Introduction: Sq'Ukulele - Make Plywood Ukulele From Hardware Store Items
What is a Sq'Ukulele and why would I want to make one?
The Sq'Ukulele or Sq'Uke or Square Ukulele is a ukulele made completely from materials you can purchase at a big box hardware store. It measures 15 1/2" x 3" x 2" and can be made with basic tools. It is inexpensive to make, can be completed in just a couple of hours (less drying time) and, so far, it seems to stay in relatively good tune.
The story of the Sq'Uke or How The Sq'Uke Was Born
I didn't start out by making a ukulele, my goal was to make a Cigar Box Guitar (CBG). I found that most CBGs used an amp, and I wanted an instrument that was truly portable. Besides, Cigar boxes are rare in my neck of the woods.
When I looked at traditional ukuleles, they seemed overly complicated requiring exotic wood and specialized tools. I was under the impression that the sound of a ukulele depended on its shape. Then I stumbled upon luthier Pepe Romero who made a Cigar Box Ukulele from scratch ... and it sounded wonderful!
For the first couple of ukuleles, I used a more traditional method: cutting thin strips of wood, joining, planing, planing, planing ... I found that I wasted at least 3 times the amount of wood in shavings and sawdust using this method. I wondered "If I make a uke completely out of hardware store plywood, it would be quicker to build, waste less material and cost less, but how would it sound?". What you see and hear here answer that question. I have no illusions that a Sq'Uke will ever be played at Carnegie hall, but for someone just wanting to make music, its great!
What you see here is a culmination of almost a years worth of work (on and off) of designing and refining. Please feel free to contact me...I would be very interested in your experiences making a Sq'Uke!
- 1/4" thick plywood (I like Luan)
- 4 - 3/16" x 1" (#10) machine screws
- 8 - 3/16" (#10) nuts
- 14 - round wooden toothpicks
- Monofilament fishing line (80lb test, 50lb test, 25lb test) or ukulele strings
- Wood saw
- Wood glue (white glue will work)
- Craft knife or chisel
- Drill with bits (3/16", 1/16")
- Anvil or something hard to pound on (maybe another hammer)
- Wire cutters
Step 1: Print the Pattern
Download the pattern from above. It is in PDF format. Print it and ensure you click 100% when printing. Double check with a ruler to ensure the printed pattern dimension matches the stated dimensions.
Cut out each piece of the pattern.
Step 2: Cut the Wood
Go to the hardware store and buy plywood that is 1/4" thick (or what they call 1/4"). Get the plywood cut along the grain as follows (you'll have tons leftover):
- 1 1/2" wide (44" total length)
- 3" wide (15" total length)
Now you need to cut the following:
- 2 - 3" x 7 1/2"
- 3 - 1 1/2" x 7 1/2"
- 1 - 1 1/2" x 8"
- 3 - 1 1/2" x 2 5/8" (approx) *
*NOTE: The 2 5/8" parts will depend on the thickness of your plywood. Take 2 side pieces and stand them on edge on top to the bottom (3") and mark where you should cut (as shown).
Step 3: Make the Tuners
The tuners are made from machine screws and tightened using a dime (or other small flat object).
Thread a nut onto a screw then hit it with a hammer on the flat of the nut. This will deform the nut and make it harder to turn. The idea is to deform the nut enough so that it is difficult to turn without tools, but still possible to turn using tools. You need 4 screws and with 2 nuts each.
Cut 2 slots in each screw head about 90 degrees apart for the strings. This can be difficult and I've cut myself at least once, so be careful.
Step 4: Drill Holes for the Tuners
Place the pattern on the tail piece (red in the exploded view) and drill the holes. The pattern is the outside of the Sq'Uke. Make sure you remember which is the outside. I usually mark the inside clearly. If you don't, your tuners will turn counterclockwise rather than clockwise to tighten.
Step 5: Start Gluing
Gluing will take a while as the glue needs time to cure, so take your time and be patient. I have provided a colour coded diagram that shows the Sq'Ukulele exploded showing all the parts. I have tried to reference them in the rest of this document.
First take two of the smallest 1 1/2" pieces of wood and glue them exactly on top of each other to make one thicker piece. This will be the tail of the Sq'Uke. (red in the exploded view)
Now take one 1 1/2" x 7 1/2" piece and one 1 1/2" x 8" piece and glue them on top of each other with one of the ends flush. This will be the neck of the Sq'Uke. (green in the exploded view)
Step 6: Finish the Fret Board / Neck
Place the fret board pattern on the fret board and mark and drill the holes for the strings. (green in the exploded diagram)
Mark each of the frets. I like to tape the pattern down on the top. Smooth the pattern down and use a sharp knife and a straight edge (ruler) to cut off the pattern starting at the Sq'Uke body side. Cut deeply so that it makes a good mark.
Using a fine saw, cut the fret slots. I use a small saw against a scrap piece of wood to keep the slots straight. The cuts do not need to be too deep.
Step 7: More Gluing
Glue the neck to the top (3" x 7 1/2" board - blue in the diagram) ensuring they are both centered. I like to mark the center of both pieces then line them up.
Glue the sides (1 1/2" x 7 1/2" - orange in the diagram) pieces to the tail block (red in the diagram). Try to ensure they are square and even.
Let everything dry.
Step 8: Even More Gluing
Glue toothpicks onto the fret board where the slots are. Use glue sparingly. Cover the fret board with with another piece of wood and weigh it down. Make sure that there is no glue on top of the toothpicks otherwise you will not be able to get it apart. Alternatively, I've been using parchment paper (you'll find it in the baking section of the supermarket) between the toothpicks and the top board.
Make a bridge (brown in the diagram) by using a small piece of leftover wood. It should be about 1/2" x 2". Cut a slot in the bridge like you did for the frets and glue a toothpick in the slot.
Glue the last 1 1/2" piece of wood (yellow in diagram) to the rest of the Sq'Uke body. This will complete a box.
Let it dry.
Step 9: Finish the Sq'Uke Body
Glue the box in the previous step to the last 3" x 7 1/2" piece of wood (purple in the diagram). This will form an open box.
let it dry.
Drill a 1/2" diameter sound hole anywhere in the body. I like it on the side nearest the player just forward of the neck.
Step 10: Install the Tuners and Neck
Install the tuners using a screwdriver and pliers. The first nut needs to be about 1/4" away from the head. Push the tuner into the body and screw the other nut onto the screw securing the tuner. Test the tuners. Both nuts should turn with the tuners. Add a dab of superglue to the threads of both nuts...Don't use too much, you don't want to glue the tuners to the Sq'Uke body.
Snip the ends of the toothpicks off using wire cutters.They should be as flush as your cutters will allow.
Cut a slot for the neck. Align the Sq'Uke top with the body and mark where the neck will slip in. Mark carefully and cut out using a saw and chisel/craft knife.
Step 11: Final Gluing
*** WAIT - DID YOU INSTALL THE TUNERS? ***
Glue the top to the body.
Let it dry very well.
Step 12: String It Up
Your Sq'Uke should be ready to string!
Stringing is done the same way for each string. You want them to be, starting from the top (the side facing the player), 25lb, 80lb, 50lb 25lb.
Place the bridge on top of the Sq'Uke body.
Thread the string through the neck from the front. Tie a granny knot on the back of the Sq'Uke's neck and bring the string toward the tuners. Make a loop and thread it through the saw holes in the tuners. Twist the tuners clockwise to take up the slack. It should tighten the string.
Get all 4 strings snug then adjust the bridge. The bridge should be 13 1/2" from the farthest toothpick.
Tune it up. Standard tuning is G4, C4, E4, A4. (My dog has fleas)
It will take a little time for the Sq'Uke to settle in. Expect it to lose tune everyday for about a week. After that it should settle down. If the tuners are slipping, get some pliers and hold the nut on the tuner and turn the tuner counter-clockwise. This will tighten the tuner. Its a balancing act of being tight enough to hold the string tension, but not too tight that the tuner can't turn.
CONGRATULATION!!! You've built your first Sq'Uke!!
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