Aug 30, 2016 | By Benedict

A team of designers from Taiwan has created the world’s first open-source 3D printed electric ukulele. Designed for consumer 3D printers, the unusually shaped Lightning Uke comes with a full-size fretboard, regular strings and tuners, and a custom-made amplifier, pick-up, and speaker.

Many musicians, both virtuosos and beginners, choose to pick up the ukulele because of its supreme portability, novice-friendly playability, and unrivalled capacity to evoke the feeling of a warm summer’s day in Hawaii. Few uke players, however, can claim to have strummed the chords of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on a 3D printed version of the iconic instrument. Although there are several 3D printed musical instrument projects out there, a group of Taiwanese designers noticed an absence of open-source ukulele designs. So, determined to bring a unique 3D printable stringed instrument to the maker masses, they designed and built the Lightning Uke, truly a ukulele like no other.

Inspired by a miniature Japanese electric guitar with a built-in amplifier and speaker, the team (Jin Hsieh, Penk Chen, Ruha Cheng, and Joe Dong) decided that a 3D printed ukulele could be made in more-or-less the same way, with the built-in electronics compensating for the lack of resonance provided by the hollow wooden body of a typical ukulele. Furthermore, given that they wouldn’t need a normal sound chamber for their plastic masterpiece, the designers were free to go wild with the design—and go wild they did. Their angular 3D printed Lightning Uke looks incredibly rock’n’roll, and can be 3D printed in any color for extra pizzazz.

The Taiwan-based team of four has worked on the project in their spare time. Pek Chen is a full-stack engineer who designs and implements user interfaces, as well as contributing to several open source projects, but Lightning Uke is his first open source hardware project. Jin is the electrical engineer, Ruha is the visual designer and Joe heads up the local marketing.

As the team told, they made their initial sketches for the 3D printed ukulele on FiftyThree’s Paper software, before prototyping with Autodesk’s 123D Design. When the awesome axe was ready for 3D printing, they used a MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer to create their own model, but ensured that the files could be printed on any consumer 3D printer with a 6”x 6” print bed. The entire build was 3D printed in PLA without support materials, taking a total of around 15.5 hours (body: 9 hours, neck: 4 hours, handle: 2.5 hours) on the Replicator.

Despite its unusual appearance and construction method, the 3D printed Lightning Uke actually plays a lot like a traditional ukulele. The instrument is a standard soprano size, measuring about 42 cm (16.5”) long, and uses actual ukulele strings, tuners, and a 6.3 mm jack. Additionally, its built-in amplifier and speaker lets players rock out whenever, wherever they are.

Those who can’t wait to get strumming on the 3D printed ukulele have three options: a fully assembled Lightning Uke with circuit board and tuner app ($159), a DIY kit with assembly instructions ($135), or a free-to-download open-source starter kit with 3D printable files and the component list. You can find the design files here on GitHub, and the whole design process is documented here on Instagram.

The Lightning Uke joins a growing list of 3D printed musical instruments which includes the 3Dvarius 3D printed violin, Olaf Diegel’s 3D printed aluminum guitar, and Monad Studio’s experimental 3D printed MULTI instruments.

Components for 3D printed “Lightning Uke” ukulele: (The BOM list can be found here)

Circuit Board Parts

  • Pegboard x 1
  • LM386 x 1
  • 10Ω resistor x 1
  • 0.1μF (104) capacitor x 1
  • 220μF capacitor x 1
  • 1N4007 diode x 2
  • 10KΩ potentiometer x 1
  • Knob x 1
  • 1W 8Ω 36mm speaker x 1
  • Switch x 1
  • 9V battery snap x 1
  • 27mm piezo x 1

Purchased Parts

  • Geared tuners x 4
  • 21 inch ukulele nylon strings x 4
  • 6.3mm jack x 1

3D Printed Parts

  • Neck x 1
  • Handle x 1
  • Cover x 1
  • Body x 1



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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John Wedlick wrote at 1/3/2018 4:09:18 AM:

I am a collector of unusual ukuleles (and I play them [not so well] too). I am really impressed by the design of the Lightning Uke, and I'm wondering where I can purchase a fully assembled one. I haven't been able to find anything on the internet which gives me that information. I would greatly appreciate it if you could give me some advice on how I can buy one, Kind regards

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