Tahitian Ukulele pt 3

taropatchuke.jpgWell six months go by and I realized I haven’t made any progress on this instrument. The roughed out shape has sat by my bedroom door almost every day since and eventually you just sort of tune those things out. Anways, the last to days: Progress!

For those of you just tuning in, a Tahitian Ukulele is an instrument from Polynesia/Tahiti that is carved from a single piece of wood, with a thin piece of circular wood  serving as the soundboard overtop a cavity. The sound hole is on the back side of the instrument, which is what I’m covering here today. The instrument is strung with fishing line, with a total of 8 strings.

Carving the sound chamber wasn’t actually  half as difficult as I thought it would be. I found where the bridge was going to be located, and drew a circle based off that. I was dissapointed with the size and kept drawing subsequently larger circles until I’d filled as much of the space as I could. I ended up with a soundboard approximately 8 1/4″ in size. Coincidentally this is almost exactly 75% the diameter of an 11″ banjo drum. The spacing between the outer and middle ring turned out helpful, it was almost exactly 3/8″ – the size of my largest drill bit. This came in hand, see below:


You can click on these thumbnails to see larger versions. I started off drilling a hole in the middle of the circle, all the way through. Ideally the rear sound hole on this Uke should be in line with the center of the sound board. The sound hole needs to be at least 2″ in diameter so I drilled some additional holes. Next up is a ring of perimeter holes, followed by some slightly deeper holes, and then many, many holes in the middle, each hole being deeper as you head towards the middle. You COULD hand carve this with woodcarving tools, but I enjoy being able to use my hands afterwards. By drilling out most of the wood you’re saving many hours of work. The honeycombed middle is now easy to dig out with a chisel, with perhaps 10 minutes of work involved. It’s strange but interesting, the sound of the wood breaking up sounds exactly like eating honeycomb cereal, probably due to similar physical properties of the two. The end product should look like a shallow bowl, or cone shape.

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Next up, cut the soundboard from the thinnest piece of wood avalible to you. Right now, for me, it’s a piece of 1/4″ birch plywood. I’ll be looking for something thinner but in the mean time this gets the job done very well. Below are some thumbnails of me roughing out the shape. Later I went back and scraped and sanded it into a  good looking circle. If you have powertools this would be a good thing to use them for, it’s a bitch to get a round circle cut by hand.

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And the “final” product. At this point I need to finish roughing out the bottom of the body, carve the neck and shape the headstock. I’m torn between a Fender style headstock, or a traditional angled headstock. From a monolithic piece of wood, both require the same amount of carving. Afte seeing my friend’s Gibson style headstock break at the joint last month, I’m tempted to go with the fender style. Anyways, I’ve ordered the fret wire, so now I have no excuse to not finish. I have until then to decide if I want to go with a Banjo/Guitar Scale (24.5″) or the 19″ (banjo tenor/uke barritone scale). Right now I’m leaning towards the 24.5″. I guess that would make this a Tahitian Banjo.



Final last thought, when using woodcarving tools, you really start to understand the old phrases like “it’s all in the wrist” and “don’t go against the grain”.

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15 Responses to Tahitian Ukulele pt 3

  1. fred says:

    do you have anything following part 3,the neck ,the frets etc..?

    Great job


  2. Kazimir Rusakov says:

    i understand how this is done. it is a lot simpler than trying to build a hollow, archtop instrument. however, i have no experience installing frets. i know there is fret wire cut to fit. a fret saw (or a jewelers saw…) to cut the grooves. but then what? do you slide the fret in the side? hammer it down into the slot? there is not much information on the web about the process of fret installation. i would appreciate any help on the topic.

  3. admin says:

    Yes, you hammer it down into the slot. Frets are barbed, like a harpoon. You just cut to length, place over the slot, and tap them in (gently) with a hammer. Afterwards use masking tape around the fret and file to suit.

  4. Kazimir Rusakov says:

    thanks. i see now. i couldn’t find such simple instructions anywhere else.
    where can i buy some of this fret wire in person? (i don’t have a credit card to buy online)

    and with the frets out of the way, the project shouldn’t take me more than a week. if i can get some lumber that is.

  5. admin says:

    You can usually buy it from a local repair shop. Otherwise just buy a prepaid debit card at walmart and do it that way.

  6. Kazimir Rusakov says:

    thanks again for the help and the speedy reply (at two thirty in the morning i might add. i guess i’m not the only insomniac in the world. or you’re on the opposite side of the earth…)

  7. Tom says:

    Hey , very nice guide here, but! dont u have any pictures that show how you put on the strings? i have no idea how to meazure up and install the strings? i want to make one of those in 8 string?

  8. admin says:

    Hi Tom, The plan is to use classical guitar tuners (they’re about $6 for a pair of them), with a wood nut and wood bridge, attached to a decorative hinge that wraps around the bottom. If you search “cigar box guitar” there are some excellent photos of this type of construction elsewhere on my site/blog. I’ll try and email them to you by the end of the weekend.

  9. Tom says:

    I dont understand exactly, Did you create your own Nut and bridge, and also the frets? and how to find out what size you should be using on them? and where should i put these tuners on my 8 string ukulele? And is it the same about this tahitian ukulele that the distance between the Nut and the 12 fret should be the same as the 12fret to the bridge?
    Im sorry for asking so many questions.. Yes it would be very nice if you could email me those pictures!
    Thank you for your help!

  10. Regina says:

    Sorry, just ignore my questions about the sound hole in part 1. I’ve just found the answers in these parts and your last few responses here. Thank you, will keep updating. In the process of collecting all the materials/tools that i need to start. So excited

  11. Regina says:

    Do you or anyone know what kind of tool i can use to hollow out sound hole, rather than hand chiselling and drilling it out?

  12. admin says:

    I think if I did it again, I’d have skipped the drilling part and just used chisels. Hand chisels are actually quite efficient at removing large chunks of wood, particularly soft wood like pine. A luthier in Chile emailed me some great pictures back in December 09 of his process for making Tahitian Ukes and I’ll have to post them soon here.

  13. Tom says:

    “and then another hour shaping the headstock at a 15 degree angle” thats another thing i wonder about, how did you shape it ? Is there any photos of you doing this? As Regina said, im also looking forward seeing more pictures of your construction! And also the luthier from chile’s pictures :) !!!

  14. Maybe you could change the webpage name title Tahitian Ukulele pt 3 | Nearly Deaf to something more better for your content you write. I liked the post nevertheless.

  15. Michael says:

    Hi. I found this site after I accidentally discovered the Tahitian uke on another website. This was a good basic how-to demo, it will help me a lot in my efforts to build one myself. I wanted to share a plan I have for making the sound cone and sound hole. I plan to use a 2″ circle cutter on a drill and make the sound hole clear through the body, then use a chisel on the front to take the cone down. The pre-drilled sound hole will act as a guide for me to carve around, so I can judge the depth and angle as I carve.

    Thanks for the demo.

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