New to Uke!!

Hello all!!

 My local music store has a ukulele club that I would like to try as I have never played one and they seem fun. I want to make my own since I already make CBG's.

First question, I use a neck through the box design on my guits and put sound holes above and below the neck. Will this work with a ukulele? I get very good sound with this design but would like your thoughts. 

Next, I was thinking something a bit larger than a soprano uke, what would be the scale from nut to bridge on the next size up?

Lastly ( for now), proper tuning for a uke? Never played one before so unsure.

Okay, one more. I typically use a 1/4 inch threaded rod for my nut and bridge, will this work with the nylon strings or should I go with wood on both ends. If so, what would the string spacing be on these.

Thank you in advance for all the tips and advice I know I will get in the next few days!!!


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  • I've built two cigar box neck-through (tenor), one bolt-on (soprano). Both have sound holes on each side of the neck (see the photos on my page here.) Sounds great like that.

    I've used bone and hardwood for nuts/bridges. If I can find a nylon bolt at the hardware store, I'm going to try that on my next build just to see how it sounds. I use fretfind2D to lay out frets on the fingerboard and it prints string spacing based on the neck width I feed in to the calculator.


  • Some of this may repeat earlier answers. (And some may contradict other replies... No disrespect intended... just my experience!)

    Scale lengths for Ukes (roughly... not etched in stone!):

    13" Soprano

    15" Concert

    17" Tenor

    19" Baritone

    Personally, I like Concerts and Tenors.

    Standard Tuning for Soprano-Concert-Tenor (From the TOP string to the BOTTOM) is:

    g C E A

    "Top" and "Bottom" here refer to the physical locations of the strings when playing.

    Good way to remember Uke tuning: Goats Can Eat Anything

    It is typically re-entrant tuning. That is, the top "g" string is an octave up (it is actually higher in pitch than the C and E strings.) That is part of what gives the "Ukulele" sound. (It's also why the first "g" is sometimes written in lower-case.)

    Baritone uke tuning is different. It is typically D G B E (same as highest 4 strings on a guitar). Baritone uke tuning is usually not re-entrant.

    Uke clubs are a blast! Personally, I have found no snobbery whatsoever in the Ukulele community! Cigar Box (or any other construction you can think of) is welcome with open arms! I sometimes bring my homemade electric Telecaster uke to meetings and outings with my uke club (the Kansas City Ukesters - if anybody is interested).

    Just about any construction method you can use for a CBG can also be used on a Cigar Box Uke.

    Have fun and welcome! I'm sure you will fall in love with the Uke!

  •  I've only made a very few Uke's to date myself, but I can tell you what little i've learned:

    - Common tuning for the Soprano, Concert and Tenor Ukes is G C e a, but there are numerous alternative tunings, just use the ones that your club is comfortable with.

     - Stick-thru designs are just fine if you are comfortable with them-and it let's you use lots of sound chambers like this gourd here...

     On the other hand, a fitted neck gives you room to do interesting things such as adding a resonator like so...

     ...keep in mind that all I did was cut a hole for the neck, glue it 1" in then cut some spacers to fit tight against the neck and top-I have a neighbor  who swears by dovetail joints, screws to hold until the glue sets and then wooden pegs glued into the holes when he removes the screws...

      I don't think that there is a 'wrong' way to make a Uke...four strings, four and a 'drone' string like a banjo, two courses of four like a mandolin... Use Aquila strings, light banjo strings, fishing line... go nuts!   Want to carve one out of a solid plank, fit eight strings of fishing line, chisel a funnel in it with the soundhole in the back? Here's one:

     (Lord I want one of those-can't wait until Spring when I can make sawdust outdoors again...)

      As far as bridges and nuts, i've found that carved Oak works wonderfully for nylon and wire alike-but if you're sticking to Nylgut and the like I find that Bamboo chopsticks are really easy to carve and fibrous and tough enough to hold up well. In fact, i've 'cooked' a few with a heat gun and the resulting material (with the sugars cured into the lignin to nearly double the rigidity and toughness) has held banjo strings for nearly two years now...

     Can't wait to see your Uke know you won't stop at one!

  • I second the bolt on approach for a uke, although depending on the box a inner brace might be needed.  Look back a couple topics in this forum and you can see the one I did for reference.

