Building an electric ukulele is no easy task, and you will need a lot of skill and patience to do it. If you want to see some of the best models out there, you should read our recent post on this topic. Although it’s hard to make a ukulele that looks and sounds like a professional one, you can certainly make one that is decent enough and that you can love. So let’s see how to do that.
What you’ll need
First of all, for this project, you will need some woodworking skills and experience with crafting things. But just a bit, so if you know nothing about this, you can still learn fast. Furthermore, you can order all the materials and equipment you need online.
There is a long list of tools that you need. This project requires a band or table saw, a scroll saw, a hammer, a drill press, grit sandpaper, steel wool, a soldering gun, clamps, a metal file, a rasp, and a woodworking router. As you can see, there are a lot of things to work with.
As for the materials used in crafting the ukulele, you will need the following: one piece of wood for the body, one of hardwood for the neck, a piece of rosewood for the fretboard, pickups, a jack, frets, fretboard dots, 4 machine heads, 4 strings, a bone nut and some paint.
Creating the design
After you have all the materials and the equipment needed, start drawing your ideal ukulele. You should start off by deciding what size you want your instrument to be. Picking tenor is a good choice, as it won’t complicate things too much. The important thing is to know the dimension of the uke’s scale length precisely.
The length of a usual scale for a tenor uke is 17 inches, so take that as a measurement. Take a really big piece of paper, draw a 17” line on it and start creating the design of your uke based on that line. The scale length represents the distance between the nut and the bridge of the uke, so basically the length of the strings.
Because it’s an electric instrument, the design can be as extravagant as you want, as this won’t affect the sound. However, keep in mind that you will need to have enough space for your strings, the bridge and any other things like volume control knobs, that you may add to your uke.
The next thing to draw is the neck. First, decide how many frets you want. Knowing that a uke usually has 22 frets at most, you will need your neck to be 12.23 inches long if you’re putting 22 frets on it. Next, decide upon the width of the neck.
There aren’t any rules regarding the dimensions of the uke’s neck, and you can make it as wide as you want or as narrow, but keep in mind that you will still need it to fit all 4 strings. And you also need to be able to play the 4 strings individually once they’re placed, so don’t make the neck too narrow. 1.5 inches is a good width in this case.
The last thing to design is the headstock. Make sure it fits well with the neck and you have enough space on it for the machine heads. Draw the bridge on the shape of the body and you’re done with designing.
Constructing the body
Now that you have the sketch of what you want to make, you can start making the body out of wood. The best tonewoods for ukes are mahogany, koa or spruce. A depth of 1.5 inches should be enough for the piece of wood used for the body.
After you print the design to the correct scale, cut the shape of the body from the blueprint and temporarily stick it to the piece of wood you have. Using a bandsaw cut the body following the blueprint.
Constructing the neck comes next, and for this part, you need a piece of hardwood that is as wide as the widest part of the neck. It’s also better if this piece is a bit longer than the length of your uke’s neck on paper. Then draw a straight line on the middle of the block of wood. This will be the center of the neck.
As you did with the main body, get the blueprint and temporarily glue it to the piece of hardwood. Don’t forget that the neck has a pretty long part that needs to get into the body, so when taking the measurements consider that too. After that, you can start cutting the shape using a bandsaw.
Also, don’t forget that the neck and the headstock should be made from a single piece of wood, as they are attached.
You will need to cut the bottom side of the neck too and to do that you need some woodworking skills. The bottom of the neck needs to increase in thickness from the headstock toward the body, and it should match the thickness of the body.
If you can’t make the curvature at the part where the neck connects to the body from a single piece of wood, you can add another piece to the neck and work with that. Glue a piece of wood on the neck where it should be connected with the body, let it rest overnight and the following day cut it into a smooth curve with the help of a bandsaw.
After that is done, you will be making the fretboard. There are many websites that will aid you with a fret calculator. This will tell you the distance between each fret. Print the results to scale out; they will give you a precise design, and you will be ready to place the frets.
Keep in mind that the distance between the frets needs to be precise so when sketching the marks where the frets will sit on your ukulele, be patient and pay attention. Place the frets on the piece of hardwood that will be the fretboard with care. After it’s done, glue the fretboard to the neck and clamp it down overnight. After that, you have the opportunity to paint the ukulele before you add the rest of the pieces.
Now that the main parts of the uke are ready, you can go on and add the last pieces. Measure the fretboard dots that you have, drill some holes into the fretboard for that size and place them in. Installing the machine heads is an easy task as they already come with holes where you should screw them on the headstock.
Just position them so that the strings go straight from them across the neck. For that purpose, you also need the nut, and you will make one from a small rounded piece of wood. Just make sure it stays in place and it isn’t too high or too low.
There’s one final step to make: adding the electric components and wiring them. The pickups you bought should come with precise instructions on how to place them in and solder them, so make sure to follow the guide provided. When done with that, add the strings, tune them and you’re ready to go!