My Mini Traveller Ukulele for Flying: Luthier at Work

You probably know, don’t you, how hard it is to travel (specifically fly) and not be able to take a ukulele with you. When I drive, I throw a uke or two or three in the car.  That way, if need be, there’s one to give away and two for duets.  But flying to your destination is a different story.

You can, of course, fly with a ukulele but it takes up another hand because you would want to protect your uke by having it in a case. And then that case could (depending on the airline these days) qualify as your one personal item to carry on. With a backpack and a large purse and a ukulele in a case, you may draw attention to yourself as trying to carry on too much.

For quite some time I have wanted to have a tiny ukulele that would fit in my purse or my backpack.  My Ohana sopranino is small, but it consumes quite a bit of space in my purse.  That’s without its case. The case and straps consume most of my purse.   So a caseless sopranino can be crammed into my purse but this invites dents and scratches. The fate of a traveling caseless sopranino is not certain.

There is the Risa uke stick.  But my quest was for tiny, rugged, inexpensive, unplugged, nylgut strings, and loud enough.

At one point I made a uke stick of my own. You’d assume if you had the fretboard you could practice. But some of the joy is lost in not being able to hear much at all.  And really, a ukulele-fretboard-on-a-stick  looks rather suspicious if it were taken on a plane.  Think about it.

So… I built what I am looking for.  Using scraps of wood from my other ukulele building my mini travel uke has purpleheart sides and headstock veneer, mahogany neck and fretboard, sitka spruce top, and cherry back. It’s three days old and each day opens up a little more for the loud-enough sound I seek.

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It’s lightweight (a little under 5oz.and most of that is tuners) and fits in a form-fitting case I have been making for other small musical instruments. Both nut and bridge are designed to survive heat and cold and not pop off.

On the mini head and bottom are extra holes to enable the travel-uke to be securely hooked to the backpack.  You know –good weather, great views, great companions and a few strums go together.  Perspective.

The next few weeks I’ll be testing its rugged factor and looking to see what tweaks I’ll make.

Then if you need one, I’ll build one for you. 

Sorry, I am not making any travel ukuleles right now.  I am making Native American style flutes, sopranino kanteles and other instruments at the moment.  – Updated Feb. 2014

This entry was posted in cigarbox ukulele, Lutherie, Perspective, Photographs. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to My Mini Traveller Ukulele for Flying: Luthier at Work

  1. Ron Hale says:

    Are you just carrying this on your travels, or are
    you treating your fellow passengers to endless
    repeats of I’m Yours; Hey, Soul Sister; Build Me Up, Buttercup? Are you Gently Weeping with them, Tip Toeing Through the Tulips with them? Taking them Somewhere Over the Rainbow and showing them what a Wonderful World it is? Offering them ceaseless encores of Five Foot Two and Ain’t She Sweet?
    Please, please, assure us that you don’t play
    Stray Cat Strut for hours on end as you criss-
    cross the skies. Do you share your homesickness for that Little Grass Shack? Bid the pilots and crew Aloha ‘Oe upon arrival?


  2. Brad says:

    Pretty great idea. I want one!


  3. Pierre says:

    Great job and certainly very handy this ukulele. Thanks for this information, may soon be a sound clip ? ;-)


  4. Sam Lowry says:

    I would have loved one of these for my trip I just took. I most definitely would like one for future trips. Please email me – I couldn’t find your email.



  5. ellen says:

    Hi, That’s a nice little uke. I had a Risa, which worked well for me except I hated the friction tuners so I sold it recently on ebay. I was going to order one of the new ones with geared tuners but I’d like to talk to you first about perhaps making a stick uke like the Risa except I’d like it with a small head. That whole wrap around thing is just a pain…hard to tune and just too cute if you ask me. I did like having something so small (even though it’s a tenor) and electric so I could play it on planes and in the middle of the night using headphones and a small amp and not disturb anyone. So…could we discuss you making one of these for me? I’ve got a nice piece of curly maple…..



    • JlR says:

      Hi Ellen,

      I’m not yet making the ukes for folks. When you asked, I was busy with work. I’ll see how my schedule goes and get back to you, if you’re still interested.
      – UP


  6. TammyE says:

    How did you brace the sound board?


    • JlR says:

      Hi Tammy,
      The bracing is actually in the sound board and is in the way that I sanded the soundboard. Because it is such a small soundboard, bracing would dull the tone. So I designed a way of sanding the underside of the board to give it strength where needed but be thin enough for good tone with the vibration. This is not a typically-made small ukulele. There were things I did to make this more durable. I designed parts so they wouldn’t part in extreme cold or heat; moist or dry air.


  7. Mark Levine says:

    Ooooh! I LOVE this uke! I very much want to get one! Let me know how!


    • UP says:

      Thanks. I’ve had several requests and I am planning about when I can work on a few. Not til summer at the soonest. Let me work out a schedule and I’ll get back to you in email.


  8. Mark Levine says:

    Thanks, JR. I’ll be looking forward to it!


  9. Mark A. says:

    I am REALLY interested in buying one if you are making them. How does it sound? Do you have any videos you you playing it?


    • UP says:

      Ok, I’ll get back to you in May when school’s out. Don’t have any videos yet, but will see if I can make some. It is not as loud as a full-bodied ukulele, but of course.


  10. Mark Levine says:

    Just checking in: How’s your schedule looking? This uke is fabulous looking, and I’d love to get one.


    • UP says:

      Hi Mark,

      Well, I didn’t get time to pull a cigarbox uke together for my hike (if you’ve been following the search for Olivia) so I’m definitely slower than I’d like to be with all to get done. I’ll see about working one up in June. Can you send me an idea of how wide you want the fretboard. For instance there’s a “Pocket Uke” on Etsy by Arcane, but the one I make is smaller than that. The fretboard would be too large for me, but I’d adjust the fretboard if you can send me an estimate of how wide you’d like it at the first fret. It’s not electric and it’s a quieter sound than a typical soprano.
      So if you’re still desiring it, I’ll see if I can’t get one done for you in June. I still don’t have any video or mp3 up that I’ve played with it. So I’ll get to that in June too. Let me know. – UP


  11. Steener says:

    I teach school and this would be great to take back and forth and in class whip out when I need to do some shock factors. Am eager to know what you might offer one for?


    • Ukulele Perspective says:

      Hi, At this point I am not making the mini-traveller to sell. I agree (as I once also taught school) that the ukulele is a great thing to have for certain class situations. If only I’d played the ukulele when I taught elementary grades, I wouldn’t have had to take my guitar out on the school playground at recess!

      I might suggest that you would just want a regular soprano ukulele or even a sopranino (which is surprisingly small). The traveller does not have a loud voice as an acoustic instrument — it is for travel, practice and enjoyment but not performance. A traveller with a pickup could be used for performance, but it’s a different sound. Sorry, but I’m building other musical instruments than the ukulele these days. Best results with the uke at school.


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