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[highlight1]  Laser-Cut Folding Ukulele Kit  [/highlight1]

This is an instrument modeled after the traditional Hawaiian ukulele. Unlike the standard ukulele, this folding version is collapsible – therefore ultra portable – and designed to be made on a laser cutter – so that it can be replicated rapidly.and can be folded up into a package measuring about 9 inches long max.

Brian Chan

The Brief:

The challenge was to create a playable ukulele that was so compact that it could be carried anywhere in a handbag or backpack without imposing a burden. While the standard soprano ukulele is a small instrument, it is still somewhat awkward to place in a handbag and the exposed strings are easily snagged.

The Intent:

I enjoy learning musical instruments but often must travel. The need to travel light clashes with my desire to bring instruments along to practice. Inspired by sci-fi anime, I began designing instruments that can transform into a much smaller form for portability. One of the great things about stringed musical instruments is that they are composed mainly of empty space, allowing for a high “compression ratio”.

The Process:

I’d like to think that my years of watching science fiction anime movies and TV shows informed my knowledge of transforming mechanisms. For the past two years, music has been an intense side hobby, so I began building stringed instruments from scratch, including the erhu (two-stringed Chinese violin), the violin (four-stringed Italian erhu), shamisen (Japanese fretless banjo) and a lute.

I decided to design a folding ukulele for several reasons. First, the ukulele is the kind of instrument you would bring almost everywhere. Secondly, because the ukulele has only four strings at low tension, it is less likely to bend too much and easier to string (to fold the instrument, one de-tensions the strings and collapses the neck; restringing and retuning takes just a few minutes). I also feel that a newfangled folding instrument will be less likely to invoke the disapproval of strict traditionalists.

Since I was new to ukulele, I borrowed a few to get measurements and a feel for a decent instrument. I consulted my musically talented friends for advice, and spent several weeks sketching possible folding mechanisms and aesthetic forms.

Unlike my previous folding and non-folding instruments, I designed this one to be cut almost 99% out of laser-cut bamboo plywood so that it could be made into a production item rather than a one-off. I spent month or so getting familiar with the laser cutter and adapting the folding design to something that could be formed from two-dimensional parts. This necessitated a polygonal design; to further simplify the design and construction, I use only right-angle and 120 degree joints. These simplifications led to a form based on the hexagon, with an internal structure inspired by the plywood dinosaur skeleton kits I used to build as a kid. I wanted to be economical so I had to incorporate new design features; for example, instead of using fretwire, the frets are formed from staggered ‘steps’ set at an angle.

The Value:

Hopefully this product will bring back the DIY spirit “in spite of” the ease by which we can get things by mass production. I firmly believe that rapid prototyping technologies will enrich rather than degrade our experience in the crafts. It has been my experience that the investment of emotion and time into building an instrument is a great way to motivate oneself to learn how to play the instrument. I hoped to share this experience with other craft and music enthusiasts by releasing this as a kit.


Stand-out awesome. It is a laser-cut ukulele that folds up like a cartoon robot. Are there more indicators of Awesome that this project is missing? Have a cute kitten sleeping against it, and you will win the internet. – Hackett

The design of this instrument made us think of other, perhaps larger, stringed instruments that could be made to fold (stand up bass?). Great job on the entirely laser-cuttable design and assembly instructions. I hope to see many iterations of this uke in the hands of makers! – Becky Stern

The hand of a master, or a master in training, is present in the design here. Meticulous and careful crafting went into its making. The sound stays true to the instrument, and that was my ultimate test. – Yury Gitman

Available for purchase online at: here

[highlight1]  Data  [/highlight1]

Name: Laser-Cut Folding Ukulele Kit
Type: Musical Instrument
Materials: bamboo plywood
Materials Combination: Wood, Eco / Recycled / Green
Dimensions: approximately 13 inches and 9″ x 3.5″ x 2″
Colour: Natural Color
Year: 2012

  • 2012 CORE77 DESIGN AWARD – DIY Category winner


[highlight1]  The people  [/highlight1]

Product Designer: Brian Chan
Manufacturer: Self-production
Text Description: © Courtesy of  Brian Chan, core77
Images: © Brian Chan

[highlight1]  Video  [/highlight1]

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