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25.5.15

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival 2015 - Got A Ukulele Diary

Another year another ukulele festival...... Hang on, that sounds dismissive, that's not what I meant. For anyone who has ever been to a GNUF event before, this is not just another ukulele festival, it's a return to what I think is the best ukulele festival there is.  So, eight months later, in a new earlier calendar slot, my third Grand Northern Ukulele Festival Diary.


GNUF banner


Still in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, this year GNUF once again looked to develop itself further. 2014 was a huge event on the worlds ukulele calendar, headlined as it was by the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain, but if there is one thing I have learned in the last few years about these organisers it's this. They DON'T rest on their laurels. They wanted to build further on 2014 to create another world class event, and I think they did just that. Heck, I won't even go with the usual pattern of building things up for the reader in order to give you the final, cheesy knockout punch that tells you what I thought. I'll say it right away. This was the best yet. By far.

This will be a long blog post, go grab yourself a coffee and read at your leisure!

2015 saw the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival back in Huddersfield in the UK with a bigger festival in terms of acts but in a new, on the face of it smaller, venue. Now that may come across like some sort of Doctor Who magic, but it comes down to  a clever new choice of venue. This time, and for the first time for GNUF, we had true multiple performance stages. Like 2014, we had a main stage and a fringe stage (once again in a SUPERB record store in Huddersfield called Vinyl Tap) but this time we had a third. Yes, a three stage ukulele festival, allowing more acts and more choice for the punters.

Multiple stages may at first make you think 'hang on, I can't possibly see everything', and that is true. But think about it, all the great music festivals have multiple stages and they do so for good reason. Partly it allows more acts to get an opportunity to play, but it also allows the audience to do a bit of work selecting what they want to watch. This is a GOOD thing. Choice an variety are good (note, that word 'variety' is going to become a theme in this diary). No festival can provide for every taste, and for me the answer to that is not simply to fill a Main stage with headliners, but the sensible choice is to provide more breadth and more variety (told you).

Another thing to bear in mind here. Because I could not be in two places at once, I had to pick the acts I wanted to see and therefore can't talk about every performer in this blog. Nothing personal - just matter of fact. There were some I was gutted to miss on stage, but by missing them I would have been gutted to miss others. So apologies here to Professor Pete and Doctor Dick, Adam Franklin, The Toots, Jamie Cooper, Michael Shepherd, Robin Evans, Feckless and Fuddle and all the Fringe performers for having to miss you. Heck, I even had to miss my dear pals Chonkinfeckle which tells you everything.

And with that clumsy and overly long introduction out of the way, on with the diary.

FRIDAY

....and things start badly. Not festival related, but in a horrific repeat of 2014, what would ordinarily be a 1 hour 30 minute journey for me, in reality takes my wife and I FOUR hours to make. It would seem that the UK Government roadworks programme for 22 May 2015 had been deliberately adjusted  to inconvenience me in the biggest way possible. Those who follow me on Facebook will recall the frustrated outpourings of a man who HATES motorway delays.. but no matter, we arrived (late) safe and sound.

Friday at GNUF does form part of the programme of events. More informally I guess, but it's more than just a 'turn up at the pub' kind of night.

Arrive..
Food...

And then we need some ukulele. Well, I say 'need some ukulele' what Friday at GNUF really means to me is meeting up with old friends, making new ones, and doing that weirdest of things what wouldn't have happened 'back in the day' - Meeting up with people you know on social media but haven't met as yet.

That's always a weird one that comes stained with a certain amount of worry ( I must say). You see, we all talk to people from all around the world on social media but, 'sure, he sounds great, she is wonderful'. But you always have a twinge of worry / doubt that when you actually meet them it will all be horrible.  For 2015, I knew the vast majority of the performers, but there were some pretty big names on this bill that I hadn't as yet met. You know, the Craig Chee, Mike Hind, Aaron and Nicole Keims of this world. Frightening huh? Without wishing to fall back on the ukulele code that some uke players live by that 'all ukulele players are WONDERFUL because it's such a happy instrument', I am pleased to say that this Friday I met some of the nicest people I know.  And that's not just blowing smoke where the sun don't shine - without exception, ALL really nice people.

So yes, Friday was still low key, but I arrive at a PACKED Head Of Steam Pub next to Huddersfield Station to find an Mike Hind entertaining a crowd in a way that I have learned lately he is SO good at. The pub is shoulder to shoulder, and I struggle to get in. We buy some drinks and listen to Mike through the window. (He is good, he won't mind). A quick word on that, GNUF in 2014 used the same pub but I felt, on looking back, that the performance side was more secondary and it really was a case of it being full of uke players strumming from club song books. That's cool, but I personally thought it needed acts on from the off. I've learned this weekend (as if I didn't know it before) that Mike Hind should be top of that list..

I digress. I am outside listening... Hey, there's Sarah! - so great to see Sarah Maisel again. I've not seen here since I was in Cheltenham some years before, but at that time she was not yet to become engaged to marry one Mr Craig Chee, who was also coming to the festival to perform.

What a nice guy! It kind of figures I suppose. Heck, I KNEW Sarah was a nice person from the first time I met her so why should she hook up with anything less. Here's the thing with Craig / Social media, I'll break it down into simple parts. 1. Hi Craig. 2. Big Hug. 3. Big Smiles 4. Craig takes your photograph..... Craig likes cameras. I like cameras. Good times!

And if the pub wasn't for you, Krabbers was running another open mic session in a local cafe which I am told was a blast!

So without wishing to gloss over the rest ( beer was involved,  In reality it became blurry, not glossy), but many, many friends to be met and chatted with then back to the hotel for more chat, strumming and lots of laughs.  A GREAT night, that's all that needs to sum this up.

SATURDAY

Without going in to too many details, this was a fairly fresh faced start for me for once. Friday was indeed a late one, but not quite as debilitating as 2014!  Down to the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield (the new venue) for the start.   A great new venue in my opinion with a fabulous main stage, multiple performance spaces, and courtyard in front in which to congregate, a bar ( TICK!) a great coffee shop (TICK!) and a great feel.  A hello to the organising team and more hellos to the performers in the green room then back for some chats to the stall holders in the marketplace. I like arriving early for some chats before the throng arrive. Not picking out favourites but was great to see the teams from Omega Music  and Moselele again, as well as seeing Matt Cohen from Noah with a stall (all, I think, long term supporters of GNUF).  The Fusion bags team were also back, and this year they had really thrown themselves behind the festival, not only sponsoring artists, but also having a stage named after them.

The Workshops open, and there was real breadth here again. I am not a big fan of workshop programmes that are just about 'how to play.' . Those workshops will always be popular and these were on offer from the likes of Manitoba Hal Brolund, Phil Doleman, Les Hilton, Ben Rouse, Adam Franklin and more, but I like a bit of variety (that word again..). So we also had workshops in which you could build instruments and amplifiers led by Rob Collins as well as an inspired workshop led by the Mother Ukers. Following on from their 2014 workshop in which you could record a song with them, this year you could write a song with them. You heard that right. A workshop in which the group get together to write a song, and then perform it. As I say, inspired.

Manitoba Hal running his GNUF workshop
Workshop with Manitoba Hal


The fringe stage opens at Vinyl Tap, hosted by Mike Hind, and with that my first confession. I didn't have the time to get down there for it like I did last time. I have however taken some thoughts from some people who's views I respect, and the feedback could be best summarised as AWESOME. For me though, with lunch to fit in, before I know it the main stage opens.

A word from the outset on the main stage that I left to the end last year. Many people may not understand the importance of a good stage compere to keep things moving, but yet again I was delighted to see Burlesque legend Heidi Bang Tidy brought back to host the stage. She has given me more laughs this weekend than anyone else and did a stellar job keeping the audience entertained and on their toes throughout. Such a nice person too.

Heidi Bang Tidy
Heidi Bang Tidy


First up, Eek and Elsie. I have seen Eek The Clown (Martyn Cooper) at ukulele festivals for the last few years and shared many, many laughs with him and Elsie (Kate Cooper) but had never actually seen them perform on stage. Just brilliant though. This pair are naturally funny and play off each other impeccably. The tap dancing routine still has me giggling.

Eek and Elsie at GNUF
Eek and Elsie


Next up - one of my first real highlights and a man I have been longing to meet as Mike Hind takes to the stage with Ben Rouse on bass. Mike is a truly lovely man, and boy, what a voice. The stage is made for him and the audience could see that. Being joined by Ben was inspired (part of what has been dubbed their 'Bromance Tour', the upright bass complimented the music perfectly. A real treat this one.

Mike Hind and Ben Rouse at GNUF
Mike Hind and Ben Rouse


Moving on and a performer I have known for some years and I find it mesmerising to watch how he develops. I first saw Michael Adcock at a very young age and was astounding at his playing, but it's been a bigger pleasure over the years to watch how he has blossomed into a performer who really now commands the stage. In his white tuxedo he looks the part, but that playing is just something else. This guy can go on to great things (if being on the main stage at GNUF is not great enough!).

Michael Adcock at GNUF
Michael Adcock


Next were a new band for me in Edward Alice from Cambridge. More young players and one of those bands that make you think, 'I wish I had been in a band like that when I was younger'. Great, tight, exciting set.

Edward Alice at GNUF
Edward Alice


Now for a change and a move downstairs to the Fusion Stage and more Eek The Clown, but this time with his full band, The No Direction Hot Boys, joined on bass by Ben Rouse. This band were originally members of Sam Browns Ukulele Club, and now bill themselves as 'The Worlds Worst Boy Band'. This was a truly funny set. Their 'Wheels On The Bus' in the style of Kraftwerk was inspired, as was their Space Oddity, complete with Stylophone solo and Mike Holland dressed as a spaceman. Yes, that happened.

No Direction at GNUF
No Direction Hot Boys


Was then delighted to see Liam Capper-Starr perform for the first time. He's a fine player with a nice touch on the ukulele. A delicate and moving set and his song 'The Gin Waltz' was killer.

Liam Capper-Starr at GNUF
Liam Capper-Starr


Now for more variety with an act that involved no ukulele but had tears rolling down my face. Silent clown Kiki Lovechild bringing back an old music hall tradition called 'Chapeaugraphy'. Armed with a ring of felt, he fashions 20 different characters in four minutes by use of hats. Confused? Don't be, just make sure you go and see Kiki if you can.

Kiki Lovechild at GNUF
Kiki Lovechild


Now the place has really filled up for the simple reason that two performers are about to perform acts that really fit in the 'Players player' category. First up the wonderful Krabbers. I've seen him perform a few times including at my own festival and just adore the tone of the mans voice. His songwriting is touching, amusing and skilled and I could genuinely listen to Mike for hours. Delighted to see Les Hilton from Chonkinfeckle join him on harmonica for his original, Songs Of Praise.

Krabbers at GNUF
Krabbers joined  by Les Hilton on harmonica


And next up, my standout highlight of the festival. Ian Emmerson has been off the stage for some time now. Too long in my view and when I first heard he was lined up for GNUF 2015, I know I was not the only ukulele fan who was thrilled. In a set that led to the first (and one of the only) standing ovations of the festival Ian did what he does best. Sublime playing with style and feeling coupled with his superb lyrical skills in a set of originals that wowed us all. His song 'Getting On My Nerves' is a standout for me, but a song like 'Somewhere' (which he bills as the  saddest song he has written) really shows what a talented guy he is. So glad to see him performing again and I hope he continues.

Ian Emmerson at GNUF
Ian Emmerson makes his return


And with that, it's time for some food. I only tell you that in order that I can advise my trans-Atlantic readers that we did indeed go for a #CheekyNandos.  Another quick word of thanks here to Mim from Mim's Ukes who was running a fantastic open mic stage in the Theatre Courtyard whilst a lot of this was going on. She worked so hard over the weekend and is the best host and compere you could ask for!

Then back to the re-opening of the main stage with a lovely set from Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee. I've seen Sarah perform before but not with Craig and I thought the connection between the two of them was so clear on stage. They look like they are enjoying it and that tells you everything about what they have going on. Then add in the fact they were joined on stage by Ben Rouse on bass and Aaron Keim and you have an envious mix of performers.

Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee joined by Ben Rouse at GNUF
Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee joined by Ben Rouse

Next up, a couple of lovely pals who I have seen perform loads of times now and another act the festival audience were keen to see. The Mersey Belles. They just sound better and better each time I see them and their vocal harmonies work SO well together. Glamour by the bucketload and a great connection with their audience. Oh, and thanks for my birthday card Nancy and Pearl!

Mersey Belles at GNUF
The Mersey Belles


Next up, one of the hardest working players I saw at this festival and someone who had already been on stage as a guest for many other acts in Ben Rouse. Ben fits into that 'how is he even doing that' sort of players with a blistering high octane performance that leaves the crowd open mouthed. That he was in such demand to play with others all weekend I think tells you what you need to know. Great musician. Ben was also telling me about his workshop earlier in the day on ukulele bass playing. 25 U Basses in one room - now there is a sound I would like to hear!

Ben Rouse
Ben Rouse


We move on to another pal in the form of Canadian Bluesman Manitoba Hal Brolund. I've seen Hal perform before but I thought that this years performance was the best I have seen from him. I don't know who he is channelling on his blues numbers, but it's someone special. Blues ukulele playing like nobody else I know of, and a true blues vocal. Legendary.

Manitoba Hal at GNUF
Manitoba Hal


Kiki Lovechild then returns to the stage with his second performance of the weekend. A sublimely moving routine about a butterfly collector which ends with clouds of butterflies flying in the air above him. I know there were people in the audience with tears in their eyes by the end. Now that is some clowning.

Then on to the final act and another standout highlight for me. An act I have wanted to see for some time, Aaron and Nicole Keim perform as The Quiet American. Traditional American folk tunes delivered in the traditional style, this was another of those acts I could listen to for hours. Just great in every way. Truly nice people too. The night ended with a mass performance on the main stage, led by Aaron singing 'My Bucket's Got A Hole In It' complete with some solo performances from other performers. A great end to the day.

The Quiet American at GNUF
The Quiet American


GNUF day one finale
The finale on day one

But of course, being a festival, things don't end there. Back to the hotel for more fun, laughter and more music. Nice work by The Toots and The Mother Ukers entertaining us into the wee small hours.

SUNDAY

A lazier start to the day, then back to the Lawrence Batley Theatre for more fun. For others, it was a bright and early start as the workshop programme was packed during the morning led by the likes of Ukulelezaza, Adam Franklin, Craig Chee and Phil Doleman. Something for everybody really.

First up on the main stage, another act I have known for a while and two people I am pleased to call friends. Tim Smithies and Jake The Shake are 'Dead Mans Uke' and I can tell them that they delivered the best performance I have yet seen from them. Funny, stylish, dirty (the music not the people) it was just the start the Sunday needed. And Jake, will you stop being so damn cool, it's not fair.

Dead Mans Uke at GNUF
Tim and Jake Smithies - Dead Mans Uke


Next, a short break from the billed programme to hear a performance from a local school ukulele group (The Spen Valley Troubadours) in their first major performance (and what a way to start your performances!). They were brilliant! Great vocals and well rehearsed too. It's worth noting the massive amount of outreach work that goes along with GNUF. This is not just a festival that focusses on the weekend alone.

