Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hey, I received a copyright infringement notice on Youtube!

Well, I guess the video I posted on Youtube playing an instrumental of Desperado is deemed copyright infringing and I have received a warning. So I must take it down (or maybe it has been deleted already). Apparently Cass County Music is cracking down on covers of their music. I have no idea how many of the covers I've posted are copyright infringing, and to be honest I don't really give a crap. So if one day all of my uploaded videos are gone it's probably because Youtube shut me down for more copyright infringement. Since pretty much everything I've posted are covers, the possibility of that happening is actually kind of high. I've always found this type of crackdowns puzzling because in my opinion these types of covers do more to help the stupid record companies than hurt them. I mean, there are music that I only went out to buy after seeing them covered on Youtube and/or other places online. But I guess there are stupid people running record companies out there so what can I do?

Anyway, hopefully my Youtube account doesn't get shut down in the future, but if it does, you know what happened.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lineup update. Finally!

It's been quite some time since I last posted a lineup update. I finally found some time to take some pictures. Let's see, since the last update, I've shipped out the Honu concert, the Uklectic, the Fender Koa Nohea, the Kanile'a super tenor, and the LoPrinzi mahogany tenor. Additions since then are the Mainland slotted headstock concert and Ko'olau CE-1. Hmmmm, as you can see, I actually managed to keep the UAS rate in the negative! Woohoo! OK, so no one cares....

Anyway, there's a Glyph mezzo soprano still being built, but I don't anticipate adding any more ukes in the short term. In fact, a couple more will surely find their way out of my collection before I add any more.

Below are some group shots and back shots for your viewing pleasure.

Group back shot.

Sopranos. These are likely going to be the only 2 sopranos I have for quite a while.

Back of the sopranos.


Back of the tenors.


Back of the concerts.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cognito Town

While I was in Oahu at the beginning of March, I took a ukulele lesson with Bruce Shimabukuro. He taught me a song called Cognito Town. He went over the main picking parts and the chords with me during the lesson. I thought it was a pretty easy song to learn and picked it up within the one hour lesson. Later during that trip I decided to buy Bruce's album called Incognito that had this song. When I heard it from his actual album, I realized that he taught me the song at about a quarter of the speed he played it on the CD. It also had some drums and bass parts too. I decided to try and learn it at the speed it was played on the CD and also the few extra parts Bruce didn't cover during the lesson. The end result is what you see below.

For this video, I played the chords on the Ko'olau CE-1 and recorded it using Audacity. I then played it back on the laptop speaker during the video and played the picking parts over those chords. To be honest the sound quality coming out of the speakers was pretty crappy and while I picked the melody, I thought it didn't sound too hot. But I think after it's picked up by the camera's microphone combined with the picking, it actually sounded like an OK approximation of the song on the video. I think. But hey, you don't get to learn a song from the guy who wrote it very often right?

Anyway, I think Bruce's CD is pretty good, and if you want to check out Cognito Town with the full ensemble with bass and drums, be sure to track down a copy of Incognito.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Glyph update II

Dave Means has sent me another batch of build pictures for my Glyph mezzo soprano. Looks like it's coming along pretty good now. I have no idea when it will be completed, but I guess it's done when it's done. Onto the pics!

The finished back.

Roughing out the Spanish cedar neck.

Cutting slot for carbon fiber reinforcement rod.

Gluing the carbon fiber rod and neck attachment barrel nut.

Cutting out the tail graft inlay with a jeweler's saw.

Inlaying the character onto a piece of ebony.

Test fitting the tail graft.

Gluing the back linings.

Roughing out the neck on a band saw.

Sanding the sides and linings on a 12"-radius dish to match the dome of the back.

Routing the rosette channel.

Cutting out the soundhole.

Inlaying the rosette.

Sanding the arch in the bottom of the soundboard braces.

Gluing the soundboard braces & rosewood bridge patch.

Notching the back linings to received the ends of the back braces.

Gluing on the back.

The neck after carving and rough sanding. (note: this will be a slotted headstock)

Profiling the soundboard braces with a finger plane.

Ramping the brace ends with a paring chisel.

The finished soundboard.

Gluing in the top linings.

So that's it for now. Looks like most of the parts are complete or nearing completion. The fretboard will have a Jake Shimabukuro style inlay of my initials and the rough design by Dave looked great to me. This should end up being a pretty cool little uke.
Stay tuned!

Friday, March 12, 2010

New uke day!

Well, the CE-1 I picked up in Hawaii has finally arrived. For your reference it takes 5 business days for UPS to deliver from Oahu to Minneapolis.

