Introduction: How to Build a Soprano Ukulele
Ukuleles can be expensive; therefore, we built our own! Who doesn't love a great uke?
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
- Table saw
- Miner saw
- Belt/Disc sander
- 4 store-bought tuning pegs
- Gorilla wood glue
- Elmer's wood filler
- 1" x 2" block of pine wood
- Wood screws
- Power drill
- 3D printer (or 12 50 mm frets)
- Paint brush
- Nylon strings
- Safety goggles
Step 2: Draw Templates for the Body, Neck, and Head
- Find dimensions for the type of ukulele you are wanting to build. Customize it to whatever size you want.
Step 3: (Optional) Painting/Staining
- This step needs to be taken into consideration before the ukulele is built. Because the ukulele in these pictures was made from wood of many types, paint was chosen to cover this discrepancy.
- If using staining, make sure to stain pieces of finished wood before attaching frets/saddle/nut/knobs as the plastic parts cannot be stained. You will also need to take into account wood filler does not stain well so all cuts will need to be accurate. In this instance, it may be best to take a different approach to creating the curved sides of the ukulele. Steaming and bending the wood may be the more appropriate method. Of course one can hollow out a large block of wood and create a single piece body but this is much more difficult and expensive. These options are viable but they depend on the time you are willing to expend.
- If painting, consider that the paint must be applied before plastic parts are applied. Usually the fret board and bridge are different colors so you may want to paint these separately before attaching.
Step 4: Make the Body
- Trace the template for the body onto one piece of plywood.
- Get another piece of plywood and place it beneath the sketched piece of plywood.
- We screwed the two pieces together, to make it easier to control
- Another option for keeping the two pieces together is double sided tape
- We left a small amount of wood outside, so we could get the exact shape while sanding
- Our hole had an inch radius, which we approximated from our template
- To make the relief cuts, we first cut the strips of wood to the width we wanted them, then used a band saw to cut halfway into the wood. These cuts were about a eight of an inch apart
Step 5: Make the Neck
- Trace your template of the neck on a block of wood that is bigger than the size you want your neck to be.
- Use a band saw to cut the wood into the length and width that you want
- Use band saw to cut small relief cuts into the wood in order to form the curve of the neck.
- Cut through these relief cuts with the band saw.
- Sand down the neck with the belt/disc sander.
- You will need to sand the part of the neck that will be attached flush to the body in a curved formation that matches that of the edges of the body.
- Final sanding: make sure all hard edges are sanded down.
Step 6: Make the Head
- Trace your template of the head onto a smaller block of wood.
- Use a band saw to cut the head into the dimensions that you want. Leave extra room for sanding.
- Use a belt/disc sander to sand down the edges. On the part of the head that will connect to the neck, sand down the edge at slight angle.
- Drill four holes into the head for the tuning pegs. The size you need to drill these depends on the type of tuning pegs you have.
- Screw the tuning pegs into the head with a screwdriver.
Step 7: (Optional) Use 3D Printing and CAD Software to Create Frets, Nut, and Saddle
- Access to a 3D printer is limited so it may be best to order these parts online. Small pieces of plastic may also be shaped to the appropriate shapes given the right cutting materials.
- Using any CAD software (in this case Onshape was used) model a simple fret, nut, and saddle. The nut and saddle should have the same dimensions.
- Make sure to correctly define the dimensions of each. Print with plastic.
- Below are several rudimentary versions created on Onshape. The dimesions will need to be adjusted accordingly.
Step 8: Make Fretboard and Bridge
- The fret board will need to be a thin piece of wood attached to the neck of the ukulele. Make sure the fret board is slightly longer than the neck as it will hang a bit over the body of the ukulele.
- Trace the shape of the fret board onto a thin sheet of wood.
- Cut out the general shape using a band saw.
- Sand down the edges and curve the overhang in (for aesthetics, not completely necessary).
- Now using a fret calculator (many versions can be found online), measure out the grooves for the frets. It is best to take into consideration at this step the nut that will need to be attached at the top of the fret board. Take this into account when measuring the grooves for the frets. Use a hand saw to etch these grooves in.
- Attach the previously made frets to these grooves with wood glue and let dry. The frets may need to be cut to match the width of the fret board. Attach the nut to the top of the fret board.
- Attach the fret board to the neck with wood glue.
- Create the bridge from a small piece of wood.
- Measure out the dimensions and cut with band saw.
- You will need to use a band saw to etch a groove into the center of the bridge.
- Sand down the edges.
- Drill holes through the bridge. The string will be passed and tied around these holes.
- Now glue the saddle made in the previous step to the bridge, on the opposite side of the whole openings.
- It is best to take into consideration at this step the nut that will need to be attached at the top of the fret board. Take this into account when measuring the grooves for the frets.
Step 9: Put It All Together!
Now it is time to attach all your parts! The most difficult of these will be the head and the neck.
Step 10: Attach Head to Neck
- There are many ways to accomplish this, but whatever method used will need to be able to withstand the tension of the strings. Of course the head and neck can be made from a single piece of wood and this would be the best option, but this is not always possible.
- Slant the edges of the head and neck so that when attached the head will tilt back at a slight angle. This helps to maintain tension within the strings.
- Using a piece of metal (preferably thicker so it will not bend under tensions), bend the piece back at the same angle as that between the head and neck.
- Drill holes into the piece of metal
- Using screws (make sure they are short enough to not drill straight through the head/neck but also long enough to provide reasonable support) attach the metal piece to the back of the neck and head. You will want to use some wood glue in between the neck and head just for security, but the metal piece will essentially act as the primary thing holding the two together.
Step 11: Attach "Head and Neck" to Body
- The part of the neck being attached to the body will need to be curved so as to ensure an even fit to the rounded sides of the body. This should have been accomplished before during the making of the neck
- Using wood glue, glue the neck and head piece to the top curve of the body.
- Use clamps to secure and wait for it to dry.
Step 12: Add the Strings
This is the final step to build your ukulele! Cut notches into the bridge and the first fret. Attach the strings to the bridge. After you tuning your ukulele, you will be ready to play it!