Refinishing my ukulele

Back in 2009, before I rode my bike from Edmonton to Thunder Bay, I went to the now-defunct Gordon Price Music and purchased a $20 ukulele. The idea being that I’d have something to practice on, loosen up my hands after a day of riding, and if it got crushed in transit I would just buy a new one.

It was the chosen one of $20 ukuleles. The variance in the factory tolerances, so lenient that the usually only generate crap, had aligned: The tuning pegs held tune, the bridge was at just such an unsquare angle that the shoddy intonation was compensated for, the pine plywood just dense enough to generate a loud, bright tone.

This uke travelled with me far and wide, and although I did eventually buy a more professional uke with a properly made neck and a pickup and everything, I’ve made sure that the blue uke stayed in rotation. It’s so tiny and light, it fits in most bags and it’s almost good enough to be a real instrument. Canadian standard tuning, too, which gives it a different range than my concert uke.

However, being that it was never really intended for long term use, I pulled it out of it’s bag last week to discover that the bridge and the two tiny screws that anchored on had pulled out, taking a big chip of paint with them. With two days to go before a bike tour on the Icefields Parkway, I calculated drying time for stains and urethane finishes, and then stayed up into the small hours of the morning two nights in a row dismantling, sanding, staining, finishing and rebuilding the uke. Here are the results:


It’s an intentionally rough finish and stain Although it might be a little more rustic than I was planning. It’s been urethaned and sanded smooth. The bridge got drilled, superglued and remounted with some m5 bottle cage bolts. If it pulls out again, the ukulele is over. The star is off a vintage laundry hamper, and I’ve been looking for an awesome place to put it for years. I left the back of the neck in the original blue just so I didn’t have to sand it smooth, because I’m not sure I have it in me to get a factory finish on it.

It still sounds pretty good, although maybe not quite as bright as before. Here we are lying in the forest at the side of the road near Bridal Veil Falls.

Selfie game: mediocre

Selfie game: mediocre


About Jesse Conlang

Jesse Conlang lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he has trained squirrels to operate pens and pencils at his whim. You can probably tell that by the quality of the work.
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