    Habanera you mention tenors as most popular right now, do you mean as a cbu?  It seems like sopranos are still the most popular traditional size.  I agree a soprano is a little tight but I have fairly big hands and it plays fine, plus you can reach a lot of frets!  I am making my first concert size right now, and probably a tenor eventually.

    Also agree the Aquila strings brighten the sound.

    • An inner neck brace will definitely be required for a bolt-on, as well as a bridge patch.  Depending on the strength of the box, you may also need additional internal soundboard bracing similat to a traditional uke.  Remember that the lighter you build, the better the sound will be, but don't sacrifice strength if you want it to last.

      I mention Tenor size as the most "popular" today as that's what most custom luthiers seem to be making.  I did not mean to imply other sizes were inferior, just that most people with adult-sized hands find the Tenor to be the most comfortable to play.  There is certainly room for all and I have both a traditional concert and a baritone in the works for now, as well as a tenor-sized cookie-tin banjolele.  These will all be bolt-on necks, btw.

      Another option we haven't discussed yet is the "Spainish heel" option, where the neck block is actually part of the total neck, slotted, and the uke sides are inserted into the slots.  With a cigar box base, it's easy to notch the box to slide onto the neck.  Using the bottom of the box as the soundboard, it can be very rigid as well.  Here's a pic of some necks I did in the Spanish style.  For use with a cigar box, make the notch the same width as the thickness of the box side.



    • Nice work, hal. i'm trying to figger your jigs for making those nice cuts...

      will the bigbox ash and alder be hard enough for fretboard stock?



      for the op, i think a steel bolt would be pretty harsh on nylon strings.

      maybe a piece of a plastic coat hanger for the nut?  or cut it from a beef rib bone ??

      a small scrap of hardwood molding should be fine for a bridge, nut a hard piece atop it could make the tone brighter ??

      get a 2nd opinion.  :-)   rc

    • Not familiar with Ash and Alder from Home Depot or Lowes.  Mine only carry Poplar (ugh), Red Oak (too open grained IMHO), and something they call White Wood (too soft).  Maybe that's what they're calling "Alder" now.  I usually get my fretboard stock from Rockler, Craftwoods, or a couple of Houston-area millworks where I can get different varieties of Rosewood, Ebony, Wenge, Bubinga, and other exotics.  They're more fun. 

      BTW - The almost-finished neck in the picture (4 tuners on one side) was made from Cherry with Birdseye Maple veneer on the front and back of the headstock.  The other blanks were done in hard Maple.

    • Hal,

      Those necks are beautiful. Also, most likely past my wood working skill level. I will need to experiment with the bolt on neck as I have not done anything like that in the past. I have done 30 plus guits and one bass with the neck through and a piezo pickup with great success. I guess ukes have their own set of challenges. 

    • That they do!  But don't be afraid to try something new.  Each step in carving a neck (or anything else for that matter) can be broken down into simple steps.  That's when the total becomes greater than the parts and the satisfaction envelops you.  And don't worry about your first 5000 mistakes.  They prepare you to correct your next 5000 mistakes! (That comes from a sign hanging in my shop.)

      For a bolt-on, there's two basic ways to go.  A hanger bolt (wood screw on one end, machined threads on the other) is the easiest, but weak. In time, it will pull out of the heel.  IM(very)HO, a knock-down bolt is much stronger and is only slightly more difficult to install. You can get them at most hardware stores - they're used in furniture like bed frames and RTA shelving.  Avoid the ones with an insert that threads into the wood - you'll have the same weakness issues as with a hanger bolt.  With a knock-down bolt, you drill a vertical hole for the insert in the top of the neck into the heel (the hole will be covered by the fretboard) and intersect that hole with another for the bolt through the neck block and heel.  Makes a VERY strong, removeable joint.



      Good luck with your project and post lots of pics!

    • This is a great thread.  I have been struggling with uke neck joints for a couple of years now.  I have been using hanger screws, but Hal's post has me worried. I haven't had any failures yet, but I have always been skeptical about threading into end grain.  I like the knock down bolt idea.  I have used them with Ikea furniture and have seen them in the hardware store.

      I think I'll give that a try on the next one I build.  Thanks, Hal. 

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