Saturday, March 29, 2008

While My Guitar Gently Weeps???

I walked past the stairway that leads to our basement last night like I did many times each day. For some reason, when I glanced over and saw the acoustic guitar laying against the wall down there, I thought "my guitar is gently weeping down there". And immediately after that I realized that it could make for a lame post on my blog!

You see, I was never a Beatles fan and the first time I've ever heard of the song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was from the famous Jake Shimabukkuro Youtube video. At first I thought the song was about the guy playing the 'ukulele so well that it makes a guitar weep. Of course, that couldn't have been further from being correct as I found out shortly after.

As you can see from the picture, my guitar is sitting in the middle of the stairway down to the basement. The fence there is to keep my kids and dog from going down there. Since the basement is unfinished, no one really needs to go down there anyway. I bought that guitar about 8-9 years ago from Guitar Center thinking I would learn how to play it. It turned out that I strummed it maybe 3 times before lending it to people at my church to play it. It sat unplayed at the church for the past few of years so I brought it back home last year. It had been moved around a few times but other than a few courtesy strums, it sits unplayed in the gig bag. In some ways my original assumption for the song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" can be applied to this case. I play my 'ukuleles so much that I don't ever think about learning the guitar. So in my case, my guitar is truly weeping while I hack away at my 'ukuleles.

Anyway, I thought that picture and the stupid story could be worth a chuckle. If not, know that I take the word "ghetto" in this blog seriously and a lame story like this should be expected once in a while....:P

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Case Study, Part 3

This is the 3rd part of a three part series of posts about various 'ukulele cases I own. Let's get to the last two cases.

Protec Pro Pac:

I got a Protec Pro Pac tenor case with my Koa Works tenor a few months ago. It is a slightly older model but is pretty much the same as the current Protec model. The Protec case is huge. If you look at the pictures below, you'll see that the Koa Work tenor's headstock is pretty far away from the top edge of the case. Due to the large size, it should be able to accommodate just about any tenor 'ukulele out there. I know William King's long scale tenor, which has a bigger body and longer neck than most tenors, fits in this case. There's plenty of room in there to hold just about anything you would put into a 'ukulele case. In addition, there is a huge zippered pocket outside for even more stuff. The case is constructed with hard foam and a thin layer of hard material, wither wood or maybe some sort of plastic, just under the exterior canvas cover. It comes with a strap that can be used to carry the case over the shoulder. There aren't any "D" rings on the bottom to allow you to carry it on your back like the Lanikai and Guardian cases.

This is a very nice case. It is quite a bit more sturdy than the Lanikai type of foam case but still pretty light weight. Its size is probably both a plus and a minus. On one hand, just about any tenor could probably fit in it. On the other hand, if your tenor doesn't require that much size, the case is more cumbersome than it needs to be. Overall, this is a big step up from the Lanikai type foam case and is well suited to protect the more expensive 'ukuleles.

Exterior of the Protec case.

With Koa Works tenor inside. Note the room around the headstock area.

Inside compartment. It's really big.

It has "feet" on the side and bottom. D-rings for over the shoulder strap only.

Ameritage Case:

We finally make it to the Ameritage case. These cases are far and away the most expensive 'ukulele cases I have. At around $250-300 each, these are probably not for the faint of heart. I house my KoAloha Pineapple Sunday and the Koa Works tenor in these cases. My reasoning is that I don't want to skimp on the protection for my best ukes. These cases are truly excellent.

The Ameritage case is constructed with a hardwood shell with ultra durable Cordura exterior covering and soft interior fabric. This shows the construction of Ameritage cases in detail. There is a humidifier compartment where you can place your humidifiers. There are vents on the top and side of the compartment to aid the moisture circulating the case. It also comes with a hygrometer so you can see the temperature and humidity inside the case. These are great features for a cold weather state such as Minnesota. The hardware used on this case are of very high quality and should last a very very long time. Basically this is a case that uses the best and most durable materials and has a built-in humidifying solution.

The only real negative other than the high price (although not high for what you get) is the weight. The tenor case weighs about 10 lbs., which feels quite hefty. It's not really a problem to carry for short distances, but it could be an issue if you are traveling with it and need to carry it for long distances, such as while walking to your gate at an airport. There are no shoulder straps so it must be carried by the handle. It pays to be physically strong when having to carry one of these.

These can be ordered with custom colored trim at an up charge at Here's an interactive preview tool for the custom color trims. I decided to get one with black trim and interior for the Koa Works tenor. It took a little over two month before it arrived to me. For me, it's well worth the investment to protect my best instruments such as the Koa Works tenor. These are great cases.

A standard color concert case and a custom black color tenor case standing next to each other.

Exterior of the case.

With Koa Works tenor inside.
The concert case with Pineapple Sunday.
The humidifier compartment. Notice the 4 vents for moisture from the humidifier.

Inside the humidifier compartment and accessories compartment.

Notice the "feet" at 2 of the sides.
It has "feet" on the bottom too, allowing it to be placed down 3 different ways.
So that's it for the "Case Study" series. I hope it has been somewhat entertaining for whoever that read it. I think cases are a pretty important part of 'ukulele ownership because you wouldn't think of not putting your nice ukes in a case. To me, a really nice uke deserves a really nice case. Most of the cases I have are pretty good, but the Ameritage case is truly several leagues above the rest.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Case Study, Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1 of the "Case Study", we have:

Stagg Soprano Tweed Case:
I got this case on ebay for about $55. It's not chump change but it is a pretty good deal when you consider its twin, the Bushman tweed case costs $90 before shipping. It is certainly a very classy looking case. The tweed exterior looks and feels like quality material, and the brown trim and gold hardware compliments the tween very nicely. The interior is lined with black lining and looks fine. This is a soprano-only case, as my Kanile'a super soprano does not fit inside this case.

It is solidly constructed and holds a soprano uke firmly inside. Since it does not have a "waist", which differs from the Bushman version, it also can accommodate a pineapple uke. I'm not a big fan of the buckles on this case. It works fine but unlike other buckle type cases, the buckles on this uke is a one piece stamping and the edges on the backside feels sharp. Even the buckles on the cheap no name ebay case feels like a step up from this one. There is no problem with functionality here, however, so this complaint is probably one of personal preference. The interior space is also pretty limited. I did manage to squeeze in a Herco humidifier, a cleaning cloth, and a hygrometer in it, so I guess it's sufficient.

I like this case quite a bit. It looks great and I think it compliments the Martin Style 1 pretty well. And the price is certainly right. Now on to some pictures.

Exterior. Note the buckle design.

With Martin style 1 inside.

Not a lot of storage space inside, but probably sufficient for most people.

It has one set of "feet" on the side.

Ko'olau case:
The Ko'olau case comes with a purchase of Ko'olau or Pono 'ukuleles. Mine came with the Pono cedar top tenor. It is a very nice quality case. The exterior covering feels very durable and the red stitching compliments the look nicely. The hardware are of very high quality and work great. It is pretty light so even at the tenor size it's easy to carry around. The interior offer plenty of storage space. This is a high quality case and I can't find much fault with it other than the fact that they are pretty much custom sized for Ko'olau and Pono ukes, so they don't quite fit many other brands. Ko'olau will soon offer an "Oahu" line of cases that is supposed to fit most other brands. I assume they will be of the same quality as the Ko'olau cases, which would make them a top pick if you want a mid to high end case for your new 'ukulele.

Exterior. I think it looks great.

Housing the Pono cedar top tenor. It's a perfect fit by design.

Plenty of space for humidifiers and hygrometers and other stuff.

It has "feet" on the side and bottom.

Oscar Schmidt Bell Uke Case:

The Oscar Schmidt Bell Uke was an impulse buy on my part. I was intrigued by the bell shape and found a great deal on one so I pulled the trigger. It comes with a custom bell shaped case that is really nice. The construction of the case is actually very similar to the Ko'olau case, with what feels like the same type of material on the outside and very good quality hardware used throughout. It even has what I feel is a better handle than the Ko'olau case. It's a very thickly padded handle that's kind of similar to an Ameritage case handle. Obviously the only uke that can fit inside this case is the Oscar Schmidt Bell uke, so it's pretty useless without that uke. But that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. I did find that I had somehow tore off a small chunk of the exterior covering so maybe the exterior isn't as durable as I think.

This case is easily worth $50-60, so it's a very nice bonus to have it included with the bell uke itself. Here are some pictures:
Exterior of the case. Notice the thickly padded handle.

Interior is on par with the Ko'olau case.

Decent amount of storage space. The Herco humidifier fits under the base of the neck.
Like the Ko'olau case, it has "feet" at the side and bottom.
This concludes part 2 of the "Case Study". Be sure to tune in to the 3rd and final part, where it will feature the Ameritage case.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Case Study, Part 1

Having a bunch of 'ukuleles could only mean one thing: also having a lot of cases! I just took delivery of a custom ordered tenor Ameritage case (thank God the Koa Works fits in it) and thought I'd do a review of all the different types of cases I've accumulated so far. I mean, it seems to be a fun topic right? So without further ado, I'm going to jump right in to the various cases in my possession. (This is going to be quite a long post so I'm probably going to divide it into 2 or 3 parts)

Lanikai canvas covered foam case:

This is probably the most commonly used 'ukulele case around. It is made from hard foam that's covered with a black canvas type fabric. There are many reasons why these are popular. They are light, they have a lot of storage compartments inside and out, they have a spacious interior that fits most of the ukes in the marketplace, and they are inexpensive. It also comes with 2 straps that you can use to either carry the case on your shoulder or on your back.

There are really only a couple of negatives for this case. The first is that because its large interior, many ukes fit loosely in there. It does have a Velcro tie to secure the neck, but it's kind of a pain in the butt to fasten and unfasten each time you move your uke in and out of the case. The other negative is that the case has suspect longevity. I had one where the screw that secures the handle bar started to strip out and felt like it was only a matter time before the handle is pulled apart from the case.

This is a good travel case because it is light and does a pretty good job of protecting the uke. I took my Pineapple Sunday to Hawaii this past January in a concert sized Lanikai case and it worked out really well. This case usually sells for about $40-45 shipped, which isn't too bad. Below are some pictures of this type of case.

Outside of the Lanikai case. Note the large zippered compartment.

Inside of the concert Lanikai case with 'ukulele.

Inside compartment of the Lanikai case.

Note the "D" rings on the side and bottom for the straps.

It probably doesn't take a lot of force to strip out these screws, making the durability suspect.

Guardian canvas covered case:

The Guardian canvas covered case is pretty similar to the Lanikai case, but I think it is overall a little bit better designed. It is also a canvas covered foam case. The main difference is that the handles on this case are stitched on the outer cover instead of screwed into the foam inside. I think this design should be much more durable in the long run. It too has 2 straps and the case can be carried on the shoulder or backpack style, which can be pretty handy if you need more maneuverability for your arms while carrying this case.
This case is only available in soprano and baritone sizes as far as I know. In addition, the soprano case is way too big for a normal soprano and not quite big enough for a concert, making the soprano version kind of odd. The baritone case is well sized and fits my Bushman Cedartone perfectly. Another negative would be the zipper length. The zipper runs almost all the way around the outside of the case, meaning that it takes more time to zip and unzip. Yes, that's maybe 0.5 seconds longer, but it just seem kind of excessive.
I like the baritone version of this case better than the soprano version due to the size issue mentioned earlier. It is pretty well made and at $36 shipped, very inexpensive at Musician's Friend. It is a very good choice for a budget 'ukulele case.

Note the carrying handles are stitched onto the case.

With Bushman Cedertone baritone inside.

Interior of the Guardian case.

Note that it has some "feet" on the side to set down on.

No name generic case from ebay:

When I got my Kanile'a super soprano, it came with a Lanikai soprano case. That case had the aforementioned screw stripping issue mentioned previously, so I went looking for a case that would fit the super soprano. I came across a black soprano case on ebay that had enough interior room for the Kanile'a. It cost about $30 shipped so I picked it up. The Kanile'a indeed fits comfortably inside this case. It has some simulated leather exterior that covers what feels like chipboard. The chrome hardware are kind of cheap but does the job. It also has a decent amount of room inside for some humidifiers, strings, and hygrometer. It doesn't have the storage capacity that the Lanikai and Guardian cases have, but it's sufficient. While the chrome latches are kind of cheap, I much prefer them over the zippers of the canvas covered cases. It just opens and closes so much quicker.

For the money I paid for this case, I don't have too many complaints. I already mentioned the cheap hardware, but they work just fine. The case did have an industrial sort of stench that wasn't very good. But it seem to have subsided mostly and wasn't overpowering. I think the case probably won't be all that durable in the long run, since the exterior covering is kind of weak and soft feeling, but so far it has been perfectly fine, so I don't know for sure.

Overall, I like the case, especially for the Kanile'a super soprano.

Exterior view of the case. It only has 2 latches instead of the usual 3 latches.

The Kanile'a super soprano is a perfect fit inside.

Interior compartment is small, but there's room around the headstock area for various things.

It has "feet" on the side and back.

Well, that's quite a long post. I'll cover the rest of the cases in a few days. It'll probably take 2 more posts to cover everything. If you're interested in seeing the custom color Ameritage case, stay tuned!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Big Ukes

I've resisted getting a baritone 'ukulele since I started over a year ago. I figured that it will be enough of a challenge to learn the C tuning 'ukuleles without trying to also learn the baritone's G tuning. Also, it just seemed too big to be a 'ukulele. Well, as you can see from the picture here, I have caved in and pulled the trigger on a baritone uke.

I saw those familiar (at least to ebay warriors like me) Bushman B-stock ukes while cruising ebay and looked at a few of them. The recent ones are mostly baritones and several of them were Cedartones, which kind of piqued my interest. I read the list of defects on those B-stocked baritones and one of them seemed to be in good shape with only a couple of small cosmetic issues. I ended up getting that one and received it last Friday. There were indeed no real issues with action, intonation, or other playability issues that I could see. Even the cosmetic blemishes were very minor. Most importantly, I really liked the sound coming out of the uke. I have only previously strummed one baritone uke a couple of times, so I really didn't know what they sounded like. This one definitely sounded like a guitar and I thought the sound was very pleasant. Nice and deep with good sustain. Having only had it for a couple of days now, I am very happy with this purchase. It might be my favorite cheap uke purchase yet because I really feel like it's a steal at this point. Once I have a bit more time with it I will probably post a review of it.

One thing that was kind of interesting to me about the baritone uke is that it felt really big and kind of small at the same time. It seems a lot bigger than a tenor uke, yet because it sounds so much like a guitar, it feels small because it's much smaller than a real guitar. I took a couple of pictures of it alongside my two tenors (Pono cedar top & Koa Works) and as you can see, it's significantly larger. Also note how orange the cedar on the Bushman looks compared to the Pono's cedar. I wonder if it's a matter of different species or if the factory for Bushman dyed it orange.

Anyway, my first experience with a baritone uke has been very positive and certainly exceeded my expectations. I think the baritone uke will probably always be a side diversion compared to the other sized ukes for me, but I think it will be a fun diversion judging from the enjoyment I've derived from the Bushman Cedartone in the short time I've had it so far.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Isn't it Something?

Thanks to the "Play It Forward Ukulele Video Contest" hosted by, I've been learning Something from the tutorial Dominator submitted for the contest. The tutorial is easy to follow and Dom does a good job of teaching it, so I was able to get all the chords and picking patterns down after a few days. I decided to post a video of it on Youtube despite not really being very smooth at it yet. I wanted to put up some "fruits" of the tutorial, so to speak. Here is the video:

Hopefully with continued practice I can play the solo part better. I tried several takes and this was the best I could do with the camera on so far.

Next one to do will be the Close To You tutorial Dominator had also put up over the last week. I think he should win one of those Fleas from the Play it Forward contest just because he has been "Playing it Forward" with his tabs website and other tutorials for a long time now. Thanks Dom!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

How do I love the ukulele? Let me count the ways.

It's obvious that I love the 'ukulele. That's why a blog such as this exists. Someone at Ukulele Underground forum posed the question "What do you like about the ukulele" and it got me thinking why am I so addicted to the 'ukulele? There are a lot of reasons for it, so I will put some of them down here for your reading pleasure (or not):

1. I love the sound. Yes, the first time I heard it, I just had a fondness of the sound. It was this guy playing the 'ukulele at the Dole Plantation in Oahu. I was just really drawn to the sound and noted that I really liked it. Even a humble little Mahalo uke sound pretty good by itself. That's the number one thing that drew me to the 'ukulele. It's sweet sound.

2. It is very portable. I have ukes scattered through out my house and all it takes to be playing a uke is to open the case and take it out. You can literally play it anywhere. I often take a uke out with me just in case there is some time for me to play it. Unlike say a guitar, it is so light and small (even a tenor is really not that big) that you can just tote it around and play. The portability alone makes it much easier to practice your playing since you can just move it anywhere you need to be in the house. Trying taking a guitar up and down the stairs of your house while playing something.

3. It is easy to learn. I have never played any stringed instrument before the 'ukulele and have long forgotten how to read music. Yet the 'ukulele has been really accessible and I have had a great time learning to play it. It's difficult to find anyone teaching 'ukulele lessons here in Minnesota, yet because it's so easy to pickup and play, the great materials available on the Internet makes it possible to learn to play the uke at a good pace.

4. It's unique. Outside of Hawaii and Japan, the 'ukulele is still very much a niche instrument. Not a lot of people play it. So you feel unique being a 'ukulele player. After all, it's good to be unique. Right?

5. There are great communities of 'ukulele players around the country. I have exchanged emails and even talked to some fellow 'ukulele enthusiasts I've "met" online at various forums. I have surfed the 'net on various forums before this is the first hobby where I actually interacted with other posters outside of the forums. Many of the uke players seem to be very friendly and eager to talk uke. I hope to meet many more of them at 'ukulele festivals in the future.

6. 'Ukulele lends itself to a collection. This is probably a lame reason, but I have a history of "collecting" things. It seems that anything I get into, I end up with a collection. Since 'ukuleles don't take up a lot of space and are relatively inexpensive (although more expensive than I initially thought), it's easy to build a collection. As you can see from this blog, I already have a decent sized collection of ukes. The good thing is, they are all unique in some way so I don't feel like I'm collecting a bunch of the same things.

7. It's something I can use to serve God at church. Since I've taken up the 'ukulele, I've used it to lead church worship or play backup music for others at church many times. For me it just feels more powerful to be able to play something instead of just singing. I'm very happy that it is something I can use at the church setting.

There are probably a lot more reasons I can think of for why I love the 'ukulele, but these are probably as good as any. I truly think this will be a life long commitment and I very much look forward to the rest of this journey.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Play it forward ukulele video contest @!

One of the greatest contest ideas I've ever seen is currently ongoing over at It's the "Play It Forward Ukulele Video Contest" sponsored by Julie Strietelmeier. In this contest, people are encouraged to post ukulele related tutorials to Youtube. The 3 top winners gets a sweet package including a Flea ukulele and a clip-on tuner. This is literally a contest where everyone wins because if it takes off nicely over the next month, we all should benefit from the array of new ukulele tutorials that will be present on Youtube. Heck, Dominator has already contributed a 35 minute long 4 part tutorial on how to play "Something" by the Beatles, which for me is like a prize in itself.

It should be interesting to see future entries to this contest. There has not been a lot of entries so far, but I'm guessing that many are already planning their own tutorial videos to enter the contest. If I ever feel creative enough, I might give it a shot too. So for anyone reading out there who have not heard of this contest, get going on some videos!

Which uke should I bring on my next trip to Oahu???

What's the maximum you'd spend on a ukulele case for your best uke?

If you could steal one of my ukes, which one would it be???

How curly do you like your koa? (preferably on a uke)

What's the maximum number of ukes a perfectly sane person should have???

Poll: How often do you play the ukulele???

Poll: Which guitar company's approach to ukes do you prefer???

Poll: What's your favorite type of headstock???

Poll: The new basic Collings concert uke (UC-1) sells for about $1k, your reaction is: