Make a Baritone Ukulele From a $10 Toy Guitar




Introduction: Make a Baritone Ukulele From a $10 Toy Guitar

In my free time, I like building and repairing almost anything especially with found or recycled ...

My wife and I play in the Diamond Harbour Ukulele Band (DHUB for short) but I've always played acoustic bass.  Finally overcome with strumming jealousy, I decided to invest in a ukulele.  But, since I've got an old banjo and my wife has a Greek Bouzouki, I figured if I could learn the chords on a DGBE-tuned Baritone Uke, I could use the same fingering to play them all!

I started trawling TradeMe (New Zealand's too small for Ebay to bother) and ran into a problem.  New Zealand seems to be going through a Ukulele renaissance at the moment and second hand ukuleles are going for hundreds of dollars while guitars are going for tens.

Would it be possible to take 2 strings off a guitar and call it a ukulele?

Read on!

Step 1: Find the Right Scale Toy Guitar

Unfortunately, "Toy Guitar" doesn't really mean very much except for the shape.  Some toy guitars were meant to be played and others were meant to be played with (or used as a weapon).

Since you can't pick up and strum instruments online, it's always a gamble, but at least you can find out whether it would be possible to string it as a ukulele.

Here are some typical ukulele lengths.  I know I found them online somewhere but I can't remember where.  Scale Length (SL) is the distance of the strings, from nut to bridge (see photos).  Overall Length (OL) isn't as important as scale length but it is more likely to be in the description.

Soprano Uke - SL = 13"/33cm     OL = 21"/53cm
Concert Uke  - SL = 15"/38cm     OL = 23"/58cm
Tenor Uke      - SL = 17"/43cm     OL = 26"/66cm
Baritone Uke - SL = 19"/48cm     OL = 30"/76cm

The toy guitar I found was:

SL = 49cm OL = 74cm so I was confident it would be OK for a baritone uke.  It also had two missing tuning pegs which didn't bother me but is probably why it went for only $10.

Step 2: Convert the Nut and Bridge From 6 to 4 Strings

OK, now you've acquired a toy guitar and you want to convert it to 4 strings.  You could either buy a 4 string nut and bridge or you could hack the old ones.

I thought my $10 guitar wasn't worth a new nut and bridge so I decided to mangle the original ones.  

For the nut, I used a mini hack saw for the two new grooves.  I used a regular sized hack saw blade to widen the grooves.

For the bridge, I used an extra long 2mm drill bit and drilled from the end until it showed in the groove.

You can probably see that I could have done a better job of the hole drilling.  I drilled holes in between the old holes but I should have drilled the holes closer to the center.  The gap in the middle strings ended up larger than others. 

Step 3: Set Up the String Action

Most cheap instruments have terrible action.  The action is the distance of the string to the frets.  If the action is too high, the strings will be will be too hard to push down and the extra stretching makes the strings go out of tune.  If the action is too low, the strings rattle on the frets.

You can change the action by the depth of the grooves in the nut and by height of the bridge.  I adjusted the nut by holding down the 5th fret and cutting the groove until the string was within half of the diameter of the string to the first fret.  Then I started shaving off the plastic bridge but it was still too high so I had to take off the strings and plane down the wooden bridge base to give more adjustment.  The bridge base was black and you can see the part I planed off.

I kept shaving off the plastic bridge until I thought that any lower and it would start to rattle.

I put some ukulele strings on it and I haven't looked back!



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19 Discussions

I discovered the possibility for this a while back when i compared my sons toy guitar to my old calos baritone,, only thing i found was that i have to move the bridge back about 8mm to get decent intonation, but thats not difficult to do

Cool work :) My main critique is that the tensioning/tuning of the baritone uke strings may warp the neck because guitars are tuned with the loosest tension on your lowest string, systematically increasing tension throughout the neck to the highest string. You should check out using tenor guitar strings and stringing it as a tenor guitar as opposed to a bari uke. Similar to the ukeleles tenor guitars have 4 strings, but they're built similar to 'standard' acoustic guitars in regards to tension and neck durability.

2 replies

I agree, normal scale guitar strings tuned to the same pitch on a Baritone uke will be much slacker because of the shorter scale. Also the uke necks aren't reinforced so they wouldn't handle high tension strings for very long without warping. I've used nylon acoustic guitar strings on baritone ukes with success. If they are too slack, use the next larger string (you'll have 2 extra). Just remember that if you are tuning to the same pitch on a longer scale, the tension will be higher. Cheers

P.S. you can use mandola or bouzouki strings if you find them cheaper or more easily available then tenor guitar strings. All of these instruments are tuned similarly, the most widely used probably being G-D-A-E, the same as a mandolin, tenor banjo or fiddle/violin. (G-D-A-D is also great!)

I recently scored a really old 'parlor' guitar off C/L for $10. Price was listed at $15.; but after we danced around for a day and a half missing one another's calls, we finally met and the guy said $10. would make up for the grief we both had endured. Turns out, he's a really nice guy and promised to keep my # and call when finds a real bari uke. Apparently he buys and sells stringed instruments frequently. For now, I'm just happy to have found this and am in the process of changing it to four string. It's 30" OA with a 19" scale length and 18 frets...Perfect!!

1 reply

Sweet! You might find that sounds better than a newer baritone uke...

heres the link

i am going to make an instructable about how I did it..

MAybe you must make a bigger holes for the two middle string holes then refill them with a wood dowell and make a new holes for the two strings making thegaps equal one to the other.
But a god job and a very good idea.. did you make a thinking about electrify that uke? it's an easy job with a ceramic disk from a telephone set.
Regards from Mallorca island, Spain

1 reply

Both very good ideas! I have used piezo buzzers from alarm clocks as pickups...

Thanks for inspiring me to try this myself! I found a little first act guitar in the garbage and decided i'd do this to it. I have one question though, i need to purchase strings for it and i wasn't sure if baritone ukulele strings would be long enough to string it because i've never used them before. The guitar is 30 inches long. Do you think baritone uke strings would work?

2 replies

That sounds like the perfect size for a baritone uke. The one in the picture is just over 29" so it was on the short side. Baritone ukulele strings should work fine. Guitar and ukulele strings are always much longer than they need be. Also the nylon ones stretch a lot.

More Inspiring words:
- Get those strings on!
- Download the DGBE Chord Chart from the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
- Start playing songs from Richard G's Uke website.

I appreciate the encouragement on getting those strings, i did it and i'm so happy with how mine turned out! I attached a picture, excuse the writing (I did find it in the garbage). You might also notice it's stringed for a lefty, that's how i roll.


How does this sound? I'm was thinking of buying a 25 to 26 inch toy guitar to make it into a tenor, for a summer project. Glad to see someone had the same idea that I did and posted a decent instructable on it. I was wondering if you could post a video of what yours sounds like before I invest some time into this as I'm not to confident in my building skills, and would be great to hear if it's worth it.

I was gonna make an ible for this too! I made mine out of a thrift store guitar. However, I took an extra nylon "high E" string as the top string, tuned to the Higher D above the regular baritone uke D. This gives the ukulele the bright reactant tuning of smaller ukes, while still allowing you to use baritone chord shapes.

For anyone who has an old kids guitar laying around, this is a fantastic way to give it new life!

Photo on 2010-11-29 at 19.13 #2.jpg
1 reply