Thursday, March 1, 2018

Half-Size: Part 2

I ended up cutting a narrow channel for the nut with a wood chisel. This will help secure the nut and reduce the amount that needs to be shaved off before slotting.

The existing frets are also in pretty bad shape, uneven and flat on top, so I'll attempt to add a bit of a crown and clean them up with a small $1 triangular file.

Okay, the frets are done and the nut is slotted for 4 strings. Let's string it up and try it out. By the way, I simply used the four innermost string holes in the existing plastic bridge - no re-drilling this time.

All in all, it should make a nice little baritone ukulele! 😎

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Half-Size Guitar

Somewhere along the way I acquired this rather nice looking half-size. I have always intended to convert it into a 4-string baritone ukulele, so this will be my next project.

While strumming on some test strings I discovered a minor problem with the intonation - the first fret is approx. 2mm too far from the nut, and this results in a noticeable "out-of-tune" sound. In fact, all the frets are offset by 2mm forward.

It almost looks like a zero-fret should have been installed in front of the nut, as on similar guitars from Honer and First Act (this is a Ready Ace). Rather than install a zero-fret, which would be difficult right at the nut, I'm going to remove the plastic nut and slice 2mm off the fretboard with a razor saw.

That went well. Notice how the plastic nut melted and deformed from using the heat gun to soften any glue. Since I'm converting this to a 4-string, the old nut isn't needed anyway.

Now I'll install this new bone nut from MGB Guitars. It will need to be filed down and slotted first. I am hoping that this takes care of the intonation problem without any adjustment at the bridge / saddle. Next post, we'll find out!


Friday, February 16, 2018

Ukulele #1 - Part 3

It's done! I did paint the fretboard black, as you can see. Also, in keeping with the "low budget" motif, I decided to forego nickle-silver frets for wooden toothpicks, not sure how they would work out as far as playability. I used a small triangle file to widen the fret slots and then glued in the toothpicks using regular Elmer's glue. I nipped off the ends with flush-cut micro pliers.*

Although I have some bone and hardwood nut material, I opted to make the new nut from a pop-sickle stick, just to show it's possible. I also removed the center tuning key from each side of the tuners, leaving the other four intact.

Then I strung it up and... here she is!

The drilled out bridge worked great, with all 4 holes taking the strings no problem.

I'll post a video shortly so you can hear how she sounds. *One final note on keeping it low budget - obviously, toothpick frets and a pop-sickle stick nut cost me nothing, but I also saved on tools. The flush-cut micro pliers were $1.98 at Menard's (vs. the $40 flush-cut nippers at StewMac). These tiny wonders will also cut nickle-silver fret wire, and for $10 you can buy 5 pair, enough to last a long time. Also, the micro-file I used on the fret, nut, and saddle slots was part of a set from Lowe's that cost under $5, so you can do a lot with inexpensive tools.

Look for the video coming soon. Until then... Aloha! 😎

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Ukulele #1 - Part 2

The first thing I did was to remove the strings. Then I carefully shaved off the useless wooden frets with a wood chisel. Next was to soften the glue holding the plastic nut in place so that it could be removed. I used a craft-store heat gun for this - kind of like a little, hot blow dryer - and in less than a minute the entire nut was soft and bendable. 

I used a sanding block to smooth out the fretboard and discovered that some of the wooden fret material had disintegrated down into the old fret slots, leaving gaps that needed to be filled. I happen to have some Elmer's wood glue that is "sandable & paintable" so I'll give that a try.

After several applications to fill the gaps, I sanded one more time and then measured out the correct fret spacing. I cut some "starter" fret slots with an X-acto razor knife. You can use the online StewMac fret calculator to determine fret spacing or calculate yourself by Googling the "formula."

Before installing new frets, I decided re-drill the 6-string bridge so that it will take 4 correctly spaced ukulele strings - approx. 3/8" apart. I'll make use of the existing 2 outer holes, so I drilled 2 new central holes with a pin vise. Then  I plugged the remaining 4 original holes with round toothpicks, cut to size, and colored them dark with a black magic marker.

The bridge is now ready to accept 4 soprano ukulele strings. Next up will be to (possibly) paint the fretboard, install actual nickel-silver frets, and add a new nut that has been slotted for 4 strings. Then we'll string it up and see how it sounds! Until then... Aloha! 😎

Monday, January 29, 2018

Ukulele #1 - Part 1

Project #1 is a cheaply made, decorative craft-store guitar which I will convert into a playable soprano ukulele. At 20" long it's about the right size and has a similar scale length of 12.75". Below are some photos so you can see what I'm starting out with...

For a mere "decorative" item, this mini-guitar has some surprising features, like actual geared tuners (although they appear quite cheaply made) and wound guitar strings instead of decorative wire.

We know that this item wasn't intended for music making because the wooden frets along the neck are terribly misplaced, off by as much as 1/4", resulting in unusable intonation - you can't play a tune on it! Another challenge here is that the nut and bridge are slotted / drilled for 6 strings, rather than the 4 string ukulele arrangement.

So what we're looking at for the next post or two will be:
1. Remove the strings and shave off the existing wooden frets.
2. Remove and replace the existing nut with a 4-string nut.
3. Re-drill the existing bridge to accept 4 strings.
4. Sand the fretboard and cut new fret slots; install real frets.
5. Cut off the top of the headstock, leaving only 4 usable tuners.
6. String it up with soprano ukulele strings and try it out!

Until next time... Aloha! 😎