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15 April 2012

How to create your first Ukulele Pattern

I'm building an Electric Ukulele and I promised to keep you  up-to-date with progress. Today's post covers the work I've done to create a pattern for my build.

A first-stab at an electric ukulele pattern

I've been around the block enough times to know that planning is everything. This isn't one of those projects where I can just jump in and things will be okay. I need to measure twice and cut once. Many, many years ago I had a job as a brickie's labourer. My mentor, a mad Latvian with huge bottle-end glasses, had a favourite saying that he banged into my skull... "first we think!"

Well Master... I'm thinking!

The most important piece of kit for this phase of the project...
the metal rule

It became clear pretty early on that the first thing I needed to do was to decide on the scale length for my Ukulele. The scale length measures the distance between the nut and the bridge. Here's a table giving you a feel for the main Ukulele scale lengths. I decided a long time ago that I wanted to make a Tenor.

Type Scale Length Tuning
Soprano (Standard) 13" (33cm) A-D-F#-B or G-C-E-A
Concert 15" (38cm) G-C-E-A or G-C-E-A
Tenor 17" (43cm) G-C-E-A, G-C-E-A or D-G-B-E
Baritone 19" (48cm) D-G-B-E
U-Bass 21" (53cm) E-A-G-D

Once you know the scale length, the rest is pretty straightforward. I've decided in the end to go with a fairly standard strat shape for this project. I'm using one of my favourite guitar's as the basis (one that I talked about some time back when I restored it and turned it gold). This guitar is simply a dream to play! But more importantly it's something that I have to hand to help me to figure out measurements.

The base for my electric uke build
An 80s Arbor Series Hohner Strat

As a starting point I measured the scale length of the guitar. Then knowing the scale length I was aiming for I was able to figure out the ratio I would need to apply to convert a guitar measurement into a ukulele measurement. That was enough to get me to my first draft pattern. Just out of interest, the Tenor Uke I'm making is approximately 68% of the size of my guitar, so all the measurements of the uke started out as being 68% of the equivalent guitar measurement. Does that make sense?

At this stage of my planning I was very much focused on getting the length dimensions right. It's important here to get the frets figured out. I let somebody else do the hard work for me. There are tools all over the place for doing this. My favourite is the Electric Ukulele Land one :-P

The Electric Ukulele Land Fret Calculator

I quickly went on to sketch out the body and this really hasn't changed much as I've gone back to refine the pattern. All of this has been drawn out on a length of blank backing wallpaper I had knocking around.

It was here that I started to tackle some of the real estate problems associated with building a smaller instrument. My intention all along has been to use guitar parts in this build. They don't all fit nicely in a Tenor sized uke. Here are some of the compromises I made to make this work for me:

I decided not to go for the classic strat jack socket. I hunted high and
low for smaller versions, but came up a blank. The compromise is a
combined end-pin/jack pictured above which I'm intending to feed
through the body under the bridge. If I can pull this off then I'm thinking
that this is one of my better ideas!

I pondered the pickups for a long time. I really didn't have room to
squeeze in a guitar pickup in the standard position. My eureka moment
came when I realised that I typically play my guitar using the back
pickup. This is naturally placed at an angle to the strings. I decided
to simply fit this pickup as close to the guitar position and angle as
possible. The single pickup means I only need one tone knob which helps.
I've ordered a rail humbucker that is the size of a typical strat pickup. I'm
hoping that this will look better with the four strings and potentially
give it a bit more punch!

I got lucky with the bridge. A great man by the name of Julian Davies was kind enough to donate me a custom-made uke bridge! Fantastic! Thanks Jules!

This allowed me to do phase two of sketching out my pattern. Where phase one was all about length, phase two was all about width.

I started with the bridge and figured out the offset of the two outside
strings in relation to the centre-line. I then figured out the offset I
wanted at the nut by referring to some of my ukes. Using this I was
able to sketch out the neck shape. This makes the neck slightly thinner
than it might have been if I'd simply scaled down the guitar dimensions.

Having figured out where the strings are going to be, I was then able
to figure out where I wanted the tuners to be.

And that's it for now.

You'll have noticed that I haven't talked about the depth of the instrument. I have figured this out to allow me to order the wood, but I'll tell you more about that another time. ;-)


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