At the beginning of April, I stumbled across a Ukulele video on YouTube. It was The Vespers and “Power Flower“. As ever, I have no idea how I got there, but I did. It reminded me a little of Patrick & Eugene whose CD I bought some years ago. Lighthearted, easy on the ear and just good fun. Music should be fun, shouldn’t it?
Off to the local music store (Stagebeat in Farnborough) to buy a cheap Uke then. I’d done some research and they were close to the bargain basement prices and even though I didn’t really know what I was looking for, I wanted to hold one before buying it. So, just under thirty quid allowed me to leave the store with a black ‘Kauai’ Soprano Uke.
Soprano is the smallest Uke, they then go up in size, Concert, Tenor and Baritone which is getting on for a small guitar size.
I quickly found a website – ‘Ukulele Hunt‘ (which seems to make quiet fun of the abbreviation of its name! Lots of good stuff here, plus I discovered that in the last thirty years since I really took an interest in stringed instruments, something called ‘Tabs’ have appeared. These are simply a notation that gives chords and the fingering on the frets along with the words to make it much easier to play along. Our cat, Alfie seems to enjoy the noise I make, she keeps me company while I strum away in the conservatory. Must be a glutton for punishment!
The following week, I find a group of enthusiasts (some would say musicians), calling themselves “The Happy Uke“, who meet once a fortnight in a pub in Alton. I turn up, am made very welcome, light is made of my admission of incompetence and I find myself playing and singing along to Tabs provided by Sarah the organiser. Incredible fun, almost three hours of playing (and importantly practice) and just enormous fun! Tip: don’t worry if you can’t get to certain chords, just duck out of the ones you can’t play. I found playing and trying very beneficial, although my novice fingers were very sore the day after.
Trouble is, here you meet other people, and importantly see other instruments. My fingers aren’t nimble enough yet for a few of the chords on the Soprano Uke (now named “Snowy”, being black) – the Soprano fretboard is very small, half the size of regular guitar frets. While I can now make a D chord, that requires three fingers in the same fret, I couldn’t before I met with the Happy Ukers. But, trying a Barnes & Mullins Concert Uke that night – a beautiful instrument with a polished back – that made those chords so much easier with the slightly larger fretboard.
These Ukes then become instruments of desire (pun intended), the build on that Concert Ukulele was to die for, a highly polished spruce back, it was certainly nicer to look at than it was to listen to in my hands – although, I’m sure in the right hands it will be just fine!
More research and while looking for a Concert sized Uke, preferably electro-acoustic, I find Eleuke’s “Peanut”. This is a quirky looking instrument, fully electric, so almost silent in operation. Cleverly, as well as a normal guitar output, it has a headphone jack so you can listen without using an amplifer. Then, it has an MP3 player input, so you can plug your own backing, metronome, or other audio (such as the Ukulele for Dummies eBook which has interactive elements). I tweet, thinking about this Uke, and Omega Music jump in, helpfully answer a couple of questions I had about it, and before I know it, I’ve ordered one from their website! The local shop sadly, does not have much of a range to look at, so the internet wins again, certainly helped by Matt on Twitter.
Over the weekend, my new enthusiasm even rescues my old guitar from the garage and re-strings it. Although it’s a bit beaten up, a good clean and polish does work wonders, and I’m playing some of the tunes from my teens again.
Monday arrives and so does the Eleuke Peanut. This one’s going to be called “Snoopy” (obviously). I plug in my headphones and it’s amazing. Lovely tone, actually sounds very natural, and a nicer, smoother tone than Snowy. The volume and tone are adjustable through two controls on the front of the Uke. The tone has a centre stop where is sounds natural, turn one way it becomes sharp sounding, the other dulls the tone down for a more bassy sound. The iRig has not arrived, so I can’t really experiment with iPad Garageband just yet, but have plugged it into my iPod speaker. All works just fine. So, I can practice silently or up the volume to a level via an iPod speaker that will annoy the neighbours. Obviously, the former is more prudent, I think.
The Eleuke comes supplied with a decent quality padded gig bag, fitted with a battery, a shoulder strap (although I can’t work out how to fit it!) and a cable to take audio from the peanut to your audio system.
So, that’s less than a month and my stringed instrument collection has tripled already! I’m told by Sarah from “The Happy Uke” that I’m suffering from Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome, I don’t think it’s a terminal disease, but it’s certainly something I’ve realised I’m suffering from. And Omega Music aren’t helping!
When the iRig arrives, then I can add all those virtual effects pedals, multi-track recording, who knows?
First, more practice, and maybe, I’ll order that Concert Uke…
And thanks to Omega Music for fuelling my affliction, I don’t think there’s a cure, but if you have the disease, you could do a lot worse than talk (or tweet) to them!
1st May 2012 update – It appears that Barnes & Mullins have stopped making their BMUK2C Concert Uke in favour of releasing production availability for a cheaper, less desirable (in my opinion) model. Omega Music snapped up the stock and have six in stock right now. Correction, five. Link to the BMUK2C here.