Free or cheap DIY electric ukulele plans?
April 28, 2011 4:37 PM   Subscribe

My teenager started an electric ukulele project in her woodshop class and can't afford to buy plans. What's the best way to proceed?

Since she can't afford to purchase plans and can't find any for free, she decided to borrow a friend's electric uke and started taking measurements.

Is this the best approach? Are there any DIY uke sites that make plans and guides available for free? (The borrowed electric ukulele has "" printed at the top, but that web site doesn't appear to exist.)

Any other recommendations, tips or gotchas she or I should be thinking about?
posted by christopherious to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You might have luck with a google image search?
posted by ian1977 at 4:53 PM on April 28, 2011

Yeah this looks super sweet:
The digital plans are $10, seems swingable?
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:57 PM on April 28, 2011

I haven't tried any of these, but perhaps these as sources of inspiration: "Open Source" & "In French" & "Creative Commons."
posted by oceano at 5:08 PM on April 28, 2011

If she wants to make something that works well, then there is quite a bit of work that goes into the process that go even beyond needing plans. I have built a guitar before and would have to say that she needs to either get a book or starting reading internet articles.

Also, if she can't afford plans, how is she going to afford buying fretwire, tuners, a nut, pickups, etc? What kind of wood is she using? If its pine or plywood, the thing is going to sound dead. How is she going to cut the nut slots, etc?

From my experience, its difficult to get a satisfactorily working stringed instrument even with the proper tools and supplies.

If she really wants build a stringed instrument, I would highly recommend a fretless bass. They require a bit less precision and don't have frets, which is a big plus.
posted by mungaman at 5:12 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might want to drop a line to some of the Boing Boing people. Search for ukulele and find the folks who post all the ukulele posts. That sites group of bloggers is oddly packed with people who have a crazy fascination with things ukulele, maker craft, creative commons, kids building stuff, etc.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:21 PM on April 28, 2011

Bit confused about the requirements... as mungaman says, if she can't afford plans (the Michael J King plans being $10) how is she going to afford the cost of materials?
posted by mumkin at 6:23 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try asking around the Luthier's Lounge over at the UU forums. A lot of well known builders frequent over there.
posted by cazoo at 6:26 PM on April 28, 2011

Seconding zenagargoyle's suggestion to contact BoingBoing...Mark Frauenfelder in particular seems to have an affinity for the ukulele (well, who doesn't? But his is public and apparent), and has posted many times on the subject of the ukulele. For that matter Make magazine will very likely have plans available, or one of their advertisers will.

As to the posters who are questioning her ability to build an electric ukulele if she can't afford the plans, I would suggest that learning to scrounge materials and adapt what's available if the ideal is unaffordable are skills that are at least as valuable as following plans, and something that any creative individual will need regardless of the project at hand.
posted by motown missile at 7:13 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're her parent, buy the plans for her.
posted by joannemullen at 7:36 PM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding cazoo's recommendation to hit the Luthier's Lounge. Also, the Bugsgear uke you're referring to is made by Eleuke, in case the website helps.
posted by chez shoes at 8:24 PM on April 28, 2011

I am not trying to be negative, I am trying to tell the reality of the situation. Building instruments in many cases requires special tools and hardware that (what I am assuming is a) school woodshop doesn't have. Then there is the question of the hardware that goes into the actual implementation of the instrument.

Say for example tuners. How are you going to get around that? They need to be of fairly good condition in order for your strings to be able to stay in one place without detuning. Secondly, for it to be "electric" it needs pickups, wires, potentiometers, and other assorted hardware. This stuff adds up.

I love woodworking and I feel that doing a project that is reasonably accomplishable with the tool and/or money restrictions is very important. If she can't afford the necessary parts to finish the project, she is setting herself up for failure and instead should pursue a different project. There are many, many different things you can make with wood that require skill, creativity and hard work but doesn't require special tools that are external, costly hardware.

Just my $.02 from someone who has been through it. I built the guitar when I was teenager; 15 I think. I ran into many of the money issues that I am explaining here because it turns out instrument hardware is specialized and usually pretty expensive. So once again I am not trying to be discouraging.

If you want ideas of some other projects, I can help with that too.
posted by mungaman at 9:32 PM on April 28, 2011

You seem to care enough to ask this question, so if you are able to afford it, why aren't you just buying the plans in order to support such an interesting project? Maybe this is a cultural difference of some kind. (If you genuinely can't afford them, totally ignore my comment, but you did specify that it's your teenager who can't afford it.)
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 9:48 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Since this is an electric uke, and it's a shop project, she could design a solidbody model; there are a god number of those in existence, and info can be found on a number of search engines. Since she's ultimately building it herself, she can decide weither to use a fretless neck (for a jazzier sound) or a traditional fretted neck. The critical element to the fretted neck would be the fingerboard itself, which can be prepped for fret wire much like a guitar or banjo would. If she can afford a thin piece of say, maple, it could serve as the fingerboard, while resting upon a neck fashioned out of pine or balsa, thus negating any acoustical loss due to low resonance bracing. However, the amount of time needed to finish the project might play a factor.

Stewart-MacDonald, though mostly guitar oriented, has online tutorials regarding fretting basics, as well as information on setting the tuning pegs on a headboard. From an electronics standpoint, she could use trick rotary switches and capicators for less than $50 USD which could be wired up to exploit pickup placement, or even act as a Stratocaster-style overdrive.

In any case, her project's not impossible to complete, and it shouldn't break the bank. Time, patience and imagination seem to be the main issues here. Kudos to you for encouraging her!
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:48 AM on April 29, 2011

If she does run into problems with materials costs, have her hit the local music (instrument) shops. I'll bet if she explains what she's doing and asks nicely, they'd throw some parts her way. Heck, if she gets the local paper involved and the shop gets some "free" publicity out of it, that might just convince them. :)
posted by xedrik at 8:45 PM on April 29, 2011

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