Sunday, May 23, 2004

Ohta-San vs. Ohta-Son

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin today featured a profile of the Herb Ohtas, senior and junior. The two are competing as finalists in the "Best Instrumental Album" category in the 2004 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards which will be held May 24th at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. (The Hokus are the local equivalent of the Grammys.)

The article also notes that Ohta-San is on his way to Japan demonstrate Yamaha's new ukulele synthesizer:

"When I first saw it, I thought it was just another toy, but it really sounds good," Ohta-san says.

"It's a standard-size ukulele (and) has four strings that will never go out of tune, and you can tune it just by a twist of wrist of the peg to low G, high G, tenor sound, soprano sound. And with a turn of the peg it will sound like a violin, a Hammond organ, a trumpet," he said, adding that the instrument can also be programmed to show a novice the correct fingering for up to eight songs.

"It's not on sale yet, but they're going to sell it for under $300.

I'm sure this new instrument will spark a heated debate within the uke community, but I can't wait to check one out! (I haven't found any info about them on the Yamaha site yet. If anyone has found more information, please send me an email.)

Friday, May 21, 2004

Just Out! King's Famous Solos & Duets

John King dropped us an email to let us know that Mel Bay has finally released John's "Famous Solos and Duets for Ukulele" book and CD:
"Famous Solos and Duets for the Ukulele presents ukulele music as you have never seen or heard it before. An anthology of pieces selected from the earliest known methods and collections published for the ukulele between 1909 and 1920, Famous Solos and Duets is newly engraved in both standard notation and tablature and contains extensive fingering and performance instructions.

Edited, arranged, and performed by ukulele virtuoso and historian John King, this collection makes the original, classic repertoire of this charming little instrument available to the public for the first time in nearly a century. The Preface, informative and thoroughly researched, places the ukulele and its music in historical context, from its early days in Hawai'i, to its widespread popularity on the Mainland. Showcasing pieces which are both challenging and beautiful, Famous Solos and Duets features the music of Queen Lili'uokalani, King Kalakaua, Ernest Ka'ai, Henry Kailimai, George Awai, George Kia Nahaolelua, N. B. Bailey and Vadah Olcott Bickford. Also included in Famous Solos and Duets are invaluable instructions for the different styles of strumming as played by the "Father of the ukulele," Ernest Ka'ai. The CD contains all 22 pieces expertly performed by Mr. King. $17.95, 48 pp."

I'm off to my neighborhood music store (Campana Music in Lafayette, CA, where Bill Tapia taught guitar for years) to have them order me a copy. Make that two copies (duets, you know...). Link

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Play It Strange

Yesterday it was Sweden. Today all the news seems to be about New Zealand.

Play It Strange is a non-profit trust "established to encourage young New Zealanders to develop interests and skills in music, composing and performance". The trust is currently looking for funding sponsors for their Ukulele Orchestra Programme:

Schools apply for a "ukulele orchestra" for Years 7, 8 and 9.

Essential points:

Resource package includes:

- Overhead projector resource.

- CD of ukulele hit songs.

- CD of backing tracks for class and solo performances. Fifty per cent of the material will be NZ songs.
Ukuleles are retained by the school.

Ukuleles lead naturally to the guitar. They are a perfect launchpad to a wider performance and composition pursuit.

I have a better name for the program. Geoff Davis, what do you think of "The Kiwi Strummers"? Link

Ukes Centerpiece of New Zealand Music Month

To celebrate New Zealand Music Month, associate arts minister Judith Tizard has challenged all of the members of Parliament to learn to play the uke.
"If we could prove that MPs can play the ukulele then anyone could."
Lessons are being provided by Kiwi uke legend Bill Sevesi. Link

Tappy in the Headlines

Latest article on Ukulele Hall of Fame inductee Bill Tapia. Link

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Swedish Formby Posters

Seems to be a theme today: Formby and Sweden! Check out this page of vintage Swedish posters from George Formby movies. Link

Big News for Dobro Uke Owners

Uke Jackson sez:
"Early Dobro ukes missing the cone or the spider. You see them come up on ebay occasionally, or run across someone's post on the internet seeking one or both of these parts to restore. And always the reply is the same – "Maybe somebody should make some of these."

