Strumming the chords of creativity

Steve “Guz” Guzman is a man of many talents. He’s been an extra on Alita: Battle Angel, a contributing editor for Motorcycle.com, husband, and a father of two. Most recently, he’s added “maker” to his list of accomplishments as he set out to make his own ukulele using SketchUp. Guz is a member of the SketchUp Knowledge team and shares his experience making his very own ukulele.

So, you’re obviously a hip, motivated guy. What keeps you excited to make things?
I really love the idea of turning thoughts into reality, especially when I get to make something that doesn’t already exist. Since I’ve started using SketchUp, I’ve designed and printed a replacement outdoor outlet cover, a liquid soap caddy that routes all the drips directly into the sink, and my new SketchUp logo ukulele that I’m calling the “SketchUlele”.

The final woodworking product: a ukulele made in SketchUp
The final woodworking product: a ukulele made in SketchUp.

How did you go about developing a plan to make your ukulele?
Well, I’m no luthier so my initial designs were deemed too difficult for a beginner uke builder to put together (I trust Tyson’s woodworking advice). I scraped my original design and decided for my first build, I should just modify a kit. I purchased an affordable kit that was based on laser cut, 1/8th-inch wood sheets because I knew it would be easy to customize using the same laser cut shaping method.

SketchUp Ukulele
 

Once I began to get comfortable with SketchUp, I created this model as my second attempt.

SketchUp woodworking kit
 

I researched something more my speed and found a kit called a Gittylele. It would give me a great head start on my project.

SketchUp Ukulele Woodworking
 

Here you can see what the redesign for the kit looks like. I traced the SketchUp logo, then overlaid the original face to end up with the design you see in the upper right.

Woodworking in SketchUp
 

When the design was done in SketchUp, I zoomed into the newly designed face, set the Camera to Parallel Projection, saved and selected Send to LayOut. This is where I glued together the edges, set the scale to 1:1, and assigned line colors so the Glowforge would know what to score and what to cut as well as the order of each.

What surprised you during the project?
Honestly, I’ve been totally blown away at how accurate the output from SketchUp to laser cutters and 3D printers have been for me. When I laser cut the custom face for the ukulele, I expected to put it in place and have to mark up some corrections. There were no corrections to make. The first “print” fit like a glove!


Diving in deep with actual footage of the ukulele fabrication process.

When you decided to build from a kit, what changed about your process?
I was uncertain how many changes would be necessary if I were to experiment with building a uke from scratch, so basing my design on the C.B. Gitty Soprano Ukulele kit reduced most of the uncertainty — AND turned it from a drawn-out experiment to a build that could be done over a weekend.

How did SketchUp play a role in making the ukulele come to life? 
Well, I’m brand new at creating instruments and pretty new at using SketchUp. Prior to SketchUp, I’ve always done my designs on paper. This time, things were amazingly simple and accurate. Once I got the hang of navigating and using shortcuts, I was flying through the design. It was also easy to test different ideas by just copying my design a few times and tweaking each one until I got just the look I was going for.

SketchUp Ukulele Model Complete
Drum roll please...after many tweaks, the true look comes to life.

What pain points did SketchUp ease for you?
The process of going from idea to design and then sending the project to LayOut and finally to the Glowforge for the output was so easy. Using my traditional methods of fabrication would have taken lots of shop time and shop tools. This project was about as easy as using a word processor and sending my job to the printer. Using SketchUp during the design phase was also a game changer. I wanted a ukulele that looked like the SketchUp logo… I thought it would be fun to bring to our next 3D Basecamp. So, I just downloaded our logo, outlined it in SketchUp and used it as a starting point. Next, I used a caliper to capture the measurements of the original kit face, recreated it in SketchUp and replaced the original, rectangular outer shape with my logo outline. I double checked my measurements and got it right on my first try.

Woodworking Ukulele done in SketchUp
Another view of this ukulele done right on the first try!

What was an unexpected challenge you faced in this project?
The biggest challenge was my lack of woodworking wisdom. When I went to design my first concept, I had no barriers. I could design the ukulele in the way I imagined it would look and sound best. When I started talking to the experts, I could see in their faces that while my design could be built, it would take a lot more expertise and experience than I had. I wasn’t going to let that stop me from making something. I’m just glad I had access to SketchUp, an easy-to-modify kit, and a laser cutter to get the job done. I’m pretty proud of the outcome!

 

Steve the woodworker with the Ukulele
"Guz" playing the ukulele in a very fitting spot, a field of flowers. How's that for peaceful?

What’s your favorite song to play on it?
I like playing my fake version of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” because it’s easy and sounds like I know what I’m doing. I also enjoy playing the Bruddah Iz version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, so I may have to build a Tenor version of the “SketchUlele” just for that.


An ode to the ukulele-building process. Side note: you can't hear the music, but you can feel the energy!

About the Author

Michelle White

When she's not writing copy, analyzing numbers, or executing strategery, you'll find Michelle cooking from her garden in her 100 year-old cabin, logging alpine miles on ski and foot, or enjoying a craft beer and a burger.

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