Review- Fourth Annual Allegheny Ukulele Soiree

This last weekend, April 21-23, 2017, I attended the Fourth Annual Allegheny Ukulele Soiree. It is a two-day festival put on by the Allegheny Ukulele Kollective. This is the third one I have attended in the last four years of the Soiree’s existence.

It was held at the Laurel Lodge in Duncansville, PA. near Altoona. The festival included workshops for all levels of ukulele players, five different jams, two open mics and two concerts.

The workshops were taught by all six of the performers as well as a couple of clinicians. I attended many workshops and learned something new in each one. They were all well attended by an enthusiastic group of people who love playing the ukulele and want to grow as musicians.

As I did last year, I took advantage of the dining package which allowed me to stay at the lodge all day on Saturday. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided and I got to hang out with fellow uke players the entire day without having to leave to find a place to eat.

There was a vendor area where instruments and accessories were sold. Mim was there as well as Mainland and others. All of this was in the same building which I found very convenient. The lodge is in the foothills which provided us with a fantastic view and plenty of room to take classes and hang out.

I stayed after registration for the Friday evening concert which featured Mim, Rachel Manke and Lil’ Rev. It was so much fun! They are all so talented and personable plus they were instructors for the weekend.

Saturday was packed with workshops, meals and an evening concert. The performers for that evening were Ben Carr, Gracie Terzion and Stuart Fuchs. They are all great performers. A fun time was had by all.

There were also drawings for different prizes Friday and Saturday night at each concert. Kala and Ohana donated ukes which were raffled off Saturday evening.

For the second year in a row the Soiree was a two-day event. I know putting on something like this is a lot of work for many people not the least of which is Mike Holzer. He is the Allegheny Ukes Co-Director and Chief Uke Evangelist. He has a great team of people who help put this together and run it for the weekend. Add in the performers and instructors and it is as close to uke heaven as you will get.

I love what Mike and the Kollective have done in the last four years with the Soiree. It is a great value and provides a fun atmosphere to meet others and to learn. The only issue I observed for the weekend were ongoing problems with the sound system in the ballroom. There were issues with hums and shorts most of the weekend. I have set-up and installed a few sound systems so I realize it can be difficult with all the amplifiers, boards, snakes, cables and speakers etc. Bottom line is that it effected the schedule and the teachers and performers. It was a distraction to say the least. I don’t know if it is owned by the Kollective or it was rented but a better set-up is needed for next year. I don’t feel it is right for teachers, performers or attendees to have to deal with the distraction or schedule delay  a poor sound system has on the event. Hopefully, next year this will be rectified.

The Soiree had about 125 people show up this last weekend which is great but that means Mike and the Kollective must search for a bigger facility for next year. Altoona is not a very big city so facilities that will work are few and far between. Let’s hope that they find the perfect place so even more people can experience this great get together.

My suggestion is to plan ahead for next years event. It will be the 5th year of the Soiree and who knows what they will come up with? I am sure it will be great!

Things I wish I would have known- Part 3

Last June I purchased my first baritone ukulele from Hawaii Music Supply. I wanted to try something new as I was in the process of gravitating toward larger ukuleles from the soprano. Buying the baritone was one of the best decisions I have made while playing the ukulele.

It is a very versatile instrument especially since it can be played in many tunings. Other size ukes can too but they really don’t handle the lower tunings well especially the linear DGBE. The baritone can also be tuned to a reentrant GCEA. Some people like the way it sounds when tuned that way and some don’t. I do but I still think the tenor is better for that tuning.

I do like having more room on the baritone fingerboard to make chords. My hands are average size but my fingers are short. I still feel very comfortable with the fingerboard. For me personally, on the concert and soprano fingerboard sometimes the chords are more difficult as I don’t have enough room for my fingers.

Recently I posted my first two videos to YouTube. Both songs, Amazing Grace and Fur Elise, were played on my Kala Baritone. I received many comments about the tone of the instrument. Many people really liked it. I do too. It is currently strung with Aquilla 21U strings. I really like the way they sound and my older hands like that fact that they are not too hard to press down. The tension is perfect.

Yes, the baritone is a fun instrument. I only wish I had purchased one earlier.

Amazing Grace

Fur Elise

Things I wish I would have known- Part 2

In the first post of this series, “Things I wish I would have known- Part 1,” I shared my journey in “ukedom.” I shared how I finally got to the place where I realized the tenor and baritone size ukulele works best for me.

On that road I suffered from “UAS- Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome.” The question is why? Why did I buy so many ukes in this last year since I picked up the ukulele? I have bought and sold probably close to 20. I think there are a few factors. These are not excuses, although if you are married your wife may not agree with that statement!

First, there are four different size ukuleles: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. This is not including some of the smaller ones that are available. Each body size has a different feel and sound. Most of that is due to the scale length and body size. Initially, I was in love with the sound of the soprano. Then I was drawn to the super soprano and concert because they had more room on the fingerboard for making chords. I was then drawn to the tenor because of its fuller sound and longer scale. Finally, I got a baritone as I can sing with it better than any of the others. Personally, I think these are all good reasons for trying different size ukes. It may or may not be expensive depending on your income and tastes.

Second, ukuleles are as a rule made of wood. There are many woods used for the body and each one has a unique sound. I found myself initially drawn to the spruce/maple combination. In fact I owned three of them in various sizes for a time. Mahogany and koa are popular too. There are also other woods used including myrtle and redwood. The list goes on. On top of that you can also buy ukuleles made by Blackbird that are constructed with Ekoa and Carbon Fibre for the body. Each material used has a different sound. I wanted to experience some of that so I could decide what I really liked. Therefore I ended up spending quite a bit of money to get to my next opinion.

During this journey the last year I have spent thousands of dollars on various ukuleles including a Mya Moe Super Soprano and Blackbird Clara. I have also purchased $100 ukes set-up by Hawaii Music Supply that played like butter and got the job done. Here is what I have learned- I don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on one ukulele. If you want to, and many do, I think that is great. The point is you and I don’t have to spend that kind of money so we can have a nice sounding, looking and playing ukulele.

Case in point- after selling most of my ukes I was looking for a nice tenor. I spent hours on The Ukulele Site watching the videos as Corey and others demonstrated the ukuleles. I was primarily concerned with volume, balance and tone. You know what I ended up buying? A Kala tenor uke (KA-ASOV-T) constructed with a solid spruce top and solid ovangkol back and sides! I also had them add a K&K Twin Spot pickup. When it arrived I was blown away by its appearance, playability and tone. It sounds great acoustically and plugged in. All of this for a total of $482.99 with a gold strap button installed in the heel, gig bag and shipped two-day priority to my house in Virginia.

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What I have learned is that I can have 3-4 really nice ukes for what I paid for the Mya Moe. A Mya Moe is a fine instrument, no matter what the size, but for me having all of that money in one instrument didn’t make sense, especially when I didn’t play it that much.

On a side note- if you are a musician you will understand this. Sometimes I just don’t bond with an instrument. This is what happened with the Mya Moe. There was nothing wrong with it. It was a fine instrument but we didn’t seem to get along. Ever felt like that? It got sold too!

To be fair, I do own more than one ukulele. I am down to the two sizes but I will end up with a few of each size. Some will be acoustic, some will have pickups installed and some will be acoustic electric like my Tenor Godin Multiuke. Each has its own purpose and I play them all. If I don’t play it, and I don’t give it to one of my grandsons, then the instrument will be replaced with something I will use. I am sure all of you can relate to this.

This post is not meant to be anything other than me telling my story. There is absolutely no judgment on my part for those who spend tens of thousands on their instruments and own 20-30 ukuleles. More power to you. For me, it doesn’t work.

My lesson from this, in hindsight, is I wish I would have known this sooner. I would have saved money and time buying and selling instruments. Should I have owned a soprano uke? Yes. I didn’t need to own 4 at once to figure out it wasn’t my long-term choice of ukulele. The same holds true for the super soprano. Four at once was a little too much. And the list goes on.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. We all learn and grow in life. At least we should. As a musician I know this last year has been a great adventure. It has been educational as well but it sure has been fun. I have met some great people and played some great instruments. I am thankful to the Ukulele Underground Forum for all the help I have received there. Hopefully I have helped a person or two on my journey.

Until next time, enjoy your ukuleles, if you have more than one! 🙂

 

 

Things I wish I would have known- Part 1

Today I was thinking about the last year and all I have learned since beginning to play the ukulele. I also began to think about some things I would have done differently, as hindsight is always 20/20. That morphed into the idea of doing a series entitled, “Thinks I wish I would have known.” I did a similar series on my Fuji X Blog, which turned out to be very popular.

Have you ever gone through something like that? We all make decisions that we regret sometimes. It is part of being human. There are bound to be regrets at times but we learn from those, or at least we should. It bothers me when I see someone on a talk show that is an addict who has been married multiple times. The talk show host says, “Looking back, would you have done anything differently?” Most of the time the person being interviewed says, “No.” Is that the stupidest possible answer? Of course they would have done some things differently like not inserting the first needle in their arm or marrying someone after knowing them for two days. Give me a break! Okay, rant over. Now onto the things I have learned or wish I would have known.

As I look back, the first thing I wish I would have known is that the tenor size ukulele, along with the baritone, would end up being my size preference. My first uke was a Cordoba tenor (20TM-CE). It was all mahogany and had a cutaway and pickup installed by the factory.

