Monday, December 6, 2010

Location, Location, Location

No, I'm not into the real estate business. I'm talking about where my ukes are built. Just for fun, I thought perhaps I'd track where all of my current ukes are made.

-Hawaii (6): Kamaka tenor HF-3, Koa Works tenor KW-4, Kanile'a super-soprano, Ko'olau CE-1, KoAloha Pineapple Sunday, Aaron Taylor milo/spruce tenor.

-Texas (3): William King spruce/koa LS-tenor, William King macassar ebony/spruce LS-concert, Collings UC-1.

-China (2): Kala Acacia Pocket uke, Bushman Cedartone baritone.

-Japan (1): Kiwaya KTS-7 soprano.

-Indonesia (1): Lanikai zebrawood concert.

-Indiana (1): Bluegrass cigar box tenor.

-California (1): DaSilva Santos reproduction soprano.

-Maryland (1): Glyph koa Mezzo-soprano.

-Vermont (1): Kepasa Gypsy Rose concert.

It's not very surprising that the greatest percentage of my stash has originated in Hawaii. After all, it is a Hawaiian instrument. But I thought I had more China made ukes. Texas coming in second is a slight surprise, but I guess I'm a William King fanboy, so that explains it. Unlisted is the upcoming Mya-Moe that's going to be made in Washington.

Anyway, I guess this kind of shows that ukes are being made all over the place, not just in Hawaii or China.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Shore Break

Ever since I heard Kalei Gamiao's Kiss by a Rose and Mach 4, I've been interested in his music and bought his self titled CD. The CD contains all ukulele instrumentals and proved to be very enjoyable for me. Most of the songs have accompaniments by other instruments but there are a few ukulele solo arrangements as well. One of them is the 2nd track called Shore Break. It is one of my favorite songs from this CD and I recently decided to try to learn it. I've usually learned ukulele solo arrangements either by finding tabs or watching videos of the song I'm trying to learn to try to figure out how to play them. Since this is very much an unknown song, there is no videos or tabs I could find. So the only way to learn it is by ear. Luckily for me, this is a pretty simple song and I was able to learn it by ear relatively easily. I was pleasantly surprised by this and hopefully I can get better with learning by ear as I continue to play the ukulele.

For making a video of this song, I was thinking about using the William King LS-concert, which I've been reconnecting with recently after a couple of solid months of almost exclusively playing the new Glyph. But when I was ready to do some takes, I decided to try it with the Koa Works tenor as I have not played it in a while and wanted to give it some playing time. I was able to play it on the Koa Works tenor so I figure I'd take a video with this ukulele. This uke is probably the best sounding tenor in my stash o' ukes, so it deserves to be played more often and be featured in more videos.

By the way, I hope you like this song. I probably didn't do it justice, so if you like Kalei Gamiao's music, be sure to check out his CD.

(*It seems Youtube is acting a bit wonky when I uploaded this. If you can't see it on this page, try double clicking it to open it on a separate page)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pocket Uke craziness

I promised trying crazy stuff on the Kala Pocket Uke, and here is the first attempt. I've become somewhat of a Mach 4 junkie and have been playing it all the time, so I thought I'd try it on the Pocket uke! If you watch the video below, you'll probably agree that it ain't a pretty sight. But hey, I tried. No, the Pocket Uke definitely is not suited to play solo arrangements, but it is fun to try, even if I look and sound bad doing it. :p

Without further ado, here is Mach 4 on the Kala Pocket ukulele. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mini-Me or Tiny Tim???

Uke-crack arrived yesterday in the form of the Kala Acacia Pocket ukulele. While I have tried to find as many reviews, pictures, and videos of it as I awaited its arrival, I must say that I was still not prepared for just how friggin' small this thing is! No, it doesn't actually fit in your pocket, but it is a really really small ukulele. It is definitely smaller than I expected and I don't think seeing pictures of it next to other ukes would really drive that point home (Although I do present a couple of such pics at the end of this post). You need to see this thing in person to appreciate its smallness.

Aside from the small size, my other first impression upon picking this ukulele up is that it is pretty heavy for its size. It's built like a tank, which isn't necessarily a good thing when talking about ukes. I don't know if it's because the body is so tiny and therefore the wood seems thicker, but it sure feels that way. I held my Collings UC-1 on one hand and this uke on the other, and I can't really tell much difference in weight. Granted, the Collings is really built very light, but it's like 5 times the size (OK, I'm exaggerating) of the Kala. So perhaps this pocket uke is a bit overbuilt, but maybe it needed to be built this way, I'm not sure. It does look well built. Perhaps not the most perfect workmanship (some glue and a little bit of wood shaving is visible on the inside of my copy), but I would rate it as very good. The acacia wood body looks nice, with some very faint curls in the wood. The headstock has an inlaid Kala logo in maple and an overlay of what appears to be clear plastic, which gives it an interesting effect.

The sound is predictably thin and not especially loud. I tried CFAD, DGBE, and GCEA tunings and decided to stick to GCEA for the time being. In CFAD and DGBE, it didn't seem to sound much better than GCEA and most songs I tried didn't sound that great in those tunings despite the strings are all "spaced apart" the same. It does seem to have pretty good intonation, but the Aquila strings are still stretching so much it's hard to tell since the strings seem to go out of tune as I play. Speaking of tuning, I used my brand spanking new Peterson StroboClip to tune this baby and it was surprisingly easy. I thought given the sensitivity of the tuner and the short scale of the ukulele, combined with friction tuners, I was going to be in for a workout to tune it. Turns out I was able to get the strings dialed in fairly quickly using the StroboClip, so I'm definitely happy with the new tuner.

While the sound of the pocket uke is not really all that great (yes, it's super tiny, but even if you consider it good for its size, it's still not that great in absolute terms), it IS fun to play. It is somewhat difficult given how small the scale length is, but there's something inherently fun about playing a tiny ukulele that actually produces all the right notes (unlike cheapo toy ukes you can get at ToysRUs or Hawaiian tourist shops). I've read a few reviews of the pocket uke where the reviewer says it's fun to play, but I didn't really understand what they meant until I played it myself. This ukulele is all about its tiny size. If all else is equal and this is a standard sized soprano, I'd probably return it. But its size makes it a keeper, which is probably difficult for people to understand unless they've handled one of these. Once you've handled it, you would probably either love it or hate it.

So the biggest problem most people will have with the Kala pocket uke is the price. The street price for the mahogany version is $210 while the acacia version is $280. To put the $280 price for the acacia in perspective, you can buy the Kala acacia TENOR for $21 more from most dealers. That uke is like 10 times bigger than the pocket uke!! (ok, exaggerating again. It's only 6 times bigger) It doesn't take a math major to realize that the value quotient for the pocket uke is extremely low. The only reason I went for the acacia version is because I found one for $240 shipped and decided "what the hell" on the $30 premium over the mahogany version because I really wanted the acacia. Now, I don't really have a problem with the pricing on these ukes because I believe that it may actually be more difficult for Kala to make these. Dave Means of Glyph once said that it's most challenging to get good sound out of a small soprano box, and it doesn't get much smaller than these. Also, I think it's more difficult to ensure good intonation on a shorter scaled instrument. I imagine Kala needed tighter quality control to get these to intonate correctly. So personally speaking, I can understand why these ukes carry such relatively high price.

So who will buy these things? I kind of doubt too many are sold over the internet. Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't see many people shelling out $210~280 for these pocket ukes just by looking at pictures or even videos of them. Like I said, you can almost get the acacia tenor for this money, and there are a slew of nice imported solid wood ukes of all sizes at this price point. So I think it's a tough sell over the internet. However, I'm willing to bet quite a few gets taken home when people actually handle them. It's just so damn cute you almost can't help it. It's like seeing a puppy in a pet store or something. And if you think the price is too high, there are basically no alternatives. There are several sopraninos out there made by the likes of Ohana and KoAloha, but I assure you the Kala pocket uke is much smaller. So you must pay to play, basically.

I've only had mine for under 24 hours as I type this post, but so far I am happy with this purchase. That's not to say I recommend you jumping online and order away. I think you really needs to handle it to determine if you love it or hate it. Either that or you need some money burning a hole in your pocket to give it a try. I have to admit I basically had some hot cash to blow on it, but right now I fall in the camp of those who love it, so I guess the gamble has paid off.

So that's the first impressions/semi-review from this crack, I mean uke addict. I will be attempting some songs that probably should not be played on this ukulele, so stay tuned for some vids!

Peace, love, and ukulele baby!


Headstock with Kala logo inlaid in maple:


Front of the pocket uke:


Back of the pocket uke:


Next to the Collings UC-1. I swear the pocket uke feels smaller in person:


Side view next to the UC-1:


Next to the DaSilva Santos Repro. The Santos is almost sized like a sopranino:


Side view next to the DaSilva:


The Kala is actually a little thicker than the DaSilva:

Monday, November 29, 2010

New (to me) gadget: Peterson StroboClip

Sometimes reading online forums can be a costly thing. A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on FleamarketMusic Forums about a clip-on tuner made by Peterson. I had never heard of this company before and it was the first time I've heard of the term "strobe tuner". I've bought a few clip-on tuners over the years, sometimes buying one for no reason other than to try out something different from what I already have. I think I've bought 2-3 different kinds, but I've always like the Intelli IMT-500 (and later the Oahu branded version where they tightened up the buttons so they don't rattle) the best. It had the best form factor and was pretty quick and easy to use. So after reading about the Peterson StroboClip, I guess I got a case of the TAS (Tuner acquisition syndrome) and did some research online about this tuner. It turns out the StroboClip is a relatively new product and boasts several features that typical chromatic tuners lack. The biggest selling point is that it has superior accuracy, capable of being accurate within 0.1 cent. That's pretty good considering on most clip-on tuners, the resolution of the display is usually much lower than that (the Intelli IMT-500 has ticks spaced 5 cents apart on it's scale). Another selling point is that Peterson has this thing called "Sweeteners" where it gets you to tune your instrument to instrument specific "offsets" so that it sounds better. I tried reading the reasoning behind the Sweeteners and could not really understand it. If you're interested, check the Peterson website. Anyway, there are over 30 Sweeteners on the StroboClip, including one for the ukulele. That pretty much sold me on the tuner. Now, the StroboClip has a street price of $70, so it is way more expensive than any clip-on tuners I've every purchased. But I figured it probably would be worth it for the superior accuracy, so I pulled the trigger on it.

The StroboClip arrived today. It came in the above pictured square tin can with the tuner situated inside on a form fitted piece of foam. It came with a sheet with instructions in several languages. Since I had already read a lot about this tuner before its arrival, I skipped the instructions and immediately put it to work. The way the strobe tuner works is that when you play a note, a checkered field will scroll around above the note display on the tuner screen. The field will scroll to the left or right to denote whether your note is flat or sharp. For example, if you're playing the C note, and the checkered field scrolls to the left, it means you're flat, the degree of which is denoted by how fast it is scrolling in that direction. Likewise, if you're sharp, it will scroll to the right. When you get it to be perfectly in tune, the scrolling should stop. In practice, getting it to stop completely might be pretty difficult, since it is accurate to within 0.1 cent. It took only a few tries to get the scrolling field to more or less "freeze", so while it is different, I didn't think it was too difficult to use. There is a "sustain" mode that's designed for use with instruments that has fast decay, such as a ukulele, and it worked well for me. I set the tuner to the "ukulele Sweetener" and tuned the uke in this mode. It didn't seem to be much different than the standard tuning mode. The G-string might have been tuned a tick down, but I'm not sure. My ears aren't sharp enough to pickup the difference it made, but maybe in the long run I will. Who knows. The ukes I tuned using this tuner all sound very much in tune, and checked out with my other Intelli/Oahu tuners, as expected.

Before I conclude this post, let me go over the construction of this unit a little bit. The casing of the tuner is made of aluminum with a rather coarse brushed texture. The sides of the main casing is silver colored plastic as well as everything else, which includes the stem and the clip. Being made out of mostly aluminum and plastic, it feels light enough and the casing should prove to be durable. I do wish the stem connecting the casing to the clip is also made of aluminum though. It may end up being durable enough, but it certainly looks like it could be beefier. I would have preferred the casing to be plastic and the stem to be metal. Come to think of it, it would have been fine with me if the tuner came in a cardboard box and the tin used to make the tin can is used to make that stem. The casing is well articulated and you should be able to find a good viewing angle while its clipped onto any headstock. Overall I don't think the construction is cheap or anything, even for its high price, but I guess I get a little nervous when the bigger part between two interconnected parts is the one that's metal while the smaller one is plastic. To me it's safer if it's the other way around. But it does feel relatively sturdy now, so hopefully it will last. Before receiving it I read many comments saying that they wished it was black instead of silver. I would tend to agree that a black tuner clipped onto a headstock looks better, but having it clipped to my ukes in person, I think the silver looks pretty good. This is just a personal opinion though.

So the big question is, is this thing worth $70? For the vast majority of recreational ukulele players, I'd say it is not worth it because you can get a ukulele tuned accurately enough using a $15 clip-on chromatic tuner. However, if you have great ears and want the most accurate clip-on tuner available, this is probably the best choice. It has a lot of features for a clip-on, and it is very accurate. Compared to a normal strobe tuner, $70 is actually pretty cheap. As for me, while I certainly don't need this type of accuracy, I think it's nice to know that my uke is close to being perfectly tuned and while I can't really tell how the "Sweetener" function impacts the sound, perhaps someday down the road I can. For these reasons, I'm pretty happy with this purchase. Again, I can't say I would recommend this tuner to most people, but if you know what you're getting into and have the money to burn, it's not a bad addition to your collection of ukulele related gadgets.

Back of the tuner:


StroboClip in action, tuning the C-string:


Showing the amber colored backlight:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Uke-crack!

No, I'm not talking about cracks found on ukes that have been left dehydrated in a dry environment. The uke-crack I'm talking about here is like when one is addicted to drugs (or suffering from UAS). That is, a small dose of ukulele to help calm the urge to acquire more ukes. I guess I've had my some recent UAS flare ups in the form of the Lanikai zebrawood concert and the Mya-Moe order. Apparently I'm in need of more uke-crack because I've just pulled the trigger on a Kala Acacia Pocket Uke! (it's for my son! Honest!)

As with any UAS induced uke-crack purchase, I must come up with a few excuses for it. First off, I've always wanted one of those Kala Acacia ukes because the Acacia comes from Taiwan, my home country. I've always thought I'd get one of those slotted headstock Acacia tenors to fulfill this desire, but by the time it came out, I have already had too many tenors and I've become more of a concert-scale guy. So I've been able to resist that one. However, I don't have any sopranino (or smaller) sized ukes! So the Pocket Uke fits the bill. The main problem I have with the Pocket uke is that it seems to cost too much for what you get. The street price for the mahogany version is $210 and the Acacia version is $280. You can get a Acacia tenor for not much more than that! Now, I understand that these little guys are probably harder to build than tenors, but as with most human beings, I tend to want bigger when I spend more money. Still, since I believe the Pocket uke isn't necessarily easier to build than bigger ukes, I consider the price tag to be somewhat justifiable. Some research into it on Youtube and various forums seemed to suggest that it is a worthwhile addition despite the relatively high price. So I thought I'd probably get a mahogany one because the Acacia one just seemed to be over the top expensive. But I found one on Amazon for $240 so I went for it.

So I guess this is probably the purest form of uke-crack. Small dose of uke to hold down UAS for awhile. Hopefully there won't be any more uke-crack before the Mya-Moe is completed. My expectations for the Pocket uke is actually pretty low, despite some good reviews I've read about it. It will most definitely be a novelty item for me, but hopefully it'll sound decent enough to me that I would play it once in a while. I guess I can always have my younger daughter (3 years old) play it if she wants to learn ukulele. Either way, it should be interesting, and I'll have pics and stuff here once it arrives.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ouch!

Accidents happen, and that's no different when it comes to ukuleles. Having owned quite a number of ukuleles so far, I have actually been able to avoid serious damage to my ukes so far (knock on wood). However, it seems that lately I've been causing some damage to my ukes at a much higher rate than before. I'm not sure what's causing the sudden bout of clumsiness, but it is a little annoying. My personal feeling toward scratches and dents to my ukuleles is that these instruments are meant to be played and normal wear and tear comes with the territory and usually doesn't bother me much. However, when I cause damage to a uke, it still hurts for a day or two. I actually am more bothered when something happens to a production uke than a custom built uke because I know the customs will always stay with me but damages, even minor ones, to a production uke shaves off a lot of dollars when it comes time to move them.

Anyway, here's a quick account of my recent mis-adventures with my ukes:

Several months ago, I knocked the back of my Collings UC-1's back against the corner of an open drawer. The result is the dent you see below. It was a really dumb move on my part as I was carelessly holding the uke while opening that drawer. This ukulele is a bit of a collector's item since it's one of the prototypes built by Collings when they started making ukuleles. It has a "haircut" headstock that's only on UC-2 or above after these initial prototypes. I guess this dent will take a chunk out of its value, but I don't really foresee selling this uke anytime soon, so I wasn't too bummed about it.


A couple of weeks ago I had the Kanile'a super-soprano in its case without the latch closed while it was on the passenger seat of my car. When I arrived home and went to grab the case, I had completely forgotten that the case was not latched and as I picked up the case, out tumbled the ukulele. I managed to catch it before it fell out of the car and hit the ground, but it had hit parts of the car and the damage had been done. A nice big dent on the lower bout edge was the result of this genius move by me. Because Kanile'a uses a UV cured polyester finish, it essentially has a plastic coat around the ukulele. Having this dent means the plastic is dented too, and you can see some plastic that turned white around the wound (the upper bout edge also has a little bit if whitening of the plastic). I knew there is no repairing this type of finish before, and looking at this dent confirms it. While there is no crack or other structural damage to this ukulele, I was quite bummed when this happened because I had been planning to sell this ukulele. Now, I pretty much had been planning to sell this uke for the past year or so, but I was really getting ready to put it up for sale because the recent arrival of my Glyph had made this ukulele pretty redundant. Even so, I dragged my feet on selling it because it's got some pretty nice and unique looking curly koa and it is a very nice sounding ukulele. So when this accident happened I knew the dent probably cost me close to half of the value this ukulele had. Oh well, it still makes a great "beater" and I guess I probably secretly wanted to keep it anyway.


Yes, I actually caused some damage to my Glyph! Just last week while grabbing it from the side of my couch, I somehow whiffed and scraped the back of the neck with my thumbnail on my left hand. The result was a visible wide scratch on the back of the neck. Because this ukulele is French Polished, this type of damage is possible from one's fingernail. No, my thumbnail was not especially long or sharp, so I guess it means I need to be a bit more careful with this ukulele. While it sucked looking at this scratch at first, I got over it pretty quickly because as I mentioned earlier, this is a uke I'll always keep (it's not like I can sell it with my initials on the fretboard) so scratch and dents will just be treated as "character marks".


Well, I sure hope I stop causing damage to my ukes in the future. Scratch and dents to ukes isn't the end of the world, but they are sure annoying.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mighty Uke: More random commentary

Before I wrote some comments on the movie Mighty Uke! in the last post, I had watched it a couple of times. I watched it again after that and I figure perhaps I can post some more personal comments from watching the movie. I think what I'll do is just post random comments about various things I thought while watching the movie. Some of these thoughts might make more sense if you had seen the movie, but here we go:

-Befitting a proper ukulele film, there are plenty of nice ukuleles in it. I don't remember all of the makes in there, but let's see, I remember seeing: Kamaka, Kala, Pohaku, DaSilva, Glyph, Martin, Fluke/Flea, G-String, National, Compass Rose, and many more I don't recall. Strangely, I don't think there were any KoAlohas, Ko'olaus, or Kanile'as in the movie. So it appears that the "Hawaiian K's" is only represented by Kamaka and "G"-String. But I could have just forgot about seeing the other K's too.

-James Hill has a lot of ukes for being a virtuoso. In my mind, most virtuosos tend to stick with one instrument. But apparently not him. I think he played two or three different G-String James Hill signature models in the movie. For sure he played a slotted headstock version and a Telecaster headstock version. He also has a DaSilva James Hill Signature model and I know he has a few lap steel ukes, including a Mya-Moe. Come to think of it, he probably leads the ukulele world in signature model ukuleles.

-That British lady who worked for some rock magazine talks in a rather "interesting" way: "...(some rock stars) played ukes, loved ukes, had ukes." & "...people you took seriously, took it seriously, but in a not-serious way..." I don't know, maybe I'm just strange, but the way she spoke weirded me out a little bit.

-I could hardly believe it when I heard the words "Hip-Hop Ukulele". Remember "Jazz Yodoling" from the McGriddle radio commercial???

-I guess that hip-hop ukulele dude is kind of interesting. His name is Jon Braman, and it turns out he is the father of hip-hop ukulele! I guess I've always thought pretty much anything can be played on the uke, and this proves it. While I don't think this kind of music is my cup of tea, I have to admit it takes a lot of talent (and a good memory) to perform this stuff. Just check out some of the lyrics of his music on his website. It almost reads like a novel.

-In my last post I said that the movie kind of pinned the downfall of the ukulele on Tiny Tim. Well, I suppose after seeing his performance in the film, most would probably agree too. :p

-The Langley Ukulele Ensemble is friggin' talented! I didn't realized just how insane their skills are until maybe the second time I watched the movie. I think the first scene of them is when they are rehearsing "Flight of the Bumblebee". That is really difficult stuff! At least for me. I'm guessing I would not come close to making the LUE if I tried.

-The first time I've seen Uni was on Pohaku's website, where her custom ukulele is shown. I had never heard her music until this movie and I have to say I like her music. I haven't ordered her CD or downloaded any of her music yet (it seems like I haven't bought any music outside of ukulele instrumentals for quite a while now), but what was in the movie sounded really nice.

-I don't know, there were a few scenes that had probably close to a hundred ukes all strumming the same thing, and I was not enjoying that sound. When multiple ukes all play the same thing with the same strum, it always sounds like a lot of droning to me, and that's not too enjoyable. Maybe I'm the only one who feels that way, but I much rather hear multiple ukes all playing different parts of a song. Of course, that becomes really hard when you have a hundred ukes playing together...

Anyway, that's all I can remember for now. I guess if I think of anything else I'll add to it. Having watched the movie several times now I will say that I think it's pretty entertaining. Try to watch it if you haven't!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mighty Uke!