Well now, Colin McCubbin – impresario of resonator instruments and host of the extraordinary, and my personal resonation angel – has gone ahead and done something. He recently returned to his home in Canada and sent me an email that I want to share with you immediately:

"I took an early Dobro uke cone and 8 legged spider with me for Mike Lewis of Fine Resophonics in Paris, France. Mike is going to get some spiders cast and spin some cones. I know of two ukes with no spiders or cones and about a dozen that need cones. If anyone wants either of these parts could they please get in touch and I will add them to my list."

So this is it, folks. If you or someone you know needs a spider or a cone to bring an old Dobro uke back to life, now is the time."

Email Colin McCubbin for more into. And don't miss Colin's amazing site devoted to resonator instruments. There about a dozen resonator ukes featured, including the National Style 1 pictured at left. Link

Gyllene Tider

Checking in on the uke scene in Sweden, we have Gyllene Tider featuring ukulele on their new song "Tuffa Tider" ("Tough Times").
"Almost always when you get your hands on a new, unfamiliar instrument there is a new idea for a song!! It happened when I bought my first Rickenbacker 12-string 1982 (from Basse Wickman!). Then I wrote 'Vandrar i ett sommarregn' that same night. Same thing here. I bought a ukulele after I had seen a documentary about George Harrison (seems he never traveled without a ukulele, bless his soul!!!) and I sat down trying to figure out the logic and learn some chords... and... 'Tuffa tider' was born in fifteen minutes..."
There's a clip here on the Gyllene Tider website (track 2.).

Morrissey and Formby?

Here's a photo of Morrissey in front of a glossy still of George. Why? Apparently he's a fan... Link

George Formby Centenary Stakes

This Friday, May 21, Haydock Park Racecourse will host The George Formby Centenary Stakes in commemoration of George's 100th birthday on May 26. Formby once rode as a professional jockey, but--luckily for us--was forced to leave the sport when he grew too heavy. The banjo ukulele beckoned, and a legend was born.

Since the 26th is also my birthday, I'll propose a friendly competion to celebrate. Place your "bet" by choosing your horse (here's the field--scroll down the page) and posting your choice here. I'll announce a winner after the race. Link

Monday, May 17, 2004

Cigar Box Guitar (and Uke!) Gallery

Cigar box guitars: what an interesting sub-culture. Here's a whole gallery of pix for your perusing pleasure. Poke around and you'll find many shots of cigar box ukes. Link

A Uke From Start to Finish

Al McWhorter takes you on a well-documented and photographed trip into his first foray in uke lutherie. He really makes this seem as though anyone could do it. Then again, this is a guy who has built a sailboat and several airplanes... Link

Online Fret Calculator

Building your own ukulele? Here's a handy tool to help you lay out the frets! Link

Friday, May 14, 2004

Buster Keaton Strums

Here's a link to a page with a clip from NPR's Lost & Found Sound series that features Buster Keaton playing the uke and singing at a cocktail party in 1962. Link

Ukulele Loki

From the sublime to the ridiculous, you get it all here on Ukulelia. Since we've been serious for awhile, here's a mild diversion. Step right up and see Ukulele Loki, emcee for the Crispy Family Carnival Spectacular: "Fire. Glass. Nails. Ukulele!" Link

Thursday, May 13, 2004

1916 Martin

Great pix of an early Martin in amazing condition on
"This excellent example of the earliest production series of Martin ukuleles is loaded with interesting features not found on later instruments. Notice the more 'primitive' lines, especially around the heel of the neck. The fingerboard was installed before the fret slots were cut, and the frets seat well below the glue joint between the fingerboard and neck. The bridge is a one-piece construction with an integral saddle, the tuning pegs are plain hardwood. Martin ukes made during this early period were the only ones that had serial numbers. Even the linings are simple rough rectangular strips."

Jack Norton and Friends

Here's an article about neo-hobo uke player Jack Norton and one of his (apparently several) groups, "The Mullet River Boys". He also is ringleader of "The Wizard Oil Vaudeville Company". The Jack Norton website has lyrics and tabs to what looks to be over 100 songs, most written by Jack, but a few chestnuts, too. (I remember this ditty from an old Lawrence Welk album my mom had. Can't remember the melody on the verse, tho'.)

