Posted in Ukulele

Introducing My Ukes

Some folks might have noticed that last week, I quietly moved a few posts about playing ukulele to this blog. I bought my first uke last December but didn’t actually get going with practice until after my birthday.

In the meantime, I’d written about three posts on the topic, which you can see here. The lack of posts wasn’t at all because I didn’t enjoy the instrument. Quite the opposite, in fact!

But unlike fiddle, which is a tough and rigorous instrument to learn, uke is far more casual and laid back. In fact, it’s a walk in the park to make a decent sound on a good uke than it is to make even a passable sound on a fiddle that costs nine times the price.

I’d started to keep note of my uke practice sessions just like I do my fiddle. But as time went on, I realized this wasn’t really necessary. Again, it’s a casual instrument in comparison. Where I feel the need to keep detailed practice notes on fiddle, the same isn’t true about uke.

So, after a few months of that, I felt the uke content really didn’t fit in, nor was it needed on my fiddle blog. But I still wanted to keep it around somewhere! So I decided to move what I had written to this blog — I mean ukulele is geeky enough, right?

Introducing my Ukes

I wanted to take a moment to introduce my ukes. There’s a joke with uke folks that Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome (UAS) is a thing. Right now, I’ve curbed it, but I agree. Ukes are so very different between the sizes, tones, makes and creative looks, that once you start getting into it, you want to experiment and experience different instruments.

Compared to other instruments, they’re also not quite as expensive to invest in. Sure, there are really awesome ukes out there that you can drop hundreds on. But compared to something like a fiddle, where bare minimum is $300 for a playable low-end student instrument… yeah. Ukes are far cheaper.

Blue Hola!

I started with an Amazon purchase as a Christmas gift to myself, not knowing anything about ukes. This was a concert sized teal/blue Hola! brand uke starter bundle. I haven’t seen the blue in stock in months, however, and it doesn’t even show on the page as an option anymore. Granted, the color was one of my main influences when I made this choice, but the reviews were also good and at $69, so was the price.

While I haven’t played this as much as I have some of my others – though putting some Worth clear strings on it has improved the tone – it did cement the idea that the size of the concert uke was good for me.

Having small hands, I struggle to play even a scaled-down guitar. So part of the reason I wanted to try a uke was to see if the size was a good fit. It was!

This reminds me that I really need to pick this one up and play it more. It certainly wasn’t a bad choice for a first, cheap uke set.

Kala Spalted Maple Cutaway Travel Tenor Ukulele

My second uke was an impulse buy, I admit. But I was curious to try a tenor size (which is a little larger than a concert). I’d joined a few Facebook groups for ukes by this time, and folks were calling out major sales happening on Musician’s Friend (which apparently has great uke sales often).

One that popped up was this Kala travel tenor. While it seems expensive at first glance, I got about $200 off of the price during the sale.

There were several reasons for this purchase. Kalas are known for really good quality instruments with great reviews. This one, again, is tenor sized, which I wanted to explore. This one also is a travel uke, which means it’s got a neat, thin body.

The only issue I had was that it didn’t have bolts for a strap, and I learned really quickly that I’m more comfortable with a strap.

So one of my birthday wishlist items was a strap that hooks into the soundhole (seen pictured) along with that stand that I’m using to display it.

I still feel like the concert is a better size fit for me, though I love the sound and the thin body on this one. I need to explore the tenor once I feel more comfortable playing uke. I’m sure that I’ll enjoy the tenor in time.

Enya Nova U

This little concert travel uke had started to make waves shortly before I began playing. People were going nuts for the Nova U, and I was hearing about it everywhere.

I loved the soft blue color and the idea of a concert size travel uke (thin body) was very appealing. As was the idea that this was made of carbon fiber composite, which meant it didn’t suffer from changes in weather, humidity, or getting wet like wood does.

For a while, it was sold out on Amazon. But I was keeping watch for it to return. When it finally did in May, I decided to pick it up as a late birthday present to myself.

I’m very pleased with this uke and its playability. Everyone stressed how easy it is to play and how low the action is. All of this is accurate. Totally happy with my Nova U, and put a lot of strumming practice on it!

Amahi Snail EBUK Ebony Concert Ukulele

My final acquisition is my Snail uke. This… was one of those things that came from an inside joke.

On my RP Tumblr, my bard character really really likes snails. To eat. While I don’t share the sentiment, I still found it funny when I learned there was a Snail brand uke (thinking of my bard playing a uke). Even more, there’s a uke by this brand that uses the snail-shaped logo as the sound hole design.

That’s one thing I love about ukes – you can be so creative with design and color, and that makes them all unique! The more I thought about this Snail uke, the more I really fell in love with the soundhole design.

I did some research on it and found that it was generally a pretty nice uke with good ratings. The acoustic version usually cost close to $200, while the electric version was much more.

Some online stores still carry this model, but it’s somewhat hard to get your hands on. So while I kept this little uke in the back of my mind, I didn’t purchase one.

Along came an Ebay auction. Brand new Amahi Snail EBUK Ebony Concert Ukulele… with one tiny flaw in the finish on the bottom of the fretboard. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d probably never see it, and it hasn’t bothered me one bit.

Starting price was around $50 — which was a total steal for this instrument. I jumped on the auction and didn’t see many bids until close to the end. I was watching it like a hawk as someone was frantically slamming bids higher and higher near the very end. My highest bid outbid them by 50 cents – no joke – and I won the auction for about $80. A true steal considering it’s worth over double based on going price.

My uke arrived, and the only catch with this one was it also had no strap and no round sound hole to hook a normal strap to — I learned how to make one for it out of yarn!

I really fell in love with the Snail uke once I got it. It’s somewhat more mellow and doesn’t have the brightness and volume my Nova has. I chose to change the strings to Worth clear (I heard a lot of good things about Worth strings), which was an experience to learn to change strings for the first time!

Once I got it re-strung, though, I think the volume has improved and I really love the tone! It’s been my go-to recently so much that I think I should break the habit and play with some of my other ukes before they get jealous. ๐Ÿ™‚

At this point, I’m pretty content with my uke family. While I still see some ukes there that have really neat designs, I haven’t felt the itch to hunt one down and buy another. So hopefully, I’m done with UAS for now.

Posted in Ukulele

First Week of Uke

Back in December, I bought a ukulele. I’m not fully sure why I made that choice at the time. I don’t recall being specifically frustrated with my fiddle or anything. Maybe it was because after being in the violin world, ukes seem to be far less expensive and easier to pick up in the long run.

Also, the community built around the ukes seem to be super friendly and encouraging. Uke is an instrument that you can pick up and learn on your own, and the folks who play it encourage you to do so. There are good brand ukes and probably poor quality ukes, but despite what price-point you start with, you can still learn on a cheapie uke until you’re sure you want to invest in a better one.

In contrast, I’ve seen time and time again where a person new to violin on the Internet gets a less than warm welcome when they have questions about learning on their own and what type of violin to buy. Violin is much harder to get into, and I know that the players are trying to be helpful when the answers are “Get a teacher.” “Don’t buy a violin online.” “Have a teacher help you buy a violin.” “The violin you bought is too cheap.” that kind of thing.

But when you’re stuck in a place without access to a teacher or a good violin shop (like me), that’s fairly discouraging. Or if you just want to try it out to see if violin is your thing, and these are the answers you get, that turns folks away. There are some places online where the violin community can be downright… well… stuffy. Fiddle communities are a bit more lax and welcoming, I find.

Now, this wasn’t a post meant to get into the differences in the musical atmosphere between violin and uke – even if I perceive this to be a pretty vast contrast. But it is one thing that encouraged me to buy a uke last year.

To be perfectly honest, my little blue uke hasn’t seen a whole lot of action. I don’t think it’s a bad uke by any means. But, for some reason, I ended up picking up a tenor-sized Kala travel uke – mostly because it was on a half-off sale, generally thought to be a good brand, and I wanted to see the differences in size.

After getting some birthday gifts that not just encouraged but also set the stage for me to start practicing uke, I find this is the instrument that I pick up most. I really love how thin the body is, for one. It makes the uke easier for me to play.

I did have to ask for a hook-strap for my birthday — which I got — and this has also gone a long way towards making it easier to hold and support the uke. My little blue uke came with a strap, so I knew that I preferred having one — it’s probably a hold-over from playing guitar.

I love that, like the violin, uke has only four strings to keep up with. The neck is generally thin enough for my short fingers to struggle with chords — something that felt nearly impossible on guitar back in the day.

In fact, most learning “methods” – I hesitate to call them methods because learning uke feels a lot less structured – start with teaching chords. C, G7 and F seem to be the staple chords that open up many songs to you… once you get your fingers to transition properly.

For me, chord switching has been the challenge. I understand where my fingers need to be (and unlike my fiddle, the frets are there to guide me), but switching smoothly in time is really the major thing I have to practice. That and learning how to strum with the proper fingers (which isn’t the thumb).

Another major hurdle to overcome with playing uke is sore fingers. The strings on a uke aren’t steel, so it’s not as bad as when I was learning to play guitar, but the pain is still there. For some reason, violin strings don’t cause this kind of pain for me. I didn’t want to get to a place where I hurt my fingers so badly practicing uke that it would hurt too much to play violin.

Thankfully, after a week of careful uke practice, I already feel my fingertips starting to toughen up. I know it takes time and consistent work to develop fingers that go unscathed by strings. But if it wasn’t for the pain, I know I could spend a lot more time practicing than I do.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my first week of uke. I fiddled around with it back when I got my first uke, so I already knew how to tune it. I also already had an idea of what it meant to strum and that chords would be the main focus. What I like a LOT about the EE book is that it does go into reading notation and playing songs based on notes.

Eventually, I really want to go into fingerstyle more than just learning chords. I’m not sure how much Irish/Celtic music is adapted to the uke, but I know some uke players make just about everything sound nice! It really is a cheerful little instrument, and I’m having fun developing new music skills with it!

Posted in Ukulele

A Uke Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday!

Some of the items I requested for my birthday were gear for my Uke. I didn’t write about it, but a few months back, I picked up a Kala travel tenor ukulele when it went on major online sale at Musician’s Friend.

I have a concert that I like, but also wanted a tenor. Since ukes (in comparison to fiddles) are pretty cheap, I didn’t see harm in trying out different sizes to see which ones fit me best.

One thing about the Kala was that there weren’t knobs on it where you could hook a strap – my concert came with those installed. I didn’t want to chance to install my own, so I looked up straps that worked for this kind of uke, and found this nice one.

On top of that, I wanted a second stand for the new uke, and looked into a method for starting to practice uke. I really enjoyed the EEI method for violin, so I went ahead and added the Essential Elements book for uke, along with all the other gear, to my Amazon wish list.

My wish list was granted, and I was gifted all these things for my birthday! So now my Kala has a new spot on my shelf with a new strap!

The next step is to sit down and figure out how to work some uke practice into my schedule without compromising my fiddle practice. One thing I know I want to do is practice in different areas of the house.

I have a corner of my bedroom, and a laptop setup, dedicated to just fiddle practice. Originally, I had to hide away in my bedroom because I had a very sensitive older cat who couldn’t handle fiddle sounds – be it my own or even a recording/video I watched online. Sadly, this cat passed away over the winter, but I still keep my fiddle playing to that spot in the bedroom, even though fiddle playing doesn’t bother my other cat.

For the uke, I want to practice in a different spot, however. While it is a risk to try to practice around my main computer in the living room (more tempted to be distracted), it just feels like a more comfortable and laid-back spot for the type of instrument it is.

I’m looking forward to the EE lessons for Uke, though I have a feeling it will be a much more casual endeavor than what I do with fiddle. I plan on starting out small next week and seeing where that leads me.

Posted in Ukulele

Welcoming the Uke!

Oh, Christmas Uke!

It has arrived – my blue ukulele!

And no, before it’s even asked, I’m not giving up on fiddle or replacing fiddle or anything of the sort.

This was an unplanned sort of thing, but the way that it sounds, uke is a far more casual instrument to plink around with. So I don’t see it competing with fiddle for real hardcore practice time.

Even though this wasn’t a planned thing, I think it was something I was working up to without knowing it. Back in high school, I used to mess around on my acoustic guitar – which I still have! – and really enjoyed playing what little I did learn of it.

However, the stopping point for me was when chords became a thing because my fingers were frustratingly short to reach the notes. It’s the same sort of problem I have playing a full sized violin.

I’ve wanted to pick up my guitar again, and even bought some new strings for it, but then I remembered the troubles I had, and the pain of working up the callouses on my fingers for the metal strings. For some reason, I’ve not had that issue with violin like I did on guitar.

I don’t remember how I got around to looking at ukes this past weekend. But it almost feels like the energy and expectations around ukes are the exact opposite of someone new to violin. It’s easy to play from the start, inexpensive to pick up a decent starter kit, and the attitude for learning is – just have fun, even if it’s just 5-10 mins a day! As long as the uke is tuned, you make a nice sound out of the box.

That’s much different than some of the violin folks I’ve seen online (fiddle folks are a bit more laid back) who tell you to get a teacher before you even buy an instrument, spend at least $300+ on your starter kit to get something playable, and put in a good chunk of time practicing every day. Only to struggle to make a good sound.

Now that doesn’t make me love my fiddle any less. It’s just a very different instrument with different demands.

In fact, I didn’t really take the uke seriously for a long time as a possible mini-guitar. But then you see things like this that show me how it could really be played.

Dang! That’s beautiful! I want to learn that one day.

Anyhow, the resources for learning and play alongs for Ukes are all over the place, and it just seems like something I could dive into and make good progress with. I already got my uke tuned up and have been strumming that C chord that seems to be the first thing you learn.

I’m pleased with the style and design of the instrument. Unlike violins, where you’re warned away from using painted on or colored woods (effects sound?), Ukes come in a variety of colors and styles. I immediately went for this Blue Hola! Concert Uke, which actually has a bit of a teal undertone overall.

The concert uke is apparently the mid size instrument, with a soprano being smaller. So I could have went even smaller than this, but to be honest, seeing it in person, I think this is the right size.

Testing my fingers on the fretboard, I can already tell this is much smaller than a guitar, and more feasible for me to play. Not only that, but it’s comfortable for me to hold even without a strap.

And most importantly, it doesn’t send my cats into a fit when I play (violin does – even a good violinist playing solo on a video does). Which means I can keep it in the front room and plink around on it at my main desk.