If you play the ukulele, you know the name Aquila. Aquila is likely the largest manufacturer of ukulele strings in the world, and most ukulele manufacturers (particularly those in music stores) ship Aquila “Super Nylgut” strings with new instruments. If you have bought a ukulele, you know these strings—they are white in color. There was a point in time where many ukuleles were sold with low quality strings, and the “standard” for ukulele strings has become the Aquila Super Nylgut strings. In fact, there are a number of counterfeit Aquila strings out there.
Aquila also makes a number of other strings for ukulele and other instruments, including the KIDS ukulele strings (colored for instruction) that I use on our school ukuleles.
I love the company, I love what it does…but quickly learned that I preferred fluorocarbon strings. Aquila does not make fluorocarbon strings, so I have generally turned to Martin, Worth, or Living Waters for my personal instruments (usually the Martins as they are inexpensive and available everywhere).
Last year, the owner of Aquila announced Sugar strings for ukulele, clear strings that would be made partly of sugar cane. The product is described on the Aquila website:
The Aquila Sugar Ukulele strings are made using a blend with a recently discovered plastic material derived from sugar-cane. With a transparent look, the sound of these strings is clearly brilliant, clean and prompt. Unlike the Fluorocarbon strings, these strings have an excellent vibrato and a significant timbre variation when playing very close to the bridge and then up on the sound hole. In other words, they contain in their extremes the sweetness and sing ability of Nylon and the clearness and promptness typical of Fluorocarbon. Another important property is the characteristic sustain, which by scientific measurements is superior to any type of string currently available in the market. Another feature checked is the sound projection: our scientific tests have shown that it is superior to that of the Fluorocarbon strings. Although the surface is extremely smooth, the grip on the fingers is remarkable. The material is very clear and transparent similar to a crystal-glass.
It has taken a while for these strings to come into stock in the United States, and a continuing thread on the Ukulele Underground forum shows that Aquila is still willing to experiment with the string set. In fact, the owner of Aquila mentioned that the Super Nylgut strings took a number of years to finalize production, even while in production!
I was recently able to buy some Aquila Sugar strings from Strings By Mail, and with nothing to do this afternoon, I decided to place them on my Outdoor Ukulele tenor. At first glance, you would not know they are not fluorocarbon strings. Installation went as expected–and changing strings is very easy on an Outdoor Ukulele. Closer inspection shows a much thicker string (we’re talking fractions of a millimeter) by about 0.15 to .020 mm on each string (I measured with my digital caliper). As some users have mentioned, there is a squeak while playing, but this apparently disappears after some playing–and in no way are the strings stretched out enough to be stable in intonation (this takes a while with all ukulele strings).
With limited playing on the strings, I cannot say that they are better than fluorocarbon. I don’t like the “feel” of the Super Nylgut strings (100% admitted that this is a personal issue), but I play on Nylgut material a lot at school (The KIDS strings are basically colored Nylgut strings). I don’t dislike the Sugar strings so far, and as it stands, I have no reason to buy fluorocarbon over the Aquila Sugar strings from this point forward. The only difference is price. From Strings By Mail (pricing 3/17/18) Martin M620 strings can be purchased for $6.00, and the Aquila Sugar Strings are about $7.00 a pack. Unless you play a lot more than me, you will change your ukulele strings once or twice a year (some people don’t change them that often) meaning that at most you’ll save $2.00 a year using Martin strings. That isn’t a reason to avoid the strings. All that said, if you need a set of strings and your local dealer doesn’t carry the Sugar strings, you can still buy the Martin brand–or any other brand that makes you happy.
I will follow through with a follow-up on these strings over time…but I was pretty sure that I would like the strings…and I like to be able to support Aquila, which does a lot for the stringed instrument community–as well as making their KIDS strings even more affordable for schools.
I have been thinking about this for a while, but I have decided to start recording a podcast–mostly by myself, but I may ask others to join me–about the Ukulele Video Podcasts that I have been creating.
I do have another podcast that I do with my friend Paul Shimmons (a music educator in Michigan), but we don’t often get the chance to get together (even virtually), particularly from December through March. As this podcast will be mainly my thoughts, I can record anytime that the house is quiet.
While I will talk about playing ukulele and ukulele education–I want to make sure that I talk about this video process: making them, cataloging them, and reviewing videos (my own and others).
I just dropped the second podcast…which is being hosted on Archive.Org, where I list the files in a WordPress blog, and then use Feedburner to turn the podcast into a feed that Apple Podcasts and Google Play and read. If the topic of Ukulele Video Play Alongs is interesting to you, please subscribe to the podcast!
I brought the Roadie 2 to school with me today, and tuned instruments at school and during my first hour prep period. I tuned my usual 60 instruments in about the same amount of time as it normally takes me to tune those instruments, but the process is much less labor intensive. Instead of having to move a tuner (or a iPad stand with a tuning app open across the room) from instrument to instrument and manually tuning each string, I have to click the button on the Roadie 2 one time to select the ukulele tuning, and then just move from string to string.
I had about 6 misreads, all on the G string (4th string). When I took the Roadie 2 off the peg, clicked on the screen to acknowledge the problem, and tried again, it worked each time.
I think I tuned 140 ukuleles today…all on one charge with plenty of charge to spare.
Students were overall impressed with the tuner (this doesn’t always happen with technology), but there was some negative reaction to the price point. Good and useful does not always mean cheap, my dear students.
I think I messed something up in my (unnecessary) custom tuning today…at the end of the day, the Roadie 2 stopped recognizing the G string all together. So I deleted that tuning on the device and selected “ukulele,” and everything was fine again. I’ll keep an eye on it.
I did hear back from the company today about my questions. There is a way to edit tunings in the app (it’s a little hidden), priority order of tuning on the device is coming, and the device is not made to work with friction tuners.
I was able to tune as many ukuleles as I did today partially because of the speed of the tuner, but partially because it simplifies my role in the process. And ultimately, it is nice to not have to be the one deciding what “in tune” means. Too often, when tuning our key set of sixty ukuleles, close enough is good enough. The Roadie 2 guarantees that tuned is tuned.
We’ll also see how long the motor lasts on the device as I tune this many devices. I should hit 500 tunings this week for sure.
- Accurate tuning
- Battery lasts all day when used heavily
- User does not have to be intensely involved with the tuning process as when using a clip-on tuner or phone-based tuner
- It works
- Occasional misreadings (always on the G string—the first string tuned in the process)
- Desire for custom order on the display (coming soon)
I’ll be buying one of these for myself. You may not think it is worth it—but I have a few ukuleles around the house. You could also tune other ukuleles for friends at ukulele jams. The possibilities are endless!
Are you interested in a Roadie 2 for your program? You can order it for $129, and the use of my referral link from Amazon would certainly be appreciated.
Are these posts useful to you? Consider sponsoring ukestuff.info through Patreon at www.patreon.com/cjrphd
A few days ago, my friend Paul Marchese (a music educator in Illinois) made a short video and post about the Roadie 2 tuner. He demonstrated how he could tune instruments in his classroom while students were playing by momentarily swapping a tuned instrument with the student and tuning the student’s instrument using the new Roadie 2. The original Roadie was a string winder that connected to your phone, using the phone’s microphone to tell whether a note was sharp or flat. Like all sound-based tuners, the device worked, but once you are in a situation where there is ambient noise (such as a ukulele jam or a classroom with 40 ukuleles) these tuners are no longer effective.
Last year at NAMM, Band Industries (the creator of the Roadie) showed off the Roadie 2, and then crowd funded the device. That device is out in public now, available to all.
How is the Roadie 2 different? The Roadie 2 no longer needs the phone. It relies on vibration, like a clip on tuner (such as the very accurate D’Addario NS Micro Clip on Tuner ($20 for 2), or the ubiquitous Snark SN-6 ($9), or even the $5 Reverb tuner). The device allows you to select a desired tuning, at which point you put it on the strings, in order (generally closest to you and then moving around the headstock), and it tunes the strings.
And it works, and it works QUICKLY. Sure, I can take a clip on tuner between instruments and tune that way—but it takes longer. Now, if you have one ukulele, a $129 tuner is overkill. But if you have 15 at home, that might make the purchase worthwhile. And if you have over 100 instruments at school…saving a minute on each tuning (or even 30 seconds) will be significant.
I have tuned about fifteen instruments so far, including two guitars. There have been a few errors when starting with the first string (see the video), and the device doesn’t seem to work with friction tuners. I tried it with three friction tuner ukuleles…my (Linear tuned) Orca Prototype Tenor, my 1st Generation Outdoor Ukulele, and my Martin S1 Soprano (Reentrant), and the device immediately loosened the strings completely on the first peg. So…if you are hoping for a device to tune your friction tuner ukuleles—this won’t be it. I had a hard time even trying to get the friction tuners to nestle into the Roadie 2’s slots. The tuner also wouldn’t work with my 5 year old’s Mickey Mouse First Act Ukulele, which has thematic buttons (mouse ears).
However, if you have geared tuners, the Roadie 2 will work—and it will work fine. And chances are, if you are a teacher with a set of ukuleles, every ukulele in your room has geared tuners. How would you like to spend significantly less time tuning instruments every day? I have over 100 ukuleles, of which I try to keep 65 of them relatively “tuned” for use. This takes 20-30 minutes each time I tune, sometimes twice a day. I’m betting that becomes 10-15 minutes. I am curious to see how long the battery lasts, which is a rechargeable USB. If this works as well as I think it will, I may buy a second for school, and a third for myself.
A word about the app that comes with the device—it works. It connects via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and syncs your device “tunings” with custom tunings you created on your phone. You can custom name instruments—as I did with “Reeentrant Ukulele” (to differentiate between that and Linear tuning). By the way, the Roadie’s ukulele tuning choices (on device) allow you to choose between standard (GCEA) and traditional (ADF#B) tuning. I recently had an exchange with a Canadian educator, and apparently traditional tuning is still used in many schools in Canada. Incidentally, “Traditional” as a term is debatable—I was able to obtain Ernest Ka’ai’s 1910 ukulele instruction book (one of the first) and he was writing for GCEA ukulele.
I’m looking forward to tuning ukuleles on Tuesday morning (we have no school on Monday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday). I think this is going to save me hours (and over time, days) of effort. Yes, the ability to learn how to tune is still important—but instructional time (and my prep time) is more important.
If you choose to buy a Roadie 2, will you consider using my referral link to Amazon (the Amazon seller is Band Industries, which makes the Roadie 2)?
Video follows below!
Are these posts useful to you? If so, consider becoming a patron of ukestuff.info at Patreon: www.patreon.com/cjrphd
Within the last 24 hours, I have had a couple of epiphanies as it pertains to the play along videos that I have been creating.
This all came about as a result of my creation of a play along for “Lord, I Need You,” a song I have wanted to create for a long time. This video won’t be used by schools—so I chose not to publish it to my “feed” on YouTube. I’m not ashamed of my faith by any means—but I understand that my feed is likely filled with music teachers who need to use content in secular schools. If they want to see what religious play alongs I create (and I will create more), they can simply look at my uploads or follow my religious play along play list.
Matt Maher’s “Lord, I Need You” sits within my vocal range as performed—in the Key of Bb. Bb isn’t a wonderful key for the ukulele, so I decided to take the song to another key. C is a full step higher—and the song is already too high at times for a “mezzo” singer (mezzo soprano and baritones that make up a good 50-60% of the population). So the option was to drop it…to G (A required an E chord—so I had to avoid that, too).
After I had created the play along, I decided to import a non-transposed version telling the player to use a capo at the 3rd fret—thus matching the actual key of the recording. I had never done this before, but will likely do so again (it is a VERY easy thing to make happen).
And then I realized…what if people want to sing WITHOUT the performance? Our play along format has been used to encourage reluctant singers, and it works. Even so, there is a point where perhaps you want to play along with the accompaniment, yet not sing with the singer. So…I found a karaoke version (lead vocals reduced) and embedded that into BOTH of the versions (Capo and non-Capo). I’ve decided that I am going to do this will all songs from now on (I have to see if there is an on-iPad solution that will do this if YouTube can’t produce a matching Karaoke track). I’m going to call these files “Ukulele Karaoke”
I have already done this with Coldplay’s The Scientist this evening.
I might go back over time and add Karaoke versions for existing songs—-but new songs will be the prioirty.
And, as always, if you have suggestions for songs to be added to the collection, please let me know.
Also check out the versions being created by Ukulaliens—right now they are adding some of the existing “older” repertoire in their version (See my last post. I think Ukulaliens are creating play alongs with a process similar to mine—and they are certainly using Chordette for Education), which makes the songs easier to read (and guarantees the “Next Chord” is visible).
Are these ukulele resources useful to you? If so, consider becoming a patron by sponsoring ukestuff.info at Patreon: www.patreon.com/cjrphd
As I work through the “old” play along videos by some other educators, I am starting to find the need to redo some of the videos that were not mine. We have all grown through the process and I jumped in at a time that others had worked out most of the problems.
The issues at hand are often the legibility of the lyrics, mixed chord graphics, incorrectly timed chord changes, and most importantly, a lack of “next chord” which makes a HUGE difference as you play along. If you don’t know the next chord, the first chord of the next sequence is a challenge.
I noticed the lack of a “next chord” on one of my ukulele Skill Drill videos today.
I hope that the fellow creators will not take exception to my re-working of materials (as I will also rework my own as needed)…but as it stands, I need to fix some things to make the videos most effective in my classroom.
Also…if you have any requests for videos, please e-mail! Sometimes copyright is an issue…but many rights holders are allowing use as long as they claim revenue.
This Friday, we have a mandatory PBIS celebration day where students are going to listen to a guest speaker and then the rest of the day is a shortened schedule set aside for relationship building—no school work allowed. As a “encore” teacher on an A/B schedule, the only negative is that we only spend this day with one day of classes.
We were given options of games to play with students, and bingo was one of those games. So…I looked online for a bingo game that deals with ukuleles and could not find anything…so I found a bingo generator and entered all of the chords from Katie Wardrobe’s (midnightmusic.com.au) Ukulele Chord Image Library, plus a couple of other images…and created bingo cards. I printed to a color printer and they are being laminated…but as the source materials were free (I ordered bingo markers from Amazon), I thought I would share the bingo game here if others wanted to use it as well. You may want to use a randomizer to choose what chord or image (I am using Decide Now! on my iPhone).
Ukego (print, cut out, and distribute) PDF: UkeGo
Are these resources helpful? Support my work by joining as a patron at http://www.patreon.com/cjrphd
Last Wednesday, I found DR Multi-Color Strings at our local music store (see the previous post). I installed those on a ukulele in our classroom on Thursday, and have been letting students use that ukulele. Today I did a sound comparison. They sound very much alike.
The Aquila KIDS may be a bit louder with more sustain, and the DR Multi-Color Strings may be a bit brighter. It is worth mentioning that the Aquila KIDS are about a year old, played a bit between January through March, occasionally from September through December and March through May. They are not played at all in August through September. All that is to say that new Aquila KIDS may be a bit more resonant—but we’ll be playing strings until they are no longer resonant or they break.
There is come color variation, but both feature Green (G), Red (C), Yellow (E), and Blue (A). The Aquila strings are very much like their Super Nylgut, and generally have fared well in the classroom. The DR Multi-Color strings are made of nylon (according to the packaging), and I have heard that pure nylon strings wear differently than Super Nylgut or Fluorocarbon strings. DR is new to the ukulele business (they are also offering a flurocarbon ukulele string). The DR strings are for Soprano/Concert, whereas Aquila says you can use the KIDS on Soprano/Concert/Tenor (we do).
Aquila will sell packs of 20 at a very discounted rate to schools…contact the company directly at their website. I do not know if DR will sell in bulk. The Aquila KIDS single packs sell for much more—but the price includes a donation of a set of strings (sort of like Tom’s) to an organization like Ukulele Kids Club.
We’re happy with the Aquila KIDS strings, but it is always nice to see additional options for buyers.
This evening, I took my little guy to a nearby community for his AWANA group (youth church program), and when I do so, I stop by the local music store before swinging by a coffee shop (Caribou Coffee, a midwestern chain not too far removed from Starbucks but nowhere near as big). The music store has a awfully good selection of decent ukuleles (Makala/Kala, Alvarez, Grace Harbor, A Nue Nue, Outdoor Ukuleles, some Martins) including some Pono and Ko’olau (truly fine instruments).
I ordered my first bulk sets of Aquila KIDS strings from this music store, as Aquila originally wanted teachers to order from local vendors, who ordered from Córdoba (in the US), who ordered from Aquila. In the end, Aquila asks that you contact them directly and place the order, and it ships direct from Italy. That’s pretty cool…and when the strings are less than $3.00 per set in bulk, there isn’t a lot of money in the product for distributors and the local store anyway. The Aquila strings are made of Super Nylgut, like most of the strings that are sold with ukuleles these days—except they are colored for educational purposes.
It turns out that DR, an American string manufacturer, is getting into the ukulele game as well. They are now selling colored (same colors as KIDS) strings that are labeled “Nylon” as well as fluorocarbon strings for Soprano/Concert. The KIDS strings by Aquila are for Soprano through Tenor. The pack per price for the DR strings is less than the KIDS strings by Aquila—but the Aquila packs include a donation of a set of strings to an organization (such as Ukulele KIDS Club).
I need to install these strings tomorrow and see how they feel and how they last in an educational setting. I know the flaws of the KIDS strings already…and will be able to write a fairly comprehensive review of both.
I love the option for different strings in the educational colors—And what I’d really like to see is a set of colored fluorocarbon strings in the educational colors.
And if you are using colored strings, I know my friend Paul Marchese is working on a instructional method using those strings…and I made videos from time to time that use those strings in a ukulele play along format.
I’ll install the strings tomorrow, and also reach out to the company.