This is the way…

We’ll start with an idea and a plan. The idea is to build a baritone ukulele with circular sections mimicking a drum head in order to see if we can get some good thump out of a little box. The plan doesn’t have to be complex or detailed, just enough to guide us and remind us of basic dimensions so we don’t have to re-measure every time we start building a new part – uh, what was our scale length? How many inches is the circumference so we can find pieces of contrasting wood long enough for binding? etc., etc,. Not a great photo but it gets the point across – I start with a plan. Your mileage may vary.

Next, we’ll make a form to hold the body while we build – not unlike a dress maker might use a form to guide the work. We transfer the plan to pieces of ply or fiberboard and make several identical layers, screw them together and add some tick-marks to help identify the waist. Save the middle parts to use when bending the sides.

OK, think about what we want it to look/sound like. My dad was a master furniture maker and once asked me why I didn’t try making a guitar out of oak. Oak is solid and very stable and can be a great wood for furniture. But I told him it’s because oak is heavy and cross-grained and doesn’t resonate or ring like say, mahogany or rosewood. Of course, I then attended the NAMM show and saw a Martin dreadnought made of German oak that was gorgeous and sounded great. So I made a little Martin 5-18 copy out of oak as a test and yes, it can be a good guitar wood. Maybe not like rosewood, but good if thin enough and you like a little less ring/sustain. If dad was still around he’d be happy to see that. So, I’m going to use some 1/4-sawn oak for the back & sides on this little dude and pair it with a bright Sitka spruce top. I expect it to sound bright because it’s small, but with a soft/thuddy bottom end and the mid-range might be influenced somewhat by fluorocarbon strings. It’ll be interesting to hear what happens. This, for me, is one of the most fun aspects of building instruments. Note (below) that the rings of the tree travel from the face of the board to the back face (vertical) — that’s what 1/4-sawing does and it’s important to the instrument sound and appearance.

Next, we’ll start milling the parts. This involves using a bandsaw to saw the wood from edge to edge making thin plates for the back & sides. This called re-sawing. I don’t have pictures of this as 6″ or more of the bandsaw blade is exposed and it’s dangerous to pick up a camera while guiding the wood through the saw. Maybe I’ll stage a picture in the future.

Well, that’s it for now. We’ll pick back up as the build progresses.


Author: markdawson