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What can you make with two cake pans, 20 toothpicks, some lumber, and a handful of screws? A Panjolele! Whitehall, Michigan-based maker Chester Winowiecki loves to make his own musical instruments. A few years back, Chester wanted to make a cigar box ukulele and had the box and wood, but needed to order the frets and a slotted fretboard. Itching to make, he thought about how to substitute those parts:

I remembered someone using toothpicks for frets on cigar box guitars, and while I was wary of steel strings cutting into the wooden frets, I thought a ukulele’s nylon strings should be fine. Toothpicks for frets: check.

I’d also seen a lot of instruments built with cookie tins for the body, so I headed to the local resale shop to look for one. No tins, but what I did find was even better. Nice, rigid aluminum cake pans, in two sizes. “Resophonic instruments use aluminum cones, don’t they?” I thought. Cake pans for the body: check.

I brought my treasures home and found a nice piece of hardwood for the neck. Luckily, I had a set of tuners and strings on hand. I got to work and a few days later, I had a cake pan uke!

The name? Early in ukulele history, Alvin D. Keech introduced a banjo ukulele that eventually got the name banjolele. Looking like it does, it seemed natural to call my instrument a Cake Pan-jolele, or Panjolele for short.

So while you do indeed tuners and strings, the rest of the tools and materials list is pretty basic. Chester shared his full how-to on the pages of MAKE Volume 33. We posted it on our site so you can start gathering materials and building right away.

volume 33 panjolele materials

And the sound? Check out Chester playing “Sweet Georgia Brown”:

And Chester accompanied by Adrian Schuster, his bandmate in the Bearded Ladies Men, jammin out Robert Johnson’s 1936 classic “They’re Red Hot”:









MAKE Volume 33: Software for Makers

In our special Codebox section you’ll learn about software of interest to makers, including circuit board design, 3D CAD and printing, microcontrollers, and programming for kids. And you’ll meet fascinating makers, like the maniacs behind the popular Power Wheels Racing events at Maker Faire. You’ll get 22 great DIY projects like the Optical Tremolo guitar effect, “Panjolele” cake-pan ukelele, Wii Nunchuk Mouse, CNC joinery tricks, treat-dispensing cat scratching post, brewing sake, and more.

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Goli Mohammadi

I’m senior editor at MAKE and have worked on MAKE magazine since the first issue. I’m a word nerd who particularly loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon as a whole. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for the ideal alpine lake or hunting for snow to feed my inner snowboard addict.

The maker movement provides me with endless inspiration, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. The specific beat I cover is art, and I’m a huge proponent of STEAM (as opposed to STEM). After all, the first thing most of us ever made was art.

Contact me at goli (at) makermedia (dot) com.



  1. H. Cunningham says:

    Dissapointed again. I hoped this would be an update to the magazine article, but it wasn’t. Nice pictures of saws and files, but nothing on how the neck is attached to the pan or how the pans are attached to each other.

    1. Chester WInowiecki says:

      Sorry that you’ve been waiting with questions but the whole article is now up online here:
      To answer your question, the neck is attached to an extension that runs through the body. The top pan (soundboard) has notches cut in it to just rest on the brace and is held in place by the string tension on the bridge. The bottom pan (resonator) is attached to the brace with a pan head screw. The two pans are not attached to each other and don’t even touch.
      If you need some help or have more questions, just give a holler.

      1. H. Cunningham says:

        Thanks, Chester,
        That’s exactly the explaination I was looking for. Might be intuitive to others, but it wasn’t to me.

        H. Cunningham

    2. Goli Mohammadi says:

      H. Cunningham: The link to the entire step-by-step with a full materials list is right there in the blog post, before the second image even appears. Honestly, it’s disappointing when people don’t read and then comment negatively.

      Chester: Thanks for chiming in and for sharing your awesome project with the community!

  2. alyssa says:

    This is very informative. I will share this to a friend of mine who is a ukulele lover. Children can also do this with the help of their parents.

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