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!
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.
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!
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:
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.
Good things come to those who wait. Or at least they do every now and then. In 2017, Barry Maz did a review of the KoAloha Opio Tenor Spruce Ukulele. It has a distinctive look with the standard KoAloha build, but a very pale face made of Spruce. I have wanted on ever since.
I already own four KoAloha products, and I wouldn’t buy another of the same size or wood configuration that I currently own, but I’m not opposed to adding more KoAloha instruments to my collection. I love the sound of a KoAloha, and I love the company. They stand behind their products with a legitimate warranty–my 2004 Koa Concert was completely refinished last summer for free (other than shipping to Hawaii)–and they treat people very nicely. I’ve seen the company simply ship a ukulele to vloggers who they want to encourage (no need to send one here, KoAloha…go bless someone else). I like KoAloha so much that my own photo of my Opio Sapele Tenor is used as part of (or the inspiration of) the UkeStuff logo, particularly on the video introductions that I use–and on the background header of both YouTube channels.
But I’m also a bargain shopper. I wait for a good price on a model, and if I trip on a good deal, I usually can afford to buy it. I was visiting some of the ukulele forums that I check on a regular basis, and a person was offering a KoAloha Opio Concert with the Spruce top and Acacia back and sides for $230. This has always been a $500 instrument, and a new one, at the time of writing, is $561 from a very trusted vendor.
I jumped at the chance to buy it, and the seller sent it quickly, paying another $34 to ship it (ukulele retailers seem to have shipping deals, but individuals have to pay A LOT to ship a ukulele). The seller brought in less than $200 for this instrument–but that was their asking price.
As for the instrument itself, it is traditional KoAloha, though built in Thailand. It has a spruce sound board, musibi sound hole, traditional KoAloha bracing (including the unibrace), acacia back and sides, a rosewood fretboard (with the inverse crown on the bottom…something the full koa models no longer have), a mahogany neck, and the headstock bears the KoAloha logo with “Opio” underneath. The 2019 models no longer show “Opio,” as the company believes that all the instruments are KoAloha…the sticker inside designates what line of KoAloha you purchase (we’re still waiting for the return of the inexpensive KoAlana series, which apparently all burned up in a factory fire last year). The fretboard also has maple dots (could be mango), and standard KoAloha tuners, with fretboard markers on the side of the instrument.
My model has clearly seen some use, which is fine to me, as it has no cracks, but I also don’t need to be afraid of scratching the instrument accidentally.
The sound is what you would expect from Spruce: bright and loud, with less depth than my Opio Acacia model. I can’t completely compare because my Acacia is strung with a Low G, and the Spruce has Worth Brown strings with High G. My Koa Concert has a completely different sound…it is certainly aged more (even though refinished) being built in 2004 (my two concert Opio models were made in 2016), but there is a balance and clarity with the Koa that isn’t achieved with the Opio models. Don’t get me wrong–we’d be all be lucky if the Opio series were the only ukuleles available on the planet. They’re wonderful–but my Koa Model is sublime. It’s hard to describe–but there’s a reason why you would want to drop more than $1000 on a new KoAloha Koa model. The Spruce is loud and clear–but the Koa model has a tenderness and depth–even while loud–that the Spruce does not. I’ll change the strings eventually to something else, partly out of curiosity–and I’d be interested to hear what a switch to clear fluorocarbons would bring to the Spruce and if that would have any impact on the comparison to the Koa.
I think the top on this Spruce model has begun to yellow with age, which is a good thing. A yellowish tone will look better with the Acacia back and sides (and Mahogany neck) in time.
I’m a lucky man, owning five KoAloha instruments:
- Opio Sapele Tenor
- Koa Concert
- Opio Acacia Concert
- Opio Spruce & Acacia Concert
- KoAlana Mahogany Soprano
The funny part is that if you total what I paid for all of them, I’m not that much over the cost of a single new Koa Tenor. Like I said, I’m a bargain shopper when it comes to ukuleles. And all of my ukuleles together are worth far less than my tuba, which I have owned for over 20 years, so while it isn’t a cheap hobby, most hobbies cost far more than this one.
What do I want to add? I’d like to add a KoAloha Soprano or a KoAloha SuperSoprano (full Koa), and if I ever see a used Opio Sapele Concert model (which they stopped making a few years ago) for a good price, I’ll buy it immediately. I love the sound of my Sapele Tenor, and think it is neck-and-neck with my Koa Concert. If my house was burning down and I could only grab two ukuleles, the Sapele and the Koa models would probably by what I would save.
Would I recommend an Opio Spruce model to you? Absolutely–but I’d recommend any KoAloha model to you. If money is tight, but you want a new ukulele (some people don’t like buying used things), then the value of the Opio Acacia model is hard to beat. If you want a brighter instrument, look at the Opio Spruce models. And if you are looking for the full KoAloha sound–which is a real thing–with a crazy blend of depth, brightness, volume, and tenderness, and you can afford it, look at the Koa models. All of them come with KoAloha’s warranty. And if you can’t afford one, watch Craigslist, visit second-hand music stores, and watch the ukulele sales forums. While the price of Koa instruments (any make) is sky high, there are deals to be found.
And if you are a fan of any of the other K models–I am not against those. One of the ukuleles on my long term “shopping list” is a Kamaka Concert; and if I ever see a deal on a Kanil’ea, I would also be interested. Each of these companies have their own sound, and I’m not opposed to owning those, either–but they would either have to come as part of a purchase on a trip to Hawaii as a living souvenir, or as part of great deal that I can’t pass up. Remember…good things come to those who wait.
It is probably good to mention that I am NOT a sponsored artist by KoAloha, nor have I been given any financial support from KoAloha. I just love their instruments and their company, and I’m a fan.
Here is the TAB for the introduction of “Señorita” for both GCEA (Soprano, Concert, and Tenor) and DGBE (Baritone):
Now that my YouTube migration is complete, I can start looking at other projects. Some time ago, I revamped the UkeStuff logos, and made a new t-shirt (TeeSpring) that looks great. It advertises UkeStuff, yes, but it features a big “U” with a ukulele in it. So I think it might appeal to others as well.
That shirt is now available on TeeSpring for order, whenever, in men’s and women’s t-shirts, long sleeve t-shirts, and sweatshirts. I’ll be buying a few more over time.
TeeSpring allows you to determine prices, so I set the prices as low as I could while still making a small profit. So as prices go, I feel pretty good about things.
So…if you like the blog, or the YouTube channels, buy some merchandise!
I have a new hat coming from Queensboro soon, featuring the U logo. I’m hoping it will also look good, and Queensboro offers a similar marketplace.
Here’s the link: https://teespring.com/stores/ukestuff
Our local ukulele group has an advanced group that meets every other Wednesday to work on things other than strumming and singing. They have been working on some four part “ukulele orchestra” arrangements, and while Freight Train, by Elizabeth Cotton, is a pretty accessible song, the version they were using had some chords that the group wasn’t used to, so I took it home and re-arranged it.
Tonight I recorded all four parts…I recorded the chords first as a “foundation” track, then copied that to my iPad and listened to that recording as I recorded the other three tracks, later merging all the tracks in Luma Fusion. Luma Fusion now allows for up to six tracks of audio. I would have liked to have used Acappella (the app) but I was recording on my iPhone, and it does not have a headphone jack…so I couldn’t use my Shure MV88 and my headphones at the same time, and Acappella doesn’t seem to like AirPods!
- Part 4: Romero Creations XS Soprano
- Part 3: Lanikai LU-21 Soprano
- Part 2: Lanikai LU-21CE/BK Concert
- Part 1: Kala SSTU-T Thinline Travel Tenor
And the PDFs if you wish to play these parts yourself (Created in Notion)…
One of the reasons the ukulele is such an appealing instrument is that people that play it seem to be happy all of the time. I generally find that to be true, but as in all walks of life, unhappy people find their way to ukulele, too. Of course, no one is going to be happy all the time.
What I wanted to write about is that there are a number of YouTube personalities who are building communities through the service–and ukulele companies are noticing them. I’ve been watching some of these channels “grow up” over the last couple of years.
And I see certain people in the ukulele world that are bothered by the success of these YouTube personalities. Some of it is concern that followers of these personalities may make informed decisions when it comes to buying a ukulele, some of it is frustration with the channel’s content and/or teaching style, and some of it, undoubtedly, is based on jealousy.
I am personally in the process of trying to create content so that I can generate some income off of my ukulele work. I’m frustrated that YouTube’s policies made it impossible for me to do so on my original channel–but I hold no ill will towards them or any channel that has successfully monetized their content, or those that work out brand deals with ukulele brands.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve watched these other channels grow–and certainly, when they started, they offered misinformation offered from time to time–but the YouTube personalities learned, grew, and kept building a real community.
One of the complaints I have seen lately is that these channels offer unboxing videos, and spend time reviewing things like the gig bags instead of reviewing the tone of an instrument. I have to admit that I kind of like watching unboxing videos, and that on the majority of ukuleles reviewed by these channels, the tone is generally a generic laminate tone. They review ukuleles in the $50 to $250 range, and you don’t often see a big shift in how ukuleles sound until you get much further up the price point. Are there exceptions? Sure. And for beginners, there is real concern about how well a gig bag will protect an instrument. So I have no issue talking about gig bags, either. I’d rather see a focus on set-up on everyone’s part–but some channels expect you to buy a ukulele from a ukulele-specific vendor (ideal, but not the reality for many players), and others don’t look at set-up at all.
On a personal note, I was able to buy ten ukuleles due to a teacher’s union grant (the ukuleles came with me as I left my school), and I chose Enya KUC-20 ukuleles. I had no qualms about what I chose, but I later saw a review for the Enya X1M, which is made of HPL (not just “regular” laminate) and was priced about the same. When I saw the gig bag that came with the X1M, I was relieved that we had bought the KUC-20 instead. The KUC-20’s gig bag is just a little more practical and traditional in build, with a loop for hanging on the back of the case.
All I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t make much sense to complain about others that are experiencing success on YouTube, and if you think there is misinformation occurring, it makes sense to try to educate that person. Ironically, one of the voices complaining about those YouTube personalities was a key player in the development of that YouTube personality–early on, they referred to their work all the time.
Some questions to ask yourself, if you find yourself in that unhappy place:
- Why am I unhappy about this?
- Is there any misinformation or harm being done?
- If there is, how can I help that person to provide correct information or to stop the harm?
- If I don’t like their content, such as unboxing videos, does my opinion really matter? Should I really say anything? Should I be trying to take the joy away from another person?
- Is that person cultivating a community of people on YouTube?
- How much of my dissatisfaction is due to my own jealousy?
As for me, I’ll keep following everyone that writes and makes videos about ukulele. I’ll keep leaving comments when I feel a comment needs to be made. And I’ll keep making my own content.
I do understand that I come at the ukulele with a different mindset than many people; When it comes to music, I’m not afraid to try and fail–and I’m not afraid to sing and play. I have a Ph.D. in Music, so while I am NOT the greatest player in the world, I’m not intimidated by the greatest player, either. I respect their work, and I can talk with anyone about their musical craft. But I don’t need to be the smartest person in the room, I don’t need special treatment, and I’m going to try to treat each person as if they matter. And each of us matters–immensely.