We have a number of ukuleles in our arsenal, all of which have their own unique sound and place in our duo.
Lucy uses five instruments, the main one being a concert size Kala. It is an electro/acoustic ukulele made from solid mahogany and has a small cut away. The tone is remarkably warm for a ukulele, it’s very balanced and able to create an array of wonderful sounds, the cut away allows for comfortable playing anywhere up the neck. The electro input makes it ideal for gigging with, the amplified sound quality is top notch. It is unbeatable in reliability, volume, quality and variation of sound. It is also the only one that can stay in tune for a whole set, which comes in handy!
The ‘Recording King’ Resonator Ukulele is number one for style. The resonator cone in the bottom brings a natural amplification that cannot be recreated with electronics and its metal body gives it a beautiful ringing tone that can be brash when strummed hard, twangy when plucked or mellow when thumbed or gently picked. All in all, the resonator is an excellent all rounder and works wonderfully well in our duo. However, being a new instrument (made in China) it does lack a certain something – that vintage quality which is so hard to recreate.
This is where the other two ukuleles can certainly hold their own as each is believed to be well over 70 years old.
The first is a wooden soprano ukulele which has no make so is difficult to date precisely. It has a beautiful Martin style herringbone rosette edging around the sides and the front hole. The back, sides and neck look like they have been refinished but the top remains intact with its original finish. It has been well used but is in good condition and is most likely dated between 1920s-40s. It has had a professional repair to a crack in the back using the traditional method of gluing little diamonds along it. It has a beautiful warm tone and plays well, either strummed or picked. The only trouble is tuning, the pegs are wooden and are either too stiff to turn or slip turn of their own accord! This is an obstacle worth getting past though, for such a lovely sounding instrument.
The other instrument is a soprano ukulele banjo. Again, it doesn’t have a make but looks and plays typically like a 1920’s/30’s ukulele banjo. Similar to that played by George Formby but it seems to resemble a Keech Banjolele more than a John Gray solid backed one. It has however, unlike most ukulele banjos I have seen, a beautifully etched metal plate on the back which I believe acts as a resonator. The sides of the pot and the neck are a dark redwood . The fretboard is ebony with five ‘mother of pearl’ dots and it still has its original natural calf skin. The sound is distinctive, a true blast from the past, it doesn’t work with everything do but when it does it sounds sublime.
Finally, Lucy has recently started to use an Kanile’a Islander Guitalele. Made of all laminate acacia wood, this instrument differs from the ukulele in that it has six strings instead of four. It has the body size of a large tenor ukulele and the neck of a baritone. The top four strings are tuned like a ukulele, except for the G, which is tuned to a low G. It then has an additional two lower pitched strings (A and D), which really opens up the scope for arrangements – particularly when finger picking.