I have been playing guitar for nearly 30 years and have been woodworking for about 16 years. For a long time, I have wanted to combine these two hobbies by building a guitar or two. About 18 months ago, I decided to commit to the idea, but realized I was such a hack woodworker, that I really needed to better understand what I was doing before trying to do something that requires the kind of precision a guitar build demands.
To that end, I gave up power tools (except for a band saw and drill press) and have assembled and restored old hand tools since then and have been fine-tuning my skills using hand tools in preparation for building a guitar or two. This summer I have decided to build a Uke as a practice build to learn the general process of instrument building but on something with relatively inexpensive materials. Also I knew that I would always keep my first guitar, so I wanted it to be something I am proud of. I thought making my mistakes on a Uke would be a better way to go. Based on the wood I have and the availability of materials for a smallish uke, I decided to go with a Concert size which is the 2nd smallest size (smallest being Soprano).
I picked up a nice piece of 3/4 quarter sawn Padauk at Rockler several months ago and resawed it into 4 pieces. This was my first attempt at resawing, I have a Rikon 10-325 bandsaw with a 1/2” woodslicer on it. I practiced on a piece of cedar first, then tried my luck with the Padauk. I got 3 good pieces and one bad one (my last pass drifted off path and made a mess of the 4th board.
I stickered these and have left them out in the garage for the last few months. I have spent a fair amount of time since then researching the build and picking up the bits and pieces that can’t be found locally (like tuning pegs, fret wire, etc). I got plans, tuning pegs, fret wire, saddle and nut blanks and a few other odds and ends from Hana lima ‘la. They were terrific to deal with. I called them before trying to purchase on line and asked some questions. They were very patient and answered all my questions. They even included an extra set of uke plans at no charge as one of my questions had to do with the sides being too shallow for the uke I wanted to build, so they sent me plans for the Soprano uke as well as the Concert.
I hadn’t planned to work on this further this summer, as it is way too hot to be out in the shop here in Phoenix in the summer. But a few weeks ago I kind of accidentally bid too much on a Side Bending Iron on eBay and wound up winning the auction for better or worse. So with that, I decided to forge ahead with the uke build this summer and be ready to start on a guitar when the weather gets better this fall.
Since I messed up my 4th board on the resaw, I had planned to have a book-matched back, then one board for each side. With the messed up 4th board, it wasn’t salvagable for anything for the uke. So I’m keeping the bookmatched back using 2 pieces and the third useable piece is being split length-wise to use as the sides.
The sides of the uke should be about 2 5/8” deep, but the board is just shy of 5” wide. So by splitting in half, I’m left with just under 2 1/2” of depth. I decided to go with a tapered body depth of 2 3/4” at the heel and 2 1/4 at the neck block. I split the board accordingly so I have a bit of depth where it needs to be but the upper bout will be a little shallower than I’d probably like. The plans I have from Hana Lima ‘La show an arched profile side where it is tallest at the waist and is shallower at the heel and neck. This really wasn’t an option for the wood I have on-hand, and I’m kind of being stubborn about it, so this is the plan I’m sticking with.
I’ve also been busy making a template and a form for the Concert Uke. I made the template out of some clear plastic I picked up at a yard sale a year or so ago. The form was made from some baltic birch I had laying around. It is 2 sheets of 3/4” baltic birch plywood, glued together. I used a 1/4” blade on the band saw to rough out the form, then used a spindle sander attachment to the drill press to fine tune the edges to the correct profile.
I am making the top of the uke out of some cedar fencing. I picked some nice straight-grained, relatively quartered planks from the big box store and found a few nice, clean areas with no knots, etc. Cut out a nice piece of that and resawed it for the top.
I had another piece of cedar (the practice resaw board mentioned before) that I planed (by hand) to about 0.10” and took a stab at bending my first uke side. It turned out fairly well.
I wasn’t terribly focused on doing it right, more just getting the feel for what it was like to bend wood. I soaked it in water for about 15 minutes while the iron heated up. I found the last (3rd) bend was the easiest. In part due to it being the most water saturated area of the board and also the fact that I’d bent two other bends prior.
Today I made the cut to the side board (to create the two sides out of the single board). I lined them up side-by-side and planed the edges flush with each other so they are identical in their dimensions front to back, etc. I planed them down to about 0.08” and plan to bend them today or tomorrow and hope I don’t break them.
I haven’t figured out what I’m doing for neck wood, bridge or fingerboard yet.
-- Matt - Phoenix, AZ