Spen Valley Troubadours
Spen Valley Troubadours


Next up a real treat for fans of the Formby Style with a superb performance from Mike Warren.  Mike really is one of the very best examples of this style of ukulele playing and went down really well with the audience. He's got a great rapport with the crowd too, doesn't take himself too seriously and is another truly nice bloke.

Mike Warren at GNUF
Mike Warren


Now I don't like picking favourites but I think that being a blogger / reviewer that I have to. I've told you some of my highlights and told you about my standout performance. Well the next one came a close second. One of the friendliest performers you can meet, Francesco Albertazzi from Italy, joined by his pianist Andrea Negruzzo delivered one of the prettiest sets of music I heard all weekend. A set I couldn't take my eyes off really and crowned for me by his dedication to his friend and ukulele player Marko Van Der Horst who was lost to the world in 2014. Lump in the throat time. I adored this set Francesco.

Francesco Albertazzi
Francesco Albertazzi


Before our day two headliner, a bit of fun on the main stage with the Got A Ukulele Main Stage Mashup - a slot designed to bring players together doing things you might not expect. We had a great duo performance from Mike Warran and Rik McCormick singing 'Who The Hell's George Formby', Chonkinfeckle singing rock and roll with Andi Cooke on lead vocals and a great version of 'They're Red Hot' performed by Phil Doleman and Manitoba Hal.

Chonkinfeckle and Andi Cooke
Chonkinfeckle with Andi Cooke


And finally for me, a welcome return to GNUF from a standout performer in Zoë Bestel. She wowed the audience in 2014, and did so again this year. She really does have one of those truly GREAT voices that is capable of sending a shiver down the spine. Kind of gets in to the very heart of you. A real highlight yet again and she is only 17... Life just isn't fair...

Zoë Bestel at GNUF
Zoë Bestel 


The festival then rolled on to a Gala Concert in the Town Hall, the venue for GNUF 2014 featuring many of the artists from the weekend gone, but also performances from Ukulelezaza and the mighty Mother Ukers. For this blogger though I was gutted to have to leave before all that fun started (a combination of child minding a dog minding running out), but from the reports I was reading last night, it was an excellent evening.

After all that, I have looked back at this post and realised how gushing it is.. And that is for a simple reason. It was damn good.  As a writer / blogger / critic, one would think that we have a duty to be fair and talk about the good as well as the bad. Damn right. We do. And this is where I struggle. You see, I am honestly finding it incredibly hard to find fault with GNUF 2015. I hate to think that just comes across as sycophancy, but please - if you don't want to believe me ( and, don't forget I seem to have built a reputation in speaking my mind on this blog...) just ask someone who was there. If they had an issue, please drill down and find out if that was a genuine concern or just the sort of thing that would have made easy prey for Heidi Bang Tidy... Honestly - it was brilliant.

The GNUF team just seem to have found a great recipe. It's not just about ukulele (though of course that is the backbone) it's about music and entertainment generally in all forms. It's about friends getting together and great company. It's about fun.

A huge well done to Mary Agnes Krell and all of team GNUF!

In short summary - what matters to me

1. Great artists
2. Variety
3. Friends

Ticks in the right boxes on all three. Another one please!

21.5.15

Zahra Lowzley - Ukulele Cycle Tour Of Britain

It's nice when you see someone going an extra mile for a charitable cause. And in this case, Zahra Lowzley is going more than a mile. 1000 of them in fact!


Sam Wise who is helping her organise her tour writes:

"Anyone who is paying attention in the world of the ukulele has come across Zahra Lowzley; with her blend of electrifying technique and an unusual worldview, you don’t forget her quickly! 

Zahra is organising a tour in support of Ukulele Kids Club, which she plans to complete by bicycle, but bookings for this extraordinary endeavour are proving tricky. If you know of a venue who would like their customers’ heads taken off by Zahra’s ukulele prowess, then take a look at her schedule  below. She would be delighted to find bookings for most of the towns she is calling at."




I first saw Zahra perform at a festival I organised and she completely blew the audience away - take a look at the video below to see what I mean.

The cycle tour takes in all sorts of places - have a look at the dates - and she is getting to all of these with uke, amplifier and all gear by bike!!

JUNE

4th: EDINBURGH - Home City
5th: Peebles
6th: Moffat
7th: Carlisle Ukulele Club
8th: Penrith
9th: Keswick Derwent Bridge + Marketplace
10th: Workington
11th: Seascale
12th: Ulverston
13th: Morecambe Ukulele Club + Burneside Ukulele Gala
14th: Lancaster Ukulele Club
15th: Blackpool Ukulele Club
16th: Wigan Chonkin Choonsday
17th: Macclesfield or Stockport (to confim)
18th: Stafford
19th: Birmingham
20th: Cheltenham Ukulele Festival of Great Britain  22nd: Oxfordshire 23rd: Kingsclere Hampshire 25th: Southhampton
30th: Lichfield "go ukulele crazy" Event

JULY
1st: Stoke on Trent
2nd: Nantwich Open Mic
3rd: Wirral Summer Strum Festival
6th: Merseyside
9th: Burscough Lancashire - Th wharf

AUGUST
1st - 30th - Edinburgh Fringe Festival

For more details visit - http://www.theukuleletour.com/home.html and for details of the fabulous charity she is working for - visit http://theukc.org/ukc-uk/




20.5.15

Fitting A Strap Button to A Ukulele

Been meaning to do this video for some time, so here goes. A step by step video guide to fitting a strap button to a ukulele.