I might be late to the party on this, but I've only recently seen the ukulele documentary, Mighty Uke. I don't know exactly when this movie premiered, but I think it was close to a year ago. Anyway, since it's a ukulele documentary, I figured I must watch it so I ordered a DVD. I got it a few weeks ago and have watched it a couple of times. The main point of the movie is to discuss how the ukulele made it's "comeback". I would say that I've enjoyed the movie quite a bit, I mean, it IS about the ukulele. It gave some history of how the ukulele came into being and discussed the ukulele through many interviews with various people having to do with the ukulele as well as sort of a case study of the Langley Ukulele Ensemble. I did wish there were a few more things they covered with this documentary. Specifically, I would have liked to see more about the fall of the ukulele. I think the film basically pinned the fall of the ukulele on Tiny Tim and rock 'n roll music. I felt there should have been more devoted to the fall of the ukulele since the film is about the "comeback". From the movie I didn't feel like there was all that much to "comeback" from for the ukulele, to be honest. I think it would have been more fascinating if more time was devoted to why the ukulele fell out of favor in parts of the world outside Hawaii. I would have also liked to have seen some interviews with the Ukulele Underground crew to represent some of the younger generation of ukulele players. But in fairness they can't cover everything ukulele so it's understandable that not everyone could be included. Aside from the main feature, there are also 10 short films about various ukulele related people and things. Those short films are pretty interesting and are a pretty nice bonus.

All in all, I found it an enjoyable viewing experience, especially since I am a ukulele nut. I'm not exactly sure if it's a movie that would convert the non-uke fans though. But for anyone with any interest in music or musical instruments, it should be an interesting watch. Check it out if you haven't yet.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thoughts about the Jake Shimabukuro signature model...

How about a little controversial post from the Ghetto???

A few days ago someone posted about the receiving the Jake Shimabukuro signature model (video here) tenor ukulele on the Ukulele Underground forums. It is the 25th example in a limited edition of 100 ukes build by Kamaka and sold via a lottery system several years ago for the price of $5500. Assuming this is either the latest one, or close to the latest one completed by Casey Kamaka, they have over 70 of these still to be built and delivered to owners who won the right to purchase this model.

It doesn't take long from reading this blog that I'm pretty much a Jake Shimabukuro junkie. I try to learn every Jake song within my playing capability (still can't play 3rd Stream, I'm afraid). I order custom ukes that pay homage to Jake's uke. I attend Jake's concert almost every time he comes to town. So it's a little weird that I really have not felt much desire or jealousy for this Jake Shimabukuro signature model. Yes, I think it looks great and despite never having played it (not many people on the face of this earth have), I have no doubt that it should be a superb sounding instrument. Why do I not feel much lust toward it? I guess it might make a semi-interesting post to examine it.

Ok, so the first thing that throws me off would be the $5500 price tag. Although judging from my stash o' ukes it might look like I'm a pretty extravagant person, in reality I rarely lust after something I can't afford. Yes, I've spent much more than the asking price of this ukulele on ukes, but I've never spent that in one shot. I actually don't think $5500 is too outrageous for one ukulele, but up to this point I haven't been truly interested in a uke in that price range because I don't consider it something I can comfortably afford.

Now let's take a look at what that $5500 buy (without having actually examined one in person, of course, so we're dealing with some hypotheticals here). You get a tenor sized ukulele with some seriously nice master grade koa that's trimmed with the same abalone and red piping around the purfling and rosette. You get an ebony fretboard with the "JS" monogram logo inlaid on it. You get a solid headstock in the same shape as the one found on Jake's previous ukulele with what looks to be some Schaller tuners on it. Also part of the package is a nice Ameritage case and some documentation telling you it is a Jake Shimabukuro model. The first problem I would have with this is the fact that this uke does not have a slotted headstock. Slotted headstocks have become wildly popular with uke fans because of Jake Shimabukuro. I find it a bit disappointing that his signature model does not come with one. Sure, the Kamaka slotted headstock takes a lot more work than the regular solid headstocks. And the Gilbert tuners found on Jake's actual ukulele costs $160 per set. But you'd figure $5500 would be able to cover that. My guess is that they want to keep Jake's ukulele unique, and I can understand that. But how about doing a modified slotted headstock without the binding around it? People buying this uke want to pretend to be Jake (I certainly would), why not provide them with the full slotted headstock fueled experience?

Another fundamental problem with this program, in my opinion, is that Kamaka is essentially building 100 identical custom built ukuleles and discontinuing their custom program for the general public (I think they build a few for some artists). I believe the lottery occurred in 2006, so assuming they've built 30 of the 100 ukes so far, it will be another 8 to 10 years before they are able to accept custom orders again. So instead of some cool and special one-off custom Kamakas out there, we get 100 cool and special but identical custom Kamaka ukes for the next decade. Sure 100 ukes is but a drop in the bucket in the ukulele universe, but it seems to me the world would be more interesting if people got to order specially designed customs from Kamaka. As much a Jake fan as I am, I really would rather have my own initials on a ukulele I paid $5500 for instead of Jake's (you didn't see me putting "JS" on my Glyph did you?) regardless of how much of a hack I am at playing the ukulele.

I know some people would argue that having a proper Jake Shimabukuro signature model would make it hold its value a lot more instead of true customs, and I completely agree. These JS signature models could be turned around for a minimum $3000 profit today by the lucky winners who got to purchase these ukes from Kamaka. But speaking personally, the more I spend on a uke, the more I'd want to play it (i.e. put dents and scratches on it) and the more I would feel like having it as a family heirloom. So at least for me resale value would be a non-issue. I know many people treat expensive instruments with kid gloves and want to keep them pristine, but I feel that if an instrument is truly worth the high price, it must be a great player and therefore needs to be played. One of these JS ukes in my hands probably would lose value from all the strum marks I'd put on it.

It may sound like I'm bad mouthing this ukulele. I hope you can read carefully and understand my point, which is not at all bashing this model. I think it is a great ukulele and I would certainly take one if I could. But I'd really rather have a proper Kamaka custom with a slotted headstock, my initials on the fretboard, and other custom appointments I'd want. And I guess that would the point of this post. Thanks to the existence of this model, that's not going to be an option until perhaps a decade later.

So, if you own one of these babies and you're reading this, please don't feel offended. I truly think you're very lucky to own such a great ukulele and you should be ecstatic to pretty much own a piece of Jake Shimabukuro. But I will gladly strum away on my custom Kings and Glyph in my little corner of the ukulele world.

Peace, Love, and Ukulele baby!

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's Mya-Mine!!!

In a totally predictable move, I have placed an order for a Mya-Moe ukulele. As of now it will be a concert sized "Tradition" model with a 14-fret neck join and a body made with curly myrtle. I also asked for a 1.5" nut width, no markers on the fret-board face, and an extra side dot at the 15th fret (usually they don't put a side dot on 15 for concert size).

So this will be the 6th custom ordered ukulele in my stash '0 ukes, not counting the Aaron Taylor that I bought second hand. It goes without saying that UAS is a pretty lethal disease. Just when you think you're done with it, you buy two more ukes without sell off any....

I guess in my defense, I believe I'm getting something that I have not gotten before. That is, a made to order ukulele from a large scale custom builder. As I wrote a couple of days ago, I do think their approach to building should yield fast refinement of their instruments and from all the positive comments on their ukes, I believe the quality will be there. I also finally get that myrtle ukulele I've wanted. The fact that myrtle is a local wood for Mya-Moe also makes this a little bit more justifiable. In my mind anyway.

My promised start date for the ukulele is March 23rd, with an estimated completion of April 27th. I have yet to have a custom built ukulele come anywhere close to the original estimated completion date, but it seems that chances are good that this one will make that ETA. Mya-Moe tweets progress pictures on their Twitter account, myamoeukuleles, so you can always just follow them to see everyone's Mya-Moe progress pictures, including mine.

Anyway, I look forward to checking out the Mya-Moe myrtle concert. Hopefully my interest in them is justified.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Arrival of a zebra...

Well, the Lanikai SZW-C I've ordered a few days ago has arrived. I haven't gotten around to playing it or anything but I thought I'd share a few initial observations.

First impression when I took it out of the case is that it's fairly heavy. For some reason I was imagining a fairly light ukulele. But I think I did read somewhere that zebrawood is pretty dense, so it makes sense that it has a little heft to it. One surprise so far is that the fretboard is actually bound with either ebony or rosewood. I've seen some ukes at this price range with plastic bound fretboards, but I don't think I've encountered one bound with wood, so that's pretty nice. The workmanship seems to be pretty good. I'd say above average for an Asian factory instrument. The slotted headstock is extremely chunky, more so than any slotted headstock I currently have, and I consider that a plus because one of the reasons I like slotted headstocks is because they are usually chunkier than solid headstocks. In that respect this one definitely delivers. The neck and headstock are well shaped. I'm guessing the neck is a 5-piece construction with skunk-stripe down the middle made by a 3 piece rosewood/maple/rosewood stack sandwitched by the neck wood (mahogany?) rather than laminated in, but I'm not sure. The heel is not stacked so it has the appearance of a one-piece-neck whether or not the skunk-stripe is laminated in or part of a 5-piece construction. The zebrawood grain pattern looks good and I didn't find any glaring issues upon initial examination.

I will probably comment on sound and go over this ukulele a bit more later, but I'd give it a Ukulele Ghetto thumbs up for initial quality.

Here are a few quick unboxing pics:




That pesky UAS....

I've been pretty much free of UAS for the past year or so. However, I knew UAS never really goes away and I think I'm getting a little bit of the UAS itch again. I have already ordered a Lanikai Zebrawood concert that I really have no business getting (should be arriving on today). And now I'm getting intrigued by a relative newcomer to the ukulele world. Mya-Moe.

Mya-Moe (pronounced "Mai-ya, Mo-eh") came onto the scene with some interesting resonator ukuleles in 2008. While I found them kind of interesting, I had pretty much no interest in them when I first learned about Mya-Moe because I had already went through a National resonator and decided that resonators weren't for me. I really had not paid too much attention to this builder after some initial surfing of their website. They did build traditional ukuleles, but they were not true customs in the sense that you can design whatever you want, but rather more like built to order models with options limited to wood choices and appointments.

Fast forward to now. Since the arrival of my long awaited Glyph mezzo-soprano, I had gotten a jolt of motivation to learn some new songs and also started checking out ukuleles again (it also helped that I had acquired a "grail" in the "other" hobby). Mya-Moe has been getting some serious buzz on the Ukulele Underground forums, so I've been taking a closer look. What I found intrigued me quite a bit. For starters, I've long wanted a ukulele made with Myrtle wood, as forecasted before. Mya-Moe seems to have made Myrtle one of the main options for their ukuleles, as their location makes Myrtle a local wood. Even though I have a Myrtle Ko'olau CE-1, it really doesn't count because I think the wood on these ukes are purely decorative. Another thing that intrigued me about Mya-Moe is that they build using a "production line" approach and their output of about 140 ukes a year gives them the unique opportunity to refine their ukes in rapid order. This makes sense because compared to a typical custom ukulele luthier, they build much more ukuleles and can try and learn more stuff in a shorter period of time. Yet the output isn't so huge that they can't individually work on each ukulele. While the ukes still aren't true customs in my book, they receive individual attention from the luthiers and the end product promises to sound as good or even better than a typical custom built ukulele.

So I've been contemplating the possibility of adding a Mya-Moe myrtle concert to my stash of ukuleles. I'm not sure how realistic it is at this point, as I REALLY don't need another ukulele, and I'm low on play money at the moment (3 kids sure costs a lot of moola! LOL!), but if I really wanted to order one, I think I can sell off some of my collection of "stuff" to fund it. I guess since I'm even writing this post, the possibility of it happening is kind of high. We'll see. Haha!

In the event this does happen, you can be sure I'll write something about that here. I guess UAS resides in my blood....

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

143 means I Love You...

Jake Shimabukuro is in town for a concert tonight (The Cedar in Minneapolis) for the 4th time in the last 3 years. That's almost mind boggling when I think about it. The Twin Cities isn't exactly a hotbed for ukulele yet each time I went, the shows were sold out. Sure, the show at the 1500 seat Ordway a couple of years ago wasn't actually sold out, but considering there was a big snow storm that night, the turn out was pretty phenomenal. I think during the last time he was here, he mentioned that his manager has some ties to the Twin Cities, so I guess that explains why he has been here relatively frequently.

Anyway, I wasn't able to go this time, as I didn't find out about it until fairly late (although that was a couple of months ago) and decided against making arrangements to go. The three shows I've been to by and large were the same. I never did get to see Jake play Going to California or Thriller, which I wish he would have played, but I did enjoy the show each time. I bet he will play some songs I have not heard him play live this time. Maybe even Bohemian Rhapsody. Oh well. Hopefully he has a few more trips here in the future and I can catch another show.

Oh yeah, I guess I should get to the title of this post. I had some time alone with my baby son tonight at home, and I had been planning to take a video of me playing 143, so I tried playing it while holding the baby. He is almost 6 months old now and he has been a pretty good little boy so far. I did about 3 takes playing this song and he was pretty good sitting through them. You definitely can't do that while playing a guitar! LOL!



143 is a very simple song. The fact that I can actually play it halfway decently while holding a baby kind of proves it. It might be the easiest Jake Shimabukuro song I've tried to learn. I'll throw out some of the fingering for this if you are interested in learning. The only difficult part has to do with the opening "chorus", where your middle finger has to do a pretty severe bend to hit the A-string. My hand actually hurts after playing this song, so that's no joke!

Anyway, the chorus goes something like this (it would probably make more sense if you sound out the stuff I'm writing below and compare with the video above):

Strum
2400

Alternate strumming between
2400
2404
2404
2400
2405
2405

and

2400
2404
2404
2400
2402 (This hurts!)
2402

Then it's:

Alternate strumming between

2200
2204
2204
2200
2205
2205

and

2200
2204
2204
2200
2202
2202

strum
4220
4222
slide up to
6444
back to 4222

Picking part:

Out of this chord

2240

Pick in this string order
C, E, G, A, G, E, C

Then out of this chord

1120

Pick in this string order
C, E, G, A, G, E, C

Then these three chords picked in the same string order as above
2240
4440
6654

The "interlude":

strum
6400
4300
3200
2100

On the way back to 6400
strum

4200

The "ending":

a) strum
2100
4200
6400

b) then strum
6400
7600
9800

c) then strum
11-900
9800
7600

d) then strum
9800
7600
6400

Repeat

At the very last run through the ending, after part c):

strum
11-900
13-11-00
14-13-00

That's pretty much the entire song. I don't know if the above makes any sense. If not, please leave me a comment here if you have any questions.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Headstock lust!

I have been relatively UAS free over the last year or so. Other than a Mainland slotted headstock concert and a Ko'olau CE-1, I have not bought ukuleles at anywhere near the pace I once did. The Mainland was basically bought because I loved slotted headstocks and it was so rare to find one attached to a concert sized ukulele I had to get it. I've since done an incomplete Smackdown comparison of it and the Collings UC-1 and sold it off. The CE-1 was purchased during a trip to Oahu earlier this year. It's safe to say if I did not go to Hawaii this year, I would not have bought that one. I mean, how can you resist buying a uke when in paradise??? So, I think I've been relatively restraint when it comes to UAS.

Lately, however, I've been very interested in a certain Lanikai zebrawood concert. The first reason I noticed this ukulele is the zebrawood body. It is solid zebrawood and that got my attention. My very first ukulele was a Leolani laminated zebrawood supersoprano. I can't say I had any special interest in zebrawood back then, but now when I see zebrawood, it reminds me of that very first ukulele (which is probably collecting dust at a friend's house right now. I suppose I should get it back). That's a pretty fond memory so I was excited to see solid zebrawood ukuleles appearing from Ohana a year or so ago. Since I'm currently more into the concert sized ukulele, I was interested in the concert version of the Lanikai zebrawood. The second thing that got me interested, of course, is the slotted headstock. As far as I know, other than the aforementioned Mainland, this Lanikai and its Monkeypod brother are the only concert sized ukuleles on the market with a slotted headstock. Slot heads are right up my alley and I find the shape of Lanikai's better than the Mainland's slot head (I've come to realize that I'm not blindly in love with all slotted headstocks. The actual shape has to be pleasing to my eyes). The third reason I wanted this ukulele is because that it supposedly came with a 37mm wide nut. That's pretty close to my preferred 1.5" width and most of the imported ukes are 1-3/8", including all other Lanikai's outside of the Zebrawood/Monkeypod family.

So that's basically the weak reasoning I gave myself to pull the trigger on this ukulele. I think I've mentioned around here that I have no excuse to buy any more ukes, and I can't really come up with any now. The main thing is that this ukulele is pretty affordable-I've seen it between $200~$250-so the price is right to experiment. I have no idea how long I will end up keeping this one, but I will plan to review it in some way once I have it in hand. I'm hoping that it will be up to par sonically. To me, it has the looks part covered.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kiss From a Rose cover

As mentioned previously on this blog, I've been digging a couple of Kalei Gamiao's ukulele arrangements. I started trying to learn his version of Kiss From a Rose but ended up getting Mach 4 down first. After taking the Mach 4 video yesterday, I practiced Kiss From a Rose a bit tonight and did a few takes with the camcorder. I got a take I thought was decent so it was uploaded.

Unlike Mach 4, there really aren't any parts that are technically difficult in this song, but overall I think it's a little harder to play. Maybe because there are more parts in this song, but it took me longer to memorize how it goes.

I decided to play this using the William King LS-concert because I have not been giving it much love lately and because there's a pull-off at the 15th fret that was kind of hard to execute on the Glyph mezzo-soprano. While playing this ukulele during the 4 or 5 takes for this video, I was reminded how great this ukulele sounds. The notes really ring out when you play it and the sustain is very nice. While I have to admit I'm currently more partial to the type of sound coming out of the Glyph, the King LS-concert is still great and doesn't really take a backseat to any ukulele as far as sound quality is concerned.

Anyway, here's the video. I hope you find it to be decent.

Mach 4 cover

OK, so since I figured out how to play Mach 4, I've been playing it whenever I'm playing my ukuleles. So after posting Mach 3 a couple of days ago, I tried a few takes playing the whole thing. Since I don't think I've ever been able to make a video playing mistake-free ukulele, I thought a couple of the takes were passable so I uploaded one. This is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable songs I've ever played on the ukulele, and it's not really that difficult once you know how to play it (of course, if you're aiming to play exactly like Kalei, then it's pretty friggin' difficult/impossible). I find it strangely relaxing to play despite the speed it's supposed to be played.

Anyway, here it is.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mach 3...because it's not quite Mach 4...

Since I found the Kalei Gamiao video Mach 4 (posted right below this post) last week, I've been working hard at learning it. When I first saw it I thought there's no way I could play it. It seemed like a song that's totally over my head and beyond my playing abilities. Still, I attempted playing the rather challenging looking and sounding intro and after a couple of days of noodling around with it, I actually could play a decent facsimile of that intro part. So I watched the video more intensely and figured out how to play it for the most part. I'm by no means any good at it yet, as there are a couple of sections that are really challenging and totally kicks my butt (as you can obviously see). But I'm pretty psyched that I'm even on my way to learning this one, so I've made a video of it. Since it's mistake filled and not very smooth yet, it's not quite Mach 4, so I present to you its ghetto brother, Mach 3:



And by the way, the ukulele in the video is the Glyph mezzo-soprano. I'm really loving this ukulele right now. It's got such a crisp and thumping sound and I'm finding myself liking the matte French Polished finish a lot more than I thought I would. With apologies to luthiers who made some of the other fine ukuleles in my collection, I must say right now the Glyph mezzo-soprano is my favorite.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Kalei Gamiao: Awesome!

I must admit I haven't really looked up many professional players out there. Other than Jake Shimabukuro, Aldrine Guerrero, and a few others, I haven't been exposed to too many ukulele virtuosos out there.

Last week I stumbled upon a video of "Kiss from a Rose" played by Kalei Gamiao. I thought it was a cool arrangement and began working on learning it. Later I checked out another video of him playing his own composition called "Mach 4" and I was floored by it. So now I'm trying hard to learn that one too. Perhaps I'm one of the last ukulele fans to discover Kalei Gamiao's stuff, but if you haven't seen him play, check it out.



Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ukulolo?? Burger??? ????



One of my all time favorite ukulele compositions is a nameless song found on Youtube that's composed by Tyler Gilman of the Waikiki ukulele shop Ukulele Puapua. I've wanted to learn this since I first saw it, probably a couple of years ago, but it looked so far over my head at the time that I never really gave it much of a try. When I was in Hawaii this past March, I got the urge to try this song after visiting Ukulele Puapua a couple of times. I kind of figured out the first passage of the song but gave up shortly after that because it still seemed pretty daunting and I didn't feel like trying that hard to learn it. Fast forward to yesterday. For some reason I was looking for that video again and found a couple of covers for it as well. I checked out one of the covers done by a couple of Korean guys (well, the video had Korean words in it so I assume they are Korean) and it had a pretty clear shot of the fretboard so I figure it would be easier to try to learn from it.

After working on it a little bit, I noticed that there are a couple of other covers on the Youtube page and clicked one that had the title "Sharing a Burger". It was the same song and I soon discovered that there are a few covers out there covering this Burger cover (one rather funny cover has a couple of guys playing this while walking in a grocery store). I then went to Ukulele Underground forums and searched for Burger to see if anything turns up, and sure enough there's a thread with tabs to this song (if you want the tabs, just do the same thing I did, search for Burger in the UU forums' tabs section). It turns out the guys from Sharing a Burger covered the song, which is actually called Ukulolo (CD available at PuaPua), and called it Burger because the Youtube video didn't have a name for the song. I was pretty happy to locate the Burger tabs because it would make learning the song quicker than trying to figure it out from watching the videos. Since I already could play the first passage, the rest of the song came surprisingly easily armed with the tabs (pretty decent but not completely accurate) and the clearer videos. By the time I went to bed yesterday, I more or less got the solo part of the song figured out. The weird thing is that the backing chords seem harder to decipher and I'll need to figure that out some other time.

I think I'll try to make a video playing this song because I think this is such a great sounding tune. Too bad I can't really play a duet with myself, so I might have to just post something with either the backing chords in the background or just play over the CD. This would be fun to play with another ukulele player. Hmm...maybe sometime when I could make it to StrumMN again I could have someone try it???

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Trapped!

One of the songs I've been learning in recent months was Jake Shimabukuro's Trapped. (Yes, I realize the instrument I'm playing is called the uke, not the jake, but I guess I'm a fanboy...) This is the first song on his Live album and I've heard it at his concert twice. I think he explained that it's some sort of an Egyptian beat that kind of goes like 1,2-1,2,3, 1,2-1,2,3 or something like that. It's pretty catchy and I've always liked it. It's a very short song and didn't sound too difficult so I tried to play it based on how it sounded to me. I was able to figure out something that sounded pretty close by playing the first passage this way:

GCEA
x4x2
x4x0
x43x
x42x

where I pluck the 2 strings using my thumb and index finger. However, a while later I decided to pay closer attention to the song and noticed that toward the end it didn't quite sound the same as the way I played it. So I looked up a few Youtube videos and upon examination it looked like Jake was playing the song out of a completely different position as I've been playing it. So I tried to mimic it and ended up playing the first passage this way:

I:
x47x
x45x
x43x
x42x

This is played with my index and middle fingers plucking the 2 strings and the thumb picking C-4 after the x47x chord. Playing it this way made the whole song sound more like what the CD sounded like. The rest of the progression look like this:

II:
x57x
x58x
xx57
xx55
x57x
x58
x55x
x57x

III:
x47x
x45x
x43x
x42x
x47x
x48x
x45x
x47x

IV:
x37x
x35x
x33x
x32x
x37x
x38x
x35x
x37x

V:
x00x
x02x
x03x
x05x

VI:
x22x
x23x
x25x
x27x

strum
2322
2323

That's basically everything except for the ending, which was the main difference between how I originally played this and how I play it now:

x47x
x45x
x23x
x22x

x22x
x23x
three times

x00x
xx3x (hammer on)
x00x

x22x
xx5x
x22x

x23x
slide to x47x

strum 0477

Anyway, I don't know if any of the above make any sense, but if you want to give this song a shot, it might help. Below is a video of an attempt at this song.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Evolution of the Glyph mezzo soprano

I mentioned in the last post that the Glyph mezzo soprano started out way different from what it ended up looking like. Here I will go through how it kind of evolved from the original design I had in mind to the final completed ukulele.

This picture below is the first draft of the Glyph design:


As you can see, it obviously looked nothing like the completed ukulele. Well, I guess the tail graft and the headstock inlay made it to the final build. When I drew up that picture, it was April of 2007, and I was young and stupid. Ok, so I was just stupid. But anyway, at the time I played the ukulele for all of 3 months and really didn't know a heck of a lot about custom ukes. I didn't really know what I would come to prefer in custom ukes, but the sketch was based on what appealed to me at the time. I wanted a curly koa uke, and I liked rope style bindings. Because I barely knew how to play the ukulele, I didn't pay much attention about how many frets or where it joined at the body. I had just found Uke Cast and thought the smiling ukulele logo was kind of cool so I asked for a "smiley" bridge. The crown shaped headstock was a play off my last name which means King in Chinese. Had I kept this design, I would have at least specified 18 frets with the neck joined at the 14th fret, and probably would have changed the position markers by either removing them or changed the shape. The original shield shaped position markers were "inspired" by the NFL logo, and let's just say it really doesn't quite fit the design.

Sometime in either 2008 or 2009 (I forgot when), I decided to go a completely different direction with this custom order and sent Dave this sketch:


As you can see, this sketch bears much more resemblance to the actual ukulele. By that time, I had became a huge Jake Shimabukuro fan (I don't think I knew about him when I first ordered the Glyph). Because it was still so early in the process, I could have changed the order to a concert or tenor sized ukulele. But since I already had a couple of custom ukuleles at that point and several concerts and tenors, I thought it would better compliment my stash of ukes if I kept it at the mezzo soprano size. I also did not want to increase the cost more than necessary. Anyway, I got the idea to make this a homage to Jake's ukulele, and made the above sketch. It was not meant to be an exact copy and I didn't particularly study Jake's ukulele that closely. I did notice some red pin-striping around the abalone purfling & rosette so I specified that. And instead of Jake's initials on the fretboard, I obviously went with my own initials. I sent the sketch to Dave and he confirmed that the design is doable. I know some luthiers do not do slotted headstocks for ukes smaller than the concert size, but Dave had already made a few mezzos with slotted headstocks so I knew it was fine with him.

Here is the side-by-side shot of the two sketches:


Quite different if I say so myself. This is actually the only custom ukulele order that I've drastically changed the design on. But then again, this is the only one that had a 3+ year leadtime.

In April of 2009 (as you can see on the picture), I sent Dave a small update:


That was around the time my William King LS-concert was delivered. While I was extremely happy with that ukulele, as mentioned in the last post, there was a detail that got missed when the uke was finished. It was a wave shaped fretboard end. Disappointed with that missing detail, I decided to add it onto the Glyph. In addition to that, I asked Dave to make the bridge into a wave shape similar to the fretboard end. A third detail change had to do with the top of the slots on the headstock. I had noticed that Jake's uke had these slanted slot ends on both the top and bottom of the slots, and decided to add this detail to the top of the slot on my uke. I don't remember why I didn't ask for both the top and bottom of the slot to be slanted, but I'm guessing I was concerned that doing the bottom of the slot would be too difficult or something. I wasn't sure if Dave would be on board with the wave shaped bridge, but I figure it would be fine since he was OK with the smiley bridge from the original design. Dave confirmed that all three changes were fine, so I was happy.

Sometime after that, I asked about using Gilbert tuners in place of the Waverly tuners Dave normally use on his slotted headstocks. I had ordered these tuners with the King LS-concert and they really blew me away. These tuners offered superior feel compared to anything else I've used. Of course, the fact that Jake had these on his uke drove the decision to have them on that King LS-Concert in the first place, but their performance really won me over. Dave checked on sourcing these tuners and agreed to add them to my mezzo soprano. If I'm not mistaken, I believe I ordered the first King and first Glyph with Gilbert tuners. No, it does not make me special, but just thought I'd mention it.

That was basically the end of my modifications on this ukulele. The final product more or less turned out as I've specified, minus a couple of minor things I mentioned in the last pose. Here's a picture of the ukulele next to that first sketch:


I'd say it turned out great. And that fretboard inlay designed by Dave was light years better than anything I could have come up with.

So there's a glimpse into how my Glyph mezzo soprano ended up looking like it does today. I hope you've enjoyed this little documentary.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Custom regrets???

As most of you who read this blog knows, I've ordered a few custom ukuleles. The current count of custom ordered ukuleles in my stash of ukuleles is 5. While I've enjoyed each of these custom ukuleles very much, on every one there are probably things that can be improved upon or done differently based on what I know after the completion of each ukulele. I think ordering a custom ukulele is far from an exact science and a lot can be learned from one order to another. Of course, not everyone is insane like me and order multiple custom ukes. I know for many people a custom ukulele would be the end-all ukulele in their collection, so I think it might be of some help to some of you out there to learn about what I think I could have done differently with each of my custom ukulele orders.

I will present this in chronological order of ukulele received.

1. William King Long-scale Tenor


This was actually the 3rd custom ukulele I've ordered, but it was the first one completed and delivered to me. When I placed the order for this one, I had already ordered a Glyph mezzo soprano and a Kepasa Gypsy Rose, so while I had never received a custom built ukulele at that point, I had some experience with ordering one. For this ukulele, I wanted a tenor with a slotted headstock that resembled Jake Shimabukuro's Kamaka headstock. I wasn't going for an exact copy of the headstock so I just specified a flat top design with a custom inlay. Later on I learned that Jake's ukulele had Gilbert tuners that contributed to the chunky look that I loved so much about his ukulele's headstock. This would remain my biggest regret for this ukulele. I really wish I specified Gilbert tuners at the time. What I should have done was at least checked with William King on that possibility (turns out he was willing to go with Gilberts when I ordered my second King ukulele). As it stands, the uke has Waverly tuners, which are really nice but I found that I vastly prefer Gilbert tuners in both functionality and look. With Waverly tuners the headstock felt a bit thin and narrow.

Another lesser regret with this ukulele would be the lack of abalone purfling on the top. I guess this wouldn't have mattered because I would have likely ran out of funds to add that detail anyway. But I've found over the years that I really like abalone purflings. Other than the tuners and the purfling, I think this ukulele turned out very well. It's obviously a great instrument and really has everything else I want in a uke.

2. Kepasa Gypsy Rose


This was the second custom ukulele I ordered and also the second one to arrive. I ordered this one because I liked the Maccaferri style this ukulele offered. I decided to skip the extra cost on a slotted headstock and went with a custom design headstock. I basically drew a picture of the headstock shape and sent it to Kevin Crossett. The headstock turned out better than I could have hoped for, so that was very good. The only thing I kind of regret on this ukulele is that I didn't ask about the possibility of adding fretboard bindings. I'm not sure if Kevin actually build any ukes with that option, but this uke kind of needed it because the fret wires stick out ever so slightly. Since it doesn't have fretboard bindings, I ended up trying to file down the fret ends but to this day it still sticks out a little bit. It isn't terrible, but it's there. Other than that, the only other thing I might have done differently with this ukulele is perhaps pay a little more for more highly figured walnut. I'm not sure if it would have even been available, but some curly walnut would truly make this ukulele look special.

3. DaSilva Santos Replica


This ukulele is not truly a custom because Mike DaSilva builds many of these. One can specify a couple of different things here and there, such as headstock decoration and color of the pins, but they are all more or less the same. One thing I specified was a wide 1.5" nut because that's my preferred nut-width. The finished ukulele had a 1-3/8" nut despite Mike confirming at order placement that 1.5" nut is OK. I wasn't overly thrilled with that at the time, especially since this uke took about 6 more months to build than promised, but now that I think about it, a 1.5" nut on this uke probably would be a little too wide. So really, there isn't much regret for this uke. I think it looks fantastic, and it's really loud for such a puny ukulele. But maybe the regret with this one is that perhaps I shouldn't have ordered it. I think it's a really nice ukulele, but I really don't play sopranos too much so this one hasn't seen much playing time. Still, I think it's a keeper. It's simply very well made and very unique, even if it has several cousins sprinkled around the world.

4. William King LS-concert


This was the 4th custom ukulele I've ordered and by this time, I've had some experience in both ordering custom ukes and buying off the shelf ukes. So I had a pretty good idea on what I wanted. The finished ukulele was pretty much spot on except for two details. William had missed the bound fretboard and a wave shaped fretboard end I had specified. Initially I was pretty bummed about the lack of bound fretboard, because I really like them and feel that a custom ukulele really should have bound fretboards. I also am worried that the frets would stick out like the Kepasa Gypsy Rose. William did offer to build another one given the errors are not correctable by the time the uke was finished, but I thought I'd just live without them. The lack of fretboard bindings turned out to be a non-issue, because the ebony fretboard was well seasoned and never developed any shrinkage. The sides of the fretboard remain very smooth to this day, so functionally the fretboard bindings aren't missed. In fact, I think the uke might look more "together" without the koa bindings I had originally specified. Since I went with no position markers on this uke, an ebony fretboard without bindings might offer a better look.

As for the wave at the fretboard end, it wasn't a big deal to me since I wasn't sure how it would look anyway. Given the serious and somewhat classical appearance of this ukulele, I think it was probably good that the wave did not make it. Other than these two things, I don't think there are any regrets with this one. By the time I ordered this ukulele I had quite a bit of knowledge about ukuleles and pretty much specified it with everything I'd want in a custom uke. Perhaps if I had more funds I would add some abalone purfling to the back of the ukulele, but that's about it.

5. Glyph Mezzo Soprano


Well, this was actually the first ever custom ukulele I've ordered. Of course, at the time I ordered it, I knew it would be about a 3 year wait. The first sketch I sent to Dave Means is completely different from the ukulele pictured here, because halfway through the waiting time, I decided that I want a small uke that resembled Jake Shimabukuro's Kamaka. (I plan to dig out the sketches for this uke and do a post on it) After the design change, I made a couple of minor changes that included changing the tuners to Gilbert tuners from Waverly tuners and adding the wave-shaped fretboard end that my King concert was supposed to have to this ukulele. I also asked Dave about making a wave shaped bridge to match the fretboard end.

As you may have read from the last few posts I made, I really love this ukulele. However, there is one thing I wish I had added. That would be pinstripes on the sides of the bindings. I did get red pinstripes bordering the inside of the abalone top purfling and on both sides of the abalone rosette, but I should have also asked for pinstripes on the sides. It would have made the uke look more high end. Also, perhaps I could have asked about headstock bindings, as Jake's uke has them, but it was something that did not cross my mind at all. Other than these, the ukulele turned out great. Dave did miss a couple of minor things though. The "wrap-around" position markers was deleted by me at one point, but the finished uke have them. I was going for a cleaner look when I deleted them, but I guess I kind of like them now, so much like the items William King missed on my King concert, it may have turned out for the better. I had also at one point changed the fretboard binding from maple to koa, but the finished ukulele has maple bindings. When I made that change I figured that maple has a bit too much contrast to the ebony fretboard, but it turned out OK and did not stick out as much as I thought it might.

Even though there has been plenty of "regrets" in my custom ukulele ordering history, one thing that's certain is that each of these ukes have sounded great to me. And I think that's the main reason to get a custom, to get a great sounding uke made and tuned by a master builder.

One question you might ask me is that why don't I order fewer customs and put more features and details in to them? I'm not sure. Each of these custom orders occurred at a point where I had enough funds for them and had something fairly specific in mind (well maybe not when I ordered the Glyph), so I'm not sure if they could have been consolidated into fewer more decked out customs. But one thing is for sure, I've had a lot of fun ordering and designing these customs and even more fun playing them!

Anyway, if you're thinking about ordering a custom ukulele, perhaps you can learn a thing or two through my "regrets" above and order the most ideal custom possible. If nothing else, perhaps it would get you thinking about what you might have overlooked when putting together your specs. It usually takes quite a bit of patience when you order a custom ukulele (did I mention that the Glyph took 3.5 years?), but the satisfaction and joy of receiving a ukulele you've sketched so long ago really can't be described until you've experienced it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Glyph mezzo soprano sound sample (Hula Girl)

NatoUkulele on Youtube is a very talented ukulele player. Not too long ago I saw a video of his arrangement of Jake Shimabukuro's "Hula Girl" and thought it was pretty cool. I really liked the original song, but because it's meant to be played with backing music and percussion, I had not played the song much on my own. NatoUkulele's arrangement of it is a solo version and soon after seeing it I tried to learn it from watching his video. It's a bit of a hand twister in spots and as with most songs I learn I have not been able to consistently play it smoothly. However it's quite short so I could at least play it through reasonably. I took a video of it played with the new Glyph mezzo soprano using an HD video camera so you can see my screw ups more clearly. The Glyph has sounded good to my ears since I've gotten it, and I think the sound from the video is a reasonable representation of its sound.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Alternate tunings

When it comes to the ukulele, I've been pretty much a traditionalist in terms of tuning. I had tried some low-G tuning, but currently every one of my ukes is tuned re-entrant C (GCEA). I guess part of it is because all the songs I know uses re-entrant tuning, but for some reason I've been reluctant to learn more low-G songs.

A couple of days ago someone at Ukulele Underground asked me to try tuning my Koa Works tenor to EAC#F#. He also owns a Koa Works and found this tuning to bring the best out of the ukulele. I figured I'd give it a shot and tuned the Koa Works down to EAC#F#. I liked what I heard but because the Koa Works already has pretty low string tension and very low playing action, the strings felt too loose and slappy. I thought perhaps the 18" scale on my William King tenor would handle this tuning better, and sure enough, it gave about the same sound without the loose strings of the Koa Works tenor.

This tuning made the King tenor sound like a mini-guitar. There is more sustain and more warmth to the sound. I thought it sounded pretty cool. The person who referred this tuning to me said he tries to tune many of his ukuleles (he has more than I do!) with a tuning that maximizes the potential of the particular ukulele. I don't think I know enough about sounds to do something like that, but I think I'll be experimenting with a couple of my ukes for sure. It's pretty cool to hear a different character from ukes you've played for a while.

I just learned the Beatles' Imagine as played by Aldrine Guerrero from Dominator's tabs, and I thought this song worked pretty well with this tuning. So I shot a quick video of it this morning. I only had time for about 2 takes and I was far from perfect (as usual), but maybe this will give you some idea what EAC#F# sounds like. Try it at home today!

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: