GOT A UKULELE - Learn Ukulele, beginners tips and reviews

23 Oct 2016

Kaka KUS-25D Soprano - REVIEW

A new brand for the Got A Ukulele reviews bench this week, and one with an unfortunate sounding name - The Kaka KUS-25D Soprano.

Kaka KUS-25D Soprano Ukulele

Now let's get that name over with before we get into the depths of the review. My apologies if this sounds childish, and I fully appreciate that it may not mean something to you in certain parts of the world, but.... In the UK and I believe in the US, the word 'Kaka' is more commonly associated with something you would pick up after your dog or find in a baby's nappy or diaper. I was actually staggered when I saw somebody had named a ukulele 'Kaka' for that reason. Language differences I suppose and you may not see the point I am making.

Anyway, Kaka ukuleles seem to be all over sites like Amazon at the moment and no doubt are attracting attention on account of their low prices and generous package deals. This one is no different, and costs around £60 or $70 to purchase. A very attractive price,  and as you will see comes with a variety of extras to further sweeten the deal.

It's a standard shaped soprano instrument, with a double bout that is all finished in satin. My first gripe with Kaka is in the product description that I am seeing go out on certain stores (like Amazon). It is being listed as being made from an AAA grade solid African mahogany top and AAA laminate african mahogany sides. Now at least they are not comitting the cardinal sin of misleading the buyer into it being solid when it isn't, but I would say this:  There is NOTHING 'AAA' grade about the wood this ukulele is made from. I don't even know what AAA means, but I am sure you will agree that it conjures up something 'special' or 'rare'. In reality, the woods on this instrument are some of the plainest and most dull looking pieces of mahogany I have ever seen in all my instrument reviews. Mahogany is not the most striking wood, but this is pale and devoid of any grain stripe or pattern. AAA? I really don't think so, and consider that to be marketing speak of the lowest order.

Kaka KUS-25D Soprano Ukulele sound hole

Looking at it more closely, the top is also rather thick for solid wood - the bane of many cheap end 'solid' offerings as they are made to such a low budget that it is safer to make them thick than have them split after they have been bought. The downside to thick tops is that they sap all projection and power from the instrument when played. In short they are harder to naturally vibrate through the strings.

The sides are in two pieces of mahogany laminate and the back is slightly arched. The whole thing is finished in a satin gloss that allows some of the wood pores to show through. The finish is quite nicely done for the price to be honest with no bare patches, pools or bubbles.

Decoration wise, we have no edge binding but the sound hole is decorated with an inlaid rope marquetry design. Nice to see this rather than a decal. The bridge is interesting on account of it being neither a tie bar or slotted design. The strings actually go through holes in the bridge and are knotted on the inside of the instrument. Kind of like a pin bridge but with no pins. For me that makes for fiddly string changes as you need to feed them through and fish them out of the sound hole.

The bridge itself is made of glossed rosewood and is a less than usual design. Kaka say that they have patented this design of bridge, but I wonder how. To me it looks just like the bridge design used on Taylor guitars.. I do like the design of it, but it's hardly unique or groundbreaking. Sitting in the bridge is a compensated bone saddle. Compensation on a saddle is a nice thing, but to me it seems totally pointless when you consider that the bridge on this one is visibly set in the wrong place. That is to say - the whole thing is on a slight angle. Things like that are pretty fatal for an instrument as they will throw off the intonation up the neck. We shall see.

Kaka KUS-25D Soprano Ukulele bridge

Looking inside, we have an otherwise tidy build, with notched kerfing and tidy bracing. Also adorning the body are two strap buttons with one on the base and one on the heel of the neck. This is a nice addition.

Up to the neck, this is made of mahogany and has very visible joints at the heel and half way up the neck holding its three pieces together. Sitting on top of this is a rosewood fingerboard which is a little uneven in colour but otherwise in good enough condition. We have 12 nickel silver frets to the body and a generous (for a soprano) 17 in total.  This is a nice touch as most cheap sopranos have less and you tend to find you run out of notes for some pieces of music. They are all dressed very well and the edges are hidden by painted edges. I do like how the end of the fingerboard extends down to the sound hole and follows the curve.

Kaka KUS-25D Soprano Ukulele fingerboard

We have outward facing fret markers inlaid in pearl and thankfully these are repeated on the side.

The nut is plastic and cut far too high (as you will read below). This moves on to an interesting shape of headstock with the Kaka logo engraved in in. I like unusual shaped headstocks, but think this one is just too narrow. It means the tuner posts are far too close together as shown by the severe break angle of the G and A strings as they leave the nut. I'm not a fan.

Kaka KUS-25D Soprano Ukulele headstock

Tuning is provided by silver sealed, unbranded geared tuners. The small black rubber buttons are nice but the tuners themselves are very cheap. They hold well enough, but I never like tuners where some are easier to turn than others. Also on the back of the neck is a sticker of authenticity. I will leave you to make your own judgements as to whether that is really necessary or not...

Kaka KUS-25D Soprano Ukulele tuners

Completing the deal is quite a package. First we have fitted Aquila strings, but the Kaka also comes with an embroidered gig bag, a chord chart, a pick, a strap, a polishing cloth and a clip on tuner. Also in the bundle was an intriguing back of white strings with an Aquila card. I found this odd as Aquila strings are always packaged with colour coded wallets so you know which is which. These are just four strings in a plastic bag. You would have no idea which was which rendering them kind of useless. To the best of my knowledge, Aquila do NOT provide their strings this way, so I would be interested to hear their take on this and whether they authorised it.

Kaka KUS-25D Soprano Ukulele accessories

So, a lot for your money, but some issues for me. On to the playing.

Kaka KUS-25D Soprano Ukulele strap button

First of all, it feels nice enough in the hands on account of that satin finish and the tidy fret board. Sadly the whole thing is neck heavy and not balanced at all. That's another major gripe for me. I don't like holding an instrument that feels like the headstock is trying to drop to the floor.

But the biggest issues I have with it are on volume and projection and one of intonation. Firstly, this is not a loud instrument. In fact it sounds strangled and mute. I can only put it down to that thick top, but you really need to hammer these strings to get some volume out of it. In the review video below, I manage that, but believe me, I was strumming it hard. A real shame, if not fatal. I guess some people like quiet ukuleles!

But most displeasing for me was that intonation. Tuned accurately at the nut, several of the strings sound off further down the neck. Most strings go sharp when fretted at the first fret and it generally sounds dischordant. Now, a lot of that can be sorted with a thorough setup, and certainly the issues with the high nut can certainly be fixed. But I do wonder how much of that is down to the badly placed bridge - that is a much harder one to overcome. Naturally, others may not have that bridge issue and with a setup you might be able to get them playing in tune. It's still quiet though!

Sound wise, it's rather uninspiring aside from the above. No real depth to the sound. There is some reasonably good sustain, but otherwise I found it sounding a little confused and muddy.

As you can probably tell, I am not a fan of this one. Looks wise it is ok I suppose (and I have seen far worse), but it's completely let down by the way it plays. I don't like the marketing spin of how they describe the wood, and as for the 'package' being attractive, it does seem clear to me that throwing the kitchen sink at a ukulele in terms of goodies never hides the flawed instrument underneath. In fact, with the whole thing costing £60 it does make you wonder what the underlying ukulele costs if you take away all the extras. It's also another prime example of the fact that just because you use 'solid wood' doesn't automatically mean it will be any good. Add to that the fact that I could never personally play an instrument with Kaka on the headstock in public, and I am afraid this one gets a NO from me.


Price (but at a cost)
Nice enough finish
Pre-installed strap buttons
Well dressed frets and plenty of them


Misleading product description
Very plain wood
Top is too thick
Bridge incorrectly set
Nut needs setup
Cheap tuners
Neck heavy
Minimal projection and volume
Intonation issues


Looks - 7 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6 out of 10
Sound - 5 out of 10
Value for money - 6 out of 10



18 Oct 2016

Primrose Hill - Loudon Wainwright III - Ukulele Chords

Couldn't resist another one from the great Loudon Wainwright III for ukulele - Primrose Hill.

This is one of my favourite songs of his from the album 'So Damn Happy'. It tells the (true) story of the homeless busker Loudon reportedly saw on his walks through Primrose Hill when he used to live in London. It's a really simple song that works well on ukulele. These chords are a match for the original key, but very easy to transpose!

There are a couple of instrumental interludes between some of the verses, but they use exactly the same chord progression.

PRIMROSE HILL - LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III - for education purposes only

(D) Living on the side of Primrose Hill
Drinking (G) cans of Tennents just can't seem to get my fill
Got a (A) beat up guitar and a dirty old sleeping bag
And this (G) mangy dog whose tail don't wag

(D) Sun's been shining down on my hillside bed
(G) That's not the only reason my face is so red
This (A) nasty cut on my nose is not from no fight
I just fell (G) down yesterday or maybe it was last night

(D) And I used to sing and play down in the underground
(G) But a few years back they started cracking down
Now I'm (A) living on the side of Primrose Hill
I'm no (G) tourist attraction but I give them a thrill

(D) Yeah I see you riding by on your flash new bicycle
Yeah they (G) can do you for that on Primrose Hill
(A) A pretty young mother goes by she's pushing her pram
(G) Her little baby leans out just to see what I am

(D) From the top of the hill there's a hell of a view
(G) Houses of Parliament and London Zoo
Those (A) politicians all chatter they trumpet and roar
That must (G) be what those hyenas all are laughing for

(D) When you come up to London it sure is something to see
(G) It's somewhere to go but it's no place to be
And there's (A) two things keeping me from going 'round the bend
(G) I got my music and this dog for a friend

(D) 'Cause life gets slippery when you're living on the side
Yeah I (G) know I should quit drinking but I haven't even tried
(A) My mutt's licking my fingers and I'm wetting my lips
I got a (G) can of extra strong and a bag of chicken and chips

(D) If I had a little money I'd get a few things
(G) Like a bottle of vodka and a pack of new guitar strings
I guess (A) I could die here on the side of this hill
(G) I'm no tourist attraction but I'd give them a chill

(D) And I'm living on the side Of Primrose Hill
Drinking (G) cans of Tennents Just can't seem to get my fill
Got a (A) beat up guitar And dirty old sleeping bag
(G) This mangy dog..... Whose tail won't wag (A)


17 Oct 2016

The Ukulele Song - Loudon Wainwright III - CHORDS

You might not know it, but this website takes it's name from this song by Loudon Wainwright III.

Loudon Wainwright III with ukulele

Check the opening line! Figured I was overdue putting the chords up on here considering that fact!

Quite a tricky one on the bridge bit, but am sure you can master it.  Those Eb chords are:

Eb6 - 1111
EbM7 - 1113
Eb - 1114

So you kind of do it best with a full barre  and use your little finger to get the 3rd and 4th frets. The rest of it is a kind of skiffle between  Bb, C and F7

Video to assist you (and you'll see Loudon doing that barre), and chords and lyrics below for educational purposes.

THE UKULELE SONG - by - Loudon Wainwright III

[Bb] Got a ukulele, [C] now i'm not afraidee
[F7] Cat in case I get a bout of [Bb] blues [F7]
[Bb] In the event I get 'em, [C] there's no way i'll let 'em
[F7] bring me down, no way, I will [Bb] refuse..  [F7] believe me

[Bb] Cos a ukulele [C] is like a little baby
[F7] you cradle it in your arms and you just [Bb] sing [F7]
A [Bb] lullaby or ditty, [C] when you're feeling shitty
[F7] it will cheer you up it's just the [Bb] thing.


Life [Eb6]could [EbM7] be [Eb] bright [EbM7] and [Eb6] breezy
[Bb] when it should be nice and easy
[F7] there's nothing hard or heavy about a [Bb] uke [Bb7]
[Eb6]I [EbM7] dont [Eb] play [EbM7] bull [Eb6] fiddle
[Bb] no mystery, no riddle
[C7] shlepping that thing make you look like a [F7] kook

[Bb] Four strings made of nylon [C] always put a smile on
[F7] anybodys face who's feeling [Bb] blue [F7]
[Bb] When your mind starts slumming [C] start a little strumming
[F7] on your uke and your gonna feel brand [Bb] new [F7]

(SCAT VERSE - over same chords as other verses)

[Bb] Even though it's raining [C] quit all your complaining
[F7] your roof's not leaking, nothings getting [Bb] in [F7]
[Bb] This axe is a hatchet, [C] there's magic you can catch it
[F7] on your uke you can't lose you just [Bb] win

Life [Eb6]could [EbM7] be [Eb] bright [EbM7] and [Eb6] breezy
[Bb] when it should be nice and easy
[F7] there's nothing hard or heavy about a [Bb] uke [Bb7]
[Eb6]I [EbM7] dont [Eb] play [EbM7] the [Eb6] tuba
[Bb] tubas do it to ya
[C7] just the thought of tubas makes me [F7] puke (you gotta believe me)

Kind [Bb] sirs and gentle ladies, [C] grab your ukuleles
[F7] I suspect by now you know my [Bb] song [F7]
[Bb] The next time that I do it [C] get down and get in to it
[F7] I trust you all will sing and strum a [Bb]long [F7] believe me

I [Bb] Got a ukulele, [C] now i'm not afraidee
[F7] Cat in case I get a bout of [Bb] blues [F7]
[Bb] In the event I get 'em, [C] there's no way i'll let 'em
[F7] bring me down, no way, I will [Bb] refuse..

[Bb]Be [C7] lee [F7]eeve [Bb7]me....

16 Oct 2016

Logjam Travelog 2 - REVIEW

Review time, and not a ukulele this week, rather an accessory that I think uke players will really like. Say hello to the Travelog 2 from Logjam.

Got A Ukulele reviews - Logjam Travelog 2

The Travelog is a stompbox in the truest sense of the word. By that I don't mean it's a stompbox such as an effects pedal, rather it's a box you stomp! They are made in the UK and were the brainchild of Howard Bragen. The product also has some rather impressive endorsees including Seth Lakeman, Guy Garvey and our own Phil Doleman (who I have seen perform with one!)

The concept is simple, but highly effective. The Travelog is a wooden box chamber that contains a capsule pickup. Plugging the Travelog into an amplifier you have a box at your feet that when you tap it creates a beat sound kind of like a bass kick drum. The idea is as old as the hills and for years, folk performers would use upturned wooden crates to create a beat sound with their feet on stage. By making them small and capable of amplifcation, Logjam have developed something that you can easily carry around and with the right amplifer, make as much noise as you like.

The construction is simple but rugged and really rather pleasing. The body of the Travelog is made from a block of sustainable Sapele wood which contains a routed chamber inside housing the pickup. You connect that pickup to an amplifier with a standard guitar cable into the jack socket screwed to the side of the box. And that really is it. No batteries, and nothing really that I can see that can go wrong.

Got A Ukulele reviews - Logjam Travelog 2 jack socket

The hand finish is really rather nice as it's finished in rubbed linseed oil. The wood-shop smell from the box when you open it is divine! Aside from that is the Logjam logo plate riveted to the front of the box and an essential grippy rubber mat glued to the base to stop it sliding around on wooden floors.

What I found really interesting to play around with was the range of sounds you can get. Of course you can play around with the EQ on your amplifier (I found it best mainly on the bassy side, but really, the rules are yours to make or break), but choosing different footwear gives very different sounds too. In the video below I am wearing fairly hard leather soled shoes, which gives a very bright snappy sound, but if you use it in a pair of rubber soles, such as trainers or Doctor Martens, you get a more bassy thud.

Got A Ukulele reviews - Logjam Travelog 2 name plate

Logjam recommend that it's best paired with a large-ish amplifier with good bass response for obvious reasons. For the video however, I have it running into a small simple Roland Mobile Cube and found it is still effective as an accompaniment to an acoustic instrument. Obviously if you are going to plug your ukulele in, you will need the Logjam plugged into something powerful to balance it. But the beauty of the simple design that it's only need is a jack input, means the sky is the limit. This would be a hoot to connect to a powerful PA system!

So why is this featuring on a ukulele blog? Well simple really - the ukulele on it's own has a pretty thin sound and it does (I think) come alive when accompanied by something else. Performers around the world who are playing songs (less so those who play delicate instrumentals) bolster the ukulele by playing in larger groups, or adding friends on bass guitar (or uke) or things like Cajon hand drums. But the role of the solo troubadour song singer is still one that many people are drawn to. And if you don't want to take drummer out on gigs with you, something like this gives you an extra dimension to your sound.  A self accompanying beat!

Got A Ukulele reviews - Logjam Travelog 2 rubber base

The Travelog is part of a range of similar products from Logjam, but I like this one for the balance of size, simplicity and just sheer ruggedness to throw in your gig bag. If you are a solo performer, I think something like this could really add new options to some of your set. Recommended

The Travelog retails at a shade under £65 and is available from music dealers and from Logjam direct


8 Oct 2016

Ukulele Capos Roundup - REVIEW

An accessory that I haven't really talked much about on Got A Ukulele is the Ukulele Capo.

It's something I am seeing more and more of, so thought it would be good to do a roundup review of the main styles available.
ukulele capos
Clockwise from top left - Shubb, D'Addario, Chord Trigger

So what is a capo? Well it's short for 'Capo d'astro / Capotastro' and is a device used on stringed instruments to deliberately shorten the scale length of the instrument. In essence it's a clamp that can be applied to one of the fret spaces to raise the key of the instrument when played open by effectively moving the nut down a selected number of spaces. It's used to transpose a sequence of music up in key whilst allowing the player to use the same chord shapes.

Now, I personally haven't really seen the need for ukulele capos. They are popular on guitar, but then the guitar has a much wider fretboard, is harder to engage the strings and has six of the blighters. On the ukulele however, I've never found it all that complex to use natures own capo - the first finger - to barre the neck and do the same job. But the spirit of Got A Ukulele has never been to tell people that 'you can't do that', and as I say, I am seeing an increasing number of people use capos, and not just beginners either. At the end of the day, they are convenient!

For me, there are various elements to a ukulele capo that are important to take into account.

First thing is the size of the capo. I shudder when I see people saying they use a guitar capo - that would be an incredibly bulky thing to clip on the neck of such a diminutive instrument. In short, you want a capo that doesn't intrude on your left hand technique.

Coupled with that point is weight. I have an intent dislike for ukuleles that are unbalanced and heavy in the neck. If you are playing without a strap, they always feel like the neck is trying to drop to the floor and it's an uncomfortable experience. Adding weight to the neck of an instrument can only cause problems in that regard.

And finally we have to think about ease of use and price...  So I've gathered together a few types here that I think represent the most common capos you will find on the market.  There are others, but they are all just variations on a theme.

First up is a generic trigger style capo, often referred to as a Kyser (although, in actual fact, a Kyser capo is quite different, but it's the same general principle). This model is made by Chord but these sort of capos really are ten a penny in all sorts of brands, and all do the same thing. It's basically a clip that acts like a clothes peg, with a spring to keep it in the closed position. There are a number of positives with the trigger style capo. They are cheap (this one retails at about £5), they are light (this one is 17 grams) and they are super easy to attach and move up and down the neck. You can even clip them to the headstock when not using them and they naturally fit all depths and profiles of neck without adjustment. I like all of those features, but this sort of style is just not something I can get on with to be honest. You see, when in place and fretting in the low positions with your hand right next to it, I find it gets in the way. Those sharp edges and sticking out bits catch my hand when in use. It's damn annoying. Your mileage may vary as your hand size and technique may have something to do with it of course, but these are not for me.

trigger ukulele capo
Trigger style ukulele capo

Next up is an old favourite in the guitar world with a ukulele capo made by Shubb. These clip capos have been around on guitars for years, and they are incredibly popular. The simple reason is that they are tough as old boots, simple to use and unobtrusive when in use.  So I was delighted to see a ukulele version, which is similarly made. The Shubb uses a clever hinge to lock it in place, but it does take some adjustment of the screw to set it for your particular depth of neck. It's clever though and very well made. That solid construction though comes at a price as they are HEAVY. In fact, this Shubb weighs a whopping 51 grams, which for me is a heck of a lot of weight to be hanging on the neck of your instrument. (EDIT - I have been informed that Shubb make a 'Lite' version of this, but it is still the heaviest of these three at about 28 grams).  On the plus side though it's easy to use (though not quite as easy as the trigger style), and when in place is folded down into a small area so it really doesn't interfere with the fretting hand. You may however wince when you realise that the price of around £17... For me though it's all about that weight. A nice idea that is perfect for the guitar, but totally over-engineered for the ukulele I think.

Shubb ukulele capo
Shubb ukulele capo

Finally is the kind of halfway house that is more of your manual style capo. This one is from D'Addario / Planet Waves. At about £17 this is also not cheap, but it's very well made from lightweight aluminium. In fact it's the lightest of the three looked at here, weighing a meagre 14 grams. And in addition to not noticing the weight, when it is in place it takes up so little space that you don't notice it when playing either. In fact it is far smaller than the Shubb. There is a downside though. The D'Addario is attached by adjusting the rear screw to open the capo like a vice, and then tightening it when in place. It means that swift changes of position can be fiddly, and if ever there was a capo that was going to get lost on stage - this is it! It's just not as straightforward to adjust as the other two.

D'Addario ukulele capo
D'Addario ukulele capo

So as you can see, there are compromises with all three. Personally I can live with some of those downsides, but weight and the capo interfering with my playing are two that I would want to rule out absolutely. For me then, the D'Addario is the only one I would live with. Sure, it is less user friendly to move about, but when in place it's almost like it isn't there. And that has to be the most important thing I'd say.

Of course, you could also make more of your forefinger, or, if you don't like the cost of these things, revert to the old guitarists trick of placing a stubby pencil on the fret space and looping an elastic band between the two ends around the back of the neck. (Trust me - it works).  But seriously, if you don't like capos, that's fine. Don't shoot those that do though - we don't want another strap / plectrum debate...

Video below to see them in action.


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