- Total cost for parts and tools: $64
- Time: 2 weeks
- Emotional damage: minimal
So I really like the look to the Risa Solid Uke. However, it’s a little too rich for my blood at this point. One day I’ll buy one. In the meantime, I thought it might be cool to try to build my own poor man’s version (which ended up costing more than I expected). Mine lacks a pickup for plugging into an amp, but it’s great for quiet practice and travel.
Beginning by drawing the basic outline on a piece of walnut. The fret length is 15”, corresponding to a concert ukulele, but the total length is only ~17.5”. The board was the most expensive part of this project (\$16), so if you made it out of an uglier piece of scrap wood you would probably bring the cost down a lot.
My work bench. Just kidding. This is the shitty computer desk that I use as a table in my tiny apartment.
Lacking the proper tools mean making a lot of weird decisions. Here I drilled holes in a curve, then used the jigsaw to cut over to them. Then I used an off-brand dremel to smooth the jagged bits. They did burn a little, but I think it adds a rugged appeal to the final product. Thanks to Joey Porter for letting me borrow a lot of his tools.
Cutting the fret slots. I didn’t have a fret saw or a (mitre box?) so I used a thin hacksaw and an almost straight block of wood. Note to anyone thinking of doing this: it’s really really worth using a straight piece of wood. Some of my frets are curved a little. That’s life I suppose.
Sanding, rasping, drilling. I set down a towel to catch the dust. It mostly worked, so that’s great.
Putting the gear tuners and the turn around on to see if all the measurements I made were correct so far.
I couldn’t resist putting a string on and testing if it will hold tension. It does! This was very exciting.
Next up, installing the frets. I didn’t take any pictures of this, because it was extremely frustrating. I used these tools, and a dremel to (poorly) wear down the edges that stick out over. I laid the fret wire in the slot, and measured out the amount for that fret. Then I cut that amount with some large nail clippers. Then I laid it out again, laid the stick of wood on top, and carefully hammered the shit out of it with the hammer. This mostly worked.
So now to apply the finish! I used one layer of mineral oil, then one layer of tung oil finish, then I sanded it further, then I applied a final layer of tung oil finish.
There is a little cosmetic damage that really became more apparent after finishing…
Now I’m glueing on the 3D printed nut. It ended up needing a little cutting to get the strings to all sit perfectly.
My first makeshift bridge… a cutoff 15mL conical tube. It works, but it deforms a little sometimes. It seems to have stabilized now.
Finally, I was done. Here are some shots of the final product:
Here is a small video of me playing it. I’ve made some changes since, but it gives you an idea of how quiet it is.
Next, I might add a 3D printed backplate in order to amplify the sound a bit.
I have finished the 3D printed bridge! It works great, and only took 6 iterations. Fortunately they were only ~50 cents each to print at the library.