Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I've alluded to the fact that I have another William King ukulele on order right now in a few previous posts. So let me share a little be about what I ordered this time around.

Since I already had a King tenor, I decided to go with a concert size ukulele this time. William had been making some ukes with a Nunes styled body that looked pretty cool, so I went with that body style. I like ukes with neck joined at the 14th fret, so this will be a long-scale concert. The headstock will be the same flat-top slotted headstock as seen on my King tenor, with the same Chinese character in a different font inlaid on it.

For the body material, I knew I wanted something other than koa, so I inquired about ebony since William had built a couple of pretty cool looking ukes out of Macassar ebony. William indicated that ebony makes a great uke, so I decided on that along with an Adirondack spruce top. According to Taylor guitar's website, the Macassar ebony and Adirondack spruce top combination yields a guitar that's an "an all-out cannon". I'd be pretty happy if this uke indeed turns out to be a little cannon.

I decided to bling it out a bit so its got abalone top purfling and rosette. There will also be some red side purfling that should look good against the black ebony body. There are also a couple more custom details that I will reveal when the uke is completed, so stay tuned! I certainly can't wait!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Playing the ukulele

I knew that most people who spends time reading about the ukulele on blogs like this one probably spend a lot of time playing the ukulele as well. The last poll pretty much confirmed that though. While there are a couple of you who just hang your ukes on the wall (nothing wrong with that, they look cool ;-) ), three-fourth of you play the ukulele daily. I am definitely in that group of daily players. Since taking up the ukulele in February of 2007, I have rarely gone a day without playing it.

So what do I do when I pickup my uke everyday? I mostly play the few instrumentals I know over and over. Maybe there's something wrong with me, but after playing "Gently Weeps" for probably thousands of times, I still can't get enough of playing it. The thing is, when I'm playing I'm mostly doing it to entertain myself, so I'm not really practicing hard and consequently I'm not really improving much. But I have fun with it and to me that's what matters the most. When my two daughters go to bed, a lot of times I play the ukulele in their room as they fall asleep. My younger daughter sometimes would cry when I put her into her crib, but if I stay in the room and play the uke, she's quiet and falls a sleep fairly quickly. My older daughter demands that I sleep next to her on her bed and I usually do it while playing the ukulele. This may explain why she fell asleep during the Jake Shimabukuro concert I recently took her to. :-P

These days the songs I play the most are an alternate version of "Blue Roses Falling" from Jake's "Live" CD, "Gently Weeps", "Thriller", "Me & Shirley T", and a couple other random songs. It's hard to tally how much time I play the ukulele a day because a lot of times I'm playing it while doing other things or in between other things. But when I'm at home, and even at work, a uke is usually within an arm's reach so I can scratch the ukulele playing itch when the urge comes. Once in a while, I would try to learn a new song, and that requires a little more concentration and practice. Right now I would like to learn "Gossip" and "Misty". Both tunes are extremely challenging for me and I'm dragging my feet on learning them right now, but hopefully I'll be able to learn them someday.

Anyway, playing the ukulele is very relaxing and enjoyable. It's good to see that many of you are strumming away on a daily basis. Hopefully this is a passion we can all share for the rest of our lives.

*Poll results are moved to the bottom of the page and will be deleted some time in the future*

Monday, March 16, 2009

Insanity? Or perfectly normal?

The last poll I put up asked the question "What's the maximum number of ukes a perfectly sane person should have???" Judging by the results, almost half you thought a person could own over 20 ukes and still be perfectly sane. For what it's worth, I'd probaby vote for 10 ukes. Which means I think I'm insane....:p

Yeah, I currently have 16 ukes (or is that 17?), but I stuggle to keep all of them played (I only have 2 hands...). I would say that I'm a player with a collector's mentality. What that means is I buy all of the ukes with the intention of playing them, but I have difficulty letting some of them go even if I don't really play them because I like the idea of owning it. Case in point, the Pineapple Sunday. It's a great uke. I love the looks and I think it has a very high quality sound. But I rarely play it because I like playing the other more traditional ukes I have more. So if I'm being honest with myself, I should probably move it. But I do like the Pineapple Sunday's appearance quite a bit and it is somewhat rare, so I feel like I should keep it.

I guess 10 ukes would be a good number of ukes to own so that one has a lot of variety but also can rotate though them within a reasonable amount of time. I would love to own 10 or less ukes, but right now I have a real hard time deciding which ones to let go. I like pretty much all of the ukes I have right now (except for the Sonny D, which I don't even count as part of the collection anymore :P). I guess this is what you get when you have a bad case of UAS.

This is how often my ukuleles get played:


-King tenor
-DaSilva Santo repro(so far, probably move off this category in a few weeks)

Regular rotation (a few times a week):

-Kamaka tenor
-Kanile'a super-tenor
-Kepasa Gypsy Rose
-LoPrinzi tenor (new uke. Might move down in a few weeks. Already being squeezed out a little bit by the Santo)

Infrequent (a few times a month):

-Koa Works tenor
-Pineapple Sunday
-Kiwaya KTS-7 (might be moving up as I get into sopranos a little more now)

Once in a blue moon:

-Kanile'a super soprano (I ought to play this one a bit more. Still like it a lot)
-Honu concert
-Bluegrass cigar box
-Uklectic concert
-National concert (listed for sale at FMM right now)
-Martin Style 1 (tried to sell it on ebay but got a non-paying bidder)
-Bushman Cedartone baritone (basically a novelty uke for me)

So there are definitely some that I should probably find new homes for (so I can get new ones!) but since I'm self proclaimed as insane, who knows what will happen.

Anyway, at least it's good to know that many of the readers of this blog doesn't think I'm crazy. Thank you for the vote of confidence. Now, where's that next uke I'm looking for???

Here are the poll results (34 total votes):
>Over 20 (no limits): 16 (47%)
>10 (double digits): 8 (28%)
>4 (one of each size): 7 (20%)
>1 (why would anyone need more?): 2 (5%)
>Playing the uke IS insane!: 1 (2%)

*Actual poll is moved to the bottom of the blog and will be removed sometime down the road*

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sliding on the Santo

The DaSilva Santo reproduction I just got is really a pretty cool little ukulele, with emphasis on "little". I still can't get over how small it is! I had thought that sopranos are the easiest size to play but when you're trying to fit your fingers into compressed spaces past the 12th fret (the Santo is in fact a slightly short scale soprano, checking in at 13"), all of a sudden those Jake Shimabukuro songs become pretty challenging to play.

The uke's got a big sound for such a small body and the workmanship and decorations on it are spectacular. I waited more than double the originally promised delivery date for this guy but I think the end result is worth it.

Here's a quick demo of this ukulele playing Craig Robertson's Staten Island Slide.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dusting off the sopranos

If you've read this blog for a while, you would know that I play mostly tenor and concert ukuleles and rarely touch my sopranos. Well, a few months ago I saw a video by Neal Paisley playing an original tune called Gossip. I was blown away by his skills on the soprano in that video and thought it would be cool to be able to play that song. Of course, I do not have the skills to learn it by ear and didn't have enough motivation to try and learn it by watching the video, so it remained a fantasy in the back of my mind.

Several weeks ago, I found out that Woodshed from Uke Hunt had tabbed out this arrangement on his website. I had to check it out. After trying it for a little while I found it difficult but seemed to be doable eventually. I thought it would be cool to learn this and play it using my Kiwaya KTS-7, because I actually bought the KTS-7 from Neal. Since starting on the tabs, I had not spent too much time learning it so I hadn't made too much progress. Then a couple of days ago I received my DaSilva Santo reproduction soprano. It was a like a shot of motivation to learn the song on the soprano sized ukulele and I've since made a little more progress on it. The Santo repro has also rekindled some interest in soprano ukes and caused me to take out the KTS-7 several times lately. I'm beginning to appreciate it more. I've always thought it was a very good instrument, but really have not spent much time playing it. I had contemplated selling the Kiwaya since I hardly played it, but I think I'll hang on to it now. I still love the style 3 appointments and it really is a great sounding and playing instrument. I guess it's better late than never to come to appreciate a fine instrument. I don't think I'll ever become a "soprano person" (sorry Howlin' Hobbit :p), because I just feel more comfortable with tenors and concerts, but I'm pretty sure sopranos will always have a place in my collection and I've always considered them the "true ukulele".

Anyway, here's the video of Neal Paisley playing Gossip. Hopefully I can get it down soon and post a ghetto playing version of it soon:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New arrivals

The last several days has been pretty good in terms of ukuleles for me. There was the Jake Shimabukuro concert in town. And there were two new ukes that arrived within the last week. The newcomers are a LoPrinzi model A mahogany tenor and a DaSilva Santo reproduction soprano. The LoPrinzi arrived last Friday and the DaSilva arrived today.

LoPrinzi ukes have always received high praise from people who have played them and I had always wanted to try one. There was one that appeared on the FMM Marketplace and I decided to grab it since I do not currently have a mahogany tenor (yes, it's a UAS excuse). To make room, I sold the Kelii tenor to someone who really wanted one. The first impressions of the LoPrinzi is that the workmanship is outstanding. Among the best workmanship I've seen. Sound-wise, it's not quite in the league of my Kamaka and Kanile'a, but it's very nice, and I still want to try some Worth CTs on it. Definitely worth the price.

The DaSilva Santo reproduction is one heck of a tiny ukulele. I had seen videos of it being played by John King and Mark Occhionero, and pictures on Mike DaSilva's website, but I was still surprised by the size of this uke. The body actually seem smaller than a sopranino and is very narrow. I tried to sell the Martin style 1 on ebay to make room for this one, but unfortunately I got jacked by a non-paying bidder so I'll probably still have the Martin for a while longer.

This picture should give you an idea about how small the Santo reproduction is. On its left is the Kiwaya KTS-7 and on its right is a tourist Leolani sopranino. As you can see it is noticably smaller than the KTS-7 and it doesn't appear to have much more body volume than the sopranino. After playing the Santo reproduction for a bit, the KTS-7 felt huge! It does pump out a lot of sound and is a very cool and very well made ukulele. I specified a UV cured finish instead of the standard french polished finish to save some money ($200 off) and increase its durability. The finish appears to be the same as Kanile'a's UV cured finish and if that's the case it should be pretty much indestructible. I will share more thoughts about the LoPrinzi and the DaSilva here in the future once I had more time with them. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jake Shimabukuro in St. Paul

I took my three and a half year old daughter Nadia to the Jake Shimabukuro concert last night in St. Paul. She has heard Jake's music for more than half of her young life thanks to my ever present playing around the house. While she doesn't usually react too much too instrumentals (she likes singing), she's seems to enjoy most shows that we've taken her to see.

It was an especially cold day yesterday. Temperature around here had been in the mid to high 30's recently, but dropped to probably below 10, with some light snow. I'm sure Jake enjoyed that. Anyway, we made it there at around 6:50PM or so. Before the show, which starts at 7:30, there was what they called a "lecture" (I think) at the second floor outside the main hall. I don't know the name of the group, but there were two people there singing while the audience waiting for the show gathered around and listened. A girl played an Oscar Schmidt ukulele (one that looks like an electric guitar) and a guy played the guitar. When we got there they were just finishing up their song and then answered some questions for the audience. A few people asked the girl about ukuleles and based on her response, I think the ukulele was just a musical tool for her and she didn't seem to have any special knowledge of it other than knowing how to play it.

Once that was done, the doors to the main hall opened and we went in to find our seats. I found out later that the main hall had a capacity of 1900 people and they sold about 1500 tickets. I think that's a heck of a lot of people buying tickets for a relative unknown artist around these parts. Perhaps many of the people who showed up did not know what to expect, but I think they were treated to a good show.

The show was broken into two halves with an intermission. During the first half, Jake played mostly songs that were more familiar to me such as Blue Roses Falling and Let's Dance. During the second half, he played a few songs that I had not heard much of before such as Piano Forte and Five Dollars Unleaded. I was really hoping that he played Thriller, but alas, it wasn't on the set list last night.

Nadia sat on my lap most of the time during the show and during the second half, she fell asleep despite the fairly loud music pumping through the speakers. I kind of wonder if Jake's music has become her bedtime music since I'm usually playing the ukulele next to her when she goes to bed and lot of what I play is Jake's music. Whatever is the case, she was a good little companion and I was able to enjoy the show very much.

After the show, Jake made himself available at the second floor outside the main hall to chat, take pictures, and sign autographs. Since I already met him last year and there were so many people, I was thinking maybe I would just leave after the show. But Jake announced during the show that they have his new Live album available for sale afterwards, so I had to stay to get a copy.

The line was indeed very long. We actually got in toward the front part of it but it still took almost an hour to reach him. Just before where Jake was standing, they had setup a table to sell his CDs, T-shirts, and some other stuff. I grabbed the Live CD and decided to get a copy of Gently Weeps as well. I had downloaded the album from itunes quite a while ago, but I thought it would be cool to get the actual album signed by him since it's by far the most influential album to me as far as ukulele goes. Without that album, I probably wouldn't be anywhere close to being such a ukulele nut today.

As we approached the merchandise table, Jake saw Nadia and started waving to her. She was holding a pink Makala dolphin bridge ukulele and he asked if that was her ukulele. When it was our turn to meet with him, she walked up to him and he ask what her name was. She told him and when he asked if she wanted him to sign her ukulele, she said yes. I proceeded to tell Jake about our little video of her singing Aldrine Guerrero's Buttercup and told him he could tell Aldrine that he actually met the 3 year old who covered his song next time he sees him (Aldrine had left a comment on our video, so I'm pretty sure he knows about it). Jake also signed the 2 CDs I bought and thanked us for coming. You can tell that he's genuinely appreciative of the support from his fans and I think that's even more likable than his music. As we left, Jake told Nadia that he'll tell Aldrine that he met her. I thought that was pretty cool. It may or may not actually happen, but a nice moment nonetheless.

So this was the 2nd time I've seen Jake play in person within the last year. Previously I thought I would never be able to see him play live unless I got lucky and caught a show in Hawaii, so it is definitely cool to have him come here and play. I'm pretty impressed that there were over 1000 people who showed up for this show despite the bad weather outside. Hopefully there will be future Jake Shimabukuro shows in the Twin Cities. Definitely a great experience.

Nadia's autographed pink Makala

CD's signed by Jake

Monday, March 9, 2009

Going to see Jake again!

Last year I was thrilled by Jake Shimabukuro's visit to the Twin cities. I found out about that one pretty late so I only got to sit in some seats that were very far away from the small stage at the Jazz club he played at. Soon after that concert, I found out Jake was coming to Minnesota again in 2009, this time to the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul on March 10th.

I dragged my feet in ordering the tickets but when I eventually did, there were still a few seats left in the section closest to the stage. So hopefully this time I'll get a better view of the action. I will be taking my 3 year old daughter with me. Hopefully she'll enjoy the show. Maybe she can get her new pink Makala ukulele signed by Jake or something. LOL!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Curly Koa?

The latest ghetto poll asked the question: "How curly do you like your koa?" (results moved to the bottom of the left side of the blog) This time we only got 17 votes, but hey, that's still a lot more than the 4-5 I thought we'd be getting when I started doing polls. The majority of the voters (10 or 58%) preferred more subtle curls in their koa. Only 4, or 23%, liked as much curl as possible. Of course, this is a very small sampling of opinions, but I'm still a little bit surprised that so many more people prefer less than master grade stuff. The picture on this post roughly shows curliness from no curl (right) to 5A curly koa (left).

My personal preference is definitely for the high grade stuff. I've always like the look of super curly koa in pictures, and when I got the William King tenor with the 5A stuff, I thought it looked even more stunning in person. But I think the 2A-3A stuff looks very good too. The 2nd (Kanile'a) and 3rd (Koa Works) ukes from the left on the picture are more or less 2A-3A koa. The curls on those sometimes require you to tilt the ukulele in different angles to see. That's kind of gives off a 3D quality which is pretty cool.

The Kamaka, which is the 2nd one from the right, has very very subtle curls in the wood. It is more dominated by the dark vertical steaks in the wood. I've read that those streaks don't really factor into wood grading, but I think they definitely add to the appearance of the piece of wood.

So in conclusion, there is no conclusion...Everyone has their preference. There are even people who don't like any curls in their koa, so it really is to each his/her own. Good thing there are plenty of choices out there right now for all the different preferences. One thing's for sure, koa looks great regardless of how much curl it's got! (well, except for the one voter who voted for no koa...)

Here are the results of this poll. Look for more ghetto poll questions whenever you visit this blog!

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

1. If 6A koa exists, sign me up!: 4 votes (23%)

2. I like them, but prefer the more subtle looking stuff (2A-3A): 10 votes (58%)

3. Straight grain for me. Curls belong on french fries: 2 votes (11%)

4. Koa is not my style. Get me some mango! (or insert any other wood): 1 vote (5%)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's "Kay-Li-Ee" for Kelii

Kelii (pronounced "Kay-Li-Ee" as told by the shopkeeper at Lahaina Music in Maui) has always seemed to be the forgotten brand among Hawaiian made ukuleles. While ukulele enthusiasts routinely talk about the "K" brand Hawaiian ukuleles (Kamaka, KoAloha, Kanile'a, Ko'olau, and G-String - OK, so G is not K...), Kelii usually seemed to be left out of the conversation. Yes, there has been discussions about Kelii ukes among various ukulele forums on the internet, and pretty much all of it positive, you will probably agree that compared to the other "K" brands, Kelii is very much a minor player when it comes to brand recognition.

Since most of the Kelii discussion I've read about had been very positive, which paints Kelii ukes as equal to the other "K" brands but at about 3/4 of the price, I've always wanted to try one. My first chance came about a year and a half ago, when MGM had a custom Kelii mango/spruce-top super-soprano for sale at about $350 or so. It was fairly blinged out and the price seemed very good. However at the time I didn't want to spend that kind of money (funny, now that I think about it) and made a lower offer for it. MGM declined and the uke was bought by someone else later on. I kind of regretted that and waited for the same model to appear later but it never did to this day. When I went to Oahu in January of 2008, I played a bunch of ukes but only came across a grand total of one Kelii ukulele. I think it was a concert and looked kind of shopworn and I didn't think that was a good representation of a Kelii ukulele. I later learned that Kelii had been concentrating on their import Koa Pili Koko line and had not produced many Kelii ukuleles lately.

So my curiosity about Kelii ukuleles was never really satisfied until this past November, when I scored Kelii tenor from MGM that was on sale for $450. I mean, a solid koa ukulele made in Hawaii for $450? Sign me up! So how does this ukulele measure up? Let's check the stats first:

-Solid koa body
-Mahogany neck
-Grover friction tuners
-1.5" rosewood nut
-Tenor scale (slightly long at 17.25") rosewood fretboard w/3 position dots in MOP
-Rosewood bridge with rosewood saddle

The first thing you notice when holding the Kelii tenor is the very thick neck profile. It feels very thick and wide compared to all other ukuleles I have. But the second thing you notice while holding it is that it's a very light ukulele. Despite the thick neck and thinner than normal body depth, it feels very balanced and light in my hands. I really like the feel of the neck and am definitely impressed with the weight and balance Kelii achieved with this ukulele. Besides the aforementioned thick neck and thin body depth, it has more of a "bowled" back than most ukuleles I've seen. It's not really bowled like an Applause uke, but the curve is more pronounced than other traditional tenors I've tried. Other unorthodox touches include rosewood nut and saddle. Kelii is the only maker to my knowledge that uses rosewood for nut and saddle material. I don't think it affects the sound or anything, and it makes for a more unique ukulele.

This is a standard model Kelii tenor and has the bare minimum of adornments (i.e. no bling whatsoever). However, it does have some pretty nice koa. From the pictures posted here you should be able to see some light curls on the koa body. It is nicely bookmatched and well put together. The workmanship is perhaps not the most flawless I've seen, but certainly pretty good. A peek inside the soundhole shows a pretty tidy interior with almost no glue residue. In keeping with the slightly unorthodox style of the Kelii ukulele, the bracing inside appears to be done using koa instead of the more common spruce braces. Also, instead of kerfed linings for the top and back, it uses a solid un-kerfed strip of wood bent to the shape of the top and bottom. Perhaps using these braces and linings saves on production costs, but I'm not entirely sure.

When I first got this ukulele, the action was a bit higher than I'd like, so I sanded down the saddle and got it to a more comfortable playing height. In about a week or so after that, the action felt lower than I had set it at, indicating that the neck had moved a little bit. The relative humidity here during the winter is about 20, so I think a little bit of neck movement is entirely within reason, even with 2 humidifiers in the case. And since it has not reach the point of buzzing, the low action is welcomed. As setup right now, it is easy to play and offers a very pleasing sound. I think the sound gives off an "island" vibe more so than my Kanile'a and Kamaka tenors. It has more of a woody sound with good sustain and volume. It sounds like something Iz would be strumming while singing Over the Rainbow. Check the soundfile at the end of the review to hear it for yourself. Personally, I prefer the more "robust" sound of the Kanile'a and Kamaka, but I think the Kelii offers a very high quality sound and is certainly distinctive. For all the unorthodox qualities it has, I think it probably is the most "traditional" sounding tenor out there.

Overall, I think Kelii definitely belongs with the other Hawaiian "K" brands. I hope they get back to regular production of Kelii ukuleles soon because they are certainly a great value. Right now they are pretty rare, so if you come across one, better grab it before it's gone.

Here's the soundfile. Guess which song is played on the Kelii???

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Minnie and ukulele

When I took the pictures for the last lineup update, I thought since I had all the ukes out at the same time, I would take some pictures of individual ukes too. The pictures from the last few reviews were from that session. In addition to the group shots and single shots, I also decided to take my daughter's Minnie Mouse doll and take some pictures of it posed with some of my ukes. (Don't ask me why. Maybe I was just bored or something...)

The Nikon D300 I used to take these pictures is a very good camera and capable of taking good pictures in low light conditions (well, I didn't exactly have anything to help with lighting adjustment) and I took the pictures with the ambient afternoon light without using a flash. Being a novice at taking pictures (the camera is technically my wife's), I experimented with some ISO and aperture settings to while taking the pictures to see how they might compensate the relative lack of lighting. That's why you might notice that some of the pictures are brighter than others and have different look.

Anyway, just thought I'd throw the pictures up here since I did take them. Hope you enjoy them.

William King LS-tenor

Bluegrass cigar box tenor

Koa Works tenor

Sonny D purpleheart tenor (you should avoid Sonny D ukes, it's kind of disassembling and cracking itself right now)

Kala tenor-neck soprano

Kiwaya KTS-7

National mahogany concert

KoAloha Pineapple Sunday

Kelii tenor

Kanile'a super tenor

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: