Ukelele details

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Ukelele details

Postby Andrew Smith » Thu Jan 19, 2012 8:54 am

Hi

I'm about to embark on my first ukelele build - I have a set of plans, problem is they don't detail the thickness of the wood used.

Can anyone tell me how thick the top and bottom pieces should be and how thick the sides should be? I'm building a concert ukelele - do these dimensions vary for different types of ukelele?

Also, I have some Spanish cedar which I was thinking of using for the whole thing - is this a suitable wood for a ukelele?

thanks, Andrew
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Re: Ukelele details

Postby Charlie Schultz » Thu Jan 19, 2012 9:27 am

Hi Andrew and welcome! We're still kind of testing this forum software, so you might have better luck posting your question on the current active site (mimf.com). But someone may happen along here to help.
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Re: Ukelele details

Postby Neal Carey » Sat Jan 21, 2012 9:38 am

Andrew, in case you do come back here looking for a reply:

Thickness does depend somewhat on the materials being used. Ukuleles should generally be built pretty light, meaning fairly thin, but if you're using cedar it is pretty soft and I'd go a bit heavier than if using all hardwoods. All that meaning for cedar you might consider .085-.100, for hardwood perhaps .07-.08. Some high-end builders build even thinner, as thin as .065. I did build 3 walnut ukes last year @ .065-.07 and it was pretty thin, which for the sides/back turned out fine, but the spruce tops were really way too thin and I wish in hind sight that I had gone to .08 or .09 for the top. I ended up adding extra fan braces to hopefully prevent the tops from warping.

FWIW my first few ukes were way overbuild, probably more like .11 - .125 and everyone who has ever picked one of them up has remarked at how heavy they were.
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Re: Ukelele details

Postby Wayne Brown » Tue Jan 24, 2012 10:51 am

Andrew,
I'll agree with Neal, ukes are built very light. I had the opportunity to restore a couple of ukes this past year. They were made of mahogony and the thickness was in area of .065 - .070. One thing I've noticed is the thinner the sides the easier they are to bend in the waist area. The .085 on the cedar should work OK. Good luck on your uke!
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Re: Ukelele details

Postby Kevin Singleton » Thu Feb 02, 2012 1:00 pm

Neal Carey wrote:I did build 3 walnut ukes last year @ .065-.07 and it was pretty thin, which for the sides/back turned out fine, but the spruce tops were really way too thin and I wish in hind sight that I had gone to .08 or .09 for the top. I ended up adding extra fan braces to hopefully prevent the tops from warping.

FWIW my first few ukes were way overbuild, probably more like .11 - .125 and everyone who has ever picked one of them up has remarked at how heavy they were.


Neal,

I have some black walnut that I downed on my property a couple of seasons ago, and I was wondering about the suitability for a uke build. I'll thin it down and let it dry, completely, of course, but I was wondering if you used walnut for the neck and back, as well as the sides. I have plenty available, and can afford a few mistakes, but I wouldn't want to waste too much time or material if it's simply a lost cause.

Thanks for sharing the material thickness you used, and for any other insight you can provide.
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Re: Ukelele details

Postby Steve Senseney » Thu Feb 02, 2012 1:19 pm

I am not Neal, but Black Walnut would work well for neck and sides and backs. It works well for guitars although I have not built a ukulele with it.

Use the suggested dimensions listed above.
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Re: Ukelele details

Postby Chris Reed » Thu Feb 02, 2012 6:40 pm

You can use walnut for the top as well!

Until recently most ukuleles were made of a single type of wood (top, back, sides and neck). Hardwoods were normal.

Thus I have a 1920s/30s uke by the Hawaiian maker Kumalae, which is all koa except the nut and tuning pegs (also wood). Martin's ukes were mainly all mahogany (with a few all koa).

There is a current fashion for making ukes like guitars, with a spruce or cedar top and hardwood sides. These are usually tenors. The problem is that they tend to sound like small guitars, rather than ukuleles.

So if you want a real uke sound, go all walnut (and build to soprano scale as well!).

Building with hardwoods I'd take all the body elements down to at least 1.8mm, and maybe as low as 1.5mm. Tiny, tiny braces. You really want all parts of the body to be vibrating away like mad and working together, otherwise you will have a quiet, dull-sounding instrument.

[My mm to inches conversion produces .070 and .060 as equivalents. For a soprano ukulele, .060 in hardwood is not ludicrously thin.]
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Re: Ukelele details

Postby Neal Carey » Fri Feb 03, 2012 8:38 pm

I haven't used the walnut for necks, only backs/sides/headplates. But sure, make the top of walnut as well. Personally I'd still recommend mahogany for the neck and perhaps try walnut for the fingerboard. Looking forward to seeing what you do with it.
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