The following Instructable provides directions to prefabricate one-piece self-contained ukulele necks for use in children’s craft workshops. In the workshops, the children decorate small cardboard boxes for the body of the ukuleles. An adult then attaches the instrument body to the prefabricated neck with screws to complete a ukulele that is both playable and decorative. The ukulele necks are simple and inexpensive to reproduce in quantity, and providing pre-made ukulele necks simplifies the process of instrument building and creates a project that can be accomplished by children within the scope of one workshop.
The instrument can be tuned and played like a regular ukulele. The tuning pegs require someone familiar with guitar or stringed instruments to properly adjust them to pitch. The finished project is a musical instrument that also makes a unique and pleasing wall decoration. The decorated box, no matter what the shape, will amplify the sound produced by the instrument.
Neck construction uses simple tools and materials and fabrication time is not overly long. Materials cost around $1.50 per neck and require a set of ukulele strings, which cost about $5.00. This design can also be simplified to make a one stringed didley bow or instrument that has fewer strings.
Magic markers, acrylic paint, contact paper and stickers can be used to decorate the cardboard boxes. It is helpful to have a sound hole to augment the sound produced, and this can take the form of a traditional circular motif, f-holes, or an abstract shape.
Decorating a ukulele using a premade neck is a viable project for a children’s workshop. The time necessary for decorating the box is appropriate for a one session workshop, and the cost per participant is low. Preassembling complex components beforehand can make more involved projects possible.
Ukulele Neck Construction
Pencil, ruler, paper, tape
Miter box and saw
Drill with bits
Sandpaper and small sander
Small craft saw
Worktable with vice or two clamps
Wooden coffee stirs
Round wooden toothpicks
Ukulele string set
Small cardboard box
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Step 1: Cut a Piece of Wood to Size and Trace the Neck Outline.
A paper template allows design experimentation and easy duplication when making more than one neck.
Start with a 1” x 3” piece of lumber that is 2’ long. Draw a shape for the neck that includes the peghead and bridge end and be sure to include a slight taper to the neck. The one pictured below is 2” wide at the bridge and 1 3/8” wide at the nut. A drawing on heavy paper is useful to refine the shape and to use as a template if making more than one neck. Also, it can be folded in half and cut with scissors resulting in a symmetrical design. Trace the design onto the neck.
Step 2: Measure, Mark and Saw the Fret Placement Grooves.
A miter box and saw are used to make perpendicular grooves.
After drawing the neck outline, measure and mark where the frets, bridge, and nut attach. https://www.stewmac.com/FretCalculator is a useful website for calculating measurements. Enter 12 frets, 15” scale length, ukulele and follow directions. Or an easier solution is to use measurements gauged from a store bought ukulele. 12 frets should be adequate. Using the miter box and backsaw saw a shallow groove about 1/16” deep for each fret, perpendicular to the length of the neck. Be as precise as possible with measuring and sawing to ensure proper placement of the frets. If the first 4 or 5 frets play in tune, it will be fine for playing most common chords. Toothpicks will be used for the frets in a later step.
Step 3: Saw the Outline of the Neck and Drill Holes for the Strings and Tuning Pegs.
Views show diagonal holes drilled as string guides in bridge and peghead ends.
Use the coping saw and hand saw to cut out the shape of the neck. Drill diagonal 1/16” to 1/8” holes through the neck from front to back for the bridge and nut areas. The strings will pass through these holes, and the angle will cinch the strings in contact with the bridge and nut. Also, drill four 5/16” holes straight through the peghead to accommodate the tuning pegs as shown.
Step 4: Shape and Sand the Neck.
Neck after sanding has been completed.
Using a rasp and a small sander, sand the entire neck to smooth out any rough edges and to create a slightly rounded shape to the back of the neck. Clean off any wood dust from the sanding. Now is a good time to stain or paint the neck if preferred.
Step 5: Glue Toothpicks in Place for the Frets.
Views show neck with toothpicks glued and resting in grooves and subsequent clamping.
Using round toothpicks, glue a toothpick into each groove using wood glue. The toothpicks should rest in the grooves, but not go all the way into the groove. The grooves are just to ensure proper placement of the toothpicks. Once all 12 frets are in place, clamp the whole arrangement using a straight plank and let it dry for 24 hours. Once dry, cut the excess from overhanging frets and sand the ends smooth.
Step 6: Notch and Glue Skewers and Coffee Stirs for the Nut and Bridge.
Close up of the bridge built up with coffee stirs and glued into place. Bottom of photo shows skewer with flat bottom and sawed grooves.
Make a nut and bridge by first scraping one side of a 1/8” diameter skewer until flat with the side of the utility blade. The flat side will provide more contact when gluing the two pieces to the neck. Saw the notches for the strings on the rounded side a with a Xacto X75300 razor saw and utility knife. Space the string grooves as shown in the diagram below. The string spacing should be equal, and the outside strings should not be too close to the edges of the neck. Notching the bamboo skewer can be tedious and may take more than one attempt. These pieces can be modified once in place and either built up or carved deeper to fine-tune the playability. Glue the nut to the neck and use wooden coffee stirs under the bridge skewer to build it up to the appropriate height. Glue the stirs and bridge together in a subassembly and then glue it to the neck. If preferred, use a piece of hard plastic to fashion these pieces. A straight edge laid from the nut to the bridge in the string groove should clear the first fret by about 1/32” and the twelfth fret by about 1/8”.
Step 7: Whittle a Dowel to Make the Pegs.
Photo shows stages of whittling the tuning pegs from left to right.
Measure a ¾” diameter dowel 1” from the end and saw a groove about 1/8” deep all the way around the circumference using a Xacto X75300 razor saw. Using the utility knife, carve the dowel down to a slightly conical shape that fits snugly into the hole drilled into the neck. Then saw off completely, further down the dowel by ¾” and using the utility knife carve the round dowel into a flat shape for gripping. Finally, drill a small hole for threading the string halfway down. Make four good pegs. (You may make a few pegs that don’t fit too well or are unusable for one reason or another. This procedure may take some experimentation.)
Step 8: String and Tune Up the Neck.
Photo shows how to thread strings through the guide holes at the bridge and peghead ends.
Thread the strings through the holes in the bridge end and tie a knot. Then thread the strings through the peghead, and through the small pilot hole in each peg. Tie another knot at the peg and when increasing the tension make sure the strings are resting in the string grooves. Ukulele strings stretch quite a lot so try to cinch them up to begin with so you don’t end up with too many windings around the pegs. The pegs will admittedly be a little difficult to tune, especially at first, and require some hand strength to manipulate. Use a clamp on guitar tuner or an online ukulele tuner to tune the neck to pitch. http://ukutuner.com/dgbe-tuning-ukulele-tuner/
Step 9: Decorate a Box to Use for the Sound Box.
View from behind showing how box attaches to neck.
Finally, find a small, sturdy cardboard box and decorate it to your liking. Cut a sound hole of some sort in the bottom of the box. Make sure it is not in a place that will be covered by the neck. After drilling three small pilot holes in the back of the neck, use wood screws with washers to attach the box to the neck securely from behind so that it will resonate and act as a sound box. Finally, securely tape the box shut. Now re-tune and play!
Step 10: Finished Ukuleles
Cut, formed, and glued chipboard was used for the ukulele body pictured in the top of the photo.
14 cigar box ukuleles.
Participated in the
Hand Tools Only Contest 2016