View Full Version : Tenor ukulele build

Scott DelPorte
05-01-2016, 11:21 PM
I have built a few guitars over the years, but just for fun decided to try my hand at a tenor ukulele. Guitars usually have lots of adornments like rosettes, purflings, bindings, and inlays etc. Although some people do the same with ukuleles, its more common to see them less adorned, so I took that route and made it a pretty plain instrument. On fancy guitars, the detail work can take as much or more time as the rest of the build, so doing a simple instrument like this played into my short attention span and desire to quickly see how I would get the sound to come out.

I started with some QS sycamore that I have had hanging around for years, and some QS red cedar that I picked up at a local lumber yard. Since I never made one of these before, I looked around on the web, and found some pictures of bracing patterns from a well known ukulele builder, and blatantly copied as best as I could from the pictures he had. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I hope he takes it in the right light.

The bracing is more or less similar to how I have done some classical guitars before (but tapered quite differently), so I was comfortable with using it as a basis for building.


Once I have the braces roughly shaped the way I want it, I use a signal generator hooked up to a speaker with some glitter to look at the mode shapes or "Chladni patterns" on the top. With the guitars I have built, I record this information and find it useful because I can infer how one top will compare to others I have built, but for this uke build, there wont be any to compare it to after until I build another. The shape of this mode being more or less a closed ring on the lower bout does tell me something about the relative lengthwise and crosswise stiffness. Some of the master builders I have met over the years have built enough instruments and have developed other more tactile methods of determining how they want to graduate plates and carve braces, but I still find this method useful.


Here is the top glued to the sides sitting next to the back. This is the first instrument that I have built using a bolt on neck. Once I had the top glued to the rim, I fit the neck joint (basically a butt joint) to the body, and drilled the holes for the bolts while I still had the back off. I thought it would be a big time saver, but it took me about as long as when I just fit a dovetail. Maybe if I do several necks this way I will get faster at it.


Here are a few pictures of the more or less finished instrument. I used a French polish finish, which is what I also usually do for guitars.

336759 336760 336761

It plays nice, and sounds good, so I started the next one, which will be built mostly out of walnut.


Gene Davis
05-02-2016, 10:58 AM
Wow! Are you building these on commission, i.e., are they pre-sold?

Scott DelPorte
05-02-2016, 12:13 PM
Hi Gene,
I am really just building ukuleles to get some experience with them and have some fun at this point. I have been learning to play ukulele, and thought it would be fun to build one since they use some of the same construction methods as nylon string guitars. Then, since I already built a bunch of jigs for the first one, it seemed a shame not to make a second....

Stan Calow
05-02-2016, 4:04 PM
Scott thanks for sharing. There's been a real upsurge of interest in ukuleles around here and not much in quality instruments available. May be a real niche'.

Sean Benz
05-04-2016, 12:51 PM

I've been dabbling with Ukes as well. This one is a commissioned build. 23.5" Concert sized electric solid body, Claro walnut burl book matched top, canary wood back, purple heart accents, and ambrosia maple and Peruvian walnut neck lams. It'll have pots for tone and volume control, and an onboard preamp so I can still use nylon strings.

Scott DelPorte
05-04-2016, 1:13 PM
It really seems like ukuleles are gaining in popularity right now. I guess it goes in phases. Their popularity has waxed and waned during past generations as well.

Sean, what did you end up doing for compensation on your electric build? I found a lot of information online on saddle compensation, but not too much on nut compensation. I ended up compensating both, and it plays in tune with itself very well, but it seems like many builders don't bother too much with nut compensation.

Sean Benz
05-05-2016, 10:29 AM
I really don't bother with compensation on the nut. Even on the saddle, with the scale length being so small, the compensation is only about a 1/32" difference. Granted, I only ever produce concert scale ukes, so it might matter a bit more with a longer scale like on a tenor, but I've never had a problem with intonation yet. The other thing to keep in mind, is the tuning I use for the ukes I produce is always high G. Which, might make any need for compensation a moot point. But, then again, I'm just a drummer... So I'm just guessing here.