Introduction: Pocket Ukulele - Home Made Sopranino Ukulele From Scrap Wood

How to make a Pocket sized home made Sopranino Ukulele from a plank taken from a shipping pallet.

First find a piece of straitish knot freeish wood about 3 and a half inches wide (90 mm) or more and half an inch thick or more and about 14 inches long or more. I got mine from a section of a plank taken from a shipping palette. A longer plank will give a longer ukulele. I have made a 2 foot long one (which is a Tenor Ukulele) using a virtually identical method and a standard soprano as well. 

You can see how they sound here

First is the sopranino tahitian style tuning (apologies for the fat fingers)
Second is a tenor Uke tahitian style tuning.
Third is a regular tuned soprano uke all made using roughly the same method.


Step 1: Mark Out Your Uke

Mark out the shape you want for your ukulele. I am going for as simple a shape as I can because I am a little simple myself.

The scale length here was going to be 20 cm but finished up being 22 cm,or around 8 and a half inches.

Step 2: Excavate Out the Back

Now turn the Uke over and mark out the area that needs to be hollow. Then have at it with your preferred method of excavation. For this small one I decided to go manual and used a chisel. Remember a plane is just a chisel held at a particular angle with a guide to stop it from taking too much off at once, working patiently from either end with the chisel and occasionally using a sharp knife to clear the ends and work on inside of the sides.

It is much easier to do this with a router.

Even I was not perfect and had to glue a crack back together.

If you don't feel up to the hollowing task you can just cut a hole and use something else as a resonating membrane. Heat shrunk PET bottles work magnificently.

https://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-ukulele-wit...

Step 3: Test That It Makes a Good Sound Before You Go Further

An important step is that you have to test that you are getting resonance from the sound board you are paring down to. Put a string over the board and make sure it makes a clear and pleasant noise before you stop excavating out the back of your front piece. The thinner the board the more it will resonate but the more likely it is to break. I tend to go for around 4mm thick.

Step 4: Make the Back

Now take a small piece of wood the size of the back, put a hole in it and hollow it out - This is a tahitian style uke so the hole is in the back. You can put the hole in the front and make it  an interesting shape if you like. I have done groovy sound hole shapes including a possum, a corgi, a turtle and a dolphin holed uke. If making a groovy sound hole shape just remember that wood splits along the grain so keep the shape simple or be prepared to reinforce it or explain to people - it used to be an octopus but now it isn't.

Step 5: Glue It Together and Cut the Shape Out

Glue the back on - (not sure why mine decided to crack) cut out the shape, plane, and sand and smooth off thoroughly. I went all medieval on mine with a belt sander.

Step 6: Shape the Headstock (put a Lean on It)

Now cut the Headstock at an angle - I reused the off cut to make the back of the headstock, just gluing it on. Because I was a little messy with the cutting I filled the front with a filler which should have matched but didn't

Picture no 2 is of a headstock on one of my other Ukes where I used a slightly more aggressive angle - a second piece of wood and a face plate- for looks.

Step 7: Put on a String Anchor

Now I add a bent nail (recycled from the same shipping pallet as the original plank) to attach the strings to the back, sanding out a small hollow to make the staple not snag on anything. If you are not fussy any ole thing will do as a string anchor from a 1/2 inch screw to a wooden peg to a 4 inch roofing bolt.

Step 8: Add a Nut and Mark Out the Frets

Now I add a nut to the front and mark out where the frets are supposed to be. It is important to get the height of the nut slots fairly close to what the height of the frets are. Too high and it is hard to play and too low and the strings touch the first fret and buzz.  If you cut them too deep a bit of super-glue in the slot can help sort things out. (Remove string from slot first and replace it when glue is dry).

Type"fret calculator" into the search engine of your choice to find the  lengths you need. An accurate measure is a definite must here. with this short scale length, being only a quarter of a millimetre out will make it sound horrible. The tenor length Uke (440 mm scale length) is more forgiving. A small tip is to mark the sides a little as well as the top so you can see how the frets align with the marks after the fret is on top of the marks on the face of the fretboard.

Step 9: Stick on Some Frets

I made these frets by splitting bamboo toothpicks, and scraping the back flat/ off further with a sharp stanley knife. It will be helpful if your frets are all the same thickness and cut to length before you glue them on.  If you use super glue it helps to harden the frets so they do not split or wear down as quickly. This one is glued with standard white woodworkers glue.

Step 10: Add Tuning Pegs

I cheated a little with this build and used ebay bought tuning pegs. See my other instructible for making wooden tuning pegs.
https://www.instructables.com/id/Good-enough-for-the-bush-Australian-version-of-Tah/step7/null/




Step 11: String It Up and Play It

Now make a bridge with small notches in it about 7 or 8 mm high. It will probably have to go a small amount further from the nut than originally planned as the tension in the strings increases as the string is pushed down to the fret and having the bridge further away compensates for this.

I strung this uke tahitian style with 20lb (0.42mm) fishing line and tuned it to CFAD tuning with the top D being re-entrant -  only a tone higher than the bottom C.

The fingering is then identical to a standard ukulele only the chords are as if you were playing with a capo on the 5th fret ( 5 semitones higher).

After a few more experimental models, I now go for a 27cm (11 inch) scale length on my sopranino ukes and tune them in octave over guitar tuning (DGBE) with the top d two octaves above the guitar using 40,60, 50 and 30 lb fishing line. This makes switching between guitar and my various Ukes a tiny bit easier on my old brain.

Also here you can see a couple of other examples of where experimenting with these things can take you. The Hootowlele is made using almost exactly the same method as here but has a traditional fret board, a more decorative shape and a standard length, while the  spongebob biscuit tin uke has the octave over guitar tuning.


Acknowledgements and inspirations:
The sunshiners from Vanuatu
http://youtu.be/mUyXrpY58lo

I like this guys work
http://www.asonu.com

The guys on the Duckworks wood boat building Yahoo group/forum who provided lots info wood mangling, glue strengths, metal working and getting on with it over the years.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dwforum/

These guys have a pile of info on their site as well:
http://cigarboxguitars.com/

If there is a patron saint of home made musical instruments made from any and all available materials it is this dude:
http://dennishavlena.com/

Found this instructable most useful

https://www.instructables.com/id/Cookie-Tin-Banjo-Part-1--Make-a-Tuning-Peg-Hole-R/

If this guy can make a sopranino ukulele then so can I
http://youtu.be/vlcLGwabQgo

And of course the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and Jake Shimabukuro.

Don't want a Uke?
Try a pocket violin
http://www.crab.rutgers.edu/~pbutler/pochette.html



Comments

author
diyusername made it! (author)2015-01-10

There is only. 7

author
titchtheclown made it! (author)titchtheclown2015-01-11

You can have as many frets as you like in theory. Physics says an infinite number but in practice it is usually much smaller. When playing I rarely use more than 5, and only then, when I am showing off. The more frets you have the more notes you can play. 12 frets would give you an octave on each string and this is pretty standard for ukuleles. Banjos can go up to about 26.

author
diyusername made it! (author)diyusername2015-01-25

thanks,this was helpful

author
diyusername made it! (author)2015-01-10

Shouldn't there be 12 frets

author
mni ming yun made it! (author)2014-10-06

good

author
j7hs0991 made it! (author)2013-11-07

How thick is the neck?

author
titchtheclown made it! (author)titchtheclown2013-11-15

The neck is as thick as the scrap of wood i started with.
Measured dimensions are
40 mm wide
15 mm thick

The neck thickness is not really that important as the tension of nylon strings is not that great. On the fancier ukes I have made the thickness usually tapers from about 20 mm at the body down to 15 mm at the nut.

author
marc.cryan made it! (author)2012-07-10

What are the strings?

author
titchtheclown made it! (author)titchtheclown2012-07-10

20 lb fishing line on this, but feel free to experiment. The soprano in the video is currently strung with a combination of 40, 80, 60 and 40 lb line for GCEA tuning.

author
DanYHKim made it! (author)2012-07-10

This is wonderfully rough-and-ready. Your instrument is very accessible . . . even I think I could make one! This 'ible demonstrates many of the characteristics that make this site so very useful: the end result is kinda ugly, but works fine, the materials can be found cheap or free, and the steps are broken down into simple tasks that are easy to describe. Finally, the step that describes how to test the sound with one string anticipates a common point of failure. I am really impressed!

Oh, the pictures are great, and the video is really fun to watch.

author
mr.incredible made it! (author)2012-07-06

Video or audio would be nice. A router might be a better way of excavating the back. It would definitely allow you to make a more precise depth.

author
titchtheclown made it! (author)titchtheclown2012-07-09

dodgy video up
Will work on something better

author
mdog93 made it! (author)2012-07-05

I am also interested in how this sounds; not particularly loud and fairly dull is my guess.. but I am not expert :p

author
Robartcrafts made it! (author)2012-07-04

every time I try to download a PDF it takes me to the login. so I login hit download PDF and it takes me back to login. I don't mind going around in circles when I'm on a merry-go-round but this is ridicules.
robartcrafts

author
Aegian2424 made it! (author)2012-07-04

how does it sound? maybe upload a video?

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