I asked some of my ukulele blogger friends to tell me about their first ukulele. Here is what they told me.
~M. Ryan Taylor of UkulelePlay.com
In 1981, I heard Leon Redbone play “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone”, a 1931 tune, on a Martin 0-17 guitar. I’d been collecting music from the 20’s and 30’s on 78s, but I hadn’t heard it played on a guitar before. I played saxophone and clarinet at the time, but I decided right then to learn the guitar.
But, after about a month trying to get my hand over a fat classical guitar neck to make the chords, I realized I was going to need to ease into this. So, I bought a baritone uke for $75 dollars, which even in 1981 didn’t seem expensive. It was a K. Yasuma from Japan, a very close copy of a Martin baritone in terms of construction and look – and sound; it had a great tone. I have never been able to find an image of the baritone they made, but here’s a shot of their tenor – other than size, they are virtually indistinguishable. And the resemblance to a Martin is intentional.
In about 9 months, I’d learned the baritone chords pretty well and traded in the K. Yasuma (along with Vega tenor banjo) for a 1947 Martin 00-17 guitar, which I kept for 31 years and only just sold last month. I loved the Martin and was well on my way to playing all kinds of pop from the 20’s and 30’s. I felt I’d made a good trade.
Except that after a few months, I missed the ease of playing and carting around the uke – as opposed to the much larger guitar, so I bought a cheap no-name soprano, and tuned it in D and learned “Home in Pasadena”. And then, a few years after that, I spent $195 on the Martin Style 0 uke, which I still own more than 20 years later. I always kept it tuned in D, but in the last three years, I’ve re-learned the chords in C tuning.
If I were going to do things differently, I would have played with other musicians more through that period of the 80s and 90s. It was REALLY difficult to find others interested in the jazz and pop of the 20s and 30s, so I tended to play for myself, and I didn’t learn a lot by doing that, and I could only learn tunes from sheet music or records before the advent of YouTube. In the last five years, it’s become completely clear to me that playing with others is the best, fastest way to improve your playing and your musical taste. It’s inspiring and the cross pollination of ideas that occurs is invaluable and essential.
Oh, and I’d love to have the K. Yasuma back. That’s not going to happen, mostly because the guitar company, which thrived in the 50s and 60s, stopped making ukuleles in 1979, and I think they stopped making the excellent guitars they also made. I’ve only found a couple of them over the last decade, and they tend to go for several hundred dollars each, and I’ve never found another baritone.
~ John Bianchi of theukaholic.blogspot.com
Ovation Applause UAE 20
About 12 years ago this soprano was the first ukulele I bought.
I learned to play on it and it’s still in use.
One time this instrument prevented me from harm. I was strumming at a beach in Fuerteventura ( Canary Islands ) when a vicious stray dog tried to attack me. I used the Ovation as a bat and the beast went away. No damage done.
I chose this uke, because it has a pickup. The signal from this passive piezo is very soft. You get a better, more natural sound if you use an external microphone.
Due to the custom Roundback composite body ( plastic on the back ) the sound is not so bright as it is with usual ukuleles.
After some years in use the spruce top sunk. This didn’t change the sound very much ( just some overtones now and then ). A luthier told me that this is a problem that occured frequently with this ukulele. I don’t know if they fixed it with the current models.
The multi-soundhole design gives this uke a special look.
The best part it is the neck. It’s easy to play ( even with big hands like mine ) and well fretted. The tuners do their job.
Today I wouldn’t buy this ukulele because now I prefer the larger scales. And I think that ukuleles that were made totally out of wood have a brighter and better sound.
You can hear me play the Ovation Applause if you play the fifth song ( “ Offshore “ ) on my myspace page:
Here’s a Youtube video with my rendition of a cheesy Italian song:
~FriendlyFred of uke4u.com
I bought my first ukulele in 2006. It was an Oscar Schmidt OU2 (concert size). It was an inexpensive uke, and it came with cheap strings. The very first thing I did was change the strings to some baritone ukulele stings and tuned the uke to low g, c, e, a. I was already a guitar player, so at first I just played my ukulele like a mini guitar.
I eventually realized the error of my ways and started treating my ukulele like what it is, a real instrument with its own unique sounds and intricacies. I still own this uke and now it has Worth Brown strings on it.
When giving advice to someone who want to learn the ukulele, I normally suggest getting a concert or tenor size. I’ve found that sopranos can make a beginner’s hand too cramped. I also suggest to tuned it “high g” to get the signature uke sounds. The alternate tunings can come later. If I am asked for suggestions on buying a first ukulele, I recommend that they go to a music store and try a few in the $60-$100 range. Once they have a grip on the uke, they can delve into more expensive ones.
~Daniel Hulbert of circuitsandstrings.wordpress.com
Thanks everybody for your great articles!