Sounds like an interesting guy, but I doubt his sanity. Not because he's only 24 yet says he went to middle school with Tiny Tim, but because he says the banjo is cooler than the uke. Link

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Next Generation Tour

A troupe of the newest generation of Hawaiian musicans is wending its way throughout the West. Check out this line-up: Patrick Landeza, Keoki Kahumoku, Herb Ohta Jr, David Kamakahi with special guests Cyril Pahinui & Dennis Kamakahi. Here's a link to Patrick Landeza's site with the schedule. Link

Darlin' Ukelele

Meet Jolie Holland, "gothic" folksinger with a voice that's been described as sounding like "the ghost of Billie Holiday lost in the Appalachian Mountains." Her latest CD, "Escondida," features the song "Darlin' Ukelele" (sic), a clip of which you'll find here.

I think she sounds like the female version of a mix between John Prine and Tom Waits. (Not surprisingly, Waits is a big fan.) Holland is co-founder and former member of the uke-inclusive "Be Good Tanyas". Here's a link to a recent review. Link

Buffett Sings, Saves World From Evil Microsoft/Wal-Mart/Starbucks Alliance

To follow up on an earlier post, here's an article that's a bit more decriptive of the recent Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. I want to see the movie that they showed at the meeting:
"To the tune of "Take me out to the ball game," plucking at his ukelele and warbling in his stringy voice, Buffett sang on the movie: "We are glad you're here at our meeting. Be sure to check out all your wares. . . . For it's buy, buy, buy all you see at the Berkshire show."

The movie (produced by Buffett's daughter, Susie) then went into sci-fi mode, taking the audience forward to the year 2104, when Microsoft was about to take over Wal-Mart and Starbucks to form MicroWalBucks, a "strategic alliance" to take over the world.

In a pastiche of PlayStation and Saturday morning cartoons, Buffett and Munger, dressed in Fruit of the Loom undershirts and boxers, battled Arnold Schwarzenegger to bust up the alliance. The Warrenator and the Charlanator ended up defeating the Terminator by splattering the windshield of his monster truck with a can of Cherry Coke."

Now that's art!


Kahiko "Concert Flyer" Ukuleles

Luthier Ken Potts and uke historian Chuck "Frets" Fayne have collaborated to bring the world another reason to weep longingly for yet another ukulele. "Kahiko" in Hawaiian means "old," a fitting name for these masterful reproductions of vintage ukuleles.
"The reproduction of the ORIGINAL HAWAIIAN UKULELE SOUND seems to have been very elusive. Many have tried and some have come close. Close examination of the works of the early makers; Diaz, Santos, Nunes, Mossman, Sam Chang, the Summers Brothers and many other named and unnamed instruments finally revealed their secrets...The CONCERT FLYER has the sound and look of the past with the improvements of the present."
More information can be found here and here.

Help Set New World Record

If you'll be in the vicinity of Bath, England on June 5, 2004 you can help The Ukulele Research & Development Society, Bath chapter (aka "Bath T.U.R.D.S") set a new uke marathon record:
"Expect peripatetic group singalongs and special guest appearances. Please bring sheet music, a sense of humour a uke or other instrumentalist.
If we can keep going for 24 hours an exhumed Norris McWhirter will be in attendance to authenticate this truly ridiculous world record attempt, currently held by Henry Rollo of Austin, Texas who, in 1998 played continually for 21hrs 32min and 17 secs."
(Btw, site of the parent chapter of T.U.R.D.S. is here).


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Uke Fest West Flashbacks

The current Flashbacks page on the Flea Market Music site has some pix from last month's fete in Santa Cruz. Enjoy! Link

Buy Your Own Uke Company

Yes, you read right. Here's what is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: your very own ukulele company. Central California-based 3rd Wave Ukuleles is up for sale. In addition to their wonderful tone, 3rd Wave ukes are known for their beautiful laser-engraved designs around the soundhole, lower bout, and back. The current owners are offering to sell the whole company, including all the jigs, rights to the artwork, lots of cut wood, ukes in the making, cases, the name, dealer lists etc. for $27,500, obo.

Owner and luthier Steve Triplett will take the new owner through one production cycle (about a month). Plus the new owner will have discounted access to Triplett's laser engraver in perpetuity (for all those swell engravings that 3rd Wave is known for).

For more information, email Debbie Triplett or call 866-831-5478. (Their website is currently down, but should be up in the next few days.)

I'd love to buy it, but my wife says I already have enough ukes (c'mon, I only have 5). Maybe I should tell her that if I owned the company I'd never have to buy another uke...

Update: Interested Parties, please mention Ukulelia when you contact Steve or Debbie. The Tripletts have graciously offered us a modest commission which Mark and I will use to purchase Flea ukuleles for hospitalized kids at Mass General (see more info in the sidebar).

Monday, May 10, 2004

Compass Rose Tenor

Here's a uke with an interesting feature: an elevated fingerboard. According to luthier Rick Turner:
"The elevated fingerboard is something I've been doing on acoustic guitars, and it was a natural to bring over to the uke world. Many uke fanatics I've talked to declare that the best sounding instruments are the old style ones without a fingerboard extension glued to the top. Makes sense...there's not a hell of a lot of top on a uke, and the more one can do to enhance useable top vibration, the better. The cantilevered and elevated board also makes high fret reach easier."
Here are more photos. Link

More Eliane Maccaferri Reese Info

Here is the website of the Maccaferri family business, French American Reeds.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Y Pants

"Between 1979 and 1981, Y Pants, a band of three artists, Barbara Ess, Virginia Piersol and Gail Vachon, performed in art spaces and clubs in the U.S., Canada and Europe, and also released two records. The instrumentation was amplified toy piano and ukelele played through distortion devices, and a pared-down drum set. Later an electronic keyboard and an electric bass were also used." Anyone know what they're up to today? Link Discuss

Idiot Savant Ukulele Craftsman?

Cool blog entry about finding mysterious ukes at an Oregon Goodwill store...and an encounter with a bizarre scab-covered woman who steals away with the author's heart-shaped uke.

" the new Seneca Goodwill I found something wonderful in the miscellaneous Halloween bin. A ukulele. A homemade ukulele, with a mysterious glyph on the head. A homemade ukulele, sans frets but with geared tuners, painted pink with house paint and decorated with red foil star stickers, and shaped like a heart.

And it was six dollars. YES. There were a couple of other uke-like things in the bin, without strings or tuners or ways to attach strings to them, all with the same mysterious head glyph and the same kinds of household paint jobs. It was as though some idiot savant ukulele craftsman a few Goodwills upstream of us made wonderful if twisted ukes, then released them out into the wild."

(This is the result of a search on BananaSlug using my pal Steve Nelson's new "A.Word.A.Day" function. Today it paired "ukulele" with "idiot savant." Check it out.) Link

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

New Magnetic Fields CD

Gary O'Brien writes:
"Stephin Merritt's band The Magnetic Fields released a new CD today, entitled 'I'. The CD features music played on only 'handheld' instruments, meaning no synths. Naturally, the Uke is featured heavily...And, of course, it's fantastic..."
All the song titles begin with, of course, the letter 'I'. Link includes audio clips. Link (Thanks, Gary)

Monday, May 03, 2004

Warren Buffett: Still Strumming

Berkshire Hathaway just held its annual shareholders meeting and once again "Woodstock for Capitalists" featured the Oracle of Omaha playing his beloved Martin O. Here's a link to a site for a 2000 documentary on Buffett. The soundtrack features Mr. B on uke. Link

Ukuleles For Sanity

Some ukulele players (Tiny Tim, Ian Whitcomb, e.g.), play left: others lean Left. For the Lefties of the later sort, here is the website of Ukuleles For Sanity: "Providing all of your left-leaning ukulele-related political action needs!" The group is planning uke-centric protest events in NYC during the Republican convention. To join the ranks, email Tom Harker, AKA Ukulele Man. Link

George Formby and Hoosier Hot Shots Videos

Wonderful collection of video clips of George Formby, the Hoosier Hot Shots and others are here at this link. Ralph Shaw and Joel Eckhaus both attempted to teach us all Formby's famous "split stroke" triplet strum in their seminars at Uke Fest West. If you're working on this chestnut (as am I -- and it's a toughie!), the "She's Got Two of Everything" clip has a clear steady shot of George's technique (what Joel call's the "Form 'B'" (get it?) triplet). Link

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Bounty Music's Kauai Store

Maui retailer Bounty Music's site has always been a great spot on the Web for ukulele information. They recently opened another store on Kauai and were profiled today in this article. (That's owner Paul Weinstein gesturing to a Martin guitar featuring a painting by Robert "Beachless Bob" Armstrong. The guitar depicts C.F. Martin IV strumming a Martin uke on the beach.) Link

Smelly Cat

For the "Friends" fans out there, here is a link to uke chords and lyrics for "Smelly Cat"
"On Thursday we bid farewell to "Friends." A sad occasion, for certain, but we can ease the show's passing by joining in a joyful rendition of "Smelly Cat." The song, sung by Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay, is legendary for its tunelessness and total fusion with the Phoebe personality."
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