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The DIY Musician: 1917 Film on 'The Making of a Ukulele,' Plus Free DIY Uke Plans

Happy World Ukulele Day! (Yeah, I had no idea either…)

If you can play guitar, then you can play ukulele, so why not have a little fun with these boingy instruments?

As a cigar box guitar historian, I have collected several sets of historic plans for building your own cigar box ukuleles. (They're all at Cigar Box Nation’s Free Plans Archive.) One of the standout sets of cigar box uke plans comes from the same year as the historic video:

Build Your own Homemade Hawaiian Cigar Box Ukulele (Published 1917): In it, S.H. Samuels walks the reader through the basics of constructing a uke, which in 1917 “was made at a cost of 30 cents, by careful selection of materials from the shop scrap stock.” There are some great technical drawings and a black-and-white photo of the finished uke. You can download the plans here.

Cigar Box Uke Kit: If you’ve really got the itch to make your own cigar box uke but don’t have the resources to start from scratch, I recommend the Cigar Box Ukulele Kit ($79.99 from It comes with a completed fretboard, carved neck and even its own cigar box. I've made a few of these and they play great.

The Making of a Ukulele (1917 Film): As an instrument builder, this film is pure magic to my eyes—from the builder’s old overalls and hat to the way he twists a leather string around the body to affix the back to the sides.

The following film was produced by the Ford Motor Company in 1917 as an educational short and features an employee of the Manuel Nunes ukulele shop in Hawaii. (Nunes appears later in the film.) Hawaiian music legend Henry Kailimai appears at the end, performing with his own uke. Unfortunately, this was a silent film, so all we see is his cheery face and flailing fingers.

The accompanying music in the film is edited music from old 78-rpm records (and a really great touch). Kudos to the film archivists at for creating this.

Shane Speal is the "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C. B. Gitty Records.