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Stewmac Ukulele Kit - The Opposite of an Epic Build

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by Stefanovich, Aug 18, 2018.

  1. 2blue2

    2blue2 Friend of Leo's

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    'Handcrafted for Giselle, By Dad'

    Very Nice.
     
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  2. Stefanovich

    Stefanovich Tele-Holic

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    So, the finishing is going OK. The shellac is so thin it dries in 20-30 minutes, and it is literally impossible to get runs or sags in the finish. I am applying it with a rag, and reapply coats whenever I have a spare two minutes. This is probably about 5 coats right now, and it still looks like bare wood! (In the photo only, in real life you can tell there is a finish on it).

    Ukulele Kit hanging while finishing medium resolution.jpg
     
  3. ukepicker

    ukepicker Tele-Afflicted

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    Looking good! Steady does it. Don't get impatient and sloppy like me :)
     
  4. dankilling

    dankilling Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

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    At the Martin factory, they actually clamp the keeping with dozens of clothespins
     
  5. MountainTwang

    MountainTwang TDPRI Member

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    This is great! I love following build threads. Well done, sir.
     
  6. Stefanovich

    Stefanovich Tele-Holic

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    Me too. I guess we all do, otherwise we wouldn't be here!

    Preeb's '59 Les Paul build thread is what got me hooked on TDPRI.
     
  7. Stefanovich

    Stefanovich Tele-Holic

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    I have more coats on it, and it is starting to look like a finish! I chose not to grain fill as I wanted a 20s look to the uke. I once owned (and stupidly sold) a mint 30s Martin 2-17 that had a mahogany top, and the shellac finish and open pores remind me of it. I think the orange of the shellac gives the mahogany a nice tint. My previous post didn't show it, but I had taped off the bridge area, and luckily the shellac did not bleed underneath the tape. I say luckily because I used masking tape from the dollar store. Before peeling the tape off, I used my utility knife to score lines all around the tape. This way when I pulled the tape off, I knew I would not pull off any finish with it.

    Next step is gluing the bridge! I am getting close...

    Ukulele Kit finishing complete medium resolution.jpg
     
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  8. Stefanovich

    Stefanovich Tele-Holic

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    Now I need to glue the bridge. This is another scary part, because if I didn't locate it correctly, the intonation will be off. I didn't take pictures of making the clamping for inside the uke, but it isn't that exciting. I cut some plywood into a trapezoid. Once again, my cheap bandsaw seemed like money well spent. This photo is of me testing the clamping out. What I learned was that a piece of double sided tape to keep the inner caul onto the clamp while putting it in place helps save a lot of time and hassle. I also found two pieces of tapered wood that fit nicely between the top caul and the wings of the bridge. Just a fluke that I happened to have an off cut lying around that worked.

    The next posting will have a glued bridge in place!

    Ukulele Kit dry clamp the bridge.jpg
     
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  9. ukepicker

    ukepicker Tele-Afflicted

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    Almost ready for strings!
     
  10. Stefanovich

    Stefanovich Tele-Holic

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    The actual glue up looked like this. I used masking tape around the bridge to catch squeeze out, and parchment paper to prevent things sticking together that shouldn't stick together.
    Ukulele Kit bridge being glued medium resolutjon.jpg

    And now I have a ukulele with a bridge stuck to it. Let's hope it is in the right place!

    Ukulele Kit bridge glued medium resolution.jpg
     
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  11. Stefanovich

    Stefanovich Tele-Holic

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    I had a bit of time, so I put the tuning pegs on. Given the price of the kit, the tuners are surprisingly good quality. They appear to be Asian copies of Gotohs. Stewmac thoughtfully drilled the holes in the peghead, so that makes this part of the build really easy. I put the tuners in the holes, cinched them with the nut, and marked the location of the screw holes. Take the tuners out, drill the screw holes, put the tuner back in, and install them. Easy!
    Ukulele Kit installing tuners medium resolution.jpg Ukulele Kit tuners installed medium resolution.jpg

    Next I installed the nut, and saddle and put on strings. Now it looks like a ukulele! Only problem is, it doesn't play like one. A set up is DEFINITELY needed.
    Ukulele Kit strings on medium resolution.jpg
     
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  12. Stefanovich

    Stefanovich Tele-Holic

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    I let the uke sit for a few days before trying a setup. I mostly wanted to make sure the neck wasn't going to fold in half, or the bridge pop off. Let's say I have 80% confidence that I built the uke well enough to withstand string tension.

    After a few day it was still together, and nothing seemed to have shifted, so I set about setting it up. There were two problems:

    1) The nut was too high. This is to be expected.
    2) The saddle was too low. This was not expected, and indicates that I didn't get the neck angle quite right.

    To fix problem #1, I sanded the base of the nut. I have nut files, but I was generally pleased with the nut slots as they were. I made them a tiny bit deeper, but most of the adjustment was done by sanding the base of the nut. I looked online to find string height recommendations for ukuleles, but ended up eyeballing it.

    Problem #2 was fixed by inserting a shim under the saddle. Lee Valley sell packs of maple business cards. It was the perfect thickness for what I needed, and I happened to have a bunch lying around. I am not thrilled about having the saddle higher, but it seems to be working OK. I forgot to take pics of this part.

    Ukulele Kit adjusting nut.jpg

    When I measured the string height, it came out lower than what I read is ideal, but the ukulele plays fine, and I thought that would be better for my daughter anyway. If I dig in, I get some fret buzz on the first string (in the middle of the neck only) but otherwise it is buzz free with nice, low action. The Stewmac string height gauge is another tool I love. It is so easy to use, and it has helped make my setups much better.

    Ukulele Kit string height medium resolution.jpg
     
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  13. ukepicker

    ukepicker Tele-Afflicted

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    If all you needed was a business card thickness to get the bridge right, you did well in my book!

    Nice work! Thanks for sharing the process :)
     
  14. Stefanovich

    Stefanovich Tele-Holic

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    Now that the kit is complete, I thought I would offer some final thoughts for anyone considering building one.

    1. The completed uke sounds OK. It doesn't compare to a 20s Martin, but it is clearly superior to my son's (which was $35 new). It plays well, but to what extent that is true is completely dependent on the builder and not the kit, so if you build one, yours may play great, or it may not.
    2. The skill level of the kit was good for me. It isn't that hard, and the instructions are pretty good. The only instruction I wanted to be clearer was positioning the fingerboard, but because I had figured out it was a 14-fret neck, it turned out to be no big deal. I could have handled a more challenging build, but I think a relaxing and successful first build is a great way to start one's career in instrument building.
    3. The tools you need are pretty straightforward, the tools you want are more complex. You NEED glue, clamps, a saw, sandpaper, a drill, a mill file, a screwdriver, a wrench, and a ruler. I was really happy to have my bandsaw, spokeshave, machinist's square, straightedge, round file, setup and fretting tools. Same for my belt/disc sander. Those additional tools saved me a lot of time, and made the process more enjoyable for me.
    4. The time commitment is minimal. Most steps can be done in 20-30 minutes which was GREAT for me. I am a single dad and have very little free time. But I can get 20-30 minutes of free time most days. This enabled me to get a step done, wait for glue to dry overnight etc. and continue on. This is a fantastic kit for busy people.

    Lastly, and most importantly, I was really sad when I was done. Happy to have a cool, functional uke that I built, but sad the fun of building was over. I thoroughly enjoyed the process, and now want to build more!
     
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