A friend and I are building a matching pair of steel string tenor ukes while he's in town (so they need to come together pretty quickly).

General plan:

  • I'm going to be making the "cigar boxes" from scratch - I have some pretty spalted maple I'm going to use for the sides and some 1/8" ply I'm planning on using for the top and back
  • Necks are going to be some spare black walnut I had laying around
  • Not sure if I'm going to make a fingerboard or just put the frets in the neck yet, seems like either way would be fine
  • Planning to use steel guitar strings (randos on the internet seem to suggest that the smallest 4 or middle 4 strings of an electric guitar set will work fine)
  • No pickups, these are going to be acoustic only

2 main questions:

  1. Truss rod - do I need one?  My guess is "no" but is it worth/will I need to install something to stiffen the neck?  I could inlay a small steel tube or fiberglass rod pretty easily, but I'd rather skip it if I don't need it.
  2. How sad will I be if I just glue the neck straight onto the soundboard and notch a saddle directly into the neck a-la mountain dulcimer? (as opposed to using a floating bridge, or mounting the neck inside the box with a recess to let the soundboard vibe freely).  I'm not trying to make a stradivarius, just something that makes fun sounds and isn't so quiet it's useless. Mostly just trying to save on construction effort since theses ukes are a do-it-in-a-single-weekend-while-friend-is-in-town project.

Anything else about the plan that seems like a Bad Idea™?

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Hi, a number of things spring to mind.

If you do not want "not so quiet" do not hamper the vibrations of the top, or at least as little as possible. The bridge sitting on the top would transmit sound to the top more efficiently.

If using a "rod" style reinforcement in the neck, keep in mind that, that rod or bar [and bar is preferable] should not be flexible, eg it can not bend between your thumbs.

Dulcimer necks are often hollow inside and only contact the top minimally.

You say, maybe, no fingerboard. Well, there goes some neck stability, and the usual way neck reinforcement is covered, if one is used. Unless it is inserted from the back of the neck Fender style.

It's a shame you have time constraints, remember - you get out what you put in - so get up early. Ha ha. Enjoy your project. It will make music.
Cheers Taff

I did not know that about dulcimers!  I think I probably will be going with a fingerboard after all - I found some nice slices of curly maple and osage orange.

Here are my recommended gauges for steel string ukes. My goal was emulating the soft feel of nylon strings by choosing low tension. With a separate fretboard your neck will definitely have the strength for this selection of strings... provided you aren't using balsa wood. :-)

Thanks!  SUPER helpful.

Thanks Korrigan , this is indeed super helpful.

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