I’ve fitted steel strings to my Clearwater Sold Body Electric Tenor Ukulele, & given it a makeover to enhance the Telecaster body look, (Pic. 1). When I purchased the uke, it was strung with a set of nylon strings. Before working on the uke I contacted the importers to ask there advice about fitting steel strings to it. They told me that they’d had a number of inquiries with regard to fitting steel strings to these ukes, but didn’t know whether anyone had. They did suggest adding a couple of screws to re-enforce the bridge, as steel strings may put extra strain on it.
Here’s how I went about fitting them, along with the makeover I gave it. Before I began drilling & fitting any screws, I had a good look at the area underneath the bridge, as the rear access plate is directly below it, along with all the electrics. I then carefully drilled three pilot holes through the top of the bridge making sure that I didn’t drill into the electrics. I used 3 small dome head screws, a little longer than the thickness of the bridge. Initially I was only going to replace the control knobs with a couple of chrome Telecaster type dome tops, but then I thought I’d fit a control plate for them, from 1.5mm black acrylic sheet, with a brushed steel effect top face.
While I was measuring up to make it, I thought a Telecaster control plate also has a selector switch, so I made the template a bit bigger to allow for one. To make the fake selector switch I decided to use a roofing felt tack with the spike pushed up through a hole in the plate, with a black barrel switch tip glued onto the spike. To fit the plate a hole was drilled at each control knob centre, large enough to clear the fixing nut of the potentiometers, & it was held in place with a small screw at each end, the control knobs were then fitted (Pic. 2).
I then thought why don’t I put a pickguard on it, so I made a card template, & had one cut out from 1.5mm plywood & held in place with 6 screws, (Pic. 3). At this point I wondered what I could do next, & my attention was drawn to the very ukulele looking bridge. After a little thought I had a bridge plate made, also from black, brushed steel faced, 1.5mm acrylic sheet. The faux adjustable bridge saddles I made from a pair of string tree rollers, a couple of pen springs, 2 screws & a piece of 6mm square section hard wood cut to the width of the bridge plate & painted silver. The piece of silver painted wood was screwed next to the ukulele bridge, then the bridge plate was fixed in place using double sided tape.
Each roller string tree was then positioned so that a screw passed through the fixing hole, with a pen spring placed over the screw, & then held in place by screwing them to the piece of silver painted wood, one between the centre of string no’s 1 & 2, the other between the centre of string no’s 3 & 4, (Pic. 4).
Next I added imitation, neck & bridge pickups, again made from 1.5mm acrylic sheet. As a finishing touch to the make over, I had a bell shaped truss rod cover made from black faced, white 1.5mm acrylic sheet, engraved with Custom AMD Davies, (Pic. 5). I was now ready to fit the steel strings, & for this I used a set of light gauge electric guitar strings. Although other tuning’s can be used, including the more common G C E A, I have found it sounds best with the unconventional tuning an experienced uke playing mate of mine put me on to, that of F Bb D G.
A very talented young chap at a George Formby Convention in Blackpool, tried it out for me, through a micro-amp, & he really made it talk. I think it looks quite good, (Pic. 6), but more importantly it sounds great through an amp, (in fact, I think better than with the nylon strings it came with).
I hope you’ve found this blog interesting, & that it inspires you to give a face lift, or customise one of your own instruments.
“Rock On”, & remember, “Pleasant Strumming”.