Rand Moore's Cigar Box Ukulele Project 2, Part 1

Hi All.

I completed my Cigar Box Ukulele Project 1. The instrument turned out pretty good, but because I chickened out and only put diatonic fretting on the neck, I discovered that it makes ukulele playing a lot more confusing rather than simplifying it. Perhaps, with GCEA tuning, diatonic fretting doesn't work. I know I was confused, so I re-tuned it to "D-A-d-d" and used a nut and bridge set up to support dual course melody strings spaced 1/8'' apart from each other and 3/8'' apart from "middle" string (which is 3/8'' away from the bass string). So, it ended up as a short necked stick dulcimer (strum stick) with dual course melody strings and diatonic scale. I actually like playing the instrument a lot, except a lot of song tabs also use notes off string 2 which is a single string, so it sounds "odd" switching from single string to dual coursed and back periodically thru the song. So, I'm thinking of doing a 5-string long neck string dulcimer with dual course melody and middle strings, and a single bass string. Or, maybe dual course everything, but then the melody won't stand out so much from the drone strings.

Well, I have been a bit side-lined due to frustration over my poor woodworking skills. Then I decided to read up on woodworking in general on the Internet, and one of the articles I came across was the need of a good, solid workbench. This rang a bell with me, because the table I was using as a workbench is really shaky. It was built out of junk wood collected by my father-in-law and just nailed together. So, I have modified the table so that the back side is more rigid, and have added some additional pieces so that the table fits well tightly against the front porch wood railing, so essentially I'm using part of the house to stabilize the work bench. It also now has a 26'' wide x 13'' deep x 1'' thick "marble" top, so it's a lot more steady now. I have also sacrificed some wood to use on my workbench to help me hold my work piece tightly. I have no vice, and only 2 clamps, so I have to get creative sometimes in terms of how to clamp things down and hold my workpieces steady so I can cut them accurately. The results have been pretty good, so now I am starting up another Cigar Box Ukulele project. This time a tenor cigar box uke, with a 17" scale length.

The other thing I want to build is a hardwood miter box with 15 degree and 90 degree cut angles. But, I think I'll wait and make it in China as my collection of tools, parts and instruments has grown significantly and I need to port it home in my luggage. That's in 9 days. So, I'll wind up my current Cigar Box Ukulele project (project 2) and then carefully pack everything for my return trip.

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For CBU Project 2, the neck will be an inch longer, and the bridge on the box will be moved back to about 2/3s of the way to the "tail piece". This will provide a 17'' scale length. As I recall, the string spacing is a slight bit wider on a tenor uke, but I'm planning to use 3/8'' sting spacing like on my concert uke. I feel more comfortable with that string spacing. However, I like the idea of having a longer scale as when I playing up the neck, I'll have more room for my fat fingers. On my last project, the last few fret positions get hard to play, so hopefully a longer scale length will help correct for that. A 17'' scale length is also about the same scale length as a prima balalaika, so I'm thinking that down the road a bit, I may try to make it imitate a balalaika by using balalaika sized strings and tuning. This instrument will definitely be chromatically fretted. Here's a diagram.


Notice the changes in my design of the sound box. A single large sound hole in the middle replaces two smaller ones on either side of the strings. This is made possible by doing away with the through-the-body neck. Instead, I have beefed up the side of the cigar box which will receive the head/neck assembly, which will be attached using two 2'' long #10 wood screws. What is not shown in the diagram is a 2'' heel attached to the bottom side of the neck to make this connection stronger. Here is a diagram of that.


Also notice that the bridge & tail piece has be redesigned into a single piece and is backed up on the bottom side of the sound board with another board to distribute the strain of the string tension better. I'm also thinking of mounting a pair of piezo pickups under the bridge, possibly as part of the bridge assembly. But, I have not yet decided to do it as some people say it will sound better if the piezo pickups are mounted to the soundboard away from the bridge as they will be less sensitive to other noise (I assume on the strings, like pick strike noise on the strings). So, likely I will need to do some experimenting; again, once I'm back home in China. My soldering irons, heat glue gun, etc. are over there.

Well, that's the plan for now. Have to go now.

- Rand.













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Comment by William H Bonney on March 7, 2014 at 8:01pm

Looks good Rand! I'm in the process of a Uke build now! I just completed an A Mando.

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