Building an Electric Uke Prototype

Builder/Blogger: Steve Eubanks

The thing is, I like being the guy that brings the best gift to the Christmas gift exchange. I mean, it's shallow, sure, but I own it. For Christmas 2019, I decided wanted to do something a little different, and like always, I waited until the last minute to get started. So with a short build window, and a bunch of offcuts in the wood pile, I decided a through-neck electric ukulele was a good decision.

It's always fun to start a build with a clean bench and an idea. Using some clear pine left from a previous project, and a sliced-up board from an old workbench, I glued up blank, flattened it in the drum sander, and outlined the body.

The rough shape was pretty simple to cut on the band saw, after which it was refined with hand saw, chisels, rasps and files. The neck was shaped using the facet method.

The fretboard came from some nice birdseye maple that I've been saving for a good cause. Pretty straightforward cut, sand, slot (on the dedicated fret-slotting saw and jig), radius sanding and glue-up.

A couple of forstner bits were all I needed to create a control cavity and jack access. I'm only putting a single volume control on this instrument, so the cavity could be small. I pre-drilled, then chiseled out cavities for the pickup (a surplus) single coil from a strat that I had laying around. The control cavity got a cover from the same wood as the stripes in the through-neck.

The fretboard got standard nickel-steel frets and a couple coats of mineral oil, and the rest of the body and neck got several coats of Tru Oil for a satin finish. Shielding and wiring was pretty simple. A set of light electric guitar strings provided the strings, but more on that below, and they mounted on individual-string bridges and friction tuners (more on that later too) and a black buffalo horn nut.

So that's the build. In total, it took me two days to build over a weekend, and I learned a lot. From a design perspective, the headstock is too small, I'm not a fan of the individual-string bridges, and it's stupid that the hardware is all black, but the pickup is white. Strings for this instrument are tricky. I never got a set on there that I really liked, and am contining to research the best way to string an electric uke. Picking the right strings that will stay in tune, and also provide the right feel for a uke is not a simple task. Also, I've learned that I hate 1:1 friction tuners - in the future, even if I go with traditional rear-mount pegs, I'll used geared pegs.

I consider this project a great success for two reasons. One - I learned a lot that I will apply to future electric uke designs/builds. I love the idea of the electric uke, and will definitely build more. Two - I achieved my initial goal. My gift was the best of the office gift exchange. The recipent loves it, and my reputation as the winner of office Christmas remains intact.