ukestuff

Ukulele "Stuff": Education, Technology, Play Alongs, Reviews, Accessories, and More!

WAAAAAAY Too Much Talking

I just had a comment on one of my reviews (which I deleted) which said, “Waaaay too much talking.”

All I have to say is that I want my reviews to be thorough, and that I did some research before settling on the UkeGuide format. Some people just wanted to hear the ukulele and wanted to hear it right away in the video. Others wanted a in depth discussion about the qualities of the instrument. Some wanted just the specifications. Others just wanted a summary. And some just wanted a rating.

I have had one complaint that I didn’t talk enough about the sound of the ukuleles, even though there is a long audio sample as well as a Harmonic Analysis of the tone. I honestly don’t know what else to say.

Back to the original topic, the format of the video PLUS the addition of chapters to YouTube, allows the viewers to watch what they want to watch. I do take time every week to make sure that these elements are in every review. So some feedback for those that think there is WAAAAAAY Too Much Talking…

  • Use the chapters to watch what you want
  • Watch the One Minute Review
  • Go to UkeStuff.info to the UkeGuide page, and read the one page summary document

I know that you can’t make everyone happy…but I sure have tried to give viewers as many options as I can.

Talking About Ukuleles on the Music Ed Tech Talk Podcast!

Earlier this summer, my friend Robby Burns asked me to join him on his podcast to discuss ukuleles, as his middle school just bought a set of the instruments to use in their general music classes.

You can find resources and the episode here: http://www.robbyburns.com/blog/ukulele-resources-pedagogy-and-curriculum

A Bad Review Experience, Resulting in a Policy Change

I am willing to review any ukulele, from any company. While most of the ukuleles I see are likely made in the same three or four factories in China, I don’t know where any of them come from, and it is fun to see how the small details make differences in the playability and sound of various instruments. Sometimes, there is little difference, and sometimes the difference is amazing.

I am often contacted by companies that want me to review a ukulele—which I am happy to do. I buy the ukulele and they reimburse me for close to the full amount (there are always PayPal fees). However, they generally do not put any terms on a review.

Some companies do place terms, such as Lava, which asked me to write a blog post about their company. I was happy to do that, and it was interesting to learn more about their company.

I recently had a bad experience with a company which I have reviewed a few times on my YouTube channel. After reviewing the instrument, I was asked to write an Amazon review for the ukulele. This is something that has not happened much, as this is against the terms of Amazon. But, I wrote a review, and even made a second video reinforcing the good points and flaws of the instrument. And it received a rating of 4/5.

When the review was published, I let the company know, and they did not respond—and then I had to reach out again. They replied that they would refund the amount of the ukulele when I changed the review to a 5/5.

I shouldn’t have written the Amazon review, and I’m not going to change the rating. Even a 4/5 (on Amazon) was a bit of a gift knowing how shoppers look at scores…it probably should have been a 3/5.

So, as of today, I am changing a couple of policies. Here they are:

1) I will no longer write reviews on Amazon, unless it is a product that I bought myself on my own volition, and feel like writing about it.

2) I will no longer accept “repayment” for a ukulele. Companies can send me a ukulele, which I am happy to review. They can let me keep it (it will eventually be sold or given away), or they can request it back after the review if they want to provide a return shipping label.

No, I will not name the company. I did write another contact I know in the company and explain the situation. I might personally buy other models of their ukuleles and review them. But I will not write Amazon reviews for companies or accept repayment any longer. That might limit my ability to review some ukuleles…and if that is the case, it is going to have to be okay. I don’t claim to be an unbiased reviewer, but I try to be honest, fair, and kind. I’m forging ahead with those values.

A Modification for Future UkeGuide Ratings

I recorded a review the other day, and I have decided to change a policy about the reviews.

I don’t think it is earth-shattering by any means, but I have decided that if an instrument doesn’t have side position markers, from this point forward, the highest rating it will receive is a 3.5/5.

This is based on my own playing of ukulele and my tendency to shift scale size frequently. When I am playing anything other than chords/strumming, if there are no position markers, it makes it very difficult to play the ukulele, particularly when at the 5th fret or above…which is rather frequent on the chord melody and tablature that I have been playing as of late.

Not too long ago, I thought side position markers might have been overrated; and they can be added by a luthier or even with a drop of paint or a sticker. In all these cases, it is an example of having to do something that you shouldn’t have to do!

So do be aware that with future reviews (I’m not going to go back and change past scores), if an instrument lacks side position markers, the maximum rating will be a 3.5/5. And to be fair, anything with a 3 or more is a safe bet for a ukulele…so a 3.5 isn’t a terrible score. But the lack of side position markers will keep an otherwise excellent ukulele from an even higher score.

Interviewed by Kalani Das

At the end of last year, Kalani Das interviewed me for his new Ukulele Club resource, both on YouTube and Patreon. We had a number of technical difficulties with the recording, so we recorded again earlier this summer.

I forgot to post about the interview, so I thought I would post about it now…we recorded a few sessions, and you can see the first one below. If you haven’t subscribed to Kalani’s channel, do so today!

Steven Universe Ukulele

I watch Keepa.com for ukuleles to review, and a “build your own” ukulele kit from Bninteenteam (?) showed up in early June for less than $12 a kit. My son (age 9) had been asking to make a Steven Universe Ukulele, so I bought two of them. The kit came with everything you need to build the ukulele.

We started the process of putting them together last week. The bridge and tuners are different than the photo, and the body and neck required sanding. There were rough edges, and we probably could have used wood filler in some places. The fretboard is plastic, and there are no instructions included with the kit.

The first step was to research Steven’s ukulele. My son found images of Steven playing his ukulele, but thankfully, the internet came through:

I was able to take a photo of the actual ukulele in the kit, and then import the above that photo in my image editor on my iPad. I stretched out each graphic to fit over the actual ukulele, and only had to modify the rosette around the sound hole, which went out of round with the stretching. Measuring the real ukulele, I made the images that size, blacked out what I needed to cover (the orange color and circle on the front, the orange and bottom yellow duck tail on the back), and asked a friend to cut those out on a Cricut machine.

My son and I then took a trip to Menard’s (think Home Depot or Lowe’s) where we bought interior eggshell paint samples. I had asked my friend Pete Mai, who runs Bonanza Ukuleles, what paint to use, and he suggested this kind of paint, plus a spray clear coat. So we also bought that. How did we color match? Pittsburgh Paints has a web tool that allows you to upload an image, and we simply took the colors from the ukulele.

Incidentally, the ukulele only has three colors. The sides, neck, and some of the body are orange. Then there’s the pale yellow and the off-color red. It was about $4 per sample of paint. I also used this opportunity to buy some more sanding sponges and masking tape.

Then my son and I came home and prepped the ukuleles and glued them together. The neck is connected with glue (I use TiteBond) and a short dowel. We could have sanded more, but I wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out (it could have been a colossal waste of time and money).

The next step was painting. The whole ukulele was painted orange, with a couple of coats. I chose to use a small roller to make sure the spread of the paint was even all around. Each layer dried over our kitchen island, using a improvised hanging system from IKEA hangers!

Then the vinyl was applied with lots of masking tape, and then I used an old store loyalty card (like a credit card) to make sure the vinyl and tape was on firmly, everywhere.

The next layer was yellow, at the top and bottom of the body, on both the front and the back.

The next step was to apply the duck tail on the back, as well as the rosette on the front of the ukulele.

After the red layer dried (each with at least two coats), I removed the tape and vinyl and tried to clean up where the paint still “leaked” through. Then it was time for three light applications of a clear coat.

The next step was hardware, screwing and gluing on the bridge, and adding the tuners.

After the tuners and bridge were on, I added the fretboard. Thankfully, my Kala Ukeadelic had a fretboard that was exactly the same (all the frets were the same spacing), so I knew how far away to put the top of the fretboard (exactly 13.5”). This really should have been included in the directions.

The next day, I had to address the action, as the nut and saddle on both ukuleles were much too high. I sanded each down significantly with a power sander until the action was tolerable. Anyone assembling this kit that doesn’t adjust the action is going to have an instrument that plays very much out of tune.

The final step was attaching strings. I have put strings on hundreds of ukuleles (that isn’t an exaggeration), and I have never struggled to string up a ukulele like this one. I chose to use Martin M600 fluorocarbon strings instead of the included strings (they were questionable) and I kept having G and A strings pull through the bridge! The bridge is a mixture between a pull-through bridge and a slotted bridge. It was difficult to get the strings through the bridge in the first place. Eventually, I had to tie a four-loop knot on the G and A strings, and then a three loop knot on C and E. I also had some issues with strings pulling through the tuning peg posts…so I had to loop those around, too. By the time was all said and done, I had to use three packages of M600 strings to finish the stringing…that is extremely unusual for me!

As a final touch, I found the Steven Universe Logo and made a sound hole label to put in the ukuleles. This also covered up some of the paint drops that found their way inside the ukuleles.

And these are our completed Steven Universe ukuleles! They look good, especially from a short distance, and they certainly honor the original. The kit was very much complete, sounds okay, but there are certainly better “Build Your Own” kits out there, such as those by Ohana. But for less than $12, my son and I had a chance to build some memories together this summer, and that makes these priceless ukuleles.

Here is the video, for those that are interested!

“The Best”

I saw a YouTube video the other day, and it featured the “Best Ukulele under $___.” I’ve seen many such videos over the last few years–and I just can’t find myself committed to a “best” ukulele.

I have brands that I like, and brands that I prefer. I also have brands that I avoid, either because of bad reviews or bad experiences with those brands.

But I stay away from the category of “best” most of the time. I prefer “One of the Best.”

In my ukulele reviews, I do give ratings, and have a number of instruments that get the highest rating (5 out of 5 ukuleles). What that means is that they are wonderful instruments that I would recommend without hesitation. And in my reviews–very clear on my One Minute Ukulele Reviews–is that there are negatives (or things to improve) on every ukulele. I absorb a lot of ukulele material–and I am always impressed by Joe Souza from Kanile’a Ukulele. In addition to his efforts to make outstanding ukuleles while guaranteeing the future of Koa as a sustainable wood, he also talks a lot about experimenting and continuing to approve. If I remember correctly, he was interviewed by Ukulele Abe (on Abe’s Podcast) and said something to the effect of, “We don’t think the perfect ukulele has ever been built.”

That’s refreshing–because it doesn’t dishonor any ukulele that has been built–but it shows that a company continues to strive to make the best products it can.

I know that “The Best” generates views and interests. But in every case, “One of the Best” could often be substituted and add truthfulness to any video or article.

The Danger of a Disgruntled Customer

I just read a post on a social media platform, in a pretty large “community,” where a disgruntled customer has posted several very angry comments about a recent purchase (or lack thereof) of a ukulele.

The person bought a ukulele during Amazon Prime Day, apparently within a half hour of the end of the timed deal, and found out today that the order has been cancelled.

In one post, they complained how Amazon and the ukulele company stole their money (ultimately, the order was cancelled, so nothing was charged). And in another, they conceded that they were taken care of in a number of ways (including credit card protection), but they were livid that the ukulele company and Amazon would not honor the order.

To make matters worse, BOTH posts are filling with comments, with plenty of additional complaints about the company (unsubstantiated), or with others promising to never buy a ukulele from that company again.

And it is a company that I like very much, as well as a company that makes ukuleles under its own brand, as well as FOR other companies. They have a great reputation, and have taken care of their customers well.

I know for a fact that the company RAN OUT of available stock for their Prime Day deals…and much like Black Friday, when stock is gone, it is gone.

Ultimately, Amazon could care less. I know of many ukulele players who try to avoid Amazon like the plague. We find Amazon (and Walmart) to be very useful options for many things; I wouldn’t buy a ukulele over $100 from Amazon…but I would certainly use Amazon if I were a parent looking for a first ukulele for my child. And there are A LOT of good options to be found on Amazon.

If I’m buying an expensive ukulele, it is coming from one of the established ukulele specialty shops, or I am ordering used from a seller on one of the established ukulele sites.

But back to topic–Amazon could care less about you. If you don’t buy from them, all of your neighbors will.

The ukulele company, on the other hand, has to be concerned. If that person continues to rant–perhaps on several media platforms, it won’t be long until prospective buyers search for the company, and all that comes up in the search engines is the negative rant.

I’ve watched Andrew Kitakis from the Ukulele Site deal with various angry customers over the years. He is so “chill” and kind, but even gets to the point that he accepts a used instrument from a buyer and refunds their money, and encourages them to try another store. You cannot make everyone happy. And some people are just happy to be miserable.

I don’t know what the solution is. Send the angry person a ukulele for free? Offer them an alternative at a similar discount? And how do you keep the reputation of your company without “rewarding” horrific behavior?

October 2020 – What’s Blocked?

Every now and then, I look through my videos to see which videos are blocked.

Most publishers allow us to use their music for the play alongs, but then take all the monetization (the play along channels cannot be monetized anyway), and of course, YouTube gets their share of the ads as well.

Generally, few artists or copyright holders block their music under these arrangements…if we’re treating the music in a tasteful way (we are), they are earning free additional income from each additional play of the song. It’s a win-win. Even so…some artists have everything blocked. The two names that stick out in my mind are the Beatles and Adele.

For a lot of these songs, you can see trends in who owns the copyright. I don’t know why they wouldn’t want views of these songs ($$) and people playing along with them…I can tell you that I wouldn’t want to be the employee chasing down all of these songs and their use in videos, etc! I know that YouTube has matching algorithms that do a lot of the work…but someone has to go online and file the requests to block songs, etc.

So, as of October 2020, what is blocked? I have 873 videos, and of those, only two songs are fully blocked (3 total videos) and nine other songs (some have multiple versions, so up to 20 videos). So about 97% of the videos on the ukeplayalongs channel are available for anyone in the world…well over 500 different songs for GCEA ukulele.

Fully blocked:

  • Yellow Submarine (Beatles) – UMG
  • Barbara Ann (Beach Boys) – UMG On behalf of: EMI

Partially Blocked

  • Rock Around the Clock (Bill Haley and the Comets) – WMG, Demon Music, UMGOn behalf of: ACROBAT (Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia, Czechia, United Kingdom, Germany, Estonia, Austria, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Ireland, Greece, France, Bulgaria, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Denmark, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Hungary, Italy)
  • I Have a Little Dreidel (Barenaked Ladies) – WMG, UMG On behalf of: BNL P&D (Questar/Mission) (United States, Canada, U.S. Outlying Islands, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam)
  • Build Me Up Buttercup (The Foundations) – WMG On behalf of: Castle Communications (Blocked in all territories)
  • Let Her Go (Passenger) – WMG, SME, Embassy of Music GmbH, PIAS On behalf of: Nettwerk Records (Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Brunei, Benin, Bahrain, Burundi, British Indian Ocean Territory, India, Ireland, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Antarctica, French Polynesia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Pakistan, Pitcairn Islands, Palestine, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, Palau, Angola, Laos, Lebanon, Tuvalu, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, Tonga, Thailand, Liberia, Lesotho, Chad, Togo, Libya, Djibouti, Algeria, Syria, Eswatini, Kenya, Kiribati, Cambodia, South Sudan, Suriname, Comoros, Qatar, São Tomé & Príncipe, North Korea, South Korea, Sierra Leone, Kuwait, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Sudan, Singapore, Côte d’Ivoire, Cook Islands, Réunion, Cameroon, China, Zimbabwe, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Congo – Kinshasa, Congo – Brazzaville, Central African Republic, Christmas Island, Zambia, Cape Verde, Somalia, Vanuatu, Micronesia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Tanzania, Nauru, Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), Nepal, Niue, New Caledonia, Namibia, Norfolk Island, Nigeria, Niger, Madagascar, Morocco, Macao, Myanmar (Burma), Mali, Marshall Islands, Malawi, Maldives, Mauritius, Mauritania, Uganda, Mozambique, Malaysia, Western Sahara, Egypt, Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Hong Kong, Heard & McDonald Islands, Tokelau, Rwanda, Samoa, Fiji, St. Helena, Wallis & Futuna, French Guiana, Gabon, United Kingdom, Gambia, Guinea, Ghana, Oman, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands, South Africa, Guyana)
  • The Scientist (Coldplay) – WMG On behalf of: PLG UK Frontline (Luxembourg, Belgium)
  • I Can See Clearly Now (Jimmy Cliff) – WMG, SME On behalf of: Non-Wea/Other (New Caledonia, Andorra, France, Wallis & Futuna, Mayotte, Monaco, French Polynesia, Réunion)
  • New Song (Yael Naim) – Believe Music, WMG On behalf of: Tôt Ou Tard (Israel)
  • Why Can’t We Be Friends (War) – SME On behalf of: BMG Rights Management (Guam, U.S. Outlying Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands)
  • What I Like About You (The Romantics) – SME On behalf of: Epic (New Caledonia, Namibia, Nigeria, Niger, Norway, Netherlands, Palestine, Azerbaijan, Portugal, Åland Islands, Austria, Angola, Albania, Armenia, French Polynesia, Afghanistan, Andorra, United Arab Emirates, Poland, Italy, Iran, Iceland, Iraq, Mayotte, Qatar, Ireland, British Indian Ocean Territory, Israel, Isle of Man, Rwanda, Liechtenstein, Russia, Algeria, Libya, Lithuania, Latvia, Denmark, Djibouti, Chad, Togo, French Southern Territories, Turkmenistan, Tunisia, Tajikistan, Zimbabwe, Turkey, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Gibraltar, Greenland, Gambia, Guinea, Gabon, United Kingdom, Georgia, Guernsey, Réunion, Wallis & Futuna, Oman, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Benin, Burundi, Bahrain, Botswana, Bouvet Island, Belarus, Jordan, Jersey, Eritrea, North Macedonia, Mongolia, Ethiopia, Monaco, Morocco, Madagascar, Moldova, Montenegro, Mozambique, Egypt, Estonia, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Lebanon, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Ukraine, Uganda, Uzbekistan, São Tomé & Príncipe, Spain, Syria, Eswatini, Sudan, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, San Marino, Senegal, Somalia, St. Helena, Slovenia, Svalbard & Jan Mayen, Slovakia, Mali, Croatia, Hungary, Lesotho, Liberia, Congo – Kinshasa, Central African Republic, Congo – Brazzaville, Serbia, Canada, Cameroon, China, Switzerland, Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa, Cape Verde, Romania, Cyprus, Czechia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Comoros, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan)