30 Sep 2016

How Do I Play The Ukulele If I am Left Handed?

Here's another question I get emailed about a surprising amount of times. 'Hey Baz, I'm left handed and wanting to learn the ukulele. What are my options?'

left handed ukulele


And, surprise surprise, this being the ukulele community and all, when I see the subject discussed on social media channels there is the usual (and disturbing) number of people who consider that the best way to answer that question is to dictate to other people exactly what they should do. Now whilst I am not a doctor, I do have a child who is left handed and a few friends who are dominant with their left. What I DO know is that there is no one size fits all for how you go about learning if you are a leftie. And please don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

Handedness is not an exact science. I know many people who are left hand dominant in some things, but do other things right handed. In fact I once knew a guitar player who despite being quite clearly right handed in all walks of life, had learned to play guitars left handed (don't ask me why, but it worked for him). There are also plenty of ambidextrous people who can do things both ways.  And please don't listen to the people who claim that you should judge these things based on your dominant eye - it's really not that simple. What matters in this subject is what is comfortable to YOU. And bear in mind that playing the ukulele is a two handed skill.

I thought however that it would be helpful running through the options available to you if you are a left handed beginner, together with pros and cons associated with each. I list these in no particular order, because as I say above - it's more complicated that presenting a single solution that works for everybody. In fact, as I know different people who do each of the things listed below, that should be enough to tell you that different things work for different people.

So let's take a look...

1. Flip the ukulele and flip the strings.

That is to say you turn the ukulele upside down so the neck rests in the right hand and you strum with your left. To add to that you also then flip the strings in reverse, because then you keep the G string at the top and the A string closest to the floor.

The attraction of this option is that it creates an exact mirror image of the right handed playing technique, so perhaps it means no disadvantages for the lefty over the righty. That is to say - you strum with your dominant hand and fret with the other one. Some people claim that they even find this method more logical for reading chord boxes on song sheets as they represent a more obvious image of what is on the neck. (Again, no hard and fast rules though and I know many lefties who prefer reversed chord charts - so the point here is 'experiment and see if it works for you!). Incidentally - my Kindle Chord book has all the chord charts in left hand orientation!

The main disadvantages to this are twofold. First, if your ukulele has pickup controls, volume controls or a cutaway, they are almost certainly installed in a way to suit a right handed instrument. Flip the ukulele and all that stuff ends up on the wrong side of the instrument. Of course, some would say that people can work around that, and of course Jimi Hendrix famously played a Fender Stratocaster in reverse, but with a small ukulele I couldn't personally get on with a pickup volume control hidden on the underside of the body. Of course, with a standard pineapple or figure of 8 ukulele with no controls, this isn't an issue.

The main  disadvantage though, is the need for reversing the bridge and saddle. Some people will tell you that this isn't necessary, and I suspect they must be referring to cheap ukuleles with dead straight saddles and an already questionable intonation - that's not good advice though. Increasingly these days, saddles are being set on angles, or manufacturers are installing compensated saddles to improve intonation. This refers to the scale length of each individual string, and they are NOT all the same. Quite simply if you have one of those you will need to reverse it, and with a compensated saddle that isn't as simple as just putting it in the other way around - that won't work. You will need a new one cutting. If the bridge slot is cut at an angle, you would really need to replace the whole bridge! At the nut, you may get away with it, but if your nut slots are precisely cut you may find that certain strings don't fit in the slots any longer. These things can be remedied, but they will take someone who knows what they are doing.

2. Flip the ukulele, don't flip the strings

This one gives the left handed player the benefit of keeping the fretting in the right hand and strumming in the left, but avoids the hassles of flipping the strings. I do know a couple of people who play this way, but personally I struggle with it for another simple reason. By flipping the ukulele but not the strings, when you strum, you are then effectively strumming in reverse. The A string is nearest the ceiling so a down strum sounds like an up strum. I think it does sound different and you will want to bear that in mind.

And of course the issues with control plates and cutaways also applies to this option as a problem.

Saying all of that - Albert King and Dick Dale both played left handed guitars with the strings upside down, so it can be done!

3. Play right handed

Please don't take that to mean I am acting like a strict Victorian schoolmaster who would rap the hands of left handed children if they didn't hold a pen with their right hand. But for some people, they naturally find they can do this and this is the way they choose to learn. It does of course remove all the issues I mention above, but if you are planning to go this route, you really need to be comfortable. And of course when you are starting out, you may be finding the ukulele difficult enough as it is and not be able to spot if it is hampering your learning. So it's really hard to be precise as to whether this is a good option or not, but I DO know left handed players who play righty.  And there is a history of it in music also, with guitarists such as Mark Knopfler, Gary Moore, Johnny Winter and Duane Allman all being naturally left handed people who play right handed guitars...

4. Buy a left handed ukulele

Ahhh, if only it was that easy. The sad fact is, because of economies of scale, rather like guitars, ukulele brands are quite light on the true left handed ukulele. There are some notable exceptions, Blackbird, Kala, Baton Rouge for example all offer left handed models, as do one or two others. But the reality is that they are really not all that common, and you are certainly not going to get the wide choice of the right handed player. It's been a gripe of the left handed guitarists for many years, as not only do they get less choice, but they also seem to have to pay a premium for what they do get.  But of course this does open up the opportunity of considering a luthier built instrument. A good luther will be able to make you a left handed ukulele to your design just as easily as they can make a right handed one. And as I have said many times before, they can cost far less than you think. Just take a look at the work of my luthier of choice - Rob Collins at Tinguitar.

So ultimately, it's about choices, and all of them tend to come with some compromises I am afraid. I would love for there to be more options out there for left handed players, but that simply isn't the case, and I wouldn't get too excited about that changing all that rapidly either. But at least there are choices, and the world of music is littered with left handed players of stringed instruments who have done rather well for themselves. Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Paul McCartney, Tony Iommi to name a few - so you really shouldn't let it put you off!



29 Sep 2016

Don't Be Afraid of Alternative Ukulele Key Tunings

Something I realised I hadn't written about in my ukulele beginners tips section is that of using alternative tunings on the ukulele. Then I seemed to get a flurry of questions on email from readers who were experimenting with new tunings. Thought it was therefore about time to look at this in a little more detail.

First up, one of the most common myths you will see written about the ukulele is that standard tuning is GCEA (or rather gCEA with a small g to signify that re-entrant G, or GCEA if you are using low G). And that's it.... People think that IS the way to tune a ukulele, or more particularly, the ONLY way to tune them.... But that actually misses some pretty important aspects aside from it just not being true.

Firstly, some years ago the more common tuning for the soprano ukulele was actually D tuning (which is ADF#B) and of course the most common tuning for the Baritone tends to be in G tuning (or DGBE). In fact, many banjolele players today will still use that D tuning as they prefer the sound and string tension. It gets more complicated when you realise that years ago the original tuning for tenor ukuleles was actually G tuning yet today most people go with C tuning and many Baritone players today go for C tuning.....   So no, GCEA is only the standard of common convention.

And what is common between all these other tunings is that they have the individual strings in the same interval relationship to each other. That is to say, they are effectively the same tunings but just in different keys either a bit up or a bit down in pitch.

What does that mean? Well for a new player, the most important thing to bear in mind is that because that relationship between the strings is the same in C, D or G tuning, the chord SHAPES themselves will still work no matter what tuning you use. Of course, the shape you play will then play a different chord to the chord you get  in C tuning, but they still work as chord shapes. Understanding what those chord shapes then become is key to unlocking the ease of working with these other tunings.

What I hear most commonly from people who are reluctant to try alternative keys is that they 'don't want to learn a whole new bunch of chords' or 'i'm still struggling with this tuning'. In fact, it's that reason that so many people are now choosing to tune their baritones to C tuning or even playing sopraninos at the ear piercing, shrill a whole octave above C tuning. They are doing it because they think it gets complicated when you change and they prefer to play what they know. And this post is intended to show you that it really isn't complicated at all. In fact it's easy.

First of all, you really just need to understand the musical scale on a keyboard..



Or even better, print off a copy of the Circle Of Fifths that shows the notes of the scale in an order separated by musical fifths.

Got A Ukulele Circle Of Fifths


A musical fifth can be heard by using a piano keyboard and counting up 7 half steps including the black keys. That is to say a total of 7 physical piano keys upwards.  (And why 5ths, and not 7ths? Well because the 5ths refers the 5 intervals, which in a perfect 5th is made up of 7 semitones!) So from a C on the keyboard graphic shown above, the fifth above it is the note of G, being 7 keys (or 7 half steps / semitones) up from the C.  Count them on the keyboard above to see. The next note in the circle of fifths, and indeed all the notes work the same way - 7 up from the G on the piano is D, 7 from the D is the note of A, and so on. (Incidentally - the Circle Of Fifths is helpful in all sorts of other ways in music - such as transposing and finding chord relationships etc))

Anyway, I said this was easy, so let's put the theory away and get back to re-tuned ukuleles. As I say, a common factor that puts people off is the thought that they will have to learn a bunch of new chords. Bear in mind though, if you know your chords for GCEA tuning, you already know the chord shapes for other key tunings so long as you keep the relationship between the strings the same!

So lets look at the most common example - the move from C tuning to G tuning that players will face if they buy a baritone. We already know the  chords in standard C tuning (called C tuning after that third string) and we know the baritone is in D tuning (the tuning of the third string again). Looking at the Circle of Fifths, we see that the G is therefore a fifth up from the note of C, as indicated by the fact it is immediately to the right of the C on the Circle. (And yes, I know that Baritones are tuned lower than C tuned ukuleles, but it is still in the key of G and the Circle of Fifths doesn't alter between octaves). So we know that the G tuned ukulele is a fifth up from the C tuned ukulele or one space up on the Circle. It therefore also follows that every C tuning shaped chord played on the G tuned ukulele will be a fifth up. And knowing that, and having the Circle with you will unlock the simple way of transposing.

Play a C chord shape on the baritone - you get a G chord - one step round on the circle. Play a G chord shape on the baritone and you get a D (one space up on the Circle), play an A chord shape on the baritone and, you guessed it you get an E. And it applies to every chord shape you know on the C tuned ukulele - if you play that chord on a G tuned baritone, it will play the chord name of the next note on the Circle. Basically every chord will be the same step up as the G is from the C.

And this works with any tuning so long as the string relationship is the same. I mentioned above the common practice of tuning sopranino ukuleles with C tuning but a whole octave above the soprano. I think it sounds shrill and overly bright myself and I therefore prefer to tune mine in F tuning (CFAD). I just think it's nicer on the ears. And once again people look in horror and say, 'but I don't know the chord shapes for that!'. You DO know them.

Back to the Circle of Fifths - we note that the F is one step to the left of the C. Therefore, if you play a C chord shape on an F tuned ukulele you get an F chord. Play a G chord shape on an F tuned ukulele and again, using the circle to go one step to the left, you get a C chord. Play an A chord shape and you get a D. All of them being one step to the left on the circle. It works for all chords.

Want to go really exotic? - what about tuning to A tuning (EAC#F#). Again, using the circle and we note that the A is three steps round to the right from the C. So playing a C chord shape will give you an A, playing a G chord shape gives you an E. And so on.

And that really is all there is to it. Yes, you could use a piano keyboard to work out the fifths sequence if you like, but just printing off the Circle (or memorising it) is so much easier. Use the circle to work out the relationship between the chords you already know in C tuning and the key you want to tune to - and that difference in numbers of steps left or right from C  on the Circle can be applied to all the chord shapes.

I hope that helps and I really hope it means that people will stop being worried about moving to Baritone. Heck, I LOVE Baritone ukes and they are no harder to play than any other! Bear in mind that this article just deals with changing the key tuning of the ukulele whilst keeping the string intervals the same,  and doesn't apply to other more exotic tunings like dropped strings and open chords, but I may save that for another post! Have fun!





24 Sep 2016

DUKE Banjouke Ukulele - REVIEW

Something a bit different on a number of counts for Got A Ukulele this week, not least because it's the first instrument I have reviewed from New Zealand. Say hello to the DUKE Banjouke!

DUKE Banjouke ukulele


The DUKE is a Banjolele that is the brainchild of Ed Ackman and Lorraine Mecca, all that way away in town called Russell in the northern part of New Zealand. Ed had originally come to be noticed in the ukulele world in developing the Sidekick banjo ukulele, a very light and good value home grown banjolele that proved rather popular. The DUKE represents a replacement to the Sidekick, and whilst it looks every much the same, it comes with a number of updates and improvements. Ed explains that these are made and assembled in New Zealand from parts sourced in USA, China, Canada, New Zealand and Italy. Nice.

Before getting into the meat of the review, it's fair to say that I haven't reviewed all that many banjo ukuleles on the website. One thing is also clear - whenever I do, they do tend to be scrutinised heavily by the traditional banjo ukulele fans out there (ie Formby style fans). And banjo ukuleles that don't meet their exacting standards do tend to receive scorn (such as the Deering and the Fluke Firefly I reviewed). For me though, I consider these things as musical instruments and if they decide to break from the norm in any way, to update the concept or just be a little bit different, then I really admire that. And the DUKE certainly does that for me as you will discover. Each to their own I guess.

The DUKE is a tenor scale banjo uke, which is to say it's a tenor scale neck on an 8" drum head. I personally think it looks proportioned well. A big driver for Ed in developing this one was getting the weight down, and he replaced the wooden tone pot of the Sidekick with a glossy black HDPE (plastic) pot on the DUKE. That meants the total weight of this is now 892 grams, which is certainly super light for a banjo ukulele. And you really do notice that when you hold it.

DUKE Banjouke ukulele head


The head is synthetic and comes with the DUKE logo applied as a sticker.  I think it looks bold yet classy.  Holding the head in place is an aluminium tone ring held in place with seven drum tensioners. That's fewer than you would normally see on a banjolele, but they do the job and of course are adjustable.

The bridge is a standard looking three footed maple piece and the tail is what they describe as a 'precision smooth edge'. For that, read very plain! But to be fair, plain and simple works on a banjo and there is less to dig into the strings and break them. In fact the strings actually run around the tail and then pass through holes in the pot itself where they are tied off.

DUKE Banjouke ukulele tail piece


Another nice addition that you don't often see on banjo ukes other than as an add on, is the aluminium arm rest fitted to the upper side. These are a godsend on banjos with drum tensioners as they avoid those screws digging into the underside of your forearm when you strum. A welcome addition if a little industrial looking on the finish!

DUKE Banjouke ukulele arm rest


The neck is made from solid mahogany painted gloss black to match the drum. The length of the neck extends beyond the fingerboard and continues as a pole piece across the back of the drum. I couldn't see a way of adjusting the neck for action, so presume an action change would need to be done at the bridge piece itself. We shall see if that is an issue when we get to the setup.

DUKE Banjouke ukulele pole piece


Topping the neck is a rosewood fingerboard, which is nice and even in colour. It's fitted with 18 nickel silver frets that terminate at the top of the drum. They are all nicely finished on the ends. The fingerboard sits flush with the top of the drum head too. The edges of the fingerboard are not bound as such, but the gloss painting on the neck hides the fret edges neatly.

DUKE Banjouke ukulele fingerboard


We also have pearloid position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th spaces, but sadly no side facing fret markers.

Past the nut (which is made of plastic and 1.4" wide) we have a really interesting shaped asymmetrical headstock that I really rather like. I'm a fan of anything that is different and dares to move away from an easy choice like a three pointed Martin crown. This is certainly different! It's fitted with the Duke crown logo in silver. You will love it or hate it. Personally, I love it!

DUKE Banjouke ukulele headstock


Flipping it over and we see another upgrade from the Sidekick with the inclusion of planetary geared tuners with silver collars and white buttons. They look great. The benefit of planetary gears is that they have the look of a friction peg (so the ukulele doesn't have ears sticking out!), but use a system of helical gears inside to work like geared pegs. These ones have a 4:1 ratio. They are unbranded and a little different in terms of turning ease, but they work well enough and more importantly, hold the strings just fine.

DUKE Banjouke ukulele tuners


Completing the deal are quite a few extras worth noting. Firstly is the inclusion of a contact pickup as standard in the form of a Shatten Design LP15 pickup. I must say, most banjo uke players I know would prefer to play into a microphone than plug in and in fact I have had some trouble even finding a pickup that works well for a banjo. Nice therefore to see the inclusion of this, but I suspect many buyers will not be basing their purchase on it (or perhaps using it!).

DUKE Banjouke ukulele accessories


Also included is a nice padded gig bag complete with Duke logo, a clip on strap with Duke logo, a set of Aquila strings, a felt pick and a spanner for adjusting the drum tension. Seems like they thought of everything really.

As for the price, these are currently in pre-production and on offer for an extremely reasonable $297 with shipping included anywhere in the world. I think that is a stellar price actually. Duke explain that when the initial offer is over, they are likely to be available with a street price of about $440. That is less glamourous as a price, but still fairly reasonable for what you are getting I suppose. I would like to think though that a price between the two could be achieved.

So all in all I think it's a striking looking instrument, with all the features I think you would need, and yet different enough to stand out on it's own.

Taking a closer look at the build and I have no real complaints. The drum is perfectly functional and finished well. The neck is slightly less well finished with one or two thin patches and bubbles in the gloss finish. It's not bad by any sense of the word, but it isn't quite perfect.

To hold, it's incredibly comfortable. The weight is great and is nicely balanced. The arm rest is certainly noticeable and welcome too!

The setup at the nut is perfect on this one, and the first thing I noticed about the setup generally is just how low the action is. Some banjo ukes I have seen have ultra high strings, which personally I don't get on with. I was saying above that I couldn't see a way of lowering the action, and thankfully that isn't an issue as I can't see why you would want to. More importantly, whilst it is low there is no hint of fret buzz. And if you did want to raise the action, that would be as simple as buying a new, taller, saddle piece which are cheap and readily available.

Duke BanjoUke - pickup


Sound wise - it's very typically 'banjo'. Extremely punchy and strident though extremely easy to play. It's not the loudest banjo I have played, but then that is one of the things that actually puts me off the things! That isn't to say this one is quiet though. It's kind of just right for me.

Strummed, it's extremely satisying, picked a little less so for my ears, although that is more to do with the fact that I don't really pick anything that suits the banjo uke sound. There are some echoes and ghost notes, but that is something I have found with most banjo ukuleles I have played and is simply remedied by rolling up a cloth and wedging it between the head and the pole piece.

Plugged in and the pickup works fine. Like a banjo ukulele but louder (if you wanted such a thing!). It's extremely bright, but adding bass in your EQ on the amp soon remedies that. I suppose I would just prefer a version that was perhaps a touch cheaper if offered without a pickup?

DUKE Banjouke ukulele and bag


But for me it's all about the style of it, the weight and the ease of playing that I really like. I like things that are bold enough to be a little different. And of course that would be completely pointless if the thing then didn't function as a musical instrument. Thankfully things are good on that score I think, and as such I am happy to give this a Got A Ukulele recommendation! If you are a traditionalist, it may not be for you, but please remember - it WILL be for many other people!

http://www.dukeuke.com

UKULELE PROS

Price of the package (at the offer price)
Striking style
Low weight
Super easy to play
Planetary tuners

UKULELE CONS

May not suit purists (actually that could also be a PRO!)
Some flaws on neck finish
No side fret markers

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 7.5 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.4 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW



23 Sep 2016

Why The Fear Of Changing Ukulele Strings?

Not done a rant on Got A Ukulele for a while, but a few discussions regarding changing ukulele strings on various social media channels lately brought me back to thinking about the real fear some people have in changing uke strings.


Changing Ukulele Strings


This isn't intended to re-hash the arguments over 'when should I change my strings' or 'what's the best brand' as I covered that subject before here. No this one goes back to something far more fundamental - and that's the increase in the number of people who really panic or avoid changing their strings altogether.

By way of some examples, these range from the 'oh I still have the same strings on that were on the uke when I bought it two years ago as I don't fancy changing them' to the 'I broke a string, but I had to take it to my club / friend to get them to change the strings for me'. Most bizarrely of all is an increase in the number of people reporting that they actually choose to PAY someone to change their strings for them. In one discussion I saw a guy explaining that he was paying around $30 for a string change because it gave him 'peace of mind'. Seriously? Sorry, to me that just seems completely crazy, particularly when you consider how easy it actually is.

You see, when you choose to play a ukulele (or any stringed instrument for that matter), you really need to understand that you WILL need to change strings at some point. At some point they will either just become impossible to tune properly, or at some point a string will snap. Fact of life, they don't last forever.

More importantly, strings are MEANT to be changed on a ukulele. They are consumables. They are meant to come off and go back on. And surely as part of your decision to start learning the ukulele, alongside other practice regimes you put yourself through, surely surely the practice of changing the strings on your instrument should really form part of that learning? Think of it as like the importance of knowing how to change a wheel if you buy a car, changing the  fuse in a plug if you are a homeowner, changing the ink cartridge in a printer, or even changing a light bulb. Granted, those three things have different difficulty levels, but here's the thing - changing a ukulele string really is right there with changing a fuse or a lightbulb.

And there is something else to string changing that I think is important and isn't often talked about. The process of doing it will work wonders for your connection with the instrument and how it works. You are getting right into the heart of what makes the ukulele play and getting hands on with your instrument. Add to that, the process of tuning up from scratch and it really is a good bonding exercise with your uke. Seriously.

I am interested in where this 'fear' comes from that pushes people to foist their ukulele on someone else to do the job for them. At the end of the day, changing a string only requires one knot and a bit of winding at the other end. You are not going to damage the ukulele, and nothing is going to happen that cannot be simply reversed. In fact if you get it wrong (and first time, you probably WILL) the worst that can really happen is that you snap the new string and have to get another, or at the least it will ping out of the bridge or peg and scare you half to death. (That still makes me jump..) Not really a big deal though is it?

So what are the biggest challenges that people worry about? Well the first is the bridge end of things. 'Oh, I can't understand those knots...' Really? With a slotted bridge it is simply a case of tying a granny knot (or perhaps two) that are big enough to not let the knot slip through the gap. With a tie bar bridge, granted the knot looks a little more complicated, but it really isn't. In fact it's just a granny knot too with a couple of extra winds. In fact in the world of knots, the bridge knots on a ukulele are significantly easier than tying a bow in a shoelace.

The second challenge is the 'but they keep slipping off the tuning peg' point. This does happen, but the simplest way to stop that happening is to actually tie the string to the post.  That is to say, pull the string all the way through, then feed it back through the hole and pull it tight - then start winding the strings. There is no way that is going to slip, but it can look a bit messy. With practice though you will learn how to get the wrapping right so that the coils themselves lock the string firmly.

I suppose the other fear is the 'but they just keep going out of tune' point. Yes, yes they do. Nothing I can say will change that, it's perfectly normal and you haven't done anything wrong. It just happens. Leave the ukulele tuned up a step or play it hard and keep re-tuning. They will hold eventually. This issue affects EVERY single person who has changed a string, so it's nothing to panic about.

Ukulele strings


Don't ge me wrong, string changing is a chore that nobody really enjoys, but that isn't because it's difficult. It's because it's boring and takes a bit of time! But I would still encourage any new player of the ukulele to start practicing this early. Get a new set tomorrow and put them on. If you go wrong, take them off and try again. And again and again. Get it right? Take them off and do it again, and again anyway. Trust me, you will soon see it as a shoelace and wonder why you were avoiding the process.

You may have already seen that I did a couple of videos regarding string change knots at the bridge (both tie bar and slotted types) which may help you below. But the best way is just to get on with it! I do wonder sometimes though whether ukulele ownership should come with a Compulsory Basic Training course!






17 Sep 2016

Flight NUS310 Soprano Ukulele - REVIEW

Another new brand name for the Got A Ukulele Reviews page, this time with an entry level offering from the Slovenian Uke brand called Flight. Their NUS310 Soprano Uke.

Flight NUS310 Soprano Ukulele


This is one of their best selling models, perhaps unsurprising considering it has an RRP price tag of 77 Euros (or about £65 at the time of writing). Is cheap only cheerful though or is there something worth looking at here?

The NUS310 is standard soprano in scale and shape. It's a laminate wood instrument, unsurprisingly for it's price, made of laminate African Sapele in the body.  It's actually very nicely finished in an open grain satin that reminds me very much of the models from Baton Rouge in feel. In fact the Baton Rouge similarities go further as you will see.

This one is flawlessly finished, and there is something I quite like about this thin satin when you touch it. It feels finished, but not overly done, and there are certainly no pools of lacquer anywhere to be seen.

Flight NUS310 Soprano Ukulele top


The top and back are clean and stripy and the back has a very slight (only very very!) arch to it. The sides are in two pieces with a joint at the butt.

Like the Baton Rouge and also instruments like the Ohana SK10S, it's unbound on the edges, but the fact that you can see the edge of the laminate gives it an unintended contrasting edge detail that I find quite pleasing. Generally speaking the body is nicely finished for the price and the wood grain is clear and fairly stripy. On the sides in fact it is even slightly shimmery.

There is little else in way of decoration save for a subtle laser engraved soundhole rosette which is kind of 'just enough, but not too much' and I think works well. Flight explain that the design is hand drawn first, and that all the rosettes are different. I think that's a nice idea.

Flight NUS310 Soprano Ukulele sound hole


The bridge is a standard rosewood tie bar design which appears to be screwed in place complete with pearloid screw covers. The saddle is dead straight, but actually made of bone which is surprising for this sort of money.

Flight NUS310 Soprano Ukulele bridge


A look inside shows a fairly plain Flight label, but actually a rather tidy build. There are one or two glue spots, but nothing major and it's quite pleasing. The kerfing is notched and it is braced on the back and under the top. The back bracing does look a little overly heavy to me, so we shall see how it sounds.

Up to the neck and this is extremely standard in width and shape. It's made from three pieces (joint at heel and one at the headstock) of Okoume wood, which is a central African hardwood. To me it looks like very pale mahogany. It's finished well.

Topping the neck is a rosewood fingerboard with some shaping at the end. It is generally even in colour and dark with some lighter central patches. The edges are unbound but don't look messy.

It's fitted with a very standard 12 nickel silver frets to the body and I did note that the fret edges on this one were feeling a little sharp. Looking more closely, the end dressing seems to be minimal and they need filing back quite a bit. It's the sort of sharpness that can very quickly be sorted by a good dealer, but I'd beware buying direct if you are not comfortable in getting a file out yourself. It is something that is easily fixable, but still not something that should be in evidence when an instrument reaches the customer.

Flight NUS310 Soprano Ukulele headstock


Fret markers are provided on the fretboard in pearloid dots at the 5th, 7th and 10th, but sadly these are not repeated on the side.

Past the bone nut we have a generic crown shaped headstock finsished in the same wood as the body. Engraved into this is the Flight logo which I also think is subtle and nicely done.

Tuning is provided from open gears with small black buttons. They are not the best tuners I have seen to be honest, and suffer from that play in the tuning post such as I reported on the Luna Tattoo ukulele. They work, but the movement annoys me.

Flight NUS310 Soprano Ukulele tuners


Completing the deal is a set of what look like Aquila strings and a rather decent padded gig bag with a shoulder strap, front pocket and screen printed Flight logo. All in all it appears to be pretty well made with only minor grumbles and comes at a great price. In fact, a bit of searching will show you that these can be picked up between £45 and £50 online.

Flight NUS310 Soprano Ukulele bag


Playing wise, as I say above it's a nice ukulele to hold. It's also light and well balanced so no issues for me there. A good instrument to have in the hands. The setup also, with the exception of those fret edges is perfectly acceptable and needs no adjustment.

Sound wise, it's a little on the thin side, but far from the worst instrument I have ever reviewed. It doesn't have the warmth that the comparably priced instruments from Baton Rouge have, but it really isn't wholly bad. Sustain is surprisingly good, but overall it can sound a bit 'plinky' when strummed. My biggest issue is actually a small one - it just doesn't have the volume, bite and bark that I like in sopranos. Sopranos are rhythmical instruments and I do like them to have a punch.

Fingerpicked it seems much more pleasing and it has a kind of chimey sound to it that is helped by the sustain.

Flight NUS310 Soprano Ukulele back


Don't get me wrong - this is not a bad instrument and if you were to buy one as a beginner it's nice to see these days that things are appearing in much better quality. I just personally think there are some options out there at similar prices that have a nicer tone - the Baton Rouge models for one but also the Kala KA-S. Still, I'd quite happily sit and strum this and it's a far better choice than some of the ultra cheap stuff that is still out there.

http://www.flightmusic.com



UKULELE PROS

Price
Nice gig bag included
Well finished on the body and generally well built
Balanced and light
Bone nut and saddle

UKULELE CONS

Very cheap tuners with too much play
Sharp fret edges
No side fret markers
Slightly underwhelming projection and volume

UKULELE SCORES

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

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.9 out of 10


UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





12 Sep 2016

Making a Case for Ukulele Cases

It's something in the ukulele world, in fact actually something in the musical instrument world generally that has always made me think. Why don't ukuleles come with cases as a matter of course? Do we have a strong case for cases?


ukulele cases



Whilst there are of course some exeptions to this rule, it's fair to say that the majority of new ukuleles won't come with a case unless one has been added by the dealer as part of a store package - in other words - they don't tend to come with cases from the factory. And I wonder whether they should.

The other observation I would make is that the vast majority of ukulele buyers getting hold of anything above the cheapest of the cheap instruments, tend to look to get a case. It's a given. On that basis, wouldn't it be helpful for the brands to include one? I mean, the players are going to get one anyway!

First of all, I am not naive to what is going on here - a lot of ukulele manufacturers would like you to pay more to get one of their cases - it's more business for them.  And I suppose, yes, it's the same as all sorts of things. Apple want you to spend more on a case for your iPhone, camera manufacturers want you to spend more on a case for your new camera. But just because it's the norm... you know... meh. That annoys me too.

And I am not suggesting that they should be free at all, but it stands to reason that the stronger buying power of ukulele brands would surely enable them to include a case with their ukuleles for a lower total price than we customers could buy the two items separately, so why not? They still sell their ukulele, plus a bit extra for a case and everybody is happy?

To be clear, what am I talking about here? A hard case? No, not necessarily. I just think it would be great if the 'norm' when you bought a ukulele was that it came with a branded good quality gig bag. I actually dont think it should blow the budget either - I mean Mahalo include a really nice zippered bag with pockets and straps on a solid wood ukulele and still keep it under £80. And it's not only the cheapest brands - Godin include a really nice padded gig bag with their MultiUke, Martin do with their Koa series and Kala do with their travel series (but sadly not as a matter of course with their others unless you get an Elite.). Fleas used to come with their own bags, but to the best of my knowledge they then started making them an extra. I think that's a crying shame.

But,  there is another angle to this. The constant drive from customers to get the absolute cheapest they can get - because after all, as the myth goes - 'The ukulele is cheap'....    A ukulele without a case even if it was only £1 less in price would sell more than one with the case because so many people shop around to get the absolute lowest price they can. It just seems to be the way it is, and it's the same mentality that sees people buying badly set up instruments from Amazon, because they are £1 cheaper than getting one from a bricks and mortar ukulele specialist...

But if you are going to end up buying one anyway, and you will then probably end up spending MORE anyway to get the two items separately - wouldnt you accept, say, a £10, £15 or £20 premium on an instrument if you knew they came with a decent branded gig bag? It wouldn't bother me.

You may say 'but I dont want a gig bag, I'd only get a hard case anyway' - but still, I am not talking a huge premium here and you'd still get a case that would come in handy I am sure. Heck - having them arrive in padded gig bags would probably make for safer postage and delivery too! Even better - offer them with an included gig bag, but offer an inflated price version and include a hard case!

So I say, lets make a case for cases - come on brands. Some of you are doing it, but don't you think it would make sense for all? Nothing hugely fancy, nothing hugely expensive, but something protective and something you can advertise your brand name on? Given the choice of two similar ukes, I'd almost certainly go for the one that comes with it's own case.

But maybe it's just me...




11 Sep 2016

UKE Magazine Awards with Got A Ukulele

For some time now I have talked on Got A Ukulele of my praise for the UK's first and only 'in print' ukulele magazine called UKE Magazine. The reason for that is simple - I think it's a damn fine read put together by a chap who really knows and understands the ukulele world.

Uke Magazine Awards


I'm delighted therefore that Got A Ukulele is associated with the Uke Magazine Awards that have been launched in the current issue. Working with editor Matt Warnes, we came up with a range of categories for the awards, namely:

Best UK Ukulele Artist
Best International Ukulele Artist
Breakthrough Ukulele Artist
Best Ukulele Live Act
Best Ukulele Album or EP
Best Ukulele Festival
Best Ukulele Club or Jam
Best Mainstream Ukulele Brand
Best Professional Ukulele Brand
Best UK Ukulele Luthier
Best Ukulele Accessory
Best Ukulele Strings

The details are announced in the current (Issue 7) of Uke Magazine, and the results are ALL down to the readers. Following the instructions in Issue 7, readers are invited to make their nominations in the categories from anything they choose. We will then whittle down the entries and in Issue 8 a shortlist for each will be announced and readers given one vote for each category. Issue 9 will announce the lucky winners!

UKE Magazine
Credit - Matt Warnes / World Of Ukes


And aside from that, Issue 7 has some great content in any case, including features on James Hill, Manitoba Hal Brolund, Hester Goodman and much more!

You can grab a copy direct from the World Of Ukes site or, handily via Amazon on the links below.




10 Sep 2016

D'Addario Ukulele Clip On Tuners - REVIEW

Product review time and not an instrument itself in this feature, rather a set of gizmos that no ukulele player is really ever without. Today we are looking at a pair of clip-on tuners from D'Addario.

Ahhh, the clip-on tuner... the blessing and curse of the ukulele world. Why a blessing? Well that much is surely obvious - they are cheap and make it much easier (and quicker) to tune than using pitch pipes or a tuning fork and you just kind of leave them there ready to do their thing - a great invention. And why a curse? Well I think that in many cases with the ukulele beginner they rely too much on the tuner. "But my tuner says so, and therefore it must be right". And with that I fear that a new generation of players are losing the ability to actually listen to notes and certainly the ability to tune by ear from another instrument... 

Please don't get me wrong though. I love them, and I use them all the time for the convenience factor, but I would still urge all of my readers to learn to use your own ears as well as using a tuner!

Rant over, and on to this pair. You will surely agree that D'Addario is a trusted name in musical instrument products, so you would expect these to have a certain decent quality level to them. You would not be wrong. The market for clip on tuners is pretty excessive in my opinion and I have seen so many that are flimsy or badly designed. Neither of those complaints apply here.

D'Addario Ukulele Tuners


First up is a tuner I have featured before on Got A Ukulele in the form of the NS Micro Headstock Tuner (the PW-CT. I first starting using the Micro because I had become sick of the overly large clip on tuners I was using before such as the Snark. Sure, they do their job, but not only do I think they look ugly, but I lost count of how many I broke, in many cases as a result of being on stage, turning the ukulele and whacking them on a microphone stand. No, I wanted something smaller and the Micro from D'Addario is now what I have been using for clip on tuning for some time.

D'Addario Micro NS Ukulele Tuner


The form factor is tiny, to such an extent that when performing, most in the audience would not know it is there. And it becomes even more unobtrusive when you hit the 'reverse' button and put the tuner on the other way around so the display is behind the headstock. Brilliant.  

D'Addario Micro Ukulele Tuner in reverse


Not that the diminutive size means it is hard to read though.. the screen is extremely bright and easy to read, and also importantly in operation it registers notes quickly and accurately. Some cheap tuners can fail in this department leading to sights of people on stage endlessly plucking notes trying to get the tuner to even register. This works as you would expect with both a note and needle display showing you whether you are sharp or flat, together with a colour guide (green in tune, red out of tune).

The clip part is not spring loaded like so many others, rather you adjust the size to fit the headstock and push it on.

Together with the ability to flip the screen, the micro also has adjustment buttons allowing you to 'tune the tuner' (meaning adjust the frequency of the A note up and down from the standard 440 Hz). It also has a cool Metronome feature the displays a bouncing light back and forth to the beat setting you choose. Handy for practice.

So I say all that about my dislike for larger clip on tuners, and then out of the package from D'Addario falls their standard Chromatic Headstock Tuner which is clearly much larger than the micro. Would I rekindle my love for the larger tuners? 

D'Addario Chromatic Headstock Tuner


Well actually, yes I really rather like this one too. First of all, you could really not say it was ugly like the Snark. It's  modern looking, sleek and best of all it folds down flat when on the headstock. I like that.

And when you unfold it the tuner immediately springs into life showing off its large and very bright screen that is super easy to read.

Attaching it is simple as it employs the more standard spring loaded clip mechanism, but the whole thing feels solid and it doesn't have the flimsy hinge so often the plague of these things.

Operation wise it's exactly the same as the Micro, just larger - the same note and needle display with colour coding and the same ability to reverse the screen and mount it underneath the headstock. Whilst it also has buttons to tune the tuner, it lacks the metronome feature of the micro, which is a shame as that large screen could have shown that off really clearly.

D'Addario Chromatic Headstock Tuner screen


But that is a minor gripe for a clip on tuner that I really rather like. It's the look of it for me, coupled with the ability to fold it down and that super clear screen that I really rather like.

At the end of the day, if you play ukulele you WILL be buying a clip on tuner. In fact if you are like me, you will go through lots of them. I say, avoid the cheap and nasty. Some of those are hard to actually operate and not that accurate and I've far too many fall apart. I consider D'Addario to be a name you can trust, and these are certainly well constructed with no flimsy hinges. If you think clip on tuners are expensive, I can assure you they are not. I remember the days where tuners were huge bulky things that you had to plug a cable into and cost a fortune. I also remember the first clip on tuners from Intellitouch and they cost close to £100 and this was 20 years ago! No, clip on tuners today are NOT expensive.

Which one do I recommend? That's hard to say - get both! Take a look at the video below to see them in action. Seriously - both will perform well for you.

The Chromatic Headstock Tuner retails for around $27 and the NS Micro for around $21 (though shopping around will get you them much cheaper!)



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If you enjoy this blog, donations are welcomed to allow me to invest more time in bringing you ukulele articles. Aside from the Google ads, I don't get paid to write this blog. Many of the review instruments are bought by Got A Ukulele then sold on at a loss or donated to charity. But buying them and keeping this going takes funds! Thank you!