Anyway, I snapped a couple of quick pictures of it. It still looks great, with a nice piece of Myrtle and ebony fretboard, bridge, and faceplate. It is pretty much impeccably made. Everything looks first class. Sounds very nice unplugged too. I'm probably going to swap out the low-G Ko'olau Gold strings for a set of high-G strings. I've got a couple of packs of ORCAS black strings that I might put on this thing. Gold does look good on this uke, but alas, I'm not a low-G player at this time.

I will try to put up some comments about it after playing it for a while. I also have some plans for videos with it. Hopefully I can execute it soon. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hands on uke testing in Hawaii

Over the past week, while I was in Oahu, I was able to check out some ukes at a couple of shops. However, I didn't really spend much time trying out any particular instrument, and the little time I did spend were between the two Ukulele Puapua shops and Hawaii Music Supply. Having said that, I did check out a fair number of instruments and I'm just going to put my thoughts on what I tried here.

@ Puapua Waikiki:

-KoAloha concert: I think every KoAloha concert I've ever tried were pretty awesome, and the one I picked up to strum here was no exception. Basically if you want a really good concert sized ukulele, it's difficult to miss with one of these.

-G-String concert: I couldn't say the same about a couple of G-String concert scaled ukes I tried here. Maybe it was the Hilo strings they come with, but they didn't impress me too much with the sound. G-Strings are very well made instruments, but I think you probably needs to try one in person to be sure that you are getting a really good one.

-I'iwi Gold Series concert: This is one expensive ukulele at $2030, but it sounded very impressive. It has a one piece koa top and nice headstock and soundhole inlays. It seems to be well built and had great sound. Excellent volume and punch. I'm not sure I'd drop this kind of money on this uke (there are better values out there), but it's definitely a top level instrument.

-Japanese transparent plastic ukes: There were a couple of Chinese made, Japanese brand transparent Maccaferri copies hanging at the back of the store. I tried them out of curiosity. I had thought their $125 asking price was ridiculous, but I must admit I was kind of surprised by these babies. They are heftier and more solid than I thought they would be. And they didn't sound too bad either. They are at least as good as the Maccaferri Islander I had, and seem more durable. $125 is a lot to pay for made in China plastic, but I think they are actually worth the price for what you're getting.

-Kala travel ukes in soprano & tenor: I tried a couple of these flat ukes. They sounded decent and looked pretty funky from the side. I don't really think they are that much more portable than standard thickness ukes though. I mean, if I can carry my ebony King concert from MN to Hawaii and back in a Kiwaya concert rectangular foam case while dealing with a couple of heavy suitcases and carry-ons without any issues, a thinner body doesn't really add that much portability in my opinion.

-KoAloha 6-string Imaikalani: I've wanted one since visiting KoAloha 2 years ago and trying one they had on the wall. The one here sounded nice but not magical like that one. I guess it could be that I'm harder to impress now, but this uke probably dropped off my want list for now.

-Ko'olau model 1 sopranos: There were a few Ko'olau model 1 sopranos and pineapples there. I tried them very briefly as I'm not that interested in sopranos these days. They seem to be good but nothing special. Perhaps they would sound better if I spend more time on them, but I didn't. The workmanship on all Ko'olaus are first rate though.

-Ko'olau CE-1 koa: I tried this one unplugged and plugged in. It's a very nice semi-hollow body ukulele and sounded great plugged in. There is also decent volume unplugged. I became very interested in this model after trying it here.

-Ko'olau contemporary series tenor: I think this one was made with koa and spruce. I didn't try it for too long, and it didn't make a big impression on me. I'm not sure why. It looks great and I thought it sounded nice enough, but it didn't sound special. Certainly not superior than several tenors I have at home.

@ Puapua Pacific Beach Hotel:

-KoAloha concert Sceptre: The Sceptre is a model I've been interested in, but I was a little disappointed in this particular example. The sound just didn't seem as good as I remember (I last played on about 2 years ago). I think the volume is there but the tone didn't cause me to want one. I guess that's good because I don't think I'll be looking to get one anytime soon now.

-Puapua brand cutaway concert: This is an interesting uke. It is built in Vietnam for Ukulele Puapua. I thought it looked like it was built by the same place as Honu ukes, as it had that general Honu vibe and also had koa tuner buttons like Honus. The guy at the shop told me they were actually built for them by Ayers. I don't know anything about Ayers other than having head the name before. I guess they are more common in Japan. My guess would be that Honu & Ayers are built at the same factory in Vietnam. Anyway this was a pretty good uke. It looked nice and sounded pretty good. There aren't many concert sized cutaways available now, so this is a good option if you favor the concert size but would like a cutaway body.

-LoPrinzi sunburst tenor: I think it was a model A, but I didn't look. The sunburst looked nice enough, but it sounded nothing special to me, so I put it back on the rack pretty quick.

@ Hawaii Music Supply:

-Kala Acacia tenor: I had wanted to get one of these since it had a slotted headstock and Taiwanese acacia wood. But by the time it came out my UAS was more or less in remission and had come to prefer concert sized ukes. So I decided against getting it. I think it's a nice looking instrument and sounded pretty good. Definitely worth the street price these go for ($300 or so).

-Ko'olau model 1 tenor: I thought it was made out of koa, but it could have been another wood. This one sounded OK. I was actually kind of disappointed by it. I thought the T-1 would be a great sounding but affordable Ko'olau, but this one just didn't impress me.

-Ko'olau series 100 concert: This one had some nice koa grain, but again the sound was just OK. The KoAloha I played a Puapua was definitely better sounding. I'm not sure what to think of the lower end Ko'olau models at this point.

-Pono ebony deluxe concert: I was surprised to find one of these here. The price is killer too, at $399. I've been wanting to try this model because on paper it's very similar to my William King ebony LS-concert (Macassar ebony back/sides, spruce top). I wondered if the Pono could actually sound close to the King. After playing it for a bit I was relieved that this uke will never be mistaken for the King. However, that doesn't mean that it's no good. I thought it sounded fine and for its great looks (I love macassar ebony), the price was a steal. If someone (YOU) doesn't get it, I just might have to figure out a way to bring it in. It's a nice little uke.

-Ko'olau Deluxe series Hawaiian mahogany tenor: This is more like it. A slotted headstock deluxe model, this one sounded great. I played it for a while and was very impressed with it. Great mahogany sound and typical Ko'olau workmanship. The only thing is I don't like the looks of the mahogany on this one. It looks similar to the mahogany found on most Pono models, with some striping that I dislike. The only mahogany I find attractive is the ones used by Martin & Collings, with the darker color and no striping. Still, I would say this uke is worth the $2k or so asking price.

-Ko'olau CE-1 Myrtle: This was fresh off the production line and features an awesome looking piece of Myrtle. It also has upgraded gold hardware and ebony fretboard and saddle. It played and sounded as nice as the CE-1 koa I tried at Puapua and is much nicer looking. It was also much cheaper and I ended up buying it.

-Ko'olau Contemporary series macassar ebony/spruce tenor: This is a great uke. It was also hot off the production line and I had the pleasure of being the first to try it out. I was immediately surprised by how light it felt. Previous macassar ebony ukes I've handled are all very heavy, including Pono models and my King concert. I confirmed that lightness by holding the CS in one hand and a Pono ebony deluxe tenor they had on the wall. This CS tenor sounded and looked great. Definitely on par with the best tenors I've played. If I didn't already have too many tenors, I'd seriously consider getting this one. I think someday I might need to get a macassar ebony/spruce tenor from Ko'olau. This one is definitely high on the want list now.

Anyway, that's what I remember from this trip to Oahu. I think my Myrtle CE-1 will probably arrive this Friday, so look for pics and more impressions this weekend.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Playing ukulele by the ocean

I mentioned in a recent post that I took a video of me playing the ukulele on a balcony by the beach in Oahu. The video is now uploaded. To me, playing the ukulele in Hawaii is simply something that must be done when I visit the islands. I'm very glad that I have taken the King LS-concert along for the trip and it served me well. I'm not sure when I'll be visiting Hawaii again, but whenever that may be, a ukulele will definitely come along for the ride.

Friday, March 5, 2010

King on the beach

Today I brought my King LS-concert to the beach. It was actually the first time I have ever taken a uke to the beach. Some kind of "beach uke" huh? We rented a cabana with a canopy on the beach. It's pretty nice lying in the cabana while looking out to the beach and strumming a ukulele. The picture on the left is the beach reflected off the back of the King. I guess the gloss finish was pretty mirror smooth.

We got the cabana for the whole day so we'll be spending more time down there today as we close out the vacation.

Hanging out at the beach cabana

The King LS-concert is beach and baby tested (baby is my neece)

UAS in Hawaii

Well, I guess trying not to buy a ukulele while in Hawaii is like trying to watch TV without turning it on....or something....

Anyway, even though I did not intend on buying a ukulele on this year's trip to Oahu, I succumbed to UAS once again when I picked up a new uke yesterday from Hawaii Music Supply. The uke in question is a Ko'olau CE-1. I had brought my William King LS-concert along on the trip and did not expect to actually buy a ukulele. To be honest I really had not played any acoustic ukes on this trip that caused me to want to buy it. At least among the ones that's within the realm of affordability (about $1000 and under). However, I had been thinking about a Ko'olau for a while now, because it's the only Hawaiian "K" brand that I have not owned yet (I had a G-String soprano that I consider part of the Hawaiian "K") and after checking one out at Ukulele Puapua, I really thought hard about getting a CE-1. I mean, I've never had a Ko'olau ukulele and I don't currently have a solid (or in the case of the CE-1, semi-hollow) body ukulele, so I thought the CE-1 made sense, especially since it's obtainable for around $800 online. I thought perhaps I would get it from online sources later on, so even though I liked it quite a bit after some hands on tests at Puapua, I didn't expect to get one during my stay at Oahu this week. That is until a visit to Hawaii Music Supply.

Unlike the Waikiki shops, Hawaii Music Supply caters to the locals as well as the internet, which means much better prices than Waikiki (tourist prices). There was a CE-1 in Koa hanging on the wall with a price tag of $750. I was impressed with that price and while I tried out other ukes there I was thinking about maybe picking it up. Andrew, who runs the store, was helping out another customer and while talking to them he brought out 3 Ko'olau ukes they had just received. One was a CE-1 that has a well-figured Myrtle top as well as head-plate/fingerboard/bridge upgraded to ebony and gold tuners/hardware. It is a great looking uke and I had in fact wanted a Myrtle topped one over a koa topped one. Andrew mentioned that even though it has some upgraded materials, it would sell for the same price as the koa one hanging on the wall. That pretty much sold me on the uke right there. It had better materials than what I was looking for, and costs less than what I expected to pay for a standard CE-1, so to me it was a no brainer. They even ship anything over $200 for free, so I had them send it to Minnesota as I did not have any room to take on more luggage on the way back home. It was simply a deal I couldn't refuse.

Regarding the CE-1 itself, it was a beautiful example (yes, pictures will be posted once I have it) and it had a very nice sound plugged in as well as unplugged. Obviously it is pretty quiet unplugged, but it sounds good, and should be great for quiet practice. This is the 4th solid/semi-hollow type of ukulele I've owned (the others being a Risa uke solid, BugsGear Eleuke, & a Uklectic), and I expect it to be far and away the best.

So I ended up getting a uke in Hawaii after all. In each of the last 4 years, I had picked up a ukulele in Hawaii. I guess it's something that's bound to happen whenever I'm in Hawaii. When you are in the land of the ukulele, it's so hard to not end up bringing one home.

Oh, and I want to put in a quick plug for Hawaii Music Supply. If you are interested in a ukulele you think they might have, give them a call for an accurate quote. On some stuff they actually can't advertise their lowest price online, so it's worth while to call and check. I saw several other ukes on sale at oh-so-tempting prices. They are biased toward Ko'olau and Pono ukes (Andrew is Ko'olau owner John Kitakis's son), so they should have some of the best selection and prices for those.

I will post pics of the new acquisition as soon as it arrives to me in Minnesota. Until then, I need to think hard about possibly making room for it in my collection....

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My first actual ukulele lesson

So, I finally took my first ukulele lesson today at the Ukulele Puapua shop located at the Sheraton Waikiki. It was a lesson with Bruce Shimabukuro and the lesson costs $45 for about 45 minutes. I had to travel quite a ways to make it to Waikiki, so I budgeted about an hour driving time thinking that I would arrive in plenty of time. Well, for some reason, there was some serious traffic jam around Waikiki around noon so it took all of the time I had budgeted for driving and then some, and I was late to the lesson by about 5 minutes.

Bruce was at the shop tuning up a bunch of Kala sopranos as I arrived. He greeted me and finished up the tuning of those ukes before we began the lesson. It turned out that I was the only one who signed up for his lesson today, so it was more or less a private lesson. He asked me what kind of music I played and how I learned to play in general. I told him I liked to play his brother's music and had learned a lot of songs from Dominator's tabs. He asked me to play a little bit of what I currently play so I played a little bit of Piano Forte. He pointed out that I can make the notes come out more by playing near the sound hole instead of around the neck-joint as I usually pick or strum. He went on to share some thoughts on different picking positions and why it is important to make each note mean something. While this does not teach me how to fast pick 3rd Stream, I thought it was very helpful and enlightening. I'm sure picking at different positions isn't anything special, but it is something I have not given any thought to, so it was great to have it pointed out to me.

He went on to go through a song called Cognito Town with me, starting with the picking parts and then the chord strumming. While leaning the picking and strumming parts, he talked about knowing the individual notes on the fretboard and how knowing some music theory could help me being able to play with others just by knowing what key they're playing in. Throughout the process he discussed how the things I learned during this lesson should be applied to everything I played.

One thing kind of funny happened during the middle of the lesson. Tyler Gilman, who is a manager at Ukulele Puapua (and a friggin awesome uke player himself, just look at this video, he's the one on the left), stopped by and asked what kind of ukulele I had. He asked to look at it and remarked that it was from Bill King (aka William King). He played it for a minute and then asked me if he could take some pictures of it. I said yes and he handed me a glossy Kanile'a to continue the lesson. (I think it was a super-concert, but not sure) I thought it was pretty amusing that someone wanted to take pictures of my ukulele. I guess Mr. King builds rock star ukuleles or something. LOL! As an aside, when I resumed the lesson with the Kanile'a, it was immediately obvious what an awesome uke the King LS-concert is. The Kanile'a sounded really nice, but it was very obvious that it wasn't in the same class as the King. Well, at least to me. It could be that I was biased, but I was assured once again that the King was a sound investment.

I think the lesson actually lasted a full hour, so I guess I got my money's worth. I thought it was very enjoyable, and Bruce is truly a great ukulele teacher. It's too bad I can't take his lessons on a regular basis. I'm sure that would do wonders for my ukulele playing skills. If you are visiting Oahu, I would highly recommend taking a lesson with Bruce. I'm sure you will pickup something worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My first ukulele lesson coming up

Well, after playing the ukulele for just over three years, I will finally be taking my first real lesson! I have booked a lesson with Bruce Shimabukuro at Ukulele Puapua in Waikiki. The guy and lady who was at the shop asked me to play something to determine my playing ability. I started playing some Guava Jam and they decided I would be intermediate. That's what I felt I was probably at. I mean, pretty much anyone at these ukulele shops can play circles around me, so there's definitely a lot more I can learn.

Since I have never taken ukulele lessons, I have no idea what to expect. If others signed up for a lesson, it would be a group lesson. If not, it would be a private lesson just for me. I guess I'm pretty much after the "ukulele lesson experience" at this point so it'll be all good. I do hope to pickup something useful toward improving my ukulele playing though. Hopefully there's still room left for me to improve. I guess if nothing else, it'll be another excuse to go to Puapua to drool over ukes! But if you've read some of my past posts, I REALLY would like to be able to play 3rd Stream one day.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

This is the life!

That would be my William King LS-concert sitting on the balcony in Oahu and sipping some Pina Colada to the left. LOL!

Yes, it's Hawaii time again. I learned a lesson during last year's trip to Maui that one should not be without a ukulele when going to Hawaii. During that trip I did not get to play a ukulele until the next to last day on the trip. I think I was beginning to suffer from ukulele withdrawal syndrome by the time I finally acquired my Kamaka tenor. So this year, I decided to bring a ukulele with me so I won't suffer from any withdrawal. The uke of choice for this trip, if you've read this blog before, is the William King LS-concert. I just thought what could be better than playing my favorite uke in Hawaii? So far so good. Playing this uke on the balcony facing the ocean is just soooooo enjoyable.

I've already been to Waikiki and checked out some ukes at the second Ukulele Puapua shop as well as a couple of other shops in Waikiki. It's so awesome to be able to browse ukes at a shop like that, but so far nothing has caused UAS to raise its ugly head. I guess maybe it's because nothing has really came close to the King concert for me to want to bring it home. But then again I know enough not to buy ukes in Waikiki. What has interested me is the lessons offered at Ukulele Puapua. Bruce Shimabukuro teaches 45 minute lessons there from Monday through Thursday and I'm seriously considering taking one. I mean, I have never actually had a ukulele lesson, and maybe I can learn some fast picking techniques to help me learn how to play 3rd Stream or something.

Anyway, I have finally taken another video playing the ukulele, this time at the balcony shown in the picture on this post. But the upload speed here is seriously slow so I'm not sure if I'll be able to have it up during this trip. I guess we'll see. If I do get a chance to take that lesson, I'll try to report back about how that went. Until then, mahalo for reading!

Proof that I was there too!

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: