In the beginning, there was a dream – to build my own ukulele. I thought it was impossible because I had no experience with woodwork, and I didn’t have a workshop or proper tools. It seemed the banjo ukulele would be the easiest to build. When I divided it into smaller steps, I found out I just need to assemble 9 parts. That’s not that many, right? So I started planning with the “keep it simple” strategy in my mind.
Everything is described in this video, here I just briefly describe individual parts and add links for the material I used (in the Czech Republic).
I found out the main distances are given by the scale length (the distance between the nut and bridge). It sets the distance between frets. Basically, the length of the entire instrument. I wanted to make a tenor size like my classical ukulele, which is 432 mm (17”). I found individual required parts on the web and made a simple cardboard model to check if the sizes are right (the drum is big enough, the neck is long enough, bridge position is ok). Everything looked well so I bought the material and started building.
1 Body (drum)
As a body, I used an 8“ Stagg HAD-008W hand drum. On YouTube, I saw so many things as a body, like a shoebox, tin can for cookies, satellite 🙂, but I thought a drum is the best option.
I just cut the hole in the drum for the neck and made two holes for screws to fix the neck.
The neck should be made out of some hardwood, like maple. I didn’t know where to get just a small piece of maple wood so I bought an oak door threshold in a DIY shop.
The neck goes through the whole body (it seemed like the easiest solution). I made the part which goes through the body a little thinner so it doesn’t touch the drumhead. Shaped the rest of the neck and head. I drilled holes for tuning pegs and smaller holes for fitting them and finished the neck with some protective paint.
Again hardwood is best for the fretboard, like ebony, rosewood or maple. I bought an Ebony fingerboard for the mandolin.
I cut the fretboard to the correct size (28 x 4 cm), and later I used the spare bits to make the tailpiece. Then I cut the sockets for the frets. The distance between the frets is crucial, given by the chosen scale length. I used a calculator to get the correct measures, like Fret position calculator or FretFind2D. I did the “sockets” with a small handsaw. To be able to make a straight precise cut I made a small jig out of some spare wood (like in this video).
I saw in some videos they used nails or skewers to make frets. It was quite easy to get the real fret wire so I bought Fret wire 1,5. Perhaps I should have used a little bigger 2,0.
I made individual frets out of the wire and rounded the edges with a file. Then I put some glue into the socket, inserted the fret and hammered it in. There were tiny holes under the frets from the side. So I filled them with sawdust from the fretboard and fixed them with some super glue. Later I finished it with sandpaper. Finally, some fret levelling was required. My process wasn’t that complicated but it’s described very well in levelling and polishing guitar frets.
I bought a bone nut for guitar Nut FIRE&STONE guitar.
I cut it to the required length, processed it a little and made cuts for strings.
6 Tuning pegs
I found tuning pegs made for ukulele so I bought Stagg KU259.
This part was easy, I just inserted the pegs into the holes and fixed them with screws.
I bought a bridge for banjo Bridge banjo tenor 4-string Tennessee and made one smaller out of the spare parts from the fretboard.
I tried the bridge for banjo, just had to make it a little shorter (it was too high). It was a better option than the small one I made. I just had to put it at the correct distance from the nut (to keep chosen scale length).
I think some metal tailpiece would be better for the banjo ukulele, but those I found were too pricy. So I made a tailpiece out of some spare bits from the fretboard.
I took two small ebony pieces and processed them a little. Then I made 2 small holes into each one to attach the strings and used screws to fix them to the body (the screws go through the drum into the neck).
I didn’t use any special banjo ukulele strings, just the regular strings for the tenor ukulele. I like AQUILA SET TENOR REG.