5.2.16

Trying To Put The Myth That The Ukulele Is Easy To Bed Once And For All

Oh here he goes again... Barry is back with his usual rant about how he finds the suggestion that the 'ukulele is easy' to be unhelpful.. Again..... So what's new here?



Barry Maz Ukulele


Well not a lot I suppose, the media are still trotting it out.  But since I did my rant on the subject I did then get a lot of blog comments, social media comments and emails telling me I was just wrong.  You know - the usual... People saying, 'I think it is easy, so there' kind of stuff, and there was a LOT of it. Yet, something didn't sit quite right for me. You see, alongside those dismissing my post were several people who emailed me with quite heartfelt messages to say, yes, they agreed with the rant - and passionately.   That they were glad someone spoke up for them. They didn't find the ukulele easy when starting and more importantly for me, they found the endless statements that it IS easy to be off putting, counter productive and made them feel useless. I think that is a horrible way for someone to feel, but were they isolated cases? I hatched a plan.

Eagle eyed readers will note that on the left hand panel of this site for the last couple of months has been a poll asking a very simple question with a 'yes or no' answer. Nothing loaded, nothing pushy and I haven't promoted it anywhere. I just put the poll up and left it there to see what would happen (not expecting much to be honest).

The question was:

'Being honest, when starting out with the ukulele, did you find it 'easy'?'


easy ukulele


As simple as that. Then people started clicking their answers..... in their droves.

And the results were actually quite startling. Not only did over 15,000 of you spot the poll and register your vote, but the results were frankly a landslide for the NO camp - that is to say, 98% of respondents did NOT find the ukulele easy when starting out. I was wrong to have worried about the validity of the rant it would seem. (and no, I don't know why Blogger only tally up those percentages to 99% either...!)

Is The ukulele easy?



Yes, yes, I know polls can be flawed, and can't be relied on totally. And of course this is just a poll of my readers, so not the world at large. But it was a big response (equivalent to the attendance of a couple of the worlds largest ukulele festivals put together), and that is a pretty massive mandate for the NO camp.

Why does any of this matter? Well I think the media, brands and other players (driven by the brands perhaps, or the brands feeding off the media?) are sending the wrong message to new players. I know when questioned on the subject they come back with qualifications like 'ah.. but what we mean is, it's easy compared to many other instruments' or the equally lame, 'yes, but I found it easy, so there...'. The other common defence is, 'but it IS easy to get started with'. You know what though, talking to some beginners I am not sure that is the case either.  And the messages that are forever trotted out don't go into that detail. The message that goes out is simply that it IS 'easy' and doesn't come with any qualification. We are simply told that 'it just IS'. And of course that comes with an inference that if you don't find it that way, then there is something wrong with you. You've failed.

So the effect that creates is that it makes people who do struggle (and based on the poll statistics, that's an awfully big percentage of you) feel like they are doing something wrong, feeling useless and (my worst fear) actually giving up because they don't think they can do it. Think about it - everything you read about the ukulele tells you it is EASY, the dealer tells you it is easy, poor quality YouTube tutors tell you it is easy, the TV and newspapers tell you it's easy... and you try it and find that it actually, no it isn't after all.  Perhaps your hands ache, your fingertips hurt, you can't stretch to reach some chords, you can't get a steady rhythm, you tangle up in the strings, and many many more things challenge you... I think it's reasonable to expect that some people might probably ditch the instrument because they assume they cannot master it.  I mean.. everyone said it was easy, right? And I think that is a crying shame.

Is there a merit to saying it is easy? I've thought long about that argument but can't come up with a rational justification. Perhaps it encourages people to try to play the ukulele? Perhaps. But at the expense of making some people feel useless? No thanks. For me it's used far too much, and usually hand in hand with the myth that 'ukuleles are cheap'. It devalues the instrument, makes out that it isn't serious and ultimately only helps one sector, the sellers, to sell more. Aside from some trusted specialists out there who do care, the ukulele bandwagon has been well and truly jumped on by generic music stores in every country. Do you think that Guitar Center give a damn how YOU get on with your purchase? Don't kid yourselves.

The point I keep trying to make is connected to an assumption that I really don't understand. The assumption that the ukulele owes you some sort of 'right' to be easy. That the 'easy thing' is guaranteed and part of the deal. That's a crazy assumption.  It really doesn't. And I do find the assumption that it has to be easy is one of the things that drives people to avoid difficult chords, or to cheat or not develop their playing - almost like they don't want to play anything challenging because it would disprove their view that it is easy! See my point?

So please, please, please media, brands, dealers, players - stop telling people the ukulele is easy with your lazy journalism that simply reaches for the last ukulele article you saw (the one with a picture of Tiny Tim and / or George Formby) and just trots out the same garbage EVERY time. Try actually speaking to a ukulele player, in particular, a beginner - ask them what they thought! It's what I did.  In fact, try remembering how it was for you. You know what? Saying that you became accomplished on the ukulele with no trouble at all is NOT a badge of honour that impresses me.

And if you are a beginner reading this and struggling with your ukulele in the early days and weeks. Remember - you are not alone - most other people felt the same way.  Stick with it. It can be a challenge for many reasons, but that's nothing unusual, you are NOT failing and it's totally worth persevering.

Have fun!

Be sure to read all my other ukulele rants here - a refuge of sanity in the ukulele madness!

3.2.16

Turns Out There IS A Ukulele Rule Book After All...

Regular Got A Ukulele readers will know that I like to rally against those who set rules for other players - you know the sort of thing... 'Don't use straps, don't use picks, you must play it this way or that way...' and so on..

I tend to then ask whether there is a magical ukulele rule book in existence that supports these things. I mean - people repeat them SO vehemently you would think that they must be enshrined in ancient texts.... I have searched everywhere, but drawn a blank..

Then, lo and behold, a kind reader appears to have a found a copy for me... It actually exists!!

(Provider of link is not being named for fear of certain ukulele players likely to attack him with pitchforks and fire.) And, naturally, I am merely sharing the news of this find... the views contained in the rule book do not necessarily reflect the views of Got A Ukulele... ;-)





1.2.16

Got A Ukulele Interview - Danielle Ate The Sandwich

Time for another interview on Got A Ukulele and a performer I am delighted agreed to talk to the website.  Danielle Anderson, who performs under her stage name of ‘Danielle Ate The Sandwich’ will be well known to ukulele fans around the world, perhaps from her rather excellent YouTube videos (some of which I have shared on this site) but also on account of her extremely well received live performances and enviable songwriting skills.

Danielle Ate The Sandwich
Credit - Kaela Speicher


Born and raised in Nebraska, Danielle has more recently called Fort Collins, Colorado her home and has been touring the US since 2009 with a string of albums to her name. Later this year she is visiting and performing in the UK at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival which will be a real treat.  I caught up with her recently.

Hi Danielle! Let’s start off with finding out a little more about how you started in music – what were your first experiences? 

'I was in choir in school and church and took piano lessons as a kiddo. I studied violin from 4th grade until I graduated high school. I had always loved writing stories and poems! I have a notebook with songs I wrote from about 5th or 6th grade and some old cassette tapes with me singing some of my early songs. I taught myself to play guitar in high school, but kept my songs a secret until my early 20s! That also when I found the ukulele! I’m a late bloomer, so when I finally came out of my shell it was a bit of an explosion!' 

So have you been mainly playing ukulele since or do you have other instruments at home? 

'I play mostly ukulele, but this winter I got an electric guitar (with amp and effects) and a banjo. I think that different instruments can help unlock new songs or paths of creativity. Just like if you get a new haircut, you might walk a little bit differently down the street. Ukulele is a true love of mine, but I am willing to have flings with other instruments!' 

That’s what I regularly tell my readers – it’s healthy to enjoy all sorts of instruments. Flings are allowed! Aside from the instruments themselves, what styles of music are your real loves? 

'What I listen to on a daily basis and what inspires my music are a bit different! I love to find inspiration from folk, jazz and soul music. The lyrical styles found in all of them inspire my own, but I always love pop/jazz vocal melodies and as I develop my singing voice more, I love to let loose with some soul singing! In the car, I listen to pop radio and house/electronic music. The last album I got was Justin Bieber’s Purpose and I love it. It usually surprises people that I like mass consumed radio and cable TV.' 

I’ve picked up a soul vibe on the vocals in many of your videos – is there a style you haven’t yet attempted as Danielle Ate The Sandwich but would like to? Do you think everything can work with the ukulele? 

'There are songs I love, but can’t seem to make work well with just voice and ukulele. I don’t think that is a limit of the ukulele, so much as it is a limit of my own musical know-how.  There are ukulele players who make it obvious to me the ukulele can do anything! James Hill is one of these players-he does Michael Jackson and Jimi Hendrix and his own amazing originals. I am proud to have been able to cover a lot of genres-soul, jazz, pop, rock, country. I would love to do some James Brown and have been working on a Doris Day cover for a long time now!' 


Danielle Ate The Sandwich on stage
Credit - Corey Hardwick


Like many artists on the ukulele circuit, you generated a lot of early success with your YouTube videos – how important do you think that channel is for new performers to get noticed? 

'YouTube was a very important part of how I got my start and success! I think it’s a great help, but I don’t think it’s essential to success. I know a lot of people ask me how they should get started on YouTube and how they can get big there, but I think it’s a very hard thing to cultivate and it certainly not for everyone. It worked well for me because I got on right when it got big and I’m a goofy performer who loves to be in front of the camera. I don’t think anything I am doing is necessarily right for another musician and vice versa. I should do exactly what they’re doing and expect the same results. I believe that just like finding your musical style and artistic vision, you need to carve your own business path!'

And how did the ‘Ate The Sandwich’ name come about? 

'It was in 2006, when i was making a myspace page for my music. I had to pick a URL for the page, so I was making a list of things to call myself and it came to mind. I think food (as an essential building block of life, as well as a visual thing) is fun and lovely. I like the word Sandwich-it’s got nice heavy consonants and sandwiches come in many different shapes and sizes! I didn’t want to change my last name or use a fake stage name, so I just thought what do you do with Sandwiches, you eat them. I’m Danielle, what do I do to Sandwiches? I eat them.' 

As a musician, what do you get the biggest buzz from? Songwriting, live performance or a mix of all those things? 

'Definitely a mix! I am a songwriter. I am living every day of my life, observing and experiencing every moment as a songwriter. It’s the difference between the question, “What do you do for a job?” and “Who are you?”' 


That’s a good point. So tell me how the performance element gives you a buzz? 

'Performance is something that I discovered I love in the last 10 years. It makes me feel alive in a different way! When I’m on stage, I’m brazen and liberated. I say what I think and I feel good about myself. The connection between the audience and a performer is really important to me. It’s wild to be two different people, one very timid and observing very quietly and another on fire and up in front of everyone!' 

Does that feeling of being on fire come naturally to you? What are your tips for dealing with stage fright and nerves?

'I wasn’t always good on stage! It took me a very long time to face my fears and perform for the first time. When I finally found the courage to get up there, I had to perform several times before I enjoyed it. I was critical of how I did and usually got off the stage feeling terrible about myself. I was always saying, “That was terrible Danielle, but you can do better, you’ve got to try again and do better next time.” There was some fire under my butt that kept me getting back up there. I was always self deprecating and a little odd on stage, so my schtick is natural in the way that it happened the very first time I got up to perform and I’m still doing that today. The experience I was personally having got better and better as I got more experience on stage. I think of stage performance a lot like learning to play a song. You have to practice. You have to do it over and over, know what you’re doing if you mess up, know what you’re doing if you’re doing well, you have to know how to do it when people are talking or when people are REALLY listening. Performance is a skill and an artform! I really like it!

Audiences in the UK and Europe will be thrilled to see you are on the bill for this years Grand Northern Ukulele Festival. Is this your first time over to the UK? 

'I travelled to Scotland in 2013 with friends, but didn’t play any shows! This will be my first time in England and my first time performing in the UK! It feels like a very important step for me professional as well as a person! I’m looking forward to the adventure!' 


Danielle Ate The Sandwich live performance
Credit - Mercedes


Well I think you are at one of the great ukulele festivals and am sure you will go down well. Of course you have played many other great places already! What would you say is a performance highlight in your career so far? 

'I’ve done a few fancy things that people always like to hear about. I got to play the NPR Radio show, ETown with Mumford and Sons. I’ve also opened for Suzanne Vega and I’ve opened on tour for Pomplamoose. I’ve had a few experiences that were very rewarding and personal to me. Sometimes playing a show can be just like another day at work and other days you’re overcome with gratitude and emotions, getting to play your songs and getting to be where you are, sharing it with people.'  

Wow! some great names there! What about venues?Do you have any dream stages or events you would like to play? 

'My biggest (silly) dream is to be on Saturday Night Live as the musical guest and host! I’d also love to play larger, historic theaters and venues-the same kind of places where Damien Rice and Glen Hansard play! It’s great to be in a venue that helps bring alive your voice and songs, but can still be an intimate setting for you and your fans!' 

Naturally, my readers are always keen to know what instruments artists use – tell us a little about your performance instruments. 

'My first choice is always the ukulele! I play tenor the most often, but recently got into the baritone. My latest album, ‘The Drawing Back of Curtains’ was almost all baritone ukulele! And I find it’s been a great tool for writing!  I play Mya-Moe brand ukuleles. I also play guitar occasionally and just got a banjo! I love to write on any instrument I can get my hands on, but the ukulele is really my strongest writing partner!' 

