Friday, December 28, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
2. Bluegrass Ukuleles Cigar Box tenor: I'm very pleasantly surprised by this new uke. It has a very clear and loud sound. To me the sound reminds me of the Honu concert with more ommph. It would probably be #1 if it had a bound fretboard (I can feel the fret ends at the edge of the fretboard). As is, it's still an outstanding uke. Hey, it even stands by itself!
3. KoAloha Pineapple Sunday: I still love this uke but it drops down to #3 because I'm getting ready to bring it back to KoAloha in Hawaii for an exchange due to a flaw in the bridge. I guess maybe I'm trying to detach myself with it for a little while since it will take a bit of time before I receive the replacement. Still sounds great and has a unique style of its own.
4. G-String Honu soprano: It feels like there's a motor inside the uke pumping out great sound when playing it. It might be my favorite if I played soprano size more often.
5. Kanile'a Custom SS: It has the best looking wood among my ukes. It has gorgeous wide curly koa that I really like a lot. However, doesn't quite measure up with the above ukes in terms of sound. It doesn't sound as clear as the those ukes. On its own, I think it's a high quality sound, but I like the better clarity of the others ukes more right now. I do think it's a good thing that this one doesn't sound like those others. It gives me more variety.
So there's the current top 5 in my little collection. With a trip to Hawaii about 2 weeks away, I'm almost guaranteed to end up with another uke before the customs arrive next year. Hopefully I can end up with one that cracks the top 5. It's going to exciting to try an pick one out in Hawaii!
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
This particular cigar box uke is a little bit different than the other ones Tom has sold before in that the cigar box does not have the usual grooves around it. He uses a "House of Windsor" brand of cigar box and all of the ones I've seen before had some grooves all around it. This one did not have any grooves. This uke also came with geared tuners, which is what I preferred for precise tuning. The last few I saw had friction tuners. Here are a list of specs on this uke:
-Redwood "House of Windsor" cigar box (Tom is pretty sure it is made of redwood instead of cedar)
-Bubinga fretboard and bridge
-Ebony nut and saddle
-Poplar neck with walnut laminates and carbon fibre reinforcement
-1.5 inch wide at nut
-Gotoh geared tuners
I'll go over the uke in several categories, beginning with looks:
This cigar box uke looks great. Other than the aged look of the cigar box, it certainly looks like a well made professional instrument. And the aged look of the cigar box actually enhances the appearance in my opinion. All of the parts of this uke have a quality look to it. The back of the neck has some tasteful walnet laminates on it. the position dots on the top and side of the fretboard are made of abalone. The simple rosette is well done. The fretboard and bridge, made from Bubinga, looks good, with the bridge being more reddish from the finish applied on it. All in all, it certainly looks like a fine quality instrument.
This is the first cigar box uke I have ever handled. It certainly feels a bit different than the normal figure 8 shaped ukes. I think the square body makes is a little more difficult to hold securely compared to a conventional uke. Not too bad, but definitely noticeable. This uke also has a really beefy neck with a very thick, almost guitar-like, fretboard. The fretbard is far and away the thickest one among all ukes I've ever owned. I personally don't have a preference when it comes to the thickness of the neck, and when holding this uke, the neck feels pretty good. The action is set at a fairly standard height. I compared it to some of my other ukes and the action at the 12th fret is about the same as my other good ukes. It does feel a little bit high at the nut, but I don't think it's anything I couldn't get used to so I have no plans to lower it. Overall, it's playability is about average for a tenor, comprable to the Pono Cedar top I have.
I feel the workmanship is very good on this uke, especially considering it is made out of an old cigar box. There are no slopply gluing job and everything fits together very well. The frets do stick out from the fretboard ever so slightly so you can feel them, but they are close enough and won't cut the left hand.
This is the most important area of any uke, and happliy, this is the strongest area of this cigar box uke. It initially arrived with a set of Hilo Low-G strings. My Pono cedar top tenor was also strung with a set of low-G strings (Worth BT) and I compared the two ukes a little bit. The cigar box uke didn't take a backseat on the volume front, but I thought the Pono had a deeper and fuller sound while the cigar box felt a little thin in comparison. I didn't know if it had much to do with the Hilo strings, but since I didn't really know any low-G songs, it didn't take me long to switch it to a set of high-G Worth BT's. Despite a slanted saddle, which I thought is more for low-G setup, the intonation with the high-G strings is nearly perfect. In fact I think it has the best intonation of any uke I own. As I played songs with the new strings, I began to apprieciate this uke more and more. It still had excellent volume, and the tone is very clear yet also deep. I think it's sound is actually similar to the Pineapple Sunday, but a little deeper and less harp-like. And I'm certain that it is superior to the Pono strunged with high-G. When I had the Pono strung with high-G strings, I thought it got pretty "plinky" when going up the fretboard past about the 10th fret. There are no such issues with the cigar box as chords high up the frets still had a nice ringing sound. Overall I'm really enjoying the sound coming out of this uke with re-entrant C tuning. I think it's in the class of the Pineapple Sunday, which for me is very high praise. Tom Guy told me that his own box opened up as he played it and actually got louder. I can't wait to have mine open up a bit more.
Well, I paid $320 for this thing which I believe is the highest priced paid for one of Tom's cigar box ukes yet. And I feel that's a bargin. I feel that the sound quality of this uke is at least at the level of the Hawaiian production uke makers, whose regular tenor ukes run upward $900. Plus you get the added mojo of it being made out of a cigar box. Sure, it doesn't take as much labor to build it considering it has a ready made body, but it still takes work to make it sound good. I'm not real sure how many $300 tenor ukes I would take over this one.
Overall, this Bluegrass Ukes cigar box is a definite winner. I'm really enjoying the sound it makes. With its current string configuration (Worth BT), it is clear sounding yet deep with a lot of volume. For me it rivals the Pineapple Sunday in sound quality. It doesn't play like absolute melted butter like the P.S., but then again it isn't bad at all and you have to keep in mind that it's only a fraction of the cost. It has funky cigar box style and mine is even personalized with my name on the soundhole label. It is just a great uke that should make anyone who owns it a happy camper (hey, it's probably one of the better ukes for actual camping situations!). I know I'm very very pleased that own this little treasure. I'm sure I'll be playing it for quite a while. If you have any interest in cigar box ukes, be sure to keep an eye out on ebay for one of these Bluegrass Ukuleles. They are fantastic!
Here is a file of me playing In My Life on the Bluegrass cigar box uke. The playing sucks but it gives you an idea what the uke sounds like.
Some pictures of the cigar box:
Side view of fretboard w/abalone position dots
Check out the Autobot inlay! (OK, it's actually a sticker)
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
For the novice uke player:
-A beginner type uke of a different size than the one he/she already has. Something like a Kala or Ohana that costs under $200.
-Ralph Shaw and/or Roy Sakuma instructional videos.
-Jumpin' Jim songbooks.
For the intermediate uke player (or someone with more than 3 ukes):
-Several packs of strings of different brands and size/tension so he/she can experiment away.
-A peg-winder to go with the above strings.
-A Hawaiian made uke. Probably a Kelii since they cost less than the other Hawaiian brands and are still of high quality.
-'Ukulele maintenance products such as microfiber cloths and instrument wax/polishes.
-Advanced songbooks such as the 'Ukulele Masters books from Jumpin' Jim.
For the advanced uke player (or hopeless addict):
-Money, and lots of it, to go toward the next custom uke that's already on order.
So there's one person's suggestions for Christmas presents for the 'uke addict. Hopefully it helps out some of you out there. Or maybe not.
Friday, December 7, 2007
-My learning process for the 'ukulele
-Review of a BugsGear Eleuke
-Review of a secret uke (hint: it should be smokin'!)
-Upcoming trip to Hawaii
Hopefully I get to these topics fairly soon. Thanks for reading.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
French Polish: This yields the thinnest finish on the uke and takes the longest time and most skill to apply. The thin finish allows for the best sound possible and it looks gorgeous when done right. It is also the easiest finish to repair, assuming the luthier working on it is good at French Polishing. The problem is that it is also very fragile so great care needs to be taken on such an instrument. The Glyph Mezzo-soprano I have on order will have a French Polished finish. I am having a clear pick guard put on it as I know I tend to put scratches on the upper bout.
Lacquer: This yields a thin finish and can be done with a high gloss look. It is pretty durable but does show aging and supposedly lasts about 70-80 years or so before needing to be re-finished. I guess that's not a big concern for me as it should outlast me anyway and the re-finish would be the next owner's problem.:P It's supposed to be moderately easy to repair, although some thinks that it's hard to do an undetectable job on a repair for this finish. It does seem that lacquer finish isn't so good for the person doing the spraying as it is pretty toxic. My Kepasa Little Mac will have this type of finish. I'm not too worried about scratching it because it will have a cut-away, but it's supposed to be fairly durable against scratching anyway.
Poly: This appears to yield a thicker finish than lacquer although some luthiers say it can be applied just as thin as the lacquer type finishes. Most of the manufacturers use this type of finish as it is fast and more cost effective in a production setting. I think just about all of my ukes have a poly finish. On the KoAloha Pineapple Sunday and G-String soprano, the finish seem to be pretty thin and the instrument vibrates very freely as I strum. The Honu and Pono, with a glossy finish, seem to have a thicker finish. The Honu does vibrate very well. The Pono does seem a little more restricted but nonetheless it is loud. Poly finishes are very durable and supposed to last hundreds of years. Some believe the non-biodegradability makes poly finish not very environmental.
UV cured Poly: This is something that Kanile'a started using in 2006, which they learned from Taylor Guitars. It yields a very durable finish and makes the production process faster and more efficient. The UV chamber cures the finish much faster than normal poly finishes that has to cure in air. My Kanile'a super-soprano has a very high gloss mirror like finish which some likens to dipping the uke in plastic. I think it looks great but it does look thicker than other finishes and the uke doesn't seem to vibrate as freely as the other Hawaiian made ukes I have. Still, it sounds great and I have no problems with its sound.
So, that's what I gathered so far in my learning about uke finishes. There are also oil type finishes but I'm not real sure about their strength and weaknesses other than reading that they need to be re-done every year or something like that. I think for me personally, laquer and poly finishes probably work the best because I seem to make contact with the upper bout pretty regularly while playing. While I don't strive for perfect looking instruments, I do like to keep them looking nice instead of trashed, so a durable finish is fairly important to me. I'm hoping the clear pick guard will do the trick for that Glyph I have on order, as French Polish doesn't seem to suit my playing style too much. But I do understand the pros and cons of each finish and feel like I know enough to deal with each type of finish.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
So it was my first experience jamming with other people and I enjoyed it very much. It was great to talk to other uke enthusiasts in person. I hope to make it to more of these meetings in the future to learn and share the joy of the 'ukulele.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
1. Honu super deluxe concert: This uke seem to get better and better. It sounded better when I put Worth BM's on it over the stock Aquilas. Then I tried some Worth CD's and it sounded even better. Maybe the wood has opened up or something, but I simply couldn't keep my hands off it over the last few weeks. It's hard to believe but I would have to say it is my favorite at the moment even over the mighty Pineapple Sunday. It just sounds so absolutely crystal clear. And the volume issue I had with it when I first got it has totally disappeared. Of course, it already looked great, so it now has the total package. I hope my upcoming custom ukes can sound better than this. That would be phenomenal.
2. KoAloha Pineapple Sunday: It still sounds sublime and loud. I still dig it's unique shape very much. And it still has the most Ummph! up and down the fretboard. It's just that right now I'm favoring clarity in my uke sound so the Honu gets a slight edge. So the Pineapple Sunday sits here in 2nd place.
3. G-String soprano: I just put some Worth BL's on this uke and I think it sounds a little better than the Aquila strings it had. Of course, it already sounded awesome with the Aquilas so this just makes it even better. It's sound quality is on par with the top 2 ukes I have but I have not been focused on sopranos of late so this is where I would rank it.
4. Kanile'a "Custom SS": It fell from 2nd to 4th due to my shifting preference for the sound. Compared to the crystal clear Honu, this uke sounds deeper and a little muddier. Still a high quality sounding instrument, and I like how it does sound very different from the other ukes.
5. Pono Cedar Top tenor: Still got the nice deep tenor sound and still look great.
So there you have it. The Honu is my current favorite. It took me a while to admit to myself that I actually like an import better than the Hawaiian made ukes, but it's true as of now. Of course, my tastes could change down the road, and the custom ukes could knock my socks off. That will probably be a good time to do another one of these mindless ukulele rankings!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
- Leolani super-soprano: I kind of gave this to a guy who's more or less a friend of a friend. I'm not sure if he's actually interested in it but I was just glad to get rid of it somehow.
- Tiki Flea soprano: Good little uke. I stopped playing it after getting the so I decided I might as well sell it. I actually made money selling this, which is a testament to the popularity of Fleas.
- Harmony soprano: I got it for like $30 shipped out of curiosity. It had some super high action but sounded decent. I was trying to gather some funds to go toward a Martin so I sold it. I also got more money than I paid for it. I guess ebay has been good to me.
- K-Wave Les Paul: When I decided to go for the Honu concert, this became expendable. I also wasn't playing it much at all. At the time it was my only acoustic/electric uke, so I got a Dean Markley under saddle pickup and installed it onto my Pono Cedar top tenor. I didn't get more money than I bought it for, but it sold for about $210 and was a little better than I expected.
- Applause soprano: I just sold this one because I never played it and I really did not like the feel of the neck. This one also sold for more than I bought it for.
I have 2 more ukes slated for sale, a KoAlana concert and a Risa uke solid. The replacement for the uke solid has already arrived today, which is a BugsGear concert. I'll post my impressions on it soon.
I think 'ukuleles lend themselves to something such as UAS because they are relatively inexpensive (compared with other instrument such as guitars & violins), they are small and portable, and also because there are 4 general sizes. Having 10 ukes really doesn't take up all that much room, and if you want them out of sight (so your spouse doesn't get pissed), just put them in a closet. Try doing that with 10 guitars. Given that there are 4 sizes of ukes, just having one of each size and you end up with 4 ukes. Add different types of woods, pickup options, and different sounds, and you easily end up with 2-3 of each and your uke count shoots right past double digits! As for the cost, while a $500 Hawaiian made soprano seem like a lot, you couldn't even get a good starter guitar for that money, and some violin players pay 5 figures for their violin! Heck, I know a phD violin player who bought a violin for well over $50,000. While she is on an entirely different level musically from me, I couldn't find a $50,000 uke if I tried.
So, what are some excu...er reasons for getting so many ukes? Let me run down all the ukes I have bought as a case study:
- Leolani super-soprano: 1st uke.
- Tiki Flea soprano: Everyone says they're great.
- Pono Cedar top tenor: Needed a tenor.
- Harmony soprano: Interested in checking out a vintage instrument.
- K-Wave Les Paul: Love the Les Paul shape. Needed a uke with pickup.
- G-String soprano: Don't have a koa or Hawaiian made uke yet.
- Risa uke solid: Needed a night time practice uke.
- Martin style 1: Needed a Martin to experience "Martin sound".
- KoAloha Pineapple Sunday: REALLY loved the shape. It gets glowing reviews.
- Maccaferri Islander: Curious about all plastic ukes.
- Honu super deluxe concert: Always loved the honu motif.
- KoAlana concert: Wanted to check out a Chinese made uke.
- Applause soprano: Needed a travel uke. (never mind that I got rid of a Flea and has a Risa)
- Kanile'a super-soprano: Needed a uke with curly koa. Needed a super-soprano.
- BugsGear concert eleuke: Risa uke solid doesn't have enough frets. Needed uke with active pickup.
As you can see, all of these are legit excus...er reasons for buying ukes. Or not. I guess the point is, when you have UAS, you come up with all kinds of reasons to acquire new ukes. An overriding "reason" for me is that I live in MN and doesn't have access to any ukes other than Flukes & Fleas and some crappy Lanikai stuff. So I must buy them in order to try them. As mentioned before, I do try to sell off ukes before getting new ones, so I guess I'm doing good in that regard.
My UAS has so far taken me from medium priced ukes to some high end production ukes. The next logical step would be getting some custom made ukes. As mentioned in a previous blog entry, I have 2 such ukes on order. Since then, I have added a William King tenor to the list. I really think those customs will stop my UAS as they should be good enough to squash my desire to acquire more ukes. I guess only time will tell.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I first learned about Jake when I was browsing Youtube looking for ukulele related videos and lessons. I think it was maybe a month or two after I started learning the ukulele when I came across this video, which had already been seen by millions of people:
I was so completely blown away by it I searched iTunes store and downloaded his "Gently Weeps" album almost immediately. For me, the album showed me just what can be done on the humble instrument that is the ukulele. I dreamed of one day learning to play "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". I was listening to the song in my car constantly, over and over again. I thought I would never be able to play it or any of the other Jake songs.
After learning various chords and being somewhat adapt at chord changes in the first position during the first few months of my ukulele playing, I thought I'd try for more of a challenge. In May of this year, I contacted Dominator about obtaining the tabs for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". I had searched high and low for it and it seemed like he was the only one who had these tabs but was asked to remove them from his site. I thought it was worth a shot to ask him for it, and he was very generous in sharing it with me. I was really excited about trying to learn it and got to work on it right away. To my surprise, the gist of the song wasn't all that difficult. I was playing something that resembles the song within a few days. Maybe because I already knew what the song sounded like forwards and backwards, but it wasn't the impossible song to learn as I had previously thought. So after getting to the point where I can play it from memory, I asked Dominator for another one of Jake's tabs. He asked me to send him a video or MP3 of me playing the song to make sure I had put forth enough effort in learning it before sending me another set of tabs. I thought this was very good of him as it kept me working on one song at a time.
So lately, these Jake songs I've learned are all I've been playing on my spare time, as you can deduce from my Youtube postings. These songs are fairly challenging but not at all impossible to learn, even for a relative novice like me. It is so much fun playing these songs and thanks to these songs, my ukulele experience has been exponentially more enjoyable than it had been before. And it wasn't bad before.:)
Thursday, October 25, 2007
When it arrived to me, I wasn't all that impressed with the sound. It looked like a million bucks and the workmanship was flawless, but the sound didn't really impress me too much. It was a bit thin and quiet. Now keep in mind that since the uke I got right before this was a KoAloha Pineapple Sunday, which is in a class by itself, it probably would have taken something truly special to impress me at that point. After a day or two, I changed the stock Aquila strings to some Worth BM's (Brown Medium). It made the uke sound quite a bit better, especially at the higher frets, where it made a really nice and extremely clear sound. I also noticed that this uke has some serious sustain. Where all my other ukes, including the Pineapple Sunday, would sustain a picked note for about 4-5 seconds, the Honu would easily reach 6 seconds or more. It also had a 1.5" nut width with very wide string spacing, which makes it an excellent uke for fingerpicking. The sound still seemed a bit quiet and thin, but I was much happier with it and determined that it was a worthy purchase.
A month or so after getting the Honu, I ordered some new Worth strings, which included some CD's (Clear Dense) that I have not tried before. I decided to try those CD on the Honu. These worked very well and I thought I liked them on the Honu even better than the BM's. While the tone with the BM's sounded very nice, the uke felt a bit "slappy" sounding. With the CD's, that "slappy" sound seem to be minimized and the uke retained a nice crystal clear sound. By that time, however, I had acquired a Kanile'a super soprano and was very much enjoying that uke and the Honu was not played much.
So it has taken me a while to truly apprieciate what I had in the Honu concert uke, but I'd say it's never too late to apprieciate your ukes.
Here is a sound file of me playing Blue Roses Falling on the Honu concert.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
The first one I ordered, about 3 months into uke playing, was a Glyph mezzo-soprano uke built by Dave Means. Dave does some outstanding work as you can see from his uke gallery and has one of the best reputations among custom builders. The result of that is a waiting list close to 3 years long. When I placed my order in May of '07, my uke was scheduled to be completed around March of 2010! I just figured I'd better place an order sooner rather than later or I may never be able to get a Glyph. Choosing the mezzo-soprano size was partly influenced by economics and partly influenced by the desire for something different. I knew I wanted something bigger than a soprano but not quite a tenor at the time, so it was either a concert or the mezzo-soprano. Since the mezzo-soprano is a custom size Dave had dreamed up, I thought it would make for a great custom ukulele.
The second custom uke I ordered was from Kepasa Ukuleles, built by Kevin Crossett. Kevin is a relatively new builder who has been repairing instruments for many many years. Some of his customers had posted on various forums about how wonderful his ukes are so I checked out his website. One uke in particular caught my eyes. It was his Little Mac model. Previously I had seen an Po-Mahina Island Jazz uke from the cover of Mel Bay's Fingerstyle Solos and thought it was really nifty. I liked the looks of the Selmer/Maccaferri guitar design and these ukes looked very interesting to me. So I contacted Kevin about the Little Mac and learned that his prices were very affordable for custom built instruments. In addition, he would be able to accommodate my request to add a D-shaped soundhole and a cutaway body style. That made it a no-brainer. This uke is scheduled to start building in January of '08 and should be done by March. It'll be a nice birthday present for myself next April. :)
Even though I have not even received my first custom ukulele yet, I've been thinking about getting a custom built long scale (18 inch scale) tenor. I know I want one made with a spruce top and possibly koa sides and backs. I also want it to have a slotted headstock. The builder I'm most intrigued with is William King of Chantus Music. People who has played his ukes rave at the sound and playability. He also doesn't appear to have quite the long wait list as Dave Means, which is a big plus since I'm already going to wait over 2 years for a uke. The afore mentioned Po Mahina is another possibility to have a good custom tenor built. Other highly reputable custom builders include Mike DaSilva, and Dave Talsma. I guess by the time I am ready to pull the trigger on an order, I'll have decided which one to go with. If I had to choose right now, it'd probably be William King.
Anyway, as you can see, I have some rampant UAS going on here. I do plan to sell off ukes for each new one I acquire, but it only becomes harder and harder as each remaining uke becomes more and more indispensable. Or something.