My homemade banjo ukulele

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 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 (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.

2 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.

3 Fretboard

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 for making 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).

4 Frets

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.

5 Nut

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 quite easy, I just inserted the pegs into the holes and fixed them with screws.

7 Bridge

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).

8 Tailpiece

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).

9 Strings

I didn’t use any special banjo ukulele strings, just the regular strings for the tenor ukulele. I like AQUILA SET TENOR REG.