Pix of CB-001 uke
Adventures in Luthiery
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|Some time ago, I salvaged the parts from two identical no-name banjo
ukuleles to make one playable vintage 1920s banjo ukulele. Not long afterward, I was
looking for a new way to scratch MIAS and it occurred to me that I could mate the leftover
neck with a cigar box to create one of the following:
1.) A Frankensteinian tone monster
2.) A playable musical instrument
or 3.) A good joke
As it turned out, I ended up doing all three at once. The project is more or less
completed now, and I've decided to post information about how I did it for those who may
be interested in trying it for themselves.
It's important to note that I learned a great deal from a several
important luthiers who have posted Web pages and contributed their wisdom to discussion
groups, forums and bulletin boards. Without their unknowing yet purposeful assistance this
project would have been doomed to failure.
As it turns out, there's a lot more to making a fretted instrument than just gluing stuff
I started out to build a "Hooch-alele," in homage to the great ones made by
Earnest Instruments. But the more closely I looked at the project, the more certain I
became that making the cigar box serve as a portable mini-booze cabinet and musical
instrument was beyond my skills as a wannabee luthier.
So, very early in the design phase of the project, I decided to abandon the dual-purpose
idea and just make a playable instrument. Since I was starting with an already-made neck
and a vintage, solid cedar cigar box, I didn't see the need to do anything formal, like
draw a blueprint. I did, however, make photos of the cigar box and the neck and I used
them to create a full-scale "concept" photo to act as a guide.
The concept image along with a
few hand-sketched notes about the critical dimensions proved to be enough of a guide for
me. Unfortunately I didn't think of documenting the process, so there are no pictures of
the original building process. I'm now starting on Ukes #002 and #003, so I will
illustrate this article with pix from those as they progress.
I spent several months thinking about it and reading everything I could find on the Web
about instrument scales. Internal bracing and other aspects of construction are just as
important to cigar box ukes as they are to more conventional instruments.
My project was accomplished in several phases:
- 1.) Design:
- Determine scale.
Plan neck modifications.
- 2.) Prepare Neck:
Sand off most of old finish.
Pull old frets and flatten fret board.
Replace and level frets.
Fabricate new tuning peg to match existing three.
Cut heel notch to fit cigar box.
Make logo decal and add it to the headstock
Apply waterbase Urethane Satin finish
3.) Prepare Cigar Box:
Add internal bracing.
Install neck block.
Clean up box exterior.
Apply water-based urethane Satin finish
4.) Prepare other parts:
Make a replacement tuning peg.
- Make a new nut..
Make a saddle.
Modify bridge blank to accept saddle.
Fabricate a pickup from Radio Shack parts.
Hand fit neck to box.
Drill block and neck for mounting screw.
Install neck and tuning pegs.
Install bridge and fit the saddle.
String it up.
Fit the nut.
Set the saddle height.
Intonate the saddle.
Install strap pegs
6.) Final Tweaking and Analysis:
Experiment with braces.
Install reinforcement cloth behind F-holes
7.) What to do differently next time
Build the neck and bridge from scratch.
Thin back, and maybe the sides, of box to increase resonance.
Install a bridge plate.
- Reinforce soundhole.
Make sure overall geometry results in ideal bridge height.