Building bridges

With no previous experience building instruments, sophomore Rachel Pang started building a travel ukulele in February 2017.


Anna Cowden, Writer





Jack Oxley Videography

In her room, sophomore Rachel Pang sits at her desk sanding her partially finished ukulele for an hour. This was only one of 50 hours spent over two months working and designing her own ukulele with little help from others and no building kit.

Pang said she originally wanted to build a ukulele for an upcoming mission trip in March 2017.

“I was getting ready to go to a [mission] trip to Mexico over spring break and people had already approached me… and so they said ‘do you wanna play ukulele for our worship songs?’ I said ‘yeah I can do that,” Pang said.

Pang said she could not use her original ukulele for the trip because it was too large to travel with.

John Widman is a professional guitar, banjo and ukulele builder. He owns and operates Widman Custom Electrics based in North Carolina.

Widman said there are key differences between a normal sized ukulele and a travel sized ukulele.

“A travel ukulele might be made a little more robust so you didn’t have to worry about damaging it,” Widman said. “It might have thicker materials, thicker tops and sides so that the [instrument] wouldn’t crack.”

Pang said she began building the ukulele in February and could not finish the ukulele in time for the mission trip. She hopes to play it for the rest of the school year as school gets more stressful in the last quarter.

“It’s a good stress reliever for me,” Pang said. “Playing ukulele is really fun. I’ve played it fairly consistently until before spring break because I was really stressed out, and I couldn’t play it.”

Sophomore and Ukulele Club member Zoe Thompson said she wishes she had the same talent as Pang in creating an instrument.

“I don’t know that I have the creativity, talent and the knack for it like Rachel does,” Thompson said. “It would be cool but I don’t know if I would be good enough.”

Since Pang has no woodworking experience, she said she paid a carpenter to cut out the wooden parts of the instrument. Pang’s mother, Celia Pang, said she is impressed with Pang’s willingness to try new things.

“She’s curious and she likes to learn different things, so that’s why she’s not afraid to [build the ukulele],” Celia said. “I think that’s cool.”

Pang said the hardest part of constructing the ukulele was putting the bridge and tuning pegs on.

Pang said she does not recommend building a ukulele to people if they are not willing to put in money and copious amounts of extra work. However, Pang said the task could be completed if someone has the access to different parts, and if one knows how to measure correctly.

“It’s not a light task,” Pang said. “It took a lot of work, a lot of time went into it.”

Widman said he encourages amateur instrument builders to not give up easily when creating their first instruments.

“Almost everyone is frustrated in that it’s not perfect and they make mistakes, but go ahead and finish it regardless,” Widman said. “Just be happy that you made your first one.”

Pang said she does not plan on making additional instruments because she does not have the need for more.

“I’m not planning on producing any more,” Pang said. “This is just for travel mainly because it’s smaller and just for the experience of making [an instrument].”