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21.5.15

Zahra Lowzley - Ukulele Cycle Tour Of Britain

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


Sam Wise who is helping her organise her tour writes:

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

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




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

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

JUNE

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

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

AUGUST
1st - 30th - Edinburgh Fringe Festival

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




20.5.15

Fitting A Strap Button to A Ukulele

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


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

Enjoy




16.5.15

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


15.5.15

Something Fishy? Fishing Line as Ukulele Strings

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

How they sound on my Kanile'a Tenor uke:



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



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

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

14.5.15

The Mother Ukers - Love Cats for Margaret Green Animal Rescue

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


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

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

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

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

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



http://www.motherukers.com

http://www.margaretgreenanimalrescue.org.uk


The Mother Ukers - Pioneers of Ukular Fusion




13.5.15

Ukulele Turin Orchestra - Muse - Uprising

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


Now that's busking!



( DIRECT LINK )


11.5.15

Clearwater / Aroma Folding Ukulele Stand - REVIEW

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


Folding Ukulele Stand with Concert ukulele


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

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

Folding Ukulele Stand next to Concert ukulele


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

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

Folding Ukulele Stand adjustable width


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

Folding Ukulele Stand folded down


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

And at £15 - well, why not?

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

PROS 

Cheap
Light
Portability

CONS

Not the most stable stand on the block

VIDEO REVIEW




10.5.15

Should I Worry About Ukulele Humidity?

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classic symptoms of a dry instrument may include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







9.5.15

To Have And To Have Not - Billy Bragg - Ukulele Chords

Another one from Mr Billy Bragg - really easy to play on ukulele or any instrument really. Same pattern all the way through.


Chords for educational purposes only..

TO HAVE AND TO HAVE NOT

[G] [C] [G] [Em] [D] [G]
[G] [C] [G][Em] [D] [G]

[G] Up in the morning and [C] out to [G] school
[Em] Mother says there'll be no [D] work next [G]year
[G] Qualifications once the [C] golden [G] rule
Are [Em] now just pieces of [D] paper [G]

[G] Just because your [C] better than [G] me
[Em] Doesn't mean I'm [D] lazy [G]
[G] Just because you're [C] going [G] forwards
[Em] Doesn't mean I'm [D] going [G] backwards

[G] [C] [G] [Em] [D] [G]
[G] [C] [G][Em] [D] [G]

[G] If you look the part  you'll [C] get the [G] job
[Em] last years trousers and your [D] old school [G] shoes
The [G] truth is son, it's a [C] buyers [G] market
[Em] They can afford to [D] pick and [G] choose

[G] Just because your [C] better than [G] me
[Em] Doesn't mean I'm [D] lazy [G]
[G] Just because I [C] dress [G] like this
[Em] Doesn't mean I'm [D] a [G] communist

[G] [C] [G] [Em] [D] [G]
[G] [C] [G][Em] [D] [G]

[G] Factories are closing and the [C] army's [G] full
[Em] I don't know what I'm [D] going to [G] do
But I've [G] come to see in the [C] land of the [G] free
[Em] There's only a future for the [D] chosen [G] few

[G] Just because your [C] better than [G] me
[Em] Doesn't mean I'm [D] lazy [G]
[G] Just because you're [C] going [G] forwards
[Em] Doesn't mean I'm [D] going [G] backwards

[G] [C] [G] [Em] [D] [G]
[G] [C] [G][Em] [D] [G]

[G] At twenty one you're on [C] top of the [G] scrap heap
[Em] At sixteen you were [D] top of your [G] class
[G] All they taught you at school was how to [C] be a good [G] worker
The [Em] system has failed you don't [D] fail your [G] self

[G] Just because your [C] better than [G] me
[Em] Doesn't mean I'm [D] lazy [G]
[G] Just because you're [C] going [G] forwards
[Em] Doesn't mean I'm [D] going [G] backwards

[G] [C] [G] [Em] [D] [G]
[G] [C] [G][Em] [D] [G]





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