Sharkfin Uke Build – Fitting the Frets (Take 2)

Time for another update on my Sharkfin Ukulele build. In my last post I was quite literally fretting over frets. I was tired and had foolishly rushed ahead with gay abandon. My head told me to take things slowly and make sure that I was getting things right. My heart told me to bang ’em in and thunder on. Unfortunately, my heart won out and things didn’t go according to plan. I’m sure there is a lesson to be learnt here somewhere.

When you know it’s wrong, but you do it anyway…
Photo courtesy of aintitcool

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Sharkfin Uke Build – Jiggery-Pokery

Here’s a very quick update on my adventures in making my Sharkfin Ukulele. I’ve been experimenting with a technique for cutting the blank for the body. Today’s post is all about width…

Movember is here again! This year I shall be attempting a “Motorhead”
as chosen by my colleagues at work. Please support Movember and
if you do nothing else this month… go for your yearly checkup!
If you do it, then I promise I will…

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… 😉

Sharkfin Uke Build – Pattern

It’s been a while since I posted any progress on my Sharkfin Ukulele build. That’s because I haven’t done a great deal with it. I’ve been waiting for parts and busying myself in other ways. Now it’s starting to get cold, I’m going to find it increasingly hard to motivate myself. Will this be a mad rush to beat the snow?

Danger! Electric Uke!

When I last posted, I’d knocked together a Mark 1 of the pattern and speculated that the tuning pegs would be key to getting everything sweet. How right I was!

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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…

Free Ukulele Plans


Whenever I do a ukulele project that has a logical, sequential order I try to document the process and make plans. These are made available for people to use, modify and enhance.  Right now I have two available for immediate download, with more coming this year. Have fun building and remember to take pictures, make a video or find other ways to share your finished project.  We love to see what you’ve made!

Click below to see the plans available to download.

Free plans!