Sharkfin Uke Build – And we’re off

The second hardest part of any project is starting.

(In case you’re wondering… The hardest part is finishing.)

King Uke’s Sharkfin Ukulele

I’m happy to say that I have now officially started my Sharkfin Ukulele build. Today it was all about wood. I started with a big bit and ended up with two small bits. Here’s how I did it…

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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.

BAD IDEA.

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…

AAAARRGHH!!!

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

Onward:

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?):

Chunky:

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….

…THE FRETBOARD

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:

Solid Body Travel Ukulele

I wanted to make a ukulele with the longest possible scale that would still fit in my travel case.

Before staining the body, I made sure that everything fit properly.

The “Les Paul” style body was made with a single piece of cherry wood. The scale length is 19 inches, and its overall length is 21.5 inches. Even though the scale length is 19 inches, I tune it like a reentrant tenor/concert/soprano. I prefer that tuning and it works better with most of the ukulele sheet music that I have.

The fretboard and bridge are made of rosewood. The volume knob is made of ebony. A piece of plastic pipe directs the strings back towards the tuners.

I used transparent red nitrocellulose lacquer followed by nitrocellulose clear coat to give it a finish similar to Gibson’s “Heritage Cherry” finish.

The under saddle piezo pickup is soldered to a 500K ohm potentiometer to control the volume. The output jack is attached to an upside down stratocaster style jack plate.

 

 

See it in action!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3DjII_Q1Ek]