Archive for ukuleles

My Musical Debut

By request (S.L., this one’s for you!), and because I had borrowed the Flip Ultra teeny camcorder from work, I have recorded and uploaded the first video of me playing a ukulele — specifically, the banjo uke I got from my dad for my birthday.

This is quite an occasion, since I have barely even played the ukulele in front of anyone but K and family members. The video really shows how comfortable I am performing in front of a camera, I think – basically, not too comfortable at all. Click here to watch.

My first ukulele is for sale

Beginner Uke Set for Sale – $35

UPDATE: This little uke has found a new home! Sold.

I’m ready to release the first ukulele I bought out into the wild, along with enough accessories and good stuff to get some other beginner started. I plan to put the money from this sale toward the purchase of a cheapo baritone uke I’ve been reading good things about on the EZFolk forums.

Here’s what I’m selling:
A Santa Rosa soprono uke (here’s an example).
Not a bad little uke at all; especially when you put good strings on it.

Upgraded with
Aquila Nylgut strings.
These seem to be the majority string of choice on every uke forum I’ve been to, although there are other good strings out there. These are about a million times better than the strings that came on this uke. Sound quality and volume are both really affected by the quality of the strings you use, and switching to Aquila strings is a notable upgrade for any cheap uke.
– a metal strap button on the bottom, in case you find you want to use a strap that doesn’t hook into the sound hole.

And to round out this package:
A chromatic pitch pipe (it’s important to have the tools to tune your uke, but this one stays in tune; see below).
A Jumping Flea Collar Uke Strap (except that this one has a flame pattern, which is way hipper looking than any of these shown here, I don’t know why they discontinued it).
– A felt pick. I haven’t use these much myself, but some people like them. You should try one just to hear how they sound.
– A CD including PDF versions of uke chord charts and tips, plus hundreds of songs with chord diagrams for soprano ukuleles. This is really the most awesome part of this package.

Why buy a cheap uke to start out? Basically, because it’s cheap, and playing a cheap uke is still a great experience. You could try to pick out your first really wonderful ukulele before you ever learn to play one, but, honestly, picking up a cheapo and learning that you really can play it gets you excited about the instrument and, if/when you choose to upgrade, you’ll have a better grasp on what you’re looking for when you shop. You won’t be relying just on a bunch of web reviews and forum posts; you’ll have your own experience as well. Plus, obviously, you’ll have more money in your pocket to spend, since you’re not blowing a bunch on your first uke.

You’ll read that some cheap ukes won’t stay in tune, but this isn’t the case with this uke. It stays in tune for weeks, even months at a time. Anytime you put new strings on an instrument, you’re going to have trouble with it staying in tune for a while, but these strings have settled in and won’t give you that problem — and you won’t want to change out these any time soon, because they’ve been nicely upgraded.

However, there are some caveats. For example — and I suspect this is a problem with a lot of cheaper instruments — you may notice that as you play chords, some sound a little sharp as you play down the neck. If you have perfect pitch, this might annoy you. My ear wasn’t even tuned to notice this when I started, but I do notice it now that I upgraded to a better quality ukulele. (I checked with an electronic tuner and my new uke also isn’t 100 percent on key at every fret. Maybe if you buy something in $800+ range that diminishes even more, but that’s a bit out of my price range.)

Another thing to note is that cheaper ukes are simply a little harder to play than higher quality ones. By that I mean that you tend have to press a little harder to make the chords play without a buzz. If this is your first fretted instrument, you probably won’t notice this. If you’ve been playing on somebody’s Kamaka for a while and then switch to this Santa Rosa, yeah, this could be a problem. I personally found that I gripped and pressed really hard when I started out, hard enough that my thumb got sore! My solution was that I started using a strap so I didn’t have both hang on to the uke itself and play it too, and the pain went away. Thus, with this uke package, I’m including a strap, complete with rock-star flames, that hooks into the sound hole; I’ve also added a strap button to the bottom of the instrument itself in case you want to use something fancier. (I use this one now.)

That’s my list of pitfalls. If you spend another $100 bucks or so, you might avoid some of those, but — and this is a guess — you’ll still find yourself wanting to buy another higher quality instrument after you get some experience. My path to success was to go cheap at first and then upgrade more significantly. (By “success” I mean I play the uke and enjoy it; I certainly won’t be going pro anytime soon.)

With this stuff and the help of beginner uke sites on the Web, you can be playing your uke within an hour of picking it up. There’s a ton of helpful sites out there, but I’ll list a few to get you started.

Pineapple Pete
EZFolk Tutorials
Funny Starter Tutorial
Learning Uke with Benny

However, if I was starting over again, I’d still buy a book. I had both “Mel Bay’s You Can Teach Yourself Uke” (I found a cheaper copy without a CD, which was fine) and “Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Tips ‘N’ Tunes” both of which were a great help.

Anyway, I spent about $70 accumulating the stuff I’m selling now for $35. I invite you to purchase it, learn to play and enjoy making music on it, then upgrade and send this one back out into the world for somebody else to learn on. Drop me a line if you’re interested.

Three Work-Free Days

Memorial Day weekend is over. I actually didn’t realize I had Memorial Day off until the Monday before it happened; it was on the holiday schedule but somehow I had managed to overlook it. It was a really great surprise to have a three-day weekend show up unexpectedly in my calendar; I think I really needed it. Our next holiday is July 4th, which is on Friday this year, making it another long weekend. I’m already looking forward to it.

We had a pretty low-key holiday; had I known I had the day off in advance, we might have planned more stuff, but maybe not, since we needed to stick around town and hang out with Haylee, who’s still not 100 percent.

On Saturday afternoon, we went out with K, M and O to see the art-at-the-dump exhibit by friend and neighbor Paul. Somehow I managed to forget to bring a camera to this thing, but luckily, there’s some pictures on Flickr taken before the opening so you can get an idea of what was going on there:

Paul does a lot of art and rides that you interact with via bicycles. The exhibit area was full of kids, and there was dancing and face-painting and popcorn, and I even had a V8. There’s a bit more about this event here.
I also learned the dump is easily accessed by public transportation, although we hitched a ride in a private car.

Afterwards, we headed to Glen Park and ate pizza at Gialina. We tried the huge and delightful antipasto plate, and the pesto and puttanesca pies, which were both delish. I also really enjoyed the kid’s pizza we ordered for O, which was cheap and kind of huge. I wonder if you’ve actually got to show up with a kid to get one? I really liked this place; I think it gives both Pizza Delfina and Pizzeta 211 a run for their money, and you can actually get in, which is a plus.

For dessert, we went next door and ate some Eggetts.

They’re very big in Hong Kong, I hear. If you try them, go with coconut. And I thought the caramel dipping sauce was the best.

On Sunday, we decided to have a relaxing afternoon in Golden Gate Park, just laying around. K. brought books and magazines, and I brought my ukulele, thinking I could practice a little, quietly, unobtrusively, as long as we were nowhere near a drum circle. We parked at Page and Ashbury and walked down to Haight for lunch before we went to the park, and I really felt like I fit right in with my uke case sticking out of my backpack. An musical-looking person carrying a guitar even stopped me and chatted me up.

After lunch we plopped ourselves down on the lawn of the Conservatory of Flowers. It’s such a great building; I found this postcard online. I’m actually not very good and just sitting on a blanket and chilling out in a park, which is the reason I brought along the uke. I tend to get a little anxious, like maybe I should be doing something besides just sitting there. With my uke handy, I could practice, which kept me from getting fidgety. I played for a while, but quietly, since I was a bit concerned that I was bothering people. I mean, do you really come to hang out in a park and expect to hear an amateur ukulele player strumming chords? Then after a while, things cleared out around us and I was feeling a bit more comfortable with my public strumming.

After a little while, though, a group of women came over and sat down close, and one of them came over to see what I was playing. She had a baritone uke at home that had been her husband’s, but she said she hadn’t played it for years. She told me they planned to sit and listen to me play, but “no pressure.” It was some pressure, of course, but they complemented me between every song, so it was sort of sweet. I played and we hung out until the fog rolled in over us and it too cold to stay any more.

Monday, the last day of the weekend, was good as well. In the spirit of the holiday, we grilled chicken and ate chips and dip. We took Tex on a walk with C. and I took a nap in the middle of the afternoon. I’m now well rested and in good spirits. And it’s time to go back to work.

Office party

USS odopod

On Friday night my office had a party. It’s theme was “Yacht Club.” I wore my terrycloth nautical flag shirt, and K. wore a perfect yacht club dress. On Saturday morning, thanks to that party, I didn’t feel so good. Thank heavens for prescription headache medicine. I made it to my 9:30 a.m. ukulele class, but just barely.

A pleasant afternoon

Waiting for our tea at Samovar

K. went with me this afternoon to Yerba Buena Gardens, where they were having a ukulele festival, with lots of free music. It was fun and pleasant to sit on the grass in the garden, but we were hungry, so we had lunch at Samovar.  It was really lovely and pleasant, and we could hear the music, at least sort of, from our outdoor table. It seemed really nice inside, too. It was very relaxing and lovely.

We left for a while, then I came back for the big finale, a performance by Jake Shimabukuro. He’s pretty darn impressive. Here’s a video so you can see what I mean.

Happy Birthday to me!

Lanikai LCD-C Concert Uke

July is my birthday month, and the first day of my birthday month seemed like as good a day as any to buy myself a present, so now I’ve got a Lanikai custom series LCD-C concert-size ukulele. Of course, I took a bunch of pictures.

I mentioned that I was attempting to learn the uke a few posts ago, and it’s not like I’ve become a great player or anything between then and now, but I decided it was time to upgrade from my $30 uke because I was having some pain in my thumb, I think from having to press so hard on the uke’s neck to play chords without buzzing.

So, since a friend of K.’s has loaned us her car while she’s out of town, and K. is out of town too, I drove out to the East Bay this afternoon and test drove ukuleles. I had heard lots of good things about the Flukes and Fleas and I thought maybe that was the way I wanted to go, but it turns out I didn’t really like the way they sounded all that much. I also tried a K-Wave Les Paul style uke, but I wasn’t impressed with the sound enough to get me past the fact that it weighed a ton, more than other ukes with pickups I tried. I even played a Lanikai 6-string tenor uke, which had a nice deep tone, and was very neat sounding, but not exactly what I was looking for right now.

There were two serious finalists: The Kiwaya KS-5, which I played at the 5th String (a very nice place even though I didn’t buy there), and the Lanikai, which I found at The Thin Man. I was pushed over the edge by the price (the Lanikai was at the top of my price range, and the Kiwaya was a little bit above the top) and the prettiness of the LCD-C. I’m also interested in trying the concert size, just to mix things up.

I actually was very intrigued by a vintage 30s-Era Royal Hawaiian Hotel-branded soprano uke at The Thin Man; it had an awesome loud sound, but I felt like it might be too fragile for my ungraceful paws.

So, now I have the lovely Lanikai uke, which sounds great when I play “Amazing Grace” on it, my least hesitant number. I also got a bargain on a hard-sided case for it, and I optimistically bought a book on fingerpicking, thinking perhaps I’ll try to move past simply strumming.

Don’t get me wrong — I won’t toss my little cheapo uke. It will be a fine traveler, and it sounds pretty good especially since I put good strings on it. Yeah, I still have the distressed uke I found on the street, and new strings helped it too … but maybe not enough.

So, that’s my first birthday present. I’m also buying myself a nice new yellow motorcycle helmet, although I think maybe I’ll lump that in with scooter-related necessities in my budget and not call it a birthday present. Although it’s pretty neat, too.

My uke skills aren’t quite ready for prime time yet, so I’ve got no recordings to share. But if you want to see what’s cool about the ukulele to me, here’s a pretty entertaining example:

Stuff in the Street #4

So, this is actually my next-door neighbors’ recycling bin that you see here. The funny thing is that I have recently decided to learn to play the ukulele, and I practice in our apartment. This weekend it was very hot here (I actually wore shorts on Sunday) and we’ve had the windows open a lot. I like to think that my neighbor has been listening to me play the four chords I know over and over and it reminded him that he had a ukulele in his house he should get rid of right away.

I picked this one up, but the strings are shot, so, at least for now, my cheap uke sounds a lot better.

I found a few other good things in the street, and you can see them here.