Why do this? Because it's easy! I really don't want to get into the pros and cons of straps - it's a pointless debate. I like them. People seem to be scared about doing this - it's really not hard!

Enjoy




16.5.15

Changing Tastes and The Time Sensitivity Problem With A Ukulele Blog.

OK, bit of an odd one this, but something I felt the need to respond to. My post yesterday about fishing lines had a rather incredible amount of traffic. Not saying everyone would be in agreement, but an incredible amount of traffic all the same. The whole string debate still seems to be every ukulele players favourite subject! But someone pulled me up on it with a valid observation - that in the past I had claimed that certain strings were my favourites and that I COULD tell strong differences between them. Yet here I am now saying the opposite. What gives?


Well it's simple really and it's part of the problem with the whole blog concept. I have been writing this site for  over five years now and in that time an awful lot have things have, naturally, changed. In respect to ukulele, my tastes have changed (as tastes do) but of course as one continues to play the thing your playing changes. Hopefully it gets better, but even if it doesn't it will still change. I would argue that most people out there play differently to some degree than they did five years ago.

So in the same way as I used to have views on certain strings, I equally look back at instrument reviews I did years ago and find myself not agreeing with them now. Does that mean I should go back to the reviews and change them? Well, I don't think so. I made that a policy when I started this blog that my opinions are dated and I would not change them. They represent what I thought at the time.

Thankfully there are not masses of posts that I now disagree with, but there are certainly a couple of ukulele reviews that I read now and find that I actually grew tired of the instruments and sold them on. But I don't think that makes the reviews irrelevant. And the reason is simple. They are just one guys opinion and for the reader who may be thinking of buying them, what I thought further down the line is not really the issue. It was how the instrument moved me when I reviewed it. That is about as honest as it can be.

And so it is with ukulele strings. Over the last 9-12 months I have played more and more ukulele strings and my playing changed also. Over that time I slowly started to come to the dawning realisation that, actually, these days ALL fluorocarbon ukulele strings are pretty good and I would probably be hard pressed to pick a favourite. To illustrate that, I used to have quite an aversion to Aquila brand strings (just me - I KNOW they are popular), but actually in recent months I have actually quite enjoyed playing them.

So there you go, tastes change, and the curse of a blog being time sensitive strikes. It shouldn't matter  really though - I never did really give string recommendations as I think it is too personal a subject, and I still don't. I will still WRITE about strings of course, but as always - 'YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY'.

By way of another example, as much as I hate to admit this publicly, I did actually used to enjoy Top Gear on the television years ago. In recent years though, I would rather put needles in my eyes than watch it. But I can't change the past!

So in the same way that I don't expect 100% of my readers to agree with 100% of my reviews, likewise, be aware that opinions and tastes change with passing years. It's normal. Maybe they will change again. Who knows?


15.5.15

Something Fishy? Fishing Line as Ukulele Strings

OK, couldn't hold out much more on this subject, and I am seeing it cropping up more and more online these days. Something fishy has been happening at Got A Ukulele Towers... All (yes all) of my ukuleles are now strung with fishing line. You know, the stuff for... erm... fishing...


That is not actually as absurd as it sounds... read on.

You see, the thing is, most modern fishing line is made of stuff called Fluorocarbon. Heard that word before? Yes, exactly the same stuff as many ukulele strings. So I started to do a bit of research and realised that, despite what people may believe, there are not many ukulele string factories around the world making this stuff. They are, in the main,  buying their product from the makers of fishing lines. Why? Well, when fishing line makers are churning out this stuff in vast lengths, so they can justify whole factories to make it. Whilst the ukulele is popular, there just isn't enough string on every uke on the planet to match the amount that is dunked in the ocean by sea fishermen. In short - it makes sense to buy from the established factories who are already making the stuff and have the production facilities in place.



So before I get into the details of my experience, some caveats which are really important.

1. There is one brand that definitely makes it owns strings in its own factory. That brand is Aquila. Simple as that. I'm not aware of any other dedicated ukulele string factory, but am happy to be proven wrong if there is, but Aquila actually make lengths of string. I don't believe other brands do. I therefore draw no comparisons between these and Aquila - very different things.
2. I am conscious that I rarely give string recommendations to people, though that is not the intention of this post. I remain of the view that strings are a totally personal choice and I am writing this out of interest only not as a means to say 'this is the ONLY way forward'. Your mileage may vary! It's just an experiment really.
3. Likewise, this is not intended to be a post to suggest that the string brands are pulling some sort of huge conspiracy on ukulele players or trying to bash the brands. By buying lines and pre-packaging them, they are providing a hugely helpful service to people who buy strings and don't want to worry about the details like gauges or having to buy reels of the stuff at a higher lumps sum cost. As you read on you will see what I mean.
4. I have used the term 'fishing line' here as a catch all term so you know what I am talking about. Technically these are fishing 'leaders' and not the main fishing lines.

So back to the testing. I took some advice from a variety of sources, other players mainly but also read this wonderful piece from Kevin Wolfe and decided to take the plunge. Whilst the concept of using any fluorocarbon fishing lines should work in the same way, I naturally started out with the benefit of experience of some other ukulele players who had tried some specific lines out. The brand I went with was a fishing line made by Seaguar, and in particular their 'Blue Label' line of fishing leaders. Pure fluorocarbon, looks like ukulele string, smells like ukulele string.. yadda yadda.. you get the picture. Made in Japan for fisherman is as much as I know really!

The first thing to note is this. Buying this stuff is not cheap. For good reason it is not available in ukulele lengths, but in reels of 25 metres or more. As such we are talking buying in bulk here. (Hence why I say above that the string brands are providing a valid and valuable service in making up string packs in ukulele friendly lengths). It takes a deep breath to buy that much line, but I thought for the purposes of the blog it was worth it.

Also, for me, I have quite a few ukuleles and I do change strings pretty regularly. I worked out that buying a set of five reels of string would be worth the outlay and would re-string all of my instruments several times over. As I DO spend (or have spent) a lot of money on packs of strings over the years, I thought it would pay off. I say that, what I mean is, it would pay off if they worked out for me - it was an experiment after all. So, all in all, with import costs (sadly these are not readily available in the UK where I am) the bill came to about £140 in UK in money.  It could have been cheaper but I bought more than four reels to give me some flexibility between soprano and concert scales. Either way, I have worked out that I now have about 30-40 sets of strings for my ukes that will cost me approximately £3 or less per set. Compared to the cost of strings on the general market (40 string packs would likely cost me about £300 or more), you are no doubt starting to see the savings. Why have that many sets in stock? Well, I figured that since starting with the ukulele I have probably bought that many over the years... Putting it another way, I could easily spend the amount I paid for these fishing lines on regular branded uke strings in a year.

The second thing to be aware of is choosing the right gauges. Fishing lines, naturally, don't sell their lines labelled in string tunings just so daft ukulele players can easily select them. They are sold with test breaking strengths in weights. So, following research from a number of people, including Kevin Wolfes post as linked above and a comparison of Seaguar string diameters against the handy string gauge listings on the Worth string site, I settled on a first  set of lines with test breaking strengths that matched what I thought I was looking for. What I found is that you can match breaking strengths levels that have gauges which are close (if not bang on) to the diameters of several major string brands, so I figured I would be good to go.

I would point out at this juncture that these are just the ones I went with based on research. I am NOT telling you these are the ones that will work for you. Please don't take this as some sort of gospel! At the end of the day, ukulele strings in packs differ widely and you can get different tensions in a variety of products. The lines I bought were as close a match as I could make for a fairly standard set of fluorocarbon strings.  For interest though, I have use  the following breaking strengths and list below the corresponding string positions.

30lb - Soprano / Concert A string
40lb - Soprano / Concert G string or Tenor A string
50lb - Soprano / Concert E string or Tenor A or G string
60lb - Soprano / Concert C string, Tenor E  string
90lb - Tenor C string

For low G on a Tenor I have swapped the G string with 90lb test line. And before you ask, no, I have not gone into Baritone territory, but I think that would involve getting a 100-120lb line and then using  80, 60 and 50 for the others...  Of course - one can experiment with the above but generally speaking these will give the right sort of gauges and tension for the scale of uke in question.

So, with that out of the way, how have they worked out? Well, rather brilliantly I must say. For a while now I have been of the view that when it comes to fluorocarbon strings, whilst there may be differences, I think the differences are subtle. The uke and the player have far more impact on tone than whether you use on brand of fluorocarbon over another. I think that ( and no disrespect here) that a lot of it is snake oil and I would defy most people to tell the difference between most fluorocarbon strings in a blind sound test. And here's the thing. My ears cannot distinguish between these fishing lines and Worth Clear strings at all. Honestly. They sound clear, ring nice and bright, have good sustain - heck, they just work well. The only difference I have noted is these don't have a totally glossy feel on the fingers. I am not saying they are as rough on the finish as say, original Aquila Nylguts, but they are just not quite as smooth as Worth Clears. No matter, I actually like the feel to them, and they create no extraneous finger noise, so I am not worried.

In fact, I am staggered with how satisfied I am with them. Some have been on for a couple of months now and have had regular play, yet none have gone dull or snapped.  I've played at band practice with them over and over and never once thought 'what are these things'. They feel like ukulele strings! In short they make GREAT strings.

(Putting it another way, I won't have any need to buy ukulele strings for some time!)

Sound wise, I have shared this video before, but here we have a side by side comparison of some brand name strings and the same Seaguar fishing leaders - can you say one sounds worse than the other?



As a final word - I didn't write this to suggest it is wrong to buy brand name strings - as I say above, they offer a valuable service in packaging up strings without people needing to buy reels and reels of the stuff. It was interesting to experiment though and am certainly pleased! It does give some food for thought thought I think.

How they sound on my Kanile'a Tenor uke:



And finally - a side by sound comparison with Worth Brown strings on a concert ukulele



STOP PRESS - it worries me that I may get some people trying this and claiming they have damaged their instruments. I cannot see why, and have put them on my highest end instruments, but do take care with gauges, and don't put too much tension on your instruments. I think the gauges above are safe - but you go into this at your own risk!

STOP PRESS V2 - for anyone who questions why I have changed opinions  - this may explain - http://www.gotaukulele.com/2015/05/changing-tastes-and-time-sensitivity.html

14.5.15

The Mother Ukers - Love Cats for Margaret Green Animal Rescue

It's nice when a much loved ukulele outfit go that extra mile for a very worthy cause, and that's what we have here with The Mother Ukers and their association with the Margaret Green Animal Rescue charity.


UK ukulele fans can't have failed to have missed the Mother Ukers rise on the circuit, with many of us seeing their cracking set at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival in 2014 (and looking forward to another of the same this year - in a couple of weeks in fact!).

Anyway, for some time now, The Mother Ukers have been doing work in association with Margaret Green Animal Rescue, donating a percentage of their merch revenue, doing busking events for them and the like.  Every year Margaret Green Animal Rescue cares for over 1,200 animals, many of which have been abandoned, unwanted and ill-treated, and rehome them to loving owners. With centres in Devon and Dorset they always have a large variety of animals that are looking for new, loving homes.

So not just a cracking band, but a caring one too! And what an ace video eh?

Take a look below at their promotion for the charity and be sure to visit the links below the video too. Nice work guys!

(The Mother Ukers are.... Barnaby Wild, Jonty Jonson and Luap Rekcut and bill themselves as 'Pioneers of Ukular Fusion'!)



http://www.motherukers.com

http://www.margaretgreenanimalrescue.org.uk


The Mother Ukers - Pioneers of Ukular Fusion




13.5.15

Ukulele Turin Orchestra - Muse - Uprising

I don't really share a lot of ukulele videos like I used to for one main reason - it's hard to find good ones amongst the millions of ukulele videos filmed in bedrooms the world over. So when I find one that I think stands out, it tends to get a mention on Got A Ukulele. Like this one from the Ukulele Turin Orchestra.


Now that's busking!



( DIRECT LINK )


11.5.15

Clearwater / Aroma Folding Ukulele Stand - REVIEW

Back on to the ukulele accessory reviews, and something extremely simple, cheap and as such, something I think that is a no brainer for anyones gig bag. The Clearwater / Aroma Folding Ukulele Stand.


Folding Ukulele Stand with Concert ukulele


Stands are something that many ukulele players will look into at some point. At the end of the day they are a far better bet than leaving an instrument leaning against a table or chair leg and massively reduce the risk of being knocked over. In the simplest sense, one can use a regular guitar stand, but there are an increasing variety of ukulele specific stands out there. They come in a range of construction types from the sturdy metal variety, through to the hand crafted wooden type through to the more flimsy. Whilst this one is very much at the more flimsy end, that kind of misses the point of it.

These folding stands actually come badged in a variety of names (such is the way of the world with Chinese imports) but they are all the same. The one in this review is branded as Clearwater, but Southern Ukulele Store sell the exact same model branded as 'Aroma'. Either way, they retail at £15 which is clearly a snip.

Folding Ukulele Stand next to Concert ukulele


As I say, this stand is not the sturdiest one on the block and is more to my mind a temporary or occasional stand. It's completely made from plastic which helps with weight and price but not with stability. The real key to this one though is how it folds down to next to nothing. Try doing that with a metal stand. In fact this one folds so flat and compact it will easily fit in the front pocket of a gig bag or pod case and is so light you wouldn't know it is there. And that is the real selling point.

Aside from the plastic construction, the whole thing is very well made and has some thoughtful touches like rubberised feet to stop it sliding about and rubber padding vouchering the parts that the ukulele rests on.

Folding Ukulele Stand adjustable width


When fully extended, the arms that hold the base of the uke are also adjustable to give a personalised fit for different depts of instrument. I can say I have used this perfectly well with all sorts of sopranos through to tenors, but suspect some baritone bodies may be a touch too deep.

Folding Ukulele Stand folded down


I can't say I would rely on this as a permanent stand for a music room or study as it is too slight to be reliable in the long term (too easy to kick it over), but that portability is key here. I own some rigid guitar stands that I use for both guitar and ukulele and I would not want to lug one of those to jam sessions, club nights, camping or even many gigs as they are just one more thing to carry. With this you can literally fold it down and stick it in your back pocket. In fact I HAVE used this on stage to stop the usual trick of leaving a uke lying on the ground or leaning on a microphone stand waiting to be kicked over. It works great and is no bother to just 'carry along'

And at £15 - well, why not?

Take a look at the video below to see it in action.

PROS 

Cheap
Light
Portability

CONS

Not the most stable stand on the block

VIDEO REVIEW




10.5.15

Should I Worry About Ukulele Humidity?

OK, something that kind of gets my goat this one, and in danger of descending into a famous Got A Ukulele rant... Do you need to worry about ukulele humidity?





Why only a  potential rant Baz? Well, I realise that we live on a BIG planet and for many people, humidity is indeed a BIG problem with solid wood instruments. I suppose what started to get the hackles up with me was when I see people in the UK ( a temperate climate) worrying about humidity and, worse, still, spending money on gadgets to solve a problem that some bright spark convinced them was real. Not only can in many cases such gadgets be unnecessary, but they can cause as much damage the other way.

OK, back to basics. Humidity, or to be more precise 'relative humidity' is a measure of how much moisture there is in the air. The term 'relative' is an important one as humidity is measured as a percentage and it is not a measure of liquidity. A high humidity is something like 60 plus percent, but that doesn't mean the air is 40% away from being total water. That would be ridiculous (but if the science interests you, relative humidity is to do with the ratio of the  pressure of water vapour to that of water....)  . So anyway, I will cut to the chase and a 'good' relative humidity for musical instruments made of wood is anywhere between about 40-55% relative humidity. At normal temperature. (And that last bit is equally important)

But why does this matter? Well - wood is a natural material and changes in temperature and relative humidity can affect how the wood behaves - mostly in terms of expansion and contraction. You see  a wooden ukulele absorbs and releases moisture and, being a technically built thing, that absorption and expansion can affect various parts of the build. In the simplest cases, it will throw tuning out, but in the worst cases it can BREAK an instrument. But here is the important thing. Most people bang on about the perils of low humidity - but high humidity can also be a problem!

Before we get into the details, first of all a couple of circumstances in which you probably don't need to read on with..

1. Laminate instruments - generally speaking, high or low humidity is not going to damage these instruments. Sure, I say 'generally' but by that I mean, 'so long as you don't leave them out in the Nevada sunshine or under the dripping leaves of an Amazonian rainforest'. Pretty much all other normal circumstance - you will be fine and don't need to buy a humidifier device. In fact, if you are prone to leaving your instrument in the Nevada sun or in a rainforest, you have bigger issues to deal with... Humidity mainly affects solid wood instruments.. (and no, all plastic instruments are not affected either...)

2. If you live in a temperate environment with a natural humidity in the 40-55 range. No need to worry so long as you keep them carefully (more on that later). Bear in mind that includes HUGE swathes of planet Earth and most of Europe. I've owned solid wood guitars and ukuleles for over 30 years and have NEVER bought a humidifying device. Guess what? Never had a problem. But then I have treated them carefully..

So, for many people these devices are just not required, yet shops and would be 'experts' will instil fear and worry into players which lead to one and one thing only - spending money you don't need to spend on more 'stuff'.

Yet, it must be said, many people DO live in areas of genuine low humidity. What can happen to a solid wood instrument if it is kept in such a place for a long time with no care?

Classic symptoms of a dry instrument may include:

- Strings getting closer to the fretboard (low action)
- A sunken top - the bridge area dipping
- Sharp fret ends
- Joints in the wood showing cracks
- Splits in the top of (or anywhere) on the body.

So for those people at risk, devices are available to put moisture back into an instrument. They are basically sponges, foams or gels that hold water and release it slowly over time, sitting in the case or in the sound hole (when in the case). Kind of like cigar aficionados use to keep their smokes in tip top condition. If you live in an area of low humidity I would naturally recommend them. But that is not really why I am writing this. You see, there are some other things you should bear in mind.

Firstly, applying humidification to an instrument that is normally kept in a temperate environment (and therefore doesn't need it)  can also damage it badly. If you have been applying humidification when you didn't need to you may note things like:

- Strings raising high in action
- Swollen top and back of the instrument
- Warped necks
- Bad neck angles
- Lifting bridges, joints etc

In fact - the same sort of damage as for a dry environment, but without the cracking - but damage all the same, and damage that can be just as irreparable. And it is much harder to revive an instrument that has taken on too much moisture!

But there is another factor that comes in to play - and that is temperature or rapid changes in temperature. No matter where you live you should treat your ukulele carefully and follow some rules. Rapid changes in temperature can kill an instrument, regardless of humidity. The rules seem obvious, but they are worthy of repeating:

- Keep a ukulele in a case whenever you can
- Do not store them in direct sunlight or next to a central heating source
- Do not store them in hot cars
- Do not store them in cold environments

If you do any of those, no matter what steps you have taken to protect against humidity issues, you are likely to destroy or at least damage an instrument if you then move it to an extreme the other way. The classic error is leaving a uke in the boot of a cold car then carrying it into a warm house or venue. CRACK!

But I digress... This was about people shilling the need for humidifiers that are not needed and people ignoring the damage that can be caused with over humidification. So to sum up...

- If you think you have a humidity problem - buy a humidity reader and test it before doing anything else. They are cheap to buy. Don't assume you have a problem just because 'Bob the ukulele expert' tells you that you do. Don't humidify an instrument for the sake of it!
- If you check your relative humidity over a period and it sits in the range of  40-55 (ish) you are fine so long as your storage choice is sensible
- Don't keep the uke next to a heat source
- Don't keep the uke in extreme cold
- If you DO live in an area of low humidity - get a humidifier device. But DONT be tempted to if you don't.







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