Custom Tenor Banjo Ukulele #17 164

Completed August, 2016

(click any of the thumbnails for a higher-resolution photo)


This snazzy little instrument sports a custom-sized 9" rim with integral shoes, a calfskin head, and a lot of classy touches. The resonator makes this one truly unique, and the highly flamed maple gives it real sparkle.

Construction Photos

Construction begins with the layout of the rim, which really consists of downsizing an earlier layout to a 9" diameter. Maple strips for the rim are cut to size. This little sliding jig was also for a larger rim, but a few judicious shims allow it to perfectly cut all the parts. A test fit shows that all is well.

The three sections of rim are glued together with hot hide glue. The outer and inner dimensions of the rim are marked on each section. The outside is cut on the bandsaw, then sanded on the spindle sander. Then the inside is cut round. A 9" disk is sanded perfectly round, and the sections are glued to it and to each other, with a layer of paper between the disk and the rim.

The outside is sanded round and smooth, and then the rim is split away from the disk. The inner surface is then sanded smooth. The top of the rim is rounded. The maple neck blank is laminated with a fine black fiber line down the center.

The integral brackets are shaped and fitted to the slots, then glued into place with hot hide glue. When the glue is dry, the protruding ends are sanded flush with the inside of the rim. A thin vinyl spacer is placed around the disc originally used to shape the rim, and thin strips of maple are laminated around it

to form the tension hoop. A tenon is turned on the end of the "stick," and it's tapered on the jointer and belt sander. The rim is fitted to the stick. The tension hoop is removed from the form and checked against the rim. The neck heel radius is cut utilizing a pivoting fixture on the router table.

The neck is checked for fit against the rim. The tenon hole for the stick is drilled, and the stick is glued into place. The peghead ears are glued on, and the peghead is thicknessed on the spindle sander. A piece of highly figured sycamore is bookmatched for the peghead overlay, and it's then glued to the peghead.

An ebony fretboard blank is slotted on a dedicated radial arm saw. The fretboard is cut to shape, and the frailing scoop is routed away. Frets are set in a thin line of hide glue and pressed into place. A large, stylized "S" is cut from mother of pearl for the peghead inlay. The resonator back is cut to size, and a radius is turned on the exterior. A groove is cut for purfling, and the lines are fitted in the groove.

The purfling is scraped level with the surrounding wood. The resonator rim is laminated with hot hide glue around a form. Side dots are installed in the fretboard. The peghead is cut to shape, and the tuning machine holes are drilled. The inlay pattern is marked for routing. The components are coming together, nearly ready for assembly. The inside of the resonator is dished out to a uniform thickness but for a small dome in the center that will provide support for the anchoring screw.

The back of the resonator is glued to the rim with hot hide glue. The peghead is routed for the mother-of-pearl inlay. The inlay is set in epoxy, then sanded flush with the sycamore headstock veneer. The fretboard is glued to the neck. The binding recesses are routed into the resonator's edge.

Tortoise celluloid binding is glued in place and then scraped level with the wood. A flesh hoop is made from heavy wire. The calfskin head is soaked in water, then stretched across the rim and allowed to dry. The excess is trimmed away while the skin is still pliable. The neck is shaped with a variety of hand tools.

The neck mounting hardware is installed, and a hole is drilled and the tailpiece bracket is installed. Spacing blocks are temporarily glued into the resonator with a spot of hot glue, and a test run of the assembly is performed.

The rim is thoroughly sanded, and a coat of medium brown stain is applied (the balance of the instrument will be finished in natural color). The rim is tested against the other parts to make sure I've achieved the proper tint. An armrest is formed from matching maple and fitted to the tension hoop. Then the entire instrument is sanded to perfection. Satin finish is applied with a brush, then wiped off with a soft cloth. Several coats are applied, with adequate drying time between each coat.

Tuning machines, nut, and bridge are fitted, and with a bit of setup, it's ready for its new home.

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