Sunday, November 6, 2011

Uke Out!

Six-show weekend just ended and maybe I can get back to projects before the next shows (or the next performances on the schedule) interfere again.

I'm still pretty enthused about my solid-body uke, although I am more realistic about how much it would cost and how long it would take, and more willing to put it on the back-burner while I work on paying work. I did figure out a couple new things, though:

The hardwood store in town has materials that will work. They even have some scrap wood that might be an even cheaper option. I'm tempted to grab five bucks of scrap (they price by the pound) just to get a feeling of how hardwoods like zebrawood and cordova or whatnot are like to work.

I will make a visit to TechShop SF to see what it looks like.

There actually IS a use for Ponoko in projects like this. Depending on how fine a cut you get, use a ShopBot or similar to CNC a 1/4" MDF template and use that to rout the body of your guitar. A router and template is the recommended shaping method anyhow, and it can be difficult to get a clean enough template with bandsaw and similar tools.

I've considered building a solid-body nylon string as well. An under-bridge pickup can be had for as little as $60. If nothing else, the lower string tension means I could purchase a pre-made traditional neck, and if it turned out to be too difficult to reinforce it, I could still use it to make a nylon string. This is in all ways a simpler construction process; traditional bridge instead of the more expensive metal bridge, etc., etc. Which might make it a better project to start out with!'s the design I came up with for the steel string:

The first step will be building a mock-up to test the ergonomics. It may need to be extensively re-thought in order to be fully playable. The design actually came out of a process of abstracting and cartooning the shape of a traditional ukulele. On one of my sketches, the "pinch" of the hourglass had completely fallen away, and the resulting teardrop had an intriguing look to it.

I'm hoping the end result looks like an instrument coming out of a long but unfamiliar tradition; as if it was an electric version of some string instrument played in some remote culture for hundreds of years.

The treatment intended is chrome hardware (I'd go gold, but the bridge I have my eye on is chrome), sea-green solid-color body (probably not dyed wood, but an opaque lacquer.) The body might also have some detail painting -- foam/bubbles -- on it. The neck in this design might be built around a traditional neck, with a replacement headstock, but the best look would be a pale wood which requires, basically, hand-carving the entire thing out of ash or alder or maybe spruce.

At least the body, being solid-color, can be carved out of joined, non-appearance, and non-matching hardwoods. Meaning I can make use of what is affordable and in town, instead of spending $70 plus on a body blank plus shipment.

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