23.8.14

Ukulele Hangers - REVIEW

Sometimes things come along which are just so simply brilliant that it is a joy for me to write about them. Such is the case with Ukulele Hangers.


ukulele hangers


Hanging ukuleles (or, indeed, other instruments) is something a lot of people like to do. It keeps them off the floor, off stands that can be knocked over, and it also makes a music room look just great in my opinion. There are a range of yoke type hangers on the market, but I have never really been a fan. Most of them require some pretty heavy duty screwing or bolting to the wall for security and that is a hassle I don't really need. I would also be concerned about the cheaper ones as to what sort of foam padding is used on the part you hang the ukulele on - with vintage finishes this foam can react and destroy the gloss on the back of the neck. As such, i've never done it.

ukulele hanger attached to tuners

Then Jon from Stable Yard Music got in touch with me asking that I take a look at his ukulele hanging product. As I say above, its so simple it's brilliant!

They are made from tough 550 Paracord and come in a range of bright colours and just simply slip over the top two tuners of your uke with pre knotted loops. These can be tightened by hand to secure them (though I didn't really find that necessary) and that leaves another loop sticking above the uke for hanging on a wall hook. And that is it! You can also leave it on the instrument when you are playing as it really doesn't get in the way of anything, and the tuners are still perfectly useable.

hanging ukulele


And rather than over charge for something quite so simple, they only cost £1.49 and can be shipped worldwide.

I suppose they sit in that 'why didn't I think of that?' category, so hats off from me to Jon. And at that price, you can also put them in the 'why would I not spend £1.49 on these?' category too! I think they are great for just leaving on the uke or keeping in a gig bag - you never know when it will come in handy and they weigh next to nothing.

The Ukulele Hangers can be purchased through his website at http://www.ukulelehangers.com. Highly recommended.

ukulele hanging on wall




21.8.14

Ka1a1aika - Amelie Ukulele duet - Comptine d'Un Autre Été

I dont blog YouTube ukulele videos anywhere near as much as I used to. Simple reason is that YouTube is awash with bedroom recordings of Jason Mraz and others, and its quite hard to find something really nice in between it all.


Then I fell across this video of a duo under the name of Ka1a1aika covering this Yann Tiersen piece from the soundtrack of the film Amelie (also one of my favourite films which helps).

I think it is really rather lovely. Uke spotters, that is a Kanilea K1T and a Kala solid Acacia tenor)

Enjoy




13.8.14

EEK For Eurovision - Bingy Bingy Bangy Bong.

I can't resist getting behind this song.  A little while ago the excellent Omega Music launched an online competition called the Ukuvision Song Contest 2014, in which people submitted videos of original songs which then went to public vote to win a Kala Uke.

Matt from Omega got in touch today to tell me that Martyn 'Eek' Cooper who wrote this one is going to submit it for the actual Eurovision Song Contest 2015. And you know, he is just about crazy and loveable enough to pull it off.

Martyn, better known as his clowning alter ego 'Eek' is a well known face on ukulele circuits over here in the UK, and has performed at the largest festivals. He's also a very funny and jolly nice chap. Here he is on stage at the 2013 Grand Northern Ukulele Festival (thats him on the left!) with Phil Doleman, Tony Casey and Mary Agnes Krell. He also compered the Saturday.



Anyway - enough waffling, here's the video.  Give it a like!

11.8.14

Workshops With A Difference at The Grand Northern Ukulele Festival

One thing that you will always find at a ukulele festival are players workshops. Its something of a peculiarity that goes with the instrument I guess, but they are always hugely popular with those attending. The most common sort of workshops are the 'learn how to play' type, where you can often learn along with some of the headline acts from the show. This year though, the team at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival have decided to offer some extra workshops with a difference which certainly look exciting!

In fact, GNUF this year are promising that EVERY playing workshop is brand new - they have never been done at other UK festivals, ever! Their workshops cover three distinct types this year - playing, performing and making. Check out the full listing on the grid below.

GNUF Workshop clash finder
Click to enlarge

Phil Doleman ukulele workshop
Phil Doleman




On the playing side you can learn tips and tricks from the likes of Phil Doleman (who has created brand new classes for this festival covering unlocking the fingerboard and blues) and Chonkinfeckle's Les Hilton looking at open tunings, this year based around the Van Morrison classic, Brown Eyed Girl. Ken Middleton also makes a return to the workshop section.













Andy Eastwood
Andy Eastwood



GNUF also have new workshop additions from the likes of Del Ray (one of the festival headliners, with a Jug Band Blues party), Andy Eastwood  (one of the most technically gifted players I have seen on stage) who is teaching Formby styles, and the magnificent Ukulelezaza teaching the 12th Street Rag. Also recently added is a workshop from Peter Moss - a hugely talented player and well respected tutor who is teaching chord sequences, minor chords and timing.  Like your jazz? Adam Franklin will be on hand to teach 20's and 30's hot jazz rhythm picking styles.


The Mother Ukers
The Mother Ukers


On offer are a singing / busking workshop with the Mersey Belles in which you will get to perform on stage with them, musical clowning with Vonck and Vlam, and one I particularly like in which you will get to learn to record a song with the Mother Ukers, and then get a download of it after the festival. It will also appear on a future Mother Ukers album!




And finally, what a delight it would be to appear on the main festival stage with Tricity Vogue and her All Girl Swing Band! Yes, you can do that too.

Tricity Vogue
Tricity Vogue and her All Girl Swing Band

And then on to 'making', GNUF returns with two great hands on workshops from last year which were HUGELY popular last year. Making a wash tub bass or making a Diddly Bow with master UK Luthier Rob Collins. At both you get to keep the instrument you made!

Rob Collins with Diddly Bow

So why am I telling you all this? Well places on these are going really FAST, with some I didn't mention sold out now, so not long to go. The festival takes place on 13-14 September in Huddersfield. If you want to attend a workshop, DON'T leave it until you get there as you may be disappointed.

All details on the workshops can be found at http://www.northernuke.com/2014-festival/workshops/

I will be at the festival too if you want to come and say hello! Roll on September!



7.8.14

Kamoa E3E Bass Ukulele REVIEW

You know, it surprises me that out of all the instruments I have reviewed on this site, I haven't yet looked at a ukulele bass. I suppose there are not that many about if the truth be told, but they are becoming increasingly popular. I was therefore delighted to have this Kamoa E3E Bass ukulele sent to me on loan by the good folks at Southern Ukulele Store.


Kamoa E3E Ukulele Bass


Confession first though. I am not a fan of ukulele basses. When I started on uke, there really was no such thing and then Kala came through with their U Bass models, the ones with the rubbery strings. I don't want to be controversial but I just don't like them. I just cannot get on with those thick, grippy strings that kind of twist on the fingertip and take an age to settle into tune. Don't get me wrong, in the right hands (and I am no bass player) they have a terrific woody sound, very like a double bass, but those strings and their low tension just niggle with me. But there is another reason too..... Why a 'ukulele' bass? A ukulele is the size it is because of its history and heritage. Its a ukulele, that is how they look! So why the drive to make a bass guitar smaller? Why does it need to match the ukulele on scale?  At a gig of ours some time ago somebody said to me afterwards (having spied our full scale bass guitar) 'oh I suppose you 'get away with' playing a bass guitar because it has four strings?'.... I was lost for words.... Getting away with what??  Because we play ukes doesnt mean everything has to be miniaturised... We use a regular bass guitar because we like the sound. End of! As such I have always been confused as to why there is a U Bass market. But... there is, and it is growing, I just  never felt compelled to join the clamour for one on account of THOSE STRINGS!

The Kamoa arrived though and I was extremely pleased. You see the E3E is a bass in every way, down to the fact it uses steel flat wound bass strings and not the rubbery ones.  I was always led to believe that Kala went with the plastic strings to keep the tension down and therefore not destroy the uke, but Kamoa seem to have done it, and with more tension than a U Bass too! Let us take a closer look.

The Kamoa E3E is essentially a far eastern made baritone ukulele body with a wider bass neck stuck on to it. The body is in traditional figure of eight shape and is made from solid woods (spruce on the top and maple on the back and sides).  The top is made from two pieces and is stained in red satin finish which just about allows the wood grain to show through. The sides are finished in a similar way and there are no flaws in the finish whatsoever making it feel very tactile if a little one dimensional. The top and back are joined to the sides with inner notched kerfing, and outer cream binding with some black white black trim. The back has a slight arch to it too.  It all looks very clean though I think and goes together well.

Kamoa E3E Ukulele Bass body


The saddle (which appears to be NuBone or similar) sits in a rosewood bridge mount with a nice shape to it, and the strings are held by traditional acoustic guitar pins. I find pins fiddly on ukuleles but with this instrument using ball end bass guitar strings, tying knots in the 'ukulele way' would look a total mess. Aside from a small simple sound hole ring (a transfer) there is little other bling on the E3E at all.

Kamoa E3E Ukulele Bass bridge

Kamoa E3E Ukulele Bass sound hole


The neck is wide to accommodate the extra string girth but is fairly shallow in profile. It is made from two pieces of maple with a joint at the heel and again is stained to match the body. The fingerboard is rosewood and appears to be edge bound (though that may just be darker stain) to hide the fret edges. It is a nice even piece of wood and holds 17 nickel silver frets with 12 to the body. One really nice thing to see is that the fretboard is 'radiused' meaning it has a very slight curve across the face to allow for easier playing, particularly with a wide fingerboard such as this.  Edges of the rather chunky frets (this is a bass!) are very nicely finished and we have large pearloid fret markers at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and a double marker at the 12th. For the player there is a single small side marker at the 7th (well done Kamoa!).

Kamoa E3E Ukulele Bass fingerboard


Past the chunky dark wood nut (rosewood again I think) we have the standard Kamoa headstock shape. I do like it, and whilst it is still yet another crown shape it tapers from the base to the top and I think looks very classy. It is faced with what I think is rosewood with a  small diamond Kamoa logo inlay in maple. All I would say is this headstock shows how nice a finish Kamoa can come up with but it kind of jars against the expanse of red on the rest of the instrument.

Kamoa E3E Ukulele Bass headstock

The tuners are unbranded metal sealed gears finished in black. Basically they are small ish bass guitar tuners and work just fine.

Kamoa E3E Ukulele Bass tuners


Finishing the package is an onboard active pickup system which is branded Kamoa but looks generic to me, perhaps a Belcat. It comes with volume, bass and treble faders and a low battery indicator and runs from a 9v battery. I am not much of a fan of these systems, but there you go. It is functional enough at this price.

Kamoa E3E Ukulele Bass pickup controls


So in short, it is a bass acoustic guitar in baritone uke size and retails in the UK for about £300. It is also designed to be tuned EADG like a regular bass but an octave up (same tuning as a U Bass, but the U Bass is the same as a regular bass guitar or double bass).

Testing it for play is not the easiest thing I can do as I am not a bass guitar player, but the thing that struck me first is that it is considerably louder unplugged than a Kala U Bass, and dare I say it, feels more solid and 'bassy' too. An acoustic bass is never going to be super loud, even at full scale guitar sized, but it sounds great for unplugged practice on account of those steel strings. Oh, and a pick makes it even louder!

The neck feels great in the hand and very much like a full scale bass to me. The setup arrived spot on with very little buzz (in my clumsy bass experience I always tend to create a bit of resonance buzz when I play one), but it is all nice and clear. Accurate across the neck too.

Kamoa E3E Ukulele Bass jack socket


As I said above, the tuners work just fine. They are perhaps a little sloppy when starting to wind, but when in tune they hold just fine.

But it was the pickup I really wanted to try out and it works. I did find that strings 1 and 4 were a touch louder on this, with string 4 giving the uke an overly bass sound even without the bass fader anywhere high. This  would just be a simple tweak to ensure the bottom of the saddle is seated properly and through a fuller bass rig I am not sure I would notice all that much.  It doesn't sound anywhere as woody and thumpy as the Kala U Bass, and you may not like that, but these are steel strings so it is natural I guess. I do find it a lot brighter sounding than I would expect from a bass though and think that cheaper Piezo pickup has something to do with that as it sounds very 'electric' if that makes sense. A good pre amp or amp generally may well work wonders here.

Overall though it is very well put together and looks the part. I like the red colour I guess, but underneath it is actually a fairly plain ukulele and some more glamorous wood choices may have improved it I guess, as it looks a touch uninspired to me.  As I say though, the build is great.

Kamoa E3E Ukulele Bass back


To me though it is really just a small acoustic bass guitar and the jury is still out for me as to why there is a need to call it a ukulele when it isn't...  That isn't a criticism of the instrument itself, more of the uke bass fad - the instrument is a great little thing I think. If you are already a regular bass guitar player or a Kala player who doesn't get on with U Bass strings, these have got to be worth having a look at.

But it is the price that should really turn your head - £300 is on a par with the Kala Rumbler, and cheaper than other U Basses including the Ortega. Great great value in my view and a must see for anyone moving to the bass side!

Check out the video review below and then the scores on the doors!

PRO's

Price
Steel strings
Build quality

CON's

Cheap pickup system
Striking red finish but underwhelming woods underneath


VIDEO REVIEW



SCORES

Looks - 8
Fit and Finish - 9
Sound - 8
Value For Money  - 9

OVERALL - 8.5 out of 10