Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome

30/04/2012

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?

In my teens I learned a little guitar, and still had an acoustic classical guitar languishing in the garage, missing a string. I figured the Ukulele (‘Uke’ to its friends) was more portable, had a fun tone and was never taken seriously by anyone who played it! Plus, it has two strings less than a guitar, so it must be easier?

Snowy

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!

More research (and a tuner gadget from eBay) and I discover that the Uke I have has some fairly cheap strings. They go out of tune quickly and seem to make strumming difficult. So, I buy some ‘Aquila’ strings – these absolutely transform the instrument, not just in tone, but somehow in playability too.

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.

Snoopy

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.

Comparing the size of Ukuleles and the Guitar

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…

Alfie Approves!

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.


The iPad…

15/04/2012

I got a call this afternoon from a friend asking my (very much perceived…) wisdom regarding his potential iPad purchase and it got me thinking.

It’s something I get asked about quite a bit – like “do you use it much”, “what do you use it for?”, so I thought I’d write a few thoughts down. I’ve had each incarnation of the iPad, holding off of buying the new one until temptation got the better of me each time!

1) Do I use it much? Hell yes! All that idle surfing, tweeting, email monitoring, Facebooking is mostly on the iPad. It’s lighter, more portable, better battery life than the laptop, and with a decent case just easier to lug around.

2) So, which case? Well, for the iPad 2 and the new iPad, I’ve had a “YooBao” case from Amazon which gives the iPad full protection. I had the original iPad case for the iPad 1, this is similar although it’s leather, which is an improvement. It has the special magnet to switch the iPad on and off too. I prefer it to Apple’s new Smart Covers because it protects the whole iPad – front and back. It doesn’t add much bulk to the iPad, but does offer great protection. So far, I have never scratched an iPad!

3) Which version? Well, colour first. Black seems to present pictures better than a distracting white surround, so for me, I choose black. As for size, you probably won’t store a lot of music on it, I also think storing videos on it is wasteful, so I have stuck with 16GB WiFi for all of mine. However, the new iPad with the higher resolution screen has meant that Apps are expanding in size as do the resolution of pictures that you put on there. So, I really should have got the 32GB version I think, but I’m managing OK with 16GB. I don’t bother with 3G (4G won’t ever work in the UK anyway) as it’s another airtime SIM to worry about. I’d rather use a device like the MiFi, or the new XYfi that I’ve been testing recently, at least then I can connect my computer or Mrs. T’s iPad when required, but most of my iPad use is at home to be honest.

4) Email. A great tip if you don’t already use it is to use IMAP to access your email. If you don’t already, then why not? If you’re using POP, I think you’re mad! IMAP will allow multiple devices, your iPhone, iPad, computer etc to access the same email account, with a backup of email kept on the mail server. You can reply from one device, delete or move email and it’s replicated across the other devices. Neat.

5) Which Apps? Evernote is great. Put a few notes in and they are again, synchronised across all of your devices. DropBoxis similar, but more file based, but files that are recognised by the iPad are of course viewable on it. It’s also a simple way to get PDFs into iBooks. Use the link to get 2.5GB of DropBox space free. The Telegraph is great (I subscribe to the newspaper print edition, so the electronic subscription comes included), you can do the crossword electronically too! 1Password is a life saver, I use DropBox as the store for that, TV Guide is worth a look at too. There are many others, but there are plenty of sites to find great iPad Apps.

My iPad - click to see full size

6) Isn’t not having Flash support a problem? In a word, No. All the decent web sites are mobile aware these days. If not, they’re probably not up to date anyway!

7) What downsides are there? For me, I have chronic tennis elbow as a result of the way I hold the iPad. But then, I’m using it a lot. I mean probably at least four hours daily.

8) Is the battery life as good as it’s claimed? Yes. Unless you play Angry Birds a lot, which is pretty battery intensive, then it probably goes down to about six hours.

9) Other tips? Use the keyboard shortcuts – for example ‘pe’ on my iPad converts to my email address, ‘pw’ my web address. Check out Wireless Sync, built in, saves using the sync cable – you can keep that on the charger. Best to use the charger too, it’s faster than your computer’s USB port.

10) Isn’t Android better/cheaper/open? Maybe/yes etc. But, the iPad works, resale values as with other Apple kit is fantastic, so upgrading to new models is easy. The huge popularity of the iPad means that most developers develop for the iPad first, then for other platforms, and the huge disparity of screen resolutions (and versions) for other devices give developers nightmares. The closed thing doesn’t worry me either. I don’t think there’s any less choice as a result, and the fact that programs are pretty much QA tested gives a sense of quality and security that you don’t get on platforms that allow publishers a free-for-all scenario. In fact, I’ve even put some of my own, rather dubious quality, software out there in the past!

11) Other uses? It’s great as a recipe book. Recipes from the web etc, or from your favourite book can be viewed on the wipe-clean screen. You can avoid getting flour on your favourite book. Books are great. I have all of my camera manuals in my iPad (and iPhone). Handy for those complex flashgun settings that I can never remember, plus, I can now find the manuals! All my contacts, calendars all sync across my MacBook, iPad and iPhone.

One more downside of the new iPad is when I go back to the MacBook, the display on the computer looks awful. You really don’t realise how good the iPad display is until you use a ‘normal’ one again!

I expect there are many, many other things I’ll remember once I’ve posted this, maybe I’ll add them when I do.

I can do that from the iPad, after all.


Carphone (Wronghouse) Warehouse

02/04/2012

Idly browsing the web as you do, I stumbled across Carphone Warehouse’s website – http://www.carphonewarehouse.com/mobiles/mobile-phones/APPLE-NEW-IPAD-WIFI-4G-16GB/MONTHLY – where they proudly proclaim that the new iPad from Apple has “Ultrafast 4G LTE”. Looking at the features, it also omits the fact that the product supports 3G.

The interesting thing is though, that the iPad supports 700 & 2100 MHz 4G, not the 800 and 2600MHz bands that the UK will get. Other European countries have some other frequencies, but certainly not those on the current iPad. So, it will not work in the UK or Europe on 4G.

I decided to put Carphone Warehouse to the test, and strolled into my local store in Farnborough and asked the assistant if it would work on 4G, where and when. She assured me that it will work worldwide on 4G, and now in the UK, with the UK networks supporting 4G for the launch of the iPad now. Listen here!

On the 2nd of April, I thought I’d call customer services and inform them – also having tweeted about it over the weekend to @CPWTweets. CPWTweets have said they will get the website corrected and staff informed, but after I had spent a frustrating 16 minutes and five conversations on the phone to Carphone Warehouse – at least two of whose staff claimed that the iPad WILL work in the UK on 4G when the networks launch. As those frequencies are not going to be released by OFCOM, I doubt it very much…

I’ve edited out the various bits of hold music, so this has been reduced to 12 minutes. Listen here!

So Carphone Warehouse have assured me that their misleading website will be corrected within 24 hours. We will see…