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Ukulele Geekdom – Week 1 – Versatility and Variety

Hello TTWU Friends and Ukulele Lovers,

If you are reading our blog I am assuming you have an element of affection for the mini instrument that makes up the main harmonic and rhythmic structure of our duo. I (Lucy) personally really do love the ukulele. For many it is seen as an un-serious instrument, as a fad, as an mini/easy guitar or even as a bit of a joke. It is easy enough to see where this reputation stems from but if you would be so kind as to indulge me, over the next few months I would like to demonstrate why I believe the ukulele to be a beautiful sounding, versatile and totally valuable instrument in it’s own right.

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Since we begun our TTWU exploits (over 5 years ago now!!) I have been lucky enough to try out all sorts of makes, types, brands, sizes of ukulele. The options out there are seemingly endless and I am often asked by new players, ‘What should I buy?’ My first answer is always to try a few out and go for the one you like the sound of best. My second answer is to consider your budget and go to the top end of what you can afford – quality of build and materials used always makes a big difference. But having said that, there are many very affordable ukuleles that make a beautiful sound. Here is a quick bit of info about some of the different sizes of ukulele you can get….

Soprano – this is the smaller, ‘classic’ type of ukulele – the one you would see in played by Elvis or the beautiful hula girls in the movies. It is usually about 12 frets in length and often has a high bright tone. Most have the standard ukulele tuning of GCEA, with the G tuned up higher (nearly an octave above the A).

Concert – this is slightly bigger than the soprano, with a longer neck and slightly more spaced out frets. This is my size of choice because it enables me to do more but keeps that same high ukulele sound and classic look.

Tenor – again this is slightly bigger, the body depth is usually deeper which can give a warmer and louder tone. Fretboard length varies, as does the soundboard size but it looks considerably larger than the soprano and feels quite different to play. Often you will find the Tenor has a low G string, which again changes the sound quite a bit.

Baritone – bigger yet again and quite different in tone, much more guitar like. Also its tuning is different to the other three, it is usually tuned like the top four strings of a guitar (DGBE).

Although these four are the most typical sizes, there are other options including the super mini Sopranino and the often quibbled about Bass ukulele. This is really a different instrument altogether – the strings are super thick and rubbery, carrying the fantastic name of ‘Thunder Gut Strings!’ They are tuned like a bass guitar (EADG) and its purpose is to be played like a bass guitar too, so individual notes are picked out to create a bass line. Chords are not often strummed on this instrument and it is usually used in an ensemble.

All of these instruments are available in a number of different materials – tons of varieties of wood, metals and random objects can be made in to ukuleles, with varying degrees of success and sound quality! Some are totally acoustic, some have electronic pick ups. Some use nylon stings, some use steel strings. It is each to her/his own as to what sound they like and in my next post I will be posting a video giving you a run down on my own collection and my favourite ones to use for what purpose.

Until then, if you love the ukulele – get exploring, I guarantee the perfect uke is out there waiting for you and it just might not sound or look how you expect…!

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About tiltherewasuke

Take two music loving ladies. Brew a friendship for twelve years. Add a quirky instrument. Stir in an idea. Leave to stand for a couple of months. You should be left with a duo who call themselves 'Til There Was Uke. A Vocal/Ukulele duo featuring Lucy Broddle on Ukulele and Stacey Rae Hobday on Lead Vocals. With our blend of original arrangements, whistle solos, creatively inspired looks and attention to detail we hope to entertain our audience with a mixture of well know and long forgotten classic tunes that have been administered with the TTWUke treatment! That treatment takes many guises and ranges from an old school Greenday standard with a time signiature change twist to an Amy Winehouse number sprinkled with a latin feel.

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