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I really liked that uke but sold it to buy a soprano and then a concert and then a long neck soprano. Multiple ukes down the road I didn’t even have a tenor but finally figured out it was the better size for me, especially as I learned more difficult chords. My fingers fit on the tenor fingerboard better. I love the sound of a soprano uke and still have a couple but I have sold off the more expensive sopranos, concerts and super concerts. That includes a Blackbird Clara and Mya Moe Super Soprano. Thousands of dollars later I am in the process of downsizing and concentrating on tenors and baritones. I like the sound of a tenor and baritone more than a soprano or concert. It is, in my opinion, more well-rounded and has better volume. Of course that would be expected given the size difference of the body.

Lesson learned. An expensive lesson but a lesson none the less. Had I known what I know now I would have stuck with the tenor and added the baritone later, mostly because it is easier for me to sing with it.

My next post I will talk more about this issue- bang for the buck and UAS (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome).

Until next time, enjoy your uke and learn something new today.

 

 

 

One Year Ago Today

October 16, 2014 is an important day to me. It was the day I purchased my first ukulele.

In the last year many ukes have come and gone but one thing remains- the joy of playing the ukulele.

The uke community is really special, especially the Ukulele Underground Forum! I have learned a lot there and met some very nice people.

One of the fun things I did during this last year was attend the Allegheny Ukulele Soiree. In 2016 they have expanded it to take place over a two-day period. I am hoping to attend and maybe someday, teach a class.

As I continue on my musical journey, I hope to post a video of me playing/singing and doing reviews of various ukuleles.

Again, it has been a great year. If you have visited my blog in the past or are here for the first time- thank you. I hope to post more in the future.

Vic.

My Introduction to Kala Brand Ukulele’s

It is almost impossible to find a music store that does not carry a Kala Brand instrument of some kind. In my area, there are  two music stores that carry Kala ukuleles. A little over seven months ago, after I bought my first tenor ukulele, I purchased a Kala soprano as my second uke for a little over $200. It has a solid spruce top with a spalted maple body and a satin finish (KA-FMS). I probably sat in the music room and played that uke for 20-30 minutes before I purchased it. I could not believe the tone and volume it had, especially as I compared it to other ukes on the wall including some Martin ukuleles.

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After my first introduction to Kala I liked the soprano so much I went back and purchased a concert uke with the same wood combination. It too had great volume and tone. I eventually purchased the tenor version too with the same results.

For years I have played guitar, many of them Taylor’s and Martin’s. I never owned one made of all laminate wood. I was a fan of all solid wood guitars with gloss finishes. Honestly, I feel much different now due in large part because of my experience with the Kala company. Let me expand on this a little.

As I continued to learn the ukulele I wanted to buy an inexpensive uke for my office. The office was dry with very little humidity so I decided to buy a laminated uke. I bought a Kala soprano long neck from Amazon that was an all mahogany laminate (KA-SLNG) for around $100. It was a great looking ukulele, and it played and sounded great. I installed two strap pins and enjoyed having it near me for the occasional break. Two weeks after I purchased it I happened to take a flashlight to look inside. Granted, I should have done that first, but at my age of 62 I find I am not as detailed as I use to be. Looking inside I found glue smeared over much of the bracing. One of the braces also had a crack in it. This concerned me for the future, as I know a cracked brace can cause buzzing as the brace cracks more and vibrates. It was obvious to me that this ukulele slipped through Kala’s normally stellar quality control. It happens. As I write this I own six Kala ukulele’s, which were made in China, and they all look fantastic inside and out. By the way, I have another one ordered from Hawaii Music Supply (HMS) which should be in the mail any day now.

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Instead of contacting Amazon I sent an email to Kala. This was just before the NAMM show, which would put us at the beginning of this year, 2015. A girl named Amy responded with a very nice email and referred me to Will. He also touched base with me with a nice email stating they could not do anything because I had modified the instrument. Modifying the instrument voids Kala’s warranty. I understood that but felt neither the cracked brace or glue spread on the inside of the uke was caused by me adding a couple of strap pins. In the past I have worked in a music store so I understand how to install strap pins properly without harming the instrument. I have installed many on ukuleles and guitars.

I ended up emailing the founder of Kala, Mike Upton. Again, he responded with an email in which he stated that Will was correct about the warranty. He went on to say how much he appreciated me being a loyal customer so he was going to make an exception and replace the ukulele with a new one. By the beginning of 2015 I owned a few Kala ukuleles, which I had mentioned in my email. He had me send in the uke, after removing the strap pins. In a couple of weeks I received a brand new uke that was in perfect condition inside and out. It played beautifully.

I learned a couple of things from this experience. First- give a new ukulele a good once over as soon as you receive it. Second- Kala stands behind their instrument and genuinely cares about their customers and reputation. There are some very friendly people working for Mike. As a customer, I appreciate that.

I now own three Kala long neck soprano ukes, and others, and they all look, sound and play great. I am blessed to also own a couple of Kamaka’s and a Mya Moe super soprano and I have bought and sold a Blackbird Clara. One thing I have learned is that ukulele’s are much different from guitars when it comes to dollars spent and quality of instrument/tone. If I buy a $200 guitar and then upgrade to a $1000 guitar there will be an obvious difference in the instruments. Not so with ukulele’s. I have spent $100 on a couple of ukes and more than $1000 on a couple of ukes. Is there a difference in the construction, appearance, playability and sound? Yes, but it is small. Is it worth it? That is up to the individual uke player/consumer. I will tell you that I routinely leave the more expensive ukes in their cases and reach for one of my Kala’s. They are fun to play and sound great.

I hope my experience will help others. It is important to know that you or I don’t need to spend huge amounts of money to have a ukulele that will look nice, be well built and play/sound great. If you want to buy an expensive uke go right ahead. I have more than once. In fact, my dream is to have a custom ukulele built for me someday. It is important to know that by in large it won’t make me a better player. I can play my first Kala soprano uke just as well as my Kamaka uke which cost me almost four times more. I love them both but honestly the Kala holds a special place in my heart as it was my first soprano.

As a disclaimer I am not employed by Kala Brand Music. In fact I am not employed by anyone as I retired the end of March of this year. I am simply telling a story that I hope others will benefit from.

I must also note that Kala introduced their Elite series of ukulele’s at the 2015 NAMM show. They are built in Petaluma, CA., are more expensive, beautiful to look at and undoubtedly sound great. I look forward to playing one if I can find one locally, which up to this point I have not been able to do.

Until next time, keep playing and enjoy your ukulele no matter how much it cost you.

Why I Began Playing the Ukulele

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I am sure you have heard something like this many times, “The ukulele is a great instrument to begin on before you move up to the guitar.” For some that may be true. I know my grandson is learning the uke because his hands are not big enough for the guitar yet. When they are he may learn it too  but I am sure he will always enjoy playing the ukulele. He is a natural!

You see, I had played guitar and bass for decades before I touched my first ukulele. In fact I hadn’t touched a stringed instrument for four years as I was concentrating on my photography. My wife kept asking me to get a guitar so I purchased a Cordoba nylon string guitar. The problem was I had no callouses so I could play for about five minutes. I went back to the music store and it was suggested I try a tenor ukulele. The tenor uke has less string tension so it takes less pressure to make a note or chord.

My original intent was to play the uke until I got some callouses and then to move to the guitar. As I played the uke and learned some chords and songs I was having a great time. In fact, I was having more fun musically than I had experienced in years. It also seemed my musical ear was adapting quickly to the ukulele. One thing led to another and I bought a soprano ukulele which has even less string tension. I loved playing it so much I sold the tenor uke and guitar. More ukuleles were to follow.

Here we are 7 months down the road and all I have now are a “few” ukuleles. When I pick up a guitar it feels like I am holding a whale. It is huge and not at all comfortable for me. I love to sit in my cave, turn on the TV and play my soprano and concert scale ukes. For the most part I have some sopranos and long neck sopranos with a couple of concerts. I own one tenor. I may sell that. I haven’t made a final decision about that yet.

My hope is to get together with other ukulele players and to possibly form a duet with a guitar player. The ukulele and guitar sound great together.

The ukulele may be a stepping stone for some to playing the guitar but for me it was the gate to returning to music and to enjoying music for the first time in years. Really, isn’t enjoying music the most important thing?

A Busy Spring

This has been the busiest Spring I can remember for quite a while. Much has happened since I wrote about the Allegheny Ukulele Soiree in March.

I decided it was time for me to retire after almost 31 years in full-time ministry. At the same time my wife and I decided to sell our townhouse and buy a larger single family home with our youngest daughter, her husband and 3 grandchildren plus four dogs. To say it has been busy would be an understatement!

As I write tonight I have been retired since the end of March, we are completely out of the townhouse (which we have since sold) and we are somewhat moved in our new home. We just celebrated 42 years of marriage yesterday. Life is good.

As a retirement present to myself I purchased a Mya Moe super soprano ukulele. I have only had it a few days but I can tell you it is beautiful. I am the third owner but it is like new. I love the feel and sound and the sustain is unbelievable. I will be trying a new set of strings on it soon. A review will follow, possibly on video.

I also just received today a plastic Kala Waterman uke. I will probably do a review on it soon. too.

For now I wanted to give you an update and let you know what has gone on. The blog will be updated regularly in the future and who knows, another uke may show up.

Until next time, enjoy your ukulele and keep playing! 🙂