Headless electric ukulele

Dima

I’m struggling to learn to play the guitar as it is so big and impossible to take along. Yes, those are my excuses. I’ve been playing jaw harps for years and while looping with beats I’m starting to miss some melodies. But still didn’t want to touch a guitar. Somehow ukulele came to my mind. So I bought my first concert-sized ukulele with piezo pickup and fall in love how convenient it is and so small! Especially how easy just to pick it up and start practising. Sometimes there were situations when I wanted to play but couldn’t, as it too noisy. I was looking for an electric ukulele. But there were none of the lefty versions in stock. The only option is to build by myself. But I don’t have a wood workshop anymore. The solution is to build it by the luthier. I started to plan what kind it could be and one criterion was the compact size.

With the help of the internet, I decided to design headless electric ukulele with the steel strings and hummbucker pickup. I also found minimalistic solution for tightening the strings. So I’ll list them below.

Pickups

Almuse Classic hummbucker pickup

I have considered for a long time to use bass pickups different types like with blade magnets or such. Blade magnet is pretty considerable as it doesn’t require specific string spacings. But they are still huge. Then I found Almuse, who makes custom pickups for ukuleles. I bought the “classic” hummbucker pickup for the neck position. Oh yes, I decided to build single pickup version as it would be pretty minimalistic. And I believe that this will be enough for me, as I don’t believe me to play rock style music that requires punchy tones with the bridge pickup.

Headless bridge

ABM single fine tuner bridge

There were plenty of the bridges with integrated tuners, but they are all for guitars and basses. Their string spacing doesn’t suite for ukulele. Luckily I found ABM’s single tuner bridges for guitars. So I can place them at a distance I want. Awesome!

And of course they had also the headpieces! I was already planning to create some custom locking system for the strings.

Strings

It was hard to find steel strings for low G ukulele. Just a few provide ready set for high G version. So I started to surf the ukulele forums. There was some talking, but the conclusion is nada. Then I decided to search everything about string gauges for electric guitars and this was delightful. This is mostly personal preference and depends also on playing style.

There is a huge amount of the string set variations for electric guitars. Roughly speaking the thicker strings the better tones. But on the other side, there’s a sacrificion as the thicker strings the harder playability. So if just strumming rhythmics, thicker string is good to go. But for finger picking style with bendings, thinner string feels better. Also the scale length affect on how tight you have to tune the strings.

So my decision for the starter pack is D’Addario EXL120 Super light 9-42 set. String Gauges in this set are .009, .011, .016, .024, .032, .042. So I actually have 3 options to test: 9-24, 11-32 and 16-42. Probably I’ll start with 11-32. As ukulele has significantly shorter scale so thicker strings gives same feel as a thinner strings on a guitar. Let’s see what does that mean in practice.

Electronics

As I’m using double coil hummbucker pickup, I have to use 500k potentiometers. And there was yet another research of choosing between logarithmic and linear options.

Again, roughly speaking here. Linear option cuts the volume very sharply. So if you want to have better adjustment range on the quiet side, go with logarithmic option. I went for logarithmic too.

Same effect on the tone adjustment. Linear has better adjustment precision on the higher end. But drops very quickly after the half position. With logarithmic option, you have faster tone adjustment on the high side and then it slows down on the low end. This is better option if you want to conveniently use full range of the tone adjustment. I went with logarithmic too.

For tone adjustment, we need a capacitor. The size of the caps affect on the tone range at the high end. The bigger the cap value the bigger range.
1nF affect on the highest highest end, where picking sounds or high hisses are. So with this and linear potentiometer, you can precisely adjust those sounds out and keep the tone mostly natural.
22nF affect on high range and this you’ll actually hear in the tone. Raising the cap value to 47nF, tone adjustment start to affect also in the mid-range.

I’m curious and bought all three of them just to experiment. But I believe, I’ll stick with 22nF.

Luthier

I’ve asked my musician friend for recommendations of the luthier to work with. Surprisingly there was a local luthier in my city: Aaron soitin. I have visited him and we had two hours-long conversations about this project. He had already made plenty of acoustic and a few electric ukuleles and was interested in my project. So we made a deal.

By now the plan is to use a birch as a main body and fretboard from the rosewood. The body will be varnished in cherry red color and fretboard in its natural color. Also the knobs will be made from the wood.

Update 2020 September

I was thinking that some support could be useful to play with it without a strap. Designed detachable support that locks behind the body with strong magnets. The outer shape is the same size and form as a concert ukulele. While playing with my acoustic ukulele, I see that it rests on my leg with its back part and also my hand rests on the upper back part. So I’m thinking that it’s enough for support. We’ll see. I might firstly print it on a 3D printer to test before making wooden one.

Update 2020 October

Aaro, the luthier, wrote me asking for 1:1 drawings. He’s planning to make a cardboard prototype to test how it feels.

Printed couple of these for the ukulele itself and its support. I don’t have large printer, so taped three sheets together. It was pretty fascinating to see its scale in real size on my hands. Now I’m excited to see the prototype.

Btw, tuner bridges and string locks are arrived from Germany. Still waiting for custom hummbucker pickup from UK.

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