My First Ukulele Build

January 2020

During the Holidays we found out that one of the items on Bob’s list was a Ukulele. Christmas came and went with no Ukulele but seems Bob has a birthday soon. So I found kits on sale and ordered a Soprano kit from Stew-mac. The top is solid Mahogany, the back and sides are laminated Mahogany. Nice looking pieces of wood and all the parts.

First step is to build the ‘mold’ for gluing the sides, top and bottom while maintaining proper shape of the instrument. It uses one piece of wood, four L brackets, two wood blocks and two pieces of dowel. The specs and video are all available at their web site so I will not go into great detail on that.

It’s always good to gather all of the parts and build in the brain so one has a vision of how things go together. I have built a lot of instruments but never a Ukulele so I study it well.

It’s a two part project basically. The body and the completed neck. The body is assembled after gluing braces to the top and back. Take note that the braces for the back have a radius so do not clamp on a flat surface. When it’s together and sanded it’s ready for the neck. The completed neck would be finished, headplate & logo (not included in the kit), fretboard, frets, side markers, installed and everything sanded and ready for assembly. As mentioned the kit did not include a headplate. Since the fingerboard provided is Walnut I found a nice piece in the shop with a cool arch in the grain to use as headplate. The kit maker did not intend for the added thickness of the headplate so I do not recommend trying it unless you use a veneer about 1/32”

Up to this point things have gone smoothly. Assembly of the body, braces, top and back come together easily for proper fit. The neck shaft, fret slots, and frets all came together well also. But when preparing to fit the neck to the body and drill the dowel holes I ran into some trouble. The arc machined on the neck shaft which mates to the curve of the body at the heel, is not concentric to the center-line of the neck shaft. I shaded the face of the neck side with pencil and used a spindle sander with 2” drum to remove material. I got lucky. A couple of passes, a little hand sanding with some PSA 150 grit on the body, I cleaned it up to a proper fit. Drilling the dowel holes by hand was tricky but can be done with a little caution.

The instructions called for locating the bridge, before gluing the neck to body, by dry fitting the neck in place. I totally disagree. Locate the bridge after the neck is glued into place, it’s more accurate.

With the fingerboard taped off I just rubbed in several coats of lacquer on the neck being careful not to get lacquer on the gluing surface. When it was dry I buffed it out and glued the neck to the body. I must stress that the neck angle is critical to obtaining proper string height. Use the neck reset calculator at Stew-mac to figure this out and get it right.

Next thing is to install the nut and locate the bridge. Once the bridge area is taped off I apply finish to the the body and buff it out.

Gluing the bridge was also tricky. I had a hard time finding the right clamp, in-fact I had to modify one, and getting a caul inside that small body was a challenge.

In the end it turned out great and my son in law loved it.

Author: Rick

A life long woodworker, I've been building guitars for just over ten years. I build acoustic dreadnoughts, electrics, and the "Hambone", a Terz guitar. I am a North Carolina native and am currently located near Charlotte, NC.