Realising I’ve never owned a uke, I decided I’d try to make one. But instead of using wood, like any normal person, I decided to use LEGO bricks. Of course, there were some challenges.
- The shape. In case you didn’t realise, LEGO bricks are kinda blocky, full of right angles. Great for buildings, not so great for ukuleles. I tried several techniques to get a rounded shape, also keeping in mind it had to be strong, and the one I finally decided on was a fairly simple SNOT version, using lots of these and these. I was pretty pleased how it turned out.
- Strength. This model has to be able to withstand the tension of 4 fairly tight strings without exploding. I ended up using a pre-stressed Technic rod up the middle of the neck, which allowed the head to be securely attached to the body, and it works really well. The body (briefly described above) ended up being very strong, but I had to use a saddle attached to the lower end to get enough strength – the saddle I originally designed was attached to the front, and was only able to tune the top string to about B. The final design allowed me to tune it to D (still way short of a real uke, but good enough for me).
- Tuning. I had to come up with a way of tuning the strings, that was able to take the tension without slipping, and didn’t look too yucky. I tried a couple of ways, but this one worked best, probably because it’s the simplest! Those of you with eagle eyes will notice the LEGO worm gears are wound the wrong way, so the keys have to be turned the opposite way to normal. I did try putting them on the other side of the main gear, which fixed the turning anomoly, but they ended up way too close to the top of the neck, and I kept knocking them while playing, so I decided this way was best.
- Intonation. This was always gonna be a problem, because LEGO doesn’t do logarithmic intervals easily. I decided early on that near enough would be fine, as long as it sounds OK when played. I simply mapped out the actual logarithmic scale on paper, and picked the distances to match as closely as possible. I was quite pleased with the result.
So, after all that, I ended up with what I like to call an alto ukulele – it is tuned to C-F-A-D (normal ukes are generally tuned to G-C-E-A). I also thought it needed a stand so I can display it on the mantle piece, you can see it poking out the bottom. And I think it really sounds OK, but you can judge for yourself: Puff the Magic Dragon