ukestuff

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

New Version of the Jowoom Smart Tuner

A few weeks ago, I brought my personal Jowoom Smart Tuner with me to my new school, and it had a REALLY hard fall on the terrazzo floor (VERY hard surface). It wasn’t a typical fall…it went down hard and hit a few times. That unit stopped working. About the same time (I had not mentioned it), Jowoom contacted me about reviewing their updated product, and I was more than happy to take them up on the offer.

Keep this in mind: I received a unit for review purposes, and had also received two prior models. I had also purchased two others for my previous school. What I’m trying to say is that while I have received product for review, I have bought more of it–and that should mean something.

To be honest, the new version of the Smart Tuner isn’t too much different on the outside. It still has the nice “weighty” body, the big battery, and the same general features. It can replace a tuner and a string winder. The improvements for this model are a much improved LCD screen and customized tunings for guitar. As I don’t play guitar very much, the biggest improvement for me is the LCD screen.

The biggest online complaints about this product are when people don’t know how to use it. The manual is well written in English, but to make it simpler, you turn it on (and off, although there is auto-shut off) with the button farthest to the left. A single press of this button while the unit is on changes the choice of instrument (mine is always on “uke”). I do use the chromatic setting for my eight string ukuleles. The middle button toggles Semi-Auto or Auto mode. I use Auto mode all the time; the Semi-Auto mode requires a press of the “S” button (select) every time you want to change the string you are tuning (you are selecting which string you want to tune). There’s also a hole to do a reset (use a paper clip) and Up and Down (DW) buttons that are great for restringing, or when a string is so far off that you need to get it closer to its needed pitch.

The things I really love about this tuner are the price (about $80 from Amazon or Jowoom.com), the weight of the unit (it feels solid), the long life of the battery (lots and lots of tunings), and the Auto mode. I love that I can go to ukulele to ukulele without pressing any buttons (unless a string is so far out of tune that I have to use the Up and Down buttons). And I love that I can tune like crazy and be able to do more than one thing at a time, which I am finding to be a massively important skill at the elementary level!

If you have a custom tuned ukulele, this will not work for you, and anyone in D6 or other tunings will have to find another solution (although, to be honest, if you are a school in D6 tuning, such as in Canada, reach out to Jowoom…they might be able to program a batch of tuners specifically for your needs). This will also not work for friction tuners or UPT tuners. You CAN turn on ukulele Low G tuning in Semi Auto mode.

I should also mention that there are times that the unit may not hear a specific tuner well; or that it might keep spinning. If the spinning situation happens to you, you have to be aware of it, and simply remove the tuner from the tuning peg. It is also good to look to make sure that you’re not in the wrong mode (e.g. tuning C while still on reentrant G).

I loved using these in the classroom last year (I could have students tune), and I’d recommend them for any school, music vendor, or even a group leader. They might also be nice for individuals who wish to just not worry about tuning with a clip on tuner.

There is a competitor to this product with different features, and I prefer the Jowoom Smart Tuner T2 for schools and multi-ukulele scenarios based on the things I discussed above.

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October (2019) Update

Happy October, everyone!

As I write this post, the main YouTube channel (YouTube.com/ukeplayalongs) is approaching 35,000 subscribers! Thank you very much for your support and thank you for watching videos on my YouTube channels.

I continue to have two goals with this work channel–beyond providing resources for ukulele players and music educators. The first is to have this channel, which cannot be monetized, reach 100,000 subscribers. I’d love to have a Play Button that can be displayed on my classroom wall…my students would love that!

The other goal is to have my second channel, which CAN be monetized, reach 1,000 subscribers and 4000 watch hours so I can earn some income from this work. If you haven’t subscribed to that channel, I would appreciate it…it is at youtube.com/ukestuff, and I do all kinds of ukulele stuff there, including tutorials for every ukulele play along that I make, as well as unboxing, reviews, and more.

A couple of other things…I’m currently in a pattern of being able to create one tutorial video a week while I’m teaching. My teaching job is at a whole new level for me (elementary) so I am having to spend a lot of my time preparing content for my classes (seven different grade levels at two different schools). I’m really enjoying the new job, but it does have to be my focus right now. I still have videos ready that I created this summer, but they also need tutorial videos.

You might ask why I don’t just post those videos–but I’m trying to make a tutorial video for each new video to avoid the comments such as, “Strum pattern?” And also, I am trying to develop some kind of income from this work, which could easily be a full time job.

I continue to try to respond to every comment, but I do delete the rare comments that are mean. For example, I have a video from Ariana Grande where I misspelled her name on the first slide. It has one extra “n.” You can’t simply replace a video on YouTube…you have to delete the original and then re-upload…so to do all that work for one extra “n” just doesn’t seem worth it. It was a mistake…mistakes happen…and while I try to produce the best content I can create, if I keep going back and republishing old content (as I did for “I’m still standing”), I’ll never get any new content out there.

But back to this situation, I have had three or four comments from Ariana Grande fans who act as if I have attacked Ariana Grande by adding an extra “n” to her name, or that I am attacking them for putting an extra “n” in her name. I’d simply say this: I don’t think Ariana Grande has any idea that this channel exists. That said, if she ever contacts me about the issue…then I’d immediately drop what I was doing and go back and edit and recreate the videos. Now that I know, I’ll never make the mistake again, but I’d really rather not go back and change an old video.

That all said, thank you to all of you that leave positive comments, and to those of you who ask questions about things (critical questions are okay, too). I’d like these channels to have a positive vibe and to be a place where people enjoy sifting through the comments…and I will continue to do my best to respond to each comment!

Thanks, everyone! Watch for some new Halloween content in the coming weeks, and remember that I do have a Halloween playlist on the channel! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiD05Ao-vh8&list=PL6m5m3jQoANAEfyQoM7Ntb9RQWAwjfFq5

See you in LA!

Hello everyone! Tomorrow morning I’m flying to (and from) LA to attend the Los Angeles International Ukulele Festival. I’ll be wearing a dark blue UkeStuff shirt, and I will have some UkeStuff buttons and stickers with me! If you see me, please say hello!

I’m also excited to travel with my friend Ukester Brown, who lives in nearby Minnesota. You can see his content at ukesterbrown.com

I will try to make a short travel vlog of the day! Watch for that on the UkeStuff YouTube channel!

August 2019 Update

Hello, everyone! Just a short written update:

1) The main YouTube channel just passed 32,000 subscribers and 11,000,000 views. Thank you for your support!

2) Some companies (particularly WMG – Warner Music Group) have started to block some of the play alongs (e.g. Florida Georgia Line, Panic! at the Disco). This is out of my hands, and hopefully they’ll change their minds someday. I set blocked videos as “private” and review them occasionally.

3) If you would like to support this channel, there’s a very easy way to do it…without paying a cent. To support this channel, just visit the sister channel (YouTube.com/ukestuff) and subscribe, and watch a few videos. That channel is where I do all my other “uke stuff” beyond the play alongs featured on this channel. This channel cannot and will not earn income. Any ads you see on play along videos send income back to YouTube and (hopefully) the song’s copyright holder. I decided to move all of my own content to another channel, and I am trying to get that channel to the 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours needed to monetize that channel. There are a lot of resources for ukulele players in the playlists of that channel, so check them out.

4) I’ve been trying to figure out how to spread the news about videos on Instagram (@ukestuff.info) and Twitter (@UkeStuff). Instagram is particularly hard to figure out how to make use of, as you can’t put links into posts. That said, feel free to follow me at those places where I am using “Available Now” graphics to announce each new video (created with Cavna).

5) While I do have to approve each video comment, I try to respond to each comment, and I approve 99% of them. I don’t approve trolling comments, and I tend to delete the comments that say, “Hi, or “First” But beyond that, please feel free to ask questions or make comments. I have to admit the common question stated as: “Strumming pattern?” does irritate me a little bit…the newest videos have a linked tutorial for those needing it (at YouTube.com/ukestuff), but in general, there’s no “right” pattern. If what you play sounds good to you, you’re right. I also don’t like specifying strumming patterns so that teachers and group leaders who use the video can tell their students/group how they want the songs to be played.

6) Finally, we do have a new way to request videos (at this link, incidentally: https://forms.gle/84rgm7kFNJWnTqFB6). Right now I’m backlogged a month or two for video requests (not counting any videos that I want to make), but there are a number of content creators who have access to the results of this Google Form and that might be able to make your video sooner. We all have our own style (often impacted by our own process to make the videos), so it might not be in the exact style as I might create…but it will still be available. I know that I try to create videos that can be used in a school environment–so I will sometimes avoid some songs.

Thanks again for watching the videos and using them to learn how to play ukulele!

NAMM 2019: Best or Show

Ukuleles were mentioned a couple of times at this morning’s Best of Show breakfast at NAMM 2019. Most of those mentions came from DeDe Heidi, owner of Hide music in Appleton Wisconsin, which is also where Katie Denure (One Music School on YouTube) works as a music teacher.

The item that was mentioned as a “must carry” was the Lanikai Bocote thin acoustic/electric model–which has a wide nut width and an arched back. I’ll get a chance to play one of these today, and my own local dealer has started carrying Lanikai again.

Also mentioned was Hal Leonard as carrying Flight Ukuleles (!) and Levy’s ukulele steals made out of cork (Levy’s was recently purchased by Gator cases).

On the road again (to Nashville, Tennessee)

A couple of weeks ago, I heard that Summer NAMM was open to the general public on Saturday, July 20th. That’s this coming Saturday. My boys are currently at my parent’s house for a week, and I would have to go and get them one way or another, so I am leaving “early” to get them, and driving down to Nashville to attend Summer NAMM.

I don’t quite know what to expect because I know that the BIG show is in January, where vendors show their latest developments–and is also where most of the large ukulele manufacturers (even those from Hawaii) show their products. I don’t expect to see any of the Hawaiian K Brands, but I do know that some ukulele vendors will be on hand.

I’ll be walking around with a UkeStuff Polo and a hat with the UkeStuff logo (a U with a ukulele in the middle of it). So if you are at NAMM, and you see me, please feel free to stop and say hello!

Working with Ukulele Manufacturers

While I am a music educator, my dream job is a position that doesn’t exist–becoming a director of education for a ukulele company, helping them produce (or organize) resources, helping them create ukuleles that are a better fit in school environments, helping schools roll out ukulele initiatives, and then speaking and presenting sessions and representing the brand at conventions. I really do believe that the ukuleles students use (and see) at school will be the first ukuleles they buy on their own–and you can start a lifetime of brand loyalty this way.

The sad part is that there aren’t many ukulele companies that can support such a position–even if it resulted in a big increase in sales over time.

As my ukulele play along channel approaches 30,000 subscribers, I am starting to receive e-mails from some companies about some kind of collaboration, but when I mention that reviews and other content will go on the UkeStuff site, they are no longer interested. UkeStuff is just starting out and is approaching 200 subscribers. I am a little shocked that it hasn’t picked up more steam, but it is what it is.

Barry Maz, from gotaukulele.com, just posted a video about the ethics of reviewing instruments. Instrument reviews is a part of what I do and what I want to do, and I’m quite happy with my new UkeGuide. Barry is quite bothered by YouTube “influencers” that are sponsored or paid by a brand to review or use instruments. I’m not bothered by that aspect as long as they disclose that they are paid to review an instrument or if they were sent an instrument free, because then you can watch that review with discernment.

Although I haven’t reviewed any iPad apps for some time, early in my review process I learned that honesty is okay, but you also have to temper honesty with gentleness. I’m happy to accept a ukulele (or two–one to give away) to review, as long as I can be honest about my thoughts and as long as I can disclose that I was given a ukulele. And as things stand…reviews and other content will appear on youtube.com/ukestuff.

Another ukulele company gave me some valuable feedback (they are currently supporting an “influencer” as Barry calls them) about my videos, suggesting I stop making the play alongs and instead make tutorials. In fact, they called the play along videos “boring.” It’s not their fault–they are a manufacturer, and they don’t understand the desire to play along with a song that you love–the actual song itself–or the challenges of teaching a classroom of students (or a ukulele club) where kids want to play THEIR music, and you might have reluctant singers. So I disagreed with that advice (i.e. stop making play along videos)–but I did take their other advice to heart, which was to open comments (I still hold them for review) on my videos, to build a community, and to make more original content. So I’ve been working on that. Those videos are just on the other youtube channel.

Happy July 4th!

I have a lot of July 4th related items for you today!

Interested in a play along of the Star Spangled Banner? I couldn’t believe it, but we didn’t have one yet! Here are several versions…GCEA in C, DGBE in A and C, Chord Names and Lyrics in C, and a Tutorial Video. The accompaniment is from the United States Navy Band.

These videos led to my creation of a lead sheet for the song (in C), which I created, and since the melody was all contained within GCEA re-entrant tuning, I also printed the melody as TAB. The result is a lead sheet that I can share with you, as well as a performance of me playing the melody with the chords.

And then I thought that I should review the Ukadelic Ukulele that I use on July 4th, so I made a review and a UkeGuide for that instrument.

Have a great July 4th everyone, and God bless America!

Baoli Concert Ukulele

A couple of months ago, Alan Brandt, a fellow ukulele enthusiast I follow on Social Media, posted about a cheap plastic ukulele he ordered from eBay, basically just to see what he would get. When it arrived, he was surprised that it actually served as an instrument, and he brought it with him to Ukulele World Congress last month. I had the chance to meet Alan in person for the first time, and also saw his Oopsulele and the Baoli ukulele, so I decided to order one.

When you purchase from eBay, you’re going to play a waiting game–sometimes a month or more. So you can get a really good price on things, but you’ll pay for it in that you’ll wait for it. The vendor I ordered from is NOT Baoli, but a distributor in China, and I watched as my package tracked its way across the globe. To my delight, the ukulele was supposed to arrive the day before we left on a vacation (a perfect time to test out a ukulele in the “wild.”). Ultimately, USPS tracking said that package was delivered, but I didn’t see any ukulele-sized boxes. That’s because there wasn’t a box…there was a small package in my mailbox. I hadn’t ordered an inflatable ukulele.

Inside the package, carrying the tracking number for my ukulele, was a pill pen…a pen inside a pill capsule that extends to make a writing instrument, with a note:

Dear friend,

Really sorry, due to some inventory issue of the supplier, we need to ship your order out a few days later. This item is just a small gift for you as compensation. Thank you hav have a nice day!

Well, that’s a pleasant note…but WHERE IS THE UKULELE? I sort of lost my mind a little bit. It’s only $20, and I have certainly wasted more than that in the past–but I had high hopes for the ukulele because of Alan’s experience. I immediately went to eBay and asked for a refund, leading to a frustrating exchange with the seller. They insisted they had shipped the ukulele and that it had arrived–I insisted (with photo evidence) that the ukulele had not arrived and all I had was a $0.20 pill pen. Eventually, they sent me a different tracking number…the same day the ukulele showed up. So everything was okay–but had they simply listed the correct tracking number in the first place, there would have never been any issue. And again, this isn’t Baoli’s fault, but it is one of the challenges of dealing with eBay.

So, the ukulele arrived, and I made an unboxing video and review (two-in-one), as well as a new “UkeGuide,” something I will be making for all new ukulele reviews (and maybe old ones, too). I don’t need to re-discuss the items that are in the video and the UkeGuide (both are linked at the end of the review).

In terms of the ukulele, all I want to say is that it is an inexpensive plastic ukulele in the concert scale, and that it works. It is more than a toy, and it might be a very good option for times that you want to bring a ukulele but wouldn’t be upset if something happened to your ukulele while you were there. My biggest concerns are the action, which is a little high, a purposely slanted bridge, and the junction of the fretboard and the sound board. So far, the instrument is worth the risk.

What I want to talk about in this review is a little bit of what I have seen in the ukulele world regarding cheap plastic instruments. A person in the United Kingdom recently wrote about finding a very inexpensive ukulele at Flying Tiger which worked (it is different, as the Flying Tiger is a soprano ukulele). People really had strong opinions:

People can buy what they like of course, but I suppose my issue with this…is more what it represents. I’m not particularly convinced dumbing the instrument down to something that costs less than a single lesson or a pack of Worth Strings is a good thing for an instrument that still struggles to be taken seriously in wider circles. Many people still consider the ukulele to be a toy, and this only re-enforces that. Plus, the more ukes like this appear, the harder it is for people (like teachers!) trying to ensure their pupils choose something half decent to get their message across…

Are these justified concerns? Maybe. But we treat the Maccaferri Ukuleles of the 1950s as collector’s items and as musical instruments, so why can’t an inexpensive ukulele today be treated in a similar way? I love Outdoor Ukuleles, but they are not made of cheap plastic, and they are not designed cheaply–and while they are inexpensive compared to many wood ukuleles, they are still many times more expensive than the Baoli. I don’t mind owning both, I guess.

So, at the risk of dumbing down the instrument, I think it’s an interesting instrument that is playable. We’ll see how it lasts over time.

Want to buy one? Here’s an Amazon Link (referral link)

And a link to eBay