I saw that you play Mya-Moe ukuleles – and obviously there is a connection there with Aaron Keim who you have also appeared in videos with. Are you pleased to be sharing the bill with Aaron and Nicole at GNUF?  (nb readers - as well as being a performer,  Aaron is a builder with Gordon and Char Mayer at Mya-Moe in the USA)

'I’m thrilled to be sharing the bill with  The Quiet American! They are very fun people! I love their knowledge of folk music and Americana and the information they can share about playing the ukulele in their workshops is amazing! I always try to sneak into the class they’re teaching! They have also been great sources of wisdom for me through my music career and life.'  

Finally – the question that I end all interviews with… Let us know your best piece of advice for ukulele beginners? 

'Keep it in tune and give yourself time to learn chords and learn how to switch easily from one to another! That’s the hardest part in the beginning! Also, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself to learn the next thing that may seem hard and impossible! I have that problem myself-pushing through the difficulty and practicing enough to master a new skill! Most importantly, have fun with it!'

Thanks Danielle – looking forward to seeing you play at GNUF this year!  

Danielle Ate The Sandwich is one of the headline performers at this years Grand Northern Ukulele Festival in Huddersfield UK from 27-29 May.

Take a listen to one of Danielle's more recent songs below!



http://danielleatethesandwich.com
http://northernuke.com
https://www.youtube.com/user/daniellesmagic


30.1.16

Travelling South - George Elmes

Another one! I pointed out in my last post that I don't share a lot of YouTube videos - that's because I get sent SO many that it's hard to screen them without offending... so I don't...  On occasion though I do come across videos myself that just make me go a bit 'wow' and find myself WANTING to share them. That is the case with this one from Dublin based ukulele player George Elmes.

Not quite sure how to sum up what made me share it because it's a combination of so many things. Wonderful technical skills, wonderful timing , wonderful style - and a tune that doesn't sound like many old fashioned renditions often used to show of skills.  Don't know why, but reminded me of dramatic music in good Spanish cinema I have watched. Nice ukulele too!! (Kiwaya!)




( DIRECT LINK - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vk5ny7Kx0Kw&feature=share )

23.1.16

Zoë Bestel - Peter

Regular readers of Got A Ukulele will know that I don't share videos that often. This is not a site that endlessly shares ukulele stuff regardless of what it is. What I do share though is stuff that makes me sit back when impressed or lost for words. Say hello to this latest from Zoë Bestel.


It's a cover of a song by north London band 'Daughter' - and frankly I am going to stop typing. Just... just watch... and listen (obviously)



(Uke fans - I believe Zoë is playing one of these )

( DIRECT LINK )

22.1.16

Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele - REVIEW

Another review on Got A Ukulele that I have been really looking forward to publishing. Some readers think I have a something against the banjo ukulele - I don't. I don't have anything against banjos either. In fact I used to own one made by the company behind this model - the Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele.


Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele


For banjo aficionados, you will know what the Deering name means. For those who don't, Deering are a USA based manufacturer of a dizzying array of banjos. In fact a maker of some seriously well regarded banjos that can run into thousands of dollars in price. As part of their many ranges, they have an entry level line called 'Goodtime' and this new Ukulele Banjo forms part of that. Now, don't be mistaken to think that the term 'entry level' means cheap and nasty - it doesn't. They are still made in the US, they just don't cost thousands! This one has been on loan with me for a little while courtesy of Deering and Eagle Music in the UK.

The first thing you may notice about the Goodtime that sets it apart from most ukulele banjos is the diameter of the head. A lot of ukulele banjos can look to me like 'toy banjos' and have heads around the 8 or 9 inch size. The Deering uses a full size banjo head of 11 inches and puts a ukulele neck on to it. It kind of looks a little out of proportion but actually it's not much different to a banjo ukulele with a resonator on the back - just that pretty much all of the diameter of this one is the drum head and not the outer resonator plate.

Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele pot


The other thing you will notice is the pale colour. All of the instruments in the Goodtime series share this look, and it's down to the fact that they are predominantly made from maple. I think it looks really nice and certainly different in the banjo ukulele stakes. The rim of the pot is made from 3 ply maple and is finished in a satin which is really nice to touch.

We have a steel rim arrangement holding the 11 inch head in place. The head is branded by Deering, but I think they may be made for them by Remo.  Holding it in place are 16 chrome hooks which are all adjustable.

Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele rim and hooks


The bridge is a standard ukulele banjo affair (⅝") with three feet, but it sits on a removable wooden bridge plate that is patented by Deering. It is said to help transfer vibrations down cleanly to the head, but it also serves to protect the head in the longer term from the feet that can often dig in to the top of the drum.

Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele bridge


The tail piece is chrome and stamped with the Deering name and running through the back of the pot is the adjustable tension rod that also holds the neck in place.

Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele tail


Moving on to the neck, this is also made from rock maple and has a lovely feel to it in the hand. It is made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and one towards the headstock. What I really like about it is that the frets are set directly into the maple of the neck, and the fingerboard extends down over the top of the banjo head. It kinds of floats over it giving higher fret options than it just stopping at the edge of the head. The edge of the fingerboard has a nice wave to it too.  Whilst the edges of the fingerboard are unbound, with the pale wood it doesn't look like it needs binding (in fact it would spoil the simple look of the thing). A minor thing that pleases me but I love the wavy grain in the maple showing through the finish both on the headstock and down the fingerboard itself. It's subtle but it reminds me of the maple necks on the Bruko Model 6 soprano.

Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele extended fingerboard


Frets are nickel silver, and we have 17 in total with 12 to the top of the pot. They are all finished well and have no sharp edges. Scale wise, this is a concert model, though I always tend to find scale descriptors kind of go out of the window with banjo ukes.

Fret markers are not provided on the side but the outward facing markers are inlaid in darker wood and in a bow tie shape. They look superb and are placed at the third, fifth, seventh, tenth and twelfth spaces.

Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele frets


The nut seems to be synthetic and is black, and then we move on to the sublimely shaped headstock which is typical of all Goodtime series instruments. The Goodtime logo and the statement that it is 'proudly made in the USA' is engraved into the wood. And this is solid engraving too - not a mere scratch.

Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele headstock


Tuning is provided by unbranded sealed chrome geared tuners. They kind of don't sit with the vintage / country vibe of the instrument for me, but they do work well I guess. From memory, the full scale Goodtime banjos use these tuners, so I suppose it is consistent. Still, I just think that friction pegs would look killer on this instrument. I don't like the way manufacturers tend toward geared tuners because they figure that they will get less complaints from buyers. For me, the sort of person likely to buy one of these will know the difference between good and bad friction pegs. As such Deering - fit friction pegs, but choose good ones!

Completing the deal are Aquila Super Nylgut strings and they can be picked up for an RRP of about £330 (although they are available for under £300 in many places). I think that is pretty good value for a banjolele, particularly a banjo ukulele that is made in the US and not in China. In fact I actually had to double check the price...

It doesn't come with a case which is a bit disappointing, particularly because of the size and shape of it means that it may not fit in many banjo uke cases. Deering offer one specifically for it but it will cost another £50 for a soft bag - a price I think is a bit steep for something that isn't a hard case. I understand it is also available with a rear resonator and there are rumours of Deering making a tenor scale version later this year.

Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele neck


So on to playing the thing. Firstly, I have no great skills in banjo ukulele style playing, triple strums and the like so bear with me. I do know, however what sounds and plays good and I know good workmanship when I see it.

First off - it feels great and solid in the hand. It's really well put together with no issues I could spot at all. Weight wise, it's certainly heavier than most wooden ukuleles, but as banjo ukes go it's pretty reasonable really. If found it comfortable to stand and hold without a strap and it didn't feel cumbersome at all. You could of course easily add a strap by attaching to the hooks around the pot but you may offend banjo ukulele traditionalists. I believe Deering also make an arm rest that can be added if you find the hooks start digging in to your forearm.

Setup was spot on at the nut for me and of course with a banjo ukulele you can easily adjust the action or position of the bridge for fine tuning intonation if you need to. I didn't fiddle with it (which probably shows in the video) but it is only with me on test.

The neck is particularly comfortable with that satin finished maple - really nice on both the fingertips and the back of the hand.

And what of the 11 inch head? Well of course with a banjo, that is where the sound is generated, and in the case of this instrument it really doesn't disappoint. It's got a bark that is frighteningly loud and snappy if you really hammer the strings. A real punch that surprised me. It sounds sweet too though and is just as clear across notes when played softly or fingerpicked. Unlike many cheaper ukulele banjos I have played this didn't have echoey ghost notes coming from the pot no matter how hard or soft I played it - notes are crystal clear. No complaints really!

Sure - it sounds like a banjo - it IS A banjo, but for me it had more nuances to the sound than many other banjo ukuleles I had played that seemed to be only about bite and not so much about character of tone. This has a nice mix, and sure - a ton of volume if you need it too. I suppose where I have suggested I am not a fan of the banjo ukulele it's been down to one dimensional overly loud tones that many of them can (to my ears) create - this one just seems more rounded and has more warmth to it. Perhaps it's down to the increased head size. Experts will be sure to enlighten me.

I think if you like your old time music, this would be a great addition to your collection. In fact, if you just like banjo ukuleles or even just banjos, this would suit you as well also. For a wooden ukulele player considering a first step into the world of banjo ukuleles this would be recommended by me due to the quality and tone.  I know some ukulele clubs that don't allow banjo ukuleles as they are too loud (yes, seriously, those sort of clubs actually exist). If I lived near one, I'd be tempted to buy one of these just to take to those clubs and wake the dead...

Highly recommended, great quality, great punch. A great buy!

http://www.deeringbanjos.com
http://www.eaglemusicshop.com

UKULELE PROS

Build quality
Great looks and detailing
The large head!
Extended fingerboard
Great punchy tone but equally nice played soft
Good price for a US made banjo

UKULELE CONS

Would have preferred friction pegs
No side fret markers
No gig bag as standard

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW


15.1.16

Mahalo U320B Baritone Ukulele - REVIEW

One type of ukulele that hasn't featured that much on the Got A Ukulele Reviews section are Baritone scale instruments. In fact there is only one other in the form of a model from Pono. Many thanks to the folks at Mahalo instruments for helping redress the balance by sending me a baritone model to review. The Mahalo U320B series baritone in fact.


Mahalo U320B Baritone ukulele


This Mahalo is an entry level instrument, a fact given away by the RRP of about £70 complete with gig bag. That makes it one of the cheapest baritone ukes I am aware of. So what are you getting for your money?

The U320B is standard in shape and design. It's a double bout instrument made from laminate woods with a mahogany outer veneer. Fairly standard looking, but that makes it inoffensive and instantly recognisable as a ukulele! Made in China, although I am calling it an 'entry level' it is not the most entry level ukulele in the Mahalo stable, but I am sure you knew that. As Baritones go - this is certainly 'entry level'!

The laminate body appears to have single pieces on top and back (something you can easily do with laminate that is not so possible with solid wood because of the inherent strength) and the mahogany finish is actually quite nice with a  fair amount of stripe to it and a deep orange brown colour.  It's also not overly thick like so many entry level Chinese laminate instruments. It looks like a wooden instrument and isn't trying to be something else!

The sides are made of two pieces joined at the base and the back is not arched. The edges where the top and back meet the sides are unbound but I quite like that as the contrast of the edge of the laminate in a paler wood kind of looks like binding and gives it a detail that may not otherwise stand out.

Mahalo U320B Baritone ukulele sides


The body is finished in a gloss / semi gloss finish. That is to say it is indeed glossy, but not a mirror finish and the pores of the mahogany veneer show (and feel) through the coating. I think it looks and feels a little cheap myself. Kind of like a plastic coat and it doesn't feel very tactile in the hand. I'm not saying the finish is overly thick, it isn't. It's just not to my tastes.

A look inside shows a remarkably tidy build with no pools of glue or wood shavings and notched kerfing where the sides meet the top and back.

The top has no other decoration save for a screen printed gold sound hole rosette that sits under the gloss. Again, this looks a bit cheap to me (but it is only £70!)

Mahalo U320B Baritone ukulele sound hole


The bridge is rosewood and a slotted type for easy string changes. It is also covered in the same gloss which I really don't like. The saddle is plastic and compensated.

Mahalo U320B Baritone ukulele bridge


For the body then, I am pretty pleased with the quality control and general construction. We have no pooling or flaws and certainly not splits or cracks. I just really don't like the gloss!

Up to the hardwood neck, this is made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and one up the neck towards the headstock. It too is finished in (you guessed it) the same gloss.

Topping the neck is a rosewood fingerboard. It's nice and even in colour, though looking a bit dry. Better than many fingerboards I see though. The edges are unbound meaning you can see the edges of the frets through the edging paint. Position markers are provided facing out at the 5th, a double at the 7th, a single at the 10th, a double at the 12th and singles at the 15th, 17th and 19th spaces. Thankfully the dots are repeated in singles on the side of the neck too. The frets are nickel silver and we have 20 in total with 14 to the body. They are dressed nicely with no sharp edges. Not bad at all.

Mahalo U320B Baritone ukulele fingerboard


Past the plastic nut and up to the ubiquitous crown headstock we have a screen printed Mahalo logo and my next big gripe with the instrument - the tuners. They are the dolphin shaped geared tuners that Mahalo use on so many instruments. The buttons are black plastic and far too big for a ukulele but the tuners themselves feel really cheap. Turning them is a bit rough, they have a grind and get stiffer at certain points on the turning circle. Tuning kind of jumps up in places. To be fair, they do hold tuning when you get there but they are not enjoyable to use! If this was my instrument they would be replaced quick smart.

Mahalo U320B Baritone ukulele headstock

Mahalo U320B Baritone ukulele tuners



Completing the deal - strings appear to be Aquilas on the B and E strings with wound strings on the D and G. I don't mark instruments up down for strings as I figure most people will experiment anyway. They are however perfectly passable strings. Also for the price comes a really nice padded gig bag branded with the Mahalo logo embroidered into the front pocket. The padding is good and the zips are really strong (complete with Mahalo logos). One of the better padded gig bags I have seen for some time.

Mahalo U320B Baritone ukulele gig bag


So in summary - a £70 baritone at a rather incredible price, especially for one that is built pretty well, even if I don't like the gloss or the tuners. Throw in the gig bag and you are looking at quite a bargain here. So what gives?

Well, to hold it feels nice - not overly heavy and nicely balanced. I don't like the gloss under my fingers but that is just me.

The setup was pretty much spot on and this plays accurately out of the box with no need to meddle with the saddle or nut. OK so far.

Mahalo U320B Baritone ukulele back


Strummed, the sound is rather one dimensional and not actually that loud. Louder than many cheap ukuleles on account of that extra resonance from the big body but not as loud as many other baritones I have played. It plays accurately enough, but it doesn't set me alight. It can get a bit muddled on strums and you can find it hard to pick out individual notes, but that is not surprising for £70 either. What I really don't like is the kind of echoey boxy sound it projects - almost like it is rattling (I checked - nothing is loose!). It's just a fact of £70 laminate construction I guess - the woods are not singing - it strikes me that the strings are doing all the tone work and the sound box is doing all the amplification - that's ⅔ of what a ukulele should do, but it misses the final third in any sort of sweet tone.

Fingerpicked it is much nicer, and you can get some clear tremolo on individual notes, but I still wouldn't call the sound sweet. Still its functions far far better than many other entry level instruments I have reviewed in smaller scales and plays more accurately too. I think that baritones are naturally more forgiving than other cheap ukuleles because of that extra resonance - they kind of automatically sound like a more serious instrument. I suppose you only notice the lack of bell like tone on them when you play them against other higher end versions of the same scale. Unfortunately, I have!

Mahalo U320B Baritone ukulele zips


But hey - it's £70 you know? So who is this aimed at? You see -  I don't see a lot of beginners going to baritones for a first ukulele. I am not saying that never happens, but it's rarer. This would actually suit them down to the ground and dare I say it would be a better musical instrument than many of the entry level sopranos and concerts. But they don't tend to because of the different tuning and the fact most beginner tabs are in C tuning. So what about more seasoned players? If you are already playing a more serious ukulele (and I am thinking here of something £150 up, perhaps solid wood) and you are toying with a  first baritone? If you are used to sweeter tones in other scales I think this may disappoint you and you may do better with a higher end baritone. Certainly something equivalent to a £150 solid top concert ukulele should cost you MORE in baritone scale not less - and this would be much less.. On the other hand,  £70 is not a huge investment and I have enjoyed noodling with it on the sofa so perhaps that is the target - someone wanting something cheap to dabble in baritone scale for a while. I wouldn't personally buy one, but that is not what these reviews are about.

So it leaves me a bit confused and feeling a little sorry for it really because it really isn't terrible. In fact as an entry level instrument it's pretty good, I'm just not sure who it's aimed at.


UKULELE PROS

Good build quality
Nice gig bag
Nice price!

UKULELE CONS

Cheap looking and feeling gloss finish EVERYWHERE!
Dreadful tuners
Echoey one dimensional sound

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 7 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6.5 out of 10
Sound - 7.5 out of 10
Value for money - 8.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.4 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



10.1.16

On Ukulele String Changing Opinions

Ah, the ukulele world. Never really changes when it comes to the opinionated  armchair experts who love to use their keyboards to dictate what other players should and should not do... Don't use a strap, don't use a pick, don't play this, don't play that...  One of the most common I see is the strong opinions  on how often you should change your ukulele strings. Why all the fuss?




Interestingly, the most opinionated views tend to be those that like to force a view that ukulele strings last FOR EVER. Sure you also get those who tell you that your really should be changing them every week but the most animated and forceful arguments tend to come from people with an aversion to the concept of 'new strings'. Well at risk of letting the cat out of the bag in this rant too early... the frequency you change your string is entirely dependent on how much you play the instrument and when YOU feel like you want to change them. And that's it.

But lets just focus back on those that like to jump in to any debate on this subject and state that they have 'happily kept strings on for years and they are absolutely right... '.  It is usually stated in a 'I'm right and everyone else is wrong' kind of way, and usually (I suspect) because they are either too lazy to change strings or they don't really know what they are listening out for to make them consider changing them. That, or perhaps they just like being different and / or controversial..

Back in the days that ukulele strings were strung with natural materials (Cat gut - incidentally - nothing to do with the inner workings of actual cats - but actually innards of sheep or goats), there were reports of people who kept those strings going for years (literally). I have never played gut strings so I can't really comment but perhaps it is true. That's cool if it is I guess, but also kind of irrelevant to 99.9% of todays ukulele players who will never use gut strings.  What is also true is that most strings today are made of nylon or fluorocarbon material and that is a synthetic product. It's also a fact that such materials when held in tension for a period of time start to harden and go brittle as a natural consequence of the material they are made from.  That can lead to snapping but also a loss of one of the very functions you want for a string - a vibrating resonance. So in my view, the 'strings last forever' argument is an extremely unlikely one to hold true with most of todays modern strings. Sure enough, someone will pop up and tell me they have had strings on an instrument for 10 years. Great.... Good for you..... But for the vast majority of people that really isn't going to happen is it? And please don't tell me that strings get better with age as I saw in one discussion. That is just pseudo science that you can in no way prove to be true (quite simply because there is no way to fairly compare strings of ten years ago with strings today - your technique and the resonance of the instrument will also have changed in that time making the comparison unfair at best and mainly pointless).

So stepping back from the extreme viewpoint on changing frequency, what about the people who suggest string changes every couple of years only. Absolutely fine with me. If your strings have lasted that long and still sound ok to your ears, then why not? I think the reality for most people is they will likely snap one before that time period elapses or they will just get bored and want to try another brand, but if you are happy with them, that is really all that matters. I suppose what I say to that is, 'how are you judging that you are happy with them'?

At the other end of the scale we have the people who obsess about perfect tone, accuracy and freshness and suggest changing ukulele strings on an almost weekly basis. Again, if you have the time, money and patience to be restringing your uke every week (and dealing with the stretching and settling down that involves) then be my guest. Its not for me to tell you not to do that and equally not for anyone else to tell you that you are wrong either.

Yet rather like the strong views on string brands themselves, some people really like to tell other players, usually beginners, that what works for THEM is the only answer for YOU. All other viewpoints are null and void because they know best.. The reality is we are all different, we all play different instruments, we play different styles with  different attack angles and a different strength of strumming. We may have different picking techniques, different hardness of fingernails or use different picking implements. We keep instruments in different environments, we play them in different environments, we store them in different environments. Some of us dutifully clean down ukulele strings and necks after even five minutes play, and some put their ukuleles away still soaked in beer and blood from the show the night before. There are just too many variables for there to be a one size fits all answer to this issue.

Personally my re-stringing regime has changed. Last year I stopped performing regularly with a band, so my instruments now not only get less play, but they get less HARSH play. When gigging, I tended to play a lot of hard, thrashing, rock stuff on the ukulele. Couple that with gigs lasting for two hours, often in sweaty clubs and often with the inclusion of the occasional spilled beer or blood from a broken nail and my ukuleles would often finish the night pretty grimy. In those days I would change strings every couple of months or so (or more frequently). But that was because they were taking a massive hammering. These days I don't really have a set pattern and change them when I feel like it. But how do I know I want a change?

The usual tips I give people apply here:

1. Are you noticing any change in tuning accuracy (intonation) down the neck?
2. Are the strings starting to buzz when they didn't before?
3. If you run a finger under the strings can you feel notches where the frets have started to wear the strings down.
4. Have you snapped a string, and replaced it with a single (meaning you now have a mix of new and old strings)

If the answer to any of the above is 'yes' then you may want to change the strings. It's not a hard and fast rule, but a guide that works for me. And note.... the time period these things can start to indicate a change is needed will vary based on YOU.  There may be other reasons for a change of course - you may just 'fancy it' - and there is nothing wrong with that either!

Strings are really not that expensive, and rather like tyres for a car they are of course MEANT to be changed, not kept for as long as possible in some sort of perverse stamina contest. Whether that means you want to change them weekly, monthly or yearly, that is entirely up to you but don't be afraid of changing them. And please, please don't be afraid of changing them, even though you are having tuning issues just because a chap in your club told you that 'strings last for years'.... A change can actually breathe new life into an instrument that you were finding uninspiring.  Hey a string change can also just give you a change in voice even if they didn't need changing.. And guess what - if the old strings were not actually that old, you can save them and use them again!

And if you want to try to max your strings out and keep them on for 10 years, then be my guest. Just stop telling the rest of us that you know something magical that we don't and that we are all wrong.

For me - I'm off to change my strings... or maybe I'll do it tomorrow / next week / next month / next year....

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