I still have to finish finishing, so to speak, the Grizzly ukulele, and then glue on the bridge, and string it, and see if I can deal with any setup problems… but already I’m thinking, hm, what kind of uke do I build next?
Granted, the Grizzly soprano kit sells for a mere $27. (And the concert uke kit is $60.) To which I added some money for sandpaper, and steel wool, and finish, and the inlay stickers I think I’ll use, and… okay, anyway, not much outlay there. It’s also not much of a uke. With some skill and care you probably could build a much better instrument from their koa soprano kit: better wood, better body design, and so on. And that goes for $200.
StewMac has a soprano kit ($112) looking to be roughly similar but in mahogany, and a tenor kit ($132).
Waldron has a bunch of kits at about $190 to $250.
And Music Makers has kits for a really interesting looking concert and baritone, distinctive designs in spruce and mahogany at $250 each. (They sell assembled ones, too, for $500 and $550 respectively. If it takes you the estimated 40 hours to build one, you’re working for $6.25 to $7.50 an hour.)
Of course, for a cheap uke build, you can always go the cigar box route. Music Makers has a cigar box uke kit for $40, a bit too rustic for my taste though. (You could probably source the separate parts cheaper, if you have the tools to make the simple neck.) A more upscale approach would be to use a more standard neck and fretboard such as the ones C. B. Gitty sells ($38) (lots of other sources around too) with your own cigar box. End up with something like the Earnest Instruments Hoochulele, anyone? Those assembled instruments sell for $475… I’m guessing you’d be working for more than minimum wage! If you have Joel’s skills, that is. More likely something closer to Gitty’s assembled instruments ($99) which they acknowledge “may have some rough edges, some nicks and scuffs, some “interesting” intonations, high actions, a bit of twang or sitar-buzz on certain strings, etc. That is part of what the CBG is all about. There are builders out there who turn out high-end professional-grade cigar box instruments, and charge hundreds of dollars for them, and that is fine. You just need to know that these instruments are built with a different purpose in mind.” Or hopefully somewhere in between.
And then there’s eschewing kits and starting from the wood. Hana Lima will sell you a sapele package for $115. Add your own table saw, bandsaw, plane…
Or this approach. No, seriously, a Risa solid clone with builtin headphone amp as a travel uke? I could see it. It’d even incorporate a different expensive hobby, electronics. But it’d be (fairly) cheap! (Here’s lots of information about building a similar instrument.)