Building a Ukulele?

By | June 21, 2014

I’ve been obsessed recently with the idea of building a ukulele. As someone who knows virtually nothing about woodworking, I realize this is somewhat of a stretch. But what the hell.

I’m reading The Ukulele, a great little book that simply and clearly outlines how to build one. (Plus one for spiral bound!) What I’ve learned so far is that I would need a lot of tools to do this, and the investment in these tools would far surpass the investment in a similar (no, much higher) quality ukulele built by someone else. So, while I certainly wouldn’t save money doing this, I would learn to use a lot of tools I’ve never used and also a lot about how acoustic instruments are put together.

StewMac.com has a nice tenor ukulele kit with the major wood pieces pre-cut. The assembly instructions are freely available and provide a pretty good primer on how to build a ukulele. If I take this any further, I’d probably start there. Looking at the instructions, it feels like a pretty major undertaking that would probably take me a long time. But that’s cool, I’m in no hurry.

Tenor_Ukulele_Kit

Financially, I’d have to build a few and sell them to ever recoup the expense of buying even the most basic tools required. While coming up with the money isn’t so much of an issue, I’m a practical and relatively frugal guy. I can’t justify buying all these tools to build one ukulele and be done. I need to convince myself that I’d be willing to do this again (and again, and again… and again).

This may very well go nowhere, but if I allow myself to dream, building ukuleles does sound like a nice retirement gig.

4 thoughts on “Building a Ukulele?

  1. wheels

    You can also see if there’s a local luthier who offers courses. That’s how I made mine – back in 2012, I took a course at the Colorado School of Lutherie. Three hours a night, two nights a week, seven weeks, and I ended up with quite a nice tenor uke. The course was about $1000 with $200 for materials (I actually had some nice curly koa I picked up on eBay several years ago).

    I’d point you to the web post I made about it, but a WordPress upgrade made all of the photos prior to October 2013 inaccessible, so there’s not much point unless I get around to correcting that.

    Reply
    1. Matt Post author

      I’ve heard of courses like that. Did the fee include the tools you needed? When I looked into this I got scared off by the cost of just the most basic of tools needed to build a ukulele.

      Reply
  2. wheels

    Yes. Didn’t get to keep them, of course, but I had an assigned bench and access to all the tools in the shop: bandsaw, belt sander, router, clamps, files, chisels, and so on. The school was set up to handle about 8-10 students at a time. I believe they do a couple of “build your own guitar” courses each year; I don’t know if they’ve done another ukulele class. I’m on their mailing list and waiting for them to offer an inlay class, so I can decorate my peghead.

    There are also simpler kits than the one pictured. I’ve built a Grizzly ukulele kit, and don’t consider it good for anything other than decoration (and they’re no longer available, anyway), but the Wolfelele kits sound better and aren’t very hard to put together. I have friends who don’t like them, though.

    Reply
  3. Dave

    Hey Matt,

    I’m in pretty much the same boat as you here – I love the idea but lack the skills and tools. I even tried to make one out of cardboard which ultimately fell at the last hurdle.

    It does seem like a huge financial outlay to get the necessary equipment. I’ve looked at the Stewmac kit a few times too but I don’t know, it sort of feels a bit like cheating to me.

    I’m not sure what I’ll do next either, I was thinking of attempting to make Daniel Hulbert’s Altoids tin ukulele.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *