Ukulele Humidifiers

A newly made cheap DIY humidifier, two existing humidifiers, and some water beads expanding just for fun in a dish

I thought I had blogged about this, but apparently I only made a video.

My friend Paul Marchese, who runs ukuleleforteachers.com, made a video showing how he created his own humidifiers for his Mainland Ukuleles (solid wood ukuleles).

I followed his example, originally ordering plastic coin tubes with twist on caps, made for quarters. I just ordered some plastic test tubes today.

Here’s what you do to make your own humidifier:

  1. Order water beads. 20,000 were less than $7.
  2. Order some kind of plastic tube with twist on cap. The quarter coin holders worked well, we’ll see how these test tubes go. Ten test tubes were less than $2.
  3. You’ll need a power drill. I used a 1/16″ bit. That seemed to work well.
  4. You’ll need a container to put water in, where you can submerge the humidifiers while they “charge” or absorb water. I suggest using distilled water in your humidifiers. You can buy a gallon of distilled water for less than a dollar.
  5. Drill a hole in the cap, in the event that you want to tie a string on the humidifier (string: fishing line or old ukulele string)
  6. On the coin holders, I drilled a series of holes on the bottom (at least eight) and then a series of holes in the sides, puncturing two sides as I drill right through…at least 12 holes. I might go with more on a longer test tube
  7. Put the water beads in the tube. I filled up the bottom at least 1/4″, sometimes as much as 1/2.” This is probably too many beads, but they are super cheap.
  8. Put the cap on. If you want to make sure the cap doesn’t come off, use some super glue. I haven’t done this yet. If you are going to run a string through the cap, do that before gluing.
  9. Place the plastic container in a container with distilled water and let the beads expand. They will only expand as far as they have room to grow.
  10. Take the plastic tubes out and dry the exterior off. The beads do not leak water, and the surface of the bead is contained in the plastic.
  11. You can put the plastic tube in a case or gig bag, or you can put them in a ukulele (use the string method if this is your plan)

I wanted to show my drill pattern on the bottom and sides of the DIY humidifier

An Oasis humidifier–the Rolls Royce of humidifiers–is about $20 (sometimes more). It uses gel packs. You have to replace those gel packs after a few years…I might replace them with water beads! This method requires some assembly (actually, you have to fill the Oasis humidifiers the first time. too, if memory serves…and certainly for replacing the crystals).

I have come to the realization that any ukulele with wood on it (laminates usually have solid wood fretboards and bridges–not to mention glued bridges) should be stored in low humidity situations with a humidifier. Leave your Outdoor, Blackbird, Waterman, and Bugsgear ukuleles out in low humidity situations (for us, it is the winter)—but consider helping any ukulele with wood bu keeping it in an enclosed environment with at least one humidifier. This approach is a very inexpensive way to make that happen.

And here is the video I made earlier this year:

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Gorilla Grip or Monster Grip

Do you suffer from Gorilla Grip or Monster Grip? This is what happens when you press too hard with your left hand while you are playing.

If your ukulele is set up correctly, it should take very little pressure to play a note with the left hand. If you press too lightly, you might hear a “buzz.” Nothing good comes out of playing with too strong of grip.

Some things to check:

  1. Have your fingers as close to the fret wire as you can without your fingers muting the strings or causing buzzing.
  2. Press no harder than you need to press to play a chord.
  3. Try an easy song…such as “You Are My Sunshine.” Instead of worrying about the chords you are playing (which shouldn’t be a problem) focus on playing close to the fret wires and not pressing very hard.

If you find that you cannot play without pressing very hard, your ukulele may need to be adjusted to have lower action at the nut and/or at the saddle!

Avoid Gorilla Grip or Monster Grip! Your hand will thank you later.

Down the Rabbit Hole of Tuning Heads

Last fall, I won a prototype ukulele. It is a rugged ukulele that is meant for outdoor use, and it has not yet come to market–nor has there been any updates on the product from the company. Another company has recently put a very similar instrument into the market place, successfully crowd funded the ukulele, and they start shipping in August.

The prototype ukulele has basically been unplayable because of its tuners. It had low cost friction tuners on it, and regardless of how much I tightened the screws, it simply went out of tune. The strings were not the issue–it was the tuners. I think back to Shelbi Busche whose presentations about ukulele programs always included a warning about friction tuners on cheap ukuleles. Most ukuleles come with geared tuners (see more about my recent Sawtooth Pineapple Ukulele below) these days, and while geared tuners made out of plastic will break, most die cast metal geared tuners with “ears” work fine–even if they grind a little. I have had geared tuners break, from having the “ear” slip out of the channel or the main gear screw fall out…but this is certainly the exception and not the norm.

On the prototype ukulele, there was no hope for a geared tuner, as the ukulele has an ABS plastic back, and the screws would likely rip right out. What did seem as if it could work would be Gotoh’s UPT…the Ukulele Planetary Tuner. These tuners are the Rolls Royce of ukulele tuners, in an attractive design (all kinds of colors) with gears inside the tuner, coming straight out of the back of the ukulele headstock like a friction tuner. The prototype ukulele has a REALLY thick headstock (nearly 15.5mm) and I ordered LONG UPTs for the application (another person I have talked to since recommends UTPLs on all applications).

Some time ago, I knew that I would be changing some ukulele tuners, and I knew that I would need a hole reamer. These devices allow you to slowly and cleanly expand a hole by hand–so I bought one from eBay and had it waiting for the chance to use it.

Now was the time. We have a camping trip coming up, and in addition to bringing my Outdoor Ukuleles, I wanted to bring the hearty prototype with me…but to do so, it needed to be playable. So I ordered Gotoh UPTS from The Ukulele Site last week.

The UPTLs arrived from The Ukulele Site on Friday. I opened the package, dismantled the old friction tuners on the prototype, and started to ream out the first hole…going very slowly so as to not make a mistake. When the front (smaller) and back (wider) of the hole was large enough, I put in the UPTL…to find out that the UPTLs were not long enough to handle a 15.5mm headstock.

Not kidding about the 15.5mm thickness of the prototype

I contacted the Ukulele Site, to verify that I had received the “L” version of the UPT (I did…they have a groove on the shaft and the nut), and also asked for any other recommendations.

Meanwhile, I knew the UPTs wouldn’t work on the prototype, so I took the Grover friction tuners off my Martin and very quickly installed the UPTS on my Martin S1 Soprano. The Grovers were fine…these UPTs are like heaven. Seriously. If you have an expensive ukulele with friction tuners , you might want to consider UPTs…they simply make tuning (and changing strings) so much easier.

Meanwhile, I had a prototype ukulele with one bored out hole and three other holes and needed to figure out what to do. I decided to see what was available for Banjo planetary tuners, and found a set of Banjo tuners, with a mediocre rating, for $20. I ordered them. They arrived today, and they aren’t fantastic. They are not butter smooth like the Gotoh UPTs. And they are huge (Banjo strings are metal and a tuning head needs to be able to deal with that tension). But I installed them, and they work. And while they are not the best, they work much better than the friction tuners that came with the prototype.

The offending tuners that had to go

Meanwhile, my Sawtooth Pineapple Ukulele had one tuning head that didn’t turn well. I asked members on Ukulele Underground if anyone had an old set of Grover geared tuners that they would be willing to sell me (most people take off hardware to install UPTs and hold on to the old stuff). A member contacted me, and those arrived today as well. Meanwhile, I looked at the Sawtooth, and one of the main gear screws had fallen out of the tuner (I cannot remember if that was the same tuner that was hard to turn). I removed the old tuners (clearly lower quality) and installed the Grovers. The tuning problem is fixed. A new set of Grovers costs around $17…so you can add that to the cost of buying a Sawtooth Ukulele…it doesn’t take long before you are simply better off buying a better starter ukulele than buying a cheap ukulele.

So…all is well tonight. My Martin S1 is a better instrument tonight. The prototype ukulele, which was at risk of being unusable, is actually playable now, although it has HUGE tuners on it, and the Sawtooth Pineapple is also a much better instrument.

It doesn’t take a lot of gear to change tuners…you will need a wood reamer, a small crescent wrench (to tighten nuts if tuners have them; the Grovers I installed did not), some smaller screwdrivers (Phillips head for sure); and UPTs have a “stake” on the back side that require an additional hole. I have a small handheld hobby drill that does the job…as the “stake” is not very thick. I did have to use a larger drill bit (by hand) for the prototype ukulele.

While I do not suggest the installation of Banjo tuners on a ukulele, I wholeheartedly recommend UPTs. You aren’t going to install them on your school instruments–but on instruments that you love…you might be surprised. On instruments that had geared tuning heads installed, there will be little holes on the back of your headstock. But truthfully, that’s a low price to pay for such an improvement on your instrument.

At the current time, the best place to buy Gotoh UPTs is The Ukulele Site, and you’ll pay about $63-$80 for a set depending on where you buy them (shipping included). If you have a $80 Makala as an instrument (my first ukulele was and is a Makala MK-CE), you probably are not going to put UPTs on the instrument. But if you have a $300 Mainland or similar quality instrument (or even a more expensive ukulele), UPTs can be a nice addition. Collectors won’t like UPTs on their instruments…but I don’t buy instruments to show in a museum…I buy them to not only appreciate, but to play!

Top 50 Ukulele Blog

A couple of weeks ago, Abuja Agarwal e-mailed from Feedspot to let me know that ukestuff.info is one of the “Top 50 Ukulele Blogs.”

We were asked to mention the Top 50 Ukulele Blogs list in a post.

While I’d like to see my YouTube Channel eventually hit 100,000 subscribers (currently just over 10,000 subscribers), the real goal behind all of this work is to share information with others. If any part of this can funnel some income back to support the work, that would be nice–but again, it isn’t the point (at least not at this point).

Thank you to those that subscribe to this blog or visit it; thank you to those that subscribe to my YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/ukuleletenor), and thank you to those that visit my other blog, techinmusiced.com.

And thanks to Feedspot for listing this blog as a Top 50 ukulele blog.

Sawtooth STUKEMPS Mahogany Pineapple Soprano Ukulele Review

The Sawtooth STUKEMPS Mahogany Pineapple Soprano Ukulele

I have had the pleasure to get to know a number of ukulele players in the Twin Cities area (Minnesota), and one of my ukulele friends contacted me on Ukulele Underground to let me know that there was a ukulele at Walmart.com that I might be interested in buying.

Don’t get me wrong–I love my handful of expensive ukuleles, which I would grab if the house was on fire. That said, I love bargain ukuleles. I like having them because I don’t have to worry about them, and when I find them, I like being able to recommend them to others who would buy one as a first instrument. Not all budget ukuleles are worth it for a first purchase. Admittedly, reviews by others do impact my opinion. I still like the Caramel brand, but since Barry Maz of gotukulele.com reviewed a Caramel and hated it, I have shied away from recommending it to others.

Rosette, interior label, and dry fretboard (I had already been working on the fret ends)

One of the cheapest ways to get into ukulele is to buy online…Amazon, eBay, and yes, even Wal-Mart. There is a danger in doing so, as none of these budget retailers are going to sell a ukulele that has been set up for you. There is a strong chance that there will be problems on a budget ukulele–problems that will have to be fixed at a later time if you keep playing the instrument. What are those challenges?

      • High action at the nut and/or saddle, resulting in having to press harder to make chords, and to cause the strings to bend down so much that the instrument is not able to be played in tune
      • A dry instrument, particularly the fretboard and bridge, which causes the fretboard to shrink, resulting in fret ends being exposed to the player
      • Buzzing of the instrument
      • Low quality imitation strings (some identifying themselves as something they are not)

If you buy a ukulele from one of the proven online retailers, set-up is included that makes sure that you are buying a quality instrument that has been set-up properly for you. A professional player may have additional requirements for set-up, but most of us aren’t pro players, are we?

The unique headstock of the Sawtooth Pineapple Soprano Ukulele

The Sawtooth ukulele is found by searching for “Sawtooth Ukulele” and then choosing “pineapple” in the options. The instrument is normally $40, but was on rollback for $17.08. At the moment, there are only three left in inventory, so if the $17.08 price is no longer available when you read this post, please do not get mad at me.

https://www.walmart.com/ip/Sawtooth-Mahogany-Tenor-Ukulele/54499491

I chose to have to the instrument to my closest Wal-Mart to avoid shipping costs, and the final bill with Minnesota tax was $18.08. The instrument took about a week to arrive at my Wal-Mart, and came well packed as a box within a box.

Unlike many of the budget ukuleles on Amazon, all that comes with the Sawtooth Mahogany Pineapple Soprano Ukulele is the ukulele (with strings, of course). There is no gig bag, so if you want a gig bag for the instrument, you’ll have to buy that separately.

Some basics about the ukulele:

        • Soprano Scale (13.5″)
        • 21″ long, 7″ wide, 2.75″ deep (including saddle)
        • Laminate mahogany pineapple-style body
        • A unique headstock (Not your Martin crown clone)
        • 15 frets
        • Front markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, and 15th frets
        • No side marker dots
        • Plastic saddle and nut
        • 34mm nut (34.72mm)
        • Spacing of strings is 8.65mm at the first fret
        • Rosewood fretboard and bridge (shows old stock, as new ukuleles do not use Rosewood due to CITIES restrictions)
        • The bridge is glued and screwed to the body (common practice on inexpensive ukuleles)
        • The bridge is a standard tie-bar bridge
        • Large button, geared tuners
        • Aquila Super Nylgut strings
        • Notched perfling inside the ukulele
        • A rough satin finish
        • A unique headstock shape
        • A neck made of 3 pieces (Mahogany? Okumue?)
        • A laser engraved logo around the soundhole

Pineapple ukuleles are an interesting body shape. I believe that Kamaka began the idea of a pineapple ukulele. The pineapple supposedly offers more surface area, which should result in more tone than a traditional ukulele of a similar size.

The build, overall, seems very nice-with notched perfling inside and standard bracing, as well as top and bottom blocks.

The sound of the ukulele is acceptable. I think Aquila Super Nylgut strings are a mismatch on many laminate ukuleles. Laminate ukuleles tend to have a tone that emphasizes lower parts of the harmonic overtone series–and Super Nylgut Strings tend to bring out those qualities. I would suggest immediately switching to Aquila Sugar Strings or fluorocarbon strings (such as the Martin 600 strings), as those strings help bring out the higher overtones of the ukulele…creating a bright sound.

As you take off the strings, you will need to address the two biggest problems with this ukulele: the fretboard was bone dry, and as a result, the fret ends were exposed. I didn’t hurt myself playing the Sawtooth Pineapple, but it wasn’t comfortable, either. I invested in a fret end file, as exposed frets are a issue with any wood-based ukulele (laminate or solid wood, as fretboards are still wood) and I have a number of ukuleles that need some fretboard work. Having to work on fretboard ends is not an unusual thing–but you shouldn’t have to file fret ends on a ukulele when it is new.

A very dry fretboard with sharp fret edges

I also don’t know why the manufacturers of these instruments don’t ship the ukuleles with a healthy dose of lemon oil on the fretboard in the first place.

I checked the action on the ukulele—which arrived almost in tune (someone might have bought it and sent it back), and the action was excellent (2.5mm) at the 12th fret, and possibly a touch high at the nut. I did not do anything to the action of the ukulele and left it as I bought it.

Action is acceptable at the 12th fret

I replaced the strings (Martin 600), filed the fret ends, and oiled the fretboard (and the rest of the instrument). I’d recommend StewMac’s lemon oil or Dunlop 65 lemon oil. I also added strap buttons. The strings are about $6, the fret end file is $25, and lemon oil is $8. You don’t need to buy strap buttons, but if you do, they are relatively inexpensive on eBay (you just have to wait for a long time). If you buy this ukulele, you’ll want to invest in the same accessories (maybe not the strap). Add in the time factor to do this work, and you will at least match the cost of the ukulele–making the purchase of a entry level ukulele from an online dealer such as Mim’s Ukes or The Uke Republic (who deal with entry level ukuleles) a better economic purchase, as the ukulele will arrive ready to be tuned and play (suggestion: if you are buying a laminate from these stores, ask for fluorocarbon strings like Martin 600).

Ugly “knot” on the bottom of the ukulele. Why would you sell an instrument like this?

The mahogany laminate is thin, but unremarkable in pattern (My Makala MK-CE has a much prettier pattern). The only negative about the pattern is on the bottom of the ukulele where an “eye” appears in the wood. Thankfully it is on the bottom, but there is no need for such a bad piece of laminate to be used. The tuners also leave something to be desired–and one of them has already become harder to turn than the others. I may eventually replace the tuners, but doing so will match or exceed the cost of the ukulele–so what is the point?

Overly large buttons on passable open geared tuners.

Ultimately, if you are looking for a cheap ukulele of a decent build quality, and there are still some of these left at $17.08, consider buying one. Know that there will be some work to do when it arrives. At its non-rollback $40 cost, it is less of a bargain, as you can buy a better ukulele that is set-up from a reputable online dealer with set-up included. And if you have to buy online, I’d suggest looking at some Enya laminates (not the HPL compared in the video) or the Aklot solid top ukuleles, which come in a kit (although you’ll want to change the strings on those ukuleles, too, particularly the Enya). As for me, this won’t be my last cheap ukulele…and it is a good enough of instrument that I won’t be looking to burn it any time soon.

Need New Ukuleles for Next Year?

A friend of mine recently found out that their school moved them from a high school position to an elementary position (quite a shock!) and has decided to incorporate ukulele into their elementary instruction. I have been asked what ukuleles to recommend…and I wanted to share my thoughts on the blog.

I am now over two years into this ukulele journey, having made hundreds of resources and presenting sessions on ukulele. We originally bought Mahalo MK1 ukuleles (above) for our school; and while they were the cheapest playable ukuleles we could buy–I would recommend other ukuleles today. I have a pretty good grasp on what is on the market in terms of affordable, quality ukuleles, and what the issues are that face beginning players (and beginning teachers). So, let’s look at instruments and accessories that I would suggest that you consider as of the summer of 2018.

Instruments:

You work in a school, and chances are that winter exists in your area. Ukuleles are impacted by humidity (or more accurately, the lackthereof), and as such, you should probably be looking at laminate or a polycarbonate ukulele for your school. These instruments will be less expensive than solid wood ukuleles, and will withstand a lack of humidity better than a solid ukulele. There are hundreds of laminate ukuleles on the market, and the quality of most brands/manufacturers continues to improve. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Kala KA-S: Kala calls this “The most popular ukulele in the world,” and they are probably right. Kala imports these (from China, I believe), and they are a laminate mahogany instrument. You can contact Kala about their educational promotions, where they sell these at a significant discount to schools. That said, the instruments are not set up (I’ll talk about this later and in other posts), which makes them play easier at the first fret, which is a common location for beginning players. If you buy them directly from Kala, you will either need to find someone to set them up, or learn how to do so yourself. If you want to order them set up, contact Mim’s Ukes and The Uke Republic, which are online sellers that set up every ukulele before shipment.
  2. Ohana SK-10: Ohana’s entry level soprano. A purchase with included set up is encouraged.
  3. Makala Dolphin (Soprano or Concert): A “hybrid” ukulele with a wood neck, wood fretboard, laminate soundboard, and a plastic body. Pretty rugged. A bit heavier than the Kala KA-S or Ohana SK-10. A purchase with included set up is encouraged.
  4. Outdoor Ukulele (Soprano or Tenor): A polycarbonate ukulele that is meant for outdoor use. They sell at a significant discount to schools (contact them directly). These come set up perfectly, and will never be impacted by the relative humidity of a location. We open a new school in the fall, and I ordered Outdoor Ukuleles for that school.
  5. Mainland Ukuleles (Soprano or Concert): Mainland sells solid wood, imported ukuleles, and the owner has sold sets to schools at an incredibly affordable price (often “seconds” that are impossible to discern as “seconds”). The owner supports all kinds of ukulele events and is one of the good guys in the business. The ukuleles will come set up, but you do need to have a plan to keep them humidified. If you don’t, there is a chance they will crack–and being solid wood, they will not respond well to accidents (being dropped, etc.). Your students would have a top notch ukulele experience, however.
  6. Caramel Ukuleles (Soprano, Concert, or Tenor): Caramel is a budget ukulele company, directly ordered from China, with Zebrawood laminate as the entry option. We had Caramels for my school (they are being donated to the elementary school that is taking over our location) and they were very serviceable, but did need annual attention to sharp fret ends due to lack of humidity and shrinking fretboards. Be warned that Barry Maz from gotaukulele reviews gave Caramel a dreadful rating–but the instruments were tanks and survived a LOT of (intentional) abuse from my students. You will be hard pressed to find a cheaper entry point into a ukulele for your school. Expect to wait 2-4 weeks to receive your ukuleles.
  7. Enya Ukulele: Available through Amazon, Enya has surprised me with their HPL ukuleles (High Pressure Laminates) and their entry level laminate ukuleles, all that come with a gig bag (and a pretty nice one at that) and a bunch of accessories. If you price the ukulele, accessories, and the bag, you almost get the ukulele for free.

What Size Ukulele Should We Buy?

I’m biased in this matter, but the scale that is most comfortable for me to play is Concert. Concert is the “Alto” ukulele. Soprano is the traditional size, and Tenor is the largest size in standard GCEA tuning (and yes, you can have all kinds of variations in tuning–low G, high G, D6 tuning, etc.). I don’t mind soprano (thus the recommendations of the KA-S and the SK-10), but we ordered mainly Tenor scale ukuleles for our middle school. Schools used to offer guitar classes at the middle school level (some still do), and even a 3/4 or parlor guitar is much larger than a tenor ukulele. We did order 10 sopranos as well. For all but the smallest elementary students, concert is a safe place to start–but in truth, almost anyone can play almost every size.

What About Lefties?

This is up to you as a teacher. I let my lefties choose whether to play right or left handed. I do not let them learn “upside down” (see Autumn Best who plays a traditionally strung ukulele like a lefty, as she is missing the fingers from her left hand). If a lefty learns how to play a right handed ukulele, they will be able to play 99% of all ukuleles at a music store, or at a ukulele festival. I recently asked adults at a festival how many lefties played a left handed instrument–the answer? None! But I let students choose, and if they buy an instrument, I help them swap strings around. I do not create special left-handed resources for them–but the color coded KIDS strings (see the accessories list below) makes it easier for them to decode chord diagrams, too.

A Word About Set Ups:

I have already talked a little about this, but in a “Set up,” a person makes sure that the string height (“action”) is good at the first fret and at the 12th fret by adjusting the height of the saddle and the depth of the channels in the nut. This also includes making sure that fret ends are not sharp, and that frets are level, and there are no buzzes. You CAN learn how to do these things yourself–but chances are that your time will be filled simply tuning the ukuleles to pitch rather than messing with each ukulele. Sadly, very few local music stores include set-up, and as such, I recommend ordering from one of the internet vendors who will sell introductory instruments with set-up included. You may not get the lowest price (prices will usually match other internet prices), but a large order will include 15 minutes of set up (at least) on each ukulele and perhaps shipping as well.

Please, for the sake of your students, make sure that the instruments are set up before they start learning to play–otherwise the challenges occur very quickly (F Chord).

Accessories:

I will include some Amazon referral links with these items…but if you are starting with ukulele, consider these!

  1. Aquila KIDS Ukulele Strings: You won’t want to teach without them. Contact Aquila directly to order packs of 20 sets of strings at a major discount.
  2. Ukefarm’s Chordette for Education Font Set: You’ll want these fonts to make your own resources–and if you have a Mac, the colored font to match the Aquila KIDS Ukulele Strings.
  3. A String Action Gauge: These things are just worth having so you can check the action on a ukulele.
  4. A String Winder With a Clipper: Useful.
  5. An Ernie Ball String Winder: When you install a set of ukuleles, you’ll be thankful.
  6. A Roadie 2 Tuner: When you tune a set of ukuleles many times a day, you’ll be thankful.
  7. Dunlop 65 Lemon Oil: (If you buy a wood ukulele of any kind…laminate or solid, you’ll want to treat the fretboard and bridge)

Conclusion:

This list isn’t exhaustive, and there are plenty of quality ukuleles to go with beyond those I mentioned. My heart, in education, is settled on the worry-free Outdoor Ukulele (I cannot recommend Waterman or Bugsgear Ukuleles). If you have a brand you are considering, send me an e-mail and I’ll be happy to share an opinion of the brand (usually based on playing them in person).

You Know You Have Been Making Too Many Videos When…

I have had the privilege to get to know some wonderful people through my efforts in music education and technology, as well as through ukulele.  One of those people is Andy Ramos, a teacher in Houston, who attended TMEA this year.  It’s a good thing Andy is 1300 miles away, just like it is a good thing my music technology friend Paul Shimmons lives in Michigan, or I would be hanging out with them all the time.  I share so much in common with these fellows that they become instant close friends!

Andy has taken my approach to Video Play Alongs and has continued the work and improved the work.  He is the only person out there whose output exceeds my own!  I love that he not only brings a wide variety of songs (pop, Latin, Christian), but that he often does so in multiple keys.  If you don’t subscribe to Andy’s YouTube channel—do so today.  https://www.youtube.com/user/andyramos69

Andy wrote a note yesterday, and it made me laugh out loud…and I had to share his thought with you.

You know you’ve been working on too many uke songs when you look up at the TV and wonder why they are putting up uke chord diagrams.

The photo?

824387B8-47A1-450F-A7C1-5EE8C94A5394

That would be a C7+5 by the way (I had to look it up…www.ukebuddy.com is incredibly useful).


Want to support my efforts?  Consider sponsoring my efforts on Patreon!  www.patreon.com/cjrphd

Shopping Lists

I took inventory the other day and found out that I have twenty-three ukuleles, and twenty-six if you count the ukulele that I bought for each of the other members of my house.  My wife had a friend over tonight, who saw the music room, and said, “Wow, what a lot of ukuleles!  How many are there?”  My wife answered, “What is it?  Fifteen?”

I didn’t want to tell her the actual number so I mumbled and walked away.

Five of the ukuleles were free, and most were very inexpensive.  I don’t think the entire collection adds up to the value of my tuba.  And even the expensive ones were bought at a discount.

I’m not going to list all of my instruments, but my “premium” instruments are my KoAloha models.  One is an Opio (import) Tenor made of Sapele, one is an Opio Concert made of Acacia, and one is a KoAloha Concert made of Koa.  All three were bought at a discount.  The Tenor was B-Stock, and the Concerts were used and at discount.  I also have an expensive Kala Concert Banjo Ukulele, and a Lanikai UkeSB Tenor (Spuce Top) that I can plug right into an iPad (I have used that a lot).  There are a couple of ukuleles that I could sell—but for now, I’m okay with them all.

And I can’t help it, but I’m still looking.

What is catching my eye?  You’d be surprised…most are “relatively” inexpensive (compared to a normal K Brand ukulele).  Here’s my current list:

  • Kala Journeyman U-Bass.  A new ukulele bass with F-Holes, and I think it looks great, and I’d like a bass to use in recordings or even to play at ukulele events.  I am wondering if I could get away with tuning it CGEA instead of EADG so that I didn’t have to learn different fingerings?  About $300.
  • Kala Black Archtop Tenor.  Since I’m sticking with Kala, I have played these and I don’t love the sound…but I LOVE the look, and I think the (included) pick-up might make it worth it.   I wish they offered a Concert version of this instrument.  About $299.
  • Kala Ziricote Concert.  I love this wood.  It’s a laminate instrument, and the sound is very generic—but I love how it looks.  Looks mean a lot.  $239.
  • Ohana CK-39. Martin 3 Replica.  I love the look.  Plain and simple.  $319.
  • Ohana CK-358.  A taropatch (8 string) Concert ukulele.  Awesome.  $340.
  • Flight Travel Soprano Ukulele.  Intrigued by the ABS and laminate construction.  $60.
  • Sun Star Music Ukuleles.  A new company importing to Appleton, Wisconsin.  I’d love to see what they have in person.
  • Mainland Cedar Concert.  Just a beautiful instrument from a dealer that really invests in the ukulele world.  I’d probably get it with a pick-up, which raises the cost exponentially.  $400.
  • Outdoor Ukulele Carbon Fiber Black Ukulele.  I have a moonshine tenor.  Curious to see if this is actually brighter and has more sustain as advertised (I LOVE my outdoor ukuleles). $200

Again, I’m a bargain hunter, and I probably won’t buy any of these (other than the Journeyman or Mainland—and perhaps the Flight ukulele) unless it is used and a good deal.

I would also like to reach a point of sponsorship on my YouTube channel (almost 5,000 subscribers) and Patreon where I could give away a ukulele each month.  I’m not sure what I would do there, but I would certainly check with some companies to see if they could sell me ukuleles to donate at cost.  We’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I would also like some other accessories:

  • Roadie 2 tuner.  We have these at school, as I have blogged about.  I love it—and would love one at home.  $149.
  • Gotoh UPT tuning heads.  I want to start replacing some ukulele tuners with these…they are on my KoAloha and are incredible.  They are about $70 a set!

I know this is a long list…and it is subject to change…but that’s what I am looking for right now, and am in no hurry to buy!

Aquila Sugar Strings

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.