Emma's Concert Ukulele

Written by Patrick Podpadec on . Posted in Ukuleles

"Emma's Uke"


Emmas Uke   back of uke

In the last article of the Voice I had mentioned that I was going to start building instruments this winter. I have been selecting woods, making drawings and getting all of the materials lists and figuring out the pricing. I decided to start on the smallest one first.


This is some of the wood that I have selected for the concert ukelele. I have designed a new shape that is reminicent of the Kay Kraft "Zorzi style from the 1930's



I have got a good start on the ukelele that I am building for a friend of mines daughter. I have decided to build a concert size uke. This is the next larger size next to the original soprano shape, which is the smallest size of ukelele family. The scale will be 15' which gives it a little bit more volume and I believe is a little easier to play because of the larger fingerboard.

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I decided to build this instrument with woods that I have harvested right here in Madison Ohio over the past 10 yrs or so. The top is the only piece that was acquired from some where else. It is a beautiful straight grain piece of Redwood.


It came from a 2' x 6' wine barrell stave that a friend of mine salvaged from some huge barrels from California. Some of the same wood is on the deck of the back patio at the old Flying Burrito restaurant. ( now called Compadre's). I helped build the deck and saved a couple of cutoffs from the larger beams underneath. They were way too nice to throw a way

The back and sides are from a tree in my neighborhood. A very large sycamore tree was cut down yrs ago and I cut a couple of pieces about 2 ft long and about 20'' in diameter. I then quartered each log and let them sit outside for at least 6 yrs. The wood started to “spalt”.PIC_2559

This is a process where the wood is actually starting to rot. It produces some beautiful coloring and striping in the grain of the wood which if you can mill the wood at the right time and dry it properly you can end up with some very pretty pieces that the cell's structure is still stable in the wood. I cut and dried my wood just in time.


I used a 1/4” wide black diamond inlay strip down the center of the back to add a little bit of character and to separate the book match perfectly. One of the things that I believe in is laminating the neck material for stability and aesthetic.

I have a lot of cherry that I have saved over the years and I added about a 5/16th inch thick

piece of Birdseye down the center to give it some character.neck_blank

I chose not to put a truss rod in this instrument because the nylon strings of the ukulele doesn't produce enough tension on the neck to do much damage to it. Plus along with the lamination it is plenty strong enough to hold up for many, many years. It is very important to arrange the grain of the wood in the proper orientation so the the forces of nature work for you instead of against the string tension. The grain should be running straight from north to south and straight down the entire length of the neck from head to heel in order for it to be stable when the instrument has tension on it.


     finger_board_with_frets                               For the fingerboard, I used walnut. I had a pretty large piece of quartersawn walnut that I actually salvaged from a stack of firewood about 5 hrs ago. Most of the time firewood is only about 12 to 18 inches long. That's too short in most cases to use it for instrument building. It's also very rare to find a piece in a stack of firewood that has the straight grain running down the length so that it can be used for anything. I knew I could use it for something some day.

The bridge and soundhole ring along with a decorative inlay at the butt of the instrument was made from a small piece of Brazilian rosewood from my "private stash"butt_inlay front_view

So now that the wood selections have been made and the general shape of the body and headstock and bridge have been designed and all of the dimensions for a concert size uke have been established, ( a little research on the Internet is where I found most of the critical measurements.) it is time to start bracing the top and back, bending the sides and creating a form so that the body can be assembled with a certain amount of accuracy.

The forms were created from various scraps of plywood that I have left over from other construction jobs.bending_form_1


I'm doing the best I can to use materials that I can reclaim so that the total cost of the build will be as low as possible. So far I'm doing a good job of that. The only thing I have no control over is the cost of fret wire, tuning machines and strings.

What I like about the size of this ukulele is that the scale lg. is 15''. That means the body shape is very close to the size of a mandolin. Mandolin scale length is about 13-14” . It won't be hard to adjust the neck and fingerboard to this size and be able to produce a mandolin too. Of course the bracing would be completely different and the neck would have a truss rod and it would have 8 strings instead of 4, but at least I probably wouldn't have to build a new form for the body.



                         Here are a few pics of the building process




I love the design of this Ukulele. It is my take on the"Zorzi" style of the Kay Kraft instruments of the 1930's

braces_being_glued_to_top I braced this little ukulele almost the same as I would brace a guitar top. I did not use any lower bout braces because I wanted the top to be a bit more responsive, plus the body isn't large enough to accommodate them
top__back_braced The top has been braced using a standard "X" bracing. A few more braces were added to reinforce the sound-hole and other areas for better tonal response laminated_neck_configuration By using two simple 3/4" flat-sawn piece of cherry with a 3/8" piece of curly maple in the middle I was able to create a very nice aesthetically beautiful neck lamination. By standing a piece of flat sawn wood on it's side the grain is running in the right direction for stability
uke_body_forms my first attempt to bend the delicate spalted sides ended up in disaster so I took the time to build this form to insure good results form_2 The top piece of the form is guided by the small strip on the side and I just use one clamp to make the tight inner bout bend. Very quick and simple
bending_sides Here you can see the bending jig in action. I sandwiched the wood between two stainless steel slats with a watlow heating blanket in the middle too. The whole procedure is controlled with a heat controller from LMI LMI_heat_controller This little unit is expensive but worth every penny. It allows me to reach a targeted temp and maintain it very accurately. The little wire on the top is a thermocouple that registers the heat being applied
sides_in_form Here is the sides being set into the forms. this is the time that I shaped all of the inner corner blocks applying_kerfing_strips I used these inexpensive plastic clamps while the glue sets up. I was able to make them stronger by wrapping a rubber band a couple of times around them
top_being_glued_on This was how I glued the top onto the sides. It went on very smoothly the_back_2 The back has been glued on and I am now ready to bind the body
body_binding I chose a simple black .040 x .250 plastic binding for the back, points and top double_binding_ledge This is a view of the double edge that I routed out on the top only to accept the b/w/b purfling strip The outer ledge is for the black plastic binding
purfling_and_binding This a good view of how the purfling and the binding look on the top bridge__saddle Here is a view of the bridge after I routed out the saddle slot