Steven Universe Ukulele
I watch Keepa.com for ukuleles to review, and a “build your own” ukulele kit from Bninteenteam (?) showed up in early June for less than $12 a kit. My son (age 9) had been asking to make a Steven Universe Ukulele, so I bought two of them. The kit came with everything you need to build the ukulele.
We started the process of putting them together last week. The bridge and tuners are different than the photo, and the body and neck required sanding. There were rough edges, and we probably could have used wood filler in some places. The fretboard is plastic, and there are no instructions included with the kit.
The first step was to research Steven’s ukulele. My son found images of Steven playing his ukulele, but thankfully, the internet came through:
I was able to take a photo of the actual ukulele in the kit, and then import the above that photo in my image editor on my iPad. I stretched out each graphic to fit over the actual ukulele, and only had to modify the rosette around the sound hole, which went out of round with the stretching. Measuring the real ukulele, I made the images that size, blacked out what I needed to cover (the orange color and circle on the front, the orange and bottom yellow duck tail on the back), and asked a friend to cut those out on a Cricut machine.
My son and I then took a trip to Menard’s (think Home Depot or Lowe’s) where we bought interior eggshell paint samples. I had asked my friend Pete Mai, who runs Bonanza Ukuleles, what paint to use, and he suggested this kind of paint, plus a spray clear coat. So we also bought that. How did we color match? Pittsburgh Paints has a web tool that allows you to upload an image, and we simply took the colors from the ukulele.
Incidentally, the ukulele only has three colors. The sides, neck, and some of the body are orange. Then there’s the pale yellow and the off-color red. It was about $4 per sample of paint. I also used this opportunity to buy some more sanding sponges and masking tape.
Then my son and I came home and prepped the ukuleles and glued them together. The neck is connected with glue (I use TiteBond) and a short dowel. We could have sanded more, but I wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out (it could have been a colossal waste of time and money).
The next step was painting. The whole ukulele was painted orange, with a couple of coats. I chose to use a small roller to make sure the spread of the paint was even all around. Each layer dried over our kitchen island, using a improvised hanging system from IKEA hangers!
Then the vinyl was applied with lots of masking tape, and then I used an old store loyalty card (like a credit card) to make sure the vinyl and tape was on firmly, everywhere.
The next layer was yellow, at the top and bottom of the body, on both the front and the back.
The next step was to apply the duck tail on the back, as well as the rosette on the front of the ukulele.
After the red layer dried (each with at least two coats), I removed the tape and vinyl and tried to clean up where the paint still “leaked” through. Then it was time for three light applications of a clear coat.
The next step was hardware, screwing and gluing on the bridge, and adding the tuners.
After the tuners and bridge were on, I added the fretboard. Thankfully, my Kala Ukeadelic had a fretboard that was exactly the same (all the frets were the same spacing), so I knew how far away to put the top of the fretboard (exactly 13.5”). This really should have been included in the directions.
The next day, I had to address the action, as the nut and saddle on both ukuleles were much too high. I sanded each down significantly with a power sander until the action was tolerable. Anyone assembling this kit that doesn’t adjust the action is going to have an instrument that plays very much out of tune.
The final step was attaching strings. I have put strings on hundreds of ukuleles (that isn’t an exaggeration), and I have never struggled to string up a ukulele like this one. I chose to use Martin M600 fluorocarbon strings instead of the included strings (they were questionable) and I kept having G and A strings pull through the bridge! The bridge is a mixture between a pull-through bridge and a slotted bridge. It was difficult to get the strings through the bridge in the first place. Eventually, I had to tie a four-loop knot on the G and A strings, and then a three loop knot on C and E. I also had some issues with strings pulling through the tuning peg posts…so I had to loop those around, too. By the time was all said and done, I had to use three packages of M600 strings to finish the stringing…that is extremely unusual for me!
As a final touch, I found the Steven Universe Logo and made a sound hole label to put in the ukuleles. This also covered up some of the paint drops that found their way inside the ukuleles.
And these are our completed Steven Universe ukuleles! They look good, especially from a short distance, and they certainly honor the original. The kit was very much complete, sounds okay, but there are certainly better “Build Your Own” kits out there, such as those by Ohana. But for less than $12, my son and I had a chance to build some memories together this summer, and that makes these priceless ukuleles.
Here is the video, for those that are interested!
- Posted in: Nuts and Bolts (How To)