Poppy’s Keepsake Box Three-String, Acoustic-Electric, Lap Steel Uke w/ Children’s Stubby Slide

A friend of mine has a daughter named Poppy who is nearly three years old. I had not yet made a cigar box uke, but since the holidays were approaching and I had found this very cool keepsake box with her name on it, I thought it would be a great opportunity to give it a go.

Box

It started out as an attractive box. The name and image were actually printed on a 4.25″x4.25″ piece of tile, which was then inserted into the beautifully stained hardwood exterior. The interior was velvet-lined and it had spring-loaded hinges that kept it open and snapped it shut.

I kept the tile and hinges as is, but sanded off the finish and tore out the interior lining. I cut a slot for the neck, which didn’t turn out to be as difficult as it seemed it would be.

Neck, Head and Finish

The structure is really a stick-through design, so the piece of 1×2 maple runs the length of the instrument. I laid out the scale, which I based on my banjolele project—thirteen inches from bridge to nut.

Once I found the location of the nut, I knew where the tuners and headstock design would be carved. I cut down the neck to size, carved the tuner slot based on my template and then carved the Double Blade design into the headstock.

Pickup, Output Jack and Strap Button

I planned to install a JSA Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickup, so I found the closest point to the neck pickup position and drilled a 1″ oval close to the pickup’s size. I trimmed the pickup a bit to make it fit easier.

I installed a strap button made from a brass knurling nut and a stainless steel security screw, which also serves to secure the neck to the box.

The output was installed in the upper corner instead of the lower corner to make it easier to play. Both units were wired together and a ground wire was added to reduce hum, when attached to one of the strings.

Fretboard, Nut and Bridge

The fretboard is an oak 1/4″x2″. It was cut to length, finished, glued, set in place and clamped. Later, I filed small notches in the top of the fretboard to mark the frets.

The nut was cut from a piece of 3/8″ rebar and then ground flat on the bottom and side to set flush against the neck and fretboard. The bridge is made from a length of 1/8″ brass bar. Each of their heights and positions created a level string action.

Strings, Tuners, Strap and Brand

The tuners are standard China machines that look cooler than they perform, but they do the job and keep their tune regardless of the slack in the gears. I orientated them similar to a lap steel, because it’s not something that I have seen on such a small instrument.

The string holes were drilled just behind the brass bridge, at an angle, into the neck. After running the strings through the holes to tuners, I cut a small piece of leather to cover the the holes, which was glued across the bottom and has two small, brass screws at the top.

The strap is made entirely from duct tape—rainbow pattern for the length of the strap and gold for the ends. The headstock strap tie is made from a scrap piece of leather.

Branded Initials and Custom Slide

This is the first use of my newer branding iron with my initials. I already had one with my Junk Shop Audio logo, but I thought it would be cool to add my sign as well.

Since this instrument would potentially be played by small hands, I made a 40mm stubby slide that has a US ring size 4.

Final Notes

All in all it was a fun build and turned out petty cool. Used acoustically, the box is only held together by the spring-loaded hinges, so there is a slight rumble from the top and bottom of the box vibrating against each other, which offers an excellent resonating sound.

Video:

https://youtu.be/c_SfcPiVYWI

Thanks,

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“Slice of Deliverance” – Steel-String Resonator Banjolele w/ Removable Pickup

I chanced upon this banjo uke for a steal at the local antique mall and couldn’t pass up a new project. From what I’ve read, this style of banjo ukulele was produced through the 20’s and 30’s and it’s in really great shape compared to some I have seen for sale online.

This instrument came with a traditional drumhead, but no bridge. Against the advice of most ukulele enthusiast sites my plan was to string it up with steel strings, so that I could add a removable pickup, which is apparently I’ll advised because the neck could succumb to the pressure.

The Before Pictures:

Finish:

The finished was scratched, but was otherwise in fine shape; however, I wanted to add my own style, so I sanded off the finish and stained it with a vinegar and steel wool concoction.

I started with the white vinegar mix that adds a rusty, yellow hue while darkening deep spots. Then, I finished with an apple cider mix that adds a bit more color, grain depth and shine. The mix results in a distressed look that enhances the natural grain, while adding subtle nuances as well as dramatic extremes.

Drumhead and Bridge:

I began by cutting a piece of brass rod for the bridge and then strung it with the top four strings from a pack of DR Pure Blues 9’s.

The uke tuned up, but the drumhead was strained, which lowered the action to the point of rubbing on the rim. So I had to find a new material for the head that would be thin enough to offer as good of a voice as the drumhead.

I had a paint can lid laying on the bench and it appeared to be the right size, so I cut off the rim and it was a perfect fit to replace the drumhead.

Tuners and Tailpiece:

The tuners weren’t complete trash, but I didn’t like the look of them and since I was going to use steel strings, it seemed like a good idea to install decent tuners. I found a set of Grovers that worked great and had a lower profile.

The tailpiece was meant for holding strings with smaller balls ends, so I had to drill small holes in the body to accommodate the steel string balls and allow the tailpiece to sit flat against the body.

Pickup:

Since the paint can worked out so well, it created a perfect opportunity for using a removable pickup made from two of my Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickups. I had originally built a similar pickup for the “Teeth for Days” build, which had a body that was to thin to house a permanently installed pickup.

Therefore, I created a compact pickup and 1/4″ jack combination that could be easily installed and removed. Since the paint can lid is made of magnetically sensitive material, the pickup can be installed at a whim.

This solves two problems—first, placing the pickup directly on the paint can lid stifles the resonating effect to some degree, so easy installation and removable allows the user to play acoustically without compromise. Second, installation via the inherent magnets keeps me from having to drill extra holes and add unsightly hardware for both the pickup and the output jack. In short, the pickup is fully functionally electric without radically changing the acoustic nature of the instrument.

The most interesting and functional aspect of this pickup is its ability to be removed and potentially used to electrify/amplify another guitar with a body made from magnetically sensitive material, such as a lunch box or cookie tin. The pickup and output jack is wired up and taped together as one unit to simplify this process.

A second feature is the exposed, copper ground wire that makes contact with the paint can lid upon installation. This signal travels through the all magnetically sensitive materials that come in contact with the chain, so the paint can lid, bridge (if changed to steel), strings, and tailpiece all become a place to ground the signal, thus reducing amplifier noise/hum.

Accessories:

I added a strap button comprised of a security bolt and a brass knurled nut. I simply drilled a larger hole in the body and tailpiece to accommodate the larger bolt.

The strap was made from duct tape printed with an American flag design and the headstock strap tie was made of black duct tape with a brass binding screw to hold everything together.

Final Word…

This was a cool project and I developed and appreciation for the ukulele and the benefits of its small size, along with this instrument’s marriage with the banjo.

Check out this quick video that offers this instrument’s amplified and acoustic tones:

Thanks,