December 22, 2009 by Tim
Being that the cigar box is the main part of a cigar box ukulele I felt I had to make it really interesting and fun. Since I used a box that never held a cigar in its life I also had to make it look like a cigar box, but how to do that is a challenge. On the other hand since it was not a real cigar box it gave me a great opportunity to do whatever I wanted, so I did!
The first thing I did was separate the top from the bottom by removing the hinges, they would not let the box close and I knew I would be gluing it shut anyways.
Since all cigar boxes have a logo or brand on the top of the lid I had to find something that would do the same thing. I toyed with a play on Ukeeku, or my last name, and then I remembered that I have the perfect logo, a small guitar import company that my friend started called AnaRosa Guitars. It is really nice, and I have used the logo for a few other ukes that I customized. Now how do I get the logo on the ukulele? I could have painted it on, bought some transfer paper that I printed it on, but in the end I laser etched it on, essentially burned it on. The really awesome people who work in the signs and promo area at the school I work at agreed to burn the logo on the back and whatever other design I had for the front.
Basically it is a laser engraver that can etch metal, wood, stone, just about anything. The one issue was that it was not powerful enough to cut through, no big deal. So I gave them the .eps file of the logo on the back and the design for the front. It took 3 passes to really carve the designs into the box. This type laser is found in most awards and trophy places. It is how they engrave the plaques and stuff. I have found that they will like you better if you give them the design in a vector format like an .EPS or illustrator file. That way they have to do a lot less work to prep your design to be burned on to the wood.
The top is a tiki, obviously, but I used UKEEKU.COM as the texture in the tiki to give it some interest and to promote my blog (Sorry, had to get my site on there somewhere). I had the line for the mouth cut in by the laser but I had to go back in and cut it out with a little coping saw (not fun). I refined the sound hole with some rasps. One note of issues that I had at this point: Since the box is plywood it kind of splintered inside around the mouth. Not a huge deal.
Now for Bracing. The last time I made one of these I was confused by this step. This time I read the directions several times and I referenced this book: Ukulele Design and Construction by Henry Wickman. Since the top was thick I figured that I would need less bracing to keep it flat, hence the single brace near the sound hole. Where I messed up my last build was with the T block that you use for the side the neck will attach to the box. On my first cigar box uke I glued the top of the T to the top of the box. When really what that is for is to be a brace for the side of the box so it has more structure for when you attach the neck.
As you can see I modified the bracing by cutting some wood off and making it more like regular bracing you would see in a professionally made instrument. I even rounded off all the corners that were not going to be glued down. I then glued the end blocks in and the bracing in the middle. As you can see I used 2 basic clips with a small piece of wood on the outside part of the box so I did not dent it. The bracing in the middle I just held in place with my hand for an hour. (I don’t have a clamp that would work that did not tip it on its side)
The last thing I did, before gluing the box shut, was to install the pickup, should have been easy. I figured out where to put it, marked the hole, and then drilled what I thought would be the right size hole, I was really wrong. The hole was way too small and I do not have a bit big enough to make the hole any bigger. So I fudged it a little, but that only lead me to realize that the pickup plug is too shallow to make it all the way through the side wall. At this point I was pissed because I accidentally chipped the wood on the outside when I drilled the hole. I ended up carving out the hole on the inside to a depth that I could secure the end (See picture to see the damage).
I then glued down the pickup and taped down the wire, so it wouldn’t buzz, with Gorilla tape.
After everything was burned, the sound hole cut, supports in place, pickup installed, and box glued shut I started to sand. One of the things that I look for in a nice instrument is how it was finished. I am not just talking about the lacquer, but if the person making it thought about comfort. Since you hold most ukuleles up by wedging it between your body and arm, the edges need to be rounded. In general I like no hard edges at all. I rounded every corner on the box with some rough 80 grit sandpaper (DO NOT SAND THE TOP OR BOTTOM, YOU COULD SAND OFF THE DESIGN). I then moved to a 400 Grit to sand the rest of the box and the edges I sanded down. The box was pretty smooth when I bought it so not much sanding was needed.
This is already long enough. Thank you for sticking with me this far, I am currently working on a tung oil finish for the neck and box. That is where I will start in the next post when I am assembling the thing.