I’m a hobby guy and a collector and I always have been. I admit that hobbies are really just a thin justification for collecting cool stuff. I’ve got way too many cameras, whiskey glasses, guitars etc. but for some reason I haven’t felt a strong pull to buy a bunch of ukuleles… yet.
Kala KA-T – When I decided to buy a ukulele it required that I pull myself up by my bootstraps to do it. I didn’t have any uke mentors and there aren’t a lot of stores that carry ukuleles in my area. So I didn’t have anyone recommending brands or models to me and I wasn’t really able to go to a store and test drive a bunch. Thankfully, we live in a magic time and we can research the world by sitting at a computer (or phone). So I did a bunch of research and eventually decided on an entry price point Kala.
I was ready to buy sight unseen online but ended up doing one more check and finding it locally for a good price. It’s beautiful and it sounds great. The way the grain is gives it a subtle stripe in the bridge area. I couldn’t love it more and maybe that’s why I haven’t been especially driven to buy a bunch.
Mainland Classic Mahogany Tenor – Open Mic nights at the uke club gave me an excuse to start shopping again. The club has little clip on mics available for everyone to use with the PA and that’s great but the sound quality on them is spotty sometimes. I needed something with a built in pickup. Of course, since I already have a good entry level uke it’s time to step it up a little. I think that the best upgrade characteristic from a quality entry level uke is probably going to solid wood so… After some clicking around, shopping, reading reviews and recommendations I zeroed in on Mainland Ukes. They seemed to be the best mix of features, fandom and cost.
Mine is a solid wood Classic Mahogany Tenor with a built in pickup. It comes with a cool rope binding and I opted for mother of pearl tuner buttons and gloss finish, neither of which increased the cost. When it arrived I was blown away. It’s gorgeous and it sounds incredible. The build quality and set up couldn’t be better. This is definitely my number one uke and it’s the one I take with me when I want to sound my best.
There are some little ambient threads floating around ukuleles that contribute indirectly to my love for it. I kind of love all of it’s back stories and all the sub elements and eras. Plastics and toys are a strong part of the uke story which is part of why I’ve always been drawn to plastic ukes. Also they’re fun, and they’re relatively cheap and durable (or at least they can be).
Outdoor Ukulele – has their own cool back story. It started as a Kickstarter campaign by a product designer that wanted to use injection molded polycarbonate so the uke would be extremely robust and durable. The campaign wasn’t realized but he did find his way to building and selling them. When I found out the “natural” model was clear I had to have it. Disclaimer: not opaque might be a better description, someone at the uke club called it “foggy”.
My Outdoor is a natural soprano. As mentioned it’s not totally clear and it does have a slight tan tint to it. The frets are kind of high so if you push strings down to the fret board you will put it out of tune. This isn’t an issue for me because I got used to playing gently on grampy’s panjolele (there’s a sentence I never would have guessed I’d say). It plays and sounds great and it does feel bulletproof. That combined with the fact that it’s smaller than all my other ukes means it’s with me all the time. Which means I’ve spent more minutes playing it than anything else. Which means we’ve developed a close personal relationship and, it seems odd to say but, my favorite uke might be plastic.
BugsGear – When I first got interested in plastic ukes I did my research, found a bunch of reviews online, zeroed in on this make and model but didn’t see anywhere they were on sale other than the manufacture’s site in Japan at 90 bucks a pop. No Amazon, no eBay. Apparently most of the reviews I was seeing were from bloggers in the U.K. where apparently the ukulele is much cooler in general so more stuff gets marketed there. So I kept my eye out for them on eBay and finally happened upon some. I think they are gaining steam because I see more of them on there now but they look like a newer model with a black fingerboard. I really wanted the 100% purple so it looks like I found this just in time.
This one is in purple, or “neon magenta” as my daughter calls it and it really glows. I love the color. It’s a soprano and being a tenor guy with big hands I’m really surprised at how easy it is for me to play the small size. It’s a little quieter than my bigger wood ukes but that’s to be expected I guess. Other than that I couldn’t be happier. It sounds, looks and plays great.
Melodica – The Melodica is a keyboard that’s small enough to be hand held (so also very portable) and is played by blowing into it. The wind moves over reeds to make the sound so it sounds a lot like an accordion. It’s a good alternative to fiddle or accordion for providing those long sad wailing layers. More info including sound sample here melodica post.
New player, new uke, new strings, temperature changes etc. It takes a while for things to settle in on a uke and before that happens they go out of tune a lot. A good tuner is a must. Fortunately there are lots of tuners out there that are good, convenient and cheap.
I’ve got a Snark clip on (I believe it’s the SN-8) that fits in my pocket and was about 12 bucks. It works great. I went looking for the model with the bigger bars on the display but I think any of their models would work fine.
I also have my old Boss TU-12 from my guitar days. I think it’s a bit more accurate so when I’m playing Luther I use it. Otherwise it’s just nice to have one at home and one in my uke bag. The current version of this model is about 100 bucks new and you can find this one used on ebay for around 50 bucks.
I use 550 paracord tied in a couple knots for hanging up my ukes. I stumbled across this idea from a post on Ukulele Underground but I was already a knot guy and had a bunch of paracord around so I just made my own. The post pointed to a company in England (of course) that sells them so go buy a couple, they’re cheap.
Any hook can be used of course but I found some drawer pulls I liked instead.
More to come
Mods – nut grooves