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


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:


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:


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:







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:


three times

xx3x (hammer on)


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.

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: