Telecaster uke build : part 08 – Complete!

After waiting for the clear coat to cure, the time came to wet sand, apply the polishing compound, and polish the body.  I used 1000 grit sandpaper to wet sand the body.  I then used a rag to apply “fine” and then “swirl remover” polishing compound to the finish. “Meguiar’s Mirror Glaze #7″ is what I used to give the body a final polish.  It’s a car glaze, but I’ve seen it mentioned on a lot of guitar forums as a guitar polish.  It’s worked well so far.

I used this wiring diagram as a base:  One pickup, one volume, one tone.

I tweaked a few things to adjust for the higher frequencies of a electric ukulele.  250K ohm potentiometers were used instead of the 500K ones.  A 0.020 microfarad capacitor was used instead of the .047 microfarad one.  In addition, a 0.001 microfarad capactor was added between the center and right lugs.  (Okay, so I “tweaked” everything.)

Now, the Telecaster Ukulele is ready to assemble and then play!   In this video, I give a demonstration of the uke in action, and show it being assembled in real time (I work fast).

It’s been fun making this ukulele and sharing the details.  It was a lot of work, but now I have a custom instrument that plays beautifully and looks great.

Telecaster uke build : part 07 – Primer, paint, and clear coat

I applied a nitrocellulose primer to the sealed wood body. 2-3 coats were needed. Any slight bumps were sanded flat with 1000 grit sandpaper.

The “Midnight Wine” color coat went over the primer.  This color started to worry me.  I said to myself, “I don’t want a plum colored electric ukulele”.   I pressed on, knowing that if I hated the color, I could always repaint. I did about two coats, then noticed that my overzealous painting had cause a couple of sags on the back.  After letting it dry for a day, I used some 320 grit and then some 1000 grit sandpaper to reflatten the surface.  I sanded just enough to correct the sags, but not enough to sand through all of the color coats.  Once I was pleased with the surface, I did two more color coats.

Next came about 6 or 7 clear coats.  Clear gloss nitrocellulose lacquer was used. After the clear coats were applied, I noticed that the color had changed slightly.  It had become much closer to the dark, rich “Midnight Wine” color that I was expecting.  This pleased me exceedingly.

Filling the grain, sealing the wood, applying the color coats, and then putting on the clear coats, makes for a nice finish.  Even if you are using spray cans (like I do), you can get great results.  I follow the Stewart-MacDonald Nitrocellulose Finishing Schedule.

The next step is the most agonizing for me.  Waiting.  It is recommended that you allow 10-14 days for the finish to cure before wet sanding and buffing the finish.  I’m planning on waiting two full weeks before touching the body again.  It will be hard, but I will be strong.  Hopefully my patience will yield a beautiful, glossy finish.

Telecaster uke build : part 06 – Bridge and first assembly

My four string bridge arrived in the mail, so I was able to drill the holes for the screws and strings.  The holes for the strings go all the way through the body.

I used a long drill bit to drill a hole from the bridge to the control cavity.  I will run a wire through this hole to ground the bridge.

A long drill bit is nice to have.  It’s difficult to use a regular length bit and still get the desired angle without rubbing the wood with the drill.

On the back side of the body, I countersunk holes for the string ferrules.

The cutting, shaping, and drilling are now complete.  Before painting, I like to assemble the major components on the instrument.  This gives me confidence that all of the parts will fit together.  If something needs to be adjusted, it’s much easier and cleaner to do it now.

Now that the body has been sealed, it is ready to be primed, painted, and clear coated.  Midnight Wine paint will look great on this.  (I’ve already given the maple neck a clear nitrocellulose finish, so it’s ready to go)

Telecaster uke build : part 05 – The neck (frets and such)

I used my recently acquired drill press to drill holes for the fret and side markers.  The side markers were made by drilling shallow holes, pushing thin plastic rods into the holes and then flush cutting the rods.  The fret markers were made by gluing the premade hard plastic dots into the holes.

The frets were pounded into the slots with a plastic tipped hammer.  Excess fretwire was trimmed off with a fret cutter.

I use t-nuts to attach the neck to the body.  I feel that this makes the connection stronger.  The neck will have a lot of tension on it, so I want it to be securely fastened.  Small screws help to hold the t-nuts in place.

I took a chisel and cut out the area for the t-nuts.  This will make the top of the t-nuts and screws flush with the bottom of the neck.

I will use an oval jack plate for the neck plate.

The neck is ready to be clear coated.  I think I’ll do about 6-7 coats of clear laquer.

Telecaster uke build : part 04 – Routing the body

The major shaping and routing were done with a round-over bit and a straight bit.   I used the round-over bit around the edge.  The straight bit was used for the pickup and control cavities, along with the neck pocket.

The body is now routed.  The routing for the control cavity isn’t my best work, but the control plate will easily cover everything.

Timbermate wood filler is great stuff.  Even though alder is considered a non-porous wood,  I’ve found that spreading wood filler all over the wood (I rub it on with a gloved hand) makes sanding the wood smooth much easier.

Since I’m painting this body, I didn’t worry that my wood filler stained the wood a little.  If you wanted a natural finish on your instrument, you would use a wood filler with a hue closer to the wood’s natural color.

I penciled in the pickguard on the body.  (Remember that if you are painting the body, then you can mark out the various parts with impunity.  If you are running out of paper, you could even use it to do long division.  If your finish will be transparent, mark in a way that can easily be erased.) I then traced the pickguard shape on some tracing paper.  This is a great way to get a template for the scroll saw cutting.

The pickguard is now ready for holes.  I think I’ll use 8 screws to attach it to the body.

The body is ready to be to be sealed.  Applying a clear coat and then sanding it as smooth as possible is critical in order to have a nice, flat surface for the paint.

The bridge hasn’t arrived yet.  Normally, I’d drill all of the holes before I sealed the body, but that’s not critical.  I’ll just give the laquer time to cure, and then finish drilling.

Telecaster uke build : part 03 – Cutting the neck

This neck started out as a .75 X 3 inch maple board.  I traced out the headstock and figured out how long the rest of the neck needed to be.  The overall scale length will be 15 inches.

Once again, a scroll saw was used to cut the wood.

I marked the nut and fret positions and then used the “waste” piece to keep the neck square as I cut the slots with a thin bladed saw and a miter box.  Once I get a drill press, I’ll  drill the tuning machine holes.  I will use black dots as the fret markers.  These will contrast nicely with the maple wood.

I used a roundover bit on my router to rough out the profile of the neck.

A spoke shave is an awesome tool for carving necks.  With it, I was able to transform the bulky, squarish board into a smooth and comfortable neck in a relatively short time.  Some 100 and 220 grit sandpaper also helped to get rid of the rough edges.

Once I drill the holes, set the frets, and inlay the dots, the neck will be ready for a clear coat laquer.

Telecaster uke build : part 02 – Cutting the body

I started this project by printing out a body and a headtstock on some paper.  This is done to make sure that all of the parts will fit, and so that I can see if everything is proportional.  These papers will be used to mark the lines on the wood to be cut.

The body is made of 1.5 inch thick alder.  I cut out the body with a scroll saw.  A scroll saw is a great tool for this type of job.

The body is now cut out.  Next will come sanding, routing, drilling, and more sanding.  When all of that is accomplished, then I can start preparing it for painting.

Telecaster uke build : part 01 – Idea

Ahh…the Telecaster.  The iconic guitar that launched 10,000 licks.  Elegant in it’s beauty and playability.   Everyman in it’s straightforward design and construction.

Okay.  Enough pontification.

The very first electric ukulele that I built was styled after a Telecaster.  I used a neck from a kit because I didn’t have the resources or skills to make my own. All of the main parts were the same ones that would be used on a full-sized Tele.  I liked the functionally of the two pickups and the selector switch, but the small body left very little surface area for all of the parts.

I am going to revisit my first build and make another Telecaster ukulele.  The desire is to make an instrument that plays beautifully and resembles a Standard Telecaster.  Here are some things that I want to incorporate into this ukulele:

  • 15 inch scale.  Most of my other builds have been soprano scale, but I want this to be a little longer.
  • One piece maple neck and fretboard.  This will add a degree of difficulty to the build.  If I mess up the fretboard, the whole neck is trash.
  • One pickup with tone and volume controls.
  • String-thru-body bridge.
  • Fiesta Red nitrocellulose lacquer finish.  Thankfully, I have some of this paint leftover from my Jag-Stang ukulele build.

That should wrap up the preliminary stuff.  I’m excited to get working on this thing!