laser cut folding ukulele by brian chan
laser cut folding ukulele by brian chan laser cut folding ukulele by brian chan
nov 23, 2011

laser cut folding ukulele by brian chan

the ukulele conveniently folds inside itself for portability

massachusetts-based ‘maker of anything’ brian chan is typically known for his complex origami work. now he has taken his fascination with the traditional japanese art of paper folding, drawing on its technical characteristics to create the laser-cut folding ukelele. the 3D object consists of multiple flat pieces that need to fit together precisely to create the functional musical instrument.

‘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, theoretically allowing for a high compression ratio. I should stress right now that this was not intended as a concert instrument, but more as an instrument for road trips and emergency music-making. the tone is sweet but about half as loud as a similar soprano ukulele, due to the material. for my first production model, 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 (its compact folded form needs to be unstrung, this results in the smallest package; 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, which is always just plain silly. 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. 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, which is one the most beautiful of the polygons. I wanted to be economical so I had to be creative in certain parts, for example, instead of using fretwire, the frets are formed from staggered ‘steps’ set at an angle. like many first projects, I expect this instrument to evolve and give rise to other, perhaps more foldable instruments. ‘ – brian chan

the kit is available for purchase online at:

the production model shown is made from bamboo plywood

the laser-cut bamboo is etched with my maker’s mark

the ukulele is a soprano size, with a scale length of approximately 13 inches

the head of the instrument is modeled like that of a violin

the folded instrument measures about 9.5" long

the box version folds even smaller

chan has also designed smaller box version also constructed from laser-cut bamboo. the soprano size instrument folds into a box that measures 9" x 3.5" x 2".

inside look at the box-version of the ukelele whereby the neck folds into the body

full view

designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication.

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