built 3 and I used the exacto on all of them.
Baeyuutiful4 months ago

Okay so I have Three questions,
1) What size hinges are you using?
2) How thick are the threaded bolts/ nut you used?
3) I'm considering also having the uke electric, are there any directions to construct it in the electric format you have available for me?
Ps Awesome instructable c: Thanks!

jnovoa3 made it!5 months ago

Came out pretty good in my opinion though I used pencils with notches in them for the nut and bridge and toothpicks for frets. There is quite a bit of a curve on the neck because I rushed to get the strings on I guess but it's still playable. :D

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avella15 months ago

can you use hot glue gun

thanks im really interested in this project

avella15 months ago

can you use hot glue gun

thanks im really interested in this project

ahauta9 months ago
I started my own and its coming together very easily and quickly. Thank you very much for this instructable. Very clear helpful and informative.
eplunkett (author)  ahauta9 months ago
Glad to hear you've started one.... Post some pics when you've got it all done!
breanashalice9 months ago

thank you so much for the instructable.. Very simple and easy to do. I did cut myself but its all good because I can now say that I made a homemade instrument and not just any one, but a freakin ukulele!!!!!!!

eplunkett (author)  breanashalice9 months ago
Sweet, glad to hear you made one! Do you have any pics you can post? I would love to see them!
jfrost81 year ago
Hi, thanks for this instructable, it looks awesome! I´m trying to make it now but i´m a bit stuck on step 11/12. the neck is way too thick, I can only fit about 6 on there. should I cut the notch wider or leave out some pieces? Also what´s the difference between the a and b neck pieces, is it important?
thank you
eplunkett (author)  jfrost811 months ago
Did you get your issue figured out? Sounds like your using some thick cardboard for the neck. It's probably okay just to trim the neck pieces and fit the 6 of them in there.

The a and b pieces are differently shaped in order to simulate a rounded neck. It's not necessary, but will be easier to play.
jfrost8 eplunkett11 months ago

Sort of...I measured how many pieces made a normal neck size and used that. The uke funcioned after some adjustments but the cardboard is far too weak for the string tension, bends like crazy, even after attempts to brace it with small pieces of wood on the sides. I think I need to make the neck from wood. How did yours not bend? Thanks for the reply :]

This is awesome! Planning to build this Classic cardboard ukulele. Will post pics soon.

-Lloyd of Philippines
isaakol1 year ago
I don't know what I did wrong but the neck of my ukulele is not more bended because of the tension of the strings... do you think you have a trick to make it bended again
isaakol1 year ago
it worked!!! i carved a little bit my fret board and the note is right.

here's a photo of my ukulele
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eplunkett (author)  isaakol1 year ago
Awesome! Looks really goo! I'm glad it worked out and thanks for sharing your picture!
isaakol1 year ago
i will try this and i will tell you if it work
isaakol1 year ago
but i don't think its a fret problem. i think its more a problem of hight of the string (sorry if its bad... i'm a french canadian)
eplunkett (author)  isaakol1 year ago
Looks like you are probably right... Your measurements look good. Are your frets glued down? I found that a few of my frets were sticking up and would touch the string at the wrong time. If you put a straight edge across all the frets you can pick out the high ones. Also, you can try to shim the bridge a litter higher if this is the problem as it will make it slightly less likely that the string will touch other frets.
isaakol1 year ago
nut to bridge: 33.5cm
nut to first fret: 1.880cm
BenBurge1 year ago
I'd made one from your directions awhile ago, but never got around to posting it!
I installed a little piezo pickup too!
I also printed of my my favorite band's singer on the front, and even got it signed!
Awesome instructable!
(the image uploader's being glitchy, but here's a link to some pics! http://imgur.com/o42Cgl1,R6A7gAg,OOz6oG8,UZIhVGW )
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eplunkett (author)  BenBurge1 year ago
Cool! I also built an electric version Flying V style with a piezo pickup. The guy at radio shack told me it wouldn't work, but it works wonderfully. Glad to see it has worked for you too... Like the special touches!
I completed the ukulele (with changes) i had to make the neck out of a chair i found because someone stepped on the card board one and broke it. I used bamboo twigs for frets and used a picture hanger for the string base. And of course, Bob is the only suitable name for a home made ukulele :)
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eplunkett (author)  the "wow shammy"1 year ago
I don't know how I am just seeing this now. I like the friction tuners. I've been doing some brainstorming about how to make some hardware store "friction" tuners compatible with cardboard. Not time to experiment right now. Maybe one day. I like your improvisation.
isaakol1 year ago
thank a lot for this instructable. it was awesome to create this ukulele from cardboard and it work perfectly. except one little problem... I tuned the strings and all but when I press a fret, its not the sound that is supposed to be. do you think you can help me with this?
eplunkett (author)  isaakol1 year ago
Perhaps. Is it all the frets that are wrong? Can you send me the Distance from the nut to the bridge? Then send me the distance from the nut to the first fret.
gboy11971 year ago
Just one quick question, how would you rate the durability of the uke? I mean, I'm not going to go about smashing it or anything, but I just don't want the thing to be destroyed by a minor accident, you know? Does all the cardboard packed together keep the uke pretty sturdy?
ltafalla1 year ago
can i use foam bord from dollar tree ?
two questions
one: where do you get the tuners just at a music store?
two: do you have to use the correct carb-board
eplunkett (author)  DIY and STUFF1 year ago
1) You can buy tuners at music stores. You don't have to get ukulele specific tuners. I bought one set at a little shop and another set on amazon.com. They key is that you get tuners that have a flanged bushing.... not all of them have that.

2) I'm not sure what kind of card board you are considering. I'm sure that there are other types of cardboard that would work for this project. I chose to use mostly corrugated cardboard because it is stiff and its strength to weight ratio is high. Also, I had a lot of it. If you make it out of something else and it works, I would be interested to see the results.

Good Luck!
Thank you i will look into that
look what your instructable made my kitchen table into lol
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eplunkett (author)  DIY and STUFF1 year ago
I love it!
I am trying your method with !/2" plywood and 1/8 plywood sound board and back by your plans. Did bust band saw cutting curve. ues my scroll saw I am currently sanding body and need to cut neck. will post pick here need to pull camera out.
eplunkett (author)  [Silver Dragon]1 year ago
I am really interested to see how this project turns out!
GCR1 year ago
Could I paint this? Or would that mess with the resonance?

Thanks!
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