One of the more common questions I see from new ukulele players on the many forums around on social media relates to minor bits of damage and strumming marks on their musical instruments, and more particular, how they can prevent them. What's going on here? Why the desire to keep a ukulele in shop condition?
|credit - Marc Gallagher|
When you first consider it, I suppose it's natural to want your new ukulele to look nice and shiny because you are pleased with it, perhaps even proud of it. But you will find that you will mark it a some point. Perhaps trivially, perhaps more seriously. We will all have that gut wrenching moment when you accidentally knock your ukulele over, or catch it on a door frame or a table leaving a mark in the finish. In fact it's one of the worst sounds you can hear. But here's the thing. It DOES and WILL happen.
You see, a ukulele for me is nothing more than a tool to make music. And like all tools, they are designed to be put to use, and putting them to use leaves marks and signs of wear and tear. It's completely normal and part and parcel of ownership of an instrument. And I am not talking about utter carelessness here.. I don't mean that it's 'normal' to leave a ukulele out in the rain or to throw it down the stairs, but rather the very act of just playing the thing is bound to leave marks. That's what happens.
And there is a good analogy here that deals with both wear and tear and the difference between that and sheer carelessness. Take gardening or woodworking tools. They are built to be used and if used properly will last a long time, even though they will show signs of day to day wear. A careful craftsman or gardener will accept that this will happen and knows it's part and parcel of the thing being used for the job it was made for. They don't fret about it. Of course, a careful craftsman will also look after their tools and clean them down after use, not leaving them in a state that will shorten their life and affect their use. To not do that would be careless. But the day to day stuff through actual use? The wear and tear just happens. It's unavoidable. And it's the same with instruments.
So if we leave aside the careless ukulele player who throws their instruments around INVITING damage, what about the rest of us? Why would you not accept that things like strumming marks, or wear on the fingerboard, or even the odd ding from playing the thing a lot when these are just part and parcel of owning and loving a ukulele? Why would you want to avoid that? Because really, the only way to truly avoid it is to not play it very much, if at all. And what is the point of that with a musical instrument? Sure, you may want to look after it, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the idea of keeping a ukulele in a hard case or protecting it from damaging environments (that's purely common sense), but when it's out of the case why would you want to avoid playing it for fear of marking it?
For me, a marked ukulele is the sign of a well loved ukulele. A ukulele that has served time in being played long and hard. For me that is a GOOD thing not a bad one. And even if it is played to the point of destruction, well, they are replaceable you know? I look over some of my collection and most have strumming wear. Most have some dings, and in many cases I can remember the place they were dinged! Ukuleles I have gigged with show the worst marks because the gigging environment can invite damage, but even those that only get play around the house (like my Flea and Fluke) have wear marks through the finish on the top. Am I sad about that? Not at all. It shows I use them.
Perhaps one of the saddest responses I hear on this point though is, 'oh because it means better re-sale value if I don't mark it'. Sure, I can't argue with that as a factual statement. A non marked used ukulele will fetch more on the used market than a battered one. But really, if you are buying a ukulele and then treating it like a museum piece JUST so you can get good re-sale value, then honestly, you probably had the wrong reasons for buying one in the first place. I have never bought a ukulele with thoughts about selling it on. I only buy them to play them.
This post was in part inspired by a Facebook item I saw recently from one of the hardest working ukulele musicians I know in the UK. That guy is Marc Gallagher and many of you will have seen him on UK festival stages, or even at the Berlin Ukulele Festival. I've known Marc since he was a younger teenager as he hails from my local town. Heck I have jammed with him lots and played in a band with him. And one thing I know about Marc is he is relentless in his musical goals. That first picture at the top of this post is the one that caught my eye as it's one of his actual gigging ukuleles. It's a Riptide and has been clearly played a lot! The top is worn and splitting. It's grimy. But it's still a ukulele, he still uses it and I absolutely love it for that reason.
|Used with kind permission of Simon J Newbury|
And I know many of you are not professionals and not playing anywhere like this much, but really, the point is still exactly the same. As I say, I am not advocating carelessness, but if you find your playing is leaving marks, polishing a satin finish to a shine, rubbing a finish though, that you clipped it on a table, or whatever.. it really isn't life and death. It shows you are PLAYING your ukulele and making it your own. Please don't try to avoid that whatever you do. There's nothing more depressing than an unplayed instrument.
And you can check out more about Marc Gallagher here
Let off steam with the other Got A Ukulele rants here.
© Barry Maz
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