misterg’s spice rack uke build : Part 10 – Photo gallery

I have to say that the way this came out is beyond my wildest hopes. I’m REALLY pleased with it.

It is surprisingly resonant, and seems to play nicely in tune. I haven’t found any dead or ‘off’ notes yet. It sounds just like an acoustic ukulele when it’s plugged into a clean amp, but of course you can crank the gain up and play the top 3 strings like a guitar – that high pitched 4th string catches me out though.

I will see if I can record some sound clips :)

Thanks and congratulations to anyone who has made it this far through my ramblings.



(Note to self: Must clean the paint off the end of that binding…)

Even my glue and sawdust filler came out OK. I think I got off lightly for my inattention!


misterg’s spice rack uke build : Part 9 – Finishing touches

I’m really pleased with the way this worked out.

Not too much left to do now….

I still needed to level and dress the frets. I’ve seen quite a few youtube videos on this, but my reference was this one from Crimson Custom Guitars. Since the uke fretboard didn’t have a radius on it (and I hadn’t yet fitted the nut), I could just lay a sheet of 400 grit wet-or-dry paper on a sheet of glass and gently work the frets against it rather than filing or stoning the frets – the fretboard is small enough that it all fits on one sheet of abrasive paper. Even though I felt that I’d got the frets pretty level, it still needed quite a few minutes work before every fret made contact with the paper (you put black marker pen on each fret, and work until there is at least a narrow shiny line down the middle where it is contacting the paper).

I don’t have a fret file, so I ground the edge of a small file flat and polished it up so I could use it to dress the frets as shown in that video. I pretty much just followed the same steps: Dress the fret back to a smooth profile; round the ends; smoothed the frets with fine wet-or-dry paper; and when they’re all done give them a polish.

Another coat of Danish oil, and the neck is … FINISHED!

Back on the body the lacquer has hardened for a couple of days. The finish looks good, with just a little orange peel, and I’m sorely tempted to leave it alone. I’m loathed to do it, but know I’ll regret it if I don’t…

I hit it with the sandpaper again, flatting it off with 1200 grit all over, then buffed it up with cutting compound and elbow grease, then polishing it with T-Cut:

Shiny shiny shiny:

Although the lacquer felt dry, it would still pick up marks if the body was left resting on anything for any length of time. It’s just a week after it was sprayed as I write this, and it’s getting better, but still not fully cured. Reading around, this seems to be par for the course, so I’ll give it another polish in a few weeks to take any marks out.

The next job is to fit the electrics. We wired most of it up with the pots pushed through a piece of card at the right spacing, as the control cavity is a little cramped. The wiring is simple – just one volume and tone pot, no pickup selector, or anything. I went for 250k pots and a 0.047 tone cap. I used a linear pot for the tone and log for volume. Having played it since, I should have used log for both – the useful range of the tone pot is all in the first 1/4 turn. Prior to installing the wired assembly, we lined the cavity and the inside of the cover with copper shielding foil:

Getting the springs in behind the pickup lugs was a real trial – don’t copy this design! >:(

The only other wire was a grounding wire that comes from the control cavity and gets trapped under the bridge. That’s what the large hole under the bridge area is for.

Just got to fill this hole up now:

There you go:

Job done.

Thanks for reading :)

– – – – – – – = = T H E E N D = = – – – – – –

Whadyamean you want pictures?


OK next post… 😉

misterg’s spice rack uke build : Part 8 – Painting the body & more frets

I like wood.

I liked the grain pattern in the edges of the body.

I would have liked to finish it in a nice transparent sunburst.

You can get aerosol cans of tinted nitro that would do the pukka job, but just the colours come in at over £45, plus the clear coat.

And the grain on the body isn’t that great…
And the edges would be under the black, anyway…
And my son would like black…
And I would probably louse up a sunburst anyway and end up having to paint the body a solid colour.

I experimented on scrap trying to make a sunburst with wood dye…

…then I hit the body with 3 coats of primer and some metallic black. :-[

Not too bad, actually! :)

It’s Vauxhall Diamond Black in an aerosol can from Halfords. I was very impressed with the paint – The primer built up well and was easy to sand; the top coat went on smoothly with a good gloss, and didn’t splatter at all.

I wet sanded the primer which was a bit of a mistake in hindsight. Despite my best efforts, the wood got wet around the screw holes and started swelling. I stopped as soon as I noticed it, but you can still see the witness marks if you know where to look. Luckily, the worst is hidden by whatever is being held on by the screws. Dry sand next time. (Next time??)

There seem to be two ways of dealing with the binding when painting a body. You can mask it off, or do what the cool kids do and just paint over it and scrape it off later.

I wish I hadn’t tried to be one of the cool kids :(

The paint was stuck like the proverbial to the binding, the primer especially. Trying to scrape the primer off with a razor blade went badly, with gouges and chatter-marks. After getting it so nice on the bare wood, this was disappointing :(. I also slipped and put a fine scratch on the front of the body… :'(.

What you need is a tool I saw on the TDPRI Telecaster forum – a dowel with a Stanley knife blade in it:

The dowel rests on the body and controls how far the scraping goes, and the Stanley knife blade is rigid enough not to chatter. I used this to rescue the binding after the primer and to remove the colour coat, and it is *much* better than the razor blade. If I ever do this again, I would *definitely* mask off the binding!

This is a metallic finish, so needs a transparent lacquer over the top. I would have just sprayed it, but that the instructions on the can said to sand the paint back before lacquer.

Sand a metallic?? Surely not!?

Yep, sand it – it’s important (it said so on the can). So I did. And sanded through the paint! >:( >:( >:(

That isn’t a highlight (in any sense!):

This time I masked off the binding (and the rest of the body) and used the last of the aerosol can to put a couple more coats on. Right down to the last drop, the can sprayed well and gave a good gloss:

The binding ended up quite undercut from the body, but looks a lot better than it did!

I dutifully flatted the top off again and hit it with 5 coats of lacquer (flatted off after 3 coats). The lacquer sprayed like the aerosol cans I remember – inconsistent and splattery once the can was half empty.


When we had the strings on, I noticed that a number of frets around the 9th – 15th were high on one side. It turns out that I hadn’t cut the slots quite deep enough here – only by 0.1 – 0.2mm, but enough to leave a noticeable gap under the fret, once you know where to look. One, in particular was high, so I very gingerly eased it out of the slot with some pincers, ran the saw through the slot again and pressed in a new length of fret wire (which is when I took the photo of the method). It went so well, that I pulled and replaced 6 in total :)

The 9th & 12th have been replaced here:

That’s better:

Why don’t I quit while I’m ahead?

A few of the position markers were sitting a little proud of the fingerboard, so I had the bright idea of using the dowel-in-the-drill-press method to pressing them home. I couldn’t get them to budge (I think there was probably too much glue in the bottoms of their holes), and what’s more, I managed to bruise the fretboard in the process :'(:

Luckily, a hot steam iron and a damp cloth managed to bring most of it out again. Phew!

I just shaved the ends of the markers flush with a sharp knife.

Just got to wait for that lacquer to dry now…

More tomorrow…

misterg’s spice rack uke build : Part 7 – Headstock, tuners & strings!

Yay! The tuners arrived :) – Now I can finish the headstock.

What shape to make the headstock?

I put “guitar headstock” into a google images search and picked out the ones I liked. It turns out that I like:

Roughly symmetrical;
Concave sides;
Narrower at the top than the bottom;
If the top is sloping, then it must slope down to the left.

It’s an interesting exercise if you’ve got a few minutes to kill (I seem to share some tastes with a certain P.R. Smith).

I traced the headstock outline of the blank onto some paper, drew in the strings, and then sketched some different possibilities. Turns out I couldn’t get a straight pull on the middle two strings, as the tuner bodies wouldn’t fit close enough together.

This is what I came up with, and the template from it:

I saw one ukulele build blog where the poor unfortunate had drilled all their tuner holes in the wrong place. I was keen to avoid that, and to make sure that the tuners didn’t foul each other, so I made a dummy headstock out of some scrap to check it out.

It was OK, but kept reminding me of comedian Lee Evans:

(Maybe it’s just me…)

By chance, I’d taken the tuners out and left them on top of the paper template. The layout caught my eye, and I thought “that doesn’t look too bad…”.

Bye bye Lee Evans, hello straight pull:

(These holes are already there in the first picture, but only because I put the tuners back in the old position to take the photo.)

Once I knew where the holes for the tuners were going, I could use these locations to fasten the template to the headstock, trim away the excess and rout away.

The only thing I had to remember was that the template was a little under size where the headstock ran into the neck on the right hand side. No problem, all I needed to do was stop just a little shy of the neck at the end of the cut…

Bugger! I confused myself by turning the neck upside down – that should have been the beginning of the cut!

You can see where there is a little too much cut out on the right hand side (now it’s back the right way up! :-[

A bit of sanding and some tuner holes:

I think it looks killer with the tuners in:

They *just* fit the thin headstock – the bush on one of them bottoms out before tightening up, and another one feels a bit rough when the bush is tightened, so I trimmed a few mm off all the bushes and all is well.

FINALLY I can glue the fretboard on (it’s the clamps again):

With the fretboard in place, I use the glue and sawdust trick to fill in the gap where I over cut the headstock:

And finish shaping the neck:

At this point it feels like a poker game, where the stakes just keep getting higher and higher. We were really excited, and couldn’t resist fitting the neck to the body and stringing it up. If nothing else, to check that the thing didn’t explode when the strings were tensioned.

It was a bit of a puzzle as to what size strings to use. I matched the tension in by electric guitar strings (about 70N) with a 15″ scale using this handy string gauge calculator.

I came up with

G: 0.015″ plain
C: 0.024″ wound
E: 0.018″ plain
A: 0.013″ plain

These seemed awfully heavy to me :-\

Although the neck has a zero fret and straight pull tuners 8), it still needed a nut to keep the string spacing correct. I had an old guitar nut that I started filing down, but it was slow work, and we were nearly dancing with anticipation to get the uke strung up for the first time, so I cut a nut out of some brass instead and polished it up nicely:

I finished sanding the neck and gave it a coat of Danish oil, too.

We fitted the neck to the body and used a straight-edge either side to position the bridge so that the strings ran true with the fingerboard; measured the 15″ from the nut, added on 1 – 2 mm for intonation and screwed the bridge to the body.

Gulp! It was suddenly time for strings.

It didn’t explode! :) :) :) :)

What’s more, it seems to play in tune, so I haven’t made some gross error in fret and bridge position calculations. The action is even reasonable.

(Excuse me, but WOO! HOO!)

Undergoing quality assessment:

To be continued…

misterg’s spice rack uke build : Part 6 – Fretting the fingerboard & making the bridge

At this point, the body feels *gorgeous*, and all I want to do is sit in a darkened room and run my fingers over it 😮 :-[

Right, back to the neck…

I thought about putting a radius on the fretboard, but it seems most ukes don’t have one, and it would make life a bit more complicate for me, so a flat fretboard it is. The face of the neck and the back of the fingerboard had already been planed smooth and then sanded flat with abrasive paper on a sheet of glass to get them to fit nicely together. A flat fretboard meant I could sand with the face of the fretboard in the same way to get it as true as possible.

The tuners still hadn’t arrived, and I was getting itchy to carry on. I wanted to shape the neck, but I also wanted to fit the frets while the back of the neck was still flat to provide a solid base. I decided to fit the frets before gluing the fretboard to the neck (having seen some youtube videos of people doing it this way).

I tried hammering some lengths of fret wire into some test slots, and it was, frankly, barbaric – dents and kinks in the fret wire, and divots out of the wood where the wire slipped over rather than hammering in. Then I came across a youtube video of someone pressing the frets in using a dowel in a (stationary) drill press. Bingo! (That whole series is good to watch, btw.)

This is the technique I used (although the photo is from later on – all will be be explained…):

NB The drill is NOT running!

I quite liked the idea of having a fretboard with a ‘zero’ fret, so I thought I’d try for that, and if there were problems I’d just trim the fretboard at the zero fret position and fit a conventional nut, instead.

Zero fret went in OK, so I carried on with the rest:

I clamped the whole neck between two boards to press the frets home and hold them in place while I filed the cut ends of the fret wire off.

Notice how the act of pressing the frets in has put a curve in the fretboard.

With that done, I thought I’d have a go at shaping the neck…

…with the belt sander.


I’d already used the router to round over the edges of the back of the neck, but a lot of material still needed to come off.

I tried coarse sand paper.
Too slow.

I tried a rasp.
Too slow.

Belt sander! 8)

Too fast! :(

I ended up running the sander off the end of the neck and over the headstock, carving a deep groove in the back of it :'( :'(.

It needed a lot of careful sanding to get this out and make the back of the headstock flat again. When I’d finished, the headstock was barely 12mm thick. Aesthetically, it looks good, but I just hope my tuners will fit to so thin a headstock.

I’m not done with the neck yet, but this has made me more cautious, and I’ll wait until the fretboard has been fitted before carrying on.

Back to metalwork for a bit. I bought a cheap hard-tail strat-style bridge on ebay with the intention of modifying it somehow:

I wanted to cut it down and re-drill the holes for the correct string spacing, but: a) it was chromed steel, so the cut edges would show and/or go rusty; and b) none of the dimensions really worked out. I decided I could make a new base with the correct string spacing and re-use the saddles, screws (and allen key 😉 )

Hacksaw time:

This was MK 1 – I tried to drill the holes in this after bending it, and they ended up well out of line as you can see:

Mk – II was drilled while flat, then bent up and polished:

Still not perfect, but I was pleased with that. The polished stainless matches the chromed saddles quite well.

More tomorrow.

(Maybe the tuners will turn up? 😉 )

Stay tuned…

misterg’s spice rack uke build : Part 5 – Completing the body

Next up for the body was drilling the holes for the electrics and making the cavity to house them. I spent some time figuring out how big a cavity was needed, and how close to the edge of the body it could be and still be covered with a flat cover plate.

Judged the right place for the control knobs by eye and drilled through with a nice, sharp brad-point bit for zero tear-out:

The keen-eyed amongst you will have noticed the little half-moon cut out right at the tail end of the body. I’d like to tell you the technical reason for this. But I can’t. There isn’t one – it’s just what happens if you’re a little careless putting the router down. It happened on about the second pass around the body blank. It’s been filled with a little plug of wood now.

Using the holes as a guide to position, I drilled out the cavity with Forstner bits – these give a flat bottomed hole and can drill overlapping holes for things like this. The holes for the cavity are offset from the holes for the controls so the pots sit at one side of the cavity.

You can see where I was sketching the cover outline around the holes so I could make a template to rout out the cover recess and a cover to match.

I knew where the jack socket was going to go, but I didn’t drill it yet because….

I had changed my mind about rounding over the front edge of the body, I was still waiting for the tuners before I could finish the neck, so I decided what the heck, I’ll put a binding on the front edge of the body.

Oh Boy!

This meant cutting a ledge all round the top of the body that a plastic binding strip would be glued into.

With my limited selection of router cutters and bearings, the best I could come up with is a ledge just a little less than 2mm deep. I would have liked a little less, as I’m guessing that thinner bindings are easier to deal with.

It didn’t take long to cut the ledge (I put a block of wood in the neck pocket to keep the ends of the ledge neat):

Looked OK for the plastic binding that I’d ordered:

All I needed to do now was glue it in place and scrape it back smooth…


What have I done? ???

What was I thinking? ???

Getting the binding on tightly round the body was a nightmare! I just didn’t have enough hands to hold the binding in all the directions needed at once. It needed a LOT of masking tape:

After the glue had a chance to dry, I took the tape off and found that the binding had sprung away from the body in the cutaways near the neck. Because I’d used PVC solvent glue, the joint was still a little ‘soft’ and the binding could be slowly pulled back into position with clamp pressure. I don’t think I could have done this if I had used Superglue like I almost did (but then the binding may not have sprung away if I had??).

I couldn’t quite rescue the area around the upper cutaway, but the rest of it was OK:

Using the solvent glue means that the binding really moulds to the wood, and gives a most pleasing joint when it has been scraped smooth:

I used single edged razor blades for the scraping with the edge ‘wiped’ across a steel to turn it into a tiny hook. It took a long time to scrape the binding back, but it was strangely satisfying work :). It also gave a *lovely* finish to the end grain on the sides of the body:

Now I could drill the hole for the jack socket:

To be continued…

misterg’s spice rack uke build : Part 4 – Roughing out the body


At this point, I should have glued the fretboard to the neck
…but I wanted to finish the headstock before I did that
…and I couldn’t finish the headstock until I had the tuners
…and the tuners (bought on ebay) were on their way from China in a slow boat.

So I went ahead and routed (most of) the neck to match the fretboard width, just relying on the fret marker dowels to hold it in position. I could now finish the body shape so that it blended into the neck. The body shape was transferred onto a template for guiding the router:

The template is fastened to the body in the neck pocket area, and under the bridge, so the screw holes will be eventually be hidden or cut away.

I wanted to rout out the holes for the pickup, too (I only intended fitting one) so I could decide where the neck had to end. I looked at various options for pickups:Guitar pickups just look wrong, and the pole spacing isn’t right for my chosen string spacing; some people use half of a precision bass pickup, but the pole spacing is a bit narrow; Custom wound pickups are available (e.g. Almuse) for around £40; I thought about winding my own (and even bought the wire) but couldn’t find any cheap magnets; I didn’t want to use a piezo pickup; Then I found an American ebay shop selling 4 pole magnetic pickups for about £16 delivered to the UK – very happy with the service and the pickup:

This article suggests that the optimum position for a ‘neck’ pickup is 77.5% of the sale length from the nut. That looked OK, so I went with it. The end of the neck pocket was marked out just behind the pickup and the length of the neck trimmed to suit.

I wish I’d taken a picture part way through the body routing, but I didn’t. The router would only cut just over 1/2 way through, so I had to trim off the excess from the body and flip it over to rout the bottom half using the top half to guide a flush trim router cutter. I made a template to match the neck heel (two, actually – the first was too big) and cut the neck pocket, then modified the body template to suit the pickup cavity and cut that, too.

I had a vision of the pickup mounted in a closely fitting recess in the body, with just the wood all around. To do this, I needed to drill two holes from the back of the body to access the ends of the pickup. It’s a bad idea, and I wouldn’t do it again. I also planned to round over the front and back of the body, but after being horrified by how the back looked after being rounded over, I stopped!

I forgot to say above that before I glued the two halves of the body together, I routed out some channels that would hopefully match up with the pickup, bridge & control cavity to take the wiring:

This was the first body, but you can see the ends of the channels in the top photo.

I used a belt sander to smooth the sides of the body (which meant that the top horn got re-shaped a little so I could get the belt sander in ::) )

Yet another template and some metalwork got me a neck plate and a recess to put it in:

(There was a bit of elbow grease involved to polish the stainless steel plate, too.)

The neck fitted in pretty well:

We were getting excited now :)

To be continued…

misterg’s spice rack uke build : Part 3 – Making the fretboard & roughing out the neck

The fretboard was the biggest unknown for me.

I’d previously worked out that if I cut the neck pocket to the full thickness of the neck with zero neck angle (i.e. bottom of the pocket is parallel to the front of the body – nice and easy to rout out :) ) that I needed a 3mm thick fretboard to give a reasonable action at the 12th fret (2mm, say) and at the same time fall into the available string height adjustment of strat style bridge saddles.

I wanted something contrasting for the fretboard, but couldn’t justify buying a nice piece of ebony or rosewood, since I was pretty certain I’d screw it up. In the end I went with another piece of the teak work bench – a much paler piece with a different grain pattern. It was “interesting” planing this down to 3mm while trying to keep the thickness even – possibly the most accurate bit of woodworking I’ve done to date. It was about to get worse :-\.

Fretboard blank:

The Stew-Mac fret position calculator gives fret positions to the nearest micron! 😮 From what I can tell, an accuracy of a few 10ths of a millimeter will do :-\ As I’ve already said, I can’t cut straight to save my life.

I bought some “narrow fret wire” from ebay seller ‘Snowcauldron’ :

(This is his/her picture)

By happy coincidence, my super-duper Japansese style pull saw (from B&Q) cut slots that were pretty much the right width for the fret wire. This is good, because it cuts very cleanly. I clamped some softwood together to make a mitre box for cutting the fret slots. I made some test cuts on scrap, and tapped and adjusted an re-clamped all the bits until the test cuts were at exactly 90°. To stop things moving, I then dropped super-glue on the mitre box joints in a few places.

To control the depth of the slots, I clamped two strips of wood to the saw to limit its depth of cut (I checked this with a nifty taper gauge that I use for measuring string action):

(These got the superglue treatment when I felt they were correct, too.)

I didn’t trust myself to transfer the fret position measurements to the blank accurately, so printed a template onto acetate film (OHP film) that would drop into the bottom of the mitre box. I didn’t want to use paper, as it expands and contracts with the weather. I double checked each line on the print-out with a steel rule, and my cheap-ish ink-jet printer is definitely more accurate than my eyes!

All I needed to do was slide the blank along the template until the end matched up with a fret position, then cut down as far as the stops on the saw :)

The actual slot cutting only took about 10 minutes… (I should probably have taken a bit longer, and concentrated more on making sure the slots were cut to the full depth).

The fretboard blank was then cut and planed to its final shape (tapered out from the nut by about 3mm each side over its length).

I planned to use the fretboard as a guide for the router to cut the neck to the correct width, so needed to find a way of accurately registering it on the neck. Some people use a small nail in the base of a fret slot, and/or a dowel in one of the 12th fret marker dots. Since I’d decided not to put a truss rod (or any reinforcement) in the neck, I could use any of the marker dots, as there would be solid wood underneath. All I had to do was find something round to use as dowels. An extensive search of the shed came up with some heavy ‘strimmer’ line (for a strimmer we no longer have).

Just need to align the centre lines on the fretboard and neck, set the nut at the top of the neck, drill through the marker dot positions and push in the strimmer line:

The neck has been roughed to width at this point.

Schoolboy error:

Guitar players won’t see it, but banjo and uke players will…

…There isn’t a 9th fret marker on a uke – it should be at the 10th fret ::)

We’ll just have to live with that…

More later…

misterg’s spice rack uke build : Part 2 – Making the body blank

For the body, I had an off-cut of parana pine window sill – this is a relatively hard, close grained wood:

It didn’t seem thick enough for a uke body, so I stuck two pieces together (did I mention that you need loads of clamps?):


You can see the body outline that my son roughed out pencilled onto the blank.

…Actually, this is the second body blank  :-[ … The combined thickness of two pieces was too thick for my router. No problem, I thought, I’ll just use the router to take the thickness down a bit. I was working away, carving a network of grooves at a set depth (to be joined up with a chisel eventually), and the router was labouring more and more. Far too late, I stopped to see what was wrong: The router cutter was working its way out of the machine and was gouging out a slot nearly half the depth of the blank… :'(. Firewood.

This time I planed the blank down to about 45mm thick which was just about OK for my 1/4″ router.

To get the body shape to match the neck, I needed to get the neck to the finished width so I could blend the body outline into it. To do that, I needed to make….


misterg’s spice rack uke build : Part 1 – Making the neck blank

You remember when Homer Simpson decided to build a spice rack?

Well, I decided to build an electric uke for my son. I thought that some people here might be interested to see how it went (if you want me to stop, you just need to say the “safe word”, remember? ;))

I wanted to use what I had in my shed as far as possible, as I wasn’t confident that it would ever get finished.

I decided on a ‘Concert’ sized instrument – 15″ scale (for comparison, a Fender Strat is 25.5″). To keep the string spacing the same as his acoustic uke, the neck needs to be just over 40mm wide at the nut (string spacing is 10mm at the nut and 12mm at the bridge).

For the neck, I cut a ~ 50mm wide strip off some old laboratory work bench tops that are made of some type of teak:

I cleaned this up with a plane, and also cut another, wider piece for the headstock and planed it down to about 1/2 thickness. I wanted a scarf-jointeded neck with a separate fingerboard, so the next job was to cut a 15° taper on the neck and headstock, clamp them together and plane the taper flat and true. I can’t cut straight to save my life, and was pleasantly surprised that this seemed to go OK:

(I had spent 1/2 a day truing my little block plane up and sharpening the blade, and I think it made a huge difference.)

Next, you just flip the thin piece over and glue it to the tapered end of the neck (I think for guitars, people tend to glue the headstock to the underside of the neck, but for ukes the headstock goes on the end as far as I can tell). Trouble is, the glue is slippery, and you’re trying to clamp two tapered pieces together. The answer is to clamp the neck to a board first to keep everything true, and to drill holes for small pins in a waste area to stop the headstock sliding away as it’s clamped:

You need a lot of clamps…